In Deja Vu Part One, I described my own disappointing experience at my first college. In this post, we move on the next generation where history repeats itself.
Every Mother’s Dream/Nightmare
Every mother hopes that when she sends her child to college, the child will have an awesome experience. It’s supposed to be a bit scary for the mom when the child leaves the nest. Will he go to class or stay in his room and get stoned? Will he take tye-dye or underwater basketweaving? Will he eat magic mushrooms if offered to him? Will he get a social disease? Will he join a cult and quit school?
Seriously, though, it is a little scary. You hope you’ve raised your child with the values and sense of responsibility that will enable him to make the right choices once he gets to campus. No one will get him up in the morning for class. No one will remind him to do his homework. Heck, no one will care if he even goes to class.
I expected those feelings. I didn’t expect what actually happened. There was, however, this tiny voice inside my head . . .
Guido selects a college
I was sitting in the classroom
Trying to look intelligent
In case the teacher looked at me
Teacher, I need you
(c) 1972 Dick James Music Ltd.
With Audrey, our oldest, I had to do very little in terms of collection selection. She did the research and selected the schools to which she applied. I felt comfortable that she was taking care of business. She ended up going to William and Mary, my alma mater, which has made me proud beyond measure. I now know what the term “over the moon” means.
Guido, on the other hand, well, Guido takes some explaining.
Guido is not our easy child. That would be Audrey. Audrey has always been compliant, independent and self-directed. She’s our “go with the flow” kid.
Guido, not so much. Perhaps it is our fault for naming him Guido. He’s always lived up to his unique name by being a unique child.
Guido is a charmer. As a toddler, he always found his way to the teacher’s lap. Billy would find him there at the end of the day, snuggled up against a soft pair of boobies.
Guido knows how to play an audience. At the age of about three, he belted out “The Muffin Man” at the Weshampton Day School like he was Ethel Merman. The more the audience reacted, the louder he roared. And he did it while wearing a pair of authentic lederhosen I borrowed from a colleague.
Guido does exactly what he wants to do, when he wants. Compromise has not been one of his assets. The three of us would choose a restaurant for dinner, and he would object. When we went with the majority rule, he wouldn’t eat. He’s always been a picky eater, as a matter of fact. He prefers Chipolte to his father’s gourmet food.
In school, the teachers liked him since he is charming, but he’s always been the class clown and the instigator of mischief. I never got a detention in school, and would have been mortified if I had ever received one. Guido was proud of his detentions.
Guido does exactly enough work to get the result he wants. If he wants a B in a class, he studies just hard enough to get the B and no more. Giving 100%? Only when he wants to.
I should have known that Guido was unique when certain parents would say “I’m a fan of Guido.” At first I was flattered, but then I realized that this meant that other parents were not fans of Guido. Exactly what was he doing when he left the house? No, don’t tell me; I don’t want to know.
With that backdrop, Guido began to look at colleges. As far as I can tell, Guido selected schools based on their party quotient. In other words, the bigger the party school, the more he was interested.
He absolutely refused to even consider William and Mary because it is considered a “nerd” school—the very reason I went there and loved it. In terms of Guido’s party quotient, W&M probably did not even register on the scale. Audrey has convinced us, however, that students do indeed party at William and Mary, and she has the grades to prove it. Guido had plenty of other Virginia schools to choose from, however, including James Madison, VCU, ODU, and George Mason.
Then something unexpected happened. He was recruited by Kenyon College to play football. Guido is not large enough to play at a Division I school, so his chances to play football in college were limited. But Kenyon really wanted him.
Kenyon is where?
Kenyon is a private college in Ohio. That’s Ohio, not Africa, as many people seem to think.
As a private school, the tuition is steep–$55,000 a year as compared to $25,000 on average at a Virginia school. The only reason we agreed to pay for it was because he was going to play football. Otherwise, he would have had to go to school in-state. The in-state schools are too good to spend $55,000 per year somewhere else.
Kenyon is a small school —1600 students total. That’s even too small for me. And it’s a nerd school also, although Guido refused to admit it because they wanted him to play football. Billy called it the “William and Mary of the Midwest.”
In point of fact, Guido turned a blind eye to all the red flags. Aside from being small, it’s in the middle of nowhere. Not just in the middle of nowhere, in the middle of fucking nowhere. The closest city of any measurable size is Columbus, and it is 45 miles away.
Surrounding Kenyon in all directions, for as far as the eye can see, are cornfields. Cornfields, as in “Field of Dreams” or “Children of the Corn.”
Gambier, the town in which Kenyon is located, is teeny tiny. It’s about four streets wide and long. It makes Williamsburg look like Chicago with tri-corner hats. At least Williamsburg has a couple of bars. We had to spend the night in the next town over, Mount Vernon, because Gambier has no hotels. That’s how small it is. Mount Vernon is not much larger, but at least it has a Holiday Inn Express.
Guido’s vision of college life at Kenyon was probably something like this: he would play football, be a football star, and when he wasn’t playing, he would party, date all the girls (remember Warren Beatty back in the day?), schmooze the professors, and perhaps get a little studying in if he had time.
The reality was a rude awakening for the boy.
The drop off
We took him to the college for football camp a week before the rest of the students arrived. I had an uneasy feeling from the beginning, but he seemed to be excited. We moved him into his regular dorm room. There were only about three other students in the dorm that early; the others were international students. We never saw any of them. A college dorm is creepy when it’s empty. I half-expected to see a crew from “Ghost Hunters.”
