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MAN OF THE HOUSE

One crazy Parents' Weekend at college

September 26, 2009|CHRIS ERSKINE

We're trying to avoid the "pig flu" that's sweeping the first grade -- the little guy's term, not mine -- so we're headed back to the heartland, of all places. Seems if you were wary of swine, this is the last place you'd ever want to go.

Anyway, that's where we are, at my daughter's college in Indiana -- the land of crunchy sushi, a place where you can't get a decent martini to save your life.

"Anything for our kids," I explain.

"Evidently," says my wife.

Seems we just dropped off the little girl, yet we are back. "Parents' Weekend," they call it. We walk by one frat house, and there are empty Jell-O shot cups all over the lawn, like birch leaves. Obviously, the children are putting on their best fronts for Mom and Dad.

If you've never had a Jell-O shot, they are Jell-O mixed with vodka or some other rotgut alcohol. You pour it into tiny plastic cups, then chill it solid. Kids here really like their Jell-O. It's almost a food group.

"Did you see the bicycle in the tree this morning?" one of the little girl's classmates asks.

"Yeah, I saw it," someone answers.

No, I don't approve. If it were up to me, the drinking age here would be raised to 50. By then, you've earned a snort or two and are too tired to do much damage, really. It's hard to imagine a 50-year-old having too many Jell-O shots and deciding to park his Schwinn high up in some sugar maple.

I think Posh would agree. She's not much for the sauce herself. She's one of those tiny wives with big purses who likes to maintain total focus at all times, except when she doesn't. In fact, on the way to the airport, she started digging for something and tumbled headfirst into her giant purse.

After a few minutes, I decided to fish her out. (She had our boarding passes.) Unfortunately, she was the smallest thing in her purse. You know how it is -- you look and look and look, knowing she's got to be in there somewhere. If she hadn't bit my thumb, I might never have found her.

So how's the little girl? Great, thanks. The California kid is loving the heartland and vice versa. She's made a litter of new buddies.

After a month, it is as if they've known each other for decades.

On Saturday, we all go to the football game together, the parents and the kids. The game's close, we lose, who cares? It's one of those crazy Big 10 games where the marching band is better than the football team and they flip the cheerleaders clear up into the clouds. I fear one or two might still be up there, circling the Earth -- still smiling.

After the game, the kids cluster together on a hillside like kittens, while the parents get to know one another better over beer. Never tried the stuff before. I find it fizzy but refreshing.

As if that weren't enough, one dad brought lobster sandwiches all the way from New England. So I've got a lobster roll in my right claw and a cold beer in my left. If you've found a better way to spend an autumn afternoon -- new friends, cold beer and succulent lobster -- please call. I'm pretty free the rest of my life.

Best of all is seeing the kids so happy. Are these the same moody little monsters who drove us crazy through high school? Guess not. They already seem more poised, more patient, more everything.

At dinner, another California kid tells a wonderful story of arriving for freshman year. In the first week, the girl started seeing these flashes of light that worried her. She didn't know any classmates well enough to confide, so she went to the campus clinic, fearing the worst.

"Dear, you're from California, right?" the nurse asked.

"Yes."

"Um, have you ever seen fireflies before?"

"Fireflies?"

College: It's all about discovery.

In the end, Parents' Weekend turns out to be a blast. It's my favorite new holiday, after Mardi Gras and Bill Murray's birthday. Next year, the dads vow, we're going to rent an RV. We'll park it in a shady spot near the stadium, fire up a grill, rent our own mini-marching band, 10 snares and 20 trumpets, to serenade us. Some guys waste their money on personal jets. We prefer to support the arts.

Frankly, though, it'll be hard to top this year. We received lots of hugs from the little girl, who's never been shy that way. She is the huggiest kid you could ever want, assuming you ever wanted a huggy kid (some don't).

"Charlie has mono!" she squeals one morning after hearing that someone in their group fell sick.

"Oh?"

"I think," the little girl says, "that all my friends should be tested."

"Is that necessary?"

"Well, we all kiss each other."

"Huh!!!" blurted her mother, who proceeded to fall into her own purse for a second time.

Full-gainer, with a perfect half twist. This time, we just let her rest.

--

chris.erskine@latimes.com

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