Monday, May 25, 2015

day after

I'm up at 4:45 to catch the 5:40 campus-to-campus bus home.

Across from the elevator I see two deflated Cornell-colored balloons — a reminder that the festivities for the class of 2015 are over.

Our driver gets us back to Manhattan in record time, under four hours.

My legs feel the daily 5-6 mile walks. I like that they ache.

Everything about the weekend was perfect. Alexander is lucky to have three loving grandparents all participating in this important milestone. If I had to change one thing, it would only be this: I needn't have packed three pair of stylish shoes.

One pair of running shoes would have been enough.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

graduation weekend: day 3 of 3

It's another perfect weather day.

My mom and I get to Schoellkopf Field early. We've been told by the new friends we made yesterday at Collegetown Bagels (Lorna and Mike) to sit about four rows back, "closest to the goal post." They tell us all that all the students will pass in front of us, so it's the best seats for photos.

We go exactly to where Mike and Lorna have told us to go, and see them already there. They are both so nice, and so comfortable to be with, we feel as if we've known them for years. 

I have an hour or so before the ceremony begins, so I leave my mom with her new good friends, and walk over to the Arts and Science quad, hoping to see Alexander. As I'm walking over, I think, there will be about 1,000 students there, all dressed exactly alike.  What are the chances I'll find my son?  

But soon after I arrive I spot Daniel, Alexander's closest friend. Now I know I'll find my son. I take a few photos than hurry back to the stadium.

with close friends (since freshman year) John and Daniel

Graduations are boring. Lots of people, dull speeches, and familiar rituals. But today is my son's graduation. And while I have many feelings, boredom is not one of them.

My mom and I are hardly alone in the stadium. We have the best seats, right behind our new friends, Mike and Lorna.

5,500 students enter the stadium. PhD's. Graduate Students. Professional School graduates. And then the seven undergraduate colleges. Some students decorate their caps. Some have long selfie sticks. A bunch of guys do a coordinated dance. Others pause for a group shot. Some march by somberly. Others have huge grins. A group of girls all wear similar white dresses. One girl stumbles on her very high heels. But my favorite is a male undergrad who walks on holding his cap in front of him. Printed on the cap, in big white letters, are the simple words,"Thank you mom."

The very last college to march on the field is Arts and Sciences. 

And at the end of the very last college is Alexander and his close friends. Four years of hard work, new friendships, and memories I have no clue about, come down to this.

Immediately following the school commencement, every department has their own reception and ceremony.  There we meet up with Sal and Diane (nonno and lala to Alexander). They have driven up from NYC, just for the day, just to see their first grandchild graduate. 

Even at a school as big as Cornell, when it all gets broken down into college then department, it's like the neighborhoods of New York — warm, personal, and with its own character and charm.

The graduates are presented individually in a thankfully short ceremony.

with other History graduates
Alexander's grandparents are very proud.

Alexander leaves us for an hour to say good-bye to some friends. It's hard to graduate, but I hope these four years have prepared my son well for what comes next — whatever that may be.

When Alexander returns from his good-byes, we do some more walking around the bucolic campus. Alexander reminds us of Ithaca's harsh winters, and the barren trees that populate the campus for most of the year. But all we see today is the school's profound beauty. And its many joyous families.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

graduation weekend: day 2 of 3

I wake up to my mother saying, "It's very very cold; they say it's even snowing in places." I think she's joking until I check my phone.

I have no clothes for a temperature below freezing.  

The Senior Convocation begins at noon, with the stadium doors opening at 10:30. My mom and I take an 8:15 hotel shuttle from Ithaca Commons up to campus.  We stop for breakfast at Collegetown Bagels, and then do some shopping at the bookstore. 

I call Alexander who is using my mom's phone. It's nice to be able to reach my son without having to message him on Facebook.

