M Y T U R N
We may have our
but there's no
escape from the
r questions and
BY CHRISTOPHER M. BELLITTO
commute to school have it easy. There's a washing
You may think that those of us who live at home and j
machine with no wait, a new tube of toothpaste in
the medicine cabinet and, most important, a fridge
stocked with food someone else has paid for. Not
only that, but the phone bill is usually taken care of and
dinner's sitting in the microwave even late at night. That's
not college, you sneer-that's permanent adolescence.
So maybe we look like pampered kids, but it's not that
simple. The college student living at home leads a paradox-
ical life. Like you, we came to college to learn about our-
selves; self-exploration is as much a part of our education as
organic chem. Yet it's hard to maintain our independence
when Mom or Dad can't shake the parental instincts for
surveillance. Nor can family obligations be avoided easily.
What do I do, for example, when my parents' anniversary
falls the day before my finals? The truth is, being a student
- who hasn't left the nest can be just as difficult as trying to get
along with a roommate you don't like.
Dear Abby: Our problems can be complex. To some extent,
we're second-class citizens in the social world: it's tough to
enjoy clubs, frat parties and dances when you have to drive
back home or catch the last bus. Ditto when you realize you
can't make the only review class for business law because it
ends late. But that's not the critical issue: after all, every-
body's gotstanding invites to crash with friends in the dorm.
The real problem is that we lose out on the results of those
activities: a sense of camaraderie that springs from nights
spent cramming for industrial psychology, gossiping about
who's sleeping with whom and, after most of the favorite
topics of both George Will and Dear Abby are exhausted,
sharing the heart-to-heart realization that graduation is
closer than we think. True, we commuters can join in every
now and again, but we can't fall into the day-and-night
rhythm of collegial introspection. There's a whole group of
us who'll never be able to appreciate the lifetime bonds of
"The Big Chill" as much as our dorming peers.
Then there's the issue of budgeting time. Commuters
have much more structured days than dormers; we have to.
Many of us live as we do to save money, and we devote a lot of
hours to jobs that can help defray tuition. Of course, working
out our convoluted schedules may teach more about efficien-
cy than all the freshman workshops on note-taking. Who
else but a commuter could perfect the art of plotting dis-
creet-probability distribution on a train hurtling through a
64 NEWSWEEK ON CAMPUS
dark tunnel while some sleaze with Mick Belker breath
hulks down over your textbook? And sharing one bathroom
with parents preparing for work, little brothers late for
school and a sister rinsing stockings in the sink makes the
three-minute shower sprint a useful skill that rivals almost
anything gleaned from a class. True, all this planning be-
comes moot when the 40-minute trip takes two hours be-
cause of a track fire and a wino who gets caught in the door.
Leftover lasagna: There's a myth that commuters are lucky
because they can leave the jungle of school and go home.
Actually, you dormers may have it easier here: at least you
can get away with screamingout of thewindow and working
off tension at a party that's never hard to find. When we
have a bad stretch, there's no escape; the endofafrustrating
day is just the beginning. First there's the long ride home
where, on public transportation, the heaters and air condi-
tioners seem to operate on Argentina's schedule of seasons.
Then there are the reminders from parents which, however
well intentioned, are still nagging. How can we feel "on our
own" when we're constantly told: "Call if you'll be late"?
And of course there's Grandma, who starts heating up the
leftovers when we're three blocks away, sits to watch us eat
them and then clucks that we're too skinny and not getting
enough sleep. Even if the lasagna is major league, it might be
even nicer just to be left ALONE sometimes.
And when the breakaway point does come, leave-taking is
more painful for those of us who've never really left. Stu-
dents who move out of the house for college can enjoy a
separate peace; they build another base of operations on
campus. True, all families have a hard time saying goodbye
to the child who goes off to school at 18, but by graduation
they've gotten over it and come to view you as an adult with
your own life. Commuters are not nearly so detached. There
are some family situations we can't ignore. It's the differ-
ence between returning for Thanksgiving to discover how
old Grandpa has gotten and living with him, watching him
die a little more each day. That makes the parting at gradua-
tion even more poignant-for both families and students.
The living arrangement is hard on our elders, too, since
they're torn between stepping back to allow us autonomy
and jumping in where they always have before. When school
is miles away, parents can't see their kids staying up until
6 a.m. to type a paper or letting loose with a keg-though I'm
sure bothsituations are vividly imagined during many alate
night's insomnia. Naturally, at home your movement is
watched. I can appreciate that my mother worries if I don't
make it home by a certain hour, but I build up some tense
moments myself if I can't stay late at the library doing
research for tomorrow's oral presentation. "I don't even
know you anymore,",is a frustrated parent's response to a
student who, of'necessity, sometimes uses home like a board-
ing house. But we're supposed to get to know our profs, make
new friends and be exposed to new fields-and that can only
be accomplished when we're on our own.
We are a special breed: young adults who are enthusiastic
about the independence of being in college yet remain to
some degree children in our family's eyes-and to some
extent, perhaps, in our own. I still believe that I'm receiving
a top-notch education, though I'll be the first to admit-and
lament-that I'm also missing out on some of the traditional
collegiate experiences. So don't think of commuters as lesser
beings or as softies who are taking the easy way out. We're
just caught between the rock of academia and the sometimes
hard place of home, struggling with the age-old problem of
serving two masters.
Christopher M. Bellitto, a senior journalism student,
penned this on the number 5 train to New York University.
Let's get it together ... buckle up. ""