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    Mothers attempting to balance parenthood and academics.

More on Extracurricular Benefits of College
June 10, 2012 - 5:19pm

Last weekend, I traveled to Virginia to visit my first college roommate. As described here, I took an instant dislike to Peg based on such substantial attributes as her slender good looks and nice wardrobe, and the fact that my mother approved of her. Thanks to her decency and good sense, I was eventually able to see past my ridiculous prejudices, and we became good and lasting friends.

On the surface, we could not have been more different. She was a neat freak with a well developed feel for interior decoration, even in our cramped dorm room. I was a slob who barely noticed my environment. I was a somewhat pretentious drama major, continually emoting over plays and novels; she was a pragmatic science major who questioned everything. If we had met in high school or on the job, chances are we never would have seen past these surface differences.

But living together, we discovered other aspects of each other's personalities, and more common ground than I, at least, had imagined. Beneath my dramatic persona, I also had a questioning mind and an ability to think things through that I think Peg appreciated, at least some of the time. And she turned out to have a silly streak as well as a lovely soprano voice and a weakness for Broadway musicals; we spent many evenings giggling and harmonizing when we should have been studying.

Meeting us today, you would probably still wonder what we could possibly have in common. She has grown into a lovely Virginia gentlewoman with a gracious home and memberships in the DAR and related organizations, while I remain a smart-mouthed urban liberal. She and her husband both work in an area of science whose members are open in their contempt for "soft" sciences such as psychology. But within a few minutes of re-meeting, we tend to find ourselves giggling like college freshmen.

On this visit, Peg enthusiastically showed me her collection of Victorian Vaseline glass, an inheritance from her grandmother which she has augmented over the years. Since my last visit, she had had a display cabinet built for it roughly the size of my apartment, and she now hosts teas for the DAR and other historical groups in which she discusses the history and manufacture of these treasures.

"Do you know where it gets its yellow tint?" she asked, her eyes radiating typical Peg mischief.

"From Vaseline?" I hazarded.

"Nope! Look at this!" She reached into an antique sideboard, pulled out a Geiger counter, and pointed it at the cabinet. It exploded in beeps. "Uranium!"

I jumped back.

"The waves are about what you'd get from a computer or microwave," she assured me, "but this definitely gets the tea ladies' attention! And guess what?" She ran into the kitchen and pointed it at a counter. "They're radioactive, too! Granite has tiny particles of uranium mixed in with the other stones. Isn't that cool?"

It was. The whole visit was. And it continues to pain me to think how much I would have missed had I been allowed to continue in my path of associating only with people who looked and thought like me, and, even worse, in my belief that these were the only ones with anything worthwhile to teach me.


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