I wake up in an airbnb near Sarah Lawrence College, shower in a bathroom with a scar on the wall where the original toilet paper dispenser  fell off, where duct tape covers a gap between floor tile and wall tile. My son and I have slept in a bedroom with outdated white furniture with curlicue hardware and when I look at the wall, after making us tea and gathering croissants from a lovely spread laid out in a kitchen overlooking a yard with three broken down cars and a crumbling terra cotta planter, minimal grass, I find on the wall of the bedroom a diploma from Columbia, written in Latin, with the name of a woman I can only imagine is the daughter of the couple hosting us. long gone, though her debt no doubt lingers in the house with the collapsed porch roof, with roller marks stopping partway up the wall over the stairs, where imagine the owners stopped being able to reach, and I wonder if they knew about roller extenders, life savers for all painters, could they be unknown to this pair of highly educated airbnb owners?

We cancelled reservations at the Radisson, then at the Hampton Inn. Last time we had stayed at the Hyatt Place, placed finely in the midst of the Cross Town Mall parking lot, had breakfast in their lobby with young families eager to try out the waffles. Today we wake up overlooking the highway, having been shown to our rooms by the hostess while her husband napped in a living room chair near midnight.

I am happy that we did. There is nothing like visiting a very expensive college to which you imagine your son might be well suited, after talking with him in the car about your shared love of work and the possible work study options, to remind you of your place in the world. There are those that can have this and there are those that cannot. There are also those who want it and push themselves too hard and end up buried under crushing debt. I hope we will make a good choice. Yesterday we were washed in a sea of families touring UMass, had a lovely lunch with my nephew who studies and seems to be thriving there. Saturday we spent the day at Clark, a school which floored us both by both offering us a day to spend with lifelong friends, who happened to be standing in the lobby when we arrived, and by telling the whole auditorium of accepted students and their families about a fine applicant who had attended an alternative school and written his essay about how he tried to make sure everyone in the School Meeting got a voice, and who also works and performs at Improv Boston. That is my boy, who also happened to be wearing his Improv Boston hat, having performed the night before and worked till one am, and overslept so that we arrived late. Since my boy isn’t a big shot type, he pocketed his hat, went undercover, and very much enjoyed the day.

We don’t know which place he’ll end up. Last weekend was Emerson, a showboat of a place for those interested in theater and film. Next Monday would be Hampshire, if we make it that far and can find a way to lower the price tag. It’s a process I’m glad to be doing with my boy, also exhausting and hard to negotiate without some cash. Even the folks at UMass looked relatively well heeled. We imagined as we all strove to hear from the tour guide who was not able to project over the crowd where we should go next that others are looking at community colleges, at smaller state colleges. We had been to UMass Boston. The range is quite enormous. Friends’ kids are at posher places, Harvard, Tufts, Cornell. We are here, now, wondering where my boy will find his home. As his mom, I’m both heartened and frightened to be doing so from someone else’s modestly maintained home, having talked with my boy about the fact that if he wants to come to Sarah Lawrence I’ll find a way to rent rooms to cover some of the cost. This could be my future, too!

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