Roommates I have known, Part 3

Megan, Cari & Olivia

About a week before fall term started, I found out from the Housing Office that I would be living in a converted study room in the basement with 3 other girls. Um, what? I didn't know any of the other 3 girls. We met as I moved my stuff in that first day. Samantha, meanwhile, was stuck on a freshman hall across campus.

For some strange reason that no one on campus could explain, this basement study room had a large bathroom with four separate shower stalls. To make it a room for us, they took out all of the study carrels and put in furniture - beds, closets, dressers & desks, all lined up in neat rows. Of course, we promptly rearranged everything.

One of the nearby freshman halls adopted us, and their RA nicknamed our room the Chalet. I think she was trying to be ironic, considering our room was at the lowest elevation on campus.

Returning students spent months popping in the door, thinking it was still a study room. We had serious air conditioning problems those first few weeks. The maintenance staff came by nearly every day to take care of something new. It took some getting used to, but we managed to make the best of it.

The no-window thing turned out to be a giant blessing in disguise. I could nap for hours in the pitch-black dark.

Megan was a senior who wanted a single room on-campus. Instead, she got 3 sophomore roommates. She was an art major and spent most of her time in her studio, working on projects. She was kind of a strange egg at times, seemingly quiet and tuning us out - but genuinely nice. I learned everything I know about straightening a black woman's hair from her, watching her spend hours washing and drying and flat-ironing her hair once a week.

Cari was a very tall girl, with long blonde hair. She came from an all-girls school, and still wore her plaid skirt to class on special occasions. Cari had a huge music collection, and more importantly, a television. So now we could have our "90210" nights!
She was incredibly fun to hang out with, but she needed her alone time. Living with 3 other girls, the room was rarely empty, but sometimes I would come home from class to see her sitting on her bed, with her headphones on and music blasting. She'd wave, but the headphones didn't come off.

I don't recall what the problem was one week, but I had been down in the dumps about something and my Chris Isaak CD had been playing for 3 days in row. Every time I came into the room, I turned it on. Finally, on the third day, Cari very nicely but firmly asked me if I could play something else - ANYTHING else. She was kind enough to let me mope for a bit, and she let me know it was time to MOVE ON, ALREADY.

Every so often, Cari would ask me to trim her long hair, so she wouldn't have to pay for a haircut. I'm not sure why she asked me, but it did make me realize I did not have a future in a beauty salon.

The four of us loved to take road trips off-campus with the windows down and the radio blasting a favorite tune. We usually ate dinner together, and kept each other company on a walk to the Student Center. Without any hallmates nearby, or an RA to sneak past, our basement room felt like real freedom. We were determined to enjoy it. Some of our guy friends would come over to hang out once a week and play cards or watch a movie. We called it our Tuesday night drinking club. Oh, we were so daring back then!

I've left Olivia for the end. Olivia was the odd one in the bunch. Moody would be the best word to describe her. She was either a little too eager, or completely miserable. She had a really crazy laugh that reminded me of a donkey braying. Sometimes she was so depressed, she turned into a little black hole in the room that sucked out all the energy. The mood swings came on suddenly, and without warning. It made it difficult to live with her, and eventually we just settled for having minimal contact with her. Well, as minimal as you could when you were all in the same room.

The final straw though, was when she started jogging at 5:30 a.m. None of us got up before 8 a.m., so having an alarm go off at that hour, combined with turning on a light, showering and getting dressed - well, it was rude. Asking her to jog later was like provoking an angry boar. She had to jog then, and no other time would work for her. She refused to get up without the alarm, the light, or the shower. So after a few weeks of this, the 3 of us had a meeting and decided Olivia had to go. She could talk to the Housing Office and find another place to live, but she couldn't live with us anymore.

Years later, as I watched the first season of MTV's Real World, I felt like I had already done that show in the Chalet. We were strangers in a new place, and having three roommates instead of the usual one magnified all of our attitudes and quirks. Virtually no privacy made it even tougher. If we had any other living situation, dealing with Olivia might have turned out very different. But at the time, we saw no other solution.

We told her the news at a McDonald's off-campus, and she ended up crying and running off to the parking lot. I went out there to talk her down and get her back into the car so we could go home. Over Christmas break, she transferred to a state school in her hometown. Maybe because I was the one who talked to her in the parking lot that night, she decided I wasn't part of the meanies who kicked her out, but for months I got letters and phone calls from her. It was all just idle chit-chat, keeping me posted on her new life. She seemed happier, or else she was determined to show me she was better off at her new school.

Samantha, who had been living across campus, replaced Olivia after the Christmas break. I'll save that story for tomorrow.


