Thursday, November 20, 2014

the freshman 50 and other cautionary tales

The second installment, continued from "seven years of college down the drain."

My sweet sugar bean:

I remember when I left for college. My mom and little brother (your Uncle Ned, who was 7 at the time) drove me down to San Diego in our minivan packed to the brim with color-coded bins of booty from Bed Bath & Beyond. Shower caddy, soap dish, hairbrush, loofa, desk organizer etc. in shades of aquamarine. Turned out my roommate (who’s now your best Auntie B) had the same exact haul, in indigo blue. Pair that with our matching, emphatically cheery bed-in-a-bag ensembles and it was love at first sight.

Mom and Ned helped me unpack and get settled. We spent the day at the beach, went out to dinner at a slightly seedy Chinese joint in La Jolla, and then they hopped in the minivan and went on their merry way back to Sacramento. Mom didn't shed a tear, and I didn't expect her to. That just wasn't her style. But she called me the next day and said, "I wanted to thank you for leaving a sweeping shit-storm in your wake, so that when I walked into your room, I just got pissed off at the mess instead of collapsing on the floor and crying." It wasn't until that moment that I thought about what a big deal it was, for my mom to be sending her baby off to college.

That was the last time I saw my mom, as you know. What you don’t know – what you couldn’t have known – is that being your mom, raising someone so much like me, has helped me know her more. Helped me understand her more. Yes, at times it has made me miss her more – but it makes me “feel” her more, too. You are me, and I am her. She is in both of us. And I am so grateful for the chance to get to know her again, through you.

I used to think that I was “the lucky one,” being 18 when my mom and stepdad died. I was a “grown up.” I didn’t need my mom and dad like my little sister and brother did, who were 14 and 7 at the time. And I still think this is true. But man, what I wouldn’t give to share a margarita and shoot the shit with them today. It turns out grown-ups need their mamas, too.

My mom was always pretty straight up with me. (I remember when I was 14 and she told me that if I ever wanted to smoke pot, I should tell her, because she trusted her “sources” more than some shady dealer that sold to high school kids. I nearly reported her to my local D.A.R.E. affiliate.) But that lady had lived, and I know she was saving the real juicy stuff for when I was all growed up. I just wish she’d been around long enough to share some of those gems with me. Alas, she wasn’t. And I do not want that to happen to you. Which is why I’m writing this when you’re two.

So. Here goes. My advice to you.

Honestly, perhaps we’re just blinded by love, but your dad and I have never been too worried about you. We stress about your brother’s sensitive psyche surviving out in the "real world," but we’ve always joked that you’ll take life and punch it in the face. You just started preschool, and today one of the teachers said to me, “She’s such a good big sister,” knowing full well you’re a year and a half younger than your brother. That’s just you. You’re our glue. Our rock. Our super snuggly rock. You're a handler of things. Sugar and spice and a mean right hook. That's our girl.

Still. Who can’t use a few pearls of wisdom now and again?

