Sleep’s Dark and Silent Gate

When hearing the term “spring break” many of us easily conjure up the images of families taking off for that one last round of late winter skiing, or finding a child-friendly cruise, with wallet-friendly options. We see ourselves organizing the garage, and sifting through closets, a cathartic cleanse that gifts us new space. And it’s especially easy to picture a throng of college students making their way en masse toward sandy white beaches far removed from the cramped, windowless lecture halls they’ve occupied through dark winter months.

But this year spring break was anything but the above depictions. For me, that is. And I think for my daughter too.

This year I spent the time uneasy and restless, tense and observant. I spent it hoping to hear the words in someone else’s thoughts. I needed to measure the struggle, my daughter’s level of distress.

Her campus was in crisis mode, all parents on high alert. The same lamentable word refused to be muted, would not release its steadfast grip.

Suicide.

It is a word that strikes through the strength of a family and weakens the backbone of a community. It is an action that brings us to our knees with the senseless loss from an unheard cry.

Chronic stress is a familiar disease most every college student is acquainted with. Its unforgiving malady inflicts academic anxiety, depletes crucial sleep, and unleashes widespread social struggles, challenging our children to fit in somewhere new in someplace foreign.

A known and nerve-wracking fact among parents and educators, the leading cause of death among university students is suicide. The statistics are varied, and we brace ourselves to hear of the wretched news. One is horrifically tragic. A second is a spreading concern.

But five?

Five within one year? And all on one campus.

It left me desperate to talk to my child … and to hear my child talk.

I wanted her home, with me where I could see her. But I forced a stillness within myself, remembering that she was attempting to build herself a new home. To stretch and redefine who she was. To discover where she will next belong.

We’d speak on the phone. I’d offer her words. But words are paltry and may only provide an anemic effect. It’s nearly impossible to feel you are getting an accurate reading in a situation such as this. It is a terrible tug of war. The wanting. The wanting to rush someplace and fix something. But that is not always the answer.

Your answer is not always their answer.

In the last 19 ½ years I have known this child, a few things have bubbled to the surface to claim the top box if she were filling out an application profile, describing who she is. It’s likely she’d say:

A scientist

A musician

An activist

But there is a tiny little baker buried deep inside her that materializes when in desperate need to combat ironfisted stress.

When spring break arrived, I met her at the airport. Encased in a hug that I hoped echoed a million words of warmth, I breathed her in. I’d missed the spice of her hair, the honeyed notes of her perfume.

I took her home—and not to a beach, the garage or the slopes. To no great surprise her personal Pillsbury Doughboy punched in daily on his flour-dusted time clock. Within minutes of arriving, he had transformed my kitchen into a satellite city patisserie.

Dorms consider a communal kitchen to be a closet with a microwave from 1957. College cafeterias are considered fresh and contemporary if they could advertise they’ve been cooking ‘nose to tail’ recipes long before it was considered hip, and were nearly certain there was a fork somewhere in the utensil bin that was dedicated as “peanut free.”

Winters can be bleak and mournful if the closest you can come to home cooking are dorm room banned candles crafted to smell like meatloaf and chocolate chip cookies.

My kitchen became an invisible big-bosomed therapist, warm from the heat of the oven, smelling of Madagascar vanilla, and costing a considerable amount of money which insurance companies would never reimburse under the umbrella of preventative healthcare.

It didn’t matter.

I savored the fact that she was home. And day by day the smudgy, dark circles beneath her eyes—the circles I at first took for a potential dabble into a late teen Goth phase, but knew were the result of a schedule where sleep was rarely granted before 3am—slowly faded. I would not have been surprised to see her drop her bag at the end of her childhood bed, fall prone and not rise until I told her it was time to head back.

But there was that urge to bake. To turn the bitter into sweet.

Every day the pantry was scoured, the fridge was raided, and recipe books were consulted. Every day something fragrant appeared in finished form, its come hither whispers accompanied by an invisible finger, crooked and beckoning.

There were mounds of muffins and breads, cookies and tarts. Chocolate covered confections and lime zested pies. Graham crackers married sticks of butter and served as a crumbly hug for whatever they embraced. Coconuts and pecans toasted themselves beneath the fiery, wiry heat of a broiler set to suntan. Apples, dates, bananas and carrots had every gram of sugar coaxed out of them with the deep calm of an individual lazily spinning through the quiet hours of an unnoticed afternoon.

