The More Things Change

I had a chance to visit my alma mater with Henry earlier this month. The last time I was on campus, I was entering my third trimester, pregnant with the same kid that just asked me on the drive out to Indiana what a 401k is. Time is funny like that. One minute, you’re crouched over their crib moving stuffed animals to a safe distance. The next, you’re putting a television in their room and making them pledge not to watch questionable content on Netflix.

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It was a bit surreal to be back in my college town. Especially with a teenager. Goodness, I was a teenager when I began school there. Only about four years older than Henry is now. Drunk on freedom. (Also, probably alcohol.) Walking the same streets with your teenager that you walked as a young adult while fervently hoping and praying that the beautiful person next to you doesn’t make the same mistakes you did is quite a trip. I refrained from pointing out the houses and apartment complexes where I partied the hardest, preferring to prudently hi-light the remodeled student recreation center and underground library instead.

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Things have changed so much in the fourteen years since my last visit. New buildings. New businesses. New bars. Everything a little different, even if achingly familiar.

For one thing, transportation on campus has changed dramatically. When we first arrived and began walking around on Friday afternoon, I noticed there were these lanes next to the sidewalk. Sometimes separated by a median, sometimes just painted lines. The minute I realized – and began to appreciate – that they had finally designated separate bike lanes, a student flew by us on a motorized skateboard. That was the beginning of a weekend filled with a lot of things… zooming in our peripheral vision. Motorized skateboards. Motorized bicycles. Motorized scooters. Many things with wheels wheeling students from place to place. In ye olden days, we walked or rode bikes until things turned icy in winter and then we just, well, walked.

The dormitory situation has changed, too. Campus seemed filled with new apartment-style dorms. They looked very fancy and very comfortable. I distinctly remember that by the time I graduated, some of the newer dorms being constructed were designed suite-style, with attached bathrooms for each room. I remember being jealous of the incoming class of students that didn’t have to haul their shower basket down the hall wearing flip-flops and a robe, to the communal bathrooms. But, now some of these even newer places have balconies. And, Starbucks in the lobby. I mean, what luxury is this? The dorm I lived in as a freshman, has air conditioning now. What kind of grit are we instilling in our next generation if they can’t even make it through an Indiana August in 90 degree heat on the twelfth floor of a building that has no hope of a cross breeze?

Also, I guess most of the dining services have been consolidated now. No one heads to the basement of their dorm each morning for questionable scrambled eggs. Now, you go to a stand alone dining hall that services a few of the dorms that are clustered in that area. I mean, the dining hall we stopped into was lovely and the selection of food was kind of amazing but there was not a single deep fried button mushroom with a side of ranch dressing to be found and so that made me sad. Times have certainly changed.

The student union looked mostly the same – all dark wood paneling and quiet nooks and crannies – until we rounded the corner and were greeted by the blaring white spaceship lighting of an Amazon pickup store. So, that’s a new thing, I guess. Back in my day, we used to have to beg the video store delivery guy to stop and get us snacks from the convenience store next door on the way to our dorm. These days, the kids can get parts for their motorized skateboards delivered next day. By drone, probably. Right to the balconies of their air conditioned dorms, I’m assuming.

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It wasn’t all new. Indiana is still just as flat as it’s always been. That hasn’t changed. We took the non-interstate route north from Indianapolis to reach Lafayette and the flatness is truly remarkable. After almost six years of living in the mountains of Virginia, I think I had forgotten what it’s like to be able to see all of the way to the horizon. Henry must have thought I was delirious from the long drive because I just kept saying, “Can you BELIEVE how FLAT it is? I mean, SO FLAT, right?”

I took Henry to Arni’s, a Lafayette tradition since forever. They’d remodeled the restaurant at some point in my absence so that was freshened up a bit but it still smelled the same inside. Just like ever-so-slightly burnt crust. The pizza was the same, too. A thin crust with tangy tomato sauce and topped with sliced mushrooms that came from a can which is the only appropriate way to top a pizza with mushrooms. The salad has remained the same as well, made from non-nutrient dense iceberg lettuce with copious amounts of shredded cheese and hard-boiled eggs. Served with what can only be described as a tureen-sized container of Thousand Island dressing. I love a restaurant that still serves Thousand Island dressing.

The football game was just as much fun as when I was a student, too. The stadium hasn’t changed much, albeit maybe a little bit bigger than when I was last on campus. I seem to remember an addition going on, funded after one particularly successful football season that has yet to be replicated. It was also a little bit colder than I remember ever being bothered by as a student. I’m not sure if that’s because I’ve lived in the south for eighteen years or because I wasn’t insulated by beer consumption. Regardless, all-in-all just as thrilling and nail-biting as a Big Ten college football game always promises to be. The band just as entertaining and awe-inducing as I remember. I loved it. Every minute of it.

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At one point during our weekend on campus, Henry mentioned that he felt a little out of place walking around. “It feels a little weird,” he said. Like he was too young to be there. Too young to really belong just yet.

