Two years ago, I took two of our three sons, Jack and Ray, on a college tour. (See Observations on the College Tour, Huffington Post, 2/28/11). When Ray's high school junior year winter break arrived last month, he and I headed west, then south from New York City. Like two years ago, I have observations:
Observation one: PARENTAL CAR LECTURES MAY NOT BE NECESSARY: Inspired by the scenery on Route 80, I begin my College Tour lecture series with: "Be Careful if You Get a Job working in a Silo." This lecture covers corn, farming, silage, and accidents in cylindrical structures. (Other lectures on the trip will be, "How to Be Proactive When Your Mother is Helplessly Lost," "Bad Hotels in Maryland" and "The 18 Brands of Beef Jerky for Sale in Today's Typical Gas Station." My drive through long Route 80, like Ray's attention to my lectures, requires both of us to use tricks of the mind. We plow through.
Observation two: COLLEGE TOURS ARE BASICALLY THE SAME, AMAZING, TIRING, AND TEAR-JERKING: The tour guides still walk backwards and talk loudly to be heard. They overachieve, taking one major/two minors, or two majors/one minor; travel far away even during a one-week break (e.g. finish exams, then fly the next day to Honduras to build a school or a ditch or a fence or orphanage -- you get the picture). They are all in the honors programs.
I begin every tour with skepticism. I inwardly roll my eyes on big school tours when l hear the phrase "We are a big school but we are like a family." We are assured that alumni spot other alumni at special places like the Eiffel Tower and spontaneously do a college chant together. I have a mild disdain for parents who won't move in to the auditorium to make room for others. I am preoccupied with how long the tour will go, how far will we walk in the cold rain and above all, whether the tour guides are getting enough food and rest.
All tours begin with an infomercial: 30 minutes of video/ photo montage of the school, sound track by Lil' Wayne and Shania Twain, fading in and out in 10-second overlapping intervals. My disdain fades while watching the video; I end up manipulated and weeping at the college students helping kids with cancer. I leave convinced we should support this school.
When asked for an intended major, Ray says, like Jack did two years ago, "business," but I think he says "business" because Ray, like Jack, wants to be rich and have a beautiful wife and my boys think majoring in business is the foundation of getting rich and having a beautiful wife.
Observation three: PANGS OF SEPARATION DO NOT DIMINISH WITH EXPERIENCE : Ray is quiet in the car. I check if he is asleep or doing homework. He is asleep and his chin is lifted so I get a clear picture of the stitches he got when 5. I no longer remember the number of stitches (the number 16 sticks out) and how many were on the inside and outside. What I do remember is picking him up in the nurse's office. Sitting in a desk chair with Band-Aids holding his chin together, weepy and little-looking, I scooped him up and he instantly went limp in my arms. I held him as I hailed a cab, got to the pediatrician, plastic surgeon and toy store. I may forget the number of stitches but I will never forget the feeling of him going limp in my arms.
Driving to the next college feels like the stitches, a moment when I bring him through something difficult. I reflect on Ray and me. We are alike. If one diagramed a face into thirds, Ray and I share the freckly middle third. We are snarky; we always got each other jokes before anyone else, if they ever even got our jokes. We are both dense but sharp. Neither one of us really wants to get up and figure anything out once we are comfortably ensconced on the couch.
I think I am literally catching him once again in this car and bringing him to the next part. I will let him go only because I know I will always text him snarky things and we will always be the special laughing people in the room.
Of course, much of my sentimentality as a mother is mere projection. For example, I predicted that Ray would be bereft when Jack went to college. That didn't happen; if anything, he flourished.
I am reminded of my "one-way" sentimentality the minute I get home after the college tour. Our third son, Mikey, at 13, asks if we can go shopping for cool jeans and whether I can buy Crest White Strips for him.
I see a third business major in the family.