Day by day, ample perfumes mingled with each other to signify a steadily budding state of grace.

Taste this.

Eat that.

Try those.

Little words, big flavors, potential aid promising relief.

Every day I told myself, Okay, either she’s going to run out of steam, or I’m going to run out of ingredients. The end is near.

The “End” did not arrive until I returned her and her tiny duffle bag to the airport where she was soon whisked back to seven more weeks of muddling through those stressors she’d left; the disquieting uneasiness locked behind a dorm room door and strewn about a grief-stricken campus.

The list of things I have to offer this child may be rapidly diminishing in terms of parental care, but there is still comfort. I will hold what she cannot contain, I will hear what she cannot say, and I will eat what she cannot finish.

She may not have had a traditional respite from school this year, less spring break more spring bake. But I hope it was what she needed.

When I walk into a space that is filled with the heady aroma of caramelizing sugar, I am immediately reminded of my daughter. Transported to a nearly tangible encounter, it is at once comforting and then painful. It is something I wish I could return to those heartbroken parents—the unmistakable scent of their child.

120415springbreak3

~Shelley

Related articles

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Quick! Hire a teenager now while they know everything.

Long ago I made a point of no longer saying, “I told you so,” to my kids.

But I NEVER promised to stop making the I told you so face.

And I make it a lot.

Sometimes several times a day.

020214toldyouso (556x800)

Occasionally, I just keep it there until the next needed time comes around to save my muscles the unnecessary exertion of popping them back into their default setting—which according to my kids rests somewhere between a scowl and the expression that suggests intestinal blockage.

Lately, I’ve been doing a little motherly worrying that I only have six months to go before one of my fledglings will fly the coop. Is six months time enough to impart those last bits of needed wisdom before I drop her and her bags off at the door of what every parent surely feels is the opening credits of Animal House?

After last week … I’m not so sure.

Yes, there are different definitions of intelligence—and for this I am extraordinarily grateful. Because measuring mine by what I’ve retained from my schoolroom days would send my past educators into a vortex of surround sound tutting so energetic it would be like sitting in the middle of a field full of judgmental crickets.

020214tut (691x800)

So, booksmart? … I ain’t so much none more.

Street smart? I’m fairly confident I’m making the honor roll. My daughter? Well, let’s just say she’s probably one or two notches above Elmo.

My daughter is a violinist. A very fine one. And she plays a fair amount of gigs, so she knows (with the occasional reminder from me) that instruments—like people—must have a maintenance schedule in order to achieve optimal results. Just before Christmas, she noticed one of her strings fraying badly and was about to play a three day running show. I swapped out the ready-to-snap bad string with an old spare, purchased her a set of new strings, and reminded her to bring her violin to the shop for its “annual.”

Amid a slew of, “Yes, yes, I’ll get to its,” I left it at that.

A couple of days ago she mentioned the headmaster of her school had asked that she play for an event he would be speaking at. Mentally calculating her holiday break activities, I could not recall her recounting a trip to the violin maker’s shop and raised an eyebrow at her.

“I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

The night before curtain call, we were advised by our local newscasters to prepare for icy road conditions the next morning. In fact, we’d found all of the local public schools delaying a couple of hours to allow the frenetic worker bees to get to their stations ahead of the big lumbering school buses full of sleepy-eyed children. All schools, apart from my daughter’s.

As a freshly minted driver, I warned her that she must be prudent and give herself plenty of extra time to firstly, check road conditions before leaving, and secondly, drive slowly to be cautious of slick spots. Her mind was occupied with other things. Mainly, cramming for a calculus test the next morning.

“Did you hear me?” I asked.

“Mmm hmm.”

“How was rehearsal today?”

(Insert a series of mumbles that folks studying the fundamental notions of convergence of infinite sequences will understand) and then,  “My string snapped.”

“What? You mean you still haven’t taken your fiddle in?”

“I’ll play on my electric. I’m fine. It’s fine. I’ll get to it.”

