Tag Archives: university of iowa

Once A Hawkeye…


So, my baby graduated from college, marking the end of a parenting era for us. Four up, four down. Four Hawkeyes. When I tell people that all of our kids attended the University of Iowa, they naturally wonder if my husband and I had also attended. And…no we hadn’t. We actually both went to Loyola University of Chicago. Iowa just sort of…happened. Continue reading


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Never Say Never…Or How I Came To Celebrate my Daughter’s Birthday


“Your next one will be a girl.” I laughed and said, “I’m not brave enough to take that chance!” After all, that prediction was uttered by a superstitious woman from the old country, after studying the swirl of hair on my infant son’s head. Based on the direction of the swirl, she was quite confident in her assertion. I was most definitely going to have another child and it would most definitely be female. Based on the fact that I was holding my third son in my arms, I was quite confident that she was a certified loony. For one thing, another child was the furthest thing from my mind. I mean little Petey was only six months old. And, ummm….a girl?? Yeah, pretty sure that wasn’t gonna happen. I mean, I had boys. I was used to boys. I was a “boy mom”. Though there was a female presence in my family growing up (I did have a mother and a sister, after all), the male presence was far more overpowering – a dad and five brothers. I was a tomboy as a kid. Boys never intimidated me. I kind of knew how they worked. But a girl?? That was outside my comfort zone. Yes, I know I am a girl, but I was never really into girly things. I’d be a terrible girl mom. Of that I was sure.

So, that said…today my husband, my three sons and I celebrate my daughter’s twenty-second birthday. That’s right. Two and a half years after that fateful prediction, we welcomed little Mary Kathryn into the family. A few months before she made her grand entrance into the world (and before ultrasounds were routine procedures) a co-worker in my office casually asked to see my hands. Not sure of her reason for the strange request, I held out both hands for her to view. “You’re going to have a girl,” she announced. Wait. What? Yes, because I held my hands out palms down, she was able to determine that a pink bundle was on its way. Laughing it off, I later told my oldest son, Mike, about the prediction of a little sister. He was beside himself. “You did WHAT? How could you?” The sound of horror in his voice made me think that maybe I shouldn’t have been so reckless in my hand display. What madness had I unleashed?

I reassured him that silly superstitions were just that – silly and meaningless. But, I have to admit, I wasn’t so sure when, on November 6, 1994, after a relatively quick labor, the doctor announced, “We gotta girl!” Yikes. I tried to do all the things moms of girls do. I can remember trying to fix her hair in super cute ways before school (well, they were super cute in my head, anyway) but never achieving the desired look and ending with a slapped together ponytail and an apology, “I’m sorry Mary Kate. I’m not a very good girl mom.” And she’d try to soothe my failure with, “That’s okay” as she’d head through the school doors.

So, while it’s true that I might have been lacking in girl skills, she can’t deny that I equipped her with more important life skills at a young age, like when she was desperate to quit the rockestra band at school but wasn’t sure how because the band teacher simply would not allow it. She tried to explain to him that she was not quitting the whole band and that she had every intention of continuing band in high school. She has even gone on to pursue her Bachelor of Music degree in college, and is in her year senior year as a percussion performance major at the University of Iowa. But he would have none of it. I understood where he was coming from. You hate to allow a young kid to quit things when the going gets tough. Especially something like music, which is always hard, but important to keep at it if even a spark of talent shines through. But, quite honestly, after fourteen years with kids in the band, I was okay with her letting go of this particular commitment. She was desperate to find a solution. So, I told her after careful consideration, there was only one logical way this was gonna happen. She would have to fake her own death. “I can do that,” she confidently assured me.

