Journey of a `visiting parent' adds to memories

October 25, 2003|By ROB KASPER

AS THE rugby ball came floating toward me on the sidelines of Boston's Daly Field last Saturday, I did what any sane parent would do: I immediately got rid of it. I had spent the morning watching college rugby players clobber anyone holding that ball, and the results were not pretty.

Moreover, I was standing there, on the banks of the Charles River, not as a player, but as a "visiting parent," a species that is especially active at this time of year, the fall migratory season.

For instance, last weekend at BWI, my wife and I bumped into two other sets of traveling parents, St. Paul's headmaster Tom Reid and his wife, Ann, and Sam Himmelrich Jr., a Baltimore developer and the former coach of the Roland Park Little League Hornets, and his wife, Pam. All of these folks, like us, were flying to Boston to spend a few hours with their offspring.

Although my wife and I did not know it until we were driving down Commonwealth Avenue, it was parents weekend at Boston University, where our older son, a senior, plays club rugby and attends classes. Parents weekend, autumn events held at colleges and universities, are usually more popular with the parents than with their college students.

Last week, for instance, our older son referred to the weekend as "the invasion of parents." He could not see the appeal of wandering around a campus staring at buildings, which he contended is what most parents do on such weekends. I wanted to point out that rather than thinking of us as gawking tourists, visiting parents should be viewed as "tuition payers" who are checking up on their investments.

But such a remark would have been niggling and would have spoiled the upbeat mood. I was feeling cheery for several reasons. First of all, the rugby game was over, and even though the BU team had been walloped by the University of New Hampshire club, there were no concussions.

Secondly, our son and a teammate had agreed to go to lunch with us after the match. I do not understand much about rugby. It resembles football except that the players don't wear helmets or thick pads, and there are no forward passes (this part sometimes reminds me of the Ravens offense).

But I do know that rugby has a lot of "social rituals." I felt honored that the lads had decided to go to lunch with us, rather than attending the post-match "drink-up," where songs are sung that you won't hear at the opera, and beverages are downed that don't come out of soda machines. It turned out that the drink-up was set for later in the day, so the guys were able to have their lunch and their bawdy songs too.

My wife and I did not attend the drink-up. Instead, we struck out on our own. This happens frequently to visiting parents. You send your kids off to college so they can broaden their horizons and meet new and interesting people. Then they do, and you are left trying to get a spot on their busy schedule.

Friday night, our Boston boy went to the opera; Sunday, he was booked with papers that needed to be written. So my wife and I, as good visiting parents are supposed to do, amused ourselves. We toured the Isabelle Stewart Gardner Museum and watched some of the crews competing in the Head of The Charles rowing festival. These activities broadened my horizons, although I still don't totally understand what Titian was saying when he painted Europa or which collegiate rowing team won the competition.

Mealtime, of course, is a good time for visiting parents to get together with their offspring. If you feed them, they will come.

We had a couple of enjoyable meals with our older son and his friends in Boston last weekend. This fall when we have visited our younger son, a freshman at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pa., we have usually ended up feeding him. He is on the football team, and thanks to the wisdom and hard work of the parents in the team's booster club, a tailgate buffet is set up after each game. The players go through the buffet line first, followed by parents and family members. So far, the football season has been disappointing, but the tailgating has been exceptional.

A few Saturdays ago after the feed following the Johns Hopkins game, we took our son to dinner. As we were finishing up our meal at the California Cafe in downtown Carlisle, in walked the Robinson brothers: Andrew, a freshman at Dickinson, and Scott, a member of the victorious Blue Jay football team. They too were being fed by their parents.

Not so long ago, these collegians were boys playing basketball in Towsontowne Recreational Basketball League. Then, I was a man the kids called "coach." Now, in the cycle of life, I am a visiting parent.

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