I am not an emotional guy. Really. I like to think of myself as cool and detached, even in my relationships. The Original Mr. Macho Tough Guy Man's Man. No touchy-feely get in tune with your inner self meditation for me. Go ahead - smash my pinky finger between a metal dormitory bed frame and the metal head board - I can take it!
But this is a tough post to write.
My daughter is a freshman at the University of Notre Dame. We (Mom, Dad & Brother) took her back to South Bend last weekend to move her into her dorm and attend freshman (and parent) orientation activities. It was an amazing time for our family, which I fully expected. What I didn't expect, naively, was the emotional kick in the groin the trip entailed for me.
Logistically the trip was almost flawless. American Airlines non-stop from Orange County to Chicago's O'Hare on Wednesday the 19th. Each of our five checked duffel bags came in at just under the 50-pound limit (do not get me started on checked baggage fees!), and nobody questioned the size or weight of our four carry-on items and our four "personal" items. If nothing else, our daughter arrived at Notre Dame prepared for any fashion situation.
At O'Hare we picked up our rental car. I got an excellent deal through Priceline on a "premium" class car, as I needed as much space as possible for all our luggage but didn't want to pay the outrageous cost of renting an SUV. The Mercury Grand Marquis we got fit the bill for us (huge trunk!), although I felt like I was driving a grandpa car the whole time.
The drive from O'Hare to South Bend was the non-flawless part of the trip. Worst traffic I have ever seen in Chicago. It must have been a combination of time of day (late afternoon), construction on the freeway, and weather, but it took us over three hours to get through Chicago and onto the Indiana Toll Road. Once we cleared most of the traffic in Chicago, we were hit by a tremendous Midwestern thunderstorm. Traffic slowed way, way down because visibility was so bad and there was so much water on the road. Many cars did pull over to the side of the road to wait out the storm. We were treated to a terrific show of lightning bolts lighting up the sky. By the time we finally cleared the storm, everyone was exhausted, starving, and/or in need of a comfort break. So we pulled off at the nearest exit (I'm still not sure exactly what town we were in) for dinner, and found a nice family-style restaurant that suited us very well. After eating and whatnot, we hit the road for the push to South Bend. Of course, while we were eating the storm had passed over us so we had to drive through it a second time! In any event, we finally made it to the Marriott in downtown South Bend a little after 10:00 p.m., just a 5 1/2 hours after leaving O'Hare (accounting for the time change). But our room was waiting for us, no problems with the Marriott Rewards certificate we were using for our stay (big relief!). We schlepped all our bags up to the room, and then hopped back into the grandpa car for a quick trip to Bed, Bath & Beyond. (Why, what else did you expect us to do? Go to sleep?).
So at about 10:30 p.m. on a Wednesday night in August, all four of us strolled into the Mishawaka branch of BB&B to pick up all the dorm-room accessories that our daughter had ordered through the BB&B in Orange County and asked to be ready for her in Mishawaka on August 19th. Yes, they would have held the stuff for an extra day. Yes, they were still open at 10:30 (extended hours for dorm move-in week). No, we could not wait until morning to pick the stuff up. No, I'm not sure why. In any case, BB&B has a pretty good racket, errr, service going with the "scan your items at home and pick them up at college" service. Certainly somebody at BB&B deserves a big bonus. Nice service for us too, as it saved us a lot in shipping and/or baggage charges.
We loaded all the pink goodies into the car, and headed back to the hotel, with a quick midnight stop at campus to see the Golden Dome all lit up and peek at our daughter's new home.
Thursday we slept in (much to the OC Daughter's dismay), before heading to campus for some errands and wandering around. ID card, lunch, credit union, bookstore, etc.... We visited the Grotto and lit one candle of thanksgiving, and one candle asking that Our Lady watch over our daughter and keep her safe. We stopped by the dorm in the hope that we could get in a day early and see the dorm and the room. It was open and we got to meet the R.A. and see the room. We also found out we could bring a load of stuff over from the hotel if we wanted. Of course the girl who needed to hit Bed, Bath & Beyond at 10:30 at night didn't need to hear that twice. So we went back to the hotel, loaded up the Grand Marquis with all manner of dorm room goodness, and returned to campus to unload it in her room. It actually turned out well in that it saved us having to make two trips the next day. The highlight for me was learning that our daughter's room has a terrific Dome view, which is a pretty nice bonus for a freshman. In my experience, Dome views are pretty hot commodities for the upperclassmen during room lottery in the Spring.
That evening, we met our daughter's roommate and her family for dinner. The two girls hit it off immediately, although they had already become fast friends through the miracle of Facebook.com. It was great to have a good meal (although I admit to being generally suspicious of Mexican food served in Northern Indiana), and we especially enjoyed meeting the newest members of our extended family. (There must be a term for your kid's roommate's parents? Roomies in-law?) All were relieved that nobody else was a chain smoking weirdo.
Friday was the official move-in day, and the girls were ready! The wall-to-wall carpet went in first (thanks to our Roomies-in-law for getting the carpet!) and the two Dads just needed to quickly assemble the pre-fab loft kits that were waiting for us at Home Depot before the girls could decorate and accessorize the room.
HaHaHaHaHaHaHaHa!!!!!!! (Insert sinister belly-laugh here).