Cue seven a.m. the next morning.

“Mother!”

I was still ten blissful minutes away from my traditional sounding alarm clock, but rose to this one instead.

“Well??? How are the roads?” she asked.

Normally full of pithy remarks at the crack of dawn, I was surprised when nothing but a croaky, “Huh?” came from my throat.

“MOM! I HAVE TO LEAVE! I HAVE REHEARSAL BEFORE SCHOOL AND I’M ALREADY GOING TO BE LATE!”

This did not sit well with me and had me out of bed, searching for my bathrobe and pulling on my wellington boots. The perfect choice for getting a firm foothold on frozen water.

The first step out of the house was slick and shiny. A little farther out, the pebbled courtyard of the driveway would have been a disappointment to most ice skaters, but was still capable of flipping you onto your backside. The blacktop driveway, for the few tentative steps I took, appeared safe. Ish.

“Well??? How is the driveway?”

I watched my daughter lug her electric violin and an amp nearly as large as her Volkswagen beetle toward the trunk of the ice cube she was about to drive.

I shook my head and looked at the crusted over windscreen. “The first ten feet are super. I cannot account for the remainder of the mile.”

020214mum (800x456)

Knowing that the remainder of that mile was pitched at an ungodly angle downward and included at least three or four deadman’s curves, if it was covered in ice, I could imagine her car would no longer be a car but instead a fancy toboggan. I hoped she’d changed her mind. But apparently, she was a potential casualty whether she stayed home or went, as not turning up for the rehearsal was in essence a fate worse than death.

She left for school. I left for the shower and brought with me the prickly panic that would accompany me until I’d heard she made it safely into her parking space.

Fifty anxiety-ridden minutes later (as she forgot to text me when she first made it to school and went straight to rehearsal), and mere moments before I called the school to hunt her down, I received a thumbs up text and then left for an in town appointment myself. Halfway there I receive a second text that said:

Hey, Mom? R u coming into town this morning?

Me—at a stop sign: Already on my way.

Her: Turns out I left the cable that connects my violin to the amp at home.

There is no I told you so emoticon for texting, but somebody should make one. So I substituted: It’s fine. You’re fine. You’ll get to it.

020214illgettoit (800x567)

Six more months and the roads are dicey.

~Shelley

It’s time to reveal January’s winner for the Gotta Have a Gott calendar! We hope you all voted, but if not, you’ll have another crack at it at the end of February (and all the months through November). For now, come see the past month’s winner.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

Related articles

Food for thought, but rarely for dinner.

If there is one phrase that is more common than any other in my house, it has got to be …

101113grocerylist (800x738)

And I’m serious about it being all in capital letters, because I’m usually shouting that phrase to someone who either has their head buried deep within the fridge, or their body concealed within the cavernous room I had built to represent the pantry.

The pantry is really more of an averaged-sized dry goods store, and if I simply filled out a few pages of paperwork, it could easily qualify as a Stop n’ Shop for locals on their way home from the office. Those folks would really have to like tuna though, because that covers about half the pantry’s inventory. That and cat food. I’m guessing either the cat has convinced someone in the house that we’re running low and to write it on the list, or she’s finally passed the course with the daily YouTube videos I’m been making her watch on teaching yourself to write.

101113FatCat (800x629)

Either way, she’s hoarding. And that needs to be dealt with.

I grew up with a kitchen that was just slightly bigger than a coat closet, and oftentimes had the entire family rummaging around within it, so it’s no surprise that as an adult I’d want to create a canteen that might easily share the same acreage as that of the Mall of America. I’m not saying I achieved those numbers, but it was what I was going for.

The refrigerator is not your average size either, and although not a commercial walk-in like some restaurants, it could double as a garage for a few small farm vehicles if need be. Note that the design for the rest of the house was given much less thought. My office is large enough for my swivel chair to make only half rotations in, unless I expel all oxygen from my lungs and tuck my elbows in beneath my rib cage, and the other living areas were fashioned after cheap department store changing rooms and fast food restaurant bathroom stalls. Why? Because I wanted everyone to live in the kitchen.

101113office (588x800)

We eat when we’re happy and we eat when we’re miserable. We also eat when we’re bored and trying to avoid laundry. So in my mind, that about covered where we needed to spend the serious money.

