I am two and a half years removed from graduation, plus one Domer husband and two children, and I still live under the shadow of the dome. Never gonna grow up, I guess. I think a lot of people can be incredulous when they find out that we live here, but let me tell you: it is just as gilded of a life now as it was in my undergrad days.
Ryan and I try to make it out of the sucking black hole of the morning that turns 8am to 11am into two seconds with frustratingly zero productivity. A great number of the days, we are not successful, and I find myself in Lake Vanilla situations. Our best method against this is to quickly pack a lunch and other sustenance for the toddler with a black hole for a stomach himself, somehow wrestle him into his clothes so he doesn't go out in his home uniform of a diaper, tell Ryan we are going in the stroller, hear the triumphant, "Suh-roll!!" followed by a hurried stampede of stocky steps toward the door. He hops into his chariot and off we stroll away from that powerful time suck.
Once we cross Angela Blvd into the shade of the trees lining ND Ave and the cemetery, I feel my to do list slipping away. Ryan starts exclaiming, "Hi! Hi! Hi!" to the statue of the Blessed Mother near a headstone followed by, "May! May!" and finally, "Bye! Byyyye!" This statue is probably the fourth or fifth statue of Mary that we have passed in less than half a mile.
We weave our way around bikes and walkers (not Walking Dead walkers), and find ourselves a spot to both roam and relax. God Quad is our favorite. The squirrels are endless, and so are their appetites.
I used to sit on the benches at campus and marvel at its beauty. Somehow though, I was never truly able to appreciate it because there were always worries about papers to be written, an exam possibly failed, books to be read, and more that clouded my ability to truly appreciate its simple splendor and the people that it contained.
Now, whenever we are at the park close by or even just in our backyard, my mind is always drifting to the clothes I need to fold, business needs, bills to be paid, how I just tipped the number of dirty items in the sink to triple digits, the unsorted hand-me-downs that have been sitting on Ryan's floor for three weeks, the unanswered emails and all other little details. On campus, it all fades away somehow. I know that I will be able to get what is important finished, but for that moment, I can focus on blowing bubbles with my son in this too often criticized Notre Dame bubble.
My child can point out Mary standing atop the Golden Dome and head bangs to the sound of Immaculate Mary coming from the Basilica bells when its time for the Angelus. He plays in the shadow of Touchdown Jesus. We get to steal Chris for a half hour or so for lunch on the quad. My stroller becomes our food truck, and Ryan has his pick of trees to explore. It is golden.
There is a worry squirming in the back of my mind that maybe our alma mater won't be special to Ryan if he is so used to it and sometimes I find myself wondering if it is bad that I spend so much time on campus. My biased heart and mind have come to the definite conclusion of N-O. We spend plenty of time doing other South Bend things not associated with Notre Dame: play dates, visits to the fantastic downtown library, discovering the ethnic grocery stores, braving the farmer's market, riding on the bike paths, finding new parks, local service opportunities, stopping at local shop events ... the list doesn't go on too much more, but Chris and I are just a pair of introverts, after all.
If I lived in New York or London or Chicago, would I not go to Central Park, Hyde Park or Lincoln Park just because I had spent so much time there before? Just because it is so close? Just because it is the cliche thing to do? From what I know of those places, I don't think so.
Campus is our Central Park, our thousand acre backyard, and I'm not going to stop spending time there anytime soon.
Campus is our prize when we manage to have our breakfast dishes washed by ten and our solace when they are in danger of being charged rent for their sink squatting. It is our coffee in the morning and our lullaby at nap time.
I'm being challenged as a new mother and new wife constantly so being able do so while in the comfort of Our Lady's university embrace is a welcome maternal presence. Will I still feel simultaneously invigorated and at peace at the same time when I sit on campus a few years down the road? I hope so. I pray that I do, and I'm pretty sure that Our Lady will be praying, too.