University of Maryland, College Park
Navigating through the jam-packed food court at the student union desperately trying to secure a table to sit down at with my high school son, I couldn’t help but look around at the faces of several women I passed in the chaos and asked myself silently and my son out loud “Hey, do I know that mom?” They all looked familiar. I felt as though I could know them since we were at our state university but in reality I did not. I feel the same type of familiarity whenever I look at college photos from the 80s. I may not know the girls in the pictures but with their big, permed hair and denim jackets and stirrup pants, I feel as if I know them. They could be me and my friends and I look extra closely at the photo just to make sure there is no one I really do know in it.
My son responds to my “Hey, do I know that mom?” with “No, but you probably think you do because you’re all dressed alike.” I look around and take stock of my own appearance and that of my fellow moms. We are all here today as part of an accepted student open house at a large state university. I notice that the visiting students are all dressed differently, from casual sweatpants and joggers to nice jeans and boots to a few dressed-to-impress kids clad in khakis. But my son was right. There was something universal in the way we moms were dressed. We were wearing good jeans, cute sweaters, boots and in my son’s words “that mom scarf”, the ubiquitous infinity scarf to tie it all together. I think we all want to look better than we do (at least better than I do) running errands or grocery shopping but not look as though we are trying too hard to make a good impression. Our kids, after all, have been accepted into the college at this point thus securing our approval by association.
Still, this is an accepted student visit not orientation. For some students and parents, this is a happy visit to reaffirm the commitment their students have already made to the college. For others, it is an exciting but uneasy visit, a tentative glimpse into what might be their college home, a day spent in one of their possible futures but maybe not their actual future. They are not yet sure and decision day is looming.
I can spot the moms of enrolled students. They look more relaxed as they move from event to event and are more likely to be seen in the university bookstore buying their College Mom swag and stocking up on items for their kids.They know this place they are touring is going to be their kid’s new home and they are ready to welcome it into their family life.
Those of us with not as yet enrolled students are a little more stressed. This place may be our child’s future home, too, but we can’t be sure. We think we can see him or her hanging out at the food court, walking on the mall to the library, but neither our kid nor us is willing to start buying out the bookstore just yet. Our presence here today is a little more tenuous. We are excited but still mentally making a pro and con list. All of our questions have an “if” quality to them whereas the enrolled students ask “when”.
It is great for our students to have choices but choosing between all good options is never easy. It is a good problem to have we are told. It is what our kids have been working toward with us supporting them. All of this is true. It is exciting but it is also nerve racking. After all of these years, from infancy to kindergarten to high school, it all leads to this. Our not quite grown-up kid is leaving in August and the next few weeks will tell us where.
That’s why I sense something so familiar about the other moms I am here with today. We have much more in common with each other than our infinity scarves. We are all on the cusp of parting with our children, sending them off into this world we are visiting today or another one soon to be chosen. Either way, our children we loved and nurtured for 18 years are about to embark on their own brand new adventure. We are happy, excited, proud, and nervous for them.
So, yes, I do know that mom. I am that mom.