In the kitchen of my youth, the pantry closet was large enough to accommodate two cans of soup and a nail file. Nevertheless, it fed half my school district. Yet the one I currently have apparently does not hold enough of what is deemed necessary for my two teenagers. Ditto for the fridge. The crackers I have are not the right kind of crackers. The granola bars I purchase are now in the “so yesterday and I’ve gone off them” category. The macaroni I get doesn’t have the right kind of cheese. The butter is not the soft, spreadable kind like Grandma has. And most every other complaint falls under the wretched umbrella of, “Stop buying the organic version of everything. It tastes weird and I won’t eat it!”

The grocery list has always held the possibility of being a vehicle filled with “teachable moments” for those who eat regularly at my house in that if you finished the OJ and didn’t put it on the list, then you’re the guy everyone will be sending the next day’s hate mail to. This sounds like it should work, right?

Nuh uh.

As is well known to most mothers, we are expected to have our act so well put together it could headline on Broadway. Yes, someone forgot to add milk to the list, but surely you knew it belonged there when at the grocery store, right? Somehow you sprouted those eyes at the back of your head that caught nearly invisible infractions, and you grew the superhuman ears that heard the cursing grumble from way out in the sheep barn, so are you telling me your telesthesia is on the fritz?

So not cool, Mom.

101113broadway (800x559)

Occasionally, my nagging about adding things to the grocery list has made a small impact on my at home diners. There have been days when I’ve arrived at the store, taken the first glance at my list and then had to physically stop myself from ramming my shopping cart repeatedly into the nearest bin full of asparagus and avocados. Why? Because the list is chock-a-block full of junk. Chocolate in every form has made its way onto the paper but is “cleverly” disguised by showing up in between other items so the requests don’t appear too gluttonous.

Collard greens

Apples

Chocolate milk

Navy beans

Salmon

Chocolate covered pretzels

Eggs

Tofu

Brown rice

Chocolate toaster pastries

Sparkling water

Miso paste

Brownies

At this point, I simply buy the things I intended to purchase for the meals I plan to make, but also plop down onto the dinner table a squirt bottle of liquid chocolate and tell the kids to have at it. I shudder to think how Hershey’s syrup can make delicate halibut in a corn and mung bean broth taste more appealing, but apparently it must.

So I’m trying to see this all from a different perspective. I suppose I should be grateful for the last few precious years of gathering round the table. Clearly our tastes at this point are at opposite ends of the spectrum, but thankfully our desires still meet in the most important room of my house. And no matter what everyone is eating, and what head-shaking requests show up on my next grocery list, I shall pull up a chair to the dinner table with a thankful heart. Because “Spending time together” is not something that can be purchased at any store.

101113foodmoods (786x800)

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

Clockwatchers

Depending upon what job I have held in the past, I have at times classified myself as an early bird, a night owl, and sometimes just the slug that gets eaten by both.

Currently, I have entered into a phase of life many folks are well acquainted with. In fact, they have a face creased by lines of anxiety to show for it.

We are clockwatchers.

Clockwatchers140713 (800x624)

Why? I have teenagers. And they have lives, man.

It’s one thing when you’re the one they depend upon for rides into town, transportation to and from friends, and passage from one activity to the next. We perform a gratuitous service in exchange for the hopeful moment of mere eye contact.

But when they have access to fast moving, gas-guzzling, tune blaring vehicles that either they or their peer counterparts control, the parental mind bolts like dropped marbles, scattering across the floor in unseen, dangerous directions, and foretells life-altering hazards in things as typically innocent as mailboxes, squirrels and rain showers.

Teens are big on taking risks.

This is not news to any person who is in charge of their welfare, but it certainly curls the toes of many adolescents after the fact—or after the fall.

In fact, I vote all teens must wear a piece of clothing that marks them as pubescent and encourages the rest of the village to stop them at any moment simply with the phrase, “Are you sure you’ve thought this through?”

Pubescent140713 (575x800)

I bet we could lower the number of smacks on our furrowed foreheads by implementing this tiny technique.

