Thursday, May 15, 2014

Parental Trucking and Hauling, Inc., or, Moving Them Out of the Dorm

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: It's that time of year again, moms and dads of college-aged children. Stock up on gallons of milk and towels; the kids are coming home for the summer. As part of my occasional series on higher education in America today, I'm here to offer my wisdom to the rest of you tuition wage slaves proud parents. 

Ross is an educator.
At this point, I've moved the Smithie and the Boy into and out of dorms in  minivan, a station wagon and a four-door sedan. I've moved my offspring in and out alone, with the whole family, while Ross was undergoing chemo and in a record-breaking New England heat wave. For extra bonus points, Ross once moved a friend's daughter into her summer campus housing; a fourth floor room in  building with no elevator. This past Tuesday was a first even for us, though: because the Boy was bringing home a nineteen-foot long training scull (you heard that right, nineteen feet) Ross and I rented a UHaul for the trip. Since the Smithie will be leaving Northampton for good this Sunday, we decided to pack up her room on the same day. One day! Two colleges! Four hundred miles! Six hundred milligrams of acetaminophen! Here are a few dos and don'ts derived from my ninja-level expertise:

DON'T use the bathroom in the mens' dorm/floor. Just don't.

The PERSERVERANCE by wood pile and leaf bags headed for the compost.
DO have your children immediately after graduating yourself. That way, when you're hauling mini-fridges up and down stairs, at least you'll be doing it with forty-year-old knees. If, like Ross and I, you failed to have enough foresight to spawn early, DO pre-load with the pain reliever of your choice.

Speaking of that mini-fridge, DO remind your child to defrost and wipe it out before moving-out day. We forgot to do this, and arrived home with a mysterious puddle on the truck bed floor and several wet suitcases.

When you discover the second set of sheets you purchased last August, still in their original wrapping, DON'T ask your son how often he's changed/washed his bedding. The answer will only disappoint you.

DO bring extra garbage bags, tote bags and other easy-to-use containers to help with packing. We used ours up at Trinity College, leaving our Smithie to pack most of her small items in shopping bags she had saved over the course of the year. We looked like we were making off with an entire CVS store when we loaded her things in the truck.

This picture is a lie.
DON'T assume that beer-can pyramid, torn Tegan and Sarah poster or dust-rag t-shirt are junk. I mean, yes, they are junk, and several years from now when you try to give them to your kid to take to her first apartment, she'll look at you like you're crazy. But right now, they're precious mementos. Handle accordingly.

DON'T get too close to the dirty laundry. That's what the garbage bag is for.

If some strapping youths offer to help after seeing you struggle with boxes containing the fruits of four years as an English major, DO accept their assistance. DON'T listen to your kid, who's muttering, "I can get it." Is he going to pay your chiropractors bill? I thought not.

Not my kid's room. Not too dissimilar, though.
Speaking of book boxes, DO lift with your legs. Seriously. Why do men have a problem with this? Do they think we won't respect them if their butts are sticking out?

DO schedule time to eat. Knowing at the end of all the loading we could sit down at our favorite Greek restaurant in Northampton and stuff our faces was all that kept us, as a family, from killing each other.

DO a last-minute check. Library books returned? Key (if any) turned in? Any outstanding business it would be easier to conclude while on campus?

Our living room? Or an Amazon warehouse? You decide.
DON'T stress. Remind your kid campus safety isn't going to throw her out if she's still there after noon. Someone will be at the boat house/athletic center/music building to let him in to get his scull/weights/vibraphone. Everything will fit, and if it doesn't? There's a UPS store within a few miles of campus. (Unless you're at Colgate. There is nothing near Hamilton, NY. Sorry.) 

Good luck, parents! Remember, you have all summer to enjoy your students' company at home - which is why despite the strain and pain, you'll be happy to be doing at all over again at moving-in day in August. 


  1. Even though I know how accurate all of this is, I am still sitting here chuckling at the wise . . . and oh, so true . . . words of wisdom!
    Do have a wonderful summer --- enjoy having everyone home . . . .

