by Abby Margolis Newman
In my last piece, I wrote about my five-day college tour with my oldest son, Jonah, specifically about our impressions of Brown and about the admissions process in general. What I didn't really touch upon - and which, in the scheme of things, was more important - was the whole strange and wonderful phenomenon of spending five days alone with my oldest child. For a mother of three, this was a rarity indeed.
I remember when Jonah was about four and we were living in Michigan. I was exploring kindergartens for him, both public and private, and one of the schools we looked at was the Roeper School in Bloomfield Hills. The admissions person there asked me to tell her what Jonah was like. I recall blurting out, "He's good company." She looked at me like I had two heads - a four-year-old? good company? - but it was the truth. Jonah was then and always has been an extremely interesting person to be around - someone who thinks about things and has perceptive, incisive and funny things to say. I liked him when he was four, and - somewhat miraculously - I still like him as a teenager.
For the college tour, we flew into Boston and drove to Providence, then Amherst, MA; Middletown and New Haven, CT; then Swarthmore, PA and back to CT. Altogether we covered some 600 miles and spent about 14 hours together in a rental car. Now, I love Jonah but I'm not in a complete fantasy land: I knew I wouldn't be spending fourteen hours in conversation with a teenager - any teenager. So before we left California, we borrowed from our library some of the old Harry Potter "books on tape" (now CDs, of course), narrated by the incomparable Jim Dale. Years ago, when Jonah and his brothers were much younger, we listened to these nonstop; and Jonah and I were both excited to revisit them.
The good news: the Jim Dale narration is still every bit as wonderful and enthralling now as we remembered. The bad news: the Jim Dale narration is so wonderful and enthralling, it caused both me and Jonah to stop paying attention to our GPS device. In at least three instances, we went several miles in the wrong direction before we could correct course. In one particularly annoying case, we got on some minor highway in Pennsylvania and were unable to exit for about 20 miles - while the GPS constantly nagged us to "make a U-turn, if possible." For reasons too convoluted to explain here, our family has named any vehicle's female GPS-generated voice "Adelaide." Poor Adelaide didn't have a chance at vying for our attention with Jim Dale - so meek and quiet was she, it was as if she preemptively surrendered to her obviously superior competition. And since my husband and middle son possess all of the sense-of-direction genes distributed within our family, Jonah and I were screwed.
We didn't mind all that much, except for the time we screeched to a stop in front of the admissions building at Amherst College and then shuffled in, sheepishly, ten minutes into the information session; or when we literally ran across the Yale campus (which was bigger than we thought) so Jonah could get to a history class we'd arranged for him to sit in on. God knows you don't want to be late for class before you've even been admitted to the school.
One of the highlights of our trip was The Donut Man in Northampton, MA. After having driven by the shop a few times, we both became irrationally obsessed with the idea of eating The Donut Man's donuts. We loved the jaunty Donut Man sign; the fact that it wasn't a national chain (like the Dunkin' Donuts we saw on practically every corner throughout the northeast); the whole idea of powdered cinnamon sugar falling into our laps as we drove. I'm not sure if we can blame The Donut Man outright for our late arrival on the Amherst campus, but he certainly didn't help.
Conversely, one of the low points of the tour: east coast drivers. They seem to be generally stressed-out, aggressive and just rude as hell. When we moved from Ohio to California five years ago, I felt that the level of civility among drivers plummeted; but east coast drivers make California drivers look like Emily Post acolytes by comparison. You want to merge into traffic? Fuhgeddaboudit. You're in the left lane and not going at least 20 MPH over the speed limit? I will menacingly tailgate you till you get outta my way. Message to all east coast drivers: take a frigging chill pill. Your life will not end if you arrive at your destination three minutes later than you wanted to. And remember: anytime you let another driver merge into your lane, an angel gets its wings!
But overall, it was a great trip: we ate pizza in New Haven, Thai food in Providence, college snack-bar food almost everywhere, and of course, those donuts. We went through ten Harry Potter CD's, drove hundreds of miles and ignored Adelaide at our own peril. But the best part - and something that was truly an honor for me - was the chance to spend the time alone with Jonah. Very soon, he will be gone. Lately when I come downstairs early in the morning, before the boys are awake, and know that through their closed bedroom doors are three sleeping children - still living at home, with us - I feel a sense of gratitude so strong it's almost painful. I recognize that before I know it, Jonah's bedroom will be empty when I pass it in the morning - the door will be open but the room will be quiet and unoccupied, reminding me every day of his absence. Then, just a year after that, Aaron (now 16) will be gone too; and a few years later, Henry.
So for now, I revel in the closed bedroom doors on these quiet mornings - knowing that change is inevitable, that we will not be spared what parents must go through, that our children do eventually leave us. But I'm not sure I will ever be ready.