It’s difficult to manage my regular routine when I’ve got two teens out of the house and both expected back at a specific time. Specific to me, but an ever-shifting time frame for them. Something always happens. This is the only predictable part of the outing. And it usually comes in the form of a phone call and a voice on the other end that speaks in dulcet tones reserved for Mother’s Day or my birthday.

I know very few parents who can head off to bed, knowing their teen is nowhere near theirs, and effortlessly lose consciousness. For me, it’s like cracking the spine of a chilling thriller, except for the fact that I’m not actually reading any words. I may be facing in the direction of the printed words on page, but a new author has taken over the invisible plot, rife with ideas meant to twist and churn my gut.

As an evil bonus, there’s a soundtrack.

If there’s wind—I’m dead certain one of the hundreds of overhanging limbs from trees they pass on the way home will come loose, crash upon the car and kill everybody.

If there’s rain—I’m convinced the oils on the road will coat a rising sheet of water, propel them into a ditch and kill everybody.

If there are animals that live on the route my kids take home, they are likely to be the equivalent of teenagers out too late at night, will be encouraged by their rowdy, pack mentality comrades to dart across the road in front of cars for a thrill, will be greeted by the Nerf Ball car my kids drive … and kill everybody.

Nerfcar140713 (800x591)

If you have teenagers, you are likely well acquainted with the movie reel running in your head that usually ratchets up to Technicolor vibrancy status every time you look at your watch or glance at the clock above the stove. You are waiting for the glide of headlights across the wall by the window, the sound of the car pulling into the drive, the bark of El Protector at the front door—anything that announces the safe arrival of the person or persons you invested umpteen years of energy, money and every wish you made, including those on falling stars, birthday candles, or the heads of a dandelions.

Why is it that no one has been able to push ahead the R & D for apparating? Yes, I know it would be expensive, but hey, JK Rowling has kids who will soon be teenagers, and since she planted the idea in everyone’s heads, I say she might be someone worth considering when petitioning for research funds.

I expect I should get used to the bleary-eyed, puffy-faced person who greets me in the mirror each morning and the slack-jawed, mascara-smudged woman whose reflection waves goodnight each evening. It’s inevitable, as my day starts when the racket of bellowing animal bellies rouses me from slumber, whereas my teens fall out of bed somewhere shortly before I shout out, “DINNER!” Bedtimes are slightly closer together—mine arriving when the sounds of their bedroom laughter, bass lines and Netflix all meld into the audio track of my dreams, and theirs happens when we’ve run out of post midnight snacks in the pantry.

And although I can actually consider myself both an early bird and a night owl at this point in my life, there is no doubt in my mind what category I look most like …

The slug.

Earlybird140713 (800x528)

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here). And to see more of Robin Gott’s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone–click here.

An epiphany on Epiphany

I have at last allowed myself a semi-week off from blogging.

1_G

1_G (Photo credit: Andrew Teman)

This week, instead of writing, I shall be busy with:

1. Twelve months of laundry.

2. Eleven pipes a’ leaking.

3. Ten floors worth sweeping.

4. Nine socks for darning.

5. Eight weeks of grouting.

6. Seven coons for skinning.

7. Six stalls worth mucking.

8. Five … chain-sawed trees.

9. Four shotguns cleaned.

10. Three squirrel stews.

11. Two brawling rams.

Sheep shows, sheep and wool industry / by Sam Hood

Sheep shows, sheep and wool industry / by Sam Hood (Photo credit: State Library of New South Wales collection)

12. And a snooze next to the Christmas tree.

After that, if there’s time, I may tune into the Presidential debates. But no worries, because I’ve taped them all. And don’t tell me how it turned out. I know I’m a little behind, but I love hearing Walter Cronkite announce the newly incumbent.

And that’s the way it is

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what was cookin’ in the Scullery one year ago (here) and what we all talked about down in the pub (here)!

‘Twas the night Santa ditched us.

‘Twas the Night Before Christmas with Earl

by Shelley Sackier (and a little help from Mr. Moore)

English: Thomas Nast's most famous drawing, &q...

‘Twas the night before Christmas, and throughout our old post
Not a creature was stirring, ‘cept our dead plumber ghost.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
To hide the big crack in the masonry there.

