Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dropping The Kid Off at College: Helpful Hints

Update: I wrote this two years ago, and now, as I prepare to take Kid #2 to college, I feel like an old pro at this. Except I'm not. Joe's going to a different college on the other side of the country (Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington), and the fact he's headed to unfamiliar territory kind of freaks me out. Stay tuned for updates. But for now, I think this is still pretty relevant.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say this: I only dropped my kid off at college once. Does this make me an expert on this subject?  No.  But in this day and age, when total closet cases call themselves Life Coaches and people pay actual money to grab hold of a metal bar and have someone tell them why they're sick, I figure I'm as good a source for information as any, right?  Plus there's the whole Me Being A Service Person Thing, so, you know, I'm here to help.

Okay, for my friends who are getting ready to drop their kids off at college, here's what I figured out.

  • It's not as bad as you think it's going to be.  As anyone who was around me at this time last year can tell you, I was a wreck just anticipating taking Catharine to school.  It almost made it worse that she was going to my alma mater (Marquette University), because every time I closed my eyes I pictured her sitting in the Ardmore with a bottle of beer in her hand, or, even worse, wasting time by watching pro wrestling on Sunday mornings with the World's Smelliest Humans.  Then there was the small, insignificant fact that somehow, over the previous 18 years, I actually started liking this kid, and I was truly going to miss her.  But you know what?  Once we got her settled, met her awesome roommate and her family, and figured out that all the old bars were gone and they have cable so they don't have to watch wrestling on Sunday mornings, I felt better about leaving her.  As I told my friends, it was like I thought I was going to get cancer, but only ended up with a bad cold.  I was sad, but I didn't come completely unglued.  You'll survive!
  • There are other kids besides yours going to school there. There is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--more annoying than the mom who seems to think her child is the center of the universe.  Well, except the progeny of the aforementioned parental unit.  When we went for orientation, we were sitting in a classroom with a bunch of other parents, and one mom started in on how her son was in this class, but he should've been in that class, and he really wanted to take blah, blah, blah... The head of the program finally cut her off, saying, "Well, we'll have time to get more specific after while. Right now this is an overview."  Did that shut her up? Nooooo.  She kept going.  Now, normally I would've been very tolerant of this, but it was starting to look like we were going to be late for lunch and I didn't want to miss the salad.  I was thisclose to standing up and shrieking, "Clearly your kid didn't inherit his brains from you! Take a social cue, you idiot! Shut the f up, willya? Did you miss the part about them giving us food?  I need to eat, dammit!" And, on a related note...
  • Yeah, yeah, yeah, your kid's a genius.  Now will you just shaddup? This is not necessarily the same person mentioned above, but it certainly can be.  Okay, here's the thing.  They're already in college, the playing field's basically been leveled, so now you can just can it about the test scores and whatever honors your kid got in high school. One mom actually said to me, "Well, Timmy's a golden boy and if he goes after something, he gets it.  That's a little heads-up in case your daughter's competing with him for something."  No, really, she said that. What are we, Texas cheerleading moms?  Was that a threat? I looked around for a camera, thinking I was being punked, but she wasn't kidding.  They actually make people like that!
  • If your son's being a jerk, it's because he's nervous, too.  I mean, I don't know your kid, it's very possible he's a full-time jerk, but this is a nerve-wracking time for some of these students and things can get a little tense. I can't count the number of times I got snapped at, witnessed the just-short-of-a-seizure eye roll, or got the silent treatment just because I didn't move fast enough or anticipate a need or was standing in the wrong spot in the room during move-in.  Get a thick skin, and kill the little idiot with kindness.
  • Don't eat Real Chili with beans before helping her move into the dorm room.  It's a small space.  That's all I have to say about that.
  • The rules DO apply to you. If the school has a policy about things like elevator usage or time allotted with a dolly or bunking beds, follow it!  There are about a million other parents trying to do the exact same thing you are and as much as you think the procedure the school follows doesn't make sense, they've been doing this a lot longer than you have, so just be patient. Nothing worse than the person who overloads the elevator or the person who takes up all the room in the hallway with all their crap so no one can get by. And don't stand by the elevators and complain endlessly about how messed up the process is and how you're being inconvenienced.  Because no one else's time is as valuable as yours, you selfish lout. In short, don't be a jerk.  And if you are a jerk, trust me on this, the rest of us parents are going to judge you and talk about you endlessly.
  • Be nice to the school staff people.  For the most part, these are just college students, maybe a couple of years older than your own child, and they're just doing their jobs.  Don't start lecturing them on how things can be done better (see above) and for goodness sake, don't start yelling at them when something goes wrong.  The worst thing I saw was a mom shrieking at a staffer about how her daughter was not going to take a top bunk and these rooms are too small and, my favorite part, "What do you know, anyway?  You're just standing there like an idiot, staring at me.  Why are you even working here?" She stormed off, and the poor little RA stood all hunched over her clipboard, looking like someone just kicked her.  Thank goodness for my fellow parents--about five of them rushed over to her to comfort her.  So, yeah, be nice.
  • Dress and act like someone's parent, not someone's buddy or a scary, Mrs. Havisham-ish college student. I only mention this because there was this one woman who wore extremely high heels, short shorts, and a top that revealed a little too much, if you know what I mean, and she caused quite the stir among her fellow parents. My favorite part was when she was waiting for an elevator and she flashed a big smile at one of the dads and said, completely out of the blue, like she was a mind reader or something,"I know, it's hard to believe we're old enough to have kids in college, isn't it?" His wife answered for him, after looking her up and down: "Oh, we're not having any problem believing it, dear."
  • It's okay to cry, but just don't make a mess.  Going down in the elevator with another mom who looked a little shaky, I said, "So, how're you doing?" and she burst into tears.  I couldn't make everything out, what with the sobbing and all, but it seems as though little Mary wasn't even supposed to go to college and (something something something)... Anyway, I put my arm around her, and she buried her face in my shirt and got tears and boogers all over my shoulder. Thank goodness I had tissues, but come on! If you know you're a blubberer, the least you can do is carry around a handkerchief.
  • Leave when they tell you to leave. Honestly, these people at the institutions of higher learning know what they're talking about.  If they say you should leave before a convocation or after a dinner, just do it. Nothing worse than being the Parents Who Wouldn't Leave.  It's creepy!  These kids need to get to know each other, they need to figure out what their new normal looks like, and they have to work out on their own how to balance all the new demands on their lives.  Oh, and so do you!  So say goodbye, don't make a scene (unless your kid's being a pain and deserves it), and get the heck out.
In short, be nice, be patient, and (I almost forgot the most important part!) responsibly administered liquor, in reasonable doses, will help you get through the tense times. But don't carry a flask around--it's too tempting.  If I'd had unfettered access to vodka during the actual move-in, I would've ended up either falling asleep in the hallway at around noon and having my large unconscious body contribute to the chaos, or picking up a closet rod and beating the crap out of a couple of my fellow parents.  So, restraint!

