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New School, Old School

Our eldest daughter Tasia starts school at the University of Michigan in about 2 weeks. This summer has been a blur of getting ready. And by getting ready, I mean materially, but more so emotionally. It has been like a mini-roller coaster ride as we experience each related milestone. Orientation: “Did I do it too late? Who will be there? Will they like me?”. Class scheduling: “Mom! The psych class I wanted is full! Will this other one be ok?”. Dorm assignment: “Oh no! they put me at Bursley and not on main campus!”. And, less often, but underlying it all:  “I am really going to miss you seeing you guys every day”.

And of course, I have had my own separation issues too. Our family is a pretty tight unit, and while Tasia will be here in the same town (thank you God), she will not be HERE. I will miss our nightly meetups before bed when we talk and compare notes about our days while she snuggles our dog Sasha. I will miss her snappy wittiness. I will miss her luminous face in the mornings. I will miss her chasing her 11-year old brother around the house to try to snag an extra hug from him to his protest. I will even miss her nonsensical bickering with her 15 year old sister over bathroom time.

I will miss everything about her being here, in this house, with us. This is a two-way street.

Flying back from a conference in Boston this summer, a toddler “flirted” with me and other passengers over the seat as we waited to get off the plane. Without even processing it consciously, I suddenly found my eyes swimming with tears. What the hell? As I thought about it, I realized that Tasia used to do the same thing when she was that age. My husband Pat dubbed it “fishing for customers”. And of course, the next thought was that it seemed like only yesterday that Tasia was fishing for customers, and now she is about to go to college.

To manage my own feelings, it seems like I have adopted a “no-nonsense” “just the facts” approach at times. Mary Poppins-pish posh-style.  “Oh, it’s going to be fine” I say. “Oh c’mon, you are going to love it” I say. I even said (after talking to a colleague and good friend) “So and so’s daughter is really excited about college, not anxious at all”. No wonder Tasia told me the other day “I get that you are a really good researcher, but sometimes I question how good a therapist you are”. My Mary Poppins persona said “Well, Tasia, I am not YOUR therapist “. Pish posh! But really, it gets hard to be “therapeutic” when you are experiencing the loss too.

mary-poppins-el-capitan-theatre (1)

But there has been some fun too as we “get ready”. I love to shop. I love to shop with Tasia. And there has been a lot of associated dorm room shopping. She and her lovely best friend and soon to be roommate Dany decided early on that the colors of the room would be aqua and salmon. Sounds great, but do you have any idea how hard it is to find the right shade of salmon? (“Um…no…that’s peach mom!”). We have worn out the route to Bed Bath and Beyond, my kids laughing as I never seem to be able to find that ubiquitous 20% off coupon when I need it. A trip to IKEA was a huge success, but I largely credit that to Dany’s Ukranian-born mom, a beautiful and petite woman who maneuvered us deftly through the store with military precision.

The IKEA gang

The IKEA gang

Along our summer journey, I have also experienced some wistfulness about my own college experience that prompted me to think about one of my favorite movies, Old School. In the movie, Will Ferrell, Luke Wilson and Vince Vaughn find their lives at a crossroads in their thirties and decide to experience a “college do-over” and form their own frathouse on a college campus. The college fun without the college classes. The thought has definitely occurred to me that I would “do so well” at college if I could go back now. Not the class part (I did pretty well there the first time) but the fun part. I was an anxious homesick kid and it definitely impacted my freshman year. Now? With all of my adult toolbox? I could totally manage it!


But that’s life, right? We don’t get do-overs. The trick is to try to do the best you can. And of course, everything—and perhaps, especially- the mistakes, warts and disappointments can sometimes lead to the best opportunities and outcomes. Tasia and I were talking about my own freshman experience the other night before bed (while snuggling Sasha), and she said “So, what are you complaining about? You turned out pretty well.”. Nice. That girl might make a good therapist someday.


So, we will do the best we can and savor what we have and hopefully what is coming.



kales@umich.eduNew School, Old School

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