  2. So funny. I have been done with this scene for three years now, and I can tell you I don't miss it one bit! Especially with the disorganized pack-rat son. He could have had a body under that bed and nobody would ever have known...

  3. This had me howling. My advice: put them on a PLANE, send them far enough away that you never have to actually go there. Trust UPS and surrender to the gods in terms of what never makes it home.

  4. I'm chuckling over your sage advice while packing it away for future reference and know, with my darling diva (she's a junior,) it will be worse times ten. We toured Alfred University yesterday and have a tour scheduled at Cazenovia next week. Wonder if I can be "sick" on each moving out day? How convincing would I have to be?

  5. Such a great sense of humor in this post Julia. And one needs such laughter to get through this trial.

  6. I have laughed and laughed and laughed out loud at this. All I know is this - your kids have THE greatest parents ever. You and Ross are a delight, Julia.

  7. Ah, moving in/out day. I remember it well. When I went off to college (an hour away from home) everything fit in my parents' Caprice Classic station wagon. This was before wired everything. By senior year, we had some overflow into my Cavalier, but it all fit.

    Fast forward six years. When it was time to take my two younger siblings to the same university, Mom and Dad rented a U-haul van.

    I've got a few years to go yet - my girl is only going to be a freshman in high school next year. I will encourage her to pack light.

    And yes, NEVER use the bathroom on the guy's floor - not without a gas mask!

  8. Great advice! I'm going to bookmark and reread in ten years, when it's time to send the kiddo off to school. I'm with Hallie — a plane ticket and UPS.

  9. Oh, I do love you and your family! xoxo and congratulations..

  10. Excellent advice, Julia, all of it.

    As an old hand at this, with three girls all now living on their own, the only thing I would add is to keep your mouth shut, no matter how shocked you are. The photo you posted of the messy room looks alarmingly similar to my Olin daughter's. But how else could it have been? It took her two carloads to get all that junk there in the first place.

    When we went to help that daughter move out of her dorm we walked into their unit unaware of how many human beings were sleeping amongst the piles of seeming rubbish until one, then three of them moved. Another shock.

    Now you and Ross have another fun project coming up: the first apartment for the Smithie. Isn't she off to grad school?

  11. I remember a certain author who had to bring home souvenir wine bottles, discovered to be filled with WATER after her dad painfully hauled them down several flights. Will not repeat his comments.

  12. Hilarious!
    Advice for once they graduate:
    When they decide to share a sixth-floor walk-up in Chelsea in NYC, DO split the move-in crew into two teams--one for the bottom three floors and one for the top three floors. Put someone who can carry that small fridge on each team.

    DO NOT co-sign the lease unless everyone else's parents do the same.

  13. On graduation day for our oldest -- who apparently had not been able to accept the finality of her "bright college years" -- had not packed ONE ITEM. I was post-surgery and sat in a sunny courtyard while the rest of the family packed up. I had a nice day!
    We have been done with college since 2005, but we continue to move furniture around. It never ends.

  14. Parents help you move?

    (Mine moved me IN, freshman year, but I was on my own after that. My siblings, too, I'm pretty sure-- something that has continued into the next generation).

    On the other hand, don't get me started about what it takes to break up one's parents' accumulation (I'm still working on it). At least the bathrooms were clean.

  15. Oh, those memories came back to me so clearly, Julia. It was okay when they were in a dorm, but when they moved to apartments they acquired FURNITURE as well as crates of books etc.

    And a word of warning. They will expect to leave those items in your closets until one day you hire a trailer and dump them on the kid's front lawn.

  16. Mom -

    The wine bottles! I had forgotten about them! Talk about annoying "precious mementos"...

    Broads, my sister went to Caz. A great school in an absolutely beautiful location.

    Karen, yes, the Smithie is headed for Boston this fall to get her MLIS at Simmons. So in addition to all her dorm stuff, we're also storing various kitchen/apartment essentials I've been collecting for her. Our house looks like the staging area for a 3-family yard sale at this point.

