Monday, September 27, 2010

Launching Joanna: the Nest is officially Empty

This has been quite the week. Joanna has been launched!

Mercifully, all our flights went as scheduled, and Susan was waiting for us at our gate in O'Hare, having flown in from Toronto.  We CRAMMED three huge suitcases and five assorted other pieces of luggage into an Impala rental, plus the four of us, and made our way to drop them off at a Holiday Inn near O'Hare. At this point it was 9:00 pm on Saturday; but we drove to the Target on Mannheim Road and whizzed through, getting a 4x6 rug, two pillows, a lamp, a bookshelf, and various other sundries. Cramming all this on top of the stuff we already had made the trip to the university the next morning like a game of Tetris, except that when all the gaps were filled, nothing disappeared. : o

It was a weekend of many graces. The first one came as we drove up to Burton Judson. They are doing sidewalk work on Ellis, and the whole street is clogged with fencing and concrete blockades, and the traffic was crazy everywhere. Suddenly, a student ran up to us and asked us what dorm and house we were going to. We told him, and he waved us left, where equally suddenly we were met by students who directed us to the Coulter door; then as we drove up, another group of students pounced upon us and refused to let us carry anything up: they hauled EVERYTHING to Joanna's fourth floor room! (My knee is eternally grateful.)

We set to unpacking and setting things up. Susan helped Joanna sort and hang clothes; Steve assembled the bookshelf and got the printer hooked up, and I emptied suitcases and made the bed. It was so good that Susan was able to come, even though it meant missing a class, and having to study at odd moments. She was such a help and support, and it meant a lot for us to be able to all be together for this transition. Plus, I think Susan really enjoyed seeing the campus. BJ especially reminded her of her time in Oxford.

The windows in BJ are lovely Gothic lancets, but there was only a yellowish window shade to block the light. We came upon the bright idea of getting an expandable shower rod to hang a curtain that could easily be pulled on rings to hide it. So, we made another trip to the Target on Roosevelt and Clark. Thank God for Target! In the end, I think Joanna was quite pleased with her new digs--the room is larger than her own room at home, with a 12 foot ceiling so it feels even more spacious. It is right next to the bathrooms, which may be a bit noisy, but she's on an all-girl floor, and seems to have made friends with everyone there, judging by her Facebook.

An aside: I was really impressed by the UC students. They seem to be extremely intelligent, focused, polite and eager to help. We become like the people we associate with. The only thing I could wish is that these qualities be coupled with faith in Christ. If Joanna can find some Christian friends, then I think UC will really be the perfect place for her.

We ate in the lovely BJ dining hall, but it is now attached to the new South dorm. You have to walk outside to get around to the new entrance, which is nice for the South kids, but too bad for BJ. We caught the tail end of the Headmaster's reception at BJ, and met an interesting Third Year student from Minnesota, who was studying economics and sustainable agriculture. Then Joanna and Steve went across the midway to get her ID and check in with the IT table, while Susan and I explored the Oriental Institute. Students were told that they were supposed to pick up free ethernet cables, but it turns out that wasn't the case after all. By then it was 5 pm. JOanna was supposed to eat with her House and begin the bonding process. Parents were personae non gratae so Susan, Steve and I left for Greektown.

We had initally invited E.and S. to meet us for dinner Sunday night, but then E. had to go work. We couldn't commit to any other time, because of all that was going on, so we weren't able to see them. I feel really bad about that, but it couldn't be helped. Steve will see them in February when he goes for the Midwinter Pastor's meeting. So, we had a fabulous meal at The Greek Islands , and I think caught the last table in the place--all five rooms were jammed. Here's the  menu. Chicago certainly does have some great restaurants! Afterwards Steve hit the Greek bakery, and we brought back some tasty goodies to the hotel: a little chocolate mousse-mouse with almond ears,  bougatsa and baklava.

Monday was just as busy, with separate seminars for the parents and for the students. One was especially encouraging: U of C has opened a new campus in Beijing; moreover, they give out $4000 grants to deserving students to study at their international campuses in Paris and Beijing. Going abroad counts for the three Core Civilization courses, and students can transfer their Chicago funding (scholarships, grants) to their foreign campus; so it would be in Joanna's financial as well as academic interest to apply.

Our last meal with Joanna--lunch-- was a mess because her session went overtime by nearly 30 minutes, and then we had to wait to get wristbands to let us into the dining hall, which were supposed to have been given to us the day before. When we arrived, there weren't four seats together anywhere, so we wandered about and finally squeezed two empty chairs to the head of a table where there were two empty. We'd been advised to start lining up for the convocation at Rockefeller Chapel as soon as possible, but in retrospect, we probably should have skipped lunch. The convocation started at 2, but doors were opening at 1:15. We got there at 1:00, but by then the line stretched for blocks, and we could see there wouldn't be any way to get in. So, we headed for the overflow, a broadcast of the event in the Max Pavlevsky theater in Ida Noyes. I'm sorry I couldn't have heard the organ live.

