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A Family Trip, Mythbusters and the Bittersweet Goodbye to a Child Off to College

by on July 30, 2019 8:59 AM

It’s almost August, which means it’s that time of year where mothers across America begin to realize that departure is imminent — the departure of their children as they pack up and leave for college for the first time.  

If you have yet to experience this emotion, I can assure you that from observation in my family it’s one of both great sadness and great joy.

There’s sadness that their young — the children they carried for months within their bodies, birthed, raised, nurtured, and educated — are leaving home for an extended period. For weeks or months, possibly forever. Not just days. Not just a weeklong camp or a few nights with the grandparents on a trip or a sleepover. No, they will drop off their young at some distant location, entrust them to themselves and a community unknown to them, and drive away.

Then there is the joy. Joy that their young are embarking on a great adventure with limitless possibilities as they grow into adults, prepare themselves to take their place in the world, and who knows, maybe provide another generation of kin. The joy of seeing an experiment in life grow up and move on. The joy of the future.

And as mothers of student-athletes know, that imminence is already upon us. Student-athletes reporting to college for camp has already started. Such is our life at the moment as “reporting” is 8 a.m. tomorrow.

So last week we took a family trip to Canada for five days and spent most every minute together. OK, every minute save for that early morning 8-mile long, 2,000 foot vertical hike up a wooded mountain without the benefit of bug spray (calamine lotion is your friend!), that our progeny chose to sleep through. 

During those five days we ate out numerous times and enjoyed each other’s company. We learned the difference between bonjour and bonsoir (the former is for the morning and daytime, the latter for evening), and we did our best to be good, respectful guests. We tried to follow a recent NPR column’s advice and initiate small talk with strangers to increase happiness. We learned that ketchup is a universal condiment, and we discovered we would be excited if the small chain of Bâton Rouge Steakhouse & Bars opened a location in Happy Valley since they make a great poutine. 

During those few moments of downtime our last day as we began to transition back to “real life,” a rerun of “Mythbusters” generated a dinner conversation. Because I tend to appreciate make-the-world-a-better place topics, the “Mythbusters” episode reminded me to question why some of the very interesting and useful ideas the show presented had not been adopted by the general public. Both our daughter and son were “Mythbusters” aficionados so it was easy to come up with a few good ones.

For example, in season 7, episode 14, the Mythbusters tested golf balls and found that there is a reason for the dimples on a golf ball: dimpled golf balls fly almost twice as far as smooth ones. The aerodynamics of the dimples reduce drag on the ball and allow it to go much further. They then tried this concept out on a car and discovered that a car with dimples all over it got more than 10% better fuel efficiency than the same car without the dimples. Considering all the concern about greenhouse gases and CO2 emissions from vehicles, and the myriad calculations needed for automakers to meet fuel economy standards, this would seem to be a cut-and-dried way to make things at least a little better. Put dimples all over vehicles. Sure, it might be considered ugly at first, but so was the Prius. And look how many of those are out there. Why can’t I buy a dimpled SUV?

Or how about season 11, episode 3, when the Mythbusters tested hand dryers versus paper towels in public restrooms. Using a harmless strain of E. coli bacteria they demonstrated that paper towels removed over 70% of the bacteria on the volunteers’ hands, versus the hand dryers which only removed 23% of the bacteria. The paper towels were three times better at removing bacteria. In addition, they showed that the entire restroom itself had very few bacteria colonies when paper towels were used but almost 12 times as many when hand dryers were used. And those colonies were spread all over the restroom from the air propulsion. Given that the flu killed about 80,000 people in the 2017-2018 season according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and productivity losses linked to absenteeism cost U.S. employers billions every year, why are there still so many public restrooms with air dryers? 

Then there’s season 12, episode 14 when the Mythbusters, in a test that our New Jersey and upstate New York neighbors will appreciate, discover the most efficient method to move vehicles through a four-way intersection. It turns out that a roundabout allowed 20% more vehicles to get through the intersection than a four-way stop sign. Yet here we are in Happy Valley with only one roundabout I know of in the entire area – at the intersection of Old Gatesburg Road and Pine Hall Road. Why am I not driving in circles more here in the Centre Region or the rest of Pennsylvania?

There are more but you get the idea. And so do our daughter and son – especially our son whose collegiate journey starts very soon. Maybe he’ll get answers to those questions during his student-athlete experience. Maybe the make-the-world-a-better-place gene was passed on and encourages his sense of wonder. Maybe he gets the same heartwarming experience with his kids.

What I can assure you is that it has been a wonderful privilege spending time with him discussing those and many, many other questions, and although a sad departure is imminent, we are joyful of all the experiences the future will bring. Go Wagner Seahawks!



John Hook is the president of The Hook Group, a local management consulting firm, and active in several nonprofit organizations. Previously John spent 25 years in executive, management and marketing positions with regional and national firms. John lives in Ferguson Township with his wife Jackie and their two children.
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