Holding it all Together: Our College Playground

By Amy McCollom
Well, it is here. The time when my baby girl, Portia, will start college is at hand. I am excited and a little apprehensive. Autism is challenging on its own. I know she has shown great progress, yet I wonder if she is ready. She sometimes has difficulties in loud, crowded environments and adapting to abrupt changes in her life; I am afraid I am sending a little lamb to run with the wolves. I know, I know. I have to let her spread her wings. But I have seen her wings, and I know a thing or two about wolves, and that is what worries me.

At least she will be starting off at Parkland College. She is a third generation Parkland student. My parents attended, I attended, and now my baby girl will be a Parkland Cobra. It may have been a few years since I had my feet wet in the college experience, but my footprints are still there, on my old stompin’ grounds.

My parents decided to go to Parkland College back in the 70’s, when they found out they could go for free on the GI Bill. Mom and Dad signed up for night classes, and brought us kids with them to wait quietly in the college center until they were out of class. We were pretty good kids, and feared the Wrath Of Mom if we weren’t.

The first night we got to Parkland, my mom was directing Dad where to park, and the next thing we knew, we were right at the doors. My dad had somehow drove down the sidewalk right up to the door. Students were coming out, walking around our car, looking at us strangely, my dad was chuckling, my mom was yelling for Dad to backup, my sister was mortified, my brother was waving at the people, and I just pretended to read a book I had on my lap. Dad only made that mistake a couple of more times before figuring out the sidewalks at Parkland College were REALLY wide.

Once inside, there was that distinct smell of Parkland College. It must have been the cleaner they used or something. We followed Mom and Dad up the ramps, down the ramps, through the dimly lit hallways with the dark wood and brick walls and large windows that looked out into baby forests, every so often there would be a little kitchen and vending area where you could get candy and chips, drinks, and sometimes ice cream bars!

Then suddenly we were in the Center. The Center was X. X marks the spot. Couches and chairs with big wooden tables in front of them to spread out your stuff were everywhere! Royal blue, fuschia, yellow, green, all comfortable and brightly colored.

Dad would tell us, “Do your homework. Be here at 10:00. If you need help, ask a college student.” And then mom would add, “And BE QUIET. Don’t get thrown out!”

We did our homework first. But then we figured out that if you stuck your hand in the crevices of all those couches and chairs, you could find a lot of coins! And when we found enough, we would make our way to the snack vending machines.

We loved exploring. We wandered down every hallway, looked in every room, walked out on every balcony, relaxed by the cascading fountain, pondered the paintings on the walls, and rode all of the elevators. We watched movies with college students in the big auditorium. We were even invited into the PLATO lab to play games on the computers. This was a really big deal; it was before video games OR computers were a common thing.

Between the cafeteria and M section there was a little narrow nook, with a seating area and a big potted tree. One night while exploring, my socks were stretched out and kept falling down inside my shoes, so I took them off. Thinking I would get in trouble for throwing them away, and not wanting to carry around stinky socks, I hid them in the potted plant and was going to get them when we got ready to leave. But then, I forgot to get them. I apologize to whoever had to dispose of those socks.

There was a night janitor named Bobby who kind of kept an eye on us. Sometimes he would give us a quarter to make up the difference so we could all get ice cream bars. Sometimes he would discourage us from trying to walk on the edge of ledges.

He told us how to get to the ping pong room on the 2nd floor. He even let us vacuum the carpet sometimes. Good old Bobby.

From the years of exploring Parkland College as a kid, I had no fear of starting college there. It was already my old stomping grounds. I loved Parkland College. I made lots of friends from all backgrounds. I learned about what kind of opportunities were out there and that it was okay to change my mind. I learned to play euchre really well, and that skipping class has its consequences. I learned that you will get out of your education exactly what you put into it. That is true with anything.

Parkland College is a great college and offers so much more now than ever before. I am thrilled that Portia is excited about pursuing her education and building toward her dream of becoming an entomologist. I am sure she will learn things at Parkland way beyond the scope of the criteria needed. And that is what any parent would want to see in their child; growth. Please pray that I can let go of her tail feathers as she tries to soar.

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