Roommates I have known, Part 2


After the Christmas break, Debbie showed up to replace Holly. She was a sophomore on our freshman hall, probably after losing some kind of housing lottery. She had taken a break after her freshman year - the details were sketchy, but I always suspected she had a nervous breakdown. Now after a year and some change, she was back in school.

The first night back, a student group hosted a big Registration Night party for the entire campus. We went to the party together with some hallmates, and I left early, but Debbie didn't come home that night. She had left a number near the phone of some mysterious guy named Todd, and as I was leaving for my 8 am class that morning, I left a message on Todd's answering machine. I didn't know her very well, but I was worried about her and wanted to make sure nothing had happened to my brand-new roommate of exactly one day. She called me shortly after lunch to say she was fine, and to thank me for worrying about her. From then on, she let me know if she would be out all night, which was not often. I felt weird for calling at the time, but these days you never know. There can be some strange people out there.

Speaking of which, Debbie was a drama major. She taught me that actors do not practice; instead, they rehearse. I never understood the distinction, but she repeated it over and over, so maybe she was right. I would read lines with her a lot. She did some one-act shows that I thoroughly enjoyed, and performed in one A.R. Gurney play that I still look for in bookstores.

Debbie was rail-thin, with light brown hair and very dark brown eyes. I have loads of pictures from my freshman year, and Debbie is somehow missing entirely. But she reminded me of a character on Blossom called Six, with her trendy fashion clothes and permed hair. And she was a very thoughtful roommate - I still have some of her little notes or comic strips that she often left for me, encouraging me to do well on a test or to have a good day.

At the end of the year, Debbie & I talked about rooming together again. We lived next door to two girls that we had clicked with, and we decided that the four of us would sign up to live in a sophomore suite together. About a week before the deadline, I found out that Debbie & one of the girls next door had secretly abandoned that plan and signed up to be Freshman Advisors together. FRADs lived on a freshman hall and helped the Resident Advisors. Samantha (the other girl next door) and I were stunned.

So the two of us scrambled to get a room together, and ended up on a very long waiting list. We spent all summer calling the Housing Office to find out our status. As a result of their decision to live together and leave us behind, Samantha & I were thrown into what would become unprecedented housing chaos on our campus. Turns out there was a giant shortage of rooms that year. We cursed Debbie and our neighbor often. Somehow, we manuvered through it all, and Samantha would become not only my roommate, but also one of my very best friends. With the benefit of hindsight, today I can be thankful for all of that chaos.

Late in my sophomore year, I heard Debbie left school again. There were some roommate struggles and grade issues, and perhaps the college experience just wasn't what she wanted it to be. I don't remember staying in touch, but I must have, because a year later, I was invited to her wedding. She got married in her tiny hometown's theater, up on the stage.

I was the only one from our school who showed up. I don't remember who she married. But I vividly recall the flower girl spent the entire ceremony running back and forth on the stage, crying. The reception was small and awkward. It was far too warm to be outdoors, and yet we all were. But I'd never seen her happier or more beautiful. That stage was the perfect setting for Debbie, and she played her role flawlessly that day.

I haven't heard from her since then. I keep meaning to dig up her last name and look her up on IMDB.org, to see if she ever made it big in acting.


Roommates I have known

One of the blogs I read regularly posted an entry about his old college roommates. It's inspired me.


My first roommate was a blue-eyed, blonde-haired pale girl from Ohio. Both of us came from small church schools, and both of us were a little anxious about our transition to a college campus. We channeled that anxiety into discussing the color theme for our first dorm room. The floors were tiled, but they sold small carpets to fit the room. We spent hours trying to pick a carpet color to match our comforters. Mine: blue with white stripe. Hers: large pink & blue flowers. We settled on a dark rose carpet. We figured it would hide the stains better than beige.

Rose-colored carpet? Who does that?

Fast-forward to Orientation Week. Each freshman girls' hall matched up with a boys' hall to give us a "brother hall" for the year. That first night on campus, we paired up with a boy from our brother hall for a square dance. In the fall of 1990, as pop was falling out of favor and grunge was knocking on the front door, we were far too cool for square dancing. For some reason I'll never understand, we did it anyway.

After the dance, some of the guys came back to our hall. Holly was out with some of the girls, so I invited the crowd to hang out in our room. There were about 8 of us in that very small room, playing music and getting to know each other. When she came in later that evening, you'd think she had walked in on a naughty game of Spin the Bottle. Her frosty demeanor threw a chill on the room.

I don't think she ever got over that experience.