Twenty-two years of having a girl and I still don’t think I’m a very good girl mom. We bond over trashy reality TV, terribly acted Lifetime Movies and true murder shows. She now knows what NOT to do to pull off the perfect murder. But, I think we both agree that being a little edgy is a heck of a lot more fun than getting the pigtails right. This is what she tweeted for MotherYOU TRIED

And our exchange on Facebook in response to that tweet:

Mary Kate Naughton: looooove yooouuuu 🙂

Marilyn Toner Naughton: Ahhhh, ain’t love grand?
Mary Kate Naughton: to be fair, you responded with “I hate you”
Yeah, I’d say we have a pretty awesome mother-daughter thing going on. Happy Birthday Mary Kate!! And ya know what? I’m glad Peter’s hair swirled just the right way and I held my hands out palms down.  🙂

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Happy Mother’s Day…Or Why You Should Be Happy The Kids Are Gone

Mothers-DayHappy Mother’s Day! Someone remarked to me recently what a good mother I am, to which I responded that it’s easy when the kids aren’t around. My children are slowly growing up and moving away from Mom and Dad. Does that sadden me? No. It makes me happy and proud. That’s what’s supposed to happen. My oldest son, Mike, is married to the lovely Laura 🙂 and living in downtown Chicago. Brian is finishing up his second year of grad school at DePaul University and also living downtown. He has started working on his thesis, which will be the final piece of his graduate studies and will take him well into the next school year. As his mom, I would love if he could make his career in Chicago, and that could happen, however, I know that his field may very well lead him to other parts of the country. And that’s okay, too. If that happens, we’ll miss him terribly, but he must follow his path. My two youngest, Peter and Mary Kate, only have a short time left to be together, as students in the Percussion Studio at University of Iowa. Peter is set to graduate next Saturday and then, together, they will embark on the Steel Band Tour the following week. (Since it’s Mother’s Day, I will boast that Mary Kate is the only freshman who will be going on the tour…so that’s pretty cool 🙂  As a girl drummer, she totally rocks!) The University of Tennessee in Knoxville then beckons Peter to begin his graduate studies in the fall, a short six hundred mile drive away…

Today, I will spend my Mother’s Day in Iowa City for Pete’s final recital. As a music major, he was required to perform a formal Senior Recital, which is much more than simply a performance. It involves choosing the music, researching the composers and the background of the pieces, creating arrangements of pieces and, of course, a perfect execution of the music for an audience. Pete chose to perform a recital his sophomore, junior and senior years. His formal Senior Recital was nothing short of awesome. The recital which I am attending today, is what he has termed, his “fun” recital. I’m not sure how many kids would voluntarily perform an extra recital, just for fun. I’m guessing not many. And I can’t wait to hear and see him play. My husband and I made the three-hour drive to Iowa City two nights ago to see the last Steel Band Concert of the school year, and, more importantly, the last concert Mary Kate and Peter will perform together. Today, we will see Peter’s  last performance of his undergraduate career. And we can’t wait. Next Thursday, I’ll make that drive again to move MK out of her dorm and into her brother’s apartment as they prepare for their tour. I will then return on  Friday for the graduation on Saturday. After sending four children to the University of Iowa, the drive is second nature. Like running to the grocery store. “I’m going to Iowa. Be back in six hours…Need anything while I’m out?”

So, yes, I’m celebrating the fact that my kids are leaving me. You should be too. And, if your kids are still young-uns, remember that this is the goal.

So, on this Mother’s Day, I will leave you with my unsolicited advice on parenting (in no particular order):

1. Don’t be afraid of the word NO. It may very well be the most important one in your vocabulary. Just ask my kids…

2. Instill a solid faith in God. It’s what will get them through the tough times.They may stray, but will hopefully return if they have something to return to.

3. Let them know that there WILL be tough times. I will repeat the wise words of a priest at church: “Parents, teach your kids that life is not fair.”

4. Laugh. Laugh loud and often. Tease and allow yourself to be teased.

5. Expose them to everything – sports, music, chess, books, theater, etc and see what excites them. And then encourage them to follow their dreams. 

And most importantly…

6. Do not discourage or quash their spirit. “Every child is an artist until they are told they are not”  John Lennon

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Lesson Learned: Don’t Trust The Emoji…


TOOTHLESS EMOJIWell, we’re heading into the home-stretch of the school year now and it’s hard to believe my youngest is almost finished with her first year of college. In preparation for the upcoming final exams, I received a message from the University of Iowa that a Care Package filled with healthy snacks (or not so healthy, depending on how much you love your child) can be ordered to help them get through that grueling week of final exams.

