“Can you fix this for me?” one of my varsity riders called to me from across the warm-up pen. She gestured vaguely to her stirrup.
“What’s the magic word?” I teased, striding through the organized chaos of the arena as fifteen horses circled like vultures.
“Please,” she giggled back. (I love this student, she always–ALWAYS–thinks I am hilarious. Either that or she’s very good at laughing at me while making me feel good about myself.)
“Darn kids,” I pretended to grumble as I reattached her stirrup collar. “So rude these days.”
“Right, ’cause you’re so old,” laughed another student, mounted nearby and overhearing the exchange.
“I have gray hairs ’cause of you guys!” I protested with a laugh of my own. It was true. I had one which developed shortly after taking the job as assistant western coach, and, not believing the old wives’ tale, plucked it. I now have three. The tales are true.
By the numbers, I am not old. I am twenty-three. I don’t feel old, or look old (I hope.) I occasionally act old (I blame this on the Alfred Knitting Studio) but such moments can be forgiven, I think. Every now and then, however, something happens to make me feel like a gray-haired old lady. I know this post is going to be greatly amusing to some people, such as mother and all of my mother’s friends who also read this–I am not calling you old, just pointing to the truth that you are, in fact, a little bit older than I am and are probably going to think this whole thing is hilarious.
Location: the Wegmans meat cooler. I am examining the selections of stew beef like any other self-respecting old lady when I hear giggling right behind me. I turn around to see two of my Western I students with a shopping cart loaded with organic products, clearly surprised to see me there. We exchange greetings and they continue to giggle.
“I am a real person, you know.”
“It’s just like…when you see professors in a store…you forget they’re people!”
Lovely. Okay, so maybe this is not an example of my students thinking I’m old, just my students thinking I am some sort of extension of the equestrian center, a function rather than faculty.
As I write this, my cat (obligatory for being an old lady!) snoozes away behind me. I am drinking a glass of wine. I just got done eating a cheese plate (totally required if I want to be a snobby wino) I am burning a candle. I’m keeping a blog. If these aren’t warning signs of impending old age, I don’t know what is.
But–I found myself looking at dark clouds in the distance today as I waited for Sage to stop eating a leaf and instead focusing on going potty. I remembered in that moment a night two years ago when I lived at Ford Street in the campus apartments, a dark night in late April or early May, just a few weeks before commencement. Thunderstorms were dotting the radar of the area–typically storms came into the valley from over Alfred State, raged over both schools and the village, and moved on. This evening, from what we could see of the sky, storms were all over–most of them missing us, but passing by close enough to see the lightning and hear the thunder.
Inspired, my friend Mhari (an odd but charming little girl from Wales) and I scurried across the flat roof of the Leadership Center, ducked under the guardrail and then climbed/crawled up the steep roof to the very top, the front edge of the building dropping sharply away beneath us. We sat there, our bare legs dangling over the edge, bathed in the orange glow of the sidewalk lights below, illuminated from above and around every few seconds with a dull flash of lightning in the clouds. We sat and watched the clouds move, whispering and giggling to each other with the nerve of our daring, smelling with each breath the scent of rain that did not fall. In retrospect, this was one of the handful of times I broke a rule while an undergrad.
Do I wish now that I had broken more rules, been more daring, gotten in trouble? Not exactly; I don’t like having regrets (no one does.) Now, though, living as a teacher in a college town comes with its own set of unwritten rules–I cannot be in certain bars at certain times. I cannot have students over at my house (within reason…this one I have been pushing.) I cannot date students (don’t tell, but obviously I broke that one last year…Peter was a year behind me in undergraduate) I’m sure that I am no longer supposed to be climbing onto the roof of the Leadership Center to watch thunderstorms roll in.
I often wonder in the WILD committee meetings exactly what my new peers think of me–not in the insecure and hopeful way that I hope they think I am doing a good job, but a curiosity, wondering if they think of me as their contemporary or as some new interloper–either a fresh face or a student upstart who just happened to get lucky. I don’t let my musings get in the way of being productive with them, though I still find it funny that I am the head of a subcommittee allowing me to delegate work to the Dean of Students; nor do I let my hang-up on age difference stop me from small talk and banter before and after (and during, if we’re going to be fair) meetings. Nancy continues to host Pictionary nights (though she is my boss and twenty-plus years my senior) in which we hang out with Tammy, the mother of one of our senior IEA riders, and drink lots of wine and be silly. Sometimes she invites Cathie, the incredibly sharp, witty, sassy and intimidating head of the Wellness Center. These gatherings have become the normal monthly Friday crew. It’s fun. I feel privileged to know these people, to be on a good footing with my boss that we can hang out and be silly and then continue a professional relationship. What else would I be doing on a Friday? I don’t feel quite like I could be doing what other twenty-three-year-olds are doing, but sometimes it would be nice to know I could go out to the bar and get a drink and not worry about what my students would think if they walked in (see Alone in Academia.)
I don’t think that I missed out on some epic part of being a college student. Sometimes, though, I wish I was allowed to act a little more my age. I’m not that old after all. I’m not much older than my students. In expectation, however, I am in that vague category known as “adult,” and in Alfred, that means not breaking the rules. I will watch the clouds roll by, but I will watch them from the ground, not high up in the air, feet waving in a restless breeze, a friend at my side, the two of us laughing, effortless, untouchable.