There is something to be said for being a Parents’ Weekend orphan. If you linger in the common room around suppertime and make a point to sit directly beneath the fluorescent floor lamp so as to look sickly and undernourished, suitemates’ moms and dads will always invite you out to dinner with them. You reap all the benefits of having parents around with none of the unwanted bed-making or liquor-hiding.
This year, however, I asked my own parents to come. After all, it was my last Parents’ Weekend — my parents’ last chance to see the Yale I live in, give or take the sudden appearance of fresh-cut rose centerpieces and five varieties of cheesecake in the dining halls.
Parents are no longer a Death Star tractor beam to be escaped, as they were when we were in high school. The flocks of threesomes wandering around campus last weekend, clutching brochures and pointing at Harkness Tower, proved we’ve grown up a great deal since the days of curfew battles and revocation of car privileges.
Nevertheless, last weekend was taxing. Lunch and dinner should have been a relaxing escape from the dining hall, but every time my parents and I had to pick a restaurant, there was so much pressure. They couldn’t understand why we had to stand on Chapel Street in the rain for 15 minutes while I debated between Tandoor and the Union League Cafe.
“What’s the big deal? It’s just lunch. It’s not a life-or-death choice,” my father said. Rain dripped off the brim of his new waterproof vinyl Yale baseball cap, which he discovered on sale on the back shelf in Campus Customs. It was the dorkiest hat he could find in the 10 minutes I let him out of my sight to go to the post office.
Didn’t he understand the enormity of the decision? This was my last chance for a free meal in a nice restaurant for months! You’d never rush a death row inmate when he’s trying to choose between lobster and beef tenderloin, would you?
It’s hard work, letting people buy you things and take you out to eat.
Even in the carefree hours between meals, there was something disconcerting about running into people I know with their parents. You consider your friends and classmates to be mature, driven young adults, but when they walk by with elders in tow, you’re reminded they’re not completely grown up — not just yet.
I understand, in theory, that everyone has parents. But I thought there were exceptions to the rule — like that guy in section who takes his notes on a Palm Pilot-turned-Star Trek command console. I cannot conceive of his actually having parents. That would imply the impossible: that he was once tiny, diaper-wearing and cute.
Yet there he was on Saturday afternoon, in the bookstore buying a new laundry basket with an older lady who had his same nose and same smile.
She cannot be his mother, I thought. I was about to blame the family resemblance on weird bookstore lighting — but when she fixed his collar and started wiping a smudge from his cheek with her thumb, I ran for the checkout.
There were high-stress moments for my parents as well as for me. My mother was horrified by the co-ed bathroom in my entryway. A boy came in and peed while she was washing her hands; she emerged white as death and unable to speak. And when we stepped into Urban Outfitters, my father suffered severe sensory overload. Overwhelmed by the sheer hipness and the deafening Weezer, he stood quietly and petted one of the red velvet Jesus figurines for 20 minutes.
But they recovered from these brief moments of anxiety. Later I brought them to the Hall of Graduate Studies to say hello to my senior essay advisor. He was busy with another student, so I left for a minute to use the bathroom; when I returned, I found them inside his office, talking about me. My stomach froze. I imagined the conversation I had missed:
“Molly didn’t have her Tyco packet until a month into the semester, so I had to give her a detention. When I imposed a page limit on a paper assignment, she turned in an essay with .2-inch margins. You really must teach her to stay inside the lines.”
I had only wanted to introduce them, not recreate a grade school parent-teacher conference.
We are college students pondering jobs, graduate school, and other trappings of adulthood. Yet last weekend we were walking around with Mom and Dad, showing off our favorite Gothic buildings and whining — in a mature, Ivy League whine, of course — for new sweaters from J.Crew or a semester’s supply of shampoo and bath gel from Walgreens.
Last weekend our parents were here not only to be milked for all they’re worth. They were here to make corny dad jokes in front of our friends, to offer motherly advice on how to wash the stain out of that new blouse, and to remind us that no matter how worldly and wise we think we are, we’re still kids.
They’re parents. It’s their job.
Molly Worthen is a senior in Jonathan Edwards College. Her column appears regularly on alternate Wednesdays.