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Observations on the College Tour

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It's been break week at school -- that time for high school juniors to come for the obligatory college tours. So last week I collected my high school sons, a junior and a freshman, and drove to upstate New York for four days.

We left in 60 degree weather without boots and gloves only to find ourselves touring in a white out snow storm so strong we could not see any building on campus, let alone the ones 50 feet in front of us. Even if we could have slipped away from our group to find shelter, we had lost all direction like disoriented mushers in the Iditarod.

Other than learning I should have checked the weather forecast and have been better prepared, I made some other significant observations:

Observation One: College tour guides begin the answer to every question with: "That's a really good question."

The tour guides are sweet, kind, accomplished (many have double majors, double minors), and excellent at what they do. They are abuzz with history. They tell charming anecdotes, which reflect well on the school. They walk backwards. They are able to withstand awkward silences, and also hear the timid questioner amid the cacophony of multiple criss- crossing tours. They have so much energy and so many interesting things to share, multiple ideas blurt out in breathless paragraphs. I swore I heard one guide say, "On my last break I volunteered in "UgandaBoysHouseofDetentionNew Zealand" but then snapped out of my reverie to realize, no that was what she did last year, not this last break. But still, I thought, it sounded like a lot.

I tried hard to focus on school information but I just wanted to hug the tour guides to see if they were okay. I wanted to ask: who bought your LL Bean boots for you, you or your parents? Do you have enough money? Why did you dye your hair orange? Do you ever stop doing things? Do you talk like this at home?

Observation Two: Thoughts on the American chain hotel complimentary continental breakfast.

First, we saw many people wear their pajamas to breakfast buffets. I'm not talking Uggs and cotton boxer lounge wear with sports appliqué; I'm talking pajamas. Two ladies sashayed down to the buffet table in purple and Mediterranean blue satin pajamas and slippers, without a robe.

Now for the food critique. The buffet had the usual: cereal, bagels, bread, fruit, juice, and... the unusual: Make It Yourself Belgian waffles! The waffle batter was poured into 10 neatly lined up plastic cups (which I thought was egg nog). Pajama clad hotel guests lined up around the buffet table waiting their turn to make Belgian waffles, watching the guest in front of them get the hang of the waffle iron. As the college kids say, "awkward"!

Coffee is served in styrofoam cups only Thumbelina would call grande. The coffee is so weak -- for what I'm used to -- that I got a migraine from caffeine withdrawal. Cereal is also served in Thumbelina sized styrofoam bowls with mini-spoons. Three mini-spoonfuls and you are headed back to the free buffet for more food. Even scrambled eggs keel over the mini-forks as the prongs are too limp to hold them.

Observation Three. Touring nudges you closer to the heart-wrenching separation to be.


By the end of the fours days, I had my fill of driving and watching ESPN's endless discussion of Carmelo Anthony, while dodging the pillow fights and wrestling matches of my boys in the hotel rooms. Still, I was happy to be near them.

As parents, our job is to nudge our children forward, even though we never want to be without them. I remember moments when Jack (the Junior) ventured from us and did well. I remember the first time he walked from his room to our living room as a toddler; making it all the way to the couch without falling. I remember him winning his first chess tournament match in an unfamiliar grade school auditorium. I remember the first ride on his bike without training wheels -- steady and true.

This trip was overwhelming in part because it bespeaks this inevitable separation he will have from all of us, from me, his father, his brothers, his friends, his teammates, even his neighborhood.

Ever determined to put one foot in front of the other, however, I resolve to focus again on our connection, not the inevitable separation. I wonder how close he can live to the on-campus post office -- a stop included on all college tours. He may have to leave us, but he's always going to get my cookies from home.