Columns

Pricey Summer Programs for Students: Advantage or Indulgence?

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Gone are the days of lazy teenage summers, when kids could sleep in till noon and work a couple hours scooping ice cream for spending money, ride their bikes to no particular destination, and stop only when they felt like it, or go to a friend’s door, unannounced, just to see if she wanted to hang out.  Our teenagers are busy, focused, and accomplished.  They are maximizing their summer opportunities, building their resumes, maybe improving their chances at college admissions.  Our teenagers are getting internships, externships, substantive jobs that will pave their way professionally.  They are participating in language immersion programs to sharpen skills. They are traveling to international destinations to participate in nonprofit, humanitarian aid programs.  They are relocating to college campuses for summer classes, years before they are in college.  And many of their parents are spending a lot of money on these summer programs, some in the hope that the programs will help them get into the college of their choice.

Some local examples:  “Heather” is spending two months on a yacht in the Caribbean, doing marine biology research. Not cheap. “Connor” is in China, participating in a competitive State Department program for Chinese speakers, to learn about the culture (although the State Department pays his way).  “Jenna” is in Costa Rica, with a nonprofit organization building a school.  Her parents gladly paid the $6,000 plus for the program, hoping she would grow, learn, and yes, develop her young resume.  “Yasmine” is interning at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in a lab, assisting a world class research scientist.  No pay for her work, but at least she’s not paying them.  “Ryan” is in Spain for four weeks, living with a Spanish family and speaking only Spanish, at a cost of about $1,000 per week.  “Ella” is at Washington University in St. Louis, in a summer college program, earning six college credits and (her parents are) paying about $6,500 for the experience.  “Bethany” is going to six different lacrosse camps, at six different colleges, each with a steep registration fee.

There is debate about whether these expensive summer programs help or hurt our high school students in terms of their college applications.  Our intentions to help our kids learn, grow, and yes, distinguish themselves by participating in these programs may backfire.  Some admissions officers say that when kids write about these programs and activities (a yacht? in the Caribbean?) it reeks of privilege, and comes across like they have purchased an unfair advantage, and that is something admissions officers do not care for.  Colleges say they are looking for authentic experiences, things that have changed the student, made him or her grow or mature.  This can happen volunteering in the neighborhood senior center or community organic garden–or working at a parent’s office in the mail room for minimum wage.  

Again, we are forced back to the truth.  Real is real, and people know it when they see it.  For those of us who have paid for the pricey programs, we should not assume we have purchased anything more than an opportunity.  What our kids do with it, and how it changes them, is what colleges are really looking to understand.           

Big Fish Q & A with Baltimore Filmmaker Matthew Porterfield

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Meditative, poetic, and deeply observational, writer-director Matthew Porterfield’s films of working-class life simmer with a persistent disquietude just below their benign surfaces. His debut, Hamilton (2006), set and shot in the titular Baltimore neighborhood — where Porterfield grew up and still lives — won widespread acclaim for its quotidian potency. 

Porterfield’s new film, Putty Hill — a deft, seamless combination of narrative fiction and fake documentary – is named after and set in another local neighborhood familiar to him. He shot it along the city’s northeast corridor, in Southwest Baltimore’s Carroll Park, and in southern Pennsylvania, just over the state line from Baltimore County.

Since it opened to hosannas in New York this past February, Putty Hill has gradually rolled out to Baltimore, Washington, Los Angeles, Nashville, and Columbus (Ohio), with future dates throughout the rest of the U.S. 

When not making films, Porterfield, 33, teaches screenwriting and production in Johns Hopkins University’s Film and Media Studies program. He was awarded the Janet & Walter Sondheim Prize last week.

 

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

Get yours and share.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

My only goal is to keep making movies.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

David Lee Roth once told me, “You have the aura of burning tires: Use it!”

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

“You should try Salvia.” I didn’t. Special K was paralyzing enough.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your

lifetime?

1) You can do a lot with a little bit of money.

2) You’re more like your parents than you think.

