Thursday, August 18, 2011

Dropping The Kid Off at College: Helpful Hints

Update: I wrote this two years ago, and now, as I prepare to take Kid #2 to college, I feel like an old pro at this. Except I'm not. Joe's going to a different college on the other side of the country (Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington), and the fact he's headed to unfamiliar territory kind of freaks me out. Stay tuned for updates. But for now, I think this is still pretty relevant.

In the interest of full disclosure, I have to say this: I only dropped my kid off at college once. Does this make me an expert on this subject?  No.  But in this day and age, when total closet cases call themselves Life Coaches and people pay actual money to grab hold of a metal bar and have someone tell them why they're sick, I figure I'm as good a source for information as any, right?  Plus there's the whole Me Being A Service Person Thing, so, you know, I'm here to help.

Okay, for my friends who are getting ready to drop their kids off at college, here's what I figured out.

  • It's not as bad as you think it's going to be.  As anyone who was around me at this time last year can tell you, I was a wreck just anticipating taking Catharine to school.  It almost made it worse that she was going to my alma mater (Marquette University), because every time I closed my eyes I pictured her sitting in the Ardmore with a bottle of beer in her hand, or, even worse, wasting time by watching pro wrestling on Sunday mornings with the World's Smelliest Humans.  Then there was the small, insignificant fact that somehow, over the previous 18 years, I actually started liking this kid, and I was truly going to miss her.  But you know what?  Once we got her settled, met her awesome roommate and her family, and figured out that all the old bars were gone and they have cable so they don't have to watch wrestling on Sunday mornings, I felt better about leaving her.  As I told my friends, it was like I thought I was going to get cancer, but only ended up with a bad cold.  I was sad, but I didn't come completely unglued.  You'll survive!
  • There are other kids besides yours going to school there. There is nothing--and I mean NOTHING--more annoying than the mom who seems to think her child is the center of the universe.  Well, except the progeny of the aforementioned parental unit.  When we went for orientation, we were sitting in a classroom with a bunch of other parents, and one mom started in on how her son was in this class, but he should've been in that class, and he really wanted to take blah, blah, blah... The head of the program finally cut her off, saying, "Well, we'll have time to get more specific after while. Right now this is an overview."  Did that shut her up? Nooooo.  She kept going.  Now, normally I would've been very tolerant of this, but it was starting to look like we were going to be late for lunch and I didn't want to miss the salad.  I was thisclose to standing up and shrieking, "Clearly your kid didn't inherit his brains from you! Take a social cue, you idiot! Shut the f up, willya? Did you miss the part about them giving us food?  I need to eat, dammit!" And, on a related note...
  • Yeah, yeah, yeah, your kid's a genius.  Now will you just shaddup? This is not necessarily the same person mentioned above, but it certainly can be.  Okay, here's the thing.  They're already in college, the playing field's basically been leveled, so now you can just can it about the test scores and whatever honors your kid got in high school. One mom actually said to me, "Well, Timmy's a golden boy and if he goes after something, he gets it.  That's a little heads-up in case your daughter's competing with him for something."  No, really, she said that. What are we, Texas cheerleading moms?  Was that a threat? I looked around for a camera, thinking I was being punked, but she wasn't kidding.  They actually make people like that!
  • If your son's being a jerk, it's because he's nervous, too.  I mean, I don't know your kid, it's very possible he's a full-time jerk, but this is a nerve-wracking time for some of these students and things can get a little tense. I can't count the number of times I got snapped at, witnessed the just-short-of-a-seizure eye roll, or got the silent treatment just because I didn't move fast enough or anticipate a need or was standing in the wrong spot in the room during move-in.  Get a thick skin, and kill the little idiot with kindness.
  • Don't eat Real Chili with beans before helping her move into the dorm room.  It's a small space.  That's all I have to say about that.
