We are Merely Freshmen
On a hot sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan, an older woman, newly transplanted from Philadelphia greeted us on our hike with a friendly hello when she noticed my husband was wearing a baseball cap from the University of Pennsylvania.
We struck up a conversation. Yes, we were transplants too from back east. Yes, my husband did go to school there. And soon, our daughter would be starting her freshman year in Philadelphia.
“She is going to love it! So much has changed there since you went to school. Some people call it the sixth borough of New York City.”
……Now, I do not know if a true Philadelphian would appreciate that comment – Philadelphia truly can stand on its own with its own identity as a full-fledged city. Perhaps she was just trying to reassure us. That Philadelphia was great and getting better by the day. That the City of Brotherly Love would be kind to my daughter, a freshman. And kind to her parents, who are freshmen again in some ways, trying to start over another chapter with one kid out the door and on her way to adulthood.
She’s starting her first semester of classes there. The rest of her family, we are making the adjustments.
- I have inherited a whole bunch of T-shirts, hoodie sweatshirts and athletic clothing she deemed “too high school” to be worn on a college campus.
- We have moved her place setting and her chair away. All the more pasta at dinner time for the boys.
- Without her to keep it closed and shout “out!” the second any of her brothers would dare to enter, my oldest son has architectural renderings of how to turn his sister’s room into a soundproof recording studio. Not really. But he wishes he could.
- My youngest son just pines away and wonders when big sister will ever be home for a long time again.
Now, readers, I know I am not the first parent with a kid going away to college. But I never expected to transplant our family so far from our east-coast roots, only to have a kid return to the east coast. From here on in, life changes. It is not certain if she will ever live home full-time again. It is not even certain if she will return in the summers. Two years ago, we were all freshmen in Michigan. Two years ago, I really thought she was going to be a college freshman. At Michigan.
Just hours before, the three of us – my daughter husband and I woke in a hotel room. My daughter opened the curtain and took some time to stare out at the campus sixteen stories below her. The next four years of her life could be seen from a bird’s-eye view.
At 7:30, Philadelphia was waking up as workers grabbed their coffee to go and headed out on the hot sidewalk. The city was also gearing up to welcome back all the students.
Streets were blocked off around the dorms:
We pulled up to a loading spot where an army of kids wearing bright yellow T-shirts were there to help us. What took us about a half hour to load, they unloaded in about five minutes.
They then whisked my daughter away through the heavily secured gateway to her dorm quad
Her quad is peaceful and serene, lined with Ivy-clad dormitories, benches, gardens, statues and graced with an old dorm room beset with a marble and concrete facade in a quadrangle of other old buildings graced with Ivy and a centuries-old Elm tree providing shade for studying, or just a good nap,
Within a few hours, we had all her stuff moved up her third floor dorm room, complete with a “basement.”
Yes, her dorm room has its own basement. If you are packing up your kids for college, I highly recommend getting those squishable zip-lock bags that can vacuum seal your kid’s winter coats to the thickness of a crepe:
See? With five of these bags I was able to squish several coats and a winter’s worth of sweaters into her “basement” – really a trunk that is stored under the bed.
After we settled her in, it was time to explore.
I had many emotions coursing through me. Pride. Happiness. Awe. Sadness. But they couldn’t match what my husband was feeling that day. See, this was his college. His memories. His old haunts and stomping grounds. He even took us into his old dorm, in the same ancient quad just a few buildings down from my daughter’s:
I admit I have a bit of resentment. The two of them as close as they are will share these years at Penn, something I will never share. As a men’s chorus sang The Red and the Blue, I could not help feel a sense of envy, and strained in my own memory to hear verses of “On the Banks of the Old Raritan” from Rutgers. She will never go there. None of my kids will.
Still, like going to a school even older than Rutgers – Penn was founded in 1740 – you cannot help feel a sense the heritage of this place.
Even within with Penn Library exists some of our country’s most significant historical artifacts, including amazing one of only 48 printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln himself, which we had the rare opportunity to see.
As I stood on line to glimpse at this bit of history – hastily retrieved from the archives by a librarian who did not know that the University president suggested all incoming freshmen and their parents to visit the library to see it before they parted campus – my husband beckoned me over to another treasure trove of an exhibit.
There, in a quiet corner gallery in the library’s sixth floor, was a collection on display of some original artwork and some rare original printings of Ludwig Bemelmans, most famously known for his Madeline children’s books.
A book read to my girl as she sat on my lap night after night, A book that was one of the first she had learned to read herself ….now this young woman starting college,
As the afternoon wore on, it was time for us to say goodbye and for her to start her life.