The college, however, is beautiful. The buildings are Gothic style, much like the University of Richmond. The dining hall is stunning, with stained glass windows depicting all the major works of literature; Kenyon is well known for its English program.
In terms of sports, Kenyon has had championship swim teams for years. The college is trying to build its football program. Inasmuch as football is not the most popular sport at Kenyon, Guido’s star status was not assured. The boy was going to have to work for it. Work, like compromise, is not one of his strong suits.
When we arrived, the coach greeted us warmly. He seemed nice enough—for a football coach. The rest of the coaching staff was also cordial. After Guido checked in and we unloaded his stuff in his room, Billy and I hung around the college while Guido met his teammates, received his football gear, and attended orientation meetings. It took us all of five minutes to tour the campus and the town.
At 5 p.m., we said good-bye. “Are you excited?” I asked.
“I’m a little nervous,” he replied.
“That’s to be expected,” said Billy.
I should mention that Billy was ecstatic about Guido playing football in college. Billy had been encouraging Guido to attend Kenyon. Billy adored watching Guido play sports, especially football. He never missed a game or a meet, whether it was football, baseball, basketball or wrestling.
I know I’m the mom and rather biased, but Guido is a pretty good athlete. His passion serves him well. On the field he gives 110%. Too bad he wouldn’t do the same in class. He played running back (I think) and he was fast. He played smart too; he could adjust if the play didn’t go as planned.
What Guido probably loved most about playing football, however, was the team spirit. He is a natural leader and was one of the captains during his senior year. He’s an awesome kid. (And he really loves his mother.)
So off he went to football camp, and off we went back to Richmond.
Like mother, like son
The phone calls started almost immediately.
At first, he sounded like he was just checking in. But very quickly we realized he was homesick and lonely. When he wasn’t practicing, he stayed alone in his room. I asked him why he didn’t hang out with the other players, and he said they weren’t the kind of people he would hang out with. This boy has major FOMO (fear of missing out). He parties more than Paris Hilton. Guido not hanging out with other kids? Something is going on, and it’s not good.
The calls increased in frequency and urgency as the week went on. We had dropped him off on a Wednesday, and by the following Saturday, we could tell he was miserable.
“I don’t think I can stay here,” he said. “It’s too small,” he said.
No shit, I thought. You knew that going in.
We encouraged him to stay for at least one semester. After all, he hadn’t even started classes yet.
And truth be told, we didn’t want to lose the $22,000 we had paid for the first semester. That’s a lot of money to flush down the toilet.
He’s homesic, we thought. At first we just thought he was just homesick. It will get better, we promised.
By the following Tuesday, however, he sounded desperate. Lonely and desperate. He called us several times a day. He’d call Billy, then me, then Billy again.
He told us that if he had his car, he would pack everything up and come home. He didn’t like the school, and he definitely didn’t like the football team.
I knew what he was going through. Even after all these years, I remember the despair I felt at Barnard, trapped in an alien environment in which I did not belong. I felt both empathy and sympathy.
We offered him a compromise—quit the team and stay there for one semester. If he didn’t like it after that, he could come home, regroup and find another school.
We thought quitting football would make it easier for him, but the opposite occurred. The coach exploded with fury when Guido told him he was quitting the team. Guido felt even worse afterwards. With the football team comprising 10% of the male population at the school, Guido thought he would be ostracized and harassed if he stayed.
When Guido called to tell us what happened with the coach, I had had enough. I may not be the most hands on mother, but I couldn’t let the boy suffer any longer. The over-confident football captain had disappeared.
“Do you want us to come and get you?” I asked.
“Yes, please” was the answer. The relief in his voice floated through the phone and went straight to my heartstrings.
Billy and I jumped into the car and started driving to Ohio. We had planned to go to the lake house that night anyway, so the car was already packed.
We drove half way there on Friday night and then stayed in a hotel right on the border between West Virginia and Ohio. Although I had packed my clothes, because I keep toiletries at the lake house, I had none with me. After we checked into the hotel, we went to the local Walmart.
You know those “people of Walmart” pictures you see on the internet? I know where those pictures are taken. Every stereotype about West Virginia was represented in that store.
We arrived at the college at 8:30 that morning. Guido was packed and ready. Guido, who cannot pick up a candy wrapper and put it in the trash can or find the hamper for his dirty clothes, was all packed up. He was like a prisoner escaping from Alcatraz. He threw his stuff into the back of the van and we took off. He wanted to be off campus quickly, because this was the day that the rest of the students arrived.
There we were, heading the opposite direction of what was expected. The situation was awkward, to say the least.
Epilogue: Lessons Learned the Hard Way
Guido is home for the semester, and probably for the year. Only South Carolina takes second-semester freshmen. He’s torn between South Carolina and JMU. JMU is a lot closer (1 ½ hours away versus 5 hours for SC), but he hates being home while all his friends are at school.
And the money? That was pure serendipity. We had started to drive to Ohio before we found out whether we would get any money back. At that point, it didn’t matter. We had to get the boy out of there.
The administration at Kenyon could not have been more understanding. I guess this happens with some frequency. Because he had not attended any classes, we got all our money back except the non-refundable deposit.
I hope Guido learns a few things from this experience. First, I hope he’s realized he’s not the badass he thought he was. His self-confidence has always been off the charts. Humility is yet another word not in his vocabulary.
Second, I hope he’s learned to follow his instincts when he makes a decision. You can make all the Pro/Con lists you want, and I do make them, but the final decision should always come from the gut. The gut never lies.
And third, I hope he’s learned just how much his parents love him. He still needs his Mommy!