Fall, Family, and Football at Notre Dame

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I told y’all we’ve been traveling a lot lately–one trip each month since May–and last weekend was our October trip.  Thanks to the generosity of one of my oldest and dearest friends, we had tickets to the Notre Dame vs. USC game, so we headed up for some football and a visit with Teddy, who is a Junior now.

This was my third visit to Notre Dame–John and I brought Teddy up to begin his college career, and then I returned that Spring for Moms’ Weekend.  John was the one who drove him up to see the campus when he was in high school, and he’s been up briefly to pick him up a few times, but since Teddy has a car now we hadn’t had any reason to visit since his first year.

We left on Friday with the idea of arriving early.  Can I laugh at our hopeful plans?  First we couldn’t even make it out of Knoxville for one reason or another until almost two hours after we left our house.  Then en route we had to sit unmoving for 1.5 hours because of a wreck that shut down the bridge over the Ohio River.  So it was after 9 p.m. when we finally arrived.  We blundered about a bit because I was driving and I can’t see so well in the dark until we were able to find the parking lot where Teddy wanted to meet us so we could have a late dinner together.

I got my hugs, which is my favorite part, and we had a good time talking over supper.  Teddy probably would have been good to hang out some more but we are old and tired and still had to get to our hotel (12 miles away because football).

The football game was a night game, with kickoff at 7:30 p.m., so I asked Teddy what time we would need to arrive at the game.  He said tailgating started by noon (actually, it starts even earlier!).  I asked who was having a tailgate? “Everyone,” he answered.  I asked which ones we were going to, and he replied, “All of them.”

Well, that turned out to be an exaggeration, but it was still pretty amazing.  We made a trip to the bookstore first–which was predictably a zoo, but I needed a sweatshirt–and then spent about five hours taking in the spectacle that is Notre Dame tailgating.

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The pictures really don’t give a sense of the full scope of the thing, with an enormous parking lot pretty much completely given over to revelry.  Tents, televisions, generators, tiki bars, rows and rows of porta-potties, food of all kinds (we sampled brats, burgers, and burritos, to name just a few), and naturally freely-flowing alcohol (insert Irish stereotype here).

I’m not a seasoned tailgater, so perhaps the above isn’t so unusual, but there were definitely some uniquely Notre Dame touches:

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The tents we visited were hosted by parents of Teddy’s friends, many of whom attend all the home games.  It was good to meet them, and also to talk to Teddy’s friends and hear them say nice things about him.  And to see him get irritated when they heard us calling him Teddy instead of Theo (his preference) and tried to follow suit.

We were ready to head to the stadium before Teddy was, him having no interest in the pre-game activities.  So around 6:30 we left the party and headed over.  To me it was a thrill just to enter the stadium.  Not that anything can top Neyland Stadium here in Knoxville, but there’s just something about Notre Dame football.

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It was sunset when we arrived, and not too cold yet, but that was soon to change.

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We were pleased with our seats–we had a good view of the field and of the famous Touchdown Jesus.

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All colleges have special traditions and ways of doing things.  Notre Dame may have more than most.  Of course I appreciated that when the players run out onto the field they all fall to their knees at the end of the field and pray before the game begins.  Yet there was no invocation before the game–perhaps that’s a Southern thing?  Every time they announced their fight song they let us know that it’s the best one ever (I forget the exact words they use but the phrase is always the same).  In general, Notre Dame fans and for that matter their alumni seem more insanely devoted than people from other schools.

Anyway, we enjoyed the new experience–and the win–but not the rapidly falling temperature; it was 37 degrees by the time the game was over and we went to find Teddy.  There was still some tailgating going on–one of our hosts sang an Irish tune for us before we headed back to our car.  Thankfully, Teddy lives off campus just a short walk away, and was able to get us free parking there; non-residents normally pay $35 on game days.

The next morning we drove back to campus to hang out with Teddy for a little while, which gave me an opportunity to take some Fall pictures:

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We ended up at the Grotto to say a prayer before heading back to Knoxville.

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There were no blocked bridges on the way home, thankfully.

We will visit Notre Dame again for Junior Parents’ Weekend in February, after which you will likely be seeing some pictures of a snow-covered campus!

Fall, Family, and Football

Cheer, Cheer for Old Notre Dame

Today I watched my first Notre Dame football game as the parent of a student. After all, I’m “part of the Notre Dame family now,” (as we were reminded MANY times during last weekend’s orientation events).

Teddy's view from the student section today
Teddy’s view from the student section today