As we walked her back to her dorm room one last time, I wondered what it would feel like for her, waking up for the first time pretty much by herself. She had no breakfasts in her meal plan. Who would she hang out with? What would she eat? Would she make a healthy choice at the nearest Wawa (you don’t know what Wawa is?) or would she consume complete crap? Who was going to tell her to drink the milk? To whom would she roll her eyes in response?
As I gave her my final embrace until October, I noticed a closed yet filled Nalgene water bottle laying on its side on her brand new comforter set from Bed Bath and Beyond.
An avid runner, she has left filled water bottles astray on many surfaces in my house: on the floor of the family room, on the floor of her bedroom, on her bed.
For probably the first time, I didn’t nag her about leaving things lying around. For eighteen plus years, I have done all the nagging a mother can do that is in within the limits of legality. After all, this was her bed. In her dorm. In her new life at college.
So as I learn to let her go, I let that water bottle go.
I just wonder if she knows what setting to put the dryer on if indeed there was a leak.
Good luck, to all the freshmen out there and to all the families out there with one less being underfoot!
The Incredible Weekend Getaway of the Six Invisibilia Women
Before summer completely slips away and before I have to hop in my car again to take my kid to his second cross-country practice of the day, I must linger in the slow pace of summer and tell you about the incredible weekend getaway of the Six Invisibilia Women.
Maybe, if you also were lucky enough, you found some time to spend on friendship this summer. Not on your job or your marriage, or your kids, but pure, unadulterated time for kindling friendship.
Somewhere between your college graduation, your first job, your first marriage and your first diaper change, your identify as a girlfriend or a Best Friend Forever starts to slip away.
By the time you find yourself in mid-life, you become something of an egg white folded into a chocolate soufflé. Sure, the chocolate souffle is delicious and satisfying. You add body and texture to the family you created: your spouse, your children. You are the glue. You are the one who finally finds the watch the husband has been searching for in a pants pocket at the bottom of the laundry hamper. You are the one who is around to schedule and chauffeur the children to every last pediatrician, dentist and emergency orthodontist appointment.
But in those efforts, you sacrifice some of the stuff that made you you, and you start to become invisible.
If you are reading this and you are a man and the breadwinner of the house, I don’t know if this feeling of losing yourself applies to you. If I am wrong, please explain why in the comment box below.
Perhaps I am waxing post-feminism here, but guys, you pretty much shape the life, and where that life happens, for your family. From my experience, if a family relocates, they are relocating for the husband’s job and not for the wife’s career. You rarely look back compared to your trailing spouse. Outside your home, you have defined yourself and your path through your work, the reputation you have built around your career and the colleagues who know you near and far.
For the trailing spouse, however, (that would be me) you have to keep reinventing yourself with each move. You must chart a new course for yourself and you are pretty much on your own in your own reincarnation. Friendships from different chapters of your life fall away because of time, distance and family obligations. The more moves, the stronger the trailing spouse realizes their own sense of invisibility because making friends is that much harder.
Why is it that the deeper one moves into marriage and motherhood, the less time they have for friends? The long, uninterrupted conversations with college friends and the friends of the urban tribe pre-marriage get truncated into 30 minute coffee chats here and there at best. It is no secret that making friends in mid-life is tough. A 2012 New York Times piece says that, unlike when you are in your teens and 20’s, life is no longer wide open to new experiences or explorations.
Unless you move. When you pick up and move in your mid forties or later, however, you most likely no longer have babies or preschoolers to provide that cute entry path to new friendships. With teens and tweens, you plop down into a suburban setting where the mommy playgroups have all been played out, where all the coffee dates and walking groups have already been gelled. Your kid and your kid’s friends all have cell phones, so there is no need for the kid or the parent to call you to make social arrangements.
Everyone already has more than enough friends and connections in town. You can tell by the way they barely notice you at curriculum night or at the orthodontist or at the track meets. They’ve most likely had these same B.F.F’s since high school or college, making you feel all the more invisible. Sorry, mom of the teen and tween – all carpools and all the PTO committees have been pre-ordained since preschool. You can be sure of that.
If you are lucky enough, like me, the invisible trailing spouse, through forces of invisibilia, finds her path to friendship.
So what’s the deal with this word invisibilia? Invisibilia is a Latin word for all the invisible things, the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.
Invisibilia is also the name of a new N.P.R. podcast I was introduced to by a friend, a new friend who generously included me in her circle of friends – who also sometimes feel invisible amongst the ladies of the PTO – on this getaway weekend Up North. (If you are unfamiliar with the term Up North, you do not live in Michigan.)