First and foremost, nothing brings a guy to the floor like a knee to the nuts. Boys and their fragile little boy parts. Reminds me of that Betty White quote (Google The Golden Girls. You’re welcome.) “Why do people say ‘grow some balls’? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” Ha. Okay. But no vagina pounding until you’re 33, deal? Please just nod and smile for your dear old mother, thanks.
Only slightly less important, keep being you. Keep singing loud and laughing louder, dancing to songs you don't know, asking questions, being brave, exploring and making every day an adventure. Keep turning it up to 11. You sprang into this world with a solid sense of self. Continue to embrace it. You will spend these years perfecting the particulars, but don’t lose the essence of you in the frenzied melee of 20,000 other kids trying to find themselves.
Keep in mind: Heel height should be inversely proportional to levels of alcohol consumption. Drunk walking is dangerous business. Ask Auntie Autumn. Your metatarsals will thank you.
Also, steer clear of the skeevy-looking old dude at the nude beach. Just take my word for it. Conversely, feel free to befriend the charming and helpful lifeguards. They may prove quite useful one day.
Get yourself an industrial supply of that roofie-detecting nail polish. That’s just freakin’ genius. You can never be too careful.
Dance parties are always a good idea. Costumes make them even better.
Don't subsist solely on gummy bears and late-night burritos. That freshman fifteen is no joke. It was more like the freshman fifty for me. But all my friends got chubbier, too, so the whole year we were saying, "No, you look great! That's so weird that we used to be size 7 but now we're size 13. They [‘they’ being all clothes manufacturers on earth] must have changed their sizing?!" Then I came home at the end of the year and the first thing my grandma said was, "You got fat." Gotta love Grams (one of my favorite people in the world, after whom you were named). She just got more and more “insightful” as she aged, like a fine, vinegary wine.
Incidentally, I would never call you fat. Even if you were, I would still think you were the most gorgeous creature on the planet. I didn’t tell you that story so that you would worry about the number on the scale, or what size your waist is. Just worry about how you feel. Do what you need to do to be healthy and happy (which may or may not include the gummy bear diet). You are beautiful, and when you are striving to be your best self, that beauty radiates from you like sunshine and everyone around you just wants to sit close enough to feel the warmth. I saw this light in you the day you were born. (Except it was more of an orange glow those first days. We just thought you were really tan, but it turns out you had jaundice. Whoops!)
There will be plenty of boys (and girls) who love you. Young love and heartbreak are just part of the personal evolution process. Everyone goes through it (it's good medicine in some ways), and there's only so much your old ma’ can do. If you need someone to join you in a pajama-clad Dirty Dancing-Ben & Jerry’s binge, I’m your gal. And I promise you this – you are going to be alright.   
When it comes to love, be judicious about sharing your heart, your body, and your soul. You are more than the sum of your parts, but you must value each of those parts. Be sure that those who claim to love you cherish you just as much with your clothes on. You are our badass batgirl princess. Don't waste time on those who don't appreciate that fact. You are the real deal, my girl. Don't let anyone treat you like anything less.
You will know people who get married in college. Don’t be one of them. There is nothing sadder than a bachelorette party in a dorm room that consists of a budget male stripper, a $5 pizza from Little Caesar’s, and a six pack of Natty Ice. Girl, you are better than Natty Ice. Speaking of, I wish I could protect you from the vicious aftermath of your first night with Boone’s Strawberry Hill, but I believe this is just a rite of passage. Anyway, my point is, give yourself room to grow. Get to know you. Learn to love you. Then worry about Love-with-a-capital-L.
If you do go to a wedding, just a helpful hint: sign the guest book and/or pose in the photo booth at the beginning of the wedding, not the end. I once, let’s say… misjudged. I meant to write "May the best of your yesterdays be the worst of your tomorrows," but instead I wrote, "May the worst of your yesterdays be the best of your tomorrows." Those wise words are inscribed in indelible silver glitter ink for the rest of eternity, next to a photo of my friends and me clad in nothing but Spanx and mardi gras masks. So, yeah.
Oh, and that reminds me! Now, more than ever, photos are forever. Forever-ever. And can be distributed to a bunch of grubby boys’ smartphones with the push of a button. Please, for the love of God and everything holy, keep your lady bits away from the business-end of all photographic devices.
You are so trusting. Too trusting. Jumping off a tree limb and just assuming someone will be there to catch you. Be sweet, as grandma always said, but be careful who you let into the inner circle. Make people earn your trust, rather than just assuming that they're worthy of it. Find some good girlfriends, friends who will hold your hair and hold your hand, who will tell you you’re a size 6 when you’re a size 16, who will tell you Tijuana is a terrible idea, but get on that bus right behind you if duty calls. Look out for each other. Otherwise you might end up with a South African stalker who breaks into your house and steals your underpants... or something like that. (I’ll save that story for your first visit home.) Please refer to the paragraph about knees to the nuts, above.
Don't make important decisions when you are tired, hungry, angry, or sad. Or intoxicated. Eat a sandwich. Drink some water. Sleep on it. Then decide.
Take time for yourself. College is a time of so many things. Especially in today's day and age, where every event is captured and memorialized and romanticized in real time. "FOMO" (I just learned this term - Fear of Missing Out – aren’t you so proud of me?) – is a real thing, and so much worse now than it used to be because everyone everywhere is telling us how much fun they're having and we can see it ticking down our “news” feed minute by minute. Bathed in the becoming light of an Instagram filter, they all seem skinnier and tanner and happier than we are and we want to be a part of it. But trust me, they’re not. They’re trying to figure it out just like everyone else. Sometimes you need to step back. Take a break. Unplug. Unwind. You can be anything, but you can’t be everything.
And so, learn to say no. Or preferably, "No, thank you." Let's not forget our manners just because we're big college kids now, *nudge nudge.* Prioritize. Figure out what YOU want (not what you “should” do), and do that. Anyone who isn’t ok with you, the way you like you, just isn’t ok.
Finally, don't forget to visit your ole' ma and pa once in a while. If ever you are in need of unconditional love, free laundry, and a hot home-cooked takeout meal – come on back. We’ll be here. Well, unless we’re in Hawaii. In which case, we’ll meet you there, with cold Mai Tai’s in hand (we might even share!) 
Love you periwinkle,

Your mama


  1. Good Cat Stevens Reference. Good advice (this and precursor). Your momma might have said it differently (in her own way), but would have approved of yours. This would have made her smile... and tear up just a little.

    1. Aww. Thanks "Uncle P" :) So glad to have you and M (& M) as some of the few remaining memory keepers!

  2. Beautiful! So much love comes through in this piece. Your kids are indeed lucky to have you for a mama!