3) You reach a point where you don’t like what the young people are

listening to.

What is the best moment of the day?

Play time with my cats, Trudy and Mo.

What is on your bedside table?

At the moment, three books (John Waters’ Role Models, Werner Herzog’s

Conquest of the Useless, and Dieter Roth’s MOMA monograph), a deer-shaped

candle, a tissue box, and a mimikaki.

What is your favorite local charity?

The Abell Foundation.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you

are doing?

Start with a story that’s close to home. Keep it simple. And forget prop guns.

Why are you successful?

I don’t scare easy.

What do you hope viewers will take away from Putty Hill?

A feeling akin to excitement.

Do you plan to set and shoot your next film in the Baltimore area?

Yes.

Do you agree that Timonium and Linthicum sound like lesser-known

elements on the Periodic Table?

Absolutely.

A Glamourous Greeting

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Mary Stone Eddins

Tark’s Restaurant, Green Spring Station.

You look like a model. Have you ever been photographed?

My father is the photo-editor of The Washington Times. He has used me in stories before. 

I love your long dress. Do you prefer long over short dresses this summer?

It depends on my mood. My sister often dresses me. She used to work for Marchesa in New York so I trust her.

What are you doing here in the restaurant?

I’m a hostess!

How would you describe your hostess style?

Very feminine. I wear dresses every day.

What’s the best part of your job? The worst?

I’m on my feet for five hours every night so that can really hurt your back after a while. The best part is interacting with the customers.  We get all kinds of fun people in here!

 

Worthington Valley Cottage: City Convenience, Country Charm

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HOT HOUSE: 12923 Dover Road, Reisterstown, MD 21136

New England style salt-box colonial on 3.85 wooded acres in Poplar Ridge, in the Worthington Valley: $1,125,000

What: This could be the place you’ve been waiting to land. 12923 Dover is a comfortable, airy, three-story colonial, built in 1978 along the simple lines of a Nantucket captain’s house. Four bedrooms and four-and-a half baths on a private wooded lot also make it a great family home.  The backyard cries out for kids, soccer goals and lacrosse gear-–it’s a wide-open yet private place to play. The lot is big enough for a pool or tennis court, although lovely just as it is and a keen gardener could create a beautiful wooded garden here. An attractive barn/shed on the property will help store all that gear. Inside, past the entrance foyer, the generously proportioned, new (redone only last year) kitchen is furnished with all mod cons and has a big window overlooking the woods–heaven for the dish do-er. Also on the first floor are formal but relaxed living and dining rooms, family room and a big porch overlooking the woods. Open floor plan means the rooms flow nicely into one another, creating a good flow for entertaining. Family room and living room have wood-burning fireplaces. High-end details like crown molding, built-in bookcases and hardwood flooring add character.  Upstairs, the bedrooms are nice and there’s a good-sized master suite with walk-in closet and luxurious all-white bathroom. A finished basement for the kids when it’s raining, central air, forced air heat–all systems go. 

Where: Dover Road is off of Greenspring Avenue, in the posh Worthington Valley. Think golf, think horses, think trees. Nearby are the shops at Greenspring Station and Stevenson Village. For groceries, the fabulous Wegman’s in Hunt Valley is just a few easy miles away. For being far out, the location is actually a pretty good gig.  

Why: Pretty property near several golf courses.  Also, proximity to Halcyon House, decorator Stiles Colwell’s glamorous little farm house boutique just a mile or two down the road.  

Why Not: It’s dark out here at night, and the roads twist and turn–driving home after a few drinks could present more than the usual challenges…or maybe it’s just me.

Would suit: Young family. People who’ve always wanted to live in the country. Golfers.

Big Fish Q&A with Philosophical Mayoral Candidate Jody Landers

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If anyone doubted Democratic mayoral candidate Jody Landers’ Baltimore bona fides–HARBEL executive director, City Council member, executive vice-president of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors–then his recent experience as a victim of both crime and bureaucratic lassitude should cement his credentials.