As much as I would like to talk about the podcasts – and the books – we read and talked about – this is not a post about books and podcasts. It is about friendship.
So what happens when six women who all meet much later in life find themselves a free weekend in August with no obligations to anything else but friendship? They pack up some suitcases, lots of food and drink and share the four-hour ride Up North in a very spacious minivan. Let’s just say that by the time we got to our destination – our host’s parent’s lake house – our voices were all sore from talking.
After all, when you meet friends in your forties and up, you have a lifetime of stories to catch up on. The conversations were endless. There were no husbands, children or wifi. Cell phone reception was spotty. Therefore, old-fashioned and unfettered conversations flowed freely from topic to topic: our hometowns, how our husbands proposed, sagas on labor and parenting, and now challenges and struggles in our careers.
While we talked, we walked, cooked and ate. Some of us spent too much time cooking and were reminded by others to sit down and read their book for God’s sake! That is a friend, I tell you!
Some of us hung out in the hot tub. Some of us tried our skills in a canoe. We called out to the loons. When did we feel it was okay to show we were loony enough to call out to a loon? Some of us even braved the uninterrupted darkness at night to find a constellation or catch a glimpse of a shooting star. We tried to contain our shrieks of joy but it is kind of hard to do when a shooting star lasts for about five seconds leaving a trail across the dark unsuburban sky.
The only thing that interrupted our conversations was the sight of a flitting fleet of hummingbirds that visited the feeder attached to the large back window. Or the call of the loons in the lake. Or times at night when there was a seemingly silent pact that we would all sit around and read.
I have not felt as close a bond to other women since college. Even though I was surrounded by all these new friends, flickers of memories of old friendships darted in and out of my mind.
I thought of one of them when she asked us once, walking along a beach at the New Jersey Shore: “When did we come to a point of trusting one another with our secrets? How did we know we were at a point in our friendship where we could be silly with each other? At what point did we know how to make each other laugh?”
Back to the present… I realize that even though I have not seen some of my college friends in years, they have not left me. There still remains this invisible tie between us. Ties built on trust and shared confidences. They have only enriched my life by coaxing me out of invisibility to take chances on new friendships.
“We Just Want To Live”
“It is very nice that you and your other American friends care about protecting the Arctic Circle and the polar bears against global warming. And I understand you want social justice and equal rights and the right to choose for a woman. Yes, all these things are very nice and good and important. But here in Israel, the first thing we need more than anything is security for us and our children. We just want to live. We want to go to sleep at night and not worry that Iran is building a nuclear bomb to shoot at us.”
I sat in my host family’s living room. On my 2008 educator mission to Israel I stayed with Keren, a teacher, her husband, Omer, a systems manager (or something like that), and their two young daughters. It was in the evening and Keren was upstairs putting the girls to bed in their two-level condo in Modi’in Israel.
Next to the girls bedroom, which they shared, was another room that many in Israel had if their home was built after a certain year. In their house, It is an inner room with thick, lined walls and no windows and closes with a thick door that shuts with a crank. one thick door that when shut,
The thing is, in Israel, space is tight. Square footage is expensive. Like, think close to Manhattan expensive. And although Israelis are not supposed to use this room for anything else but a safety shelter, it is often used as a room. For a home office. A playroom filled with colorful toys. An extra space to store like any other American needs, all the extra stuff that comes along with living in a consumerism society.
I was visiting Israel to teach Israeli kids a little bit about what it was like to be a Jew in America. But that evening, I was the one getting a lesson on the mindset of Israelis as I sat on the white couch with a glass of precious water – no ice – my feet resting on the cold tiled floor.
It was the spring of 2008. Israel was in the wake with its military action in Lebanon and Gaza after the kidnapping of three soldiers from 2006. In the United States, elections were heating up and most of America was fed up with the way things were going under the Bush Administration.
The economy was about to tank.
We were five years out of Bush’s “mission accomplished” announcement, where nothing seemed to get accomplished except hundreds of our soldiers getting killed or wounded. Where were the weapons of mass destruction? When would we ever see a troop draw down from Iraq? Afghanistan?
I was the Democratic Party’s dream voter. I stood, and still, stand for every issue on the Democratic ticket. Strict environmental regulations. Stricter gun control. Pro Choice. Fulfilling the legacy of Ted Kennedy’s call for universal health care.
When it came to Israel, I still believed that supporting Israel was a bipartisan issue. But in 2008, there started to be a shift that if you really wanted to support Israel, voting for a Democrat is not the way to go. I had been warned by friends and certain family and now, I was getting a plea from Omer.