For the past three years, Catharine has gone up to school all by herself, set up her room all by herself, and is now happily training for her year ahead as a facilities manager in a residence hall (if some parent starts shrieking at her during move-in, I'll get names, you mark my words).  So, see?  They do grow up, and they start living their own lives.  Without us.


I need to find some vodka.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


I have a thing about whales.

I can't help it, I just do.  I think they're cool, I'm fascinated by them, etc., etc.  And my poor family indulges me in this, sort of.  We actually went on a cruise to Alaska a few summers back, under the guise of a post-eighth grade graduation trip for Joe (like it's a big deal to make it past eighth grade--pssshhh), so I could see whales and bald eagles. Oh, and so we could enjoy nature and marvel at the natural beauty of our 49th state.  Blah, blah, blah. But on said cruise we didn't take the whale watching excursions, so I had to be content to view said whales from the deck of the ship, 10 stories above the water.  It was good, but not good enough.

So when Mark announced that he wanted Skoog Family Vacation 2011 to take place in Santa Barbara, I got on to see what sort of stuff we could do during our stay.  And there it was, right in the lower left hand corner: Whale Watching.

I was all excited.  The family, not so much.  But on Day 2, after carefully reading all the Whale Watching Literature we had available (a pamphlet from the company and info on their website) we dressed up in layers, ate a light breakfast, and then went to the dock.  As we stood there waiting (me, eagerly; the other Skoogs, not so much) with about 50 other people, most of them speaking different languages (and I'm pretty sure saying that my green jacket washed me out and made me look fat), the captain of the boat came up the gangplank and started talking.

"So, the whales have moved farther west and it's going to take longer to get to where they're feeding.  Plus the sea is rough and we'll be headed right into the wind. So if you have Dramamine, you should probably take it now.  But if you don't like rough seas and you don't like rocking boats, you should get a refund and come back another day.  Okay, who's ready?"

How bad could it be?  I thought.  I don't mind rocking boats.  Let's DO IT!

I scampered aboard the boat, the family followed, we sat through the Naturalist Volunteer's spiel about whales and their feeding habits, and soon we were on our way.

Then the fun started.

