My Spring Break was not spent on a mountain or on a beach. It was spent on five different college campuses. My 16 year-old, junior in high school, son was ready to embark on his first round of college visits. The plan was to look at colleges he was curious about, had highly rated business schools and that had been actively recruiting him by email, calling me, or sending him enough letters, color brochures, reports, and student magazines that I’m pretty sure contributed to at least one acre of deforestation in the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s a tip to all 7,000 and counting institutions of higher learning – cut back on the four-color, 8 1/2 X 11 heavy card stock recruitment crap. It will save you a bundle and you can pass that on to the student by decreasing college tuition by at least one-third. Once your child takes the pre ACT and PSAT their freshman or sophomore year go out and get another recycling trash can or bin. You’ll need it because that’s when your mailbox will start seeing some major activity. I don’t care if your kid makes a 2 out of a possible 240 on the PSAT there are probably 2,000 colleges that still think your child “shows academic promise”, “demonstrates leadership” and would be a “great fit” for their university.
Our college tour would be of the road trip variety. Just the two of us. My husband very wisely was taking our daughter skiing because I couldn’t think of anything more painful than dragging her from college to college and hearing her moan, “This is the worst Spring Break ever” or her classic and most used refrain of “Is this ever going to end?”
I hit the road with high hopes. We were off to get this college adventure started. As soon as I got on the interstate I found a country radio station. I don’t know what it is about country music, but if I’m going to be driving a long distance I enjoy the sing along sensibilities of country. When the Dixie Chicks version of Landslide came on I was on fire.
God, I sound good singing in the car! Where’s the American Idol for the over 40’s? I’d so be on that said the woman who was not so gently asked to drop out of the Richfield High School Concert Chorale due to what the choir teacher termed “the worst case of tone deafness he’d ever heard in his 21 year teaching career and my ‘gift’ of shouting rather than singing the lyrics.” Whatever, I sounded great now especially when the song got to this part, “
Well, I’ve been afraid of changin’
Cause I’ve built my life around you
But time gets bolder
Even children get older
And I’m getting older too
I’m don’t mean to literally sing my own praises, but I got tears in my eyes after belting that out. It was powerful and so, so meaningful. Here I was taking my first-born to look at colleges. Where did the time go? I think I channeled those intense emotions into creating a superb vocal rendering. That is until my son took off his headphones, looked at me and said, “Even with noise canceling headphones on, I think you caused my ears to start spontaneously hemorrhaging. Seriously Mom, stop it. I can’t take this thing you call singing.”
Jerk, who just then sounded just like his father. To keep the peace I turned on NPR and drove 500 miles south to College A.
We spent the night in an adequate Fairfield Inn using Marriott points, of course. My husband is a hotel and airline point hoarder. (Where’s that reality TV show? I can see the long, slow camera zoom in on a man, just beginning to go grey, hunched over his laptop calculating the best airline route to take to maximize his frequent flier miles. His brow furrowed and his lip spotted with sweat from the agony of deciphering the optimum flight choice.)
Last year I stayed at a Hyatt and forgot to give them my (and by that I mean my husband’s ) Hyatt Gold Passport number. When he found out you would have thought I had just told him I had a lover and it was a chipmunk named Buster who was very gifted with his bushy tail. Good Lord, he was pissed. I think his exact quote was I “might as well as taken his wallet and thrown it out a window.” What a drama queen.
The next morning we got up early-ish because we had to be at the University Visitors Center at 7:45 a.m. I was dressed in my casual mom attire of my sort of dress jeans, last summer’s wedge sandals, and a super cute blouse I had just gotten from the Boden catalog. Trust me, a Peter Pan collar is flattering no matter what your age. I was also having an exceptionally good hair day. I felt, dare I say, co-eddy. I had passed on the Fairfield Inn free breakfast due to the long line, most specifically at the waffle maker.
What’s up with the waffle maker at Fairfield Inns? Last summer, at the Fairfield Inn in Sacramento (near the Roseville Mall, home of the Louis Vuitton store that I got kicked out of) I had to break up a waffle maker oligarchy. There was a dad and his looks to be middle-school aged son barring anyone else from making a waffle. Here’s the weird part – besides the fact they were dressed in matching Nike orange nylon shorts that were showing just a little too much of the dad’s junk, tank tops and white knee-high sports socks with those awful looking shower shoes – they weren’t making waffle. Instead they were holding the waffle maker hostage until the rest of their family came down to breakfast. How weird and lame ass is that?
Even lamer, no one was doing anything about it. Sure people were standing in line complaining, but no one was going all “Excuse Me” on them. I couldn’t believe it. My husband suggested I let it go and get myself some Frosted Flakes. I suggested he take his complimentary USA Today, banana and vanilla yogurt back up to the room because I was getting myself a waffle. He urged the kids to follow him back upstairs. They declined. I gave my son my room key and told him to have it at the ready in case things got really bad and he needed to take his sister and make a run for it.