A week before Landers announced his bid to lead the city this past April, some brazen perp stole his car (waiting outside) as he paid for its repairs inside an auto shop’s office. Hearing nothing from the city concerning his vehicle’s whereabouts for six weeks, Landers traced it himself to a municipal impound lot, where it had been languishing for 12 days. (Factotums there had failed to notify him of the car’s presence.) Insult to injury, Landers also learned that he was on the hook for tickets racked up by the thief: $75 for running a red light, $52 for parking.  

Raised in Hamilton, Joseph T. “Jody” Landers III, 58, has ping-ponged among posts in government, business, and civic/charitable affairs, while earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Morgan University in 1990. After working as an outreach counselor for Northeast Baltimore’s HARBEL Community Organization, he took over as the group’s executive director in 1977, overseeing programs in drug abuse prevention, mental health care, and youth employment training, among others.

Landers represented the 3rd District on the City Council from 1983 to 1991, establishing a reputation for fiscal responsibility, and, after losing a bid to become city Comptroller, served as executive director of the non-profit PACT: Helping Children with Special Needs and as director of fiscal affairs in the office of the City Council president. Until stepping down last month, Landers had led the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors for 13 years.

The father of three adult children, Landers lives with his wife in Lauraville.

Sum up your life philosophy in one sentence.

Be kind, do good work, and always remember that love is the most powerful force in the universe.

When did you define your most important goals, and what are they?

When I was a teenager, my father introduced me to the writings of the ancient Greek philosophers. As Socrates admonished his students to “know thyself,” I have been on a life-long quest to do just that. My mother always counseled her eight children to “play nice together and to follow our hearts,” and I have endeavored to follow her advice throughout my life. Lastly, I approach everything in life with the knowledge that we are all connected and we need each other.

What is the best advice you ever got that you followed?

To treat others with respect and kindness, and to remember to floss and brush my teeth every day.

The worst advice, and did you follow it? Or how did you muffle it?

To stay away from politics and to move out of the city. No! I did not follow this advice.

What are the three most surprising truths you’ve discovered in your lifetime?

1. What we see depends mainly on what we are looking for.
2. That the act of forgiving is as important for the person forgiving as it is for the person being forgiven.
3. That my attitude and expectations are just as important as the facts.
 
What is the best moment of the day?

The present moment.

What is on your bedside table?

I don’t have a bedside table. I put all my stuff on my bureau.

What is your favorite local charity?

Two: Viva House and Habitat for Humanity.

What advice would you give a young person who aspires to do what you are doing?
 
Think big and have a grand vision, but be prepared to take small steps and keep trying until you get it right.

Why are you successful?

Because I realize that my success hinges on others being successful also.

When out-of-town friends visit Baltimore, what one indispensable local activity–attraction, restaurant, historic site, etc.–do you insist they see or hear or participate in before leaving?

We are most likely to take guests hiking at one of the many parks and reservoir properties that are in the city or in the Baltimore region.

Did you bowl duckpins as a kid growing up here? If so, were you in a league? What was your “home” lanes?

Yes, I did bowl duckpins. My very first duckpin bowling experience was in the basement of the Hamilton Recreation Center, where bowlers would have to take turns setting the pins. I was amazed the first time I saw an automated pin-setting machine. I was never in a league, but one of my younger sisters has been in a league for the past 15 to 20 years.

If elected mayor, what item will be foremost on your agenda–the specific initiative you immediately strive to accomplish?

I would take the lead in demonstrating to Baltimore citizens and city employees that public service means what it says, and that each and every person has an important role to play in making Baltimore better.

This is the first in a series of Baltimore Fishbowl interviews with Baltimore’s mayoral candidates. 
 

