Empty House, Full Mind

Views of life from the empty nest

Archive for the category “college”


Last night, I was talking with my daughter Katie, a senior in college.  We were chatting about the tv shows she’d been watching – and she mentioned the fact that she didn’t have a DVR.

WELL!  Can you imagine?  No DVR in college?  It got me thinking about all the things I didn’t have back when I was in college, in the ancient times of 1979-1983.  Not that I knew any better – most of the things our kids use on a daily basis now didn’t exist back then – so I thought I’d take a little walk down memory lane and recall a day in the life of me, in college – and probably you too, if you’re an empty-nester or baby-boomer.  Please note, all the corresponding items and/or activities of today are in parentheses.

Wake up for class to a clock radio (CELL PHONE).

Shower and blow dry my hair (STRAIGHTENER, “PRODUCT”).  Get dressed and go to class.

Not sure if my friend will meet me at the dining commons, but just have to wait and see (TEXTING).  Walk across campus in the quiet (IPOD).  Make a stop at the bank to cash a check (ATM CARDS) because the weekend is coming, and I need some money.  Buy a newspaper (COMPUTER, IPAD), and read about the  ten percent unemployment rate and the discord in the middle east – some things never change. Get to the dining commons, where I use my cash (CONVENIENCE POINTS CARD, STUDENT CASH CARD) to buy a cup of coffee (CAPPUCINO, CHAI LATTE, ICED BLENDED, ETC ETC). My friend still isn’t there, so I call her on a pay phone (CELL PHONE), and she tells me she overslept because she forgot to set her alarm (again, some things never change).  We make plans to go see “The Big Chill” that weekend at the movie theater (VCR, DVD, NETFLIX, DOWNLOADS)

During class, I take notes and listen, bored half the time, but with no other choice (IPOD, TEXTING, CELL PHONE). Decide to write a letter to one of my friends at another school (FACEBOOK, TWITTER, EMAIL, TEXTING, INSTANT MESSAGING).  Realize I haven’t talked to my parents in a week, make a mental note to call them when I get home (SEE ABOVE).

After class, I head to the library, where I check out books, which I look up with the Dewey Decimal System (COMPUTER).  Again, stop to use a pay phone to call a classmate about an assignment (CELL PHONE, COMPUTER, ONLINE CLASS NOTES AND SYLLABUS).

After I finish my classes for the day, I head to work, where I make $3.75 an hour selling shoes.  I’m not allowed to use the business phone for personal calls, so I have no idea what the plans are for that evening…it is Friday, after all.  Have to wait until I get home to find out what’s going on (ALL SOCIAL MEDIA AS MENTIONED ABOVE, PLUS PHONES). I stop by the local camera shop to pick up prints of a roll of film I had developed (DIGITAL CAMERA, DIGITAL PHOTOS). When I get home, my roommates have left me a note with a couple of messages on it (VOICE MAIL and/or ANSWERING MACHINES).  I call a couple of friends back.  One isn’t home, so there’s no answer – imagine that! and one’s line is busy (CALL WAITING).  I consider watching a little tv, but it’s mid-afternoon and there’s not much on the 5 channels we actually get in our apartment (CABLE, DVR, HULU, ONLINE TV).  Break open a Tab (DIET COKE) and put an album on the stereo (IPOD, DOCKING STATION, ITUNES). When my roommate gets home we debate having either Top Ramen or Domino’s pizza for dinner (once again, some things are pretty darn constant).

I have a few hours until its time to go out with my friends, so I start to write the final draft of a paper for one of my classes.  I drag out the Smith Corona – electric – which was my  high school graduation gift (COMPUTER).  I change the ribbon on it because it’s starting to look a little faded.  I get out the white out in case I make any errors, and the dictionary to check that I’m spelling words correctly (SPELLCHECK).  There are a few facts that I’m not sure are right, so I have to wait until I get to the library the next day to research them (WIKIPEDIA, GOOGLE, ABOUT.COM, ETC, ETC, ETC).  When I finish the paper, I’ll take it to the copy center to have a copy made for my professor, and I’ll hand in the paper in class the following week (HOME PRINTER, COPIER, EMAIL to TURN IN PAPERS).

I dress to go out, dismayed to see panti-lines under my jeans (SPANX, THONGS, BOYSHORTS).  Change into different jeans, feel better.  Call my parents, but they’re not home (ANSWERING MACHINE AGAIN).  After making dozens of phone calls, finally have a plan for the evening, so we head out, buy some beer, and go to a party (this will never ever change!).  Later that night I have a headache and I can’t sleep, so I take some Tylenol and hope it will help (TYLENOL PM, ADVIL PM, MOTRIN PM, ETC).