I approached the waffle oligarchy and told them I was going to make myself a waffle. The dad, as he had told everyone else who approached the waffle maker, told me he was “saving it” for his family. “Where is your family?” I ask.
“Umm, they’re still in the room, but I know they’ll be coming down soon and we all want waffles, so I guess you could say I’m ‘tagged in’ on the waffle maker.”
“Hmm,” I say, “Let me get this straight. You’re keeping anyone else here from making a waffle because you think your family, who is not even here, is more important than any other family is this room.” (I said the last part quite loudly and with emphasis on the words ‘more important.’)
Yippee, that got the crowd agitated because how dare anyone think that their family is superior to your family. One very XL dad (I’m talking huge because I actually felt petite and that almost never happens) with a beer belly so impressive it could be registered as a lethal weapon for it’s ability to smother another human being or in a pinch be used as a pantry. (I’m sure you could tuck away canned goods and a six-pack of Diet Coke in those fat folds. Not that I have any prejudice against fat folds. I moisture mine every night.) got up from his table, walked over and said, “Hey, what’s this about your family being better than mine?”
“Yeah,” I say. “All of our precious (precious is such a great word it totally disguises the fact that you think someone is a mega idiot) families are actually here, like in this room, right now and we would so loooove to make some waffles.”
Then the big dude lifted up his stomach (it took two hands) and got right in the other dad’s face. It was getting tense. I looked over my shoulder at my kids and give them the mom face that says “get ready to haul ass.”
It took about 30 seconds before the waffle oligarchy sensed defeat, surrender the waffle maker and beat a quick retreated back to their room. The big dad was such a sweetie. He told me to “please make my waffle first.” Chivalry is not dead, my friends.
So, that’s my back story on why I didn’t want to partake of the “free” breakfast at the Fairfield Inn. I had a Balance Bar in the car and figured I could wash it down with my morning Diet Coke as I drove to the Visitors Center. After running the gauntlet that is a University campus, finding the Visitors Center and fluffing my still incredible looking hair I turned to my son as he was getting out of the car and said, “Wait get back in the car.”
He rolled his eyes and slid back in. “What?” he moaned.
“I think we need a safe word,” I said.
“Just look at this itinerary,” I said pointing at the lengthy schedule the university admissions department had emailed us. There’s a lot of stuff on this. If you hate the school or something we need a word where we know one of us wants to bail. So, let’s pick a word, but it has to be something that won’t give us away and fits into the context of the visit.” I say all of this while lovingly gazing at my hair in the car’s rearview mirror. I’m not kidding it has never looked better. The humidity has to be historically low. I was even thinking maybe I could pull of side swept bangs. It would totally camo my forehead wrinkles.
My son thinks for a moment and says, “Okay how about SAT Score? If one of us says SAT Score that means initiate the bailing sequence.”
“Oh, that’s a good one.” I say smiling and still touching my hair. “Now let’s go in there and see what this college has to offer!” I put my hand on the car door to open it and notice my son isn’t getting out the car.
Poor baby, I’m thinking. I bet he’s scared. His life is about to take a giant step into adulthood. I reach out, pat his arm and say, “Oh sweetie, don’t be nervous. This is going to be fun.”
“I’m not nervous,” he says. “Well, I take that back. I am nervous. Nervous that you’re not to going to keep your mouth shut. I’m not kidding Mom, don’t talk. I mean you can talk, but don’t go off on some tangent.”
Now, I roll my eyes. When did he turn into his father? I also sure don’t like his tone. It’s a little sassy, but I just sigh and say, “I’m here as your silent partner.” I won’t even raise my hand to ask a question. Alright? This is all about you.”
“Okay,” he says like he doesn’t believe me for a hot minute and we both get out of the car.
As we enter the University Visitors Center I gasp. Sweet Halls of Knowledge. It’s like I’ve walked into a P.T.A. meeting in hell. Hot moms, full of themselves, boastful, windbag dads, “I’m footing the bill for this” assertive grandmothers, parents with notebook binders or worse notebook binders and an iPad mini, smug couples whose body language seems to be saying “I know something you don’t know” sprinkled with parents standing in the back of the room like they’re literally doing their best to blend in with the vertical crown molding. They also look scared, like my kid’s sex tape just went viral scared. My son leans in and mutters, “Remember your promise.”
Click here for Part 2.
*Attention Snarky Friends, I have a brand new book out. It’s the second in the Snarky in the Suburbs series – Snarky in the Suburbs Trouble In Texas. You can buy it for your Kindle or in paperback on Amazon. It’s also available for the Nook or you can get it for your Kobo reader. Click on a link and give it a test read. I hope you like it! 🙂