I Hide My Chocolate

Midlife observations

Tag: College preparation

On the Road to Boston

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Grateful

I’ve planned it all out.  I will live to be at least 100.  There is longevity in my family.  I am thin, I eat excruciatingly healthy meals, and I do yoga.  Why wouldn’t that be the case?  That would give me another 50 years to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.  Sure, it might get lonely.  Statistics are quite certain that I will outlive my husband.  I figure I’ll go live on an ashram when I am old and widowed.  It has to be better than a nursing home.  I have plans to help my children with their children.  My parents couldn’t, didn’t help me.  I am determined to help my children.  There is a lot that I want to do with my next 50 years.

Every now and then, though, I am shocked into the realization that my life could end at any moment.

“Hi honey.  I am just calling to tell you that I am heading to Grand Central to catch a train home.  In case a bomb goes off and I don’t make it home, I love you.  And the life insurance policy is in effect.”

That was my phone call to my husband on Monday after I heard the news about the bombs in Boston.

That feeling was back.  After September 11, every good-bye became imbued with meaning and emotion.  I made a point to look in my loved ones eyes, to hug them, to tell them I love them.  I closed my eyes in the Grand Central tunnel.  I … prayed … that my commute, that my daily ordinary life, would not kill me or anyone else.  After all, you never know.  Of course, over a decade later, I relaxed.  A little bit.   Now, it’s back.

Coincidentally, my daughter and I had finally planned our first trip to look at colleges.  In Boston.  This week.  No more procrastination.  Winter Break in Stowe is behind us.  Spring Break in Spain is behind her.  My first 100 days on my new job is behind me.  No more denial.  She is 17 and leaving home in 16 months.  It’s time.  Where to look?  Eastern corridor.  D.C., Philadelphia, Boston.  She has loved Boston since her first school trip there in 7th grade.  Boston it is.  We made the reservations.  Tufts – a beautiful campus school.  MIT – she is an engineering nerd like her father (and just a regular nerd like her mother).  BU – what about an urban experience?  Instead of anxiety, I started getting excited.  There is perhaps no more exciting life transition than going to college.  Instead of focusing on how much I am going to miss her and worry about her, I started focusing on what she must be experiencing.  What a thrill!

After the bombs on Monday, we discussed rescheduling the trip.  Our schedules are so tight; our excitement so high; we rationalized that Boston is as safe a place as any.  Boston it is.

We packed Thursday night and went to bed, ready to leave before dawn in order to make our 10am info session at BU.  They warned that parking was terrible, so we needed plenty of time.  In the car, fortified with Starbucks before 6 am, we were off.  Dark and quiet, the magic I had hoped for happened.  No radio, no tv, no computer, no cell phone, we talked.  And talked and talked and talked.  What kind of school would be a supportive and nurturing environment for my beloved first born?  Where might she be happy?  Where might she want to live?  What might she want to do?  How to reconcile her math/science head with her intensely creative and talented art ability?  And, not to spoil the dreaming, what could we afford?  We couldn’t afford any of the schools we were looking at.  We just have to start somewhere.

Two hours later, half way to Boston, the conversation lulled.  She checked her cell phone.  “Mom!”  She was almost crying.  “Dad has called a whole bunch of times and he texted us, ‘Turn Around!  Aren’t you listening to the radio?’”

No, we were obliviously and happily in our magical mother-daughter world.

It took a while for the news to sink in.  Boston was locked down.  Everything was closed.  A manhunt was on.  There was a shooting at MIT, precisely where we here headed that afternoon.  This was not a movie, this was real life.  WTF?!  WTF?!  WTF?!

I pulled off the road to consider our options.  My first instinct was denial.  They’ll catch him and everything will be fine.  Let’s keep going.  Ridiculous.  And she was scared.  My second instinct was panic.  Let’s go home.  But we were so psyched to look at schools and have this special trip together!  I breathed.  I calmed down.  I decided to exercise my live-in-the-moment flexibility muscle.  You know, the one that is not very strong because I am a controlling, rigid, organized, disciplined, set-in-my ways, always-in-motion, nut.  What else could we do?  Aren’t there other schools we could look at?  Well, we’re right near Rhode Island.  Some good schools there.  Providence is a nice town.  Newport is a nice town.  We set the GPS for the University of Rhode Island arriving, magically, at 10am just as an Information Session and Campus Tour was about to begin.  They welcomed us heartily and off we went on our very first tour.  There was a lot to like, though it didn’t inspire that Aha! thrill of an ivy quad that she is waiting for.  She raised her eyebrows at me when we looked at the dorm room for three.  I teased her, reminding her that she had once dreamed of bringing her beautiful Queen bed to college with her.  And where would all her clothes go?  I reassured her that she could store off-season clothes at home, requiring regular visits home to update her wardrobe.  Phew, that problem was solved.