  • The rules DO apply to you. If the school has a policy about things like elevator usage or time allotted with a dolly or bunking beds, follow it!  There are about a million other parents trying to do the exact same thing you are and as much as you think the procedure the school follows doesn't make sense, they've been doing this a lot longer than you have, so just be patient. Nothing worse than the person who overloads the elevator or the person who takes up all the room in the hallway with all their crap so no one can get by. And don't stand by the elevators and complain endlessly about how messed up the process is and how you're being inconvenienced.  Because no one else's time is as valuable as yours, you selfish lout. In short, don't be a jerk.  And if you are a jerk, trust me on this, the rest of us parents are going to judge you and talk about you endlessly.
  • Be nice to the school staff people.  For the most part, these are just college students, maybe a couple of years older than your own child, and they're just doing their jobs.  Don't start lecturing them on how things can be done better (see above) and for goodness sake, don't start yelling at them when something goes wrong.  The worst thing I saw was a mom shrieking at a staffer about how her daughter was not going to take a top bunk and these rooms are too small and, my favorite part, "What do you know, anyway?  You're just standing there like an idiot, staring at me.  Why are you even working here?" She stormed off, and the poor little RA stood all hunched over her clipboard, looking like someone just kicked her.  Thank goodness for my fellow parents--about five of them rushed over to her to comfort her.  So, yeah, be nice.
  • Dress and act like someone's parent, not someone's buddy or a scary, Mrs. Havisham-ish college student. I only mention this because there was this one woman who wore extremely high heels, short shorts, and a top that revealed a little too much, if you know what I mean, and she caused quite the stir among her fellow parents. My favorite part was when she was waiting for an elevator and she flashed a big smile at one of the dads and said, completely out of the blue, like she was a mind reader or something,"I know, it's hard to believe we're old enough to have kids in college, isn't it?" His wife answered for him, after looking her up and down: "Oh, we're not having any problem believing it, dear."
  • It's okay to cry, but just don't make a mess.  Going down in the elevator with another mom who looked a little shaky, I said, "So, how're you doing?" and she burst into tears.  I couldn't make everything out, what with the sobbing and all, but it seems as though little Mary wasn't even supposed to go to college and (something something something)... Anyway, I put my arm around her, and she buried her face in my shirt and got tears and boogers all over my shoulder. Thank goodness I had tissues, but come on! If you know you're a blubberer, the least you can do is carry around a handkerchief.
  • Leave when they tell you to leave. Honestly, these people at the institutions of higher learning know what they're talking about.  If they say you should leave before a convocation or after a dinner, just do it. Nothing worse than being the Parents Who Wouldn't Leave.  It's creepy!  These kids need to get to know each other, they need to figure out what their new normal looks like, and they have to work out on their own how to balance all the new demands on their lives.  Oh, and so do you!  So say goodbye, don't make a scene (unless your kid's being a pain and deserves it), and get the heck out.
In short, be nice, be patient, and (I almost forgot the most important part!) responsibly administered liquor, in reasonable doses, will help you get through the tense times. But don't carry a flask around--it's too tempting.  If I'd had unfettered access to vodka during the actual move-in, I would've ended up either falling asleep in the hallway at around noon and having my large unconscious body contribute to the chaos, or picking up a closet rod and beating the crap out of a couple of my fellow parents.  So, restraint!

For the past three years, Catharine has gone up to school all by herself, set up her room all by herself, and is now happily training for her year ahead as a facilities manager in a residence hall (if some parent starts shrieking at her during move-in, I'll get names, you mark my words).  So, see?  They do grow up, and they start living their own lives.  Without us.


I need to find some vodka.


  1. Call me when you find the bottle. In the words of our great and good friend Dorn Byg, "It will all be fine." That is my mantra for the next, I don't know, ten years.

  2. Cable TV allows you to watch MORE pro wrestling...

  3. I'll miss sharing a beer with you in the 3rd ward this year....maybe during "parent's week-end!" Does Marquette even have one of those?!!! As always a laugh out loud post, damn, you are good at this!