Don’t Sweat the Chicken Soup (Recipe Included)

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Until you end up with a helpless infant on your hands, the seriousness of first-time parents looks ridiculous. Once there, you quickly grasp the problem. Your child could be hurt in any of 2.3 million ways, 1.9 million of which are your fault. It could even die, an unlikely prospect which will occur to you more than once a day. On the other hand, you could die and it could live. If you think you have little control now, wait till you’re dead. Should both of you survive, the seeds you plant with your early parenting will shape its entire future psyche, so if it turns out to be a criminal, a tyrant, a public disgrace, or just a miserable person, you will be Dina Lohan. Indeed, there are grounds for concern. The question is how to translate that anxiety into action.

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I became a mother in my late twenties, which was in the late ’80s.  I lived in Austin, Texas, where I had fallen in with an enclave of New Age earth-mother vigilantes. We labored without drugs, breastfed for 18 months minimum, used only cotton diapers and made baby food from scratch. My older son Hayes had no sugar until after his first birthday, and I never left him with a babysitter until then. If babies were not allowed at an event, I didn’t go either. No way, baby-haters.

Hayes’s room, his toys, his stroller, his car seat: everything was chosen with consideration. Every decision, from immunizations to nap schedule to toddler disciplinary style, was the result of research and discussion. Television — NO! Black and white geometric mobiles — YES! Weaning and toilet training were studied like epistemology and calculus. And take it from me: You’ll never run out of conversation with friends and strangers alike if your child uses a pacifier, as Hayes did. This is something people really, really want to give their two cents on, whether they see it as a moral failing, a developmental problem, or a gateway addiction. As a writer, I had a whole cottage industry going with pacifier-related articles and radio broadcasts.

When Vince was born two years after his brother — at home on tie-dyed sheets, with a midwife who took the placenta away in a yogurt container — I raised him approximately the same way. By this time, however, I had furtively acknowledged the usefulness of Pampers, TV, and even baby formula in certain situations. As time went on, privileges long awaited by his older brother came early to Vince, starting with late bedtimes and PG-13 movies (PG-9, it turns out) and continuing through cell phones and unsupervised girlfriend visits. (Put a box of condoms in the bathroom and get an unlimited text-messaging plan.)

By the time of text messages, however, my righteous parenting had long been blown off the map when the boys’ dad died of AIDS when they were four and six. Though I did see a counselor a few times and may have speed-read an article about children and grief, this was not the kind of challenge you face by consulting Parenting magazine. I trusted my gut on how to proceed. Though I had a lot of scary fantasies about how the boys would deal with their loss, I soon observed something I didn’t expect: their natural momentum and healing power. I let them show me. And though the truth was messy and complicated, I told them as much of it as they could handle at any time. I worked hard as a mom but I also took shortcuts. Thank you, Burger King. Thank you, Kraft. Thank you, Kendall-Jackson.

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At the advanced age of 42, I ended up back in the ugly white bra with Velcro-closing cups, thanks to my baby-freak second husband, who didn’t think his two and my two were enough.
Nursing was about the only way Jane’s babyhood resembled that of her older brothers. Breast pump, no way. Cloth diapers, ha ha. I’m not exactly certain when she started solid food, as her siblings were giving her French fries even as they taught her to play Grand Theft Auto on the PlayStation. She designed her own nap schedule; I left weaning and toilet training to her as well.

Then what happened? Oh, you know, the usual idyllic childhood, including substance abuse, delinquency and felony charges among the family members (cemetery desecration, car chases, ski trips gone bad), followed by marital war and divorce. Not quite as cataclysmic as her brothers’ dead father script, but not what you wish on your five-year-old.

Now Jane, 11, and I live more or less as roommates in our sweet little house in North Baltimore. To be sure, only one of us has a driver’s license and does most of the cooking and cleaning. That one sometime pulls rank and bosses the other around, forcing her to reach into her exquisite preteen diva toolkit to get revenge. Still, we have a pretty good time here, watching “Glee,” planning parties, taking dinner to the neighborhood pool, practicing her lines from the summer camp musical before we go to sleep with our miniature dachshund curled up between us. We will soon be able to share shoes.

