Adulting 101

Up is down, and down is up.  You heard it here first.

In case you missed the article in the Minneapolis paper a week or so ago, here’s how I know. A private college in St. Paul is going to start offering laundry service to its students next year, and I’m not talking about rusty coin-operated washing machines in the dorms.  Nope. Actual laundry service. According to the article, this perk will be provided “for a fee” so that students can spend more time doing the things they really want to do and make better use of the time they have.  Young men and women will no longer have to scrounge for quarters or trouble themselves with tedious tasks like washing their own clothes.

But here’s the best part. Get ready. According to the story, it was parents, not students, who requested that such a service be made available.That’s right.There is some parallel universe where parents request things like laundry service. What’s next? Butlers and nightly bed turn down service?  Mints on pillows? Parking valets? Give me a major break. When did parents start coddling this generation of perfectly capable young people to such a degree, and why are they doing it? I don’t get it.

A generation ago, kids graduated from high school and went to college.Their parents let them call home collect once a week. At Thanksgiving time, after months away and a Greyhound bus ride home, they were already being transformed. It wasn’t easy, but they learned how to be adults by taking their lumps, making some really bad decisions, and even wearing strangely colored underwear until they figured their lives (and laundry) out.

Learning how to be an adult was a class with no book back then. It was the most important “class” we took. We passed without our parents calling the school to see if we were going to class. We passed without private rooms.  We passed without laundry service, too. Somehow, we made it.

If the parents of this generation would back off, these kids would, too.

Bright pink undies and all.





“I was within and without, simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.”

-F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby

Most weeks, this column comes to me like a bolt of lightning. Here’s what happens. I’ll be driving along, or standing in line in the grocery store, or having a conversation with someone or I’ll notice the way something just IS at that moment and suddenly, a story is there, clanging around in my head and screaming to be told. The words bang at the door of my mind and I have to let them in. Some weeks, they stumble in as a mess on Monday morning and I spend the rest of the week trying to get them to sober up and make sense. Other weeks, they show up all showered and shiny and all I have to do is tell them where to set their suitcase. It all depends on the words and the week.

I get twitchy if no words have arrived at the door by  Sunday afternoon, my own personal deadline.  My fingers are poised over keys, ready to type, but nothing comes out. My dear ones will tell you that I’m kind of lot of work to live with on those Sundays. They know not to ask me questions about what’s for dinner (or anything else) when the words are late. I frown and mutter and sweep the back room of my brain trying to shoo something, anything, onto the screen in front of me and get really crabby.  I feel dull on those days. Duller, and dumber, than anyone who isn’t actually either of those things should ever feel.

I believe that most writers were once overly sensitive children who grew into overly sensitive adults.  But, not in a good way. That’s probably why so many of the good ones end up as raging alcoholics or swinging from some rafter by their necks. But even on days when the words don’t show up, I’m still grateful that of all the gifts and challenges I could have received from the Benevolent Granter of Gifts and Challenges that words is what I got.

I’m currently teaching The Great Gatsby to students who have seen the movie version starring Leonardo DiCaprio, but know next to nothing about Fitzgerald.  We have been having some good discussions about how characters like Jay Gatsby live in our heads long after we’ve closed the book. They are surprised that they care about him, but I’m not. Fitzgerald’s words did that. Those words of his were magic, I tell them. Magic.

Last night, my son was dusting two fluffy, white kittens with a feather duster.  In the dream, he was the dark-eyed, sturdy, singularly focused four year old I remember so well. The type of kid who would have totally tried to dust a cat. It was an odd, disjointed, dream laden with a lot of Freudian metaphors, no doubt. Why a feather duster and not, say, a hairbrush? Why white kitties and not black ones?  Why my son, and not my daughter?  Who knows?  The mind of a mother does strange things.

But stranger still?  The need, like breath, to try and make sense out of the miraculous and mundane through words on a page.

For me. Each week. In 600 words or less.

Winter treats

This morning, I watched the sun rise over the frozen lake. First, a faint sliver of rose pink appeared on the horizon. Then, a swath of orange lit up the eastern sky right before the giant, grapefruit sun peeked over the trees.  A new day.

The two balsams I relocated from the forest six years ago as seedlings no bigger than my thumb have grown as tall as six year old kids. This morning, giant clumpy snowflakes are settling on their branches. The tree that lives closest to the septic tank is a good four inches taller than his partner to the south. So much depends on where a tree, or person, is planted.

The neighbor dogs have made tracks all over the yard. Lola comes by a couple of times a day, furtively searching for something of mine to steal. This winter, I’ve outsmarted her where bird suet is concerned. Luckily, she is a dog who doesn’t spend a great deal of time looking up. Libby, our other furry, four-legged neighbor, comes by for a Milk Bone every evening. Last night, I had the strange feeling that I was being observed. When I looked up, Libby was outside with her muzzle pressed tightly against the window, clouds of dog breath fogging up the pane of glass. Who knew that a single dog cookie a day from the neighbor lady could become part of a dog’s (and neighbor lady’s) daily”to do” list?

In other news, the Girl and I are planning a spring break trip in March to somewhere warm. Each night, we text possibilities back and forth, weighing our mutually agreed upon need for unfiltered sunshine against all the other possible criteria.  I never took spring break trips when I was in college, and neither did she. We are making up for it now. And so, for a few days in March, we’ll watch the same sun I saw this morning set over an ocean at the end of each day. We’ll shop and eat and treat ourselves to sweet drinks. We’ll bury our toes in warm sand. We’ll talk and laugh. We’ll raise our faces to the sun and not be very wild at all.

At least, that’s MY itinerary. Stayed tuned.