Sunday, July 18, 2010

Letting Go

In roughly six weeks we’re dropping our son off at college, the first of our children to officially “leave home.” The Dude (thus named in an earlier post on Perils of Skype, May 2010) is a fairly low-maintenance fellow, and other than clothes, a PC, bedding, towels and a desk lamp … oh, plus his hiking boots and backpack for his orientation trip … isn’t bringing much. He does seem interested in acquiring his grandparents’ mini-fridge, even though there’s a fridge down the hallway in his dorm … hmmm ….

Of course I can’t help but compare this sendoff to my own, 31 years ago. Unlike The Dude with his two duffel bags, I filled our family’s station wagon to the ceiling. Determined to transform the cinderblock-and-formica-tile floored hovel into a cozy bedroom, I brought wall hangings, a carpet, assorted decorative items … my poor roommate didn’t know what hit her.

We had no phone or fridge in that room: the phone was down the hall, in a closet of sorts. Once a week I called my parents to check in, and if they called me someone might pick up the ringing phone, knock on my door, find no one about, then leave a message on my white board that “Mom called.” No daily emails or cell phone contact or texting with the ‘rents.

We unloaded the car, my folks helped me set up my bed and fill my dresser, then they took a couple of photos of my roommate and me before they turned right around and drove the four hours back home. There was no Parents’ Orientation Barbecue, or speeches by the President, or Welcome Pavilion for them. They paid my bill, dropped me off, and left.

The Dude’s college has a Welcome Pavilion. They have scores of helpful volunteers to unload our car and carry his stuff up four flights of stairs. The President will indeed address us parents, and yes, we get lunch. But there’s more.

They have an entire office devoted to Parent Affairs, and there are even opportunities for parents to “volunteer” at the college. There is a Parents’ Group, we get regular Parents’ Mailings and … there is a Listserv. Where parents ask each other questions, vent, share information … you name it.

This is at once helpful and anxiety-provoking. For example, The Dude and I decided that it would be convenient and inexpensive to order all his bed linens and towels from the vendor the college recommended. Then the Listserv sounded off: “MY son only sleeps on 100-percent cotton sheets, and these are a blend!” “The towels are much too thin!” “My daughter hated the colors!” Oh. Well. I felt like a bad parent, sending him off with blended sheets.

Of course, The Dude shrugged. “Thin towels dry faster hanging on a hook,” he said. “I like plain blue.”

Have I mentioned how incredibly cool The Dude can be sometimes?

Then came the Laundry Service debate. An ad for a new laundry service at the college came in the mail, and my initial reaction was, “The Dude will improve his life and time management skills by washing and drying his own clothes. We are not paying for laundry service.” He agreed: “Aren’t there washers and dryers in all the dorms?” Simple enough. But debate raged on the Listserv.

One pro-service parent felt doing laundry would take away from her child’s chance to explore other meaningful opportunities at college. But another worried about allergic reactions to the chemicals used by the service. Another felt the service sounded good, but a two-day turnaround for clothes wasn’t quick enough, because her son’s football stuff needed washing every day …

Finally, there was a post from California. One mom asked her son, who is a rising junior at the college, to weigh in, and not only on the laundry issue. It was priceless.

Re. the laundry service: “I’d be embarrassed if dudes picked up my dirty crap outside my door but I’m not other people so no worries if it works for you. Everyone at school does their own laundry. We hang out while the dryer’s goin or whatever. Btw, I saw the mom thinking her kid needed service for his football gear. Dude, don’t let your mom do this. We’ll talk.”

Re. clothing: “Good socks are like, mandatory. Not what you want to learn the hard way.”

Re. books: “Buy books on Amazon. I saved a buncha dough.”

General advice: “It’s all good just chill out and let your kid go to school. It’s tough enough to earn this journey just getting into [college], but the best thing is being there ….”

Yes! Yes, thank you, Chill Fellow From California! We survived, and our kids will survive, even if their towels are paper thin and their sheets lined with plastic! Even if they lose their room keys, hate their roommates, dislike the food and have to study for a big test while their laundry dries!

I’m simultaneously looking forward to and dreading drop off day. I’m excited for The Dude; I’ll miss The Dude. I’ll enjoy making his bed with those blended sheets; I’ll definitely cry on the drive home. And probably, on days when I’m really missing him, I’ll check in with the Listserv for some advice.

1 comment:

  1. I hear you. We just waved goodbye to our daughter as she left for camp. Our son is away paddling in the north woods for 7 weeks. My husband said, “This is what it will feel like when they both go to college.” This is our first time in 16 years with 2 kid free weeks of couple time, but we feel sad today. I also feel the thrill of being able to get back to writing, and we’ve planned a couple of nice dinners out too. It must be so hard facing the college separation.