It's a Thursday evening in February, and my to-do list is a little different from the norm. Grab the vacuum. Take out the trash, and maybe the mystery insect buzzing around it will follow. Definitely remove those pictures from the road trip to Vegas. Try to schedule a round of golf for Dad . . . check the museum's hours for Mom . . . oh, and if there's room in the suitcase, maybe they can bring those fuzzy slippers I left at home last time.
It's Parents' Weekend, one of the most anticipated events of the year, and not just because I am guaranteed two days of free meals and an all-expenses-paid trip to Target. The campus is hopping with University-sponsored activities. A busy student could easily hand Mom and Dad a schedule and a map and not see them again until spring break. But the Purtill family doesn't work that way. My parents aren't into geology lectures or wine and cheese with the provost. They want to spend time on my turf, the first turf I've ever had that didn't have their name on the deed.
So the weekend becomes a college version of show-and-tell. These are my friends! This is my dorm! This is my life! Come and see! For me, it's a game. For them, it's an attempt to figure out in 48 hours what it is I'm doing that costs $32,000 a year.
It's not all hugs and care packages when it comes to welcoming the folks. Freshman year, I was pretty nervous. I prepared for their impending arrival by conducting a thorough sweep of all incriminating items. The Big Game T-shirt with the obscene cartoon? Shoved in the back of a drawer. The, uh, leftovers from the previous Saturday night? Hello, recycle bin. Ten minutes before I left to meet them, I peered anxiously into the mirror and smeared blush and concealer across my creased and tired face in an unsuccessful attempt to mask two quarters of too little sleep and too many Band Shak parties.
The thing was, in my phone calls and visits home I had presented a picture of my first few months at Stanford that was a little glossier than the reality. I'm the oldest child, the first to pack up and head off to school, and I'll readily admit that one of my greatest motivations is an unbudging desire to make my parents proud. I couldn't lie to them -- my mom and dad's ability to detect the slightest manipulation of the truth rivals anything in the FBI's repertoire -- so instead I'd told funny stories and showed off smiling group photographs to distract everyone from how exhausted, frustrated and lonely I sometimes felt.
Facing my parents in my Rinconada double, the circles under my eyes thoroughly apparent, I had no choice but to confess what I had expended so much energy trying to conceal: my grades weren't that great. I was pale and puffy. And I felt about as graceful and poised as a plaster garden gnome.
My parents didn't tell me how disappointed they were. Instead, they hugged me and took me for a milk shake at the Creamery. And on Sunday afternoon, they got back in the Camry and let me get back to growing up.
I've figured out a couple of things since then, not the least important being that substituting water for wine-in-a-box solves that pale, puffy problem. I've learned I can't always make choices my parents approve of. It can even be a relief to admit to them that sometimes, everything isn't perfect.
When my parents returned to the Farm last February, they found a sophomore daughter happier and calmer than the freshman they had visited a year earlier. I didn't make myself up before they came. I didn't hide my collection of dirty towels. I don't think they were thrilled with my choice of major. This didn't stop them from recognizing that I love where I am and what I'm doing. It turns out that my happiness is the only thing my parents have ever really wanted for me.
My mom may still grab my hand when we cross the street together, and my dad will probably always call me "Punkin." But when it comes to letting go, I think we're doing just fine.
Corinne Purtill, ’02, is an English/creative writing major from Huntington Beach, Calif.