Which, I understood since I felt a little too old to be there. Especially jarring since it seems like just yesterday that I was there, seventeen years old, wondering if I belonged, too.

He can’t imagine what lies ahead and I can’t believe what lies behind. Everything past, present, and future. All together. Time is funny like that.

 

Fifteen

Fifteen years. Just like that.

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These past fifteen years haven’t really seemed linear. I know there’s a clear beginning to our marriage but I’m not sure if this is the middle or what and I can’t even begin to guess what the end will be.

These past fifteen years instead are just jumbled memories of babies and doctor’s appointments and diapers and houses and vacations and deep joy and health crises and holidays and homework monitoring and weird rashes and belly laughs and grocery shopping and intense grief and settling arguments and drying tears and calling kids by the names of their siblings instead of their actual names.

Each year that passes adds to the jumble but is also feels like it’s just always been like this. This chaotic and busy and tragic and lovely. This wonderful life.

After fifteen years, I barely remember the before.

On Generosity

The five of us spent a long weekend this past July exploring the western side of our home state of Virginia, puttering down and then back up the Shenandoah Valley. It was a fun few days of exploring places we had never been before. We found downtown Roanoke to be delightfully eclectic and Natural Bridge State Park to be rightfully impressive but, more than any other stop on our trip, we really loved the little town of Lexington, Virginia.

Lexington is home to two universities that sit, quite literally, side by side: Washington and Lee University and Virginia Military Institute. We set out to explore both while we were in town. We learned that Washington and Lee was named to honor, in part, George Washington. He saved the school from what was certain closure in 1796 through the gift of about $20,000 in stock. A gift that, at the time, was tremendous. It allowed the university to stay afloat and continue operations.

A friend had recommended touring the Lee Chapel while we were on campus so we headed there next. We were probably the only ones on the tour that didn’t know Robert E. Lee’s history with the university or that he was buried in the basement with the majority of his family members only one floor removed from where we were standing. The chapel itself was simple but lovely and, as we learned from the docent, had been saved from ruin in the 1960s by a corporate benefactor that funded the restoration of the trusses that give the chapel its beautiful curved interior ceiling.

A building we would not be standing in on a campus that would no longer exist if not for the generosity of others.

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When our summer travels took us back to the Midwest earlier this month, we decided to break up the long drive with an overnight stop near Pittsburgh. I booked a hotel and messaged a lovely friend I met earlier this year that I remembered lived nearby. I asked if she’d like to meet up for dinner and we made plans to pick a restaurant. When I mentioned I’d have my family with me, she didn’t even hesitate to suggest that we all congregate at her house instead and order in pizza. “The kids can jump on the trampoline and run around,” she explained. I’d never been to her home or met her children or husband nor had she met mine but when she realized we’d all be there, after traveling a fair distance in the car, she was quick to offer an evening that would be easier on everyone.

During that same trip home, a neighbor from the street I grew up on made the same offer when I asked about grabbing lunch together while we were in town. I used to babysit her kids when I was Henry’s age and I had not seen her or her husband in way too long. She didn’t even blink before suggesting we all congregate at her house for lunch. Which we did, spending a glorious afternoon in her home and on her back deck, enjoying great food and great company and gorgeous midwest summer weather which is better than anyone else’s summer weather anywhere. It was so much more pleasant than navigating a restaurant with my three kids.

Two generous women, crafting some of our favorite memories of the trip through something as simple as hospitality.

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Millie has recently taken up skateboarding. She borrows Charlie’s board and helmet and tools around the garage or the nearby school’s playground. I’m not surprised. Millie and skateboarding: makes sense. Last weekend, she convinced Bob to take her to Starbucks and then over to the skate park in the neighboring town. Bob said yes. Bob always says yes.

Now, the skate park is an intimidating place. The first time we took Charlie there, he was too overwhelmed to enter the fray. But, Millie wanted in. In with all of the people that really know how to skate. The experts whizzing by without helmets and knee pads – or shirts – doing fancy footwork and trick moves. It’s all very busy. Except for the teenager there early that Saturday morning that wasn’t too busy to spend 45 minutes teaching Millie some basic skateboarding skills. Bob relayed the story about how kind and patient this kid was. I was surprised and also touched at how much time he had spent with her.

Turns out, Bob said the kid was there with his father who was also helpfully pointing out useful things his kid could teach Millie.

Generational generosity, taught by example.

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I’ve been looking for more ways to be generous. Looking for more ways to give of my time, my talents, my voice, my money. It’s so easy to get busy and frazzled and to forget. Forget to help. The teacher that needs a room parent. The friend that needs a night out. The kid that needs an unbelievable amount of patience.

Generosity is rarely about the big stuff, like saving a university. It’s really all about the other stuff – the smaller stuff.

My hope is that we all find ways to be more generous. To recognize a need and step in to fill it.

Can’t hurt, might help, as the saying goes.