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Here We Are!

Here we are! We made it to the beautiful Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. Even though Matty drove the entire way (and kept to the speed limit, I must say), I could tell he was excited because he kept looking over at me and saying, "Are we there yet? Are we there yet?"

I guess this may seem a somewhat unusual location for us to go on Spring Break since a lot of our friends did the typical excursion to the sunny beaches in Florida. Coming out here was Matty's idea and I'll tell you a little about why we both thought this would be the ideal location for us to spend Spring Break.

I guess most of you know this is my first semester in college. We're both taking a full load of classes and this has involved a major change in our daily life and routines. I think we've managed everything quite well but it has certainly involved some major adjustments in our lives.

 Sometimes we've had to coordinate getting up at different times and planning out how we get to campus, especially on days when we can't drive in together. Then we have different things we each have to do during the day, such as going to various study groups we're committed to, spending time in the library, trying to see if we can arrange meeting for lunch together, appointments with our faculty advisers or teaching assistant staff, getting to different classes on time, trying to squeeze in time to stay ahead on assignments, responding to text messages and emails from classmates who have ideas about assignments, etc.

Then there's the personal time we make sure we have during the day to just "unplug" from everything academic and take a break and relax. I always like to go online for a while and see what's happening at various sites where I can chat for a while with online friends, or read some favorite blogs and leave comments, or exchange emails with friends.

A major challenge for me has also been dealing with all the pressure I place on myself to be "the perfect student." Academically I've always done well, but I know there's always room for improvement. In some ways I think that's a good thing.

My parents have always valued the importance of education, especially my mom who teaches high school English. She's one of those teachers who really loves what she does and I think I got my love of learning different things from her. She has an incredible curiosity about learning and about life in general and always talks about ways to make learning fun and enjoyable. I don't think I would have made it this far academically without having her attitude about learning.

My dad is an attorney and also emphasized how important education is. However, he's more the "hard nose" type... you know, "nose to the grindstone." Keep chugging ahead. Then there were those years when I was younger and he'd be drinking and no matter how hard I tried, "You can do better than this." Even when I'd make a score of 90/100, it meant I probably didn't study hard enough. Even now I still hear his voice inside my head when I don't make an "A." Since he's been sober, he never, ever says those things now. He's nothing but encouraging and supportive and never once since I've been in college has he ever asked what my specific grades are. When I tell him about how I'm doing, he's nothing but encouraging and proud of me.

However, I sometimes still hear those messages about "room for improvement" and "you can do better than this" when I don't make a perfect score. A lot of times I can ignore those thoughts in my head, but sometimes they're still pretty loud.

I have to give credit to three people who have been incredibly supportive and helpful to me when I start getting hard on myself. Matty and two awesome friends know all about my past relationship with my dad and how I still sometimes hear his criticism when I don't make the "perfect" score. They always call me on how hard I am on myself and remind me that the only thing that matters is that I do the best I can. I'm not always going to make the "perfect" score or write the "perfect" paper. But I can always try my best. The only person I have to please now is myself. That's the key.

As you can imagine, I get pretty drained trying to remind myself of all this. That's why Matty made arrangements for us to visit some friends of ours here in the Berkshires. We're staying with this couple who've been married for about 40 years and are in their 60s. They've been friends of Matty's family for a long time and this is my third visit here. They are two of the most positive, giving, loving, and nurturing people I've ever met.

When we pulled up in their driveway, "Jim" (not his real name) was sitting in a chair in front of this big picture window in the front of their house just waiting for us. "Jim" is a sight to see. He's a big, burly man with a barrel chest and a full wild-looking beard. He's always joking around and is one of the most "alive" people I've even been around.

When he saw the car pulling in the driveway, he jumped up and came running outside laughing and smiling like some kind of wild man from the woods! He had his arms outstretched and grabbed Matty into the biggest bear hug you could imagine, actually lifting him off the ground. And then planted a big sloppy kiss right on his lips!

Then, in typical "Jim" fashion, he set Matty down and said, "Dude, you're as ugly as ever!" and broke out in the most incredible laugh you can imagine. Then he looked at me getting out of the passenger side and cried, "Bradley! Why'd you have to bring this ugly mutt with you? You know you're my favorite!" He actually almost dropped Matty on the ground as he came over to where I was, grabbed me into an even tighter and longer bear hug than Matty got, planted the same big sloppy kiss right on my lips, and said, "Bradley! This week is all about you! Matty's gonna have to find something to entertain himself. I've never liked him anyway!" {laughing and winking at me the whole time} It was at that point that I felt a ton of stress evaporating from my body in record time.

When he put me down, I just lost it. Started crying like a baby. "Jim" didn't miss a beat. He just moved in again, wrapped his big arms around me, pulled me into that barrel chest of his, put one hand on the back of my head and pressed it down gently on his shoulder, and began swaying with me, rocking me like a baby.

He whispered in my ear, "I've been looking forward to both of you coming here, ya know. We're going to take good care of both of you, but you, my sweet Bradley, are like a son to me. Come on, let's go inside, 'Elena' [not her real name] has been talking about you boys all morning."

Well, I'm getting all emo remembering all this. Suffice it to say, we're having the time of our life. Hiking in the woods, helping "Elena" cook some of the best meals I've ever had (funny how just about any food tastes gourmet when it's made with love), taking naps, trading jokes. Tonight they invited a few people over for a dinner party in our honor. They invited "Tony" and "Greg", a gay couple we met last time we were here, and a few other folks.

So, yeah, this is the "perfect" way for us to spend Spring Break this year. I couldn't have planned anything more perfect. Thanks, Matty. Thanks for planning the whole thing. You knew just what I needed and being here with you is making it all worthwhile. I love you.

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