Doing the college thing in your 60s is tiring . . .
I felt a like a derelict over the weekend, stretching out on a cushioned bench in the student center during my daughter’s college orientation.
This was no time for decorum. After six hours of welcome speeches, break-out sessions for majors, chitchatting with other prospective students and parents and wolfing down a catered lunch, the Curmudgeon and I still had two hours to kill before our daughter returned from a tour of Washington, D.C., landmarks.
I suggested returning to our hotel in Old Alexandria, VA, and taking a nap. The Curmudgeon refused, noting we’d spend at least an hour in the car and have to drive back to the hotel after picking up our daughter. At some point, I wondered aloud why college administrators hadn’t put cots in an auditorium for weary parents.
Too tired for more walking and chilled from an arctic blast that descended on our nation’s capitol, we splurged on two hard cover books from a nearby Barnes & Noble and decided to spend our spare time reading. With books in hand, we rushed over to the Catholic University of America’s Student Center and climbed the stairs to the second floor, claiming a 10-foot-long vinyl sofa as our temporary home.
I’m not the type of person to make myself too comfortable in public. There are rules of acceptable behavior and I generally abide by them. I guess you could say I’m modest; some have even called me a prude. One of my brother-in-laws once caressed my sister on a store escalator and was admonished by an older woman: “This ain’t your house.”
I get that, and I generally play by the rules. But there’s a point where exhaustion and exposure to the elements take over, making you do things out of your comfort zone.
And that includes laying on a couch and balling up your coat into a pillow, stretching out as though you’re in your living room. As I read, the Curmudgeon sat at my feet, trying to read but nodding off instead.
And as people passed and tried not to notice us, I thought of how pathetic we looked and didn’t care. Well, I did a little. At one point, I thought someone might call campus security to complain about a suspicious couple sleeping on a couch, but I quickly dismissed it. We looked too old and decrepit to be dangerous.
Sending off a kid to college in your 60s isn’t easy, or at least it feels a lot harder than it did four years ago when my son went away.
First, there’s all the walking. I can tell parents who are veterans when they show up in running shoes. They know that fashion takes a back seat to comfort when they’re on college campuses, and only a fool would show up in heels to navigate all the hills and steps.
But there’s also the general sense of being a little long in the tooth to be doing the college thing, of being the elder statesmen in the crowd. I found myself scanning the crowd and noticing other older parents, in some cases wondering if they were grandparents. And I noticed how young some parents are. One woman looked like she could be her son’s date, a fact I found admirable and troubling at the same time.
The older folks were the quiet ones, biting our tongue when parents asked questions like, “How can I make sure my child is taking his medication every day?” and rolling our eyes when a mother asked four questions during a break-out session for history majors.
You’d think the parents were the ones going to college, not the kids. About all I could think was there’s going to be a lot of letting go over the next six months or this isn’t going to work for either the kids or parents. Like I said, I’m older and wiser this time around.
There were no orientation sessions or “vetting days” when I entered Wheaton College in Norton, MA., in the fall of 1976. After moving me into the dorm and shedding a brief tear, my parents drove off, leaving me to eat my box lunch by myself on the campus’ sprawling lawn adorably named “The Dimple.”
Things are so different today, perhaps reflecting the current trend toward over-parenting in which parents have to be involved in everything, including college orientation. I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’m not so sure it’s so great. I’m a big believer in baptism by fire.
I don’t know how my children feel about having older parents, mainly because I’ve never asked them. But lately, my daughter has been dropping hints that we’ve both seen better days and I can’t really argue. At a certain age, maybe around 60, you reach a point of resignation. You start to think, “Hey, for my age, I’m not doing so bad. Let’s see how great you look when you’re this age.”
When my daughter arrived in June, 2001, I was two months shy of 43. I remember being shocked by how much more tired I was than when my son arrived when I was 39. Four years makes a huge difference, especially when chasing around toddlers.
I didn’t think of myself as an old mom, and tried to be as active as possible. My brother-in-law had dated a woman who was adopted by an older couple and he was always telling me that she never did anything because her parents were so old. Yikes. I didn’t want my kids to suffer a similar fate.
I taught my kids to roller-skate at a young age, and disco roller-skated with them on most school holidays, becoming the brunt of jokes among some kids who made fun of my ’70s moves. I taught my son to play tennis, and our daughter picked up running like her father.
But parenting children gets harder as you age, perhaps due to waning physical stamina. If you doubt me, ask anyone who watches their grandchildren for any length of time. Most look like they’re shell-shocked, at least until they have a few days to recover. My father had seven children 11 years apart, and when I’d complain that the younger ones were getting away with stuff that we never did, he said simply, “I’m tired.”
As an “older” parent, you try not to focus on age but sometimes people remind you. When my daughter was still very little, one of my sisters said, “Do you realize that you’re going to be 53 when she’s 10?” Well, yes, I’d done the math, but tried not to think about it.
My mother began having children when she was 23, and was a grandmother by 52. One of my sisters and many of my friends are now grandparents, a concept that’s hard for me to wrap my head around. After all, I’m still in the trenches, driving to orthodontist appointments, discussing comforter options for dorm rooms and jean shopping at Banana Republic.
It’s all good, and believe me, parenting is absolutely the best thing I’ll ever do in my life. Still, I can’t help thinking the cots were a great idea.