Once More….

Cathay Pacific B777*ceci n’est pas un avion

The photo above is not the actual Boeing 777 carrying Lindsay from Los Angeles to Hong Kong on her way to Thailand, at least as far as we know, but it might as well be. Three years ago we were waiting to hear that she had arrived safely in Africa. Now, after getting her messages that she had arrived in LA from Boston and boarded her flight for Hong Kong, we have to wait about another twelve hours before we can reasonably expect to hear from her again.

With all three of our girls away, either at school, or way away, as in Asia for the next six months, we officially have an empty nest (just don’t tell the cats). This opens a new chapter, some of which I don’t expect to be markedly different from the previous, but which presents some of its own opportunities. I suspect it will take a little while for us to establish a new rhythm, a new pattern of life with mostly just the two of us again after more than twenty years with children of various sizes in the house.

Meanwhile, Lindsay has picked up her blog again, and we can expect to hear all kinds of interesting things about life, work, and travels in Thailand and other parts of southeast Asia.

Waiting

Is it the hardest part? Sometimes, I guess, though dealing with what you’ve been waiting for may be harder, depending on what it is. Seems like we’re always waiting for something – the phone to ring, a letter (a what?), the outcome of an election, an occasion or holiday, or some other event – so you’d think that we’d always be in that tension. And so we probably are, though we experience it more acutely at certain times. Like after hitting the “submit” button on a college admissions application.

Now all we can do is wait.

Shifting Gears

 

I’ve read a few blog and Facebook posts recently about the discernible shift in life’s patterns and nature’s patterns that come with the end of summer and the beginning of fall. Kids and teachers go back to school, it’s dark earlier in the evening and later in the morning, the days and nights get cooler, all that stuff. From what I’ve seen it seems to infect people with a sense of melancholy about the passage of time that spring and summer don’t.

In our own lives we’ve seen this same kind of seasonal shift, though it seemed to happen in some form of slow motion, a kind of gradual partial re-emptying of the nest, if you will. Our eldest flew back to Washington and her senior year on the 24th of August and our middle daughter left for a fall semester at the University of Glasgow on the 31st. Our youngest daughter and my wife, a teacher, both returned to school at about the same time. All of this combined to radically change the structure, pace, and feel of home life, though my work schedule really doesn’t change that much from one season to the next (except for budget season).

Getting back to the shift metaphor, it seems like we’ve come to the end of an extended leisurely cruise in sixth gear with the top down. Now it’s time to put the hard top on, put it in four-wheel drive, downshift, and power through until next spring. It’s not like there can’t be things to look forward to and enjoy, but it seems the coming seasons are much more of a long, hard slog than the rest of the year.

College Tour III: Intermission

We capped off our February vacation week visits with tours at Yale and Wesleyan last Friday. Our drive down Thursday afternoon was nice, an unseasonably warm and sunny day. Dinner was at the Parthenon Diner in Branford, a local place with good food (including Greek specialties, as you might expect), great service, and reasonable prices.

By Friday morning it had turned gray and cold with a couple inches of slushy snow covering everything. Still, the trip down was good and the tours worthwhile. Quick impressions:

  • Yale University: Go ahead, snicker, roll your eyes, whatever. I know, you’re thinking upper-yuppy snooty Ivy League school. Nice if you’re part of the 1% but, seriously, what about a school for us mere mortals? That might be one reaction, sure, but I have to tell you we all came away from our visits impressed with how unpretentious the place was for all its cachet and how much it truly seems to offer the fortunate 8% of applicants to its undergraduate class. We especially liked the residential college structure to university housing, combining academic advising and social life. I’m sure it’s common to many private (or in Great Britain, the counter-intuitively names “public”) schools, but the concept is even more familiar to readers of the Harry Potter series. Think Gryffindor at Hogwarts without so much the flowing robes and magic wands. Ticker: +2
  • Wesleyan University: After our visit at Yale, even without a side trip to Louis’ Lunch or Modern Apizza (next time!), any school was going to have a hard time measuring up. Still, the short drive from New Haven to Middletown gave us time to move on mentally and be prepared for as fair an evaluation as we have given any of the schools so far. And, truthfully, Wesleyan fared well as a smaller institution, quite similar to Brandeis and Clark (at the same time being neither as quirky as Brandeis nor saddled with – fair or not – being in Worcester like Clark). The information session at Wesleyan could have been better but, at least in my case, I was suffering from some serious college visit fatigue. In the end, this one seemed to be a keeper on the list. Ticker: +1

