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College Worries, Big and Small

College Worries, Big and Small

By Mir Kamin

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to “hope for the best but prepare for the worst,” lately. That was my mantra for a long time, and it went double for parenting.

My job, as a parent—as I understand it, anyway—is to prepare my children to be independent adults. I’ve always said that doesn’t happen either by being their “buddy” or by ignoring things which may be Not Good; my approach has always been to talk (and talk and talk some more) with them, impart what I think is important information, give them clear boundaries, enact consequences when necessary, and work on loosening the reins and stepping back as they get older.

Yesterday I wrote kind of a brain-dump post over on my personal blog, and asked—among other things—if my recent discovery of high-lofted beds in my daughter’s intended college dorm for next year is as terrifying as I think it is, or am I just being an old worrywart? (This question was posed somewhat tongue-in-cheek, but I really was taken aback by beds well above my head with no guardrail or ladder.) Responses were split, but the majority indicated that I was being silly. And it’s entirely possible that I am. This is why I asked, because sometimes I latch on to something with an assumption that isn’t correct, and I wanted a reality check.

One comment from a long-time reader really struck me. She said, “She’s going to college. Safety-wise, the LEAST of your worries is the height of the loft bed.”

Well… yes. In a global sense, that’s true. And honestly, I had started to feel sort of silly about my worry, last night, and then my darling daughter woke up this morning with a migraine. She needed to come downstairs to get her meds, and she slipped and fell on the stairs because she was dizzy and unwell. The good news is that she was more shaken up than hurt, but the bad news is that the first thing I thought after I heard the thump of her hitting the landing was How on earth am I supposed to feel okay with her sleeping in a bed seven feet in the air when she can’t even get down the stairs??

Terrible things happen to kids at college every day, some of them choices, some of them not. Some of them are theoretical to me: while the increase in shootings on college campuses is terrifying, I also don’t personally know anyone who’s experienced it, so it remains in the “scary but not entirely concrete so maybe don’t think about it” box in my brain. Some of them are all too real and relatable: we know a kid who went off to the same college my daughter will be attending and was in a terrible car wreck less than a couple of months into the semester. The aftermath involved hospitalization far from home for a week, then having to withdraw from school and rehabilitate back home for months. (This kid is lucky to be alive, but there’s still a long, hard road ahead.) We know another kid who went to school locally and was, by all accounts, a complete success story… only to drop out of school halfway through the semester with a proclamation that it just “isn’t for me.” Well… sure… some things don’t turn out the way you like, but losing your scholarship and thousands of dollars your parents forked out may not by the optimal way of responding, I’m thinking. (Me: “So if it isn’t all you hoped—” Kid: “I know, I know, finish out the semester and come up with an alternate game plan. I got it.”)

I don’t want to be scared for my kids all the time. Frankly, I’ve been to that rodeo, and I don’t recommend it. The reality is that sometimes awful things happen to people who don’t deserve it, and even regular, everyday life can and does bring a multitude of tiny injustices and cruelties that will break your heart over and over. Loving someone means you hurt when they hurt. And no one can protect either themselves or their loved ones from pain. You do the best you can—you teach your kids to avoid pain as often as possible, and how to cope with it when it’s inevitable—and you hope that somehow everyone gets out alive and happy more often than not.

So yes, there are easily a hundred other things I could worry about more than the height of a loft bed when it comes time to drop my firstborn at college. Given her rather tumultuous first few years of high school, I have even more to worry about than the “average” getting-the-kid-ready-to-launch parent. Someone could open fire on her campus. She could get hit by a bus. She could be roofied and/or date-raped or mugged. She could be miserable and lonely. She could fail all her classes. She could have a debilitating mental health setback, only this time without me there to oversee her care and keep her safe. It’s 100% true that the height of her loft bed is probably the least of my worries.

But while I hope for the best (a great college experience) and prepare for the worst (hey kid, let’s discuss disaster planning of all types!), I’m okay with wondering whether the height of those beds is safe. It feels normal, and manageable, and maybe I’m realizing I like it when someone tells me my fears are silly, even if they’re talking about bed height while I’m thinking about everything else that might go wrong. We all manage our anxiety in different ways. I am trying to hope for the best, be prepared for the worst, and spend most of my time assuming it will all work out, somehow.

Photo source: Photodune

Published December 8, 2015. Last updated December 8, 2015.
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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  • Jodie

    December 8, 2015 at 4:16 pm

    There’s no guardrail??  I just assumed there was when I read your post.  **I** wouldn’t sleep in a bed that high without one.