Without a doubt Jane has a Leftover Mom — lazy, lax, full of excuses and in her mid-fifties for God’s sake. But with exhaustion has come a certain wisdom. I have observed children born of super-strict parents, helicopter parents, soccer moms, NASCAR dads, potheads, churchgoers and people who have staff members perform 75 percent of their parental duties. I have seen enough mental effort to solve the serious troubles of the human race poured into minor child-rearing decisions. And for those who decide differently: ostracism! scorn! jihad!

 

I do not deny that there are certain minimum requirements for safety, nutrition, health and hygiene. But very few styles of parenting actually blow it in this respect. The bigger problem is that there are too many unhappy, stressed out, exhausted parents who get little pleasure from parenting and are, in fact, about to snap. This snapping can go in many different directions and none of them is good.

The thing that gets undervalued in the quest to do everything right is the need to take some of the pressure off.  You have got to trust that you are the parent your child needs — like Bruno Bettelheim told ’em 25 years ago, Good Enough. Not that you don’t worry or you don’t care. But no matter how hard you try, you’re going to have bad days, you’ll make mistakes, and the best thing you can do is forgive yourself and move on. The reason anyone gets through major hell like my kids and I have faced is because we let it go. The reason anyone gets through a day that starts with whining, backtalk, shouting, curses, something wrong with these eggs, go live with your father, worst mother in the world, don’t touch me, don’t talk to me, cracked juice glass, awful radio station, enslavement to utter bitch, slammed door, silence and welcome to Tuesday! is because they let it go.

Jane and I usually rely on a simple hand on the knee to say it all.

Your inner peace and strength are your child’s greatest resource. This is not bullshit. When you’re okay, they’re okay. All the parenting micro-management in the world doesn’t change the thing that has the biggest effect on your kids: who you really are, in your heart and soul. That is the sky. Everything else is just the weather, the passing clouds.

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No-Sweat Chicken Soup


Bring about an inch and a half of water to a boil in a small saucepan, adding two sliced carrots, two sliced celery stalks, and a cup of cubed tofu. After about five minutes, add dried-up square of ramen noodles. When noodles are soft, flavor with the “chicken” packet they came with or some more healthful bouillon you bought at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. Add chopped cilantro and a drizzle of sriracha sauce and serve to husband as well.

Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.

Is $30 million Too Much to Ask?

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HOT HOUSE: Tudor Farms, 3675 Decoursey Bridge Road, Cambridge, MD 21613

Spectacular hunting lodge with 6,250 acres of land, indoor riding ring and stables, indoor tennis/sports center, two guest houses, barns, kennels and picking house, in Cambridge, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore: $30 million.

What: Built as a weekend retreat in 1990 for Wall Street hedge fund billionaire Paul Tudor Jones–who later pled guilty to federal wetlands violations there–this is a grand, Adirondack-style hunting lodge of turn-of the-century splendor.  Eleven bedrooms, ten and a half baths, and eight fireplaces on three stories make it a natural for large group entertaining (your family reunion!),  and would work really well as a small hotel or private hunting club. Heated and cooled with geothermal energy, the house is supplied with all the custom features you would expect in a $30 million property. Gourmet kitchen? Duh. Yoga room? Yup. Games room? Check.  Walk-in closets, built-in bookcases and hardwood floors? Check. Window treatments all in-place, and included, a nice touch.  In the living room, a breathtaking wall of glass overlooks the water. Even so, the real appeal of the place is at least as much about the property as the house.  Head for the basketball court or the equestrian center, to check out the riding ring and pristine stables.  Then off to the kennels, ready for your pack of hounds.  This is a nature connoisseur’s paradise.  Considered “one of the most important hunting estates in the country” and categorized for tax purposes as a “hunting and fishing reserve,” the land has been carefully managed to insure the widest variety of native wildlife. There are ponds for fishing, wetlands and woodland for hunting duck, goose, turkey, pheasant, deer and more. The peaceful, private atmosphere (broken only by occasional gunfire…) creates a haven for man and beast. Fun fact: The lake on the property has islands in the shape of the owner’s initials PTJ.   