But on the whole, she was a pleasant person, although far more conservative than I was. She called me a "Whiskey-palian" as I left for church with a hallmate, which was pretty irritating. And she didn't like my bed lamp. I got down to a 15-watt bulb before the complaints stopped. Little did I know how much a lamp would factor into my college living conditions the next year.

Holly enjoyed the cafeteria more than most of us did. It was as much terrible food as you wanted to eat. One redeeming quality: a soft-serve ice cream machine. The dreaded Freshman 15 was a very real fear for most of us, and after noticing Holly eating two or three cones, some of the girls on our hall took it upon themselves to strictly ration her to one helping per meal. She would sneak an extra cone out of the cafeteria on her way out, but they still caught her. She was teased mercilessly about all that ice cream. I probably should have stood up for her a little more than I did, but I kept thinking, "Three cones, Holly? That's just asking for it."

So I shouldn't have been surprised when Holly told me a week before Christmas vacation that she wasn't coming back. She transferred to her older brother's college closer to home, a Christian college where she wouldn't be allowed to have boys in her room. I sent her a Christmas card when I got home, and never heard from her again.

I wondered if she had any fun at her new school. I hope no one teased her about eating too much.


For her next trick, she'll floss her teeth.

Like any good mother, I cut up Helen's food and give it to her in tiny, kid-sized bites. All the experts say parents should do that so they don't choke on their food.

Really, and I'm telling you the God's honest truth here, all it does is encourage Helen to see how many of those little pieces she can fit in her mouth at one time. Turns out IT'S FAR TOO MANY, HELEN.

One night I made corn on the cob, and out of curiousity I handed her a half-cob to see what she'd do with it. It took some explaining, but she finally believed it was corn. She must have thought it always grew in tupperware containers.

After I showed her how to take a bite, she proceeded to eat 2 whole ears all by herself.


Little Backpack

A quick shout-out (with pictures) to Helen's Uncle K., who came back from his Spring Break with a Hello Kitty backpack for her.

I do not have any pictures of Cousin M wearing the backpack, which is a shame, really. He loved that thing.

Ladies, you know nothing goes with a new purse better than a gorgeous new outfit for spring. She even has new sandals, too. You can see she's thrilled about it. (/sarcasm) I'm having a hard time getting her to ever wear the sandals. She really prefers her sneakers.

And here she is, just being a cute kid.


Munchkin Land

One lazy Sunday, Brian volunteered to pick up lunch for all of us at McDonalds. He came back with a Happy Meal for Helen that had a TOY. The TOY turned out to be a tiny Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz, made by Madame Alexander.

My sister had a Madame Alexander doll that was well-loved in its day. She called it "Bah-bee" and took it with her everywhere. She would rock it and put it to sleep in the toy cradle. It was a beautiful little baby doll, albeit a little dirty, and when I saw that Madame Alexander tag on Helen's new TOY, I had to get the entire Wizard of Oz set.

I hopped online to see how many other characters they had. Turns out there were eight, and Tin Man was somewhere in the middle. So I had missed some, and I would have to visit McDonalds often to keep up with the new toys coming out.

That sounded like way too much work. So I went right to Ebay, where I found about a zillion auctions of the entire set, unopened. One had a very reasonable Buy-It-Now price, so I Pay-Pal'd the seller with my lightning quick internet reflexes. Within a week, the dolls arrived. But since we're so diligent about checking the mail around the Wyatt House, we didn't get them until yesterday.

They are just so darn CUTE. It appears the Tin Man is an early favorite with Helen, but I think they're all fantastic. Oh yes, I will be playing with these for the next few days.

In fact, after Helen went to bed last night, I set up a photo session so I could show you the dolls!

Here are the sisters - the Wicked Witches of the East and the West - see the red shoes?

Here's a tiny Munchkin with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North -

Here we have Cowardly Lion and Tin Man. The Lion has a long tail which you can barely see.

And at last, here's Dorothy, and the Scarecrow she'll miss most of all -

I talked with Brian last night about all the characters they could have made. Oh, say for example, I don't know, but maybe the FREAKIN' WIZARD OF OZ. Also, I suggested the Flying Monkey, but Brian told me he wasn't interested in giving Helen nightmares just yet. Good call, Brian.

Little-known fact: when I was about 12, the youth group in my church held a performance of The Wizard of Oz. It's all pretty fuzzy in the memory banks, but I sang one line as the "Munchkin Coroner." (YES, I SANG IN PUBLIC, STOP LAUGHING!!) In case you've forgotten the line, it goes as follows, very heavy on the vibrato:

As Coroner, I must aver, I thoroughly examined her,
And she's not only merely dead, she's really most sincerely dead!