The children were splayed on the couch, all serene,
While visions of Family Guy flickered on screen.
And Sir Sackier on his phone, and I on my Mac,
Still slogged on with work that would keep bills paid back.

When out on the lawn there arose such a noise,
I sprang up to shout at some loud redneck boys.
Away to the window, full of anger I flew,
And stared down the barrel of my 22.

A classic Western depiction of Santa Claus.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
proved Earl and his snowplow were now a “no show.”
When what should I see like a cast of buffoons,
But our Earl on a sled pulled by seven old coons.

With a burly old driver, so mean for no reason,
I saw in a flash Earl’s new work for the season.    More rapid than eagles his complaints rumbled out,
While he pointed an old grizzled finger to shout.

“Now Bubba! Now, Merle! Now, Otis and Wyatt!
On, Buford! On, Farley! And Vernon be quiet!
To the top of the porch! to the top of the wall!
Now git goin’! Git goin’! Dammit y’all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
My thoughts flew about asking, “Santa Claus, why?”
So up to the front door the hound dogs they slogged,
With the sled full of moonshine and old Earl in a fog.

1914 Santa Claus in japan

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the stoop,
The grunting and griping of the grumpy old poop.
As I drew in my head, and was turning around,
Through the front door the old codger came round.

He was dressed all in flannel and coon hunting gear,
And his clothes still held bits of skinning some deer.
A bundle of bottles he had flung on his back,
And he glanced all around for a lawman attack.

His eyes were all wrinkled, his face worn and weathered,
His hands were quite scared and his skin rough and leathered.

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper's Weekly, one ...

January 3, 1863 cover of Harper’s Weekly, one of the first depictions of Santa Claus (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

His crooked lips snarled, never smiled like a winner,
And the beard of his chin showed canned hash for his dinner.

Some spit on my polished old floor he did spew,
Reminding me Earl had a mouthful of chew.
He had a broad face that was washed clean of dirt,
But a nose that he wiped on the sleeve of his shirt.

He was chubby and plump, a curmudgeonly churl,
Who never said, “Hi”; his lips wouldn’t curl.
A grunt from his girth and a scratch on his bum
Made me ask why it was Santa gave us the thumb.

He spoke not a word, but grumbled with work,
And filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And shuffling past me, he dragged down the hall
The rest of the moonshine toward his next port of call.

A&P, COFFEE, SANTA CLAUS

He slumped in his sled, to his team gave a holler,
And away the dogs pulled, straining hard at the collar.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,
“I’m raising my fee for each plow, now good-night!”

~HAPPY HOLIDAYS~

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!

Dazed & Confused; the crackpot college tour.

Steam train

Steam train (Photo credit: eckenheimer)

My only defense is that I dipped into my ‘sanity jar’ one too many times, came up empty and proceeded to agree to something everyone is still shaking their heads at. Yes, I jumped onto the caboose of the crazy train.

Borrowing the oft spoken words from my fourteen-year old son, “It seemed like a good idea at the time.”

Selecting the phrase I should tattoo on my forehead: “Beware. Thick-witted woman.”

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks

English: Hester Prynne & Pearl before the stocks (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Okay, perhaps my deeds do not deserve a Hester Prynne blood-red letter on my chest, but maybe I should be forced to wear silver “I” for idiot earrings over the next couple of months for believing that my husband, my daughter and I could shove twelve university visits into five and a half days.

The COLLEGE ROAD TRIP became a blasphemous phrase, uttered in pure frustration on a regular basis. It’s now moving up the ladder for hashtag trends on Twitter.

Where did I go wrong? Somehow I convinced myself that both my seventeen-year old and I could muster up the ungodly amount of energy Sir Sackier generates for an hour’s worth of work and spread it out evenly in one day. Times six.

And we would have succeeded had neither one of us needed to eat, sleep or pee. I’ve discovered a strain of camel in my husband’s genetic makeup.

He diligently put together our itinerary. It began at MIT in Boston and finished at King’s College in London. In between, we squished Edinburgh, Saint Andrews, Strathclyde, Glasgow, Liverpool, Birmingham, Cambridge, Oxford, University College London and Imperial College. The UK looks so much smaller on MapQuest.

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West ...

