Tomorrow, Ross and I will be heading down to Hartford, Connecticut, where we will leave The Boy in Trinity College's care for the next four years. (We've done what we can, Trinity - now you take a crack at him.) We will be making this trip in a car packed with more worldly goods than a family of six took on the Oregon Trail. The Boy will be bleary-eyed from staying up until 2 am messaging his hometown friends. And I will still be filling out the last of the approximately 187 forms that are now required to transfer
1. Start saving those Target gift cards. Seriously. You will walk into your local Target (or Walmart) with the intention of getting your incoming freshman a pair of flip flops for the shower and some sheets. You will stagger out again four hours later, having spent $341 on a mini-fridge, underbed storage bins, a bed-in-a-bag set, folding chair (with coordinating lamp,) shower caddy, backpack laundry bag, a throw rug and an over-the-door whiteboard organizer.
I never thought of myself as one of those parents until I found myself trying to ensure my son's cinder-block dorm room could pass for a suite at the Hyatt. You know what I took to college with me? A hot pot and a three-gallon jug of laundry detergent! (Which I also got for my son. And stain remover. I stopped myself from buying the expandable drying rack.) I probably should have followed my mother's advice. When I went away to Ithaca, she said, "You have to live in your room for a while before you'll know what you really need." In this instance, you should probably listen to her, unless you can convince yourself that you'll decorate with multi-colored milk boxes if your kid finds she doesn't use them.
2. Bookmark those college sites and save your kid's user name and password. Unsurprisingly for institutes of higher learning, colleges want to share information with you and your matriculating student. Lots and lots of information. There will be the email service and the student portal, the financial aid page and the ebill pay site, the incoming student update list, the bookstore text list, the pdfs from professors and TAs list... you and your student will find yourself muttering across the dining room table as you each attempt to navigate the labyrinth from your respective laptops. Save every one as you locate it, and the next time you need the orientation schedule, you'll have it in a thrice, leaving more time for important things, like telling your kid to for God's sake get off the YouTube jazz channel and start packing already.
3. Make time for those little, practical life lessons. You will be amazed to discover that the same teen who took three AP courses and hit the 95th percentile on the SATs doesn't know how to use a washing machine. Or write a return address on a letter. Or balance a checking account (to be fair, I still don't know how to do this.) The Boy and I spent a half hour practice-sorting pieces of clothing, an exercise that looked a lot like vocational training for a severely intellectually-disabled adult. "What about khaki?" "What do you think?" "Uh... colors?"
I don't care how self-sufficient you've made your children; unless you're part of the Swiss Family Robinson, I guarantee your kid is missing out on some everyday skill that you assume everybody over the age of, say, three, knows. Did you know you have to teach your kids how to look up a phone number? See what the internet has wrought.
4. Try to keep an even keel. Living with a teen in the last weeks before her college life begins is like sitting in on Uta Hagen's master class in acting: tears! anxiety! arrogance! bravado! impatience! And that's all before your kid's had breakfast (at 11:30a.m.) You, as a parent, will be feeling all of those (plus exciting midlife symptoms such as hot flash! indigestion! bad back!) You need to breath it out and not let things escalate into a free-for-all where you and your chick attempt to peck each other to death before he can escape the nest.
I am convinced the last month of the summer before matriculation is like the end of pregnancy: before that point, you were worried and overwhelmed and a little scared of the future. In the ninth month, however, you just want to get that kid out. So it is with August.
5. When the big day arrives, remember...it's not really your big day. Try to be as unobtrusively supportive as you can as your freshman navigates registration, the moving in process, and whatever other ceremonies and entertainments the college is putting on. (Trinity has a convocation and presidential address in the quad and we get to watch! I'm very excited.) At this point, you're probably going to be feeling quite sentimental (taking out eldest to Smith for the first time, I had to drive because her father kept weeping when certain songs came on the radio.) But for your child, it's all looking ahead. Here and now is the start of his future. That's what you've all been working for for so long, right?
6. LEAVE at the appointed time. (And yes, wise college administrations all set appointed times nowadays.) It's okay to sit in the parking lot until you're done crying. We've all done it. And remember, Family Weekend is only a couple months away...