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D-Day: College Dorm Drop-Off and Beyond

D-Day: College Dorm Drop-Off and Beyond

By Mir Kamin

If you have a child approaching college age, or if you have a child who will be going off to college in, say, the next ten years or so, you should go bookmark All the Wrong Words to Say at College Drop Off by Alexandra Rosas right now. I mean it. Her piece is absolutely pitch-perfect; when I first read it, I could totally envision myself doing the same thing. It is both a cautionary tale and absolution for any parent who’s ever over-loved their offspring.

Not that I’ve ever done such a thing. Ahem.

As we packed up to deliver my firstborn to her dorm, and then even as we pulled out of the driveway in her packed car in the pre-dawn hours of move-in day, I was ready. If senior year was the victory lap, college move-in was her standing on the podium, waving to her fans. The changes over the last few years are so many and so (in some cases) unexpected that I feel like I’m part anthropologist, just standing off to the side, taking notes on this bizarre cultural phenomenon unfolding in front of me.

Ah, yes, as we enter the dorm we see classic examples of varying parenting approaches. Over here we have parents building a houseful of Ikea furniture out in the hallway (where, exactly, are they planning to put all of that…?). A few doors down, this student’s parents have already come and gone, with mountains of belongings still covering every available surface, unpacked. Across the way, may the Good Lord bless and preserve the south: These two girls have coordinating linens and monogram pillows, and one of their mothers is busy hanging up what look to be handmade coordinating drapes. Wow. I can hear a parent trying to cajole a student, and I can hear yet another student asking their parent to lay off. Quite the assortment of experiences are unfolding all around us.

My observation of my own child yields an unremarkable scene wherein we’re both calm and orderly (at least on the outside). She has resisted overpacking, and with some help has organized her belongings such that unpacking is straightforward. I ask for tasks as we go, rather than grabbing the reins. (Make no mistake; this is a little bit hard for me.) For the most part, I manage to be helpful rather than irritating. For the most part, she is cheerful and focused.

By the time her roommate arrives, we are nearly done organizing my daughter’s things. A round of greetings (we’ve all met before) gives way to comfortable chatter as my kid puts finishing touches on her side of the room and her roomie works on sorting out of her belongings. We discover that the over-door hook rack we brought doesn’t fit the door; the doors in this (old, renovated) building are thicker than normal. Hmmm. Is this going to be a crisis? Nope, no big deal. We move on to other things. And then my husband arrives with the mini-fridge and a few other items and sets to work completing necessary set-up. My daughter and I run a few campus errands while he does that, and then we return to make lunch plans.

Lunch is unremarkable. We opt for a restaurant a ways off campus to avoid the move-in crowd, and we take another student (whose parents have already left) with us. The teens talk and eat and mostly we watch them. We then run one more errand and head back to the dorm.

My plan had been to just drop them and say goodbye at the car, but we hadn’t taken any pictures of the room. So we walked back, got our pictures, and then said goodbye. I didn’t cry. Neither did she. We hugged and told her we love her and wished her luck, and off we went.

I’d left a bag of goodies behind, with a (short) note, and I can’t tell you if it provided comfort in a fraught time or if she was still riding the “HOLY CRAP I’M AT COLLEGE I MADE IT” wave and was just happy to open some small gifts as the icing on the freedom cake. She texted me thanks, and we came home to a house that was down one member. We’d gotten up so early for move-in, that night I mostly concentrated on staying awake until I could go to bed without ridicule. The house was quiet. She called, just for a few minutes, and she sounded great.

The next day, I did her remaining laundry (a sure sign I was feeling soft, as I haven’t done the kids’ laundry for them since elementary school), folded and put it all away, stripped the bed, laundered, and remade it up, and pulled any remaining items of hers from communal-dumping locations and put them away. (We have a shoe rack in my office; her shoes went into her closet. Ditto for the coat rack; extra jackets and such were put away. All plastic cups accumulated in the upstairs bathroom were rescued. Etc.) Over the next few days, I vacuumed and dusted (both her room and the rest of the house), I tried to remember how to meal plan without her here (my son wanted to know if now we could have “Meat-a-Palooza” with the resident vegetarian away), and I caught myself roughly a hundred times wanting to text her but thinking better of it. She has checked in every day (so far) and while I miss having her here, I’m grateful for the glimpses of her there.

Most of the reports have been positive. Once classes started, that slipped, just a little. The food is disappointing and something is screwed up with her schedule and the wireless in the dorm is spotty and she’s convinced her chair placement audition for band is going to be a disaster. Years of having responded to such issues either with solutions or coaching towards problem-solving give way now to gentle reminders that she can handle these challenges and there are options available to mitigate difficult circumstances when needed. “You’ll figure it out” has become my catch phrase, and no one is more surprised than I am to discover that I truly believe it. She’s well on her way to the magical independence that seemed mythical for so many years.

It’s a little too quiet, here. Her room is a little too clean. The dogs seem a little confused. And I check Snapchat and Instagram a lot more often than I used to.

I still haven’t cried. But it’s possible that I found and shipped her a wider over-door hook rack, as a replacement for the one that didn’t fit. I’m not made of stone, people.

Photo source: Depositphotos/XiXinXing

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Mir Kamin
About the Author

Mir Kamin

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now ...

Mir Kamin began writing about her life online over a decade ago, back when she was a divorced mom trying to raise two regular little kids and figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. Now her life looks very different than it did back then: Those little kids turned into anything-but-regular teenagers, she is remarried, and somehow she’s become one of those people who talks to her dogs in a high-pitched baby voice. Along the way she’s continued chronicling the everyday at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, plus she’s bringing you daily bargain therapy at Want Not. The good news is that Mir grew up and became a writer and she still really likes hanging out with her kids; the bad news is that her hair is a lot grayer than it used to be.

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Comments

  • Pingback: We are all adjusting | Woulda Coulda Shoulda()

  • Brooklynn

    I was fighting back tears reading this. I’m deep in the mommy trenches with a kindergartner and a 4th grader and it all seems so unimaginable – not having them living under the same roof with lives that are intermingled with mine. I’m glad to see that you’ve transitioned and managed to avoid devastation. The teen years must really help with the separation that is inevitable.

  • Brenda P

    I don’t know whether it was harder or easier that I didn’t have a cell phone until Christmas of my second year in college. I didn’t have texting for another year and a half after that, so while I made a point to call my parents once a week or so, there wasn’t a lot of connection. I like that now I can text my mom and she texts back, even though the daily work grind for both of us is nothing like navigating college for the first time. I’ve never asked her what it was like from her end when I left (I’m the oldest), and reading this makes me want to ask.

  • alexandra

    What an honor! Thank you so much, thank you for hearing what I try to say, and thank you for being part of the community that keeps us going through these times that are simultaneously heartbreaking and soaring.

  • Nikki

    Good for you! Your Chickadee-getting-ready-for-college posts have made me reflect on my own leaving for college experience. I went to college a thousand miles away from home, but my mother insisted on driving there. We had a super-fun wacky road trip and once the unpacking was finished and college events were starting, my poor mom finally realized she was going to have to leave me here and drive back alone. We were both a wreck! Thankfully in the intervening years technology has made daily/weekly connection possible.

  • kmc

    Between this and the Alexandra Rosas piece, I am crying at my desk this morning–and I have a 1 yr old! But I finally understand why my mom cried after she dropped me off on the first day of freshman year…. I hope my baby is patient with me when I start bawling.