The Whitman Mission

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Humor  |  House: Booksie Classic
Just how hard can it be to drop your kid off at college?

Submitted: June 27, 2012

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Submitted: June 27, 2012

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The Whitman Mission

 

A crunching sound announced that my Honda’s rear bumper had made contact with what turned out to be a huge utility truck.  As my 14 year old taciturn daughter began to cry, I got out of the car to inspect the damage.  My rear bumper dangled, crumpled.  The big, butt ugly rusted utility truck showed absolutely no sign of the impact.  Should I leave a note?
Normally, yes, I would.
But this day, I did not.
At the time, I did not know that this was to be the last catastrophe of the day. We were in Walla Walla, six days before the start of classes at Whitman College, in order to drop off my oldest daughter.  She would embark on the Whitman Scramble, an outdoor adventure, hiking around the base of Mount Hood with other new students before the start of classes.  With this and other experiences, each freshman would ease into college life and bond with others.  My daughter would correct me later, explaining that one should use the non-patriarchal term, “first-year,” Instead of “freshman,” to describe her.
But I should go back to the beginning of the day.  It dawned with pride and hope, excitement and sadness and, like so many other days, with drama.
My dramatic 16 year old middle daughter woke with a very sore throat and a temperature of 100.1.  Not to panic.  As a single mom, I maintained a network of support, with the lead role played by my best friend and neighbor, Patty.  Patty would check in with the patient after her early shift at the airport.  She would call with updates.  Dramatic daughter whined about our leaving.  I took a deep, meditative breath.The car was packed and it was time to go.
Taciturn and First Year were asleep by the time we exited I-5 North onto I-90 East. I drove on listening to NPR without any complaints.  We crossed the Pass and stopped to eat the sack lunches I had packed the night before.  Continuing on, we were just crossing the Columbia River when First Year said,
“Mom, find a gas station.  I think I am going to be sick.”  There would be no gas stations before Pasco. 
“Hang in there,” I said.First Year was turning green.  Taciturn remained silent, We had to stop by the side of the road in the sand and brush.
“Should we go back?” I asked, when First Year got back into the car.
“No, Mom,” she replied.
Once we made it to Pasco, we stopped at a gas station.  It took two more stops in various small towns before the offending microbe was eliminated.  We had lost a great deal of time.  The orientation meeting for the Scrambling First Years would begin in four hours.
Washington State is wide. 
I knew the State Patrol officer did not need to be informed of the width of the state, and I wanted to show Taciturn and First Year how to handle these situations.  Short, respectful answers.  Acknowledgment and contrition.  Mea culpa, Officer.
With the tentativeness and caution of a new student driver I slowly and carefully steered the car back on to the highway.  I told Taciturn to put the speeding ticket in the glove box.  Then Dramatic called, crying, explaining that Patty had taken her to the clinic, because of her rising temperature-and she could not find the insurance card.  I now abandoned deep breathing and asked Taciturn to dig through my wallet for my insurance card, which she did, and then I began to read the policy number over the phone, just as we entered an area with scattered cell phone service.
After twenty more miles, and three more attempts with the cell phone and policy number and the crisis averted, I sighed and tried to relax, knowing Patty would take care of Dramatic.  We were not as far behind schedule as I had feared.
“All’s well that ends well,” I chirped, “just as Ma used to say in the Little House books!  Remember those?”  I smiled at my daughters.  First Year rolled her eyes.  Taciturn said,
“Why do you always have to get so mad?”
I had not thought I appeared angry.  I had been stressed, concerned, and very busy.  Why did she think this was “mad?”
This stung.  I lived my life for these children of mine.  I remembered the unique heft of each daughter as a swaddled newborn and how it felt to lift each of them out of their cribs when they were older, standing up, arms outstretched.  I knew each of their hands as well as my own and the unique quality of each hand as I had held it walking toward the first day of kindergarten.  First Year’s had been warm and dry, not gripping mine too hard, and she had run into the room without a look back.  Other mothers struggled to extricate their crying five year olds from their legs.  Dramatic’s hand had been moist and her grip hard.  She left me tentatively and walked into the room slowly.  She looked back once.  Taciturn, who had been there to witness the first day of kindergarten of each of her older sisters seemed a seasoned veteran, and her hand had dragged me to the classroom door, where she smiled and said, “Bye, Mommy!” 
As we continued to drive, Taciturn and her sister fell asleep again.  The desert scrub began to give way to irrigated vineyards and hop fields. 
