Searching for colleges started out as a way for me to distance myself from my family by saying “I am not my mother and I am not going to her alma mater.” But everyone, even Facebook, thinks I am my mother. When I post pictures of my girls at brunch, I am auto-tagged as “Leslie Owen Newnam”. Neither my mom nor I see the resemblance, but everyone else does; there is no denying it.
For high school graduation, my mom gave me a one-of-a-kind necklace that was handcrafted by a Queens alum and friend of my mother; a cool lump of silver molded into the symbol of family tradition. The necklace is a sterling silver pendant, about the size of a dollar coin, depicting “Rex the Lion”—the Queens University mascot—on a black leather cord. It was designed by Paxton, who graduated Queens College in 1992 as an art major, and now owns a jewelry making shop. He created the token of my identity that I now wear around my neck.
Both my mom and my grandmother went to Queens University, although it was Queens College when they attended. Mom did not want to apply because she wanted to be her own person, but she begrudgingly sent her application to Grandmommy’s alma mater. After visiting the campus, Mom fell in love with the school and discovered why Grandmommy pushed her into applying. In the fall semester of 1988, Mom was moving her things into her freshman residence hall, where she was thrilled to be continuing her education as a business major. Twenty-nine years later, and after arguing with her about applying to Queens, I had the same “on-campus experience” as my mom, recognizing that it was exactly where I wanted —and needed— to be. I moved into my freshman residence hall, ready to start my life independent from my mom and ecstatic to be starting classes as well as my journey as a third generation legacy and Queens University student with the “Rex” pendant hanging around my neck.
Nine days after move in, I cried over a Kit-Kat leaving a melted chocolate stain on my blush-colored bedspread. The brown-stained mess is not the reason I burst into tears, but it was what pushed me over the edge into hysterics. After my first week of college classes and living life on my own, I felt empty; being away from my mom is easier said than done. Mom has always been with me when I have a seemingly minor meltdown, but now I am something called an “adult” who is supposed to handle her own problems without making a scene, and it is nearly impossible.
As I cracked and drove myself the twenty minutes it takes for me to get from school to my home, I cried and felt sorry for myself because I couldn’t even last ten days without my mom’s support. I pulled into the driveway and saw Mom waiting outside on the front steps, ready to offer me encouraging words and undying love. I slammed the door to my car shut and ran into her open arms, sobbing and probably getting snot all over her blouse. Nothing was right and all I wanted was to be at home with Mom by my side. Before I said anything, she comforted me by bringing me inside and handing me a glass of water and some tissues. Then she asked me what was wrong. I sniffled and told her, “Everything.” Of course, not everything was wrong, but because I was away from my mom-slash-best-friend, nothing seemed right. I was used to seeing her daily and catching up on the ridiculous things that happened during our days at school and work respectively, but without this mundane practice at Queens, my life felt vacant. She continued comforting me as I wiped my eyes and blew my nose. Then we made a plan about how to properly manage my time while away at school.
After the plan was in order and I had a prioritized list, my mom sent me away with a hug and I drove back to campus. I was ready to get myself together and especially ready to put my bedspread in the washing machine so it would get clean and not have a sketchy-looking brown stain on it.
It is important to note that just because I am an 18-year-old woman, I am not an adult, but simply an “adult-in-training”. I still need my mom (the certified adult) to tell me how to get stains out of my bedspread and to tell me not to put Styrofoam take-out containers into the microwave. I call her and ask how long to pop a bag of popcorn so it does not burn and how to work the elliptical machine in the gym. Moms are so important to college kids despite the stereotype that parents are unnecessary in the lives of their “adult” children. Even though I am only twenty minutes away from my mom, sometimes it feels like I am detached from my Siamese twin. Being away from Mom is a hard thing to do, but growing up and leaving home at some point is a necessity in any relationship, familial or otherwise.
Before I moved in and started living on my own, I craved being my own person so badly and thought college was the jumping off point to do just that. During the months leading up to move in day, I made fun of Mom because I knew she would cry when she left me at my new home. I didn’t stop to think that she wouldn’t be the only one heartbroken by me becoming my own “self-sufficient” person, and someone different than her. I am not my mother, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing if I do resemble her in many ways, including the representation of our school by wearing a symbol of family tradition on my chest. I am not my mother, but I am her legacy.
2017 Photograph: Snow Day at Queens, by Ashlyn Main