Mugged – by College Expenses

I was reaching in the cabinet to get a coffee mug to begin my morning intake of steamy dark goodness when something occurred to me. Namely, that one of the consequences of parenting four smart, ambitious and capable kids is that – ultimately – they will likely attend a college or university. (The fact that the public school system shills for higher education from the first day of kindergarten on probably has something to do with it, but I’ll save that topic for another day. Anybody remember trade schools?)

You might be asking: what in the wide-world-of-Dunkin Donuts does my morning brew have to do with sending kids to college? Two words: coffee mugs.

Let me explain. Two of my wife’s and my four “kids” are well into their adult lives and graduated with their respective degrees in hand some years ago – one from the Master’s College in Santa Clarita and the other from Azusa Pacific University. Our two younger kids, however, are currently in the middle of their own adventures in higher education – one at the University of Montana in Missoula, the other at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego.

If you’re keeping score, that’s four kids and four different colleges or universities. And yes, we do eat a lot of ramen noodles and mac n’ cheese these days.

So what does reaching into the cupboard to get a coffee mug have to do with kids and college? Glad you asked.

This morning, as I was confronted with a large and very odd assortment of mugs stacked on the shelves, I realized that as a result of the outrageously expensive rite of passage, my kids get a degree and at least four years of life-changing personal growth and professional training (please, dear God, let it be so!). But other than decades of loan payments, all their mom and I get out of this are coffee mugs.

It’s true. We have a cupboard full of coffee mugs with “(name of college) DAD”  or “(name of college) MOM” silk screened onto them – a veritable hall of fame of colleges our kids have attended – and not much else to show for all the money, anguish and effort poured into sending four kids to college. No, wait. In all honesty, we also have those little decals with the school logos on the back of our car windows.

I feel so much better now.

I wonder if this is a uniquely American thing, or are parents in other countries cajoled into spending even more of their there-it-goes-out-the-window retirement money on overpriced ceramic mugs from the colleges their offspring attend? I mean, wouldn’t you think that – upon investing tens-of-thousands-of-dollars every year to have your son or daughter live 24/7 on your campus, eat your food, sit in your classes for hours upon hours, etc. – that the least you could do is to pony up a couple of free mugs in a swag bag of goodies and chotchkies as a “thank you” to the parents and/or grandparents who helped to make it all possible?

And why do we parents feel so compelled to spend even more of our dwindling cash on college-branded bumper stickers, those stupid flappy flag thingies to clip over your car window, keychains, sweatshirts, hats, baby onesies, football jerseys (like any of us parents ever played college ball!) seat cushions for when you buy outrageously priced tickets to a college game and even warm fuzzy blankets with your kid’s college logo printed on them to help keep you warm when you’re sitting at home watching TV in a freezing house because there’s no money left to pay the heating bill.

I really should have T-shirts made up that say, “My kid went to college and all I got was a lousy coffee mug.”

Unfortunately, my dresser drawers are already jammed with too many T-shirts that have – you guessed it – college logos on them.

Sigh. I’ll see you ‘round town.

© 2011 WordChaser, Inc. Jim Chase is an award- winning advertising copywriter and native of Southern California. Readers are invited to “friend” his My Thoughts Exactly page on Facebook. Also visit Jim’s new blog with past columns and additional thoughts at: http://

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