Seeing the light at the end

By Javier Gonzalez

  It’s 5:30 in the morning and all my wife and I can do amid the mad rush to get out the door is give each other a reassuring hug while repeating “it won’t last forever” over and over.

  It is a ritual we have done nearly every Thursday and Friday for 10 months. Wake up, get dressed, drop her off at the hospital for her nursing school clinicals, go back home and wake up kid, make sure he gets ready for school and try to make it to work on time. In the beginning it seemed like it would last forever.

  But here we are on the verge of the end of our journey, and we are ready to unleash a primal scream so loud that it should be heard throughout the Flint Hills like a live fire round from Fort Riley.

  My wife is getting ready to graduate in a couple of weeks as a newly minted registered nurse. The entire Gonzalez household can’t wait.

  We started this journey in July when my wife quit her full-time job to attend nursing school at Manhattan Area Technical College. She did so with the knowledge that it would force a lot of hardship upon our family.

  But we had been waiting for an opportunity such as this for a long time, and we were ready to do anything to seize it. Well ... almost anything.

  We knew money would be tight and the family would have to get used to hearing the word “no.” Living on one full-time income and paying for college for two people — our son is a freshman at K-State — has been daunting.

  We made the decision to seek financial aid but decline student loans. We believe student loans are a bad idea. And we put our beliefs to the test this past year.

  My wife alone was offered $12,000 in student loans. Our son was offered access to at least double that amount. All we needed to do was sign on the dotted line.

  But the facts are sobering. U.S. student loan debt has surpassed $1 trillion, according to a recent report from the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. That is more than credit card and auto loan debt.

  The average college student graduates with more than $25,000 in student loan debt. Even more disturbing is that the report also found that Americans 60 and older still owe $36 billion in student loan debt.

  My wife and I didn’t want that kind of burden for our family, so we endured the pain to avoid it later. And what a pain!

  When you are eating leftovers for lunch and supper — again — you’re thinking: Those student loans could’ve paid for a nice meal in Aggieville.

  When you are freezing in the morning during winter despite the extra blankets you’re thinking: Those loans may have helped pay the heating bill.

  But you keep telling yourself: It’s not forever.

  The hardest luxury we had to give up was satellite TV. That one hurt. Everybody had their favorite shows. I missed watching the NFL Draft this weekend for the first time since junior high, but I found out that I can live without it. We have managed to get by on the Internet and the library for movies. I can’t remember the last time we went to a movie theater.

  Birthdays and holidays were hard. Nobody received a birthday present ... just a special dinner, homemade cake and a reminder that next year would be better. On such special occasions we usually go to a nice restaurant for dinner and dessert and lavish gifts on the birthday boy or girl, but not this year.

  The holidays also were not as extravagant as in the past. Christmas is huge in our family. It is our favorite time of the year. The gifts weren’t as expensive but no less meaningful. We spent Christmas Eve playing bingo for pennies and listening to holiday music. The bingo game cost $2 but the memories were priceless.

  The sacrifices have made my wife and I appreciate what our parents did for us growing up. And they had a lot less resources and more kids to look after.

  The real heroes are my wife and son. They made tremendous sacrifices throughout the year. Not only are they going to school full-time, but they work part-time jobs. Both have kept their grades up and work every chance they get. Our son’s work ethic has even earned him a couple of pay increases along the way.

  We hope this long year serves to remind our children that some things, such as an education, are worth the sacrifice and can be obtained without the burden of debt.

  So when their mother graduates in two weeks, we won’t have any loans to pay back. We can actually do something worthwhile with her first check like. . . getting our satellite TV reconnected.

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