Please, please hold your applause until the end. Thank you.

I remember watching this movie as a kid, when I must have been about 5 or 6 years old. You all may remember that it used to air once a year, and every kid got to stay up late to watch it. I was in my pajamas, with a big bowl of popcorn. I hid my face in the pillow when the Flying Monkeys showed up. And Mom could do the perfect Wicked Witch cackle, which would make your skin crawl. It's amazing how the scary parts of that movie pop out now, even thought it's nearly 70 years old.

I'll get the DVD someday for Helen to watch. We'll stay up late, with popcorn. And when she comes to me later with a nightmare about a Flying Monkey, I'll know why.



Helen got a new toy for spring. Unlike real mowers, it isn't very noisy, it doesn't cut grass, and it makes a lot of bubbles.

She took her new mowing duties very seriously.

Her daddy was very excited about her first lesson in yard work, until she started mowing in circles. We'll have to work on making nice, straight rows.

We live next door to some homeowners who've started their own Crabgrass'R'Us store, so we've had to be ever-vigilant with our lawn. Helen's new skills may come in quite handy.


Kiss Me

Remember Easter morning, when your parents let you have CANDY for BREAKFAST?

Helen had 3 Hershey kisses before I hid the rest of the basket. While she napped, I ate the rest of them. I don't think she'll fall for that trick next year.

And hey, look, mom! It's her Easter dress! With hairbows!



Two-year olds are something to really admire.

No, really, stay with me here.

They are single-minded in their pursuit of whatever occurs to them at that moment. Juice? Toys? Hair pulling? They have a laser-like focus on it. It's refreshing really, in this world of ADD and 200 channels and drive-through wedding chapels, to find someone who's devoted to carrying out a task from start to finish.

This weekend, the task was "mine." As in, that's mine, what's yours is mine, Mine Mine ALL MINE. Oh, and in case you weren't clear on that, right over there, I don't what it is, but it's MINE!!!!

My sister and I tried teaching them the concept of sharing and taking turns but a toddler will not be deterred for long. Sometimes it worked, but then a few seconds later, they remembered that the toy was MINE and suddenly it's right back to mothers mediating again. They had meltdowns over balls and rocking buffaloes and Legos. I think sippy cups were involved at one point, but I'm not really sure. I've kind of blocked it all out with wine.

So, as long as we had two of something, we were good. Two books, two balls, 800 legos - they played like champions, running around and laughing. I loved watching the sheer joy on their faces as they saw each other in the morning.

The weather did not cooperate this weekend. In fact, like most lawns in our neighborhood, our newly green bushes are now a frozen, withered brown. So instead of taking the kids for a planned outing to the zoo's annual Easter Egg Hunt, we had an Easter Egg Hunt in our living room. Helen got it immediately. She zipped around the room, snatching up eggs. Cousin M sort of trailed along behind, picking up a couple that she missed. He definitely picked up speed in Round 2. I can't wait to see them in an official hunt with a couple hundred more kids.

Later that day, we took the kids to the mall and let them play in the kids' zone near the food court. Then we took them to the bookstore to pick out their own Easter presents. Yes, you read that right. They chose a bunch of books, but when we got home, the books had magically disappeared. Toddlers are SO EASY to fool!

They're also easy to wear out. After two full days of playing, Helen took a FOUR HOUR NAP on Sunday.

Maybe Cousin M can come back next weekend, too!

See if you can spot the kids hiding in all the toys:

Cousin M says the buffalo is MINE:

And Helen's got a BIG smile for everyone here:


TWO toddlers = TWICE the fun

Aunt M. and Cousin M. are visiting us this weekend. They arrived last night and as Cousin M. walked in the door, the two kids shrieked with excitement. They both began running around the house at full speed, with Cousin M. saying "Come on, Helen! Come on!" Occasionally, Helen would stop to scream at the top of her lungs. I had to pull out the typical mom-line, "Helen, inside voices, please." They were just so excited, and it was really fun to watch them so happy together.

Later, after everyone had settled down a bit, the kids started dragging out the toys. At one point, while he was moving them around, Cousin M. tripped and fell, and from the behind the sofa we heard a voice say, "I am OKAY."

My sister and I could NOT. STOP. LAUGHING.

There's lots of Cousin Fun planned for the weekend, if the weather cooperates. I'll be sure to post pictures and hopefully some more good stories, so be sure to check back here on Monday.

And I hope you all are OKAY, too.


The Long March

Last month, Brian spent a Sunday walking 26.2 miles with a 35-pound backpack.