Now, I have to say, we met some delightful people on deck.  There was the honeymooning couple from Ireland who were both woefully under-dressed in shorts and t-shirts (they didn't read the literature, obviously) who told us all about their wedding and all the fun stuff they'd been doing since they got to America.  I loved how they said things were "brilliant" when they meant cool.  And there was my friend Oscar and his sister Olivia and their parents.  Oscar is four, Olivia's going into second grade, and it turns out that Oscar's daddy is some sort of Hollywood director.  It was Oscar's first whale watching expedition, and he was a little shocked it was my first, given my advanced age, until he learned I lived in Arizona and "don't they just have desert stuff out there? You don't have an ocean.  What do you do for fun?"  (Ah, if only my dad was a Hollywood director--then I would've grown up on a beach in Montecito like Oscar.) I told him I drank and gambled.  He seemed cool with it.

Now, I stayed glued to my seat on the top deck because I'm a complete idiot and I thought whales were just going to start jumping out of the water at random. (They don't tend to do that, btw.)  Apparently there were all sorts of hijinks going on below deck that I completely missed, but the kids and Mark witnessed first hand.

Yes, it got really, really bumpy.  And the wind was incredible.  Then there were the waves. At first, the people down below sounded like they were on a roller coaster, hollering "Eeeeeeee!" every time we hit a big wave.  Then, not so much, you know, due to the danger of being swept overboard by an errant wall of water and all.  One highlight for me came when the 300+ lb. heavily tattooed woman wearing a sundress and flip flops (again, people, read the literature!) tipped over and ended up in my lap. "My daughter's not feeling well," she said, like that explained...well, there was lots to explain but I don't think her daughter had anything to do with it. (After she got up and weaved her way to her seat, Oscar leaned over to me and said, "That looked very uncomfortable for you. Did it hurt?")

Mark came up to me a long way into the trip and said, "There's a family of Japanese Olympians downstairs.  I'm pretty sure they're gold medalists in synchronized puking."  Catharine and Joe tried to seek shelter down in the covered cabin but were greeted by a woman throwing up in her hand.  They turned around to make a speedy exit, only to come face-to-face with two Japanese people throwing up in the blue garbage cans on deck.  "And it was too late," Joe said, shaking his head. "I wanted to tell them that vomit isn't recyclable, but the damage had already been done. They're ruining the environment."

There was the Communist Snowman, a Polish boy all dressed in red and soaked from head to toe, who kept wandering around the boat, getting thrown back and forth like a pinball, munching on some foul-smelling sandwich.  He'd walk by a group of people, they'd get a whiff of him, and the sickness bags would come out.  It was like a scene straight out of a (bad) sitcom.

There was Plastic Surgery Lady who sat next to me, rubbing the recent scars behind her ears while mumbling, "I can't remember if they say it's a bad idea to mix Dramamine with Xanax, but I wonder when they're turning the boat around." Pause, eyes at half staff, then snapping open. "Can you walk?  Because I don't think I can.  I think the boat is moving."

There were lots of other people, too, most of them non-literature-reading Europeans who all looked like they were going to first freeze to death and then die from seasickness.  In that order.  But guess what?

We saw whales!

Actual, living, breathing whales!  We saw humpbacks and blue whales, along with sea lions and dolphins.  At one point a humpback whale started playing with our boat, swimming back and forth underneath it and breaching--our Naturalist Volunteer said that was unusual, and this whale obviously liked us.  It was awesome, and as I shared my unbounded enthusiasm with the other members of my family, Joe leaned over to me and said, "Mom, you know what this trip is going to be known as?  Whalegate."

Oh, no, I said, it hasn't been that bad, has it?

Catharine said, "Well, getting to see the whales this close is pretty cool. I think it's fun." (She's a trooper.)

Then I looked over at Mark, who was sitting on the bench, arms folded, with a big smile on his face. I was about to share my joy with him when I noticed his left hand.  His smile never wavered, but his middle finger, saluting me, told me that he was not nearly as enthusiastic as I was about the whale sighting.

The trip back was much smoother and way more uneventful.

The rest of the vacation was great, but suffice it to say, I was not allowed to suggest any more activities for the rest of the week.  Or, possibly, the rest of the decade.

But did I mention I got to see whales?

Monday, August 8, 2011

Our Trip to The Gap

Mark needed new shorts.  We went to The Gap, because they were having a buy two, get one free sale.  Easy, right?


First off, I don't claim to be cool, and I do follow advertising enough to know that there are lots of hipsters on Gap commercials.  But I guess we labored under the misconception that we could find some nice, conservative shorts there with a minimum of effort, and there'd be a lot of fellow shoppers like us there.  Uh-uh.

We walked into the store to find one painfully skinny girl holding up a pair of those new legging jeans to her equally painfully skinny friend saying, "I don't think you'd look fat in these."  Honestly, these girls would've looked anorexic in a burkha, so they're lucky I didn't go crazy and start shrieking at them about how their body images were all screwed up, how there's more to life than how you look, etc., etc.  I also fantasized about beating them about the head and shoulders with the headless mannequin modeling said legging jeans, but I didn't.  I'm working on my rage issues.

