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Hop on the Bus, Gus September 4, 2011

Posted by J. in FYI, Genius.

School is back in session–THANK YOU BABY JESUS.

Are you humming "The Most Wonderful Time of the Year?" 'Cause I am.

I love my kids.  But summer vacation is too damn long.

I believe in school.  I think it’s a great idea for kids to be away from their parents in the company of other kids and adults.  I glad kids are always going to have not just amazing teachers but piss-poor teachers, too, because you can learn some pretty important life lessons from shitty teachers.

I also believe in school because I think it’s imperative that parents spend time away from their kids, and that’s not just because I’m a selfish git and I like my alone time.  School is their place, not mine.

I have mixed feelings about sending Dave off, though.  He’s only three, and while I’m a firm believer in cutting that umbilical cord and sending them off without a backwards glance, I also know that there are precious few years that they get to be by my side.  My time to imprint my particular brand of weirdness on them is short as it is, and sending him off to school two years earlier than his sisters made me feel bad that he’s not going to get the full benefit of my particular brand of humor.  He seems to get my jokes, so that’s encouraging, anyway.

But every kid is different, and like Emma needed a full-day of kindergarten, Dave needs special preschool so that he can be all he can be.  The school can offer him the things he needs at this point in his life that I can’t give him, so off to school he goes.  I can only hope he’s absorbed enough of my particular brand of humor to see him through.  And fuck it: if they can get him potty trained, power to them.  He’s not catching on to it here, that’s for sure.

I’m proud to say I’m not the kind of mother that stands and wipes away a sad tear as her baby gets on the bus like a big boy with his blue backpack.  God help me, I don’t miss him even once while he’s gone.  I swear on my mother’s liver that I don’t miss any of them for even one second.

For two and half short hours a day, this house is a still and quiet as a tomb.  And it is AWESOME.  Mind you, it’s only been a couple of weeks and I still find myself thinking, “It’s too quiet in here,” and I almost get up and see if the boy is knuckle deep in a poop-filled diaper or if he’s dumped his juice into my recliner.

And then I remember he’s someone else’s responsibility for the morning, and my heart swells with joy. And gratitude.  The only voices I can hear are the ones in my head, and they’ve stopped telling me to kill quite so often.

In case you’re wondering, I’m pretty sure I get my laissez-faire attitude towards my children from my own mother.  As my friends send their kids off to college for the first time with their cell phones, computers, Facebook, Skype, blogs and unlimited texting, I remember the day my mother drove into the driveway of Ochre Lodge, tossed me and my luggage out onto the front lawn and blew me a kiss while Robin pulled the door shut as they left on two wheels, gravel spitting up from the back tires and Janis Joplin blasting from the car speakers.

I got there a day early for orientation, attending the sessions designed for the 20 or so kids that were coming from other countries, so the rest of the dorm wasn’t expected to arrive until the next day.  I chose the bed in the corner, unpacked my stuff and…waited.

It had been drizzling on and off all day, but I guess no one in my house realized that it might occasionally rain in Newport (it was sunny in all the brochures!), so wandering around campus getting wet seemed stupid.  I arranged and re-arranged my stuff and explored the empty dorm to kill some time.  There was an orientation Mass that day for new students that I was expected to be at, but by the time I had to leave, the rain was coming down in buckets.  Biblical.  Like you read about.  If you’ve spent any time on Aquidneck Island, you know what I’m talking about.

Sans protective rain gear, I wrapped my biggest, thickest red sweater around me, ducked my head in and walked as fast as I could up Ochre Point Avenue, past the Breakers and Wakehurst and into the great hall of Ochre Court.

In the five minutes it took me to walk/run up the avenue, I was soaked to the skin.  I found the bathroom down in the basement and dried my hair as best I could with half a roll of brown paper towels and took my sweater off and rung it out in the sink.  I walked back up the marble stairs watching water ooze out of my sneakers on each tread, leaving a puddle with every step.  Is there anything sadder than a lonely, homesick freshman sitting by herself, dripping onto the carpet?  It was fucking pathetic.

There were no websites when I went off to school.  You couldn’t just Google “Newport weather” and find out that it pissed down rain every five out of seven days from September to May.  There was no handy Google answers about what I’d need to pack, so I had no idea that dorm mattresses were made of institutional plastic and would require a thick mattress pad to be comfortable.  For some reason, it didn’t even occur to anyone that I’d need a freaking backpack to carry my books to and from my classes.  What did we know from college?  I was the first to go.

I sat alone in the dorm that night and started making a list of the things I was going to need so that I could have them sent down.

Needless to say, this would have been handy. 8.5 MILLION hits on what you'll need for your dorm room. I bet at least one of them mentions a mattress pad, an umbrella, and a backpack. Whippersnappers have it easy these days.

