I almost had a heart attack halfway up the Stony Ledge trail. Heart pounding, trying to keep up with our daughter as she trotted ahead of us, I looked back at my husband. “If I’m holding you up,” I said. “Feel free to blow by me.”
“Oh no, I want to be sure of your footing,” he said.
“Thanks, hon, but honestly, don’t worry about me,” I said. “I’ll be fine.”
He smiled, shaking his head. “No. I mean, if you hit the ground, I want to go a different route.” And so it went. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve hiked before. And I came prepared up to my eyeballs, layered in fleece and wool and metal-hinged braces for my arthritic knees. We have three children away at school, but none where hiking’s a thing. So I figured, here at the College’s 2014 Family Days, was my chance.
Family Days, which ran last weekend, is a chance for parents to witness some of the best aspects of campus life that their young Ephlings enjoy. Parents can sit in on a seminar, socialize with other parents, attend the annual Frosh Revue performance and a cappella performances, carve pumpkins and even go on a group hike up Pine Cobble.
My daughter was determined to keep the “Mom, you’re embarrassing me!” moments to a minimum, while I was determined, for the sake of relating to my daughter and her generation, to experience the authentic college life as the College does it: cows, Tunnel City, Bean boots, irrational hatred of Amherst and even Meadow, perhaps.
I had packed carefully for the weekend, wondering if it would be cold enough to wear my Bean boots, saved from college. I pulled them out of the closet and saw for the first time the treads long since worn smooth, the dusty laces tangled. I tucked them away again, turning towards my life jacket. Our daughter sails, and I love sailing! Visions of clambering into a boat and crewing for my daughter, wind lashing at my hair, waves lapping all around, made my fingers tingle with excitement. I was positive my daughter would have loved me crashing her practice with all her friends. But I left those thoughts behind, along with my life jacket, and when we arrived at the College late Friday afternoon the skies were grey and a light drizzle pricked our faces while my husband and I watched our daughter’s sailing practice.
Later, warm and dry, my husband and I sipped hot cider and spiced rum at the Williams Inn while our daughter finished practice and changed. The glories of being over the drinking age!
Early Saturday morning we hit Tunnel City for some coffee and breakfast. I drank a good strong coffee, sipped at my daughter’s dirty chai, ate gluten-free Battenkill brittle, a Williams staple.
She gave us a tour of campus. As we walked among the buildings, we saw a group of students in a classroom, heads bent and shoulders hunched, busily engaged in what appeared to be an exam. “Wow, that sucks,” I thought, “a test early on a Saturday morning! On Parents’ Weekend?”
We stopped at an empty classroom, one of my daughter’s. Sliding into a seat, I rested my elbows on the desk and looked up at the whiteboard. “Oh My God, this could be me!” I was practically salivating at the thought of strapping on a backpack and heading on down to Water Street. I could gear up with some books and soak up some of the College’s famous intellectual aura! Unless it meant a Saturday exam.
We shared some sweet moments hiking and a lovely few meals, chatting, laughing, reconnecting. What could be better than an afternoon hike in such a simultaneously quaint and regal place? Sitting at the viewpoint of Stony Ledge, having finally caught my breath, we admired the panorama and then decided only one thing could be better than the view: cheeseburgers. Our daughter, a current sophomore, half-ran, half-slid her way down. I half-hobbled, half-stumbled, my husband close behind. All of a sudden we spotted a cow, a must-see on every Williamstown checklist.
My daughter was quite jaded about the cow sighting, which I am sure are quite commonplace at Williams. (I practically imagined cow-crossing signs dotting the campus after hearing typical student encow-nters.) Our new bovine friend, though, fascinated me and my husband! Its udder looked ready to explode! “Should I milk it?” asked my husband; this from a man who typically wears suits and barely can change a light bulb! Someone already fancied himself a proud Eph. “Sure, hon, go for it,” I said.
Needless to say, after a few bemused looks from our daughter, the poor cow’s teats were left untouched. No milk today.
On Sunday, we ate brunch at Gramercy, and it became even more glaring to me that my college days, like Family Days, were over. No longer was I focused on how many Bloody Marys I could get free with my brunch; now all I cared about was whether I could get some really good gluten-free French Toast. Eggs would be okay too.
But it all turned out more than okay because what Williams has to offer is everything my daughter wants: an incredible education in a beautiful environment with interesting and enthusiastic professors and students.
And watching her so thrilled, so happy, is enough for me.