Brown University Class of 2022: It All Came Down to Frozen Lemonade

For weeks, I ran through the various scenarios by which move-in day could have played out; the “Tension-Filled-Fighting-Family” scenario, the “Pinterest-For-Life-Its-All-Teamwork-and-Laughs” scenario, and even the least likely “Everything-That-Could-Go-Wrong-Does-But-I-Remain-a-Paragon-of-Grace” scenario. I did not imagine a scenario in which an older Frozen Lemonade Stand vendor would fix everything.

We arrived in Providence a day early. The idea was to check out the campus, the town, and breathe a little before the chaos of moving in. Our first stop was to check out Maisy’s dorm assignment: Wayland House. Here, the idyllic college green was flanked by several red brick buildings, wrought-iron gates replete with creeping Ivy. It was beautiful. But, a college campus built in the 18th century, while certainly beautiful, tends to lack some “comforts of home.” Claymont House was in need of a coat of paint, a carpet steamer, and air conditioning.

And yet, when she stepped into that room, Maisy’s face lit up. In that same face, I saw the awe and giddiness of my 4 year-old Maisy who had just caught her very first glimpse of Cinderella Castle.

That memory brought the familiar sting of tears behind my eyes. I blinked it away.

"Alright! I Can Do So Much with This!"

“Alright! I Can Do So Much with This!”

We had been forewarned about the horrendous parking outside the dorms on move-in day so we had worked out an ingenious plan the night before. At 5 am, Chris had driven the loaded to capacity truck the .7 miles from our hotel to outside Wayland where he quickly claimed one of the few legal parking spots. It was ideally located just a few steps from the entrance of her building and directly in front of a cart selling Frozen Lemonade.

As Maisy was handed her Brown University ID and room key, she flashed me a massive grin. In that grin, I saw the pride and slight disbelief of my 7 year-old Maisy who had just ridden her training-wheel-free bike around the cul-de-sac for the first time.

Again, I blinked away stinging tears.

Our plan to unload with maximum efficiency had me manning the stairs while Chris and the kids brought bin after bin from the truck, down the block and to the entrance of Claymont. From there I picked up said bins and hauled them up the two flights of stairs to room 205. 9 hours and 37 flights of stairs later, Claymont 316 had been transformed from drab dorm to Ivy Chic.

One Man's Trashed Room is Another's... Home?.

One Man’s Trashed Room is Another’s… Home?.

We agreed that the work coupled with the 94 degree heat justified frozen lemonade BEFORE dinner. As he scooped our lemonade into plastic cups, I noticed that the man operating the cart had the thick, weathered skin of someone who had occupied this sunny Providence corner for many years. He said very little but there was something about his smile that I found strangely comforting.

A Short Break

A Short Break

We parted ways soon after. By 930, we were back at our hotel collapsed in a motionless, exhausted pile as Maisy was just setting out for the night. The last coherent and comforting thought I had before falling asleep was “She doesn’t need us at all, does she?”

Done!

Done!


The next morning, we headed back to campus for orientation activities.

Maisy looked beautiful; hair done, outfit carefully chosen, eyeliner perfectly applied. But, the effervescence of the day before was gone, leaving in its place a quiet and troubling pensiveness.

In that forced smile and slight sag in her shoulders, I saw my Maisy from December 15, 2017: Brown Early Decision Notification Day. That day, I remember praying “Please, just let her get in. As long as she gets accepted, everything will be fine.” But here she was, living out her dream, our prayers for her answered and yet, she was not fine.

Again, I blinked away tears.

Once we had all settled into our respective (and separate) morning orientation programs I began texting my way to the truth.

Maisy’s “I’m fine!” was followed by an only slightly more believable “I’m just tired.”

Throughout the next hour and thanks to my expertly phrased, rapid fire texts peppered with just the right number of carefully curated emojis, Maisy revealed that she was tired because she hadn’t slept well.

“….Construction and….well..I am nervous, LOL.”

Punctuating her sentence with “LOL” sealed it. She was not “fine” or “just tired” or “laughing out loud” about anything.

She was scared.

My timid invitation to lunch was met with enough enthusiasm from Maisy to confirm my suspicion. I knew she was off but it wasn’t until Chris put his arm around her, that I saw Maisy quickly blink her own tears away. She spent the rest of the afternoon behind retro heart-shaped-rose-tinted sunglasses.

We lingered over lunch and Insomnia Cookies. Our aching backs were indisputable evidence that the last thing Maisy needed was any more stuff. Yet, we wandered in and out of stores picking up various “necessities:” travel cups, greeting cards, reusable grocery bags, a miniature cutting board.

As the afternoon wound down, it became painfully obvious that we had been avoiding the unavoidable.

Chris stopped his truck in the exact same spot where just 24 hours before our family had been an efficient powerhouse team of movers. The backdrop on that corner was exactly the same: idyllic college campus, sidewalks swarming with students and parents hauling fridges, TVs, and microwaves, and the same Frozen Lemonade Stand manned by the same seasoned veteran quietly scooping refreshing confections for weary and hot passersby.

I was the first out of the car. As I threw my arms around Maisy, the tears I had fought back all day, won and spilled over. At that moment, her hug was different. Not only did she allow my embrace, she seemed to sink into it. In that hug, I felt my 9 year-old Maisy who had just woken up with a fever-induced night terror and had collapsed into my arms in a slightly bewildered state of relief.