    Annamaria - excellent advice. I suspect the apartment in Boston won't be in a luxury building with elevator...

  17. This is hilarious ... and I'm remembering my own slovenly self in college too. Washing the sheets ... washing the sheets ... Did I ever?

    In my college dorms, we had unisex bathrooms (Berkeley--no surprise?). Yep, we were in there with the boys. It was quite illuminating to say the least, especially since I didn't have brothers.

  18. Julia, your wonderful sense of humor must make all the difference in these situations. I know it's lots of fun reading about them with your witty touches. After being in the audience of the Reds' panel at Bouchercon last year and seeing how much fun Ross and your younger seem to have, I'm imagining your entire family as a great bunch with whom to endure moving days. Love your moving tips and the picture captioned, "This is a lie." LOL!

    Like Edith, my youngest graduated college a few years ago, and again, like Edith, it was a bit scary to poke into the pile in his room/apartment to ascertain whether it contained any living or dead bodies. I lucked out in his move to an apartment and another city, as he had/has an amazing fiance who organized and directed the move. Ah, I love that girl. My daughter was so much easier (in many ways) when it came to moving. She is uber organized, items boxed and marked. I still am learning organizational skills from her.

    Enjoy your darling children this summer, Julia. They go off on their own way too soon, and the moving days even blur into sentimental memories.

  19. Rhys, I'm about to rent the U-Haul here for the accumulated treasures of my two youngest. Neither of them have room for it, but are both horrified at the idea that I might need the three closets back.

  20. Loved it. Although I must protest the bathrooms comment. The ones in my dorm were just fine. (Okay, so the college maintenance cleaned them for us every day, but still.)

  21. Send them to military school! I left for college with a single bag that had underwear and a toothbrush inside. My parents never had to move me in or out of the dorms. You're welcome, Mom. =)

  22. Fun, fun, fun, Julia! Wait until after one of them goes to grad school in another state for a Ph.D. (6-10 years) and then needs to move back home to try and find a job. Sure that he was facing an entire life of penury, he wouldn't get rid of anything because he'd "never be able to have anything like that again."

    Right now, my whole house looks like your living room. *sigh*

  23. **I have moved 5 kids in and out of various college locations, apartments and now houses. Best purchase was a "dolly" that can convert to a step ladder. Only figured this out with # 5 child's moving adventures. This is why, when I moved into my home, 46 years ago(pregnant with # 1 son), I said I would never move again. I should have qualified that , not thinking about children' moving adventures.
    **Best move was this past year when #2 son hired a moving company to move into his new apartment. I only had to provide a house warming gift(towels are always needed)!!
    **Keep the Alive handy and the heating pad.

  24. **I have moved 5 kids in and out of various college locations, apartments and now houses. Best purchase was a "dolly" that can convert to a step ladder. Only figured this out with # 5 child's moving adventures. This is why, when I moved into my home, 46 years ago(pregnant with # 1 son), I said I would never move again. I should have qualified that , not thinking about children' moving adventures.
    **Best move was this past year when #2 son hired a moving company to move into his new apartment. I only had to provide a house warming gift(towels are always needed)!!
    **Keep the Alive handy and the heating pad.

  25. Julia, I wish I had known this before I had all your moving and dorm nightmares rolled into one child. It seems the boy whose favorite game was to score sparks in the electric outlet with a stapling gun as an eight-year-old still enjoyed it as a hopeful adult.

  26. Julia,

    You gave me a good laugh. The only things that have changed since I went to college is that we didn't have mini-fridges and had big station wagons with roof-top carriers.

    I do recall that my clothes were able to walk home on their own, saving the necessity of garbage bags.

    One thing I know is that as a grandparent, I shall not be wandering up and down four flights carrying heavy book boxes.

    ~ Jim

  27. It's one of my problems whenever I travel so I kind of feel what they feel. I find it funny because no matter how many times I try, I always end up procrastinating packing up and just pile them from one piece to another, click on more info