Caerlaverock Castle near Dumfries, South West Scotland (Photo credit: iknow-uk)

I would love to say I perched forward excitedly in my seat as our car sleekly swept past rolling green hills, lush with heather, sheep and historically preserved castles. In truth, I was drunk with exhaustion, alarm and angst as we either barreled down the motorway, unable to see anything but the hazy red glow of the tail lights two feet in front of us—momentarily visible between swooshes of overwhelmed windscreen blades—or idled on the same road, waiting for yet another accident to be cleared, so we could all carry on barreling until the next snarl brought us to a screeching halt.

I now know the precise shape of my heart and what it tastes like as well, for it spent a goodly amount of time residing in my mouth.

It didn’t matter how hard we tried, we were an hour late to everything. It became surreal. No matter when we left, we ended up cursing the weather, the road, the GPS, the parking, the underground or just people we randomly bumped into as we dashed passed them on our way to an office that was numerically ordered by folks who surely thought they were picking lotto numbers.

Sorted White Paper Pile

Sorted White Paper Pile (Photo credit: Walter Parenteau)

Once locating an office, one thing became crystal clear to both my husband and me. Every one of these professor’s tiny lairs looked EXACTLY like our daughter’s bedroom. How could this be true? Does everyone who studies physics have the same ability to compute the science of matter and motion, but find themselves puzzled by the form and usage of drawers? Papers, folders, letters and documents were everywhere: covering every surface, propped against the walls, stacked up on the floors. And if there was an area that had any white space showing, it was heavily scrawled upon, revealing either the country’s launch codes or the cipher to Cypro-Minoan syllabary. In fact, I’d hazard a guess that some of these folks have decoded all sorts of Bronze Age scripts, but simply can’t remember where they put them.

My daughter is looking forward to fitting in with her people because brain function lost on laundry is brain function lost forever.

Math Wall

Math Wall (Photo credit: trindade.joao)

Meeting after meeting, I found myself sitting in a chair, desperately trying to follow the conversation and line of questioning. Symbols were used in place of words and squiggly lines formed a foreign alphabet. I felt my eyes glaze over repeatedly, only briefly registering when I recognized some part of speech. Sadly, it was usually an article like and, the or at. It was humiliating.

Occasionally, I ventured to open my mouth and realized I shouldn’t have. More often than not, my seventeen-year old gave me the wide-eyed glare that silently shouted, “KEEP SHTUM!” And after a while I could see that same face on many of the faculty. Okay, maybe they were all getting tired of my questions about time travel, but it wasn’t like I was announcing that I believed in unicorns.

I’d definitely save that declaration for a follow up meeting … should there be one.

Regardless, I did try to participate. I echoed back many of their statements by simply shifting their words into a slightly different order, but after a while, I realized I’d taken a peek into the other hemisphere of my brain and found it cold, dark and nearly empty. I quickly slammed that door shut and hustled back into more familiar territory.

The highlight for me was taking the laboratory tours. I saw folks doing research on optics, gravitational waves and solar wind using Star Wars lasers and vacuums that could suck the dirt off anything down to an atomic level of clean.

In one massive lab, I swear I was on a revealing backstage tour of a David Copperfield magic show.

space

space (Photo credit: Sweetie187)

One person made a whiteboard diagram of outer space and told us how he was involved in mapping newly discovered stars, planets and solar systems. I asked if I could snap a quick photo to send to my eighth grade science teacher. Finally I had proof that my leaving a giant question mark in the space provided for the question asking ‘how large the universe was’ should not have been checked wrong.

Yes, it was a crazy week. No, I’ll never agree to do anything like it again. But in the end, we all lost a little weight, met some amazing scientists and discovered the true limitations of our individual bladders. My daughter came back home more confused than clear about what she’s searching for in a university, but I’m fairly certain I unintentionally lessened the number of offers coming from across the pond, so ultimately that might help narrow down the choices.

Finding the right school can be a heart-palpitating hunt, but honestly, finding the right vacuum is more of a true achievement.

At least everyone knows what I want for Christmas.

~Shelley

Don’t forget to check out what’s cookin’ in the Scullery this week (here) and what we’re all talkin’ about down in the pub (here)!