Anyway, we probably should've packed it up right there and walked out, but alas, it was a sale after all, and we did spot a rack of relatively normal shorts in very conservative colors toward the back of the store.  So we ventured in and picked out three pairs in Mark's size.

Then he had to try them on.

Here's the thing about my husband: he's kind of particular about what he wears.  Which is a little surprising, considering he's been wearing basically the same stuff since I've known him.  I'm guessing a typical guy trying on a pair of shorts takes what?  Three minutes?  "Yeah, they fit.  I'll take them."  Not Mark.  Oh, no.  He not only tries on the shorts, but then he has to tuck in his shirt, put his belt back on, put his shoes back on, and then come out of the dressing room to show me how they look.

Once for each pair of shorts.

I felt like I was in a low-budget version of "Project Runway."

I finally gave up walking around the store and shopping while he was in the dressing room, mostly because I feared mayhem would ensue if I ran into any other body-image-challenged youths. So I sat myself in the chair they have sitting outside the dressing room and waited, keeping myself amused by watching and listening to the people around me.

One of the salesgirls was pregnant, and she was running around the store like a trooper, hustling in and out of the dressing rooms, doing all that stuff that salesgirls do, except she did it with a smile on her face while lugging around at least 20 extra lbs.  Her, I liked.

Then there was the woman who was holding an infant I thought might be hers until I saw the actual mother come out of the dressing room in tears because she couldn't fit into the same size jeans she wore before.

New Mom: "I can't believe this.  These are twos.  TWOS.  I'll never be a zero again." Sniff.  "Did you feed her? Make sure you don't get formula on that outfit. It's new."

Old Mom: "Yes, I fed her.  And honey, you just need to do more sit-ups.  Get those jeans for now and they'll tide you over until you can get back into your zeros.  You gotta have goals, sweetie!"

During all this, I'm sitting in the chair looking--and feeling--like Jabba the Hutt.  It took everything I had not to say, while scratching my belly, "Yeah, I had me some o' them goals once.  But then I discovered they made Snickers Ice Cream bars, and it was all over."

But I didn't say that.  I'm working on my impulsivity while I'm working on my rage issues.  I'm busy.

Then Old Mom spotted the pregnant salesgirl, and the fun really began.

OM: "When are you due?"

PSG: "In two months."

OM: "Are you sure of the date?  Because you don't want to have a scheduled C-section if you're not.  My daughter had hers scheduled, and it was great, but there was another woman in the maternity ward who almost lost her baby because the dates were off.  You should have that checked."

PSG: (Nodding, wearing fake smile) "Thanks."

OM: "How much weight have you gained?"

PSG: (something unintelligible)

OM: "Are you exercising?  It's really hard to get your body back in shape after a baby.  Look at my daughter.  She's been wearing those shapeless dresses all summer, and she works out like a fiend.  It's sad."

Pause while OM flipped through a rack of sales shirts.

OM: "I was in labor with her for almost two days.  It was horrible.  I'm telling you, pain like you can't believe.   Then there's the added worry about what could be happening to your baby.  Do you have these in a small?  Oh, sure they have those ultrasounds and tests, but there are all kinds of things that could be going on that you'll never know until you see your baby.  Do these come in any other colors?"

Now, I was lucky enough to be pregnant twice, and, while it was a long time ago, I'm pretty sure that the last thing I wanted to hear, especially the first time, was the story of how horrible someone else's labor was.  And I didn't need any help imagining what sort of mayhem was taking place inside my womb. (cf: Joe Skoog) PSG handled it like a trooper, smiling and checking on sizes and finally extracting herself to go help some hapless guy who had to be told that the plaid shirt he picked out wasn't the same plaid as the shorts he saw on the other side of the store.  Fashion crisis averted.

In the meantime, NM was still in the midst of her own fashion crisis, trying to struggle into a pair of those horrible legging jeans and making these awful grunting noises that sounded like she was being beaten inside the dressing room.

Thank goodness Mark picked this moment to finally emerge in his original outfit (all tucked in and in perfect order, btw), so I didn't have to listen to or see the results of the gymnastics going on in NM's room.  Phew.

That night, while I made dinner, I imagined NM sitting at her table, nibbling on her meal of lettuce leaves and ice water, outlining her new Life Plan for Getting Back Into A Size Zero.  And her mother, glowing with the knowledge that she was able to share her vast knowledge with that poor, less fortunate pregnant woman.

Me? I was just happy there were brownies for dessert.