Tag Archives: college

Clare goes to College

Those of you who read my blog or are my friends on Facebook or read my tweets or talk to me in person know that this has been a rough summer / year for me regarding my relationship with my daughter. For many years Clare and I were uncommonly close — she told me pretty much everything about her life and we did things together more than I think the average mom and teenage daughter did. Suddenly, and I cannot pinpoint exactly when it happened, Clare stopped sharing things with me and chose to hang out with me less and less often. I knew that this was perfectly normal behavior and that I was lucky to have had the close relationship with her for as long as I did, but it still felt like a slap in the face. I still felt like I was breaking-up with someone. I didn’t handle it well.

This summer was the worst — she was rarely home between 2 pm and 1 am and slept until at least noon most days. Again, I knew this was normal behavior — after all, this was the last time she’d see her friends for a while. On top of that she began working at a part time job and started seeing a young man she’d met through some friends. I felt like one of the parents in the Peanuts cartoon strip. Never seen and only heard as an indistinguishable and annoying noise.

Buildings at SLC
Building at Sarah Lawrence College

So, dropping her off at college yesterday shouldn’t have been a traumatic experience for either of us. She was clearly ready to try out her wings and I was ready to not wake up at midnight wondering where she was and who she was with and when she was planning on coming home. I’d long since stopped saving up things I wanted to tell her — little tidbits from my day or thoughts I’d had about something I read — because by the time we were able to talk whatever I wanted to say lost its importance to me and rarely seemed of interest to her anyway.

Moving Day
The Highlander was packed

We’d not read the dropping-off-your-student-at-Sarah-Lawrence-College information — Clare read it but most of it didn’t register with her. I think I just didn’t want to think about it so didn’t see that we were actually supposed to arrive at 8 am for a day of orientation etc. We saw that she’d be able to move into her dorm at 11 so shot for that time of arrival. We also didn’t anticipate an accident on the New Jersey Turnpike that caused 15 miles of stop-and-go traffic. We got to the school around 2:30 and annoyed school officials handed Clare her registration materials and room key. Not a good way to start out at college. Lesson learned — don’t expect your teenage child to read important registration information. I’m not sure we actually got the information ourselves — I think Clare got it in an email from the school.

First look at Dorm room
Before

When we finally got to the dorm, her roommate was waiting for her outside. Clare’s known her roommate for most of her high school years, if not longer. She showed us to their room — on the lower level of the dorm. I was shocked to see such a dreary room considering the price we are paying for the school (now officially the most expensive college in the country). There was one dim light in the room, not counting the lights by the girls’ mirrors. The beds were metal with plastic covered mattresses. Sarah’s bed was already made — she’d arrived on time — but Clare’s looked so depressing. We unpacked the truck (full to the brim) and brought her belongings into the room she’d call home for the next year, at least.

Better
After

Clare and Sarah had to go to a mandatory meeting so Sarah’s parents, Dean and I stayed in the dorm and tried to fix the room up a bit. I didn’t want to do too much because I knew Clare would want to make the room hers, so I simply made the bed. Sarah’s parents set up a bedside table they’d just purchased and Dean put light bulbs in the colorful lamp that Sarah brought. Those few changes made the room much more cozy.

Clare and her roommate
Clare and her roommate

The college had the day tightly scheduled with meetings and a set “Goodbye” time. We were scheduled to say goodbye to Clare between 5 and 5:30. She came back from her 4:30 meeting at 5:15, commented on the bed being made, then told us it was time to say goodbye. She looked, to me, a little more unsure of herself than she had all summer — more vulnerable, but perhaps that was me, projecting my feelings on her. I certainly was not feeling strong, but she’d earlier begged me not to cry and I didn’t cry. We hugged her goodbye, snapped a few photos and left.

Go home Mom and Dad
Go home Mom and Dad

The crying didn’t start until we stopped for dinner at a service plaza on the New Jersey Turnpike where I sat in a stall the ladies room and shed the first tears of the day. I’d been thinking all the way back how I’d not really prepared her for this day. How I’d neglected to read the registration day information, how I’d forgotten to buy her laundry detergent. How I’d not insisted we shop for some dorm things together even though she was adamant that she and Sarah would do it. I worried that she’d not get enough to eat since her meal plan didn’t include breakfast (her choice). I kicked myself for not buying that mini fridge for Clare because I was upset that she’d not found the time to go to Costco with me. By the time we’d reached the service plaza I’d pretty much decided I was the world’s worst mother and I felt bad for Clare that she had me as a mother. That is what I cried about in the ladies’ room.

