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.

 

The End is Nigh

There was a time towards the end of my sophomore year of college that I wanted to quit. I was done. Totally over it. All of the classes and the homework and the stress and the weird social life that college brings. I was working part-time and studying full-time and getting my degree seemed to be taking forever. I was so poor. So poor that my sister used to send me care packages that included toilet paper. I wanted to quit school and find full-time employment and make some money and not be so poor. I couldn’t grasp that if I just stuck it out for a couple of more years, the opportunities would be greater. The money would be better. I couldn’t see the forest for the trees.

My sister, Janet, used to visit often when I was a student at Purdue. She was newly married, without children yet, and lived only a few hours away. I remember the weekend she drove up and convinced me not to quit school. I remember sitting at the dining table in my little apartment kitchen going over, credit hour by credit hour, the classes I would need to take to earn my degree. She mapped out in full the last two years of my student life at Purdue to show me that graduation was indeed, imminent. That my time there was finite. That I would eventually finish. I would be done. And, maybe not so poor.

I don’t know if she remembers that weekend; if she remembers the assistance that eventually convinced me to persevere. That showed me there was a light at the end of the tunnel.

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I have been an at-home mom for a little more than five years now. During those years, I haven’t had a whole lot of free time. Time to myself to read a book or organize a closet or go to a yoga class or eat a quiet lunch or shower without having to stick my head out the door wondering if that screaming is the fun kind or the bad kind. I have had a child by my side every day, all of the days, for each of those five years. The work has been relentless. Worth every minute and every effort, yes, but relentless.

And, much like in college, I have had trouble seeing the light at the end of this current parenthood tunnel. I have had difficulty imagining my life as anything other than what it is right now: main childcare provider and meeter of everyone’s needs. I haven’t really stopped to consider my needs for a very long time. I have been getting a bit lost in the weeds.

So, registering Millie for preschool this week was an unexpectedly emotional event. Based on a suggestion from a friend, I selected a program that runs from 9:00 in the morning until 2:30 in the afternoon, much longer than the standard two or three hour programs typical for our town. Enamored at the thought of a solid five hours between drop off and pickup, I basically yelled, “WHERE DO I SIGN” to the slightly startled woman behind the desk. We hadn’t even toured the classrooms yet. The mere act of registering Millie, placing the deposit, making a commitment, has buoyed my spirits. For the first time in a very long time, I realized that my life this fall would be different. With my three children in school for the majority of the week, I would have the gift of time; glorious, glorious time. All to myself.

I’m not promising what I’ll do with that time. I might write more or read more or go to yoga class or volunteer at school but I also might just sit and stare at a wall because I CAN and I HAVE OPTIONS NOW. My joy is palpable. Because, it’s happening, it’s really happening.

Well, it will eventually happen anyway. After a few more months that are cold and then a few more months that are very hot and filled with restless, bored children on summer break. Then! Then it will happen. But, that doesn’t seem that far off anymore. It’s really just right around the corner.

Suddenly, I can see the forest again.