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.

 

Strung Together

On a recent weekend away, we stopped at a national park to take a look around. The temperatures that day had climbed into the high 90s and it was unbearably hot. As Henry stepped out of the car, he lamented the heat exclaiming, “UGH. It’s so HUMID.”

From somewhere on the other side of the car, Millie replied calmly and clearly, “No, that’s just the sweat of your enemies you’re feeling.”

One morning a couple of weeks ago, Bob decided to make pancakes for the kids. It’s always fun to watch them groggily emerge from their bedrooms following the scent of maple syrup. When Millie wandered in, Bob immediately went to embrace her in a good morning hug which she crankily declined.

“If you even so much as look at me, I will stab you in the brain with this fork,” she declared whilst wielding her breakfast cutlery. We all looked up from our assorted tasks and collectively responded, “Whoa, dude. That’s way harsh.” Millie looked at Bob and exclaimed cheerily, “I’M JUST JOKING!”

As she turned and walked towards the table we heard her mutter under her breath, “Don’t worry. This fork probably couldn’t penetrate the skull anyway.”

Everything is fine but also we’re all sleeping with one eye open.

Speaking of Millie, she is our easiest-to-please eater. She always has been. She’ll try most any food. She’s adventurous and curious. She gets ridiculously excited about her favorite foods. She’s positively giddy when I make her most treasured meal – ground beef tacos seasoned with that orange seasoning mix you get in the packet at the grocery store.

Bolstered by virtually unfettered access to cooking competition shows on Netflix, the kids suggested we have a family cook-off showdown of our own. Charlie and Bob decided to pair off (of course). Millie decided she would be the judge (of course). That left Henry and I as a team (we always are).

Each team picked a night to prepare dinner and Millie had an elaborate and indecipherable points system that took into account originality, presentation, and whether or not dessert was included.

I don’t want to knock Bob’s kitchen skills but Henry and I totally won. Hands down. It… wasn’t even a competition. But, it took like, three hours to prepare dinner from (mostly) scratch and, my word, I would not last as a pioneer wife. I was too tired to even touch the dishes. Also, let me know if you’d like my sister’s winning recipe for meatloaf. There weren’t even any leftovers.

We’ve been making it a point this summer to come together for dinner most nights. Between my work commitments and the kids commitments, both dinner and dinnertime had become a scattered and random affair the first half of the year. We just simply fell out of the habit.

But, we kickstarted the effort this summer. Gathering each night around the dining room table to chat and laugh and linger. And, it’s been lovely. Turns out, my kids are very funny and I enjoy spending time with them after all.

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Speaking of dinner around the table, I finally found the wing chairs for my dining room that I have been searching more than a year for. I found them on Craigslist. I wasn’t sure if people still USED Craigslist but, out of desperation, I logged on looking for wing chairs I was certain I would never find. Turns out, a nice elderly couple downsizing from their large suburban home near the city was selling exactly what I was looking for.

Now, here’s where I admit that I’ve never, ever purchased even a single thing from Craigslist despite using the site years ago to offload dozens of furniture pieces over the course of four homes and two major house renovations. I’ve only ever been a seller. Never a buyer.

I was a little nervous when it came time to pick the chairs up and I had to take Henry for moral support but the couple could not have been nicer, the chairs were exactly as described, and they only smell ever-so-slightly like someone else’s house.

I am now completely addicted to looking for gently used, high-quality furniture at rock bottom prices sold by old people moving to patio homes. Turns out, those are the people still using Craigslist.

Speaking of my new chairs, it feels like the dining area is finally complete. It’s organized and decorated and soothing – something I’m trying to duplicate in every area of our house.

I am on a mission and that mission is to organize the hell out of everything.

I’ve been cleaning and clearing out every corner of our home. Every room. Every closet. Every nightmare underneath-the-bed scenario. Every single space. Ruthlessly discarding every piece of garbage that is anywhere. My kids are so confused, too. I’ve tried to “include them in the process” like all of the good advice columns tell you to do but there is a point where it’s just not really possible anymore and someone has to be the grownup and tell Millie that not every gum wrapper is a treasured piece of art and explain to Charlie that there’s a limit to how many deer skulls one ten-year-old should have in his bedroom.

But, they’re on to me. They know I’ve been throwing things away without their permission. Millie started grilling me about what happened to an Easter basket with a broken handle she got as a party favor two years ago that I dragged out from the back corner of her closet and threw in the garage garbage can approximately six minutes before her interrogation began. I just shrugged my shoulders and said I had no idea. I mean, I’m just straight up lying at this point.

Someday, my kids will read these words and realize that their mother lied and lied to them about what happened to that puzzle of the solar system they never even once put together or that stuffed animal that was kind of ugly and they will confront me with the truth and I still won’t feel even an ounce of guilt.

 

Signs of Summer

1. This pile of last-day-of-school papers and projects and general backpack detritus that has been sitting on the chair in our front hall for the entirety of the three weeks school has been out. I mean, really. At the very least, someone should probably deal with that lunchbox on top, right? Good lord, what if there is food in there. Bob and I are both just kind of pretending this whole foyer situation doesn’t exist. It’s really working for us.

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2. Me, shouting at varying levels of intensity and annoyance:

“Close the door, please!”
“Hey! You left the door open!”
“Can you PLEASE shut the door!”
“WHY is the door OPEN?”
“WHAT IS EVEN HAPPENING THAT YOU CAN’T SHUT THE DOOR ARE YOUR ARMS BROKEN BECAUSE IF THEY ARE THEN USE YOUR FEET BECAUSE I AM LOSING MY MIND AND DO YOU WANT ME TO LOSE MY MIND STOP TALKING THAT IS A RHETORICAL QUESTION BECAUSE MY MIND IS ALREADY GONE”

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3. Charlie planted a small garden from seeds right outside our bedroom window and then proceeded to stare at the soil every day for weeks waiting for something to emerge. He was willing his plants to grow with the very power of his mind. The day something green appeared was his very best day. I wasn’t in on the garden planning but was pretty excited to have a supply of fresh tomatoes and cucumbers right from our own backyard this summer. Relevant to this story is the fact that I make a zucchini bread that the kids love (primarily, I’m sure, because the recipe calls for one entire cup of sugar per loaf). I haven’t made it in a while though because we’re no longer members of a CSA which used to be our primary source for zucchini. When the kids ask when we’re going to make the bread again, I always reply, “When I can get good zucchini!” Charlie took this to heart and planted an entire garden plot of zucchini. It is the only thing growing in his garden. I’m going to need more sugar.

4. Camps really are one of the very best parts of summer. The kids get to pursue activities they are interested in and I do not have to do anything to assist them in that pursuit because (totally) underpaid high schoolers and college students help them live their dreams.

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5. The unrelenting, ever-present worry that my children are spending too much of their time in front of screens. This is the same story. Every single summer. The same deep-seated fear that they’re wasting their summer watching prank videos on YouTube or building kingdoms in Minecraft. Or, whatever it is they do in Minecraft. I’m really not sure. I’m not even sure I can keep dedicating bandwidth to worrying about this. It’s just a thing that… is. The kids live a rich life full of different adventures and responsibilities and they regularly get fresh air and stuff so, I don’t know. I’m trying to be breezy but I will probably still fret about this for the next eight weeks.

6. My children’s continued lack of appreciation for the time and energy Bob and I invest in showing them a good time. I mean, this is not the face of a kid that is about to appreciate an $85.00 dinner. Because, that’s what this particular meal cost and that’s the best Charlie’s attitude got and I have some regrets.

7. I just ate three ears of sweet corn for dinner. That, I do not regret.