Yes Home Depot has loft "kits." No, ours weren't waiting for us at the local Home Depot when we got there at about 8:30 on Friday. So after talking to "Don" about our missing kits, we went back to campus to unload the SUV, and by the time we returned to Home Depot and hour later our "kits" were just about ready. They just needed to visit the hardware section and pull the bolts we needed. It dawned on me that we were in a lot of trouble when Don started counting out 42 6-inch bolts and 14 3.5-inch for EACH of the two lofts. Yes that's 56 bolts per loft, times two lofts. A lot of bolts.
Did I say pre-fab "kit" earlier? By "kit" I mean of course a pile of lumber and a crude drawing. And 56 bolts (with washers and nuts). The lumber is pre-cut (well, mostly pre-cut), but it is not pre-drilled.
"Man plans, God laughs" as they say. What we thought might be a couple of hours of kit assembly turned into a full day of drilling and bolting and re-engineering a faulty design. The girls were too sweet to say anything, but they paced the hallway itching to get into the room and get their things all situated just the way they had imagined.
When we had finally put the last bolts in place and figured work-arounds for the erroneous dimensions on the "University-approved" Home Depot design, we were tired and sweaty but feeling pretty good about having accomplished something that meant a lot to our little girls (and their moms). Then we tossed the mattresses up onto the lofts and realized that they were too tall! University-approved design my ass. The girls, being grateful for all our effort and no doubt worried about pushing their Dads over the edge, didn't utter any complaint as they climbed up onto the loft to make their beds in the maybe 20 inches of clearance between the top of the mattresses and the ceiling above. They slept snugly that night, but admitted that they bumped their heads when the alarm clocks went off in the morning.
But we were all worried about the girls, and the next day the Dads figured out a way to lower the mattresses by six inches without a total re-build while the girls and moms were making a Target run. Much better. Of course the next day the dorm was plastered with flyers from entrepreneurs offering to build custom lofts in your room for less than we paid Home Depot. Sigh.
Friday night (still move-in day) we drove the OC Son back to O'Hare so he could spend the weekend in Colorado with his Aunt, Uncle & Cousin, the highlight of which would be a day of mountain biking in Vail. We wanted him to be part of moving his sister into her dorm and getting her settled at college, but didn't think he would want to sit through the weekend of parent orientation sessions. In contrast to Wednesday, the Friday drive to O'Hare and back went very smoothly and much more quickly, and our son had a great weekend in Colorado (where he now wants us to move).
Friday night as we got back from O'Hare was the first hint, for me, that it was going to be a tough weekend. We got back to our hotel room after midnight and realized that instead of four people and about nine suitcases, our merry band was down to the two of us and two small bags. Our son was winging his way westward, and our daughter was happily settling into her dorm and meeting all her new college friends.
Saturday morning was the "meet the dorm staff and listen to how we'll keep your daughter safe" session. After that was the big official "Welcome to the University" session at the Joyce Athletic and Convocation Center (JACC), highlighted by wonderful remarks from Father Jenkins (University President). But the student speaker stole the show that afternoon. She gave a heart warming and personal welcome to the freshman. She spoke of letting Notre Dame pull you in. She spoke of how her father had, when she was a child, changed the words of the Notre Dame Victory March and sang "while her loyal Sons ... and Daughters ... march on to Victory" in order to make her feel part of the Notre Dame family. She never realized what he had done until she arrived at the University as a freshman and everyone was singing the Victory March differently than she was. I could not help but think of my own Daughter of Notre Dame, and I wasn't the only Dad in the house wiping his eyes while trying like heck to maintain my cool detachment.
Sunday was an intimate Mass for the two-thousand freshman and their families in the North dome of the JACC (since the arena in the South dome is under renovation), followed by the "Spirit of Notre Dame" session involving short talks from Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick, Football Coach Charlie Weis, and the President of Student Government who once again welcomed the freshman and spoke with great humor of his own Frosh-O weekend and his tearful good-byes to his parents. But the stars of the session were, of course, the Notre Dame Glee Club and the Band of the Fighting Irish, which is what I believe they call in show business the "big finish."
I am not an emotional guy. The first time Notre Dame made me cry was 1974 when Anthony Davis and the USC Trojans came back from a 24-0 hole and beat the Fighting Irish 55-24. I was ten years old and watching the game on T.V. from 2,000 miles away.
The next time Notre Dame made me cry was during my own Frosh-O weekend, when I sat by myself in the ACC and the Notre Dame Band marched into the arena blasting out the Victory March.
And I cried during my graduation weekend when I knew that my time at Our Lady's University had drawn to a close.
So how do you think it went as my wife and I stood in the bleachers and looked down at our own daughter, who was locked arm-in-arm with her Notre Dame classmates and swaying back and forth as the Band of the Fighting Irish played the Alma Mater? Cool and detached I wasn't.
After that we walked our daughter back to her dorm, and said good-bye. I tried to think of something wise to say without bursting into sobs, and we left her there in the care of Our Lady.
The University has grown a lot since my time there. Our daughter's classes are almost all in buildings that didn't exist when I was a student. The athletic facilities are world class. But the feel of the place, and the emotions it evokes haven't changed a bit. The Dome, the Grotto, the lakes, the leafy trees, the thick grass, and the stadium all feel the same.
We could not be more proud of our daughter, and we could not possibly have left her in better hands. We could not be happier for her as she goes confidently in the direction of her dreams.
But we sure miss that little girl.