When we got back home and went to bed I cried for myself. I cried because that always awake inner ear that mothers have would not be used to listen for Clare anymore. That if she needed me and called for me in the night I’d not hear her because she was 4 hours away. I cried, remembering the infant we brought home from the hospital a little over 18 years ago. I cried because I felt that part of my soul was now elsewhere.

I also thought about some of you — you who’ve lost children or wanted children and were unable to have them. I thought how selfish I was being and that she was only in college — a natural part of growing up.

Is suspect that the next few days will be rough, but I’ll eventually get used to her being gone. We’ll see her in two months if not sooner, and she’ll be back for Thanksgiving (although, if my friends are correct, won’t stay home much when she’s back).

Clare’s grown up to be a remarkable young woman (despite my shortcomings) and I’m very proud of her. I’m just in a new stage of parenthood with her. And of course, we have two more years before our son goes off to college. Wait until that blog post.

The Overachievers — a review…sort of

Had my kids not been students at the school profiled in Alexandra Robbins‘ exposé of success-driven teenagers, The Overachievers, I would probably never have heard about the book, much less read it. However, since they go to that same high school that AP Frank and the rest of the overachieving students in the book attended, I thought it would be an interesting read.

It was more than interesting, it was an eye-opener and a sigh-producer. I threw it across the room more than once. I vowed to quit reading it more than once. It took me nearly a full year to read and I still have the last few pages to go.

My daughter is now a senior at the school. Clare is not an overachiever in the true sense of the word, but she does push herself academically, which can be hell for her and her parents. I won’t elaborate because she occasionally reads this. Hi Clare.

My son, also not an overachiever, is a sophomore. He’s begun to take school more seriously this year. Hi Andrew! (actually he never reads this, so I could tell you lots of stories about him…

Whitman High SchoolSo, I’d be reading The Overachievers and forget it was so close to home (on a couple of levels) until the author mentioned something I’d seen that day, like the façade of the building or the carpool line or a storefront in Bethesda. Then I’d throw the book across the room.

Sure, sometimes I wish my kids were at the top of their class and candidates for valedictorian, but they’re not. Neither was I. Neither was their dad. We’re not [medical] doctors or lawyers. We didn’t go to ivy league schools.

It’s supposed to be made into a movie. I don’t know how that’s going to work unless it is a documentary. But I think it is a drama. Or a comedy. Or better yet, a tragedy.

Robbins is on our side — she wants schools to stop pressuring kids to overachieve. The last chapter provides many ways to help kids be successful and get into colleges without the terrible stressful hell it has become, but unless all parties (colleges, kids, parents and high schools) agree to follow what Robbins says, it’s not going to happen.

AP Frank wrote a letter [pdf] to the editor of the school newspaper last month. It’s a little rambling, but I think he gives the students some good advice — Be yourself and enjoy your life.  Thanks Frank, that’s the best thing I’ve heard all year.

NIU shootings

I remember my first visit to Northern Illinois University. I was an incoming Junior, transferring from a local community college. I still didn’t drive and was expected to go to orientation. My mom drove me the 45 miles to school for the orientation, I think she brought my grandmother along.  I don’t know what they did while I attended orientation, but afterwards we ate lunch at Kings Restaurant in Sycamore. That was the year the decomposed body of the girl was found on farmland in the area and the restaurant had a drawing of what she might have looked like. The restaurant had the drawing by the cash register. I remember not being able to eat much lunch, thinking about that dead girl.

I don’t remember much about the orientation, except we did a lot of walking.

NIU has a nice campus and is, or was, basically in the middle of a cornfield. There was nothing but fields of corn and farms for miles around, and there, rising high in the sky (compared to corn) was the Student Union, I think. I recall there was also a pond and once a year students would gather near the pond for a “smoke out” and openly smoke marijuana.

I remember winters at NIU. Walking from one building to another building were some of the coldest experiences I have ever had.  The cold wind would sweep across the flat land and nearly knock me down.

grotesque.jpg I never felt a real kinship with the place because I was not a resident. I lived at home and got rides with various folks, paying them gas money in exchange for a lift to school. After graduating, I rarely returned to campus. I went back a few times while my boyfriend was working on his Masters degree, once to see a play, I think — The Elephant Man. A few years ago we drove around campus to show our kids where we went to college.  I remember we took a photo of the grotesque in front of Altgeld hall. Clare liked that.

After moving away from the Midwest very few people I’d talk to knew of the school.

Today that’s changed. Today a gunman killed 6 students, including himself and wounded 15 others in a lecture hall at Northern Illinois University. Today, and for a while, people will have heard of the school that sat in the middle of a cornfield.