    We’re ages away from college, but it definitely seems fair to feel anxious about any of it.  By all accounts I’ve read, you do a fine job having your own anxiety not stop you from having Chickie spread her wings. 

  • More on fear | Woulda Coulda Shoulda

    December 9, 2015 at 9:46 am

    […] But today one is back at school and the other is sleeping peacefully and now I remembered. Here you go! It’s about worrying and fear and a little bit about getting your kid ready for […]

  • js

    December 9, 2015 at 11:53 am

    This is so smart and totally the way I know I should feel. I’m hoping the few years we have before college will see me actually feeling and acting this way.

  • diane

    December 9, 2015 at 11:58 am

    This: “I also don’t personally know anyone who’s experienced it, so it remains in the “scary but not entirely concrete so maybe don’t think about it” box in my brain.”  
    If I filled my brain with every possible thing that could go horribly wrong on a given day, I’d never leave my house.
    But if I could make one request (and you are a smart Mama, I am sure you’ve done this), PLEASE talk to your daughter about boundaries and having respect for oneself and always, always having the backs of her girl friends.  The thing that terrifies me most about my niece going off to college one day is how easily women get taken advantage of physically because they want to be polite or nice or just feel confused and don’t understand that what is happening is wrong. It  happened to SO MANY women I know. It doesn’t just mean rape, it also means uncomfortable touching or being cajoled into doing something she doesn’t want to do. And have her take a self defense class if possible–it was free the first week at my school.
    And heck, also teach Monkey about respecting women’s boundaries when the time is right. 😉 

    • Mir Kamin

      December 9, 2015 at 12:01 pm

      Excellent suggestions, Diane. We talk about boundaries and consent a lot already, and will of course continue. (I’m with you; I think about the situations I put myself in in college that could’ve gone so much worse… ugh.)

      • Chris

        December 10, 2015 at 10:25 am

        It’s also important to remember that while so many situations could get worse, most don’t (that’s why so many of us made it to adulthood LOL) . We give our kids guidelines and then the leeway to make some bad decisions while we are still around to help them process the aftermath in the hopes that when they are out flying they’ll know to not get too close to the sun. Besides, if worrying about the height of a bed helps you process some of the natural parental anxiety without becoming overwhelmed by all the “could bes” then I call that a win.

  • Kim too

    December 9, 2015 at 6:23 pm

    I was in a terrible bike accident while backpacking around the world, and ended up spending 2 weeks in an Irish hospital that was pretty much as far in the boonies as you can get in Ireland. It was one of the scariest and loneliest times in my life, but you know what? Everyone has a scariest and loneliest time in their life, and mine makes for a great story.  I wouldn’t trade that trip and the aftermath for anything. (My grandfather yelled at my mother – “how could you let her go?” My mother responded that I was 24, and how was she supposed to have stopped me?)
    You make a good point with the migraines, though.  They make bed rails for littles that slide under the mattress and fold up and down. Ours wasn’t very expensive, was easy to fold up and down, and may be worth the peace of mind (It might not stop her from failing if she put her full weight on it, but it would be enough to let her unconscious mind tell her to stop rolling and move over.)  However, given our sue-happy society, my sense is that not many people are falling out or getting injured, or the universities would have solved the problem already.
    What I firmly believe is that all of life is risk management.  I ate sushi when I pregnant, because I do not know a single person who has gotten food poisoning at a sushi restaurant, nor have I ever read any news accounts of it happening. I threw out some takeout sashimi on Monday, because  yeah, that don’t look right to me. 

  • Wendy E

    December 9, 2015 at 10:18 pm

    I am so glad I am not the only one who worries about the small “normal” things rather than the really big, really scary things. I often say that I just bury my head in the sand or I would go crazy. I was (and am) worried about all those things you mentioned with my baby off at college. She is three hours away and there is so much that could go wrong. However, on the flip side, she is only three hours away and we have tons of family nearby if she needs them. She is having a blast, which is making Mom feel a bit better. I still worry though, I don’t think that will ever change.

  • ShellyK

    December 13, 2015 at 11:38 pm

    If I may, having gone to college not so long ago. It’s about having experiences, and learning how to make the right choices. Sometimes that means making the wrong choices first. Focus on providing a good safety net. Get to know her friends, and reinforce her making good friend choices. (both guy and girl friends) It might take a semester or two before she finds her group that fits her. In all my experiences, having good friends was the difference between a poor choice resulting in an embarrassing moment and a poor choice resulting in regretful consequences. All the best to your daughter.