We discuss today's plans, and have a brief argument, summarized as — "Do I really have to sit with you today?" "Yes you do." We meet in the stadium around 11:45. My mom and I have already been there for an hour, and have secured fantastic seats (with backs) right on the field.  The stadium of 20,000 is near capacity.

By the time the ceremony starts, the weather has warmed up, and the sun is shining.

Captain Mark Kelly and his wife Gabby Giffords are the keynote speakers. Mark does most of the talking and totally wins the audience. He speaks of courage and determination, and urges students to follow their own passions. He tells the graduates not to listen to "the advice of others, many of whom are probably sitting next to you now." Even after commanding a successful shuttle mission, Mark's grandmother still used to ask, "Honey, are you sure you don't want to go to law school?" He talks of second chances, and his wife's spirit and persistence. 

My mom and I are on our own for the rest of the afternoon, as Alexander wants to spend time with his friends. I stand in line with other families and their graduates to meet the president. David Skorton is leaving the university to run the Smithsonian Institution. When it's my turn to meet Dr. Skorton, and have my picture taken with him, I explain, "I'm the mother of the graduate. Sorry he couldn't be here." I offer no excuse since I have none and I'm sure he doesn't care. 

My mom and I spent an hour or so playing gin in the lobby of The Statler, the campus hotel. It's here I discover that my photo card has somehow become corrupt and all the photos I've taken today are lost. I buy a new card, then finish and lose my gin game. 

My mom and I walk to dinner at Golo Osteria. It's a long walk down a steep hill, but my mom easily makes it. Assuming my Nike bracelet is accurate, we walk about six miles today.

The restaurant is housed in what looks like a depressing, unadorned apartment building.  

Once inside though, all is perfect.

Friday, May 22, 2015

graduation weekend: day 1 of 3

I get a last minute, perfect single seat on the 11:40 Cornell bus up to Ithaca.

As we get closer to the school, the scenery changes. Even through a bus window, it's clear we're not in Kansas anymore.

The bus arrives on the Cornell campus around 5:15, and Alexander meets me soon after. 

We walk over to his apartment. As we stroll through the picture-perfect campus, Alexander advises me on what I can and cannot say to his eight housemates. He prefers that I say nothing beyond hello. I am on my best behavior, not even asking them to pose for a photo.  Instead, I take one of my son's senior-year house.  It's definitely at its loveliest from the outside.

I meet my mom at the hotel and unpack. We were lucky to get a hotel in town, and the Hilton Garden Inn is welcoming, with the staff all decked-out in Cornell T-shirts. The school colors are everywhere. I packed well, only bringing the clothes I expect to wear — no more than one option for each day. My mom, because she drove up, has clothes for every possible weather contingency.

We walk to the restaurant (Fine Line Bistro) where we are having dinner, and find Alexander waiting for us. 

Dinner is great. And my mom shows absolutely no wear from her long drive, by herself, from the Cape. She is 85, but everything about her says years younger.

After dinner, Alexander and I sit in the lobby of the hotel and talk for a bit.  He says, "Academically, I may have done better at a smaller school, but I wouldn't have had the same kind of college experience as I've had here. I absolutely loved my four years at Cornell." And I can see in his eyes, and in his smile, that he is happy — proof that the decision he made  four years ago was the absolute right one.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

happier hair

Lyo is a colorist. Or, more accurately, a magician.

Today I go to see her.  "What can you do?  My hair needs so much help."

"I wouldn't add many highlights. Your hair is too dried out and that will make it worse."

"But I like my hair light around my face; I think it brightens it up."

"Okay, how about this?  Let's add a few low lights near the crown, and then some highlights on the bottom."

If I didn't trust Lyo implicitly, I'd expect black stripes on top and white stripes on bottom. Sort of like a zebra.

Lyo goes to work and does her magic.  She knows her craft well, and is sweet, nice, and incredibly talented. Plus, she gives the best shampoo/head massage in Manhattan. I've gone to many colorists over a lifetime of hair coloring, and Lyo is the best.