Once I knew what I was missing, I had to wait until my first weekly call home, though.  There was one pay phone on the second floor for our dorm and you had to feed it quarters.  I had been sent off to school with one roll of quarters until I got to go home for Columbus Day weekend in October.  Calling collect was expensive and reserved for emergencies.  Being wet and stuck to a sweaty mattress was not an emergency.

So that first night of college, my first night away from home, I sat alone in my sparsely furnished room and read one of my summer reading books for class.  I’d read it twice already, but there wasn’t anything else to do.  I hadn’t brought anything that passed for entertainment in those olden days.  I didn’t pack any novels to read for fun.  I didn’t bring a deck of cards to play solitaire.  The TV in the common room didn’t have cable so it got one local station, and badly at that.  There was a fridge in the kitchen, but no one had bought me anything to put in it.

In short, my first night away from home was like solitary confinement.  Dinner in the cafeteria, followed by water torture and reading alone in my cell. No need to feel bad for Poops, though.  Being abandoned on a rainy night in an empty old house builds character.

I'm 99% sure this is an actual picture of my freshman dorm room from the Salve Regina website. Click the picture to see what Ochre Lodge looks like. Now picture it dark with the rain coming down in sheets. Yeah, there's nothing scary about spending the night there alone. Nothing at all...

So I laugh to myself when I think of these college freshmen going off to school, arriving on campus with their phones already out so that they can tell their best friends how much they miss them in real time, and can Skype their mommies every night before bed.  In the age of email, they’ll never know what it’s like to go to the mail room every day looking for a letter from home and feeling like everyone has forgotten about you when the box is empty.

I never breathed a word of any of that until many, many years later.  I didn’t want my parents to know that I was so homesick it hurt.  I didn’t want anyone to know how many times I cried myself to sleep or what a loser I felt like when I had trouble making friends and fitting in.  I fought like hell to go to Salve and I’d be damned if I’d admit that I hated it.

I’m glad I was pushed out of the nest, and while it was horrible at the time, I’m kind of proud of the fact that I’d rather have chewed off my own tongue than admit that I wanted back in.  I suspect that if I’d had even an inkling that my mom was sad to see me go, I don’t know if I’d have had the balls to keep a stiff upper lip.

Weird as it sounds, I think today’s freshmen arriving on campus have it harder.  The positive part of being dropped off with no easily accessible support network in place is that you’re forced out of your comfort zone into making new friends.  My best friends from high school weren’t there to talk to every day, so I had to set about making new friends, and it was harder than I thought it was going to be.  I think if I’d have been able to text my high school friends every day from college, I wouldn’t have made the college friends I did.  I wouldn’t have had to try.  If I could have spent the evening in my room on Skype, I don’t know that I’d have been fully involved in college life.

As it worked out for me, by the end of the first semester, that sink-or-swim approach to college life meant that I was forced to make some new friends, if only so that I didn’t die of loneliness or become an emo twat.  Being lonely was the impetus I needed to seek out things to do, and to find those kids with whom I had something in common.  I even learned to adapt and adjust and get along with those who were not.

Some you throw back. The good ones you hang onto forever.

So no, I don’t think twice about my kids once they’re out of the house.  You’d think that remembering that horrible feeling of abandonment would make me more sympathetic–maybe even clingy.  But it’s just the opposite.  I’m ruthless in my detachment parenting.  They need to be out of the house.  They need to be away from me so that they can make new friends and figure out their own lives.  They need to be able to figure out who they are without me being at their shoulder telling them who I think they are.  They have to be able to fight their battles and soothe their own wounded souls.  I can’t always be there to kiss boo-boos, so it’s best that they learn some basic first aid.

If God is indeed a merciful God, someday they’ll be leaving home and going someplace unfamiliar with a bunch of people they neither know nor particularly like.  I hope they don’t call home every day, and I hope they do find themselves dreadfully sad and lonely at some point so that they, too, have an incentive to fill that emptiness with new friends.



1. bezzie - September 4, 2011

Ha ha! I feel so lucky–my parents bought me an umbrella as a hs graduation present b/c the college I went to was located in a temperate rain forest. It was sunny two weeks a year–“brochure days” is what we called them!

2. Boob - September 4, 2011

I kinda just relived those early days with you! And I was there!! So happy that I was one of those you hung on to forever. Miss you Pud!!


3. MouthyMavensMusings - September 6, 2011

Poops…you are awesome. This nearly made me cry it was so well written.

4. MouthyMavensMusings - September 6, 2011

P.S. Now the song from Sister Act is lodged in my brain. I hope you are happy now.

5. Cindy in Happy Valley - September 13, 2011

Don’t worry about Dave and the potty. My nephew, whose only “challenge” was being “busy”, refused to use the potty until he was almost 4!! My brother was beginning to think he was going to be changing diapers and sending him to the prom.

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