(Fortunately, the Notre Dame game was at 3:30 and the University of Tennessee game didn’t start until 6:00. My next door neighbor, a Notre Dame alumna, couldn’t understand why there would be any conflict for me if they aired at the same time! But I digress.)
I’ve grown up hearing about Notre Dame, which was always presented as the pinnacle for a Catholic student, and at one point I assumed I would go there. Then I read the Barron’s Guide which stated that there was nothing to do there in the dead of winter but stay on campus and drink beer. [edit: I am told this is accurate.] That probably sounds attractive to many high school students, but I was turned off and did not even apply.
Of course, now I’ve seen the place, and realize that as big and wonderful as the campus is, whether there is anything to do in South Bend is immaterial. I don’t have any regrets because I loved Georgetown, but I am very excited for Teddy and the adventures he is going to have.
The mystique surrounding Notre Dame is unbelievable. I don’t think there is anywhere I could have announced that Teddy had chosen that would have incited a more enthusiastic response. I had not realized myself until visiting the place just how attending a Catholic high school inculcates you with a familiarity with and reverence for the place. Teddy played high school football for the Knoxville Catholic Irish (and just last weekend, KCHS played the Chattanooga Notre Dame High School’s Irish!). The Notre Dame leprechaun was painted in the middle of the old Catholic High’s floor. Teddy wore gold and blue for most of his football career. We played the Notre Dame fight song at games when I was in high school. All the sports memorabilia that I saw at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center at the Purcell Pavilion looked eerily familiar. I told Teddy that all his high school sporting attire and t-shirts are going to fit right in (a good thing, too, since that’s most of his wardrobe).
ND purcell center detail 2
Notre Dame sets out to cultivate that mystique and to build loyalty from the moment you arrive with your kid. Once we were allowed on campus and directed to the back entrance to Teddy’s hall (St. Edward’s, the oldest one, built in 1882), we were met by an enthusiastic bunch of identically-dressed, cheering young men who surrounded our car, washed our windshield, and whisked Teddy and all his belongings upstairs in two minutes or less.
ND St. Edwards 3
As the weekend went on, we were fed every meal (for free!) in the campus dining halls (one of which features a fireplace big enough to roast a cow in and a mural of the Last Supper on the wall), offered the opportunity to watch Rudy (we were too tired), given ample time to walk around campus to absorb the iconic atmosphere, and welcomed officially via orientation events that went on until Sunday afternoon.
Saturday morning we were invited to meet with the rector and the rest of the residence hall staff in the hall chapel. Yes, EVERY hall has its own chapel and daily Mass at 10 p.m. I’m told that it’s really something to walk around campus on Sunday evenings and hearing the singing coming out of each hall. I’m not sure what I had envisioned when I pictured a hall chapel, but it wasn’t this.
ND Chapel Altar
St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)
St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)

We were welcomed, we were instructed, we were reassured about the safety and welfare of our sons. Later in the afternoon we attended a welcome at the Purcell Center for the freshman and then a special session for parents while students were meeting their first year advisers. That was the first time we heard “You are part of the Notre Dame family now” but it wasn’t the last. We heard from the President of the University, the Dean of First Year Studies, and others, before adjourning to explore the many course offerings in the different academic buildings–making John and me wish we could go back to school and major in more subjects!
We had plenty of time for exploration while Teddy was busy setting up his room and doing his own thing. We spent hours in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We walked around one of the two lakes. We visited the grotto. Teddy was only with us part of the time but he was doing his own exploring and said that his feet hurt. Seriously, how even an in-shape young person can handle all the walking necessary in that enormous place (no cars, y’all!) is beyond me.
Basilica interior
Basilica interior

View across the lake
View across the lake

grotto
grotto

On our last morning we went to the Purcell Pavilion again for a Mass celebrated by the President of the University. (Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, by the way, was very much in evidence throughout the entire weekend.) Mass was followed by a box lunch in our seats, during which Teddy joined us so that we could experience the last event together.
This was “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” and there was no doubt that it had been carefully orchestrated to make us feel part of that “Notre Dame family” and to send us off on a high note. It featured words of welcome from the Mayor of South Bend, the athletic director, the football coach, and the women’s basketball coach, followed by musical performances from the all-male Glee Club, a mixed ensemble, and the Notre Dame Band. Notre Dame has a lot of traditional songs apparently, and we heard them all. We sang the Alma Mater, and the whole thing culminated with “the moment we’d all been waiting for” (seriously, they said that, and by then it was pretty much true): the Notre Dame Fight Song.
I had never visited Notre Dame before and did not know what to expect, but to say I was impressed by the program and the place is to understate my reaction. I am very excited for Teddy, and I can’t wait to go back and visit again.
ND Golden Dome

Over One Thousand Pounds


That’s how much weight my second son lifted (not all at once!) at the KCHS Football Liftathon on Monday night.  To be exact, it was 1,100 lbs. He benched 340, power cleaned 300, and squatted 460.

If you have kids, you probably know the special feeling it gives you to see yourself reflected in one of your children.    Like me, Emily was an early talker–she could say 80 words at the age of one year.  She loved books from an early age and always has her nose in one now.  She has always had a rich imaginary life.  She’s a writer.   Jake’s a writer, too, and he loves to sing, and cook, and does theatre, and is actually interested when I talk about plants and flowers.
But when someone asked John and me whence comes Teddy’s ability to lift large amounts of weight, we had to deny all responsibility.  We are not athletic and never were.  Teddy is the only one of our kids to show any interest in sports, and he was in the 8th grade before he participated formally.
But there’s another special feeling you get from watching your kid do something that is totally his own, something you never did, could never do, aren’t even interested in doing, but still admire and are almost in awe of.  That’s how we felt the other night, watching Teddy pick up all the Liftathon medals for his class.

This boy has amazing discipline and drive.  Two years ago he told me how much he planned to weigh by now, and he ate his way there (he’s always hungry).  All he wanted for Christmas and his birthday were exercise and weight-lifting related items.  If he doesn’t have workouts scheduled at school, he often goes to the gym on his own.
One of Teddy’s coaches called him Hercules the other night, and I told him that Teddy wore a Hercules costume around the clock for 18 months as a toddler.  I wonder if maybe Teddy has an inner Philoctetes urging him along today!

Teddy is not a totally foreign creature to his parents.  We can at least claim genetic credit for his academic talents (well, he thinks he is smarter than both of us), which are on par with his athletic abilities.  He does some pretty heavy lifting academically as well, maintaining a GPA that is actually HIGHER than 4.0, taking AP courses, and scoring a 34 on the ACT recently.  Again, though, it’s his own drive to succeed that keeps him up late studying when necessary due to his football schedule.  We never have to say a thing to him about homework or grades.
For once, the prognosticators got it right. Whenever people saw me walking around with chubby little Teddy (who weighed, they predicted he would play football one day.