Monday, 17 March 2008

Glad To Have You Here

On Friday, I did it: I took our eldest up north, to see another university.

We set out later than I'd hoped. This is because eldest daughter has a problem with time management. I have a very slight problem with this as well, but next to hers it is as nothing. I am thus infuriated when she gets me up early, then goes back to bed herself, after having warned me to wake her up if she oversleeps. This way she can be sure of a warm house, hot cup of cafe au lait, and a mother who is fully compos mentis.

There is also the issue of grooming. Up until recently, our eldest has spent virtual ages on her hair, her make-up, her selection of clothing and accessories. Whenever we've gone up to Edinburgh together to attend our Japanese chat session, she and I have been the most mis-matched mother-daughter pair imaginable. In my servicable but beat-up shoes, decent but obviously past-it clothes and slapped-on-at-the-last-minute make-up, I make a very poor show next to my gilded lily of a daughter. Not only does she possess the beauty of youth, but her hair is a slick, shining helmet; her nails are meticulously polished and filed; her clothing is all state-of-the-art stylish, and her make-up is the stuff of glossy women's magazines. Never -- not even in my own youth when I was supple and svelte -- did I look remotely as good as my kid.

Amazingly enough, this whole dressing/grooming thing changed a couple of months ago after she attended her first applicants' day. She had gone to it in full regalia, but when she came back, she allowed that she had been overdressed. When I took her to the last applicants' day a few weeks back, she was horrified to find that she had under compensated. So on Friday, she was determined to get it just right: the perfect sweatshirt (brand new and trendy, of course), the perfect pair of trousers. The right kind of shoes and socks, too, and unobtrusive make-up.

"What about your jacket?" I asked, putting mine on. "Which one are you going to wear?" She has six.

"It's not cold," she sniffed. I stared at her: Oh yes, it was!

For the next five minutes we bickered back and forth about the jacket -- You'll freeze! -- Not I won't! -- then we finally reached a compromise: a windbreaker that could be bunched up and put in a bag should the need arise. (It didn't: her pride would not let her admit to being cold.)

This time we were armed with several maps, and my husband and I had been over the route several times until I practically knew it in my sleep. We did get off at one wrong exit 35 minutes early courtesy of my eldest screaming "Mom, it's this one! Turn now!" but we still managed to make it to the university in one piece, on time, not too badly shaken, and still on speaking terms.

My daughter loved the campus. All the professors were nice or quirky; the other students looked like people she might enjoy knowing; even the dorms, which struck me as claustrophibic, struck her as potentially cozy and welcoming. I loved the surroundings: green, tree-studded hills, verdant forests, and a loch on which people were already out, before ten in the morning, in kayaks. I don't aspire to much in life, but I love kayaking and would give anything to be able to do it even once or twice a year.

"Just think," I said longingly, "if you went here, I could come up to visit and we could go kayaking."

The eldest gave me a funny look. "Mom, if I come up here, I'm not going to want you to, like, come up and visit me all the time."

"I'm not talking about all the time; I'm talking about maybe once every couple of months or so."

Strained silence.

"Mom, people go to college to get away from their parents."

I had a sudden flashback of a night spent holding this stroppy young person as an infant with a high temperature. Of the eleven times she vomited in the span of that long, horrible night, and how the washing machine ran eight hours straight the next day as I stumbled about pegging out laundry and making chicken broth.

I could tell her all about that, I reflected as we drove home, but it would not make a blind bit of difference.

"Mom?" she said finally.


"When you visit do you think you could maybe bring some of your mabo dofu?"

Mabo dofu is a Chinese dish that my daughter would just about sell her soul for. "Sure," I said, trying to block the image that suddenly sprang to mind: my eldest, greedily accepting my garlicy, gingery offering and forgetting all about me and my aching desire to kayak. And then a road sign loomed ahead of us and I glanced up at it and forgot all about kayaking, mabo dofu, and my all-too-often ungrateful child. Dunblane.

It breaks my heart that the name of this pretty little town should conjure up such a sad and horrific image, but there it is. My daughter is sixteen years old, and here we were, out looking at universities. I know that there are mothers and fathers in Dunblane who should be doing the same thing with their sixteen- and seventeen-year- olds; who would be happy to have my gripes.

"You find out how to rent me a kayak and I'll make sushi and chocolate chip cookies too," I said.


Kim Ayres said...

I used to live not far from Dunblane when it happened. However, it was still a local town so the name was used all the time, so eventually it stops having the connotations ever time it's mentioned.

Likewise now I live not that far from Lockerbie - another town that seemed to always have the disaster attached to it, but until this post I hadn't thought about it for years.

Carole said...

I feel completely snookered. You say you are not athletic and you kayak? Mary, Mary, Mary...

You just lost the whose less athletic contest.

Kanani said...