I had long ago stopped blinking tears back.

Reluctantly, I made way for Haddie. Through my own tears I watched both my girls sobbing. Maisy rumpled Haddie’s hair and whispered something I couldn’t hear. Next came Sam. For the entire summer, he and Maisy had joked about how their “goodbye” was simply going to be a quick and business like handshake. Today, the highly anticipated handshake morphed into Sam scooping his smaller big sister into his towering embrace.

Chris was the last to say goodbye. As he squeezed his biggest little girl, his ever-smiling eyes filled with tears.
“You will be great, Honey.” He whispered.

I trained my eyes on Maisy. As she walked away from us, she quickly wiped away tears. After a few steps, she seemed to straighten up, pull the sagging strap of her purse across her shoulder with a bit more force than necessary, and lift her chin with unmistakeable certainty.

In that defiant stride, I saw my 3 year-old Maisy on her first day of preschool. She had been escorted to her tiny chair somewhat reluctantly. As other kids ran around shrieking or clung to their moms with heartbreaking tenacity, Maisy slammed her little palms onto the table and whispered “I. Can. Do. This.” That astonishing phrase uttered by my then preschooler, has become Maisy’s mantra.

When she was completely out of sight, I put my head back. Just as we pulled away from the curb, I caught the eye of the Frozen Lemonade vendor. He had been watching us. He smiled at me then–a knowing, sympathetic, kind smile; one that had been legitimized by scores of move-in weekends spent on that very same corner. His silent expression said it all.

“Don’t worry. She will be totally fine, Mama. And so will all of you.”

Finally!

Finally!

Comments

  1. OMG, Christine! What a stir of emotions and tears this brings back for me. First our daughter at Georgetown and then our son at Villanova.
    Somehow as parents we survive all of the ups and downs, of which there are plenty. I only hope with time you will be as blessed as us. Degrees have been obtained, Love was found, marriages behind us and grandchildren to love. And the whole scenario repeats itself.
    We are currently anticipating the arrival of our third, granddaughter this time. First baby for our daughter. Now you talk about worry!!!!

  2. Debbie Diodati Murdock says:

    It has been a little over one week since we dropped the youngest of our 3 daughters off to college. Your words so eloquently describe this painful transition. From the ache you feel their entire year of high school, to the moment when you feel you won’t be able to breath as you say your good byes (and watch her siblings and father say their good byes). We want this for our children and yet yearn for the magical years when they were safe and happy at home with us. I’ve learned that it’s normal to go through a process of mourning their absence, and for me, the end of who I was a their Mother. I can feel the pain you are feeling in separating from your oldest child, but know that, as you both navigate through this unknown (and sometimes unwelcome) journey, you will redefine your relationship with each other and with your other children. Keep writing about it too, because it’s very therapeutic for you and for all of us reading your beautiful words!!!

  3. Margie Converse says:

    I’ve felt your pain

  4. I remember the exhaustion of moving day and the bittersweet goodbyes—something we spend our childrens’ entire lives preparing them for, and then when that time arrives we are happy yet heartbroken. I look back on those days and realize how lucky I was to have that experience with my son. As a physician, surely you know how tenuous life is at best and how a family’s life can can change in an instant. Accidents and illness do not discriminate; they do not only happen to less fortunate people—everyone carries an equal risk. There is some therapeutic value to tears and nostagia, and it was an activity to which I previously indulged myself with abandon, but now, when I read your words, I can’t help thinking how lucky I was to share that day with him, and that there was nothing I wouldn’t give to have him back, even for a few more moments. Of course you will miss your beautiful girl as she leaves home to begin the next phase of her life, but among the bittersweet goodbyes, don’t forget to treasure those moments, and be grateful they are yours.

    • I have thought those very things these last days and months believe me. I am so very grateful to have her in good health and being on life’s “normal” path. I agonize for those parents less fortunate than I: the ones whose kids are being deployed, the ones who have buried their sons and daughters, the ones who are rehabilitating their kids who were, as you said, just seconds before, exactly like our Maisy. I embrace my heartache for what it is: a beautiful blessing. I am so very sorry for your loss and will carry your words with me whenever the 238 miles between my daughter and I seems insurmountable. Thank you for that reminder.

  5. One of the best blogs you have written to date ❤️

  6. Dana Winkey says:

    This made me tear up….again. Mine are only 15 and 16 and I already know I’m gonna weep like a baby when they leave me. As a new parent, when taking the kids to the doctor, your husband always made me feel like I wasn’t alone and that I was doing a good job as a mommy. I always share that sentiment when I recommend him to new parents. You two are such special people which make you great parents. Thank you.

  7. Michelle Bravo says:

    My son is in your daughters class at Brown. What a tough day filled with so many emotions… yet they got in .. and early at that. Im so excited for them. I think the anticipation of our behavior and if we will cry etc.. on that day makes it so much worse. Thanks for sharing your story which is similar to all of us Moms! I hope to meet you one day perhaps soon at Brown!
    All the best!

    • Ha! That’s so great Michelle. Yes indeed the anticipation, the distance, the busy-ness of it all. It sort of blind sided me! So… most importantly, did you get a frozen lemonade or an East Side Pocket??

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