So what does all this “ticker” stuff mean, anyway? As we’ve been going through these visits our daughter has been putting schools into one of three application categories – yes, maybe, and no. Simple and effective as a way of working through a list of 30-plus. Another way of measuring the success of a particular school in appealing to her would be the t-shirt index. So far, Johns Hopkins and Yale have merited t-shirts, with Brown only being the victim of a cash flow issue, otherwise she’d have one of those, too.

Catching Our Breath

Last fall we started visiting colleges with our youngest. Johns Hopkins University and the University of Pennsylvania were on our itinerary over the Columbus Day weekend. With softball season and its time demands rapidly approaching we were left with February vacation, incorporating the Presidents Day holiday weekend, as the best option. So far we’ve added Brandeis, Tufts, Clark, and Brown to our list of schools we’ve visited.

It’s still a little early to rule any school definitely in or our, but we’re building a basis for comparison. Quick impressions:

  • Brandeis – liberal arts and research university, perhaps a little too quirky for her to find a good “fit.” Strong emphasis on openness and diversity, consistent with the university’s founding principles in 1948. High degree of undergraduate involvement in research, interaction with faculty. Students were on spring (February is spring? Not in New England. Anyway.) Unfortunately we had to bail out of the tour not even quite halfway through to get to our next info session. Ticker: -1
  • Tufts – more emphasis on research university but still providing a more open, interdisciplinary approach through distribution requirements. Also spoke of significant undergraduate involvement in research Enjoyed the campus setting, though it was a clear, cold, and windy day. Did get to see the library a little bit but much of the campus was closed due to the holiday. Seemed to make a more favorable impression. Ticker: +1
  • Clark – as the admissions officer said at Brandeis, most of what you hear in college information sessions is the same, using the 80/20 rule. As at Brandeis the emphasis at Clark was on answering the question “what makes us different?” One of the “Colleges That Change Lives,” Clark uses a description of itself as the “smallest liberal arts research university in the nation.” Stressed community, student-faculty interaction, research involvement, work in the community and larger world (“Challenge Convention. Change Our World.“). Students also addressed the question about going to school in Worcester which, from my limited knowledge, has had a reputation as kind of a rough town. Ticker: -1
  • Brown – another campus on a hill, College Hill to be exact. The warm, sunny day we had experienced walking around Clark disappeared behind cloud and the wind became cold by the time our tour started at Brown. The info session was okay, but somewhat disorganized and didn’t leave much time for discussion of admissions. That said, the info session was still mostly like the others except for Brown’s open curriculum and graduation requirements. The tour was windy, cold, and but for our enthusiastic (and sometimes silly) tour guides, disappointing. We saw nothing of the library, classroom buildings, residence halls, dining venues, athletic or other facilities. On a cold, breezy afternoon in Providence, these all would have been much appreciated, but we really didn’t get anything out of the tour and info session that we couldn’t have gotten from the web site, except for the physical experience of walking around campus. Still, we spent at least half an hour in the university bookstore mulling over sweatshirts and t-shirts, so it must still be pretty high on the list. Ticker: +1

Up next it’s Yale and Wesleyan. We’ll have to wait until fall, or after acceptance, to visit some of the others still on “the list.”

The List

American, Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Brandeis, Brown, Bucknell, Carleton, Clark, Colorado, Emory, Franklin & Marshall, Georgetown, Hamilton, Harvard, Haverford, Johns Hopkins, Macalester, Middlebury, Princeton, Swarthmore, Tufts, Tulane, Union, University of Chicago, University of Miami, University of Richmond, University of Rochester, Vassar, Washington, Wesleyan, Williams, and Yale.

That’s the list. Certainly we can, and will, pare it down, and could also add to it but it’s a starting point. Stay tuned as College Tour III: The Final Countdown continues to unfold.