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(Jacob Greenwald)– A good friend of mine recently let me in on a great piece of Amherst wisdom: freshman are not really college students until after they come back from Thanksgiving break. Before that apparently, we are stuck in some sort of limbo, not quite here nor there, between the confines of high school and the liberation of college. With parent’s weekend just past, I think I’d like to tweak that statement; Freshman are not really college students until they looked their parents in the eye, hugged them, been fed by them, shown them their lives, and then waved as the parents have driven off again. At least, that was my experience this past weekend, and what an time it was.
I will not say that I was dreading parent’s weekend, but I will admit to there being a certain feeling of trepidation in my gut whenever I thought about seeing my parents again walking with around campus. With the both of them currently safe and sound back in Minneapolis, Minnesota, I’ve started to delve into what exactly I was worried about. Saying that I feared the inherent awkwardness of the situation is silly; I usually derive some base amount of schadenfraude even in my own follies. And after moving in, and seeing that everybody else on campus has equally embarassing parents as mine, I wasn’t worried that my parents would do or say something that would bring a red tint to my cheeks (or at least, anything that they haven’t done or said before). In the end, I guess, I was worried about what would happen when various parts of my life would come into contact. It’s the same feeling that I get when I hear people recounting their weekend within earshot; the realization that the voice, when not engaged in the debauchery described, is also a full-time student that balances (or attempts to balance) classes and extra-curricular activities, in addition to being the pride and joy of various parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts, siblings and cousins. In the end, I feared the multifaceted nature of my own life, and how the various bits of it would all bump together.
Not that you could have told that from observing my behavior. The entire week before the weekend, while plotting the numerous scenarios by which a meal or gathering between friends and family could come to a grinding halt, I was also really excited to see my parents. While some will say that absence makes the heart grow fonder, I will admit to legitimately enjoying the time spent with my parents. So, the Friday night of, at 7:30, I was standing dutifully under a streetlight outside of Frost library, waiting for my parents to arrive. Fifteen minutes after I began, now accompanied by friends who were heading to Williston dorm.
Suddenly, a car pulled up, and out of the driver’s side door opened, and out popped the short, squat frames of my parents. “The hobbits,” as I’d pitched them to my friends, had arrived. After hellos and embraces, I walked around the freshman quad and talked with my parents. I asked about the family back home, their work lives, and of course, the dog. They asked about classes, my friends, and then my Dad began his usual trope of asking about my grades (“They had fraternities when I was here, and those are gone, but they didn’t get rid of letter grades, right? This isn’t Hampshire!”). After a half-hour, I sent them into town, and began the process of collecting my friends for a meal at Panda East. Another twenty minutes before we had finally all assembled, and so we began our own walk, to what I was convinced had the potential to be a disaster of truly epic proportions
Whether that was the case or not, what I was so terrified of never came to pass. I introduced my parents to all of my friends, met the mother of a friend who was joining us, and then we sat down. After ordering, the contact between various facets of my life began, but the results I had worried about never materialized. At the beginning, the worst of it came from my friends, who had congregated together at the end of the table. The entire meal, they ran a commentary amongst themselves, realizing primarily that while I looked a lot like my Mom (which I know), I exhibited the same hand gestures in conversation as my Dad (which I didn’t know, but isn’t that surprising). As the meal continued, and no embarrassing moments took shape, I relaxed, and got a real kick out of seeing my parents get to know my friends.
I should have realized, looking back on it, that any problems for me would not be from my own parents; they would be from somebody else’s. Two thirds of the way through the meal, my friend’s Dad, who had landed in Springfield, materialized, and joined his wife at the table. After fifteen minutes, his son left for Hampshire Halloween. There was a lull in conversation, and then I heard the cannon shot to one of the most bitterly funny moments of my life.
“Oh, not quite, but that’s me,” I started to explain. After getting five seconds into my explanation, in a mercifully-hushed voice, my friend’s Dad looked over and said (did not ask, mind you) “So, you’re the one that got him smoking.” My heart skipped a beat, my eyes popped open a little, and I met my accuser’s gaze. Behind a pair of glasses, I saw a look that, while I’m familiar with it, I haven’t seen in a while. It’s the look of a sportsmen explaining where he killed the deer mounted on the wall, or how long he fought with the stuffed pike in the den. Only this time, this wasn’t a memory, and I was right in the crosshairs. Then, a masterful interrogation, picked up by no one else at the table, began. After admitting to my deed, and then lawyering through several answers (the phrase “not that I know of” came up. A lot), and with some people at the table slowly coming around to what was going on, I took a piece of advice from class and asked that any further questions be brought up with my legal counsel present. After a couple more minutes, we dispersed, and I realized that I had run the gauntlet, and made it through.
The next two days were great. I met my parents around noon, ate with them, did some shopping, and then headed back to campus to spend time with my friends. I got to meet the parents of a lot of people, and went through the same mental checklist as my friends had at the friday meal, sizing people up, and realizing that the people that I knew were more than what I had labeled them as. We had one more massive dinner, with friends and family again mixing, before I saw my parents off on Sunday at noon.
Since they’ve departed, and I’ve begun a mountain of midterms work, I’ve been pondering what the entire time meant. Now, with it past, I’ve come to realize a few things. First, even though it’s been two months since I arrived, I’ve changed a lot here already at Amherst. While I can’t yet put it into words, there was something present in conversations with my parents that I hadn’t had when I was in high school, or even when I was away in the spring. If I had to guess, it’s the realization that I am officially outside of the home now, and that I am now beyond the reach of most parental intervention. My parents now see me as more of my own person, which is, while its a bit terrifying, is also liberating.
Of course, I am still their kid. This occurred to me as I was seeing them off. My Mom was giving me a final hug in front of my dorm, and saying how happy she was to see me and check in, while my Dad had the car in the middle of the street, obstructing traffic.
“You know, if he saw some woman hugging her son, with a car blocking the road, he’d freak out, right?” I asked my Mom.
“…Yeah, you’re right.” I did my impersonation of him mumbling (something very similar to the sound The Penguin from the 60’s-era Batman show makes when excited), smiled, and hugged her a final time. Then, my parents got in the car, and I waved them off, before going to a friend’s and starting my homework.