Tradition of parents weekends

Posted Nov. 05, 2009, at 10:36 p.m.

At college, Parents Weekend was when the dining hall served the best food of the school year and the grounds looked particularly nice. My first sleep-away summer camp had a parents weekend; we dragged our folks to anklet-braiding classes and begged them to let us bring home that baby sheep we’d been bottle-feeding all summer. Even the Semester at Sea I did in high school had a parents weekend — my folks drove all the way to Charleston, S.C., to see my 22 classmates and me dock our 131-foot schooner at the pier for a weekend.

Parents weekends seemed to happen whenever I left home, giving me the chance to show my folks what I did with my own space after leaving theirs. Whether it was showing my parents my diorama of the seafloor at a middle school open house, or opening the door to my first dorm room — all with the proprietary air of a baroness giving a tour of her lands — parents weekends were a special bridge between my turf and theirs.

I thought that I would outgrow Parents Weekend, but that has not proved to be the case. Nowadays we call them “visits,” but really, they amount to the same thing. The best food is still served, the cleanest bathroom displayed, and I still throw the door open with the same proprietary air. This is my space that I made, and I dare you not to like it. Please like it. I dare you not to like it. Please like it.

Over the years, these visits have become more logistically difficult. When I moved to Madrid for a year, I asked them uncertainly: “Do you think you guys will want to come visit me?”

“We’d love to,” they said, with a mixture of earnestness and trepidation. Neither of my parents speaks Spanish. They would be flying blindly into a foreign capital with no guide, no tour, no one to rely on but — well, me. The girl who once “forgot” to get health insurance and who was prone to calling them at odd hours of the day and night saying, “Hey, are you near a computer? Because I’m lost and I need you to Google-map me.”

But visit Madrid they did, and I surprised everyone by successfully getting them from place to place throughout the city and translating whenever needed. I have a photograph of my parents — smiling and in once piece — in my first apartment, eating paella and doing their best to communicate with my Spanish roommates. That Parents Weekend was a success.

Antarctica was the first place I lived that my parents definitively could not visit — and I missed that. “I wish you could come see this place,” I told my mom on one long-distance phone call. “I’d bundle you up and tow you around the station on a cargo sled behind a snowmobile.”

I could almost hear my mom shudder at the thought of the LC-130 cargo hold I’d flown in on. “Hmm. Yes. That is too bad.”

As the years have passed, they haven’t been able to visit all of my homes. Some I’m glad they missed. The camp on the Mexican border where I shook scorpions from my shoes every morning might have thrown them for a loop, as would the rickety van I lived in for two months in New Zealand. Maybe I was outgrowing Parents Weekend.

Last weekend, though, my parents came to visit me in Baltimore — the first time they’ve been able to visit me, instead of the other way around, for a few years. I cleaned everything, brushed my teeth really well and replaced the empty popcorn bowl with a textbook on the coffee table. The Friday they were arriving, I kept my eye on the clock at work.

“What are you running off to?” a co-worker asked me.

“My parents are coming to visit,” I said.

“Oh really?” It quickly became clear that the women I work with — all in their 30s or 40s — knew all about “Parents Weekend.” They, too, got their hair trimmed beforehand and scrubbed the stovetop with steel wool.

“Are you going to go out to eat?”

“What about museums — are you going to show them around the city?”

It turns out that you never outgrow Parents Weekend. Five o’clock finally came and I sprinted from work to meet them. When I let them into my apartment, it was with all of the ceremony of every other Parents Weekend I’ve ever had.

Who knows how many other homes I will have in my life that they’ll be able to visit? But if they can get there, I know they will. And you can bet that when they do, I will tell everyone who will listen: “Guess what? It’s Parents Weekend.”

Meg Adams, who grew up in Holden and graduated from John Bapst Memorial High School in Bangor and Vassar College in New York, shares her experiences with readers each Friday. For more about her adventures, go to the BDN Web site: bangordailynews.com or e-mail her at meg@margaret-adams.com

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