Skip to main content

The Shipwreck Rose: There and Back

Wed, 02/21/2024 - 15:54

I’ve been wandering the house this week, confused, with that feeling of disorientation you get when you have lost your handbag or cellphone. The object I’ve misplaced is my son, who was whisked away on Thursday for a snowboarding vacation at Bromley Mountain in Vermont, in an S.U.V. crammed with boys wearing mirrored goggles and puffy snow pants, and won’t be back until Wednesday. Is it dinner time? Do I need to cook dinner at all? What time is dinner? Doesn’t someone need to be picked up from somewhere? Can I sleep late? Who should I yell at for not cleaning the litter box?

This is the first time I’ve been alone in this house for more than 24 hours, ever. Yes, the first time ever, I believe, and I grew up in this house. I wander the rooms and check my pockets.

On Friday, I got out of Dodge, myself, to ferry over to New London and drive up to New Hampshire to attend a two-day “college counseling weekend” of seminars and workshops for parents at Phillips Exeter Academy.

You haven’t seen a more motivated, more scarily articulate group of parents than the parents attending an Exeter college-counseling seminar, believe me. We were a ferocious bunch. Some of the other parents had flown in from Hong Kong and Paris and I felt a bit ashamed of my scuffed shoes. We met with our kids’ counselors, reviewed slides about the anticipated costs of a bachelor’s degree, were warned to find excellence everywhere, not just in the Ivy League, and broke into groups to review applications in a mock-admissions exercise. Things got a bit heated when we debated which made-up student should be admitted as a freshman to the made-up university (which someone had humorously named “Rockpont University,” because, I imagined, its made-up endowers were Rockefellers and du Ponts). We ate lots of cheese.

My daughter has, belatedly, taken notice of the fact that I have been writing about her fairly regularly since I began “The Shipwreck Rose” four years ago. It’s not that I didn’t mention to her — and her brother — that they were regular attractions in my columns all that time, it’s that I had done so sort of sotto voce, as a sort of test to see if they would ever become readers and bother to turn to Section B of the family newspaper. They never did. My daughter only found out because a boyfriend at Exeter, or possibly it was his roommate, was Googling her! Anyway, I’m not supposed to write about Nettie any more, so I will just say that we had a cozy time after the last parents’ session on college financial aid, as I sat cross-legged on the cute budget blue-and-white area rug on the floor of her sunshiney dorm room and she sat above me on her cozily coordinated blue-and-white-duveted bunk bed. She compiled the bibliography on her history paper on real estate and the Harlem Renaissance and I played Wordle and Connections.

“I like having you up here,” she said, to my surprise and gratification. “You should come up here more.”

She only said that, I think, because we can both feel how soon she will get admitted to some college or other, and break away, flying farther from me. A surprise and consolation, the push-and-pull (catch and release? hug and kick?) of a daughter turning into an adult.

My children are hurtling toward independence. Fast as 14-year-olds in mirrored goggles down an icy slope, with swagger, with panache.

There was bad weather on the Cross Sound home again on Sunday, and the ferry bucked and rocked wildly into a pink-and-orange sunset. I joined a group of passengers in the bow, holding our cellphones up to video-record as waves banged the steel hull — huge bangs, like an Olympian gong — and crashed over the wall of windows facing south. Every time I ride that dang ferry I am reminded of my own youthful journeys to and from a New England boarding school, the shuttle to and fro, many of them in company with my mother, who was quickly bored by my excited recitings of the facts I’d learned in 10th-grade science class about transverse waves and longitudinal waves, sound and heat.

Flood tide and ebb tide. I wonder: Am I bored more quickly or less quickly than my mother was, when my daughter starts telling me in detail about things she’s learned in class? Less, I think. Nettie and I have had several conversations about real estate speculation, the expansion of the subway to 135th Street, and the Black cultural renaissance, and I didn’t ask her to stop talking.

Back home to the house on Edwards Lane after dark, no one home but the pets, who wanted their supper. I walked the dog under a bright moon, then went into the kitchen to consider what to have for dinner myself. I ended up eating a slice of leftover pizza in bed while watching “Masters of the Air” and then several strawberry creams and nonpareils from a pound box of chocolates I’d bought earlier at the Exeter Chocolatier. If these kids are really going to grow up and leave me, I’m going to need a better routine.

Your support for The East Hampton Star helps us deliver the news, arts, and community information you need. Whether you are an online subscriber, get the paper in the mail, delivered to your door in Manhattan, or are just passing through, every reader counts. We value you for being part of The Star family.

Your subscription to The Star does more than get you great arts, news, sports, and outdoors stories. It makes everything we do possible.