Sounds like a great trip. She finally said what she's been wanting to for quite some time! I remember being that age and feeling the same. In fact, I'd take off for long periods at a time, riding my bike into the country --gone for probably 9 or 10 hours. This was before phones! Really, my parents never knew where I'd gone but I doubt they worried too much.

Ello said...

The Dublane massacre is still shocking to me. It seems like all the shootings in the US have been high school and college kids. But in Dublane - to shoot such young children. It just makes me shudder.

Mary - she is trying to be cool but clearly she does want you to visit. She will roll her eyes and bitch to her friends that Mom is coming, but deep down she will be so grateful and happy that you did!

Mary Witzl said...

Kim -- You are absolutely right. Lockerbie has completely lost its tragic connotations for me because I am so often there. It makes me shiver, but only because I had a couple of particularly hair-raising driving lessons there. Likewise, whenever I talk about visiting Hiroshima or Nagasaki, American friends immediately register these names and look grim, whereas for me they are now devoid of any sense of sadness.

Carole -- Well, when I say that I like kayaking, I mean that I like to get into a kayak and putter about. I don't necessarily mean the kind of serious business, athletic kayaking you are thinking of. I want that Most Unathletic status and I'm not prepared to give it up just because I can maneuver a kayak oar!

Kanani -- She hasn't been saving this up; she says this all the time! But normally she says it when we're lounging around the house. It's quite different when I've just braved the rush-hour motorway, treated the little madam to lunch and coffee, and then sat through a one-hour session on student financing. I paid my way through college and STILL managed to bear up with parental visits. Rest assured: her allowance will be VIRTUALLY NOTHING! Harrumph.

Ello -- It was all the more shocking that this happened in the U.K. because at least here there is gun control. Sadly, crimes like this now seem to happen all over the world.

In fact, I myself was thrilled to be able to leave home and get away from my family, so of course I would never hound her or visit her frequently or without notice. But when I do, she had BETTER BE HAPPY TO SEE ME! If I catch her bitching to friends, the mabo dofu is ALL MINE.

The Anti-Wife said...

When your daughter complains at the thought of you visiting her, tell her of the woman I work with whose daughter is a 6 hour drive away at college. This woman calls her daughter several times a day on her cell phone and manages to drive over there at least twice a month. She insists her daughter comes home at least once a month.

Just tell your daughter she's lucky you only want a to kayak every couple of months.

debra said...

Sometimes we just smile and nod, don't we? My daughter is home for spring break from her University. What a lovely visit! And what a difference from 16 (#2 Daughter) and almost 20 (#1Daughter). When those frontal lobes develop it is amazing.
What a joy to watch them grow. I am amazed.

-eve- said...

Heheheh! Oh, it doesn't sound nice at all *and just today I'd been thinking to myself, "What pleasure do people get out of their kids? Does it add to one's blessings to have kids?* ;-)

Eryl Shields said...

I love the way your daughter is adjusting her style to fit in with the wider world. Once she gets to university she'll probably stop wearing make-up all together until the work years intervene.

Seeing the Dunblane signpost still does that to me too. I remember the day it happened, I went to a class and the lecturer and another woman were both in tears. Not having heard the news that morning I had to ask what was wrong, then I joined them.

Brave Astronaut said...

Thanks for another great post, Mary. As a former history teacher, I am ashamed to admit that I had to remind myself about what happened at Dunblane. While looking it up, it struck me that you were there one day after the anniversary (it happened on March 13, 1996).

Kim's comment about Lockerbie still resonates with me though. I believe that you certainly will identify with events that took place close to you or to which you have a personal connection.

Of course, as students of history, we are all victims of the old adage, "Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it." When these current events happen we are always reminded of similar events from the past, but then they, too, just become history.

And I don't know how to reconcile that. How do you decide what's important? Well, I've said my piece, but I think this discussion may come up again over at my place.

Mary Witzl said...

Anti-wife -- One of my daughter's classmates has a mother like that. She clings and hovers and endlessly texts and phones. I would have hated having a mother like that, and you are right: I should remind my kid that it could be a lot worse! A mom who only wants to pay you an occasional visit, and who will almost certainly be out of your way in a kayak, is hardly comparable.

Debra -- I probably should do more smiling and nodding. As it is, I do a lot of eye rolling, jaw clenching and aggrieved hand wringing. I can't wait to see those frontal lobes develop, though. I still remember my first trip back home after being on my own for half a year. I was 17, and when I told my mother that I appreciated how much housework she did, the look on her face said it all. I just hope I live long enough to hear something similar from my eldest.

Eve -- This may sound odd, coming as it does from someone who whines about her kids all the time, but they are an endless source of joy. It may sound like I'm contradicting myself, but the truth is that we parents can do a good job of telling others about how awful our kids can be, but we don't do so well at describing how much fun they are, or what inspiration we get from them. I would undo a lot of things in my life, but I never cease to be grateful that I got married and had kids. They have increased my blessings in every possible way. Weird, isn't it?

