Chapter Twelve, The Mother Son College Odyssey

8:30 AM: Eli has now been sleeping for more than 12 hours. Remarkable! I’ve been up for an hour, editing the manuscript I brought with me. I, too, have fallen behind in my homework. Since I got off the airplane, I’ve barely looked at any of the work I hoped to do here.

Today, Eli has a date to meet Thomas Lipoma, an MIT junior from Santa Cruz. We were given Thomas’s contact info by Eli’s college counselor in Santa Cruz, and Thomas has generously offered to meet Eli at 1:00 on Easter Sunday.

Eli has wanted to attend the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since he was 13 when we attended an international origami conference in New York City. Another of the world’s foremost folders, Erik Demaine, is a brilliant, young math professor at MIT. Around him, there is a cluster of top folders affiliated with the institution—students, grad students and professors. They were the group of young men signing up to learn to make–or to teach–all the super complex models at the New York conference. Eli sat side by side with them, folding his heart out and he’s dreamed of going to MIT ever since.

It will be interesting to see if Eli’s interest holds when he actually visits the place. MIT is a completely urban institution—right in the center of Cambridge. It doesn’t have a lovely campus like Swarthmore, it isn’t a small liberal arts institution; it’s a world-renowned school of technology. It’s big. It’s intense. It’s demanding. And it’s very, very hard to get in to. Even if he falls in love with it after our two days visiting, applying to MIT is like taking a lottery number—there’s only a slim chance that he’ll get in. A crap shoot.

9:30 PM: After a very full day, Mindy and Andy and I are watching the opening game of the Red Sox baseball season—against the Yankees. We just ate a fabulous seafood dinner—mussels, clams and shrimp in a tomato/vegetable broth. Followed by pear, apple and mango sorbet. Mindy is an avid sports fan and she loves the Red Sox. I’m a former Yankees fan; I was obsessed with them in my preadolescent years—the years of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris–but I’m keeping quiet. I never watch baseball anymore. But I still know the game well–and it’s a relaxing thing to sit here with the game playing out in front of me on their big screen TV.

At 1:00 today, Mindy drove Eli and I to MIT. Eli met Thomas, who generously gave him a tour of the campus and answered all of his questions; he and Eli up ahead by 20 paces talking away and Mindy and I following behind. The MIT campus is right in Cambridge—an urban campus to be sure. The buildings are old, the offices old fashioned and in some cases, ancient-looking, the resources on campus astounding. Thomas ended our tour in front of the showcase in the Student Center full of models made by members of the MIT origami club. Eli spent a long time hungrily staring at those models.

We had lunch at Anna’s Taquiera, a Boston tradition, on the MIT campus. Great salsa and guacamole. A great vegie taco. When I asked Eli what he and Thomas talked about, the first face he chose to share was that there are tunnels under the MIT campus (he seems to have developed an obsession with going to a school with underground tunnels). He liked that people ride bikes to get around. Then he added, “It seems like MIT is about as hard as my junior year at Kirby. Thomas said the first year is easy, then the second and third year get hard, then the fourth year is easy again.”  I have a feeling that easy and MIT are an oxymoron. But I think Eli walked away thinking he could do the work if he got in. He didn’t say much, but I think the urban environment was a turn off for him. I think perhaps his first choice for a school is changing.

Tomorrow we will be going back to MIT again. Eli will be shadowing with a student for three hours, going on a tour of the computer engineering department, attending the admissions info session, and sitting in on a two-hour physics class. I’ll go on the “official” tour, find a corner to hole up and do my work, and we’ll compare notes at the end of the day.

On our way home, Mindy gave us a driving tour of other Boston colleges–Northeastern, Boston University, Boston College, Harvard, Radcliffe, Lesley College, and Brandeis. And there are many more colleges in the area. It’s mind-blowing for someone who doesn’t live here–the incredible concentration of colleges and sheer brainpower in the area. For Mindy, it’s just life as usual.

When we got back “home” in Newton, Eli holed himself up with his AP Bio book, determined to get his Bio homework finished today. I took a nap and then Mindy and I went for an absolutely beautiful hike around the lake at Wellesley College. Talk about a stunning campus. What an idyllic location. As we made our way around the lake, we talked about life, marriage, kids, people from Long Branch, caring for our mothers, work, retirement, and everything else that came up.

As we enjoyed the very warm spring day, I thought a lot about the fact that Wellesley was the school I didn’t go to. When I was 16 and a junior in high school, I was offered a full scholarship to Wellesley and I turned it down. I had received Knowledge from Guru Maharaj Ji at age 15 and wanted to go live in an ashram in Denver, Colorado and serve at his Lotus Feet. I didn’t want to go to college. What was the point? When I threatened to run away to Denver, my mother said if I left, she’d send the police after me. Our compromise was that I go to Douglas College and live in a house with a group of other premies (lovers of God) who were Rutgers grad students. I lasted a year and a half, until the day I turned 18 and was legally an adult. Then I quit school and moved into the ashram.

I have apologized to my mother for this before. She was a divorced single mother with a wayward former husband and a son who’d already dropped out of college. Now her honor roll daughter was turning down a full scholarship to an Ivy League school. My poor mother. I can’t believe what I put her through. And in retrospect, I’m sorry I turned my back on that world-class education. I couldn’t help but wonder today, as we walked around that lake today, what direction my life might have taken if I’d taken advantage of that scholarship. I love and cherish the life I have now, but I’m undereducated, and everything I’ve achieved, I’ve done by the seat of my pants. I done outside the box. I’ve never stopped being a maverick. And the holes in my education are vast. I’ve never cared enough to go back to school, but enough, being here in Boston, in this capital of higher education, to wonder.

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