• The Road Less Traveled

    As the film “The Guilt Trip” opens, one NYC mom recalls her own bonding journey with her son.

    By Lorraine Duffy Merkl

    There was no visit to a topless bar, nor was I in a 50 oz. steak-eating contest. And at no point was I mistaken for the girlfriend of my 17-year-old son. Yet, Luke and I had as much of a bonding experience on our college visit excursion as Barbra Streisand and Seth Rogen’s characters do in the new movie “The Guilt Trip.”

    There’s nothing like getting away from the day to day, where our conversations often resemble variations of the following:

    “How was school?”


    “Any progress on your college essay?”


    “Dinner’s in ten.”


    The distance from home is only part of the reconnection process, though. As we’re often told, it’s not the destination, it’s the journey. Or to quote Bab’s Joyce Brewster as she’s revving up the car: “The adventure begins.”

    And what a beginning we had. Luke and I may not have the comic timing of the Oscar-winning actress and the Judd Apatow prodigy, but we do know how to bring the funny. Our shared sense of humor came in handy when we left our Upper East Side building to head upstate at 5:15am to find our rental car was missing. It had been towed or stolen (for a minute or two, we weren’t sure which). I had picked up the car the evening before and parked it down the block by Carl Schurz Park along with a row of other vehicles. When we got there in the wee hours of the morning, all the cars were missing. I called our precinct and found out they had been “relocated” because of an art fair taking place later that day. With the help of two policemen cruising East End Avenue, we found our Nissan near Gracie Mansion.

    The car ride was pretty standard fare: We drove and chit chatted about nothing in particular; Luke caught a little shuteye; our next conversation went a little deeper into what he really wanted from his college experience; he went back to sleep, then woke up in time to help me follow the GPS directions because that digital voice never fails to say, “Make a right…” after we’ve already passed the turn.

    When we arrived at the university, Luke and I followed the crowd to a modern, brightly lit, glass-enclosed building with tables of refreshments and breakfast treats, as well as goodie bags and balloons. The current students and parents were friendly and welcoming. The whole atmosphere made the twenty-minute wait to check in fly by. But wait. What do you mean we’re not on the list? Yes, we were in the wrong place. High school seniors looking to take a tour of the school “meet over there.”

    A seven-minute campus-trolley ride later, we were squeezed into a meeting room where there were only enough seats for the students. Parents sat on the floor (moms) or leaned against the wall (dads), while drinking a strange brew that they were passing off as coffee.

    We quite enjoyed our tour, led by a senior–a typical nice guy, who was thorough in his description of the programs and activities. Hence, the reason Luke and I shared many a giggle and eye roll at the mother who still managed to fire a battery of questions at the young man, as though she were an investigative reporter for a major news outlet.

    We also shared an “enough already” glance as we counted the times parents and hopeful students asked if it was easy to switch roommates, because apparently they didn’t believe our guide the first nineteen times he said, “Switching roommates isn’t a problem.”

    Luke and I ended our day with a late afternoon lunch in town, where we turned into a modern-day version of Eddie Albert and Eva Gabor on “Green Acres.”

    Luke:   Land spreadin’ out so far and wide 
    Manhattan, just give me that countryside.

    Me:   New York is where I’d rather stay. 
    I get allergic smelling hay. 

    We then engaged in a discussion where I shared my heartfelt story of enduring my Bronx upbringing from fourth grade to age twenty-five, when I was finally able to move from my “outta” borough into the glamorous world of Manhattan, and how happy I was that I could give my children the opportunity to grow up in the place my family had been unable to afford. I also told him that there were people who grew up in this rather dank upstate college town who, like me, probably dreamed of living in New York City.

    He countered that he was tired of the city that I believed was the most amazing place on Earth. (Apparently, he prefers the great outdoors.) He then went on to say that it was he who would be living at the school for four years, not me, so it didn’t really matter whether I thought it was dank.

    Well, I couldn’t argue with that. And I realized right then that I really didn’t care which school he chose or where it was, as long as he was happy.

    As we drove back down state, Luke talked the whole way to keep me from falling asleep at the wheel. The endless highway that offered the freedom of the open road earlier in the day was now just a mindless stretch of driving that separated me from the bed I would collapse in as soon as we got home.

    While Luke and I shared the tale of our travels with my husband, Neil, and daughter, Meg—blunders, laughs, and all—I realized this would be one of many “remember the time” stories that he and I would share in our lifetimes. And that alone made it worth the trip.

    Lorraine Duffy Merkl is a freelance writer in NYC and author of the novel, FAT CHICK. Learn more about her writing at lorraineduffymerkl.com.

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