It’s interesting, isn’t it?  So much of what we take for granted – and especially what our kids take for granted – was unimaginable back then.  Sometimes I think all of the connected-ness can be detrimental – it’s as if, for some kids, they never really leave home – but overall, I’d love to try being a college student in 2011 – even without a DVR!

Did I miss anything?  What other antiquated things can you remember?


He’s had an easy life, but his life hasn’t been easy.

Do I contradict myself?  Not really.  While we gave him every bit of support, love, and encouragement two parents could give, our son has had challenges in his 19 years that, for better or worse, complicated things.  They may be no more or less difficult than what other children go through, but somehow we believed he was in need of…more.  More of us, more attention, more patience, more protection.  

My son, 3 years old, and me
He woke up one morning at 20 months old with a crossed eye.  Besides my initial terror and fear, there was this horrible thought, that he would be “that” kid, the one with the crossed eye, the one who the other kids taunted and teased.  Fortunately he was young enough and was treated quickly enough, with surgery and eye patches and glasses, that by the time the other kids were old enough to be that mean, he looked fine…with his glasses on. It was hard when he went swimming, or to sleepovers. After 2 more surgeries, he now, at 19, has beautiful green eyes that are nearly 100% straight. 

For me, that morning, seeing his adorable face looking so different, was a game-changer.  It wasn’t until his most recent surgery this past May that I realized how overwhelmed I was by it all, that morning long ago – how my heart broke for him, and for me, and how I wanted to make things better, sooner, right away.

Then, at the age of 8, he was diagnosed with ADHD.  We sort of knew that was coming, but now we had to deal with it, with medication and tutors, teacher conferences and fights about homework.  Between his natural tendency towards inertia (much like his mother) and his obsession with all things visual, be it television, computer, or video games (something like his father), school was really, really tough for him. 

But he had a lot of friends.  And that made him really happy.  And since it made him happy, we encouraged them to be at our house, and so they did…growing boys who laughed and fought and ate and slept on floors and sofas.  We love those boys.  Maybe, just maybe we should have said no sometimes, sent the boys home, especially when his grades were poor or his attitude was bad.  

In high school, he found a level of commitment that he’d never shown before while playing football.  Finally, in his senior year, he was starting on the offensive line.  He was doing it, and doing it so well!  What a thrill it was to watch him play, to have him come home, stinky and tired and excited about the game that week.  And what a heartbreak it was when, after a couple of weeks of pain in his leg, we found out that he had a stress fracture in his femur.  He was out for the remainder of the season.  
My o-lineman and me 2009

Now, in college, he’s had a huge awakening of sorts.  He has finally, finally! figured out that he can study, and learn, and take a test and get a good grade.  Most importantly, it DOES matter to him if he succeeds.  Freshman year, he was so anxious, so tied up in figuring things out, that he never really found his people, never really found a place for himself at college.  

So now he wants to come home, continue college here, near his friends and family, in a place where he feels safe and understood, with people who have loved him for a long time.  We understand this, we really do.  But we won’t let him come home…not yet.

Our son is an incredible young man, on the verge of figuring it all out – for himself.  Where I think we went wrong while raising him was to figure out too much for him, and not let him fall and hit the ground without us cushioning the blow.  We weren’t helicopter parents…we were Sikorsky military copters, eagle-eyed and ready to do battle.  Yes, he was stubborn and careless about his schoolwork, but we were stubborn and careless about the amount of energy we put into helping him, about never letting him pick himself  up without us lending a hand.  

My son and husband, 2010
So we’re insisting he finish this year, even though he’s not very happy there, because we know that what he’s learned over the past few months is just the beginning of him learning about how to be a man, and how to be confident, and how to find his way in the world.  

We know he can do it…now let’s hope we can.


The Voice

We all have soundtracks to our lives.  At times, music has been so important to me. During my teen years there were hours spent listening to the same record album over and over, sometimes even the same song, convinced that the artist had written the lyrics especially for me.  “OHMYGOSH” my friends and I would shriek.  That’s EXACTLY how I feel!!!!” Neil Young, Elton John, Supertramp, Queen, Linda Ronstadt… it wasn’t until we got older that we realized – that was exactly how everybody felt.  In college, music became the backdrop for parties, the thumping beat at bars and clubs – it was the 80’s, after all, and the Cars and Blondie, the B-52’s and Toto didn’t make the kind of music that made you want to cry from the emotions their songs evoked.  We all just wanted to dance.

