I was reminded of my first college apartment the other day when I got turned around and... well... a bit lost in a rather savory part of St. Paul. Of course, the children were in tow - to remind me of the fact that I often lose my way in these types of neighborhoods. As we were bumping up and down a rather neglected piece of road, my son mentioned how the houses looked old and creepy. I happened to be more concerned about finding a sign of civilization that looked familiar to me at the time. He went on to describe the dirty windows, cracked up driveways, and sagging roofs - which all perfectly described my first apartment.
We were so excited. Moving out of the dorms was a huge rite of passage. No more dining hall fare or sharing a bathroom with fifty people.. This was the big time! Four of us decided to bust free from the safety net of a watchful R.A. (Who knew, I'd marry one?) We were twenty years old for cripes sakes - it was time!
After scouring the campus paper, we carefully selected the perfect place. Two bedrooms, two bathrooms (this was a luxury), a kitchen, decent carpet, and a driveway that would allow for all of our 'luxurious' vehicles to park off the street. Our new residence looked much like a grimier version of any house in a 1970s thriller movie. But to us, it was a gleaming palace! The best part was the main floor bathroom. It was a small closet stuffed under a stairway that was not so successfully transformed into an extra bathroom. House guests of the male persuasion had to be careful not to wedge their forehead into the pitched ceiling while... uh... doing their thing. But even better, was the bonus history lesson in late 1800s construction practice we received when the improperly hung door slammed into the interior wall of the biffy and punched a hole right above the toilet paper dispenser. After a rather shrill screaming session upon the discovery of what we assumed was a dead body buried in the wall, we promptly called our landlord to report this crime - and were somewhat comforted to learn that what we thought was human hair attached to a human body - was actually horse hair attached to the studs in the wall. That's where the insulation was! However, as cozy as it sounds, horse hair isn't all that insulating. Oh well, this was our new home, so we put out a welcome mat and assumed our new roles as happy renters. What could be better? Well... turns out, there may have been one or two places that probably topped this one. That reality smacked us in the face right about the time the air began its seasonal descent. Who knew we should have asked about insulation? Or snow removal? Or resident mice munching on our meager supply of ramen noodles and froot loops in our kitchen cupboards? Or high efficiency furnaces?...or even the fact that an elderly neighbor with dementia might habitually come knocking on our door at all hours of the night? Live and learn, I guess.
Soon, I was back on the right path, the right freeway, and headed toward the hotel I had been trying to get to about six miles back. Now that I wasn't so singly focused on my lack of directional sense, I was thinking of how I could let my son know that those houses were probably just fine - and that I had lived in a house like that at one time in college. But try as I might, I just couldn't picture him living like that when he flies the nest and breaks out of the dorms some day. These are the times when I stop and reflect on just how difficult it is to be a parent - and how my parents allowed me to find my independence one experience - or bad residence - at a time. Maybe someday, down the road, he'll get really belligerent and... stinky... and difficult... and smart alecky ... and I'll be ready for him to bust out on his own. But for today, I'm just going to be glad in the fact that he still wants his airplane bedsheets on his mattress, his plastic army men spread out all over his room, and his random rock collection the main focus of his desk. Besides, I would hate to spoil all the fun for him...