Tuesday, September 1, 2020

ISWG: Slumming It In College



It's time for another edition of the  Insecure Writer's Support GroupBe sure to visit Alex J. Cavanaugh  and the rest of the talented bloggers who are always willing to lend a helping hand.

I wrote this story in 2012 BC (Before Covid). Though I can't possibly imagine what parents and students are currently going through during the Coronavirus pandemic on college campuses across the country and around the world, I wish everyone a safe and healthy school year. 

In the meantime, here's a look at this neurotic mother's worst fears during what now seems like a much simpler time.


                              Slumming It In College


Last weekend our boys left for school. While our older son set off for his third year of law school, we drove our youngest for his third year of college. Both boys completed their physicals, were updated on all of their shots, had their teeth cleaned, hair combed and were good to go. Their clothes were washed and pressed, and they were starting off on the right foot. Unfortunately, our younger son's left foot got stuck in it when we arrived.

He was moving into an older house with three other boys, and I thought I was prepared for the worst. The rent was too good to be true, and I strongly recommended that he find another place last spring. My husband agreed, but he assured us that this was a great house conveniently located near the campus. It pains me to write these words, but we sort of trusted him.

It was raining when we pulled up to the wood shack, so the muddy walkway only added to the ambiance. We walked into the kitchen with a flickering ceiling fixture, and a sunken floor made of mismatched tiles with large gaps throughout. There were missing electrical outlet covers, missing sections of dry wall, and huge holes in the ceilings. All of these slight imperfections were found in the kitchen and living room. I was afraid of what else was lurking in this four bedroom house, and never made it further than our son's bedroom.

He lived in a fraternity house his sophomore year, and spent freshmen year in a dorm. I remember how we helped him set up his room each year, but this time I was afraid to even touch anything. He was offended when I said that his happy home resembled a crack house, and looked to his father for support. My husband calmly likened it to a slum. He tried comforting me by reminding me how our older son almost lived in a converted garage when he was an undergraduate. To this day, we're not sure if we talked him out of it, or if he was just relieved to get a better offer.

After the screaming subsided, my son told me that I was a snob. He went on to say that this house wasn't good enough for me. I told him that this house wasn't good enough for any human being, and that he didn't need to be in a place that wasn't safe to live in. To accentuate my point, as our son's foot gently brushed the top of the stairway, we watched the metal threshold come tumbling down.

Another pleasant thought occurred to me. Because our son is the first one in the house to turn twenty-one, I was wondering if he would be held responsible if there were an accident. For example, if an underage girl is over-served, and stumbled over a large rat at a party in their basement, would our son be carted away? Our older son alerted me by text that the owner would be responsible. 

The next day, my husband and son went to talk to the landlord. His office said that they would be happy to make any repairs and even offered to replace the dilapidated kitchen floor. They claimed that the house had already been painted. My husband asked how they could've painted over areas with missing drywall. Of course they blamed this on the hooligans who rented the house last year. 

When we said our goodbyes, my son smiled and assured me that he would be okay. He told me that I should stop being such a negative person, and focus on the positives.

 I hugged him tightly, as I did a mental count of all his fingers and toes. Then I took a deep breath and said, "Well, at least you're only about a block away from the hospital." 


  1. Oh, my. I wouldn't have slept that year...waiting for the walls to fall down...

    1. Liza - It was pretty frightening at the time, but it seems minor in comparison to all the things students and their parents are up against today. Thank you Liza, and I hope you’re holding up okay.


  2. That's great you went to talk to the landlord. Sadly, most college towns have lots of rentals that should not be offered for rent because the landlords don't keep them up. And yes, parents have so much more to worry about now.

  3. Hi Julie - yes as Alex asks ... is he still there - and is he happy and healthy? ... well it's his choice and you've (as parents) done what you could ... he knows he can ask for help! Sleep tight and good in the comfort of your safe home and warm bed! All the best - Hilary

  4. Student life! I trust he's graduated and living in a much nicer abode now.

  5. The things our kids put us through! Don’t worry, some day he might be a dad and Karma will come back.

    My son was thrilled to get a room at his frat house and we were so happy for him. Then we visited him. All I saw was a house that could go up in flames at any time and his room was upstairs. Trying to sound positive, I told him that it wasn’t bad and maybe a nice rug would look good on the floor. He looked at the floor and said, “Mom, that is a rug you are standing on.”. The next year, he was in a room on the first floor with a window that he could jump out of quickly if and when a fire started. His son is in college now in a nice dorm at Penn State. No problem with the room, just Covid.