I pondered Taciturn’s question.  My love, fear, zeal, and conscientiousness looked like “mad” to them!  Was I a variation of Mommy Dearest?  They were growing up, and here I was, finally gaining insight in the fourth quarter of the game.  Well, when was I supposed to be able to fit “gaining insight” into eighteen years of teaching, caretaking, cooking, cleaning, checking backpacks, being the bad soccer mom who never signed up to bring the oranges, dropping off and picking up at violin, orchestra, gymnastics, clarinet and swimming lessons?  And the Brownies, Girl Scouts, “Math is Cool” competitions, parent-teacher conferences?  The SAT tests, French club meetings, cross country meets, ER runs for stitches and bone setting, dentist and doctor appointments, sleepovers, jobs, church, and the orthodontist?
I might add here that selling Girl Scout cookies when your three daughters belong to three different troupes is not a recommended activity for a person on the path to Enlightenment and Equanimity of Spirit. 
Yes, I admit to having been a bit of a worrier.  Compulsive, even.  I arrived at least thirty minutes early to pick up any of them.  Poor Taciturn had spent half of her life in the car, waiting in parking lots for her sisters.  They had bristled at my worry.  And I did get mad when someone would tell me at 9:00 pm that she needed a costume to play Marc Antony for school the next day.  But they always got the costumes.
And now I was Mad Mom.  I was trying to suppress the lump in my throat when we passed a sign saying, “Welcome to College Place.”  We were reentering civilization.  The girls woke up as the car slowed. 
“Look, girls, at that old school!  It’s a winery! L’Ecole 41!  C’est francais!”Silence.  I drove on.
“Smell the famous Walla Walla sweets,” I chirped.
“It’s making me nauseas,” replied First Year.
We arrived on campus and First Year seemed to perk up.  We hurriedly checked into the same Travel Lodge we had stayed in when touring Whitman the Spring before.  I felt proud.  First Year had worked hard, earning an International Baccalaureate Diploma, and procured scholarships.  She had been lonely in high school, and I knew that college would change her life. 
Taciturn and I left our things in the room.  But I swallowed hard as I realized First Year would not be coming back to this room with us.  As we got into the car, First Year let out a moan.
“I left my hiking boots in Seattle!” she wailed.  I could see it.  The boots had been carefully placed right by the front door, where she would not forget them.  Boots she had saved for, and broken in perfectly for the hike.
“It’s OK,” I said, adrenaline surging, “your sister and I will go buy a new pair while you attend the orientation meeting.  It will be OK.”  First Year’s eyes welled with tears of gratitude.
We found the orientation session in Reid Hall and I tried to kiss First Year good-bye but she gave me The Look.  Her sister and I had no time to lose.  A young man sat at the information desk and, as we approached, said,
“Welcome to Walla Walla!  The town so nice they named it twice!”  I asked him where an outdoor gear store could be found, and he said the town had two, both on Main Street. 
We were off on a mission with the fervor of Marcus and Narcissa to get new boots.  Main Street was so close we walked.  I prayed my credit card would not be denied.  Amazingly, we found a store, found the same size and brand of boot, and my credit card was accepted.  As we hurried back to campus, I noticed trendy wine shops on the very gentrified old street and I dreamed I could afford a bottle for later and could have the chance to drink it alone. 
Taciturn broke my reverie as we approached Reid Hall. 
“The violin and laptop will melt,” she said.  I had not noticed until that very moment just how hot it was.  The car would be an oven inside.  There had been no time to seek parking in the shade of any of the magnificent Sycamore giants around campus. We walked into Reid Hall and spotted First Year just as Orientation appeared to be winding down. 
“Mom!” she cried, “I missed getting my college stuff into storage because you kept the keys to the car!  We can’t move into our dorms yet, and I can’t take all this stuff to Mount Hood!”
I rushed around, asking everyone and no one, what I should do.  One student advised me to drive to Lyman Hall on the Quad where the Scramblers’ college belongings were to be stored, and see if a facilities person might still be there.  Of  course.  Why had I needed a 19 year old to tell me this?  My thinking was beginning to cloud.
The three of us ran to the Honda and got in.  Nothing smelled melted, yet.  I pulled out of my parking space and nearly collided with another car on the one-way, two lane street.  The driver of this car let loose a string of profanities through her open window into ours.  I thought I saw spittle fly out of her mouth.
“Ignore her, girls,” I advised my daughters.  First Year’s face was blank, and Taciturn’s eyes widened. 
“Watch this,” I said, when I realized we would be pulling up alongside this angry driver at the very next stop light, “this is how you diffuse anger, girls.”
As I slowed to a stop, I turned to the other driver, smiled and said, “Sorry!  I hope you have a great day!”
“Fuck you!” screamed the driver.
“I hate Walla Walla,” said Taciturn.
We arrived at the dorm and found students still there, about to lock up the storage room. 
“Wait!” I yelled, as I ran up to them.  They obliged us with great courtesy.
First Year’s belongings were safely in storage.  I walked over to a giant Sycamore and sat in its shade.  I tried to breathe normally.  First Year and Taciturn stood, silent.
“Thank Goodness,” I exclaimed.  I rose to my feet.  “Let’s go back to Reid Hall.  I want to see it and get something to eat.  You girls must be starving!”

