Keeping Priorities Straight
My mom came to visit me two weeks ago. She had some business to do in New York, but that was more an excuse to make the trip to Boston. I had been gleefully anticipating her visit, planning fun places to go in the city, things to do on campus and people whom I wanted her to meet. While my folks had dropped me off at school the past two Septembers, they had not been able to visit during the school year to witness my life away from home, so my mother's visit was especially precious.
But an impending and then unfinished tutorial paper began to weigh upon me, like my personal rain cloud amidst the gorgeous sunny weather we were enjoying. I started fretting about my mother's visit, mentally evaluating its duration against my calculations for the time required for the paper. And so it was with some trepidation that I greeted my mom when she rolled into the Quad driveway in "the Bathtub," as my friends have affectionately dubbed our large white station wagon.
While I would have done many of the things that I had planned for us to do during her stay even had she not been visiting, I was acutely aware that each additional activity involved in showing my mom my life at college was time away from the paper. She arrived Wednesday afternoon, in time to see my blockmates and I off to the Currier House formal that night. She snapped photos from the rotation of cameras as we beamed, couple by couple, in a scene all too reminiscent of senior prom. It was comfortable to have my mom there, to have her be able to put faces to the names that have been transmitted in so many e-mail messages this year.
Thursday was busy with the final conference for a high school teaching program with which I have been involved. My mom received the crash course tour of Harvard's dining system as we ran to pick up food from Adams and the central kitchens, pushing carts of bagels and juice for the conference through the streets of Harvard Square. I noticed the peculiar role reversal as I gave my mom instructions for setting up rooms, food and materials for the conference, in the way that I had so often heard her organize others, including my siblings and myself. She accepted this arrangement seamlessly; throughout the morning, she was eager to help yet remarkably tactful in knowing when to be just a spectator.
By that afternoon, I was again tallying the remaining hours until the paper was due. I kept reminding myself to focus on my mother and enjoy the limited time of her visit, yet a sort of academic claustrophobia began to set in, transforming her stay into a launchpad countdown to the marathon paper-writing session that I knew would follow her departure.
Thursday night we rode the T downtown, simultaneously suspending our conversation as we emerged over the dark and glassy Charles and clicked across the Longfellow Bridge. As a belated Mother's Day gift we were going to see what turned out to be a quite racy production of the musical "Cabaret." It was perhaps not the ideal show to which to take one's mother, but I smiled in thinking how my sense of the boundary of indecency so strongly reflects my mom's influence.
Even as I am ostensibly growing more independent at college, I still find myself intimately connected to the values and people who have shaped me pre-Harvard. I tend to believe that I am a product of my own making, forgetting the many people, particularly my parents, who have gotten me to and through Harvard thus far.
Especially in the midst of the numerous academic assignments due in reading and exam period, it's easy to become myopically ensconced in work and lose sight of why we do this work in the first place and who is supporting us in completing it. My mom's visit was a reminder to me that my life comprises more than my academic priorities. The opportunities we have to spend time with those who have guided and encouraged us--parents, teachers, friends--should not be missed solely for the seemingly insatiable demands of schoolwork.
With this rhetoric in mind, I decided to expel my tutorial paper completely from my thoughts until after my mom's visit. Friday was full with visiting classes, professors, soccer practice and a ritual trip to Herrell's. It was not that my mom expected to be entertained so much as I wanted to take this opportunity to immerse her in my life at college--its relationships, locales and schedule. There will be many more days spent crafting critical these for future papers but probably few other opportunities to familiarize my mom so personally with the daily content of my life away from home. And how often had my mother set aside her own work projects to spend time with me and respond to my concerns? The tutorial paper would get done.
Saturday morning, we took a final panoramic picture of the Quad before my mom embarked in "the Bathtub" for the drive back to Maryland. Although I had anticipated turning immediately to my paper following her departure, I sat for a long time after she drove off reflecting on the blessing of having a mother who continued to be interested and involved in my life.
The mental starter's gun for the race to the paper deadline that I had expected to hear upon her departure was distinctly absent. I felt a keen sense of loss at having been so preoccupied with my paper during her visit, which now seemed to have flitted by entirely too quickly. Her presence had cast into relief the many ways in which I am growing as a student here at Harvard besides through my academic performance, reminding me that my academic performance does not define who I am. In the future, I hope that it does not require a physical visit for me to step back from academic and extracurricular responsibilities to think of and be thankful for my mom.
Sarah E. M. Wood '01 is a social studies concentrator in Currier House.