Where: Cambridge (pop.12,326), a pretty town on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Its also one of the state’s oldest towns, so guests not out hunting on the reserve can get a little history and shop its galleries and markets. To get there, take Rt. 50 east over the Chesapeake Bay Bridge. Go about 40 more miles and you’ll cross the Choptank River and be in Cambridge. Decoursey Bridge Road is about six miles out Bucktown Road from Cambridge. 

Why: The picking house obviously–how many people do you know who have one?  But really, because this is an over-the-top man cave, a boy’s retreat, where hunting is the main event and every day is Superbowl Sunday. The former owner’s status as a Wall Street celeb gives it extra cachet.  Jones, 56, nickname PTJ, is a Memphis boy and UVA grad/major donor who made a killing in the 1980’s futures market as head of Tudor Investments. He founded the Robin Hood Foundation with Rolling Stone publisher Jann Wenner, married an Australian model after dating Bianca Jagger and Christina Onassis, and was involved in a minor scandal when his environmental planner, hired to create ten duck ponds on the property, was convicted of knowingly in-filling wetlands and sentenced to two years in jail. Jones paid $2 million in fines. Interestingly, Jones is also the star of a rogue documentary called “Trader,” (a clip currently shows on the Baltimore Fishbowl video landing) recently released on You Tube after years off the market (rumor is that Jones tried to buy all the copies out there) in which, among other things he predicts the Wall Street crash of 1987.  Current worth, $3.3 billion.  

NB: No swimming pool–possibly due to environmental concerns or restrictions. Also, an ongoing battle with nutria, a small destructive rodent currently infesting North American wetlands.  

Would suit: Teddy Roosevelt…Great White Hunter…Dick Cheney… 


A Far East Hippie with American Style

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Ken Wong, 27

What is your personal style? 

I am a hippie from the Far East!  When I was 10, my mother moved to Baltimore where I learned to speak English. I would speak Mandarin and Cantonese with my mother (still do).  As I grew up, I would visit family in Hong Kong and dressed in vintage Americana clothes from thrift stores when I traveled.

What are your tattoos?

They are the story of my life.

Like for example?

Here I have a tough guy tribal tattoo that was put on when I was competing in martial arts. I was 17 and it gave me strength.

And your hair?

It is a dredded Mohawk. It’s stylish and out there, but comfortable. I am a hairstylist so I don’t want to have to deal with my hair every day. Plus it’s cool.

Do you ever dress up?

For weddings and funerals.

What are you doing for the weekend?

I’m doing yoga tomorrow and going to listen to electronic music Saturday night. I’m crashing a Baltimore cookout on the fourth!

The Arrow from My Bow

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I was ashamed, but I did it anyway.  Over twenty years ago, I had a daughter without the man who had told me he was my best friend.  He wasn’t at Union Memorial Hospital when she was born.  He had moved to North Carolina to reconcile with his wife.  

I have difficulty with intimacy.  My relationships with men have not been satisfying. 

When my daughter was born, she screamed.  I knew that was supposed to be a good sign, but it was painful to hear her in distress.  My obstetrician placed her on my chest.  I reached for her, stroking her.  Trying to comfort her, I called her, “Sweetheart.”  Instantly, she stopped crying.  Her little head bobbed in the hospital blanket, following the sound of my voice. 

My bond with my daughter is the best one I have.  For her, I devote my time, resources and affection.  What I knew about parenthood was this: I didn’t want my child to be raised like I was.  That is probably a standard vow that many make who have survived childhoods that lacked stability or support.  Mine was fraught with the neglect of a woman who was unable to care for or nurture me.

I did not want my daughter to ever wonder if she was loved or wanted. 

My daughter’s father moved back to Baltimore when she was a toddler and re-entered our lives.  He took us to the National Zoo in Washington, D.C.  To the Aquarium, downtown.  To Hershey Park. 

I craved him and eventually we resumed our romance.  But he was still married.  I told no one, but my daughter knew.  She told me she could hear her father’s voice when he visited me after she was put to bed. I tried not to think about the kind of example I was setting. 