“I’m walking alone,” replied First Year, stomping off. 
I felt a pull in my throat, but soothed myself with the thought that the worst was over.  Taciturn and I got back into the now empty Honda, and I backed out straight into the rear end of the aforementioned big, butt ugly rusty truck.  As we drove the crumpled bumper Honda back to Reid Hall, I tried to comfort the crying Taciturn, while explaining how, typically, one writes a note explaining one’s traffic mishaps to the victims of the mishaps, leaving a phone number, but that these were extraordinary times. 
Taciturn wiped her eyes and picked up my cell phone to examine it.
“You have four missed calls from Patty,” she said.
Now parked in the shade of a stately Sycamore in full leaf, I called Patty and found out that Dramatic’s condition had greatly improved, and that she now had a prescription antibiotic, some soup, 7-Up, and was watching Titanic for the fifteenth time.  Her fever had gone down.  I made a mental note to leave part of my estate to Patty, if I ever had an estate.
We walked back to Reid Hall, where I spotted First Year, but she gave me The Look.  She was talking to some new friends.  I gave Taciturn some money and told her to go downstairs to the deli to buy three bottled waters and three sandwiches.  I also instructed her to purchase a “Whitman College Mom” bumper sticker, figuring I could put it on the back window, if not on my actual dangling mangled bumper. 
Just then, First Year came by talking animatedly with some other First Years and said,
“Bye Mom.  Thanks!”  The pack of young people seemed to guide her away and they all disappeared out the main doors.
And she was gone.
I sat down at a table where Taciturn could see me when she came back upstairs with the food.  It suddenly occurred to me that I did not remember the last time that I had been alone.  I was having trouble with my deep breathing exercises. 
I tried to look normal.  With my elbows on the table, I placed my palms on either side of my face and opened my eyes as wide as I could to try to provide more surface area for the tears.  A woman, a total stranger, sat down next to me at the small table. 
“This must be your first child to go off to college,” she said.  She gave me a tissue and proceeded to tell me her First Year story.  It contained almost as many mishaps as mine.  She even trumped me: a flat tire on I-90 and a missed ballet audition.  I sniffed and thanked her as she left to join her husband.  Taciturn returned with the purchases.
“I just can’t believe Laura is now a college student, and that Emily goes next year, and that I will be going to college in four years!” said Constance.
“Neither can I, sweetie.”  We walked out to the crumpled bumper Honda, and Constance put the “Whitman College Mom” bumper sticker on the back window, and we drove back to the Travel Lodge to each our sandwiches. 


© Copyright 2020 ClaireEllen. All rights reserved.

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