The day was looking up.  We jaunted off to Newport for lunch having the most delicious tuna I have ever ever had at Diego’s (truly, it is amazing and worth the trip) and topping it off with the best chocolate – ever – at Destination Chocolate (truly, it is amazing and worth the trip).  We fantasized about the sailboat my husband wants.  She and my husband had the same thought at the same time.  As he texted, she spoke out loud:  “If I go to URI, Daddy will want to get a boat and keep it at Newport!”  They are DNA twins.  We drove past the Newport mansions, anticipating the movie release of Gatsby.  I hope it’s good.  Maybe I should read the book.  She read it for school this year, but I never have.

Off to Providence.  Brown didn’t have any tours this weekend, but we figured we could just walk around and have our mother-daughter hotel night there.  We drove into town.  What a manageable city!  We headed toward Brown.  You drive up “College Hill” and it hits you.  Beautiful, understated, old, ivy academic richness.  It was what she was waiting for.  She fell in love.  Even if she’s one of the 6% or 9% or some silly low percentage that gets accepted, we can’t afford it.  Back at our hotel, I found it hard to tame my urge to be in anxious and perpetual motion to DO SOMETHING.  Movie?  Providence Bruins game?  Restaurant?  I was ready!  She confided, “Mom, could we get room service?  I’ve always wanted to get room service.  Maybe we could just hang here and watch a movie on the tv.”  Gulp, how unaspiring.  OK.  Gulp.  We can do that.  Gulp.  We looked at the room service menu.  Hamburgers struck us as a decadent choice.  Especially for me, the excruciatingly healthy sometimes meatless one.  Gulp.  We ordered hamburgers.  She picked the movie, Pitch Perfect.  I would have picked some Oscar nominee that I hadn’t seen.  It was such a fun movie.  We ate our delicious hamburgers.  We ate our delicious chocolate.  We laughed at our fun movie.  It was the best night – just about ever.  Safe as anyone can be, blessed to have such a special chance for mother-daughter time, I enjoyed just being with her. The movie ended.  We checked the news from our haven and were beyond relieved to see that the manhunt was over.

The next day, I continued (or tried) to follow her lead.  Did she want to take the tour at RISD?  Did she want to look at Quinnipeac?  Yale?  After all, she’s the one who’s going to college, not me.  It’s her life and she is wise and knows herself with amazing clarity.  We spent the day exploring and just being together.  I am so grateful.  Grateful for my life, for her life.  Grateful to be home safe and looking forward to the next road trip.

3 Adjectives

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Wise.  Honest.  Compassionate.

The assignment I have been dreading and anticipating for 17 years has arrived.  It is time to help my first-born get ready to leave home.  To begin the college exploration process, the high school guidance counselor helpfully sent home a precise and systematic worksheet to distill the overwhelming and very emotional task into one page:  Choose 3 adjectives to describe your child.

Just three?  My daughter is the most amazing creature ever.  I cannot narrow her down into three adjectives.  She is beautiful, funny, creative, ambitious, curious, elegant, honest, meticulous, compassionate, disciplined, hard-working, eager-to-achieve, eager-to-please, smarter than smart, the life of the party, athletic, graceful, strong, willful, compliant, adaptive, loving, stylish, curious, culturally in-the-know, fast, careful, controlled, trusting, a rule-follower, capable, independent, determined, generous, mature, friendly, modest, empathetic, vibrant, serious, silly, spirited, grounded, loyal, wise.  An artist.  A teacher.  A leader.  Just three?

What stories will make her stand out to the college admissions committees?