Again, I was ashamed, but I did it anyway.

I had to work full time and put my daughter in day care, but we spent our free time together.  We took daily walks to the playground next to the Bykota Senior Center or along a wooded path behind the Towson YMCA we discovered together.  We went to Pumpkinland at Weber’s Farm.  She had her picture taken on Santa’s lap in his workshop on the promenade of the Inner Harbor.  At the end of each work week, we went out on Friday night dates; to Friendly’s on York Road and a movie at the Towson Commons.  My daughter also rode the horses on Friday nights.  She’d wave to me from the carousel, centered in the food court of the White Marsh Mall. 

We spent a week’s vacation every summer visiting relatives with children – her cousins – in Massachusetts or Prince Edward Island.  Twice, I saved enough to fly with her to Orlando.  Before we left for Disney World, she patted down her clothes that were stacked inside my suitcase.   My daughter gave me a grin I still remember, before we closed the suitcase together.  

We weathered temper tantrums, of course.  I remember one at the Carroll County Farm Museum Fall Harvest Days when I had to carry her to the car.  We stopped at a small dairy store about a mile from the farm museum, though.  Sitting on a wooden bench outside the store, we were both soothed by ice cream.

From age 10 on, my daughter was passionate about horses.  I was her chauffeur, but I was not a fan.  The barns smelled.  They were suffocating in the summer and bitterly cold in the winter.  I never enjoyed rising before dawn on weekend mornings to follow a horse trailer to a show who-knows-where.

But we did most of our talking in the car.  She spoke of the horses as though they were human.  I’d learn about her friendships.  Her schoolwork.  We talked about her uncles, aunt, cousins.  My parents, her grandparents.

We did not talk much about her dad.  He left his wife again when my daughter was twelve, for someone else.  Not me.

Last year, my daughter graduated from college.  She has chosen to remain in the city where she went to school.  I miss her every day and recently drove up to see her.

She called me to confirm the night before I was to come.  And then she called me a minute or so after we had hung up, to ask me if anything was wrong.  She said she’d detected something in my voice.  “Nope,” I told her.  “Nothing’s wrong.”  I cherished her concern, though.  She was emerging from her awkward, uncomfortable urge to get away from me.  An urge I’d tried to overlook. 

The summer before she left for college was the worst one for me.  By then, I no longer knew all of my daughter’s friends. 

One night in mid-August, 2006, my daughter did not come home.  I woke at four a.m. with an horrific knot in my stomach.  The pain would not subside; she was nowhere in the house.  By seven a.m., I was panicked.  I forced myself to make coffee, walk the dog, water my impatiens.  By eight a.m. I was calling every one of her friends I knew and got the phone number of the boy with whom she went out.  When I got a voice message on his line, I called the Baltimore County Police. 

The officer sat in my dining room, writing on a form that was encased in a metal box.  I tried not to cry while he asked me what happened.   Had we fought?  What was she wearing?   I’d sewed one of the straps back on her white dress just as a car pulled up in front of our house.  It was driven by a dark haired young man.  She hadn’t introduced me to him and he did not get out of the car.  Once more, shame engulfed me.  I couldn’t give the police officer a license plate number or description of that car.  I was a horrible mother whose daughter had disappeared with some stranger I hadn’t bothered to check out.

The officer asked me if my daughter had ever been fingerprinted.  I told him she had, that a criminal background check was required when she worked at St. Timothy’s riding camp.  The officer had one final question, and he cautioned me not to be alarmed.  Did my daughter have dental records?

I knew why he was asking.  I nodded my head, tears brimming.  Forcing my fingers, I signed the form allowing access to her records. 

The black techno cube on the officer’s shoulder crackled.  He jumped up, excused himself and turned around.  The voice coming from the box described my daughter’s white dress.  And then the blessed words:  She is walking down York Road.

The officer smiled at me, “Ma’am, we’ve found your daughter.  I’m going to go pick her up and give her a ride home.”