Let me just say right here that I have always been a person overflowing with good intentions… Over the course of four children,  ten years of college (so far),  and a grand total (so far) of twenty-five Final Exam Weeks, I know I sent a Care Package at least once. Maybe twice. Possibly three times, but probably not.  So last fall, when I received the same email notification, I thought, “Wouldn’t that be a nice little surprise for Mary Kate?”  But of course, time got the best of me and I suddenly realized that the deadline to order had arrived. In my haste, I hurriedly filled out the online form from my cell phone and clicked, “Submit.” YES!!! I did it! I have to say, I was quite proud of myself and  smiled thinking how happy and surprised she’d be to get such a fun, special delivery. I was riding high, but my state of euphoria was soon  squelched when I received another email that changed everything. It went something like this. Well, actually, it went EXACTLY like this:

Steven D., Extended Services Director uiowaarhesd@gmail.com

Hello Marilyn,

I am the Extended Services Director for the Associated Residence Halls Board of Directors. I just wanted to let you know that your Care Package order did not go through and the reason was due to the use of an emoji in the order form. Please feel free to try and order again, however, without the use of an emoji. Let me know if you run into any other troubles.


An emoji??? ARE YOU KIDDING ME???  I admit to, probably, an over-use of emojis in my text messages, but how the heck did an emoji sneak into my order form? And, more importantly, WHICH emoji was sent?  I’ll never know. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with emoji, they are  those cute little smiley faces which often accompany a text message or Facebook status. Besides the smiley faces, there are a myriad of other little symbols that seem to perfectly punctuate most of my text messages. Upon reading of my failure to successfully order a Care Package,  I was so deflated that I decided I couldn’t go through the emotional trauma of attempting another order. So, once again, my kid had to somehow get through finals without healthy snacks to fortify her. I later learned that she only had one final since, as a music major,  most of her final grades were based on various performances.  But now, as another finals week approaches, I am grappling with the dilemma of Care Package? Or no?  Dare I? Mary Kate did ask if I could give it another try,” however, without the use of an emoji.”  I’ll let you know how that works out…

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Explain Yourself

Explain Yourself

Back in 1967, a little movie came out in late December. It starred some guy named Dustin. Maybe you’ve heard of it…just a little movie called THE GRADUATE. There’s a particular scene from that movie that keeps coming to my mind. Remember Benjamin’s graduation party? Where his parents’ friends pressure him for answers about his plans for the future? To some people, this scene may seem a little unrealistic. I mean OBVIOUSLY people don’t really act that way towards college students. However, that scene is actually kind of relatable for me. I like to think that I understand Benjamin’s frustration. The questions they’re asking him are just less blatant ways of saying, “Explain yourself!”As I mentioned in my last post, I’m currently studying music at The University of Iowa, specifically percussion performance. I’ve been playing music since I was three years old. Growing up, I did just about every camp, private lesson, competition, show, band, choir, and jam session that a kid could do (thanks Mom and Dad!). I’m a certified band geek. So naturally, I decided to continue my musical journey in college. A decision that makes perfect sense to me, but maybe not so much to other people. And I can’t really blame them.  Not many people know what a music degree can do for you.I also mentioned in my last post that I’m stupid. I’d like to make sure everyone understands that I said that as a joke. I’m not actually stupid. There are just some things that I’m not very good at – that’s the way most people are. Here’s the thing – math and science literally make no sense to me. Trying to teach math to me is like trying to get a cardboard cut-out to talk. It just ain’t gonna happen. Subjects like english and history have always come naturally to me. And music. But when your high school forces math and science on you at every turn (and of course, sports) and basically sweeps the music program under the rug, it’s kind of hard to figure out where someone like me fits in.A lot of people from my high school (not everyone) went through school mainly focused on math, science, and other AP courses of that nature. Maybe they did the school musical, maybe they were in marching band or choir. But they pretty much focused on the subjects that would eventually land them a secure job with a nice paycheck. I guess it was the other way around for me – my main focus has always been music, and maybe I studied a little math or science. The only AP class I took in high school was music theory. I’m preparing myself for possibly multiple jobs that usually don’t have nice paychecks. There are a lot of people in the world that see that and just cannot make sense of it. Why would I prepare myself for a job that isn’t secure and doesn’t pay well? How can someone even make a living with a music degree? And this thought process inevitably leads to the dreaded question:

“Well what are you gonna do with THAT degree?”