Should I tell them about the day I took off from work to take her for her driving road test?  She was excited about making the leap into driving.  I was less so, but excited on her behalf.  I mainly wanted it to be over to get to our mother-daughter day.  Lunch and Christmas shopping.  She failed the test, perhaps the first test she has ever failed.  Crying…she sat in the passenger seat and I took back the driver’s seat cursing at the situation, in pain at her pain.  There was no way this was going to be a good day.  Shopping would not be girly.  Lunch would not be delicious.  Giving up, we transitioned into running errands.  Running to the bank that afternoon, I left her in the car texting.  When I returned, she looked at me with tears steaming down her face.  A gunman has massacred 26 people, most of them children.  The raw emotion of shock, fear, disbelief, exhaustion was up front and center.  I couldn’t believe it, couldn’t let myself feel it.  My deepest, most unspeakable fear – to lose a child.  These poor people.  I am too controlling and distant from my emotions.  She is my guide to how to feel.

Should I tell them about her participation in the peer mentoring program at school?  How the kids adore her because she looks them in the eye and treats them like one of the regular kids, like a friend?  The regular kids didn’t know what to say or how to behave.  One day, she was taking the bus home and she sat down next to one of the girls she mentors.  The girl was so pleased she gave Kiera a kiss and confided that she considers my daughter a friend. And my daughter IS a friend to her.  There is no status stratification in her mind.  Anyone who is genuine, nice, and funny can be my daughter’s friend.  When the kids she babysits want to sit and talk instead of go to bed so she can get her homework done, she sits and talks.  I was not that kind of babysitter.  I wanted those kids to go to bed so I could get my homework done.  No wonder she is asked back to babysit.  I was not asked back.  She is my guide to how to be a friend.

Should I tell them I am so glad she doesn’t have a boyfriend yet?  Unlike me at her age, she is not trying to find validation of her worth by the number of boys who like her.  She has a range of friendships from different aspects of her life.  Smart, funny, loyal friends.  Beautiful girls in all shapes and sizes, with all different personalities and temperaments, all contributing to the social support that embraces my daughter and keeps her grounded, more grounded than I was, more grounded than I am.  She is my guide to how to be a confident girl, a confident woman.

Should I tell them about her brilliant business idea?  Not only is she academically gifted, but she is culturally astute.  Not only does she have my husband’s math and science brain, but she is creative, stylish, and savvy.  Too bad she is a rule-follower spending all her time getting A’s.  She doesn’t have time to execute her business idea(s).  How do I tell her that A’s don’t make you happy, that A’s don’t guarantee success in life or money in the bank?  How do I encourage her to break the rules and take some risks when I am her role-model, a model of over-achieving obedience?  Be brave, beautiful girl, follow your path.  No one is more capable than you.

Should I tell them that she took on a job as greeter and administrator at our yoga studio to make money to pay for her school trip to Spain?  So determined she was to finance some of the trip to take the burden off of us and to show solidarity with her friends who are less affluent.  And now, she has insinuated herself into the life of the yoga studio.  The teachers count on her to get the computer system straight.  The students see her smiling, gracious demeanor and share how they are doing with her.  And when they see me, they tell me what I already know…”Your daughter is just wonderful.”

Should I tell them about all the reality tv that she watches and how I don’t understand this?  I hate tv.  Well, I did like our evenings watching What Not to Wear and Project Runway.  And I do think she could be the lead critic on Fashion Police.  And she has converted me to a diehard Ellen fan.  I suppose it is comparable to my hours reading novels as a girl – a window into other people and how they live.  She is different than me – as it should be.

Should I tell them about what a great tennis player she is but that she hates competing?  How my husband’s passion for tennis meant she has been playing tennis since she was 5.  Tennis is in her body but she has stage fright in a tournament.  She sprained her ankle playing a tournament and was sidelined for 6 months.  Coincidence?  Or is that how she communicates that she is done with tournaments.  Or needs to re-approach tennis in a way that works for her.  Time to build her own life and not live her parents’ dreams.

Should I tell them that when I found out I was pregnant with a girl, 17 ½ years ago, I prayed to raise a girl who was happy and confident – comfortable in her own skin.  That would mean raising a girl who listened to her body, respected her body, admired her body, trusted her body, her Self.  I prayed that I would love her the best that I am able.  I prayed that I would enjoy every minute I had with her.  When I found out I was pregnant, I couldn’t stand the thought of her leaving home 18 years later.  Here it is.  The Moment.  It is her time.  Heart in my throat, how can I hold her close while giving her the freedom to be a grown-up, at home – practicing before she has to do it for real?  How best to love and support her through this thrilling transition?  Somehow, we will find a college that is right for her.  She will be ready.  I will try to be ready.  To let her go.  To dream her dreams and live her life.   She is Wise.  Honest.  Compassionate.  Born with a soul older than mine.  She is my guide to how to live.

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