The relief.  The elation I felt was quickly extinguished when I saw my daughter: “What the hell!”  She called me a psycho mom.  None of her friends had a mom like me.  I suffocated her. 
A week later, I drove her to college and helped lug her stuff up to her freshman dorm room.  The crush of her absence hit me as I climbed back up the steps to our house.  My neighbors from both sides of my rowhouse were enjoying the beautiful summer evening.  Citronella candles glowed.  A grill was smoking.  The neighbors knew where I had been and asked me how it had gone.

I could not speak.  I simply cried.  They invited me to join them and I did. 

Kahlil Gibran wrote in The Prophet:  “You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth … Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; for even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.”  I believe that I learned to nurture myself by caring for my daughter.  With her, I am content; committed.  Loved.

 Five years later, I drove to my daughter’s.   She had introduced him to me a year before.  I was pleased then that he was nervous about meeting me.

Seven months later, he spent Thanksgiving with us in Baltimore. The last time we were all together, in February, he picked up the tab of more than one hundred dollars at a delicious seafood restaurant.

My daughter chose a good man.  This early spring, they sat side-by-side at a comfortable corner table.  It was one of the first warm days of the year and the whole wall behind us was open to the sidewalk.  My daughter’s former college roommate was our waitress.  I am concerned that no one with whom she has graduated is working in the field in which they majored.  I am hopeful the recession will ebb.  My daughter is paying for her rent, utilities, and food with a hodgepodge of part-time jobs.  I am paying off all of her college loans.

But we did not talk of money when we sat together, sharing a smile over the table.  We laughed.  We toasted our threesome and I ate the best French toast I’d ever tasted.
 My daughter is beautiful.  She wears layers of colorful clothes that I never recognize.  I no longer buy her anything for her wardrobe and she has a style that exudes her originality.  Her hair is auburn with natural red highlights.  I was delighted to see these red strands again.  She is no longer dying her hair ebony. 

As I watched her, I realized with a jolt how comfortable she was with this man.  And he smiled when he talked to her.  Watched her when she spoke, nodding his head.  The devotion was natural between them. 

My daughter’s boyfriend has introduced her to his family.  They share their lives; they live together.

Choosing not to lean on anyone was the only way I knew how to survive.  But my daughter is taking a different path and I marvel at how well she is doing it. 

College Touring: Finding The Right Fit

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“Too much flannel.” This was the text message our high school senior sent to our second child, a junior in high school, as she drove into Burlington, in the Green Mountain State. Emily and my husband were on the first of what promise to be many college tours. They have been across the back roads of New England, looking at some of the finest institutions a young person might attend: Williams, Amherst, Middlebury, Dartmouth, and University of Vermont. My sarcastic reaction to the flannel observation? “Well, it’s good to know that she’s evaluating the University on its merits!” 

It is hard to know what the real purpose of the college touring process is. Of course, we want our kids to see campuses, to get a sense of the college life. And to distinguish among the many different experiences they might have: urban, suburban or rural; large, medium or small; liberal arts or specifically oriented to a certain discipline, like math or engineering.  We want them to “demonstrate interest”, as the colleges put it.  We want them to get their foot in the door.  But there is a finer, truer purpose, as well. 

One of the things we have observed as our daughter engages in this fantastic step of growing up is that choosing a college, and the culture that comes with it, is really about choosing who she wants to be. So, when she glows about the range of courses offered or the kinds of entrepreneur programs one or the other school has, she is really learning, and telling us, that these elements are a reflection of her future self. She is choosing a match for the person she wants to become.

What a gift we offer our children. Unlike so many places around the world where the options are limited, we have, for better or worse, created and supported a system of education where the sky is the limit. There are so many different kinds of colleges and universities, and our children really have the chance to “match” with a place—to connect in a hopeful, growth-filled way. So, while my first reaction to Emily’s text message was along the lines of an eye-rolling “Oh God,” my considered reflection is that her text message may be a fair observation about the fabric of the place, and one that did not feel right for her. And that is good enough for me. 

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