|By Mini (Mini) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 10:00 am: Edit|
Below is my column in the September/October issue of Home Education Magazine:
She’s Leaving Home
Sigh. My older daughter Aliyah, now 16, just left yesterday on her journey 3,000 miles away to college. I miss her already.
She’s at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts. She received their largest academic scholarship. Good thing, too, because we weren’t going to be able to afford Smith on what Helen and Mark, the publishers of this magazine, are paying me (hi, there! no, I’m not complaining, nor even angling for a raise), nor on what I take home from my day job. My wife is going back to school fulltime this fall to become a nurse. I won’t be taking up a special collection any time soon (I do hope you buy my new books, though), and we’ve equipped Aliyah with a real winter coat (my mother kept offering her the raccoon – coat that is – if it were a live raccoon, Aliyah probably would have accepted, but the college says “No Pets Allowed.”) Snowboots too. She won’t be living on the street – in fact, the housing at Smith is downright gorgeous, and I wish my house looked like that!
The omens were unequivocal, I thought, when late last March I watched her begin to weave a thick wool, multicolored cloak, the kind of which had New England written all over it. The scholarship letter arrived in the mail that afternoon.
“Funny, she said, pushing the shuttle through, “I lit a candle before the picture of Saraswati – the Indian goddess of wisdom -- before I started to weave.”
“Oh,” I gulped, shivering at the notion that she lit candles in her firetrap of a room (what kids will do these days!) I then remembered that Sophia, the first name of Smith’s founder, is the Greek goddess of wisdom, the western counterpart to Saraswati. I guess it was in the wind. Candles, votives, and incense are prohibited in the dorms at Smith College.
After she received the scholarship letter, I determined that I no longer had any right to demand that she clean her room. Not that I was ever particularly effective – I could get her to clean her room, which is far cry from saying that she ever actually got her room clean. Her college admissions essay (apparently effective) began, “My bedroom is an archeological dig,” and went on to describe the flotsam and jetsam lying around, and then noted, “My mind is like my room.” “Relics from my mind,” she wrote, “like relics from the “dig”, tend to turn up at strange and unpredictable intervals.” She concluded:
"In combing through the layers of my mind, I learn much about myself. My memories and the timing of their appearance are like pieces in a huge puzzle, that, when completed, will reveal me to myself, or so I hope. Perhaps there really is some organization in this messy aggregation, one that I cannot yet see from the inside but which has been there from the beginning, into which all these relics in my mind now fit, all in their proper places. The life of an archeologist of the mind is never dull."
So perhaps the room was supposed to be preserved, as is, as some kind of protected national treasure, open a few months each year to visiting scholars who possess special combing tools. I’ve secured a permit that allows me to take pictures. The loom is being shipped east as soon as Aliyah can figure out a place to park it.
We visited Smith together last April. Came prepared for snow squalls. The temperature never fell below 70 in the daytime, and one day hit 88. So much for planning. I knew this was going to be interesting when the tour guide asked what her extracurriculars were, and Aliyah gave her a blank stare. It’s not a word, or a distinction, we’ve ever made at home. But it was very clear upon first arrival that this was the place – when we drove into town, the only parking spot we could find turned up in front of the Northampton wool store!
Now what is she going to do there? Well, based on our visit, and her well-thumbed catalogue, she is like a kid in a candy store – with a no-limit credit card. (I’m not supposed to make any Smith Brothers cough drop jokes.) Notice I said “do”, as opposed to “study”. Oh, yes, there is learning French, or will it be Italian? Read Dante in the original? Spend a year in Europe (which will it be, Florence or Paris? We are jealous, and want to come, too!) Write a symphony? (She’s already got an opera under her belt, and wangled a job for herself as research assistant to the Five College Opera Consortium.) Continue her forays into ethnobotany? Sing with the local opera company? Take organic chemistry and become a naturopath (on the side?) Get to the roots of Athenian democracy, or study the abolitionist history behind the Northampton silk mills? Plant an herb garden? Watch lots of foreign films? Learn how to snowshoe? Venture into astrophysics? Clerk a committee at the local Friends Meeting? Hike the Appalachian trail? Lead a protest? Read Yiddish literature? Become an expert in Etruscan pottery? Knit lots of scarves?
Maybe all of the above? Sounds about eight years’ worth. And maybe some things that neither she nor I can even imagine. Smith will just become part of the tapestry of her life, and, though at greater distance, ours. Couldn’t ask for much better – Smith is an extraordinary place, so we don’t mind 'lending' Aliyah to them for awhile (as long as we still have visitation privileges.) But college will be just one more of those innumerable doors leading to the houses of sophia and, ultimately, as we all know when we allow ourselves the luxury to think about it, the most important doors swing inward.
Tomorrow my wife and I will wake up in the morning, and Aliyah won’t be there. One less cup of coffee to make. Fewer travel plans to coordinate (though I’m working on a trip to India for Aliyah and me this January, where she will study traditional Tamil botanical medicine.) One less person to blame for the unwashed dishes in the sink, or the clothes strewn around the floor in the laundry room.
I thought long and hard about the send-off message. Sadly, I don’t weave, or I would have made a wall hanging of it. So, instead it was a set of coffee mugs for some of her long nights ahead. And mine. I finally realized the message wasn’t to be any different from that which animated the rest of our homeschool voyage, and our lives as well. Once I figured that out, the rest was easy:
|By Bookworm (Bookworm) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 10:16 am: Edit|
What a beautiful column
|By Marite (Marite) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 10:21 am: Edit|
|By Achat (Achat) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 10:28 am: Edit|
Mini, very touching! Very well-written, congratulations! Good luck to your daughter.
My husband sent my son off by asking him to repeat the 'Gayatri Mantra'. My son is an agnostic but I think he complied.
|By Mini (Mini) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 10:32 am: Edit|
As Quakers, we of course appreciate the Gayatri Mantra -- (for the non-Friends non-Hindus on this list, the Gayatri Mantra is an invocation of the Divine Light, the divine grace of universal intelligence, which we pray shall illuminate our minds.) It is especially associated with a "sacred threads" ceremony which is passed down from father to son.
|By Dstark (Dstark) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 11:10 am: Edit|
An article your daughter will remember. Very nice.
|By Backhandgrip (Backhandgrip) on Saturday, August 28, 2004 - 12:39 pm: Edit|
Very very nice post!My advice is to keep close with your daughter. She is probably very mature, but stay close. If you keep the family fire warm they will return to it.
|By Mini (Mini) on Sunday, August 29, 2004 - 04:31 pm: Edit|
My d. is now happily ensconced in her house - corner room with two big windows, huge, and with an extra large closet. The perfect location (the one she asked for), and is now headed off for three days on the Appalachian trail.
I think I probably did my mourning in the last week or month. My main emotion now is of being quite pleased. I have had the opportunity to be living happily and in good health as I see her off on another leg of her journey, and there are not too many people in the world, actually, that can say the same. (It has also helped to get lots of fan mail....)
Of course, now my younger one has to put up with me.
|By Joesmom (Joesmom) on Friday, September 03, 2004 - 06:33 pm: Edit|
Lucky daughter! my son is in a small double being used for a triple. Sardines have more room in a can. NO matter, he is where he wants to be--Boston College. AS for me, teary, sad and lonely for his wit.I guess I truly understand the meaning of the word "bittersweet".I hope this period of mourning passes soon.
|By Thedad (Thedad) on Wednesday, September 08, 2004 - 03:33 pm: Edit|
Congrats to your D, Mini. That's a great article.
I, too, have moved mostly beyond the mourning and am quite pleased. The reports from D have all been very positive.
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