One of the ways the College of Wooster deals with the anxious parents of its new students is to include them in a two-day registration event, held in late June. While students take placement tests and register for classes, parents are shepherded to a sequence of speeches and presentations on academic expectations and student resources, mostly unnecessary information from the perspective of the parent of a pretty independent kid, but reassuring nonetheless. I did point out to one of my fellow parents that the main point was “purchase confirmation:” private college today is incredibly expensive, and we have signed up for at least four year’s worth, so it’s a good moment to remind us what we’re paying for. Of course, this aspect was unmentioned so far today and is simply my interpretation. 
My analysis won me a friend, though, who joined me at the end of the day at the parents’ wine and dessert mingle for some pleasant conversation and helped me find my rental car in the dark. 
Regular readers know that we are in the process of cleaning up, packing up, and moving out of our house of almost 18 years, in anticipation of a move to New York. The timing of this short trip to Ohio falls awkwardly in the midst of one of the busiest few weeks of my life, but the worst thing that might happen is that I will run out of time, they pack my things in a disorganized state, and I deal with it at some future date in an as yet unknown location.

On the way here this morning I missed a turn toward campus, but as a reward for taking the (smaller) road less travelled by, we encountered a frolicking pair of (living) black squirrels. One of the recurring jokes of the movie “Up” is that dogs are pretty easily distracted, especially when it comes to squirrels. I have been known to interrupt conversations to notice unfortunate body language, remarkable spiders, or a particular kind of tree, so throwing my car into reverse to get a better look at black squirrels is not an usual thing for me. The neighbors seemed a bit puzzled by our behavior, but puzzling Ohioans has become a daily event now.
One thing that still puzzles me is that I have observed the squirrels in this town, both the special black ones and the ordinary gray, walking a slow, four-beat walk: step, step, step, step.  I do not ever remember seeing squirrels do anything but hop in that distinctive arcing motion.  I guess I usually walk with dogs, which inspire more motion from squirrels. I have also noticed that these squirrels seem willing to pose for photographs.
My grandfather struggled with squirrels, who waited until his tomatoes were nearly perfect and then ruined them all, taking bites out of every last one.  His solution was to trap them and take them to a park about a mile away and set them free.  There were so many squirrels in his neighborhood, this remedy did not seem to have an effect, and somehow my grandmother argued that the squirrels were not taken far enough away. My grandfather answered this question by spray-painting the tails of his trapped squirrels green before taking them to the park and releasing him.  No green-tailed squirrels ever returned.
One day, in about eight weeks, we will drop our middle son at college for his freshman year.  He is a tomato-lover himself.  We certainly hope he does return to us, even though we will have moved.

Good Neighbors

I got back from Canada earlier than expected yesterday, and having seen that the sky was ominously gray thought it a good moment to pull out the lawn mower and induce some real rain. The mowing was extra slow going. First, our neighbor to the south stopped by, full of congratulations and advice about the move. It turns out he didn’t know what, if anything, Otto did for a living. Somehow the fact that he worked, and he worked at Microsoft, had never come up in our conversations. It makes me profoundly happy to tell this, because these are our favorite neighbors, and I have always appreciated knowing people who care more for who we are than what work we do.  This neighbor admitted to Googling Otto on his phone and being very distracted with the results.

Next, my neighbor from two doors to the north passed by, with a letter for the mailbox in his hand. He had seen and read the actual article about Otto in print in the newspaper on Wednesday of last week.  We exchanged news of who is graduating this spring, and how many  graduation ceremonies we will be attending. This neighbor is a retired college English professor; many teachers of all levels spend one day each June sitting in a nylon robe and a silly hat for several hours, listening to the drone of Elgar’s graduation march “Pomp and Circumstance.”

We agreed that graduation ceremonies for elementary school children are strange and unnecessary, and that high school graduation is more of an expectation than an achievement.  Reader, no matter how wonderful your children are, their graduation ceremonies are boring.

My third neighbor to visit came from the house to our immediate north. She had learned our news chatting with her older son on the phone. While her son read it in the paper, our neighbor told me she looked Otto up on Google.  We ended up having a good long chat out on the front lawn. By the time I actually was able to squeeze the handle of my electric lawnmower, I was enthusiastic about cutting the grass.
You might find it interesting to know that the last division of Microsoft Otto worked in was Bing.

Tiger, Quartz, Robin, Goose and Magpie

A good friend once had the misfortune to overhear a mutual acquaintance refer to me as “The Tiger.” It could have been worse, like “The Badger.” I hear badgers are fierce when cornered, willing to fight off much bigger predators, but short-legged and heavy-set. Or “She-Bear.” That too would have been pretty bad. At least a tiger has stripes, and is strong and powerful, and eats people. My statistics professor in business school once explained to the class why men have longer limbs than women by saying, “Short men eaten by TIGER!” It’s in my notes; I wrote it down.

I felt bad for my friend who overheard it, because she was really puzzled if she should tell me. I decided that a real tiger does not care what you call it. I bought three different tiger t-shirts, so if asked I could explain that someone gave me a nickname.    No one really ever asked, and I like my tiger shirts.
“Quartz” is something my mother’s father called my older brother–not all the time, but sometimes. I like the sound of “Quartz.” We called him “Grandpa,” but referred to him as “Grandpa Nuss” to distinguish him from the other “Grandpa.” “Grandpa Nuss” mostly called me “Maggles” and sometimes “Magpie” and even “My Mugwump,” a favorite.  My older brother always called me “Margaret,” and was for many years the only person who called me “Margaret,” even though it is my given name. He relented when he heard my kids call me “Maggie.” Every once in a while someone will ask me why my children all call me “Maggie” and not “Mom,” “Mother,” or something. This is a hard question for me to answer. The truth, which might be boring, is that my oldest child was very smart and very talkative at an early age and simply called me what he heard others call me. From there, the younger ones do as their brother does. Some people seem to see it as a sign of disrespect, or rebellion, or even anarchy.  If it bothered me, I would have needed to fix it about 19 years ago. If my children calling me by my first name is a sign of the coming end of civilization, I guess I’m sorry about bringing the end of civilization. I didn’t mean to.
I called my mother “Mom.” I still think of her as “Mom.” My mother called her mother “Mother,” and her father “Daddy,” all the way to the end of her life. As a unit, her parents were “Mother and Daddy.” (Yes, I know.) She called her grandparents “Mamo” and “Pam.” I did not realize that “Mamo” and “Pam” were not their real names until I was an adult.
My father’s father called him “Robin,” and I think it suited him. He was busy, and funny. Robins sometimes eat so many honeysuckle berries they become intoxicated. They also eat worms. Dad appreciated a low-fat source of protein, and moderately-priced white wine.
My youngest son is called “Gus,” short for Gustav, which I sometimes still pronounce “Goose.” The neighbors two doors down have a small white dog named Gustavo, and when they call him they say, “Goose,” or even “Goose-Goose.”  The neighbors directly across the street from them also have a small white dog, named Angus. They call him “Gus,” and sometimes “Gus-Gus.” I have opinions about naming a pet with a person’s name, but I will save them for another day.