I’ve heard this question or some variation of it more times than I can count on my fingers (and toes). And every time I hear it, I just think of Benjamin trying to answer questions about his future. Because when someone asks me a question like that, they’re not just curious – they want an explanation, dammit! Explain yourself! And the truth is that I can’t really explain it. My goals in life aren’t confined to a paycheck. A few weeks ago, an older fella (and by older, I mean forty-something) was asking me about my major. And, word for word, this is what he said:

“Well yeah I know you’re studying music, but, are you actually gonna DO something? I mean, you can’t make a living by playing music.”

In his mind, playing music isn’t actually doing something. It’s not a contribution to society. And he’s not alone. There are a whole lot of people who think the same thing. If I don’t have a business model or some smarty-pants math equation to back it up, I might as well just be a bum. I shook it off because I’ve heard that reaction countless times, but it actually is pretty insulting to me. You wanna know what I’m gonna do with my degree? Here, I’ll tell you:

I’m going to be happy for the rest of my life.

Music isn’t just something that I’m interested in. It’s not just something that I’m really good at. It’s not just something that makes me happy. It’s not even just something that I care deeply about. Simply put, music is a calling. Believe me, there have been times when I wanted to do anything but music. There have been times when I’ve flubbed rehearsals or auditions. My audition at Indiana University was a colossal flub. If music was something I was only interested in, I would’ve quit back in high school. I’ve never been able to get away from music because I’ve always been called back. Music is a calling.

I was in the Hawkeye Marching Band my sophomore year. The Hawkeye Drumline (HDL is what the cool people call it) does a 10-15 minute show of its own before the game. One time after an HDL show, some lady who was probably like 105 years old came up to me and said, “I just love watching the drums. It makes me so happy!” And that’s why this all makes sense to me.

I don’t just play music for myself. As much as I truly enjoy playing for myself, that’s not what I’ve been called to do. I play music because it makes people happy. I do what I do because this world would be a sad, sad place without music. I play music because my parents told me that I have a gift I can share. I play music because I would be tremendously miserable doing anything else. As Paul Simon puts it, “Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” I love music with all my heart and soul. So the next time someone sarcastically asks me, “What are you gonna do with THAT degree?” I’ll just say, “I’m gonna be happy for the rest of my life.”



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Have You Ever Had To Make Up Your Mind? And Say Yes To One And Leave The Other Behind?


Well, it’s done… We’ve just finalized the decision of where to send our daughter, Mary Kate, to college and I can’t help but think of the line from Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, “Is that your final answer?” complete with ominous music playing. The process of choosing a college can be overwhelming, but I have to admit, this time it was absolutely grueling. And, what really kills me is that, upon hearing where she will be enrolling in the fall, I know almost everyone will respond with, “Well, that was a no-brainer. Of course that’s where she’s going.”  They’ll say this because it’s the same school that all three of our sons attended, as well. Yes, that’s right. The original list included becoming: a Huskie, a Leatherneck (I kind of like that one), a Redbird, an Illini and a Hawkeye. And…drum roll please…the final answer?…more drum roll… come this fall, she will officially become a  University of Iowa  Hawkeye. But, the decision was in NO WAY an easy one. Did you notice the capital letters? I hope so because I really meant them. In fact, Mary Kate said she was thinking that maybe she could be the different one in the family and make her own way at a different school. We assured her all along that she should not feel like she HAS to go to, what has become, quite unintentionally, the school of choice for our family. She could do her own thing. But, after an exceedingly agonizing deliberation, she settled on joining the percussion studio at Iowa. With her brother. Continue reading


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The Sound Of Music (School Apps)… ARRGGHH

Four years ago  when my son, Peter was applying to music schools, I often remarked (okay, more like whined and complained incessantly) about the complicated nature of the application process.  Prior to his baptism into the whole college app world, I had managed (quite easily, actually) to launch his two older brothers off to college.  They both even transferred schools after their freshman year.  Piece of cake.  Enter Peter, and it was like I’d never visited a college website before.  That’s because, as my finance-major son, Mike, often reminded me, the sites I was attempting to navigate were music school sites, made up of music people and the brains of music people simply don’t work the way the rest of the world’s brains work.  That’s just a fact.  So, while these websites probably made perfect sense to the musically gifted, the rest of us normal people were left pulling our hair out.  The first test, I learned was this:  just trying to FIND the application

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