Here for First-year Parents weekend, one mother strove to visit her son in Thayer Hall last Saturday. But, in a Yard jam-packed with throngs of political activists, tourists, trick-or-treaters and those seeking refuge from the rain, it was not quite that simple for her to get to her son, Christian P. Quilici '01.
So, instead of fighting the crowds she followed them in protest and chant as one person handed her a "free Tibet flag."
"It was such absolute chaos that she decided 'what the hell'" Quilici says.
Quilici's mother was one of hundreds of parents, many of whom had not seen their children for almost three months, who stormed the Yard last weekend amidst the thunderous crowds here for Chinese President's Jiang Zemin's arrival, the aftermath of Halloween, a relentless mid-term season and the unexpected visit of autumn showers. The resulting cacophony turned First-Year Parents Weekend--a traditionally chaotic time--off-the-hook.
Elizabeth S. Mahler '01 found it so difficult to juggle all these elements that she was still working on her Expository Writing paper when her parents walked in the door.
"I gave them a hug and sent them out on a walk for 20 minutes while I finished up," she says. "But, in general, this came in the middle of a very busy time of year academically. And the planned activities did seem designed to just keep the parents busy while their children went through the normal weekend routine--there did not seem to be much room to do stuff together."
Some students did not seem all that bothered by this prospect, as they found their first reunion at times tried both their patience and roommate relations.
"My mother and I have always gotten along well, but she was really working my last good nerve while she was here," Quilici says. "She was so sentimental and weepy every five minutes."
Once up in his room, Quilici's mother further irked him when she almost got into a "spat" with his roommate's mother.
"They began to make silly assumptions about my mother and I simply because of our zip code ," he says. "She started to warn my mom that my roommate was a simple boy from Tennessee and blah blah and that pissed my mother off."
Another first-year recalls her mother getting a little too embroiled in roommate dynamics. Her parents have not liked one of her roommates since she strode in the first day of move-in and demanded that she receive a single; the ill will remained this past weekend.
Later, her mother also found herself lying over the phone to the parents of another of her daughter's roommates (who were not at Harvard for the weekend) about the whereabouts of their daughter, who was avoiding contact with them while she lived it up in New York City.
While some first-years were avoiding their own parents, one first-year found herself avoiding the parents of another student, her boyfriend's roommate, when she spent the night and woke at noon to the sound of a parent-son reunion in his common room.
"My boyfriend didn't want to get funny looks for the rest of the year from these parents for being such a player, so he asked me not to leave with him, but to wait until they left," she says.
The roommate's parents did not leave for another hour, even though she was long late to meet her own parents.
"My parents already dropped by my room and saw my empty bed and they know I never get up before I have to, so they obviously drew their own conclusions," she says. "It was really embarrassing since my stuff was out in the common room for everyone to see and I was parading around on a Saturday morning in my Halloween costume and most of my ghoulish make-up still on."
Other first-years fearfully avoided their parents (or later wished they had) for fear of potential embarrassment.
Michael K. Tan '01 diplomatically suggested that it was not necessary for his father to come to campus because he was already staying in such a nice hotel in Boston.
"It would be hard for me to mix those two spheres of my life," Tan says. "I would not want him to see me in my context here and I think he also didn't want to mix the realities."
In particular, Tan says he cringes upon envisioning his father visiting Annenberg and taking pictures of him with the dining service staff or making a scene in English 197: Introduction to Gay and Lesbian Studies.
And then there were those who actually lived the awkward scenarios that Tan had only to envision.
Michelle A. Capasso '01 was surprised to learn late in the week that in addition to her parents her two aunts and two older cousins would also be visiting. She watched the six adults storm the halls of Straus complaining of their hunger.
"When Italians get hungry, they complain, and they were loud and obnoxious in their heavy Brooklyn accents," she says.
Later, after visiting Pizzeria Uno, where her family grumbled that the burgers were burned, Capasso watched as her adult cousin markered the Matthew's Hall message boards with silly messages such as "The Great Pumpkin Has Arrived."
Her father, while not playing the childish role of her cousin, proved to be responsible to the point of excess.
"It was so embarrassing because he is a neurotic," she says. "The whole weekend he reminded me to take the key as if I haven't survived up until now without him and he made lists for me to sign my term bill, to send in the warranty for my computer, telling me to dress warmly."
Omar A. Nazem '01 also understood the concept of parental eccentricities.
It all began when his parents came to his room two hours earlier than expected and, even though he turned over and went back to sleep, his parents sat on his bed, watching him and hunting for clues about his life while he slept for several hours.
Nazem's parents flew down from their home in Omaha, Neb., where there had been a power shortage the past week; so not only did they come with bulging laundry bags in tow, but they also dressed to impress in formal wear--all that was still clean after a week with no power for the washing machine--and hunted down all the batteries they could find.
"It was worse when they would sit there and tell their horror stories to people in restaurants," Nazem says. "And I definitely did not want to go help them do their laundry."
Many students remarked, though, that in retrospect they were much less embarrassed by their parents than they had expected.
"There were so many others that it wasn't much of a novelty," Angela A. Wu '01 says. "It was so surprising because I am always afraid to go with my parents on family vacations because there are so many scenes. Maybe it is a sign of my maturity or maybe having been so far away they were less likely to frustrate me and more careful."