I wish I had been in a sorority. At my 30th reunion this October, it would be joyous to return to “the house” to see my “sisters”. I would win the trifecta of homecoming refresher questions: “What was your major?” “English.” “Where’d you live freshman year?” “Botetourt.” “Were you in a sorority?“ Eeerrrrrkkkkkkk (insert record scratch here).
But in 1978, I wasn’t that interested. I had more than plenty to do on campus. Write for The Flat Hat. Play in the band. My freshman hall felt like a sorority. There was plenty of Greek life for me: fraternity parties. I even managed to live in the fraternity complex (now known as “The Units”) sophomore year. My roommate, Carolyn, got bumped in the lottery and when Sigma Nu lost its house in the complex, a co-ed dorm was formed: Unit A. We got a room.
When my daughter, Katie, decided to participate in sorority rush her freshman year, I was excited. She would have an experience I wished I’d had. But I was also nervous. As a middle and high school teacher I had seen adolescence at its best and worst. Girls could be mean. Really mean. When Katie was in sixth grade, the movie Mean Girls came out. I took her and a friend to see it. After the film was over, they turned to me and asked “High school isn’t really like that, is it?” I couldn’t lie. “Yeah. Sometimes it is.”
Our high school experience had its moments. There were cliques and bullying on site. At home, with the emerging internet world of MySpace and chat rooms and instant messaging, meanness crept in through our computers and then our cell phones. Parenting was tough, heartbreaking and constant. It had been easier to bandage skinned knees and cut fingers. Broken hearts and hurt feelings were sometimes invisible.
I bought a copy of Queen Bees and Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman—the nonfiction book that was the inspiration for the Mean Girls movie. I highlighted sections for Katie to read, introducing terms like “cliques” and “alpha”. She identified most with the “gamma girl” concept. Phew.
During the spring of Katie’s senior year in high school, we met Wiseman at a conference and, with college a few months away, I asked her thoughts on sororities. She was quiet for a long moment then turned to Katie and said (paraphrased) “Never let anyone make you do anything you don’t want to do just for the sake of being part of a group.”
As I said, I was nervous about Katie’s decision to participate in sorority rush the fall of her freshman year. It was just a few weeks into the semester. Classes had barely started. Freshman orientation had been intense. There was a strong alliance to Dupont 3rd East. Adjust for a while. Rush later. At the core of my mother heart and in the back of my parent brain was the concept of being “picked” by a group of girls.
It was a roller coaster—logistically and emotionally—that peaked with a pledge and ended in withdrawal with lots of discussion and phone calls in between. Anne Arseneau, Director of Student Leadership Development in the Office of Fraternity and Sorority Life, was a tremendous help and was extremely patient with a desperate mother. She explained timelines and procedures. She outlined options. She put me in touch with a chapter advisor—a W&M graduate who called me and was so very helpful and caring that I wanted to join the chapter myself. Ultimately, though, it was not my decision and Katie determined that she wasn’t ready to be in a sorority. There was little satisfaction that I had known this from the very beginning.
The next fall brought another Rush. By this time, Katie had friends in lots of sororities. She had a “feel” for college and how a sorority would fit into her life. She entered the Rush process with more experience and better settled as a sophomore. She identified a couple of sororities she really liked. Neither chose her for the next round. (A year later my heart still hurts a little as I write that sentence.)
She regrouped and reconsidered. A phone call came.
“I really feel comfortable at Delta Gamma.”
“Are you sure? You don’t have to join a sorority. You have a circle of good friends, plenty of extra-curricular stuff….” I trailed off as I struggled for a clearer vision. Was I seeing her future? Or my past?
“You know, Mom, I’ve decided I want to be in a sorority. I’m not sure they’re all that different. They all do kind of the same things. They all have good altruistic causes. And they’re all really just a bunch of girls.”
Within weeks, my only child had the big sister she’d always wanted.
When I visited campus for Homecoming last October, I asked Katie to stand with me to watch the parade.
“Can’t. I’m watching it with my family, Mom. Bye!”
I stood alone on the sidewalk.
“Anne.” It was Marcus, a friend from my freshman year. Grateful for the reunion, but still stinging with abandonment, I blurted, “My daughter left me to go stand with her family.”
Marcus, father of two daughters, touched my arm and replied, “I totally understand.”
Suddenly, a chorus of voices, “Anne! Anne! ANNE Sharp!!!”
Across the street, a cluster of girls waved frantically, Katie in the center. Marcus and I rushed between a gap in the parade and reached the other side.
“Mom, this is my Daisy Family. This is Eliza, my Big. And this is her Big,–my Big Big and this is Cousin Lydia and this is….”
After they each hugged me, I snapped pictures for our family album.