It was 1984 when I first fell for Sinatra.  And when I say fell, I mean really, really fell.  There was a period of about two years when he was virtually all I listened to, with a little Bruce Springsteen and old Motown mixed in, plus some Elvis Costello to stay current.  But Sinatra was the soundtrack of my early twenties, keeping me company on cassette after cassette as I drove around Los Angeles for my first job out of college.  Falling for Sinatra was an enormous undertaking – his catalog of songs is huge, and he recorded over 50 albums in his lifetime.  I zeroed in on the albums from the fifties, when his voice was strongest and his phrasing was impeccable, when you could hear the joy and sorrow in his voice as clearly as if he was speaking to you, which is what makes his music so appealing – that and the promise of something – love, romance, I don’t know exactly what – but there was promise in his voice. 
Sinatra became a passion for me to share with my mother, my grandmother, and especially my grandfather, who as a young man had been a big band singer with Tommy Dorsey, and had known Sinatra.  My grandfather had a voice kind of like Sinatra’s, deep and warm and lovely, and he would sing to me frequently while I was growing up.  There was always singing going on in my family…as strange as it may sound, we would often sing song lyrics to each other in lieu of speaking sentences.  We were big fans of musical theater, and there was always some soundtrack or another on my mother’s turntable. Those were the years of  Bacharach, Barbara Streisand, and Neil Diamond.  We listened to “A Chorus Line,” “Promises, Promises,” and “Funny Girl,” among many others.  My grandmother liked to play the piano and sing after we’d have dinner at her house. Fortunately, we were all fairly good at carrying a tune.
But Sinatra…he became the voice I chose to hear as often as possible.  The first year out of college was not easy for me, adjusting to being on my own, commuting to work every day, trying to prove myself at my job and find myself in the world – but Sinatra was the soothing voice of reassurance for me, as I learned each and every trip and lilt and turn of phrase he used on the songs I loved best.  From “Young at Heart” to “The Way You Look Tonight,” “Love and Marriage” to “My Funny Valentine,” there was a song for every mood, every time of day, every event.  I, like a million girls before me and a million since, fell in love with Sinatra through his voice, and what a voice it was.
I continued my love affair with Sinatra, and my children were raised on him…there’s nothing quite like a 4 year old girl singing “The Lady is a Tramp,” as my daughter did one evening, delighting us all.  I saw him in concert at the very end of his life, but it wasn’t great – he was old, and his voice was wobbly and weak, and the teleprompter had letters that were at least a foot high – but still, it was Sinatra.  We even considered naming our son Francis, after my husband Peter’s grandfather…and Sinatra.  I think Adam is happy we chose not to, though we would have called him Frank, of course.
On the morning Sinatra died, Peter woke me to tell me the news before I heard it anyplace else.  He knew how sad I would be, and I was.  But I listened to his music, and of course, that made me feel better – which is, I suppose, what Sinatra was all about – making the world feel better through his music.
Sinatra was fond of saying, at the end of his concerts, “May you live to be a hundred, and may the last voice you hear be mine.”  I like that idea!


We were in Boston for Parent’s Weekend, visiting our daughter Katie, who is a senior this year.  Most seniors don’t have parents visit for Parent’s Weekend – after 3 years in college, it seems kind of silly to be the wide-eyed visitors, which we really weren’t.  But Katie wanted us to meet her friends, some of them sorority sisters, some not – and we wanted to see our little girl, of course…only she’s not a little girl anymore, in any sense of the word. Being on her turf, with her in charge – it made me both proud and sentimental at the same time.  She made all the dinner and brunch reservations, guided us through the streets of Boston, and generally took charge of our visit.  It was a pleasure to let her make all the plans, but oh my gosh, where did my little girl go?

Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled to have such a self-sufficient, independent and confident young woman for my daughter.  I just couldn’t help remembering the night we dropped her off at the dorms for her freshman year, after all of the shopping and moving and unpacking was done.  She was such a wreck…scared and crying and all alone, standing in the parking lot of Warren Towers, home to 1800 mostly freshman students, as we drove away.  But as overwhelmed as she was, I was probably more so – saying goodbye to my little girl, leaving her to find her way, to learn to live with a stranger for a roommate, make friends, and become part of the big, urban campus that is Boston University.  But find her way she did, with a few bumps in the road, both large and small – and over the past three years she’s traveled through Europe, spoken at admissions sessions up and down the west coast, joined a sorority, and had 2 successful internships, all while maintaining good grades and (mostly) staying positive, happy and enthusiastic.  I suppose somewhere inside of me I knew she’d be ok when we drove away that night, but still…

Katie and Ana, doing the sorority pic head tilt
The weekend was wonderful.  We met her new friends, had dinner with her roommates, whom we’d known since freshman year, and went to the Founder’s Day ceremony for her sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi.  Every senior I talked to said she wished she wasn’t graduating, that college is wonderful and the prospects in the real world are kind of terrifying.  It made me feel sad for these girls – young women – all of whom have worked hard in college, all of whom deserve a chance to make something great happen as adults – but with things the way they are in the world today, it’s understandable, though sort of terrible, that they wish they could stay in college forever.  

What will happen to all of these young adults, recent and future graduates, with their expensive educations, student loans, and stars in their eyes?  A few will make it big in their chosen field, but many will struggle to find a place in the world.  Some will continue their education, spending more money, though the job market continues to be sluggish, and salaries and benefits continue to be meager for all but the most in-demand careers.  I hate to even say “when I was in college,” but, when I was in college, jobs were easy to find, careers were long-term, and there was the sense of opportunity, even for me, an English major. Now, it’s nothing short of miraculous to hear of a recent graduate who not only has a job, but is able to fully support him or herself on their salary. So many well-educated young people wind up having to live at home, cobbling together some sort of living out of part time jobs and help from their parents.  I don’t believe that this generation, at least based on my limited knowledge, is entitled and lazy, as so many politicians, bloggers and editorial writers have suggested…in fact, I think they’re extremely motivated, with big dreams and a lot of great experience and enthusiasm.  It’s a shame that the world that awaits them makes it so difficult to hold on to all of that.

Rockport, MA. So beautiful!
The next time we go to Boston, it will be for graduation.  My wish for Katie and her friends is that they all have jobs lined up, or acceptances to grad school, or plans for whatever it is they want to do with the next phase of their lives.  I hope they are able to support themselves, find good friends, marry when they’re ready, have healthy children, live in beautiful homes, and be happy forever.  My wishes are those of a dreamer, but these girls are all filled with dreams themselves – and I hope they all come true.


Tomorrow, my daughter Katie returns to Boston University to start her senior year.  The fact that she’s a senior in college is almost too much for me to believe.  Not that I ever had any doubt that she’d succeed in college – she’s the kind of person who sets her mind  on a goal and makes it happen.  And the amount of maturing and growing she’s done in the past 3 years has been right on course with what I hoped for her – she is really becoming a fully formed adult, which makes me happy and proud, but also, today, very nostalgic.  

My brother has seven year old twins, and he said something to me the other day about how hard it is for him to imagine them at Katie’s and Adam’s ages – 21 and 19.  I told him its almost as hard for me to believe that my kids were ever as young as his – that’s what time does to us.  I remember the sweetness of summer with them at that time of their lives – the days of going to camp, then coming home and jumping in the pool, the wide open feeling of July and August, when everything moved more slowly and I could just be with them, watch them, no lessons or school or homework, no baseball or softball practice – just the kids, here, with me.  This summer I had a chance to do that again, in a way.  Adam came home from Tucson and worked, but he was here most evenings for dinner, and we would sit around and talk, watch some tv, just be together, which was such a nice feeling – no worries about college for a brief time, just family and friends and grilled steaks.  Then for a few days they were both home – and that was really something.  They bickered like they were kids, we went out for a lovely dinner one night – but it was brief, and bittersweet, since they would both be leaving again soon.

Tomorrow, when Katie gets on the plane to go to Boston, we will once again be empty-nesters, starting the process of adjusting to the quiet of just two of us once more.  While I was grocery shopping yesterday I felt a longing for those summer days when they were little, when I was buying juice boxes and gummy fruits and grapes and pasta salad, knowing they’d come home hungry and thirsty.  I miss those days when they were still young enough to be thrilled with little things like a stop at Blockbuster for a new movie to watch, or a visit from their grandmother on a warm Saturday.  Now it seems to take so much to get them really excited, but who can blame them?  Their worlds have grown so much since those summer days, and that’s the way it should be.  But still, sitting together and watching “Jeopardy” can make all of us feel, for a little while, like we’re still that family – which we will always be, whenever we can.

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