Our mistake was missing breakfast. We are getting the DC apartment ready to rent, and so the cupboards there are intentionally bare. We could have gone out for breakfast, but Hansel was replacing the ballcock in the toilet and that meant we were running late. They call a ballcock something much more mundane in America–so mundane that I’ve forgotten what. Anyhow, the man in the hardware store gave me a very old-fashioned look when I asked for this necessary equipment, and it took some time to unravel the misunderstanding.
By 9am we were at the doctor’s office for our first spate of form-filling and by 10am we were on the road to Prince Georges Community College to complete the multidudinous steps required for Freshman registration. We arrived about 11am and Hansel began the required form filling to sit his placement test. Of course you are not allowed to take cell phones into the test area and so lockers are provided to hold these young adult valuables. The lockers require a quarter, which we didn’t have. I had $20s and $5s and lots of dimes, nickels and pennies. Hansel had nothing.
“Hold on” I said “I’ll go and get some change”. I found a drinks machine but it took only dollars. I asked around. I was eventually directed to the bookstore. I bought some chapstick, got some change and went back to the testing center. No sign of Hansel. I spoke to the woman who had handed him the form to fill “I’ve lost my son” I said “did you see where he went? He didn’t have a quarter…”
The woman was pretty sure she hadn’t seen anyone who looked like me, which Hansel doesn’t. The whole test hall was filled with Hansel lookalikes and, as we looked out at a sea of heads covered in baseball hats, we concluded that he must have found a way into the exam, minus the necessary funding. He’s good like that.
I drove to work and managed to get lost in the back roads of PG County. I was late for a meeting and low on gas. I stopped to fill up just as Hansel called to say he was finished. “Too bad” I said, you’ll have to wait until my meeting’s over and I can get back for you.” It was 12:30pm which most people call lunchtime. It was also blisteringly hot.
I completed my meeting with sweat from my exertions running down my back and feeling slightly faint. I then raced back to the college. When Hansel had scooted into the test hall ( “She made me. She took my form and shoved me through the door”) he left me with a folder of other paperwork he’d need to complete his college sign-up. I and the paperwork got back to him at 3pm. Luckily we now had enough change for a bottle of water each from the vending machine. We ignored the “No Food and Drink” signs and drank while we waited…and waited….and waited. I called my new boss to explain that I wouldn’t be back in the office. He took it quite well, considering I am only in my second week of employ.
The whole registration process is multi-layered and very complicated. I have two degrees, and I couldn’t make it happen online. The prospective students like Hansel who have left sign up to the last minute need a great deal of help to navigate the system. Every applicant must complete the placement test and take their scores to a staff member who will then recommend starter classes and help with online registration. Hansel’s name was called and I allowed myself to feel a glimmer of hope that we would be successful and earn our liberation before nightfall. It was not to be.
“It won’t let me sign up because I need a ward of court letter” said Hansel glumly “We have to go to see financial aid”
“But you’re 21–you’re not a ward of court now” I said
“I know—but we have to go to financial aid”
It was 4pm. We considered eating the chapstick.
There was no-one on the front desk at financial aid for the first twenty minutes we were there, but once the staff member turned up, things moved quite quickly. She called one name after another and no-one seemed to be there. Perhaps they’d died of old age, or starvation, or dehydration or similar.
“Just fax us an old court letter” was the advice ” that will move things along” I hope she’s right.
We left at 4:30pm and went straight to a food court for sustenance. I had a turkey sandwich on wheat from Quiznos and Hansel had a giant burger and fries from Five Guys. We felt better after that.
We’ve sent the fax, but something tells me we’ll be back at the college next week to straighten out the last kink in financial assistance, complete class sign up and pay the bill. All the staff seemed pretty fed up with the whole rigmarole today. Another week of hundreds of teens, incomprehensible systems and frustrating bureaucracy is unlikely to sweeten their collective temper.
“I’ll bring snacks” said Hansel. Who says that boy is not a fast learner?
PS: Hansel’s score in comprehension and sentence construction was three times higher than his algebra score. He considers algebra his strong suit. Our strategy obviously worked. If only I was able to help him with his numerators and denominators, he’d be headed straight to Harvard.