Early every morning, Omer gets picked up outside his condo by a company bus to take them to the offices inside the Ben Gurion Airport. Except, that next week, after I headed back to the States, Omer would be heading out for a month of reserve duty, just as most Israeli men do, one month per year, until they are in their 50’s.
But back to the couch.
Omer did not belittle me for my then progressive beliefs, and said in a big country like the U.S., he could understand why people would back these issues. He did not tell me which way to vote, but told me who he hoped would win in no uncertain terms.
“I think Obama is a good man, but here in Israel, we really like McCain. We need a sheriff in the White House.”
Eight years later I have not forgotten Omer’s words. I wonder what he thinks of the United States now. Does he feel betrayal by American Jews, myself included, who vastly voted for Obama, once and even twice?
And now the Iran Nuclear agreement is up for vote in Congress.
Below, if you care to keep on reading, is my article from this week’s Detroit Jewish News covering the Washington Institute’s David Makovsky’s speech before Detroit’s Jewish community. He offered as balanced a perspective as possible on the Iran Deal. Although the Wall Street Journal contributing writer has written strongly against the deal, I learned later that his sponsors here asked him to give a balanced overview and not his own personal opinions.
I wonder why.
I woke to the news that Chuck Schumer (D-NY) made a statement today coming out against the deal.
Somewhere in Israel, I hope that this news has reached Omer, and that he is smiling with just a little bit of hope.
David Makovsky, director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, mapped out the pros and cons of the Iran nuclear agreement to an audience of nearly 1,000 donors to the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township on July 30.
Stressing the many questions that still remain on how the deal will be enforced should it be enacted, Makovsky spoke of the “atmosphere of anguish” going around Congress as it heads to a vote on the agreement.
He also emphasized the urgent need for cooperation between U.S. and Israeli intelligence and security departments.
Detroit’s Federation is one of only eight in the nation that have come down in the first week squarely against the agreement. Noting the size of the crowd, Federation President Larry Wolfe said this is a time of “deep concern, interest and anxiety within Detroit’s Jewish community.
“The Federation of Detroit needs to take a stand, particularly with their fellow Jews in Israel who feel abandoned and isolated, especially in light that with this deal, terrorist organizations such as Hamas and Hezbollah funded by Iran will be flush with cash,” Wolfe said.
“What is at stake is nothing less than the future for Jews here in Detroit, Israel and around the world.”
Professor Howard Lupovitch, director of the Cohn-Haddow Center for Judaic Studies, Wayne State University, served as moderator.
To illustrate the complexities of either being for or against the deal, Makovsky walked the audience through a hypothetical face-to-face meeting between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Barack Obama.
Makovsky outlined Obama’s reasoning why this is the “best possible deal” with Iran. It guarantees that Iran would be nuclear weapon-free for 15 years.
After that period, Iran could enrich uranium to weapons grade level within 12 months. Presently, Iran is three to four months away from this threshold.
The deal would also cut the number of Iran’s working centrifuges. According to Makovsky, Obama would argue that it is the best chance to move Iran into “inte grating itself into the global economy” for the general Iranian population who wants to become more Westernized.
In this imaginary exchange, Netanyahu would argue that the deal has not eliminated Iran’s nuclear threat but only managed it by acknowledging that, in 15 years, Iran will be treated like any other nation and there is nothing to stop Iran from “racing toward the bomb” when the deal expires.
Netanyahu would also ask why the U.S. and other countries involved in negotiations did not clearly outline a set of possible violations and penalties as a way of holding Iran accountable to the agreement.
Also, Netanyahu would ask how reasonable would it be to ask countries like China, Russia or France to “snap back” sanctions once they are entrenched with business dealings with Iran and are “lining their bank coffers with money from oil revenues?” Also troubling are the billions of dol lars of frozen assets that could flow back into Iran’s economy upon the agree ment’s enactment. If Iran’s top banks will have sanctions lifted against them within eight years under the deal, Makovsky said the nations involved need to develop a clear strategy of how to follow the money trail so it does not further fund terrorism in the “volcanic” Middle East.
In spite of the uncertainty, Makovsky offered hope in the fact that fractious Arab nations are moving closer to work with each other, united in their fear of a nuclear Iran. If the Arab nations can do this, so, too, should Israel and the United States, he concluded.
“My one plea is that the security and intelligence relationship between us needs to come together as soon as pos sible,” Makovsky said.
“With Israel now encircled by non state entities as governments around it break down, we cannot afford to wait until the next presidency or even another year to start collaborating. We no longer have the luxury to be angry with one another.”