Big Mom on Campus: Raising Two Kids in a College Dorm
2012 Grand Prize Column Contest Winner
Taylor Harris enrolled at Thomas Jefferson’s university (as a Black, non-slave) eleven years ago. In 2005, she grabbed her diploma, along with a suitable mate, and left for Washington, D.C. Now she’s back at UVA—with her professor husband, two young kids, and a minivan. For the next year, she and her family will live in a college dorm and interact with students (on purpose).
Hush: The Power of Hiding Like an Introvert.
I never told you how we got here.
Not the whole Africa ⇒ Middle Passage ⇒ Jamestown ⇒ Al Sharpton’s perm thing. Is race all you think about, you dirty old sociologist?
I’m talking about the dorm. We got to the dorm because Paul enjoys people, including the College student species. He’s what we call an extrovert. To be exact, the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator labels him an ESFJ. E=extroversion S=sensing F=feeling J=judging.
Whatever. You don’t care. Have you seen Myers and Briggs? Just a couple of old white men who chased foxes and made stuff up.
They were ladies? Of course they were. Gosh, I miss those gals.
I’m trying to tell you I’m an introvert. If I didn’t have children who need fresh air and vaccines, I would dig a hole beneath a beer drive-thru in Ohio (they sell hot chips) and live underground with a typewriter and Big Wheel.
You’re right. I would go crazy. That’s the point. I’d lose it and write about it and surpass J.K. Rowling in sales, and even if I didn’t, I’d be crazy, so I’d surpass J.K. Rowling in sales and run Simon & Schuster from my Progresso soup can on a string.
How did we get on the topic of fantasies I share with my psychiatrist?
Ah, yes. The dorm. So faculty members can engage students outside the average classroom setting by serving as dorm fellows. A professor might teach a short course on cooking, host a movie and discussion night, or take students to the nearest city with a real mall. Some fellows also run the Thomas Jefferson Demonstration Garden next to our apartment. I’m pretty sure that’s where they grow organic slaves.
Kidding. Slaves like pesticides.
So far, Paul has led a discussion after the film Crash and offered to teach a short course called Stepping 101. We bribed a couple kids with chicken wings for the first event. So far, no one has signed up for the course.
This raises the question: Do the students hate us?
If this were a Tyler Perry film, the screen would fade to black, and the words “hate us” would echo in the background six times (subtle signs of a flashback). Then you would see a depiction of the night Paul and I first discussed moving on Grounds. Let me narrate a clip of this would-be blockbuster for you:
Okay, so go figure, Zoe Saldana is playing me. Looks like she had to gain 45 pounds for the role. Boris Kodjoe plays Paul.
Zoe drives up to the airport late at night in a sexy Mercedes with her one-year-old daughter sleeping in the back. She looks tired and pregnant but hot. Boris gets in and gives her a kiss.
Boris: Hey babe
Boris: Man, I hate being away from you.
Do you know how many pound cake milkshakes I had to drink for this role? Ditto.
Boris: Look, I know you’re seven months preggers and taking care of our toddler, but you look hot, and if I’m honest, I think we should apply to live on Grounds next year.
Zoe: What’s that? Sorry, I was googling a body cleanse.
Boris: I said what do you think about moving into that dorm apartment next year?
Zoe carefully pulls the car into a ditch, waddles out, and throws herself on the hood.
Boris: So you’re cool with it?
The night when Paul mentioned applying to live in the dorm, I really did want to drive off the road. All he did was ask my thoughts, but I was pregnant. The mental picture of my stomach getting bigger alongside one of our living space getting smaller proved too much. Where would I sleep the baby—in a window fan or mini fridge?
Did I mention I was pregnant?
I should insert here that about 40 fellows contribute to this dorm community. Only one of those lucky ducks gets to live in the dorm’s faculty apartment. I’m sorry, let me try that again: So like 39 or so altruistic folks selflessly give of their time or knowledge or food for a few hours, and then they leave the premises and drive home. They live somewhere else. They help the dorm. We are the dorm.
Obviously, I warmed up to the whole idea. For one, I saw the apartment. Not too shabby. Dorm chic with those fancy room separators and a few nails already hammered into the concrete. Then, I saw the numbers. We pay rent to live here, but the bills and rent are rolled into one delicious discounted burrito that comes directly out of Paul’s paycheck. With Eliot starting preschool soon and Tophs drinking formula like it’s a crack malt, I know we made the right choice.
Plus, I totally like the idea of people. I see them all the time on Facebook and even Gchat a few. When I need a pick-me-up, I listen to snippets of Susan Cain’s TED talk on the power of introverts and think of all the introverts I will tell about it through rapid-fire texting.
I know you worry that living around these students will change me. Don’t. I’m an introvert for life. It’s safer that way, my friend. If I go around talking to people, bad things could happen. Like this fall, when Paul and I went to a fellows luncheon and ran into him, which caused me to think these thoughts:
Are you kidding me?
Is there someone I can call?
Wait. I know! Crap.
Small town, eh?
By now I’m sure you’ve guessed it: him was a psychologist from the student health center. Not just any shrink—my shrink. Full disclosure: During my fourth year of college, I took a hiatus from my SSRI medication and, thus, a hiatus from functional sanity. By some miracle of God (we’re talking Red Sea status), I made it back to school after winter break to complete my final semester. I swore I’d take my meds, and I saw this guy for a month or two as I settled back into my routine. Nice guy. Not as nice as Paxil, but nice.
So we see him at this luncheon; he’s eating eggplant lasagna or whatnot, and my husband introduces us, and then he says this:
“It’s nice to meet you, (pause) Taylor (eye twinkle).” There’s a glimmer in his eye, and I don’t know if he has cataracts or allergies or if he’s letting me know that he knows who I am but won’t embarrass me in front of all these non-patients by reciting paragraphs of the DSM that best apply to me.
I also see a former women’s studies professor who bore the brunt of my Mammy obsession. Seriously, every project revolved around Mammy this, Sambo that and what do you get if you mix Mammy with Sambo?
She said, “Oh, I remember you.” She’s just lucky I graduated before The Help.
Such moments of near disaster reassure me that God gave me introversion the way he gave the porcupine quills, the skunk its odor, or the Black man the Jheri curl.
Honestly, I don’t think any students hate us. I’m sure it’s just they already know about the African tradition of stepping from watching Stomp the Yard. But I do think building relationships with them will take longer than one semester, and I think there’s a way I can connect with students without betraying Myers or Briggs. Maybe it’s as simple as letting stressed-out students see Elie Mae and Tophs around Grounds (sorta like that puppy room a Canadian college set up during finals week). Maybe I don’t need to actually say much at all.
There’s been talk that I could teach a short course on writing. My only question: Could it be online?
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