We arrived at the hotel located in an office park, situated just off the highway. We dumped our stuff in a musty motel room and headed off to tour the top prospect. It was a rare rainy day in Los Angeles, which given our home city of Seattle, should’ve been comforting, but seemed sinister in this context. The campus was pretty, in a foreign way – cactus of every variety pocked the edges of buildings â€“ a mix of 60s cement boxes and state-of-the-art sustainable wood and green cladding. Rain gardens abounded. There were baggy sweaters, Birkenstocks, cute beach bikes and chickens. The campus was small and the community obvious, yet something was off, though neither of us could put our finger on it.
Later, in the cute town, we got out of the rain by browsing a Christmas store, full of sparkly ornaments and silvery trees and twinkling lights. Stepping inside felt nostalgic, as if an apple pie were baking in the oven and there was three feet of fluffy white snow accumulating outside the window.
In Starbucks, Olivia sprouted tears. “I’m going to be so homesick,” was all she could say. I had to swallow the lump in my throat. I felt her unease. The beautiful campus – one of five prestigious colleges all sharing buildings if not mission statements should have enchanted us. The town was sweet, picturesque even, and yet we felt uneasy there.
We had a late dinner and the next morning were back on the road in the sunshine.
Craftsman houses of all colours lined the streets of the next town we drove into making us feel like we were in Seattle. This campus was alive with activity – barefoot skateboarders, billowy-shirted girls in tall boots and sleek hair looking like clones of Olivia, athletes in red shirts, laughing. The tour was expansive, given such a compact campus. Our tour guide was passionate about his school and forthcoming with many, many details. The funniest was that many of the kids work at Disney which is just 10 minutes away. Several of his friends played princesses and other characters. Olivia’s eyes were wide with excitement as she whispered, “I want be a Disney princess!” I laughed and had to agree that she would make a fine one.
Driving away to the next college, a campus JambaJuice tucked securely into the cup-holders of our rental “compact” â€“ a huge white SUV â€“ Olivia pointed out that she felt like she was in Seattle or New Jersey. There was none of the worry from the previous day in her eyes.
Our final stop was an expansive campus of lush, green lawns dotted with a mix of cathedral-like white buildings and modern, glass and whitewashed cement architectural masterpieces. Despite having many more kids than the previous school, the campus seemed deserted, the students subdued. A water gun fight among some students seemed staged, and most of the other students walked by, ignoring the silliness. There was a mall bigger than most I’ve been to in Seattle – all skylights, tall trees and busy escalators. There was one tiny coffee shop tucked into a corner looking like an afterthought.
Later when I asked Olivia what she thought, she shrugged and said, “I don’t mind it,” which surprised me. It was now a tie for second between first college and third.
Armed with what seems like the perfect college selection, she must endure the selection process. And hope that the college gods match her with the right place. It’s a mind-numbingly stressful process, one I couldn’t fully grasp until now.
We spent the rest of the weekend touring L.A., walking Rodeo Drive (laughing at the girl who got her Louboutin stuck in a grate), taking a bus tour of Stars’s homes, touring around Hollywood and the Chinese Theater. Olivia was overwhelmed with the busy-ness of the place, and her certainty of seeing a Kardashian “dashed.” (haha. I crack myself up sometimes). We saw more Porches and Bentleys and Rolls Royces than we could count, cars that I barely noticed on my last trip, and only noticed this time because apparently I have a little car afficiondo on my hands.
The best part of the trip of course, was spending time alone with Olivia, getting to know her again, as I hope she got to know me. In new light, with new appreciation and for both of us, a sense that an era will soon be ending.
It is both terrifying and exciting all at once picturing her out in the world. I can’t wait to watch as she discovers the amazing person she is, the world at her feet.