I walk out feeling brighter all over.  Thank you, Lyo.

Monday, May 18, 2015

keep your eye on the ball

I still remember Alexander's excitement (and mine too) when he received this letter.

This weekend I plan to be at the Cornell graduation. While I don't think I've ever said the words, "Keep your eye on the ball," it has been implicit in the many conversations I've had with my son over the past four years.

Alexander doesn't move linearly.  He is creative and curious, and his mind often follows multiple paths simultaneously.  This is very good for some things;  but not good for everything.

When Alexander decides late in junior year to switch majors, I am not thrilled.  Not because I think history is a bad major. In fact, I think it's a great major.  But there are many requirements needed. I want Alexander to enjoy his last year of college, and not be burdened with a heavy workload of demanding courses. But Alexander is certain that this is the right decision for him.  More certain than I am.

Alexander finishes first semester easily enough. But second semester is going to be his hardest yet. He needs to take five tough courses, including four in history. There is no room for error. 

Almost every conversation this semester contains some variation of, "How are you doing in your classes?" I try to be subtle, when I want to be direct. I want to shout,  "Stay focused. Keep up with all your reading and writing (and there is tons of both for four History courses).  Turn everything in on time. Do all assignments." Blah blah blah.  I know Alexander doesn't need to hear this from me. It's my own insecurity that makes me want to say it aloud.

So now the semester is ending. Two finals and three big papers — the last one due at 9am this morning.  I speak to Alexander last night.  He is still working on his paper but is confident he'll finish on time. He's almost there. I begin to relax.

This morning I text Alexander (well, actually message him through FB as his phone is still missing). I get the response I'm hoping for. Paper submitted on time.

So it looks like graduation will happen after all. Oh but wait, there is still one more thing.

"I need to finish golf."

"You what?"

"Ya, Daniel and I are taking golf to fulfill our PE requirement and we have three more sessions to go."

"What if it rains?"

"Don't worry.  We'll get it done."

I wasn't thinking, "Keep your eye on the ball," literally, but perhaps I should have been.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

close call

I take the Select Bus down to the East Village to see a matinee. This requires inserting my Metrocard into a kiosk, then getting a paper receipt.  

You don't need to show the receipt to anyone.  Unless of course, the transit police happen to  enter your bus and ask for one. If you can't produce a paper receipt, you will be fined $100. But that never happens.

I never ever cheat. I always buy a ticket. And, I have never seen a transit police person on a bus doing a random check.

I'm seeing a one-woman play called Forever. The reviews are great. "A study in family pathology." "A raw and haunting work." "Remarkable artistry." "Rich imagery."  I go, and am completely bored through most of it.   

It's a hot, muggy afternoon. Mid 80's. Too uncomfortable to walk home. I go the Select Bus kiosk. I put my Metrocard in, and the kiosk tells me my card "is invalid." I try another kiosk and get the same unfriendly message.  I just used this card two hours ago and it worked fine then. 

I board the bus and tell the bus driver. He suggests I try the kiosk at the next stop. I do, and get the same read out, "Invalid." I decide to take my chances. 

At the 59th Street and First Avenue stop I see them.  A sea of transit police. They position themselves in pairs, at each of the three doors. I have no confidence that my reasonable explanation will be accepted.So I try something else.

I casually walk off the bus, even though this isn't my stop; I'm hoping the police will only check people still on the bus. But I'm wrong.  I am already past the two officers. They are busy checking others who are leaving the bus. Then I hear one of them calling out. "Excuse me, ma'am, may I see your bus receipt?" I turn and say, "Oh, I'm sorry, are you talking to me?"  The officer responds, "I was. Did you already show the other officer your receipt?"  Thank-you-thank-you-thank-you for such a nice out. "Yes," I quickly respond, and keep walking. 

Tomorrow I'll have to deal with why my Metrocard suddenly stopped working, but for now, I'm happy my ride home didn't cost $100.