  6. Focusing on the positives is something I need to do more often, as so many need to do.

    I'm glad they said they'll do repairs and hope they followed through on that.

  7. Natalie - I can't remember if the landlord made good on any of his promises, but my son did survive that dreadful year in the house. Thanks Natalie!

    Alex - Yes, somehow he made it through. Fortunately, his living accommodations have dramatically improved throughout the years! Thanks for hosting another wonderful IWSG, Alex!

    Hilary - I wrote this story eight years ago when my son was a junior in college. It seems so much less important now with all that students, parents and teachers are going up against on college campuses everywhere. Thanks Hilary!


  8. Debra - Yes, my son graduated in 2014, and lives in a stylish high rise apartment building (complete with walls) just a few blocks from work. Thanks Debra!

    Arleen - Funny about the rug, and jumping out the first floor window! You were a much better sport than I. Hope your grandson stays safe and healthy. I'm sure he's very responsible, but there are so many others who don't take Covid seriously. Thanks Arleen!

    Chrys - I agree that we all must focus on the positive, while protecting ourselves and others from the spread of Covid. Thanks Chrys!


  9. >>... When we said our goodbyes, my son smiled and assured me that he would be okay. He told me that I should stop being such a negative person, and focus on the positives.

    I hugged him tightly, as I did a mental count of all his fingers and toes. Then I took a deep breath and said, "Well, at least you're only about a block away from the hospital."

    See, GEM JULIE?! You really *WERE* a positive person. You immediately found the silver lining amongst all the filth, dilapidation and hazardous conditions!

    Sometimes a person needs a microscope to find the silver lining, but with strong enough laboratory equipment and strong enough whiskey, the silver lining will always be detected... eventually.

    As we all know, everything in life is "relative". (In the deep South, that's especially so... or so I've heard.)

    In late April of 1983, a very good friend of mine (*wink-wink!* *nudge-nudge!*) spent about 10 hours in a jail in Ensenada, Mexico. Several greedy, unscrupulous bartenders had served him too much bad tequila that night! Ever since that night, he has always been quick to find the silver lining in *EVERY* situation. He's always saying, "As crappy as this is, it's still better'n a night in a Mexican jail."

    Moral Of The Story:
    Spend a night in jail in Ensenada, Mexico, and thereafter, life (even the normal troubles of life) will always seem like sipping and enjoying a hot cup of coffee at 10:00 AM on a Sunday morning while listening to [Link> THIS.

    (My "friend" used to be 80-proof drunk, but now he's 80-proof smart.)

    ~ D-FensDogG

  10. Stephen, I can’t possibly imagine what your “friend” went through in that Ensenada jail, but I commend him for turning his life around afterward. In addition to having a positive outlook, it took courage, strength, and perseverance for your “friend” to become “80-proof smart.” Thanks for the inspirational story, and the lovely song.


  11. This post is absolutely priceless! Your sense of humor shines through like a halogen lamp in a coal mine. :) I have a feeling you find the situation much funnier now than you did at the time, eh? It's funny how time smooths away the scary edges.

    By the way, I've been meaning to send you a note, but... um, I didn't? (HA) Anyhow, I've watched quite a few of the "Grace & Frankie" episodes. Love it! The four main actors are among my favorites, and... I REEEEALLY want a haircut just like Jane Fonda's. (Currently, it looks more like Alice in Wonderland. Waaaaaay too long.)

    Take care, kiddo, and have a super weekend.

    1. Oh Susan, you are much too kind, but I do love your “halogen lamp in a coal mine” analogy! I’m glad “Grace & Frankie” has been a good distraction for you. I also think Jane Fonda looks fabulous, but now she’s sporting a short silver hairdo. She’s very bright and in exceptional shape for a woman even 25 years younger. Haha, I’m sure you don’t look like Alice, and it’s understandable that you’ve had more important things on your mind than a haircut. Take care, my friend! xoxo


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