When the convocation concluded, everyone filed out onto the street as the bells of the carillon pealing wildly. We were led along by a half dozen bagpipers in kilts, plus a drummer. The students took leave of their families, marching through Hull gate, to be greeted on the other side by cheering, screaming upperclassmen. Neither Joanna nor I were dry-eyed; but she seemed really excited about her future, so that helped; but then God really pulled out his comfort for me.

Back in August, we went to an alumni and alumna's home in Portland for a reception for the Oregon kids who were heading to UC. There we met a delightful couple from Hong Kong, W. and S. and their daughter. W. and I hit it off immediately--neither one of us were relishing having to face the empty nest. Since her daughter was in a totally different dorm from Joanna, I figured we wouldn't see each other after that. Indeed, with all the crush of kids and parents and other family members, I hadn't seen her.
But just as we were saying goodbye to Joanna, and watching her go through the gate, I heard someone saying, "I'm not going to cry! I'm not going to cry! It's going to be okay!" And who should it be, out of all those people, but W.! Her daughter had already gone through and she was just standing there, trying to keep a stiff upper lip, while being jostled by students who were making their way forward. Immediately we fell into each others arms, laughing and weeping. It was really wonderful to see her. Then her husband called to her--he had been swept to the side--so she gave me a final hug and disappeared after him into the crowd.

Steve, Susan and I then skipped the Parent's Reception, to go touring before we left to go stay with our friends, J. and J., in Wheaton. We first went into the Rockefeller Chapel, which is a magnificent structure, but which left me a bit cold. It is very grey and austere in comparison to the basilica at the University of Notre Dame, and the only colorful stained glass is a generic and abstract geometric pattern with flames...not particularly Christian. What Christian symbols there are are very, very subtle. Perhaps if there had been an altar, and some banners, I might have felt more at home. Still, the woodcarvings are beautiful, and I'm sure the organ fills the space with some glorious sounds. We finished our tour with Hutchinson Commons and Harper Library, then headed to Wheaton.

Since then, Joanna has been thriving. She has gone out to the Berghoff for dinner with her House; she's had her math placement exam and another special salmon and portobello mushroom dinner in the dining hall with her House. She passed her swim test, saying it only took her five minutes. Friday she had her PE exam, and was a bit nervous because some of her other housemates have failed it; but she passed with enough points not to have to do the situps.  She will be taking Chemistry, Calculus, Greek Thought and Literature, and hopefully pink-slipping into Chinese. There were more students than usual this year who chose UC over other schools (Ivy Leagues, NYU, Duke, etc) so there aren't enough sections of Chinese to accomodate everyone who wants it. This is a major bummer for Joanna, since the UC Chinese program was what attracted her. She's bought the textbook, is planning to sit in the first class, and beg the prof to let her stay.

Thursday night the students gathered for an outdoor showing of "Batman Begins." Friday night was a House BBQ and an after-hours late night romp at the Museum of Science and Industry.  Sunday night there was  a fancy party at the top of the John Hancock building. Tomorrow classes begin in earnest, and the fun dies.

There are several of us who have sent our kids off this fall. It's so strange not having Joanna around. The nest is bare, but I keep finding feathers and bits of down. I go to the grocery store, and see things I used to buy for Joanna--yogurt, soy milk, Nutella, green beans, kiwis. Little reminders here and there...a skirt still hanging to dry in the laundry; her favorite orange and yellow flowers in the yard. Sigh. When you spend nearly a quarter of a century "mothering" it's difficult to "retool." It was bad enough when Susan left...but Joanna was our last chick.  She the gift that God gave us when we despaired of ever being able to have any more children. Even as I write this, I'm listening to Pandora play Ralph Vaughan Williams' "The Lark Ascending." What timing! This piece is the musical equivalent of what we are experiencing. Joanna is our lark, and she has now flown so far, and so high, that we cannot see her form any longer.

The cure for sadness is finding things to be thankful for. So, I thank God for Joanna; for giving her this incredible opportunity to study at a world-class school; for giving her a room to herself; for the beauty of the campus; for D.  and all those who have taught her and brought her to this point; for all the amazing things to see and do in Chicago; for friends who live there and who we can trust to be there for her; for safe travels; for Facebook, email, and Skype; for Susan; and for Stephen, my dear husband and partner in this next chapter of life.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Beth, We are thinking of you as you go through this time. I'm very happy to hear Joanna is settled so well and enjoying her time so far. We love you, Laura