“Halloween and hills (lots of them); burritos and bagels; squirrels and shuffles; brick streets and parking meters; East, West, South, and College Green; Court Street; Athens, Ohio”—as seen on a sign hanging in a store on Court Street in Athens, Ohio
“Enjoy your first year. No, really. I know it will be hard, but enjoy it.”—Scott Musick, my brother, offering college advice to my daughter, Madelyn.
We arrived at campus early on a Saturday morning in August of 1984. I was eager to get started on a new college journey at Ohio University in Athens, Ohio. I had spent the prior year attending, “The Branch,” as it used to be called, of Ohio University in Ironton, Ohio, while also working close to full time, 37-39 hours per week, at the local McDonald’s
Many 18-year olds struggle to adjust to that first year of college, and I was certainly no exception. My job required a wake-up time ranging from 3:00 a.m. to 4:30 a.m., depending upon the shift I was working. Furthermore, I was not a so-called, night owl. Therefore, going to classes in the evening, from 5:00-10:00 pm, combined with my early morning start, was not the most conducive way for me to begin my college experience. Add to those facts, that most students in class with me during that time period were 10-20 years older; and needless to say, I was all out of sorts during that first year. Thus, I was ready for a change–a chance to start over, so-to-speak.
Driving the steep bricked streets of Athens towards my East Green dorm, my heart was pounding wildly with excitement. I didn’t notice that we were one of only a few cars arriving. I had not yet learned, as a general rule, college students do not rise early on a Saturday morning—even the morning of move-in day.
Naively, and optimistically, I walked with my parents into the dorm. No one else was entering the building, but, hey, that’s called good timing, right? As it turned out, my roommate, Susan, an international student from Singapore, had arrived a week or so prior to my entrance. Like me, she was a sophomore; however, unlike me, this was her second year living on-campus in Athens.
Susan, I soon learned—along with my parents—had a boyfriend. Despite the fact I had written a letter to her stating when I would arrive, she must not have expected me so early as the door was locked when my parents and me tried to enter my dorm room. Yes, Dear Reader, you have probably figured out the rest of the scenario by now. . . . After much knocking, and eventually assistance from the Resident Director, a sheepish and sleepy Susan, as well as boyfriend, ultimately welcomed my parents and me to OU. Needless to say, the next couple of hours were awkward, but made for a memorable learning experience!
I find myself reflecting upon eye-opening college experiences, such as that story, as John, my husband, and me, prepare to take our daughter, Madelyn, to Bethany College, four hours away from our home, for her first year of university life. What will her move-in day be like? What types of experiences will she encounter? What classes will she take? What new friends will she make? How often will we see her? What degree will she ultimately earn? In fact, these queries are quite similar to the questions I asked myself as I walked across campus on that first day at OU after Mom and Dad left my side in 1984.
Recently, I had the opportunity to return to Athens along with John and Maddie. I felt quite nostalgic as I walked the familiar, inclined brick streets of long ago. Much had, of course, changed; and yet, much had remained the same. However, as I tried to share some of my college stories and experiences with Maddie, I began to sense she wasn’t all that interested. Oh, she was polite enough, but it seemed, my stories were old and dated, like the few articles of clothing I still have from that time period. That is when it hit me.
As much as I want to prepare my dear daughter for college by sharing my stories/experiences from those long ago days, they are not relatable to her because she has neither started college, and certainly will not be attending OU, nor is it the same time period, same living circumstances, or same generation. I cannot tell Maddie how great, how hard, how inspiring, how funny, how challenging, or how anything else college will be, because she has to experience it for herself in her own way. Furthermore, she is no longer the “little girl” who hangs on to every word I tell her. (If I am truthful, she hasn’t hung on to my every word for a while now!) She has her own thoughts and ideas, thank you very much; and, no doubt, these will evolve and change, but that is for her to decipher—not me. It is a natural part of her development that I need to honor, and let it play out in its own way and time.
In fact, just as I moved into a new life phase (or two) when I graduated from high school and began college; so too will Madelyn. And, just like all the other phases in my daughter’s development, there still won’t be a parents’ handbook on how to perfectly navigate these new streets. Therefore, I am going to have to rely on faith, the experience of others, and listen to that still-inner voice guiding me—praying that it is also guiding her too.
One thing I know for sure, Maddie is a great kid. She is far better, smarter, and with-it than I ever was at the age of 18. I’d like to think John and me had a little bit to do with that, but we cannot take full credit as she’s also been blessed with numerous positive adult influences including family, teachers, pastors, and friends.
Therefore, I pray that Bethany College will offer more of those quality mentors to guide Madelyn. May she have friends that are a positive influence surrounding her. May she learn from her experiences, but also may those experiences be more positive than harsh. May she continue to learn and grow in knowledge and as a person, but may she remain as compassionate and thoughtful as she is now. May she discover her true calling and passion. And, may she rest assured on the fact that mom and dad are still here, cheering her on, and loving her more than ever as she transitions into adulthood. Oh, and one more wish, may her move-in day be memorable for reasons far different than my first move-in day!
Madelyn’s grand adventure at Bethany begins August 24, 2017.