Monday, August 16, 2010

The Sophomore Years....

     And so, the second year begins.
     It seems impossible, but a year has passed since I first began to write about  the journey my then-nineteen-year-old daughter and I were getting ready to embark upon--a four year adventure that would be called "College". Our voyage would be more like "College with a Twist," which sounded like a pretty awesome cocktail but was actually a plan we had formulated to help Sissey navigate towards a college degree. It was going to be a rather unique experience and one heck of a ride.
    The plan was to:
A. Move to South Carolina with a mound of luggage the size of a small mountain,
B. Reside with my parents on a temporary basis while proceeding to take over the entire upstairs of their home,
C.Enroll Sissey in classes at the University of South Carolina-Lancaster and drag me along as her school- appointed scribe,
D. Matriculate as quickly as possible so we could both return to life as we formerly knew it.
     To top it all off, we brought along for the ride our teacup poodle, Mr. Big, simply because he was spoiled rotten and cried pitifully whenever we left him home. Plus, he had a really cute wardrobe that would be perfect for all campus functions and he loved car rides, school, fast food, long naps, and students of all kinds.  He absolutely had to come with us.
     We arrived in South Carolina on a typically hot and moist August evening. I quickly unloaded the car and we spent a sleepless night trying to get settled in before nervously heading out for classes the next morning. We left Mr. Big crying in my mother's lap, drenching his polo shirt with tears only a bit smaller than ours.
   We had become accustomed to travelling a different path in life ever since Sissey's premature birth twenty years ago, when she and her twin brother had decided to arrive in this world three months before their scheduled due date. She had made her debut into the world in shades of blue, all two pounds of her, a silent but wide-eyed and observant baby.  After her first gasping breath was made possible with the assistance of tubes and oxygen, after her blue blood had warmed to pink flesh, after she was safely tucked into the incubator that she would call home for the next nine weeks, after  I poked a trembling, sterile hand through the port to touch her cheek for the first time,  after her first grasp of my hand with fingers the size of toothpicks, after this rocky and tremulous start to life,  I knew we would be travelling some very exciting and unchartered paths together. I looked at that fragile wisp of life so determined to survive and vowed to take her on one heck of a trip around the globe as soon as she got out of there.
     Sissey graduated from the NICU when she topped four pounds. Having finally been released to the haven of home, she was reunited with her brother, and they slept and ate and played and  grew and began to explore the world around them. He quickly toddled off to life as he would discover it, a typical little boy delighted with dirt and bugs and trees and  sticks.  She, however, spent her toddler years not exactly toddling; instead, she crawled through life while embracing the mystery and joy and glee of each new discovery in her brand new world.  A physical disability resulting from her pre-term birth did nothing to diminish her curiosity with the world around her, a world which she was still very much enthralled with and engaged in, even though she orbited on a different path. 
     We all survived the fascinated exploration of toddlerhood, the wonder of pre-school, the wide-eyed awe of elementary school, the horribly uncomfortable world of middle school, the drama and tears and hormonal surges of high school. Finally, with two seniors in one household, we lived through two proms and two Baccaluareates and two graduations and two post-graduation festivities, surviving the year while barely clinging to our sanity. Her brother packed up and headed off to college, but suddenly, Sissey's orbit seemed to stall after she crossed the threshold of graduation and faced the rest of her life, the unknown future, the grown-up world.  Unsure which path to take next, she took a year off to work, mature, grow in confidence, plot her course, and stash away twelve paychecks with the strict frugality learned from her tight-fisted mother. The planning year passed quickly, the options were weighed,  the applications were mailed,  the decision was made, her bags were packed, and she was ready. As for me, I was still clinging to the pre-school years, thumbing through old scrapbooks, fingering remnants of years gone by, and wishing I could spin the world backwards.
     And now, college. College? College! Who knew how that venture was going to turn out! I was 27 years out of my last educational foray, Sissey hadn't cracked a book since high school graduation, and we had no idea if either one of us would be able to handle the transition to campus life. We were facing a blank canvas, an empty journal, a story waiting to be written but with the ending still unknown. It was terrifying and exciting, a sweet and salty cupcake waiting for us to take a big bite.With our bags packed and our backpacks ready, we left our Richmond world behind. We moved back to my hometown, full of anxious anticipation, unknown roads rolling out before us, nervous excitement and energy churning in our guts, both wondering what the year ahead would bring.
     Sissey's life was about to start shifting in extremes.. She was transitioning from a small, private school of just under one hundred students to a large public university of several thousand unknown faces. More than that, she was transitioning from a city of over a million residents-- a city full of malls and museums and movie theaters and monuments-- to a small rural town of several thousand families, most of whom had known each other since birth, had gone to school together since kindergarten, and whose social circles were already tightly knit and closely formed. Worse than that, there was not a single Starbucks in sight. All were daunting lifestyle changes, all were studies in opposites.  She was leaving behind  life as she knew it and was delving into a new community, a new culture, and a new campus.  I was leaving behind not only my home but also my husband, a son at UVA, my  standard poodles, my friends, my church, my community, and my social life. I was jumping head first into a world I had graduated from almost thirty years ago, and I was not getting any younger in the process.  I did not, however, feel like I was walking backwards.  This was a journey forward if ever there were one, and I was excited to see where the road would take us and how this jaunt would turn out.
     Life had been an incredible trip up to this point, full of twists and turns, joy and heartbreak, laughter and tears, full of unknowns and imponderables, impossibles and unbelieveables. It had been the best twenty year adventure I could have ever imagined, never would have asked for, and wouldn't have traded for all the diamonds in Africa. It had been a wild, roller coaster kind of ride, with us slowly ratcheting up each steep hill one clickety notch at a time, always knowing we were about to plummet over the top and couldn't turn back, screaming with delight as we gripped the bar and held on tight, finishing each ride gasping for breath and with a wind-tunnel smile plastered across our faces, vowing never to do that again. That's how life should be lived, how we had lived it so far, and the next climb up that ratchety hill would be no different. This hill was simply called College, and we were determined to finish the ride and roll into home with a Cheshire cat grin plastered on our face and a sheepskin diploma clutched in hand.
  I invited an unknown audience to share this journey with us by posting our adventures on the internet, and I have been overwhelmed by those of you who have chosen to follow our simple life. I brought my daughter into a community I had left years ago, and that same community quickly embraced her and absorbed her into their world with love and encouragement, leaving me smiling in her shadow. It's good to be home, it's good to be in college, it's good to have this time with my daughter, it's good to experience life's changes,  it's all just good.
     I hope you will stick with us as we enter the Sophomore Year, the second phase in the Home Bound College Project. Strap on your seatbelts, grab hold of the safety bar, and take a deep breath. The roller coaster ride is ready to begin, and we're not quite sure how it will end.

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