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She’s Thinking About Leaving Home

We are trolling the aisles of Target in search of the requisite back-to-school booty.

We have our cart—which we have named René Descartes, in honor of the scholarly nature of our shopping—and we are barreling down on the composition notebooks/colored pencils/pocket folders/protractors section.

Linnea is a sixth-grader, so this is the year of her first locker. She wants a locker organizer. I am optimistic at hearing her use the word “organize,” since she’s never shown any particular affinity for organization of any kind.

The locker organizers come in shades with names like Fuchsia Future and Aqua Power. They feature little mesh pockets for holding lip gloss and Hershey’s Kisses and erasers shaped like VW buses. There is also a mirror so that the well-groomed sixth-grader can check out her angles before going into homeroom.

Linnea also wants pajama bottoms since that is what her sister and I wear around the house at night, and she has deemed this cool. I am happy to still be considered cool, so naturally I buy them for her.

Plus, these years of back-to-school shopping are kind of ritual: They come home with all their stuff, and lay it out and look it over, sizing up its usefulness as if it is Halloween candy.

If we go clothes shopping, they come home and run upstairs with their Old Navy and H&M bags. A few minutes later they return to put on a fashion show, swishing up and down the living room rug as if they’re on a runway in Milan.

But there is something different this year.

The two big sisters of Madeleine’s close friends just went away to college, and Madeleine is projecting hard into the future. I can see it in the way she pauses before the clothes trunks in the storage aisle at Target. (“I’ll probably need something like this,” she says, “only not so ugly.”)

And Target has the answer for every college freshmen’s anticipated needs—and more. There is a special line of items—with a designer’s name appended, which seems to be the comme il faut of Target merchandising—called Todd Oldham Dorm Room.

Todd Oldham Dorm Room appears in every department.

There are Todd Oldham Dorm Room bedclothes. And towels. And lap blankets. There are Todd Oldham Dorm Room desk organizers. And CD holders. And clocks that also hold snapshots. There are Todd Oldham Dorm Room dishes. And an 80-piece kitchen starter set. And caddies for carrying cleaning supplies. There are Todd Oldham Dorm Room toilet brushes. And shower squeegees. And, I’m not kidding, tile and grout brushes.

Let it be said that I have three degrees, and though I have had many different experiences in a quite a few different dorm rooms, none of them ever involved the use of a tile and grout brush.

Madeleine seems captivated by all but the cleaning supplies. She suggests that she and I buy shower caddies with handles so that we can keep our stuff separate and bring it out only when we need it, thereby avoiding clutter, but also enhancing the feeling that we are living dorm-style and sharing a communal bath. She doesn’t say this, of course.

We put the shower caddies into René Descartes, next to the locker organizer, the pajama pants and the crush of school supplies.

I’m not liking what’s happening. My 15-year-old is thinking about leaving home. She’s thinking about how liberating it was to watch her friends’ older sisters pack up all their stuff—much of it new, suited to new circumstances—and then drive off to quaint towns in New England and central New York.

“You know, dorm rooms are small,” I tell her. “Too small for all this stuff they’re trying to sell to parents sentimental about their kids going away to school.”

“Mmmm,” she says, fingering a Todd Oldham Dorm Room accent pillow.

“And I was in a triple,” I say, wanting to underscore the hardship and privation of dorm life.

I tell her about how my family got me there late so I got only half a closet, the top bunk and the desk with the scratched Formica. I told her about my peculiar roommates: the buxom one who played Barbara Streisand records over and over, and the other one who was a sullen Lutheran with rectal polyps—never mind that we are sullen Lutherans too, except for the rectal polyps.

“Yeah,” she says, “but didn’t you end up in a double with a roommate who became, like, your best friend?”

“Yes,” I say, forgetting I’d told her this part, probably years ago when I wanted to assure her leaving home would not be so bad.

“Yes, but that was after 10 days spent with Buxom Barbara and Fraulein Lutheran!”

“Ten days,” she sniffs.

“Yes, well that can be quite a long time,” I follow her as she and Descartes and her sister disappear into the Party Supplies section. I can’t wait to see what Todd Oldham has in store for us there.

I think Madeleine expects college life to be like some kind of wholesome teenage idyll where the girls share clothes and makeup, and the boys mind their own damn business. Where you never have to choose between a keg party and studying, because keg parties are so completely déclassé. Where the girls summer in Falmouth and go by family nicknames like Pitter or Tibby, and have orthodontia and Coach bags and their fathers’ credit cards.

Or maybe I’m just afraid that her college life will be like my college life. Which was enormously fun.

Which is why, for Madeleine, I’d prefer something slightly less Be Here Now.

Something that involves the regular presence of pleasant supervisory adults, the resident advisor, teas and service projects like Habitat for Humanity. Something that doesn’t involve hitchhiking, pot, coed dorms, Kirilian photography or tantric anything.

I can’t tell her any of this, of course. I’m not a total dim bulb. But I am beginning to wonder if maybe Todd Oldham can be of some help.

—Jo Page

You can contact Jo Page at jopage@graceniska.org.


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