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Sharing all but the tears

An alumna-turned-parent discovers a changing communication dynamic.
By Susan Orlansky ’75

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From: Gavin.O.Kentch@
Date: 30 Aug 99 10:41:50 PDT
Subject: academic bulletin, 10:40 a.m. [i.e., less than one hour after my very first lecture of Hum 110, and I was clearly already hooked]

Useful item most recently learned in HUM 110, that hallmark of a Reed education: How to sing the first line of the Iliad (“menin aiade thea Pelaidoes Achileos,” roughly). I was impressed.

Also: You know how Herodotus, among others, often seems to distinguish between Greeks and other people, referring, for example, to Greeks and other barbarians in the first few paragraphs of his Histories? It turns out that “barbarian” comes from “barbaros,” the Greek word for foreigner, which was the result of the “bar, bar, bar, bar” mumblings one might make if one was not privileged to speak the proper Greek language. Calling someone a barbarian, then, was simply a statement on the fact that s/he did not speak Greek, and carried with it none of the negative implications with which we currently associate it. I thought this was pretty neat.

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When I announced in the fall of 1970 that I wanted to go to Reed College, my father was not pleased. Oregon seemed like the edge of the earth. What was wrong with any of the hundreds of other good schools much closer to Washington, D.C.? Would he ever see his daughter again? My mother reminded him that I could go to the nearby University of Maryland and still never come home. That moment marked my dawning awareness that connections between parent and child become a matter of choice, not geography, once college begins.

In four years at Reed, I went home most Christmases and parts of each summer, phoned home occasionally, and wrote somewhat more often. Long distance calls seemed a luxury then. Besides, in my freshman year, when I lived on campus, the one pay phone at the end of the dorm floor was almost always in use. My parents may have called me once or twice, but their chance of getting a non-busy signal and finding me on the dorm floor was too slim to warrant many attempts. I always brightened to find a cheery note from home in my Reed mailbox, though I doubt that I matched them letter for letter. Most of my writing went into coursework, starting with Hum 110 papers and concluding with my thesis. A recently unearthed cache of letters home that Dad saved includes accounts of my classes and my social life — suitably censored, of course, to protect my parents’ image of their good little girl.

Fast forward 28 years to 1998. The role’s reversed. My 17-year-old son announced that he wanted to go to Reed. Our home in Anchorage, Alaska, is almost as far away from Portland as my parents’ home in D.C. was. But Oregon sounded close and convenient to me compared to other colleges that Gavin might have selected. next page