A couple of weeks ago, I spent forty-eight hours with Will. On Friday, I took him on a college tour at Tufts University in Medford, MA, then to his State Gymnastics meet the following day.
We aren’t in a serious search phase yet as Will is only a sophomore. Over the coming months, we’re visiting a variety of colleges to see which style of school/campus feels right. For Will to answer the question, “Could I spend four years here?” Tufts is perched on the Somerville/Medford line, but once you are at the center of campus, those towns vanish. The school is small, only 5,000 students; there’s easy access to Boston only five miles away; and a mechanical engineering student gave us the tour. Will and I were both impressed by all three of these things, particularly the fact that an engineering student was quite comfortable with public speaking. In June, we are going to visit Boston University, which has over 16,000 students and is right in Boston. A large urban university with no secluded campus but rather a cluster of big buildings hugging the Charles River and bordered by Commonwealth Avenue on the other side. The thought of a school this size makes me quake, but I’ll try to keep that to myself and let Will come to his own conclusions.
Rarely do I spend a full day with now 15-year-old Will. When he was two, we were a duo. Boston was our backyard, and we often made trips to the Museum of Science. On one visit we were with a group of friends — three moms and three kids. After lunch, the moms took the kids into the women’s bathroom. I hoisted Will up to the sink so he could reach the soap and water. Then we moved to the sensory-shattering hand dryer: the XLERATOR. Will and I stood side by side, he with one hand over an ear and the opposite shoulder scrunched up to his other ear. He dried one hand at a time. The sharp funneled warm wind blew the toddler fat around on top of his soft chubby hand. I looked at my hand as the same funnel-shaped air blew my skin around. Unlike Will’s, my skin appeared to be less connected to my flesh. He and I noticed the difference, and a scientist-mom-friend peeking over our shoulders mentioned something to the effect of age and the loss of collagen and how it would only get worse for me. I wasn’t even 40 yet.
Between the campus tour and the information session at Tufts, we picked up on bits of vocabulary that will become the norm Will’s junior year in high school. We stole looks at one another and nodded or shrugged to convey whether we had any idea what “early action” or “holistic application reading” meant. We were in a learning mode, and by the end of the day, we were both saturated. We agreed that future college visits would be best handled by visiting only one college a day.
We came away with some valuable information from the student tour guide as well as the admissions counselor. When touring colleges, ask what student life is like – do engineering students socialize with students outside of engineering? How many classes are taught by graduate students? When filling out the college applications do not write essays about sports, about your favorite family member, or about losing an iPad in a hurricane – particularly when that hurricane killed people. Counselors want to see a glimpse of you not already outlined on the application; they want to read something about you, not your grandma; they probably won’t want you on their campus if your essay only demonstrates that you are self-centered and immature.
Before heading home, I stopped in the bathroom, and when I went to dry my hands, there it was. Again. The XLERATOR. Like the hundreds of times I’ve dried my hands under wind tunnels like this since that day at the Museum of Science, I see that my skin has loosened so much over the years. With the air hitting right in the center of the back of my hand, the skin blows out into a circle with edges that wall up like a Chicago-style deep dish pizza. I credit my 65-year-old skin, more than a decade beyond my biological age, not only to the natural ticking progression of the years since that day at the museum but also to a lack of hormones over the last ten years. Estrogen… breast cancer feeds on it, and it helps keep skin supple with collagen. My collagen glue has been wiped out with medicine since 2009.
The day after the tour, I drove Will to his State Gymnastics meet. We left the house at 6 a.m. and drove an hour for the 7 a.m. check-in. In the van, Will immediately put his earbuds in and went to a private place to mentally prepare for the meet. I could’ve listened to Christmas music the whole trip if I wanted to, for he had checked out of this ride with me. All the boys who competed that day placed high enough to qualify for Regionals. Will had a couple of slips. A fall on the rings dismount after a clean routine. A fall out of giants on the high bar that broke his momentum for the high-value dismount he had planned. He was gracious in accepting where he placed and making it to Regionals, but in the van I could tell he was disappointed. It’s a game of math for him. He knows precisely what each skill is worth and goes in confident that he can compete all of them. Then, there’s the personal reckoning after the meet.
On the drive home, I saw tightness in his face – his eyes straight forward and his lips pulled taut into a near grimace. He touched the thick callouses on the palms of his hand, thankful that the one spot of new skin he had babied for a week had not ripped off on the parallel bars. We talked a bit about the competition and prepping for the next one. Another chance to put it all out there at Regionals. Practice the next four weeks, five days a week, would polish his routines.
The conversation quieted. Will nodded off. I glanced over to see his eyes gently closed with a child’s eyelashes protecting sleep. And remnants of those beautiful toddler lips, pouty and supple, erasing teenage contemplation.