Eryl -- I had the same response. Some of the victims were only a few months older than my eldest. I left work early that day, after hearing the news, wanting to see my kids right away. I ran into a friend on the train whose children attended the same nursery school. She was early too, and when I asked her why, she told me rather shamefacedly that she had also left work early on hearing the news.

Two years before Dunblane, when I was expecting my youngest, I had to stop reading the newspapers, as they were filled with what was happening in Rwanda. Sometimes I feel like stopping the earth and just stepping right off.

BA -- I do believe that remembering the past can help us to avoid repeating it, but only when remembering it entails understanding. I worry that many people interpret 'remembering' as carrying a grudge and not genuinely trying to understand. And sometimes remembering does not help us avoid repeating the problem; Dunblane happened because one individual was ill, and no one could have imagined what he was capable of doing.

Gorilla Bananas said...

The way to a teenage daughter's heart is through her stomach!

A Paperback Writer said...

Whoa. No coat? I am impressed. I cannot recall a single day spent in Scotland where I did not at least carry a jacket with me in my backpack.
And she has sleek hair when visiting Edinburgh? How? The wind blows constantly in Edinburgh, and most people don't bother with fancy hairstyles. (I wore my long hair in a plait nearly every day.) When I moved home, the first Sunday in church, I couldn't believe how ridiculous the women's hairstyles looked to me in Salt Lake after the simplicity of Edinburgh (forced by the wind). So, how long did her sleek hair last in the Scottish "windy city"?

Kara said...

dorm life has a way of forcing one to appreciate and miss their parents. fear not.

Kim Ayres said...

Got a call from Dina this morning - looks like I'll get to see your short hair on Sunday :)

Katie Alender said...

Oh, yes, Mary! My little sister wanted to cross the country to be 3,000 miles from my parents... she ended up a seven-hour drive and that was quite enough for her after all.

Don't worry, you AND your food will be appreciated!

Mary Witzl said...

GB -- My kid's heart can definitely be reached via her stomach. The one good thing about this is that at least it gives me a little bargaining power.

APW -- You'd be even more impressed if you saw her going about all winter long like this. I've nagged endlessly, but she will not put on a coat even when the weather is bitter. One Christmas when she was ten and performing in the school's Christmas chorus, half a dozen other mothers told me that she wasn't warmly enough dressed. We were sitting in the church, which is built of sandstone and cold as a tomb, and both of my kids were the only ones in their shirt sleeves, without either warm stockings or coats.

As for her hair, she manages to keep it looking pretty slick. God knows how; it must be some sort of cosmetic secret I'm not privy to.

Kara -- I'll come back to you if this doesn't happen! I'm hoping that the other dorm residents will all be terrible slobs and make her see the error of her ways.

Kim -- It looks pretty awful now, but it still feels great. See you at Dina's!

Katie -- All I can do is hope. When I left home, I went from California to Florida. My mother was not the world's greatest or most inspired cook, so I missed HER and not her food. It was also pretty good to get away from her nagging, but after having gotten myself up every morning, I was beginning to understand her need for it.

A Paperback Writer said...

Well, I'm still mystified over the hair, but with the coat, I guess she's like a lot of kids at the school where I teach. Utah can get frigid in the winter, but on a day where it's 5 degrees F. in January with 10 inches of snow on the ground, there will be kids in my classroom wearing shorts and tee shirts. And once the snow is gone, no matter how cold it is, 75% of the girls will be wearing flip-flops instead of shoes.

Mary Witzl said...

It always amazes me that my kids can go without coats or sweaters, then come into the house so cold that they must turn out the central heating, space heaters, etc., and thaw out for far too long in piping hot showers. It is as though they have to pretend indifference to the cold outside, but once they're back inside they turn into wimps. Energy-guzzling wimps.

Sam, Problemchildbride said...

Kara's right. You will be greeted with flowers when you visit - flowers in exchange for an emergency food-parcel.

We were married near Dunblane, my sister-in-law comes from there, and my best friend had her hen-night there. I've spent a lot of happy time there so some of the bad associations have been tempered a little for me with better ones.

The horror's still there though and it won't ever wholly go away until many generations have come and gone. All these children's blood has left an indelible stain on the place that can still be felt, even on the most beautiful day there. It's always a complicated, poignant feeling when you enter Dunblane.

Mary Witzl said...

Sam -- Living as we do now within driving distance of Dunblane, I feel a mixture of emotions. On one hand, I hate the fact that the name conjures up only these images for me and many others; I know that it is a lovely town, deserving of admiring visitors. On the other, though, I feel protective of Dunblane and want tourists to respect its privacy. We ran a small inn here for two years, and whenever we had guests who wanted to visit Dunblane BECAUSE OF what had happened there, I had all I could do not to dissuade them from this. It just seems wrong. So I guess I want people to remember what happened in Dunblane, but I don't want them to visit it because they do.