On purpose.

Several months ago, our Navy friend W. mentioned a marathon march in New Mexico that commemorated the Bataan Death March from World War II. Brian, being male, said "Sure, that sounds great!" He got a pair of boots and a backpack like the military guys wear, and went out for a breezy 6-mile hike near our house.

He came back with no skin on his heels. Seriously.

So, after a trip to the podiatrist and a sporting goods store for hiking shoes, and SEVERAL bandaids later, he continued with the training hikes. He got up to 19 miles before the actual marathon event, and that particular one left him feeble for a few days.

I made lots of jokes about making sure the life insurance was paid up, asking our agent if something called Bataan Memorial DEATH March would invalidate our policy, speculating as to how I would spend the life insurance proceeds, etc. It was endlessly amusing (to me, anyway), and at the same time a little bit worrisome to realize that Brian would be hiking a marathon with a giant pack on his back. Athletic events like this can cause heart attacks, strokes, dehydration and serious sun damage.

So I did what any loving wife would do. I reminded him to use sunscreen.

Brian got to town early to register, but everyone else was getting in late at night. Late arrivals meant very little sleep the night before the race. Everyone knew this ahead of time, and then Brian learned at registration that participants would have a long wait at the security checkpoint before parking on the military base. They recommended leaving the hotel around 3:30 am.

Which meant NO sleep before the race. Optimal, don't you think?

Despite all of this, they managed to have a good time. No bad attitudes, no complaining, just set out and hike and get it done. And all three guys finished the race. W. called me afterwards to mention that I shouldn't go spending the life insurance just yet. A few days later, Brian came back with gorgeous pictures, aching calves, and a strong desire to do this again next year.

(I mentioned the part about him being male, right?)

This is W. and T. setting out at first light - W. has the orange camelback:

This is a bagpiper that kept up with them for the first 7 miles, without a break:

This is my favorite picture - I love the view in the distance, and all of the footprints in the dirt:


Trouble, with a capital T

This morning, I came in to get Helen out of her crib. As I leaned in to pick her up, I noticed her bare bottom. It's cute and adorable, in that special way that only baby bottoms are, but it also means something very important is missing.

I found her diaper on the floor next to her crib. The bars are pretty close together, so she had to either stand up and toss it over the side, or shove it between the bars. In other words, it didn't just FALL off and SLIP OUT of the crib.

So I (naively) asked, "Helen, did you take off your diaper?" She looked up at me with a big grin and said, "No-oooo."

I think this is where the robot starts screaming "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!"

The one where I get teary-eyed

I went to our local pizza place on Sunday night to pick up dinner, and discovered that's when the local high school shows up to eat together.

The noise hit me in the parking lot. But I waded in, knowing that I had a to-go order ready and waiting.

The line was a mile long. I got nervous that our pizza would be cold toast by the time I paid for it. But an alert cashier herded me up to the secret extra register, ahead of all the teenagers. As I stood in line, Helen watched everyone. She didn't even seem fazed by the decibel level. I guess it's nothing compared to a room full of 2-year olds.

I literally got antsy just standing there, waiting in all of that crowded noise. I wanted to pay and leave and just breathe. Finally, I scored my pizza and as I headed out, another older lady was taking her pizza to go, too. We both smiled as we made it out of the door. "Wow, that was crazy, huh?" I said to her as I headed to my car. "I thought I had it rough today with a fussy toddler, but that was so much louder."

"It won't be long until she's one of them," she replied, pointing to Helen.

I recoiled in horror. Helen? A teenager? NO WAY.

And then it occurred to me, YES WAY. She's getting older every single day, and one morning I'm going to wake up and take her to the nail salon so she can get a manicure for her prom. I'm going to freak out when I look at her, all dressed up and ready to go. When she trips a little coming down the stairs in her high heels, I'm going to remember the time she first crawled up those stairs. Or the first pair of shoes I bought her. Or all the times I put her hair in pigtails.

I'm also going to be wondering why Brian is muttering in the corner, cleaning that shotgun.

But really, she's growing FAST. I see little babies at daycare and can barely remember bringing her at that age. I've looked at hundreds of pictures of her during that first year and it's such a blur. None of it seems real. Did we actually buy a house and paint and put in new carpet and move in, while I held her the entire time? The second year is whizzing by even faster. Talking, potty training, Barbie. There it goes. Don't blink!

So my question is this: if I buy her prom dress now, will it cost me less because of inflation, or will it cost me more, because geez Mom, that's like, SO not the style right now? (eyes roll, heavy sigh) Because at this rate, it'll feel like she needs it next year.