Anyone who has ridden a rollercoaster can distinctly recall the “click, click, click” sound as the car climbs to the top of the first and largest incline. Instinctively, the rider knows they are about to defy the laws of gravity for few a seconds of sheer terror and exhilaration bundled into one sensation. Riding that rollercoaster is a lot like preparing to send your child off to college for the first time.
As parents, we spend years building our children and ourselves up to face that steepest incline…when our children graduate high school, just weeks before being propelled into the next chapter: college life. Weeks leading up to high school graduation are often a blur, stress levels are high, final projects, exams and performances are happening. And most seniors who have been fighting “senioritis” for months finally see the end of the tyrannical regime of teachers and parents.
I of course, desperately wanted the summer before our daughter departed to college to be magical in some way. Experiences worthy of accompanying an emotional and beautiful soundtrack that would be the culmination of her childhood. Viewers would see our family hugging, looking at old photographs, crying, laughing and perhaps walking arm and arm along a stretch of beach, at sunset of course. Next, we would embark on a lovely road trip to college all the while taking selfies, bonding like never before and sharing in all the possibilities of what is to come.
Instead, the weeks leading up to graduation and departure to college translated into bursts of emotion that manifested in squabbles that sounded something like this: “Don’t worry, I won’t be here in a few weeks bothering you anymore. You can’t wait to be rid of me.” These emotional threats burst forth from my teenager who had somehow transformed into a house guest that had long overstayed her welcome. Of course, I was not blameless, wet towels left on the bathroom floor, shoes strewn about in our foyer, or milk left out all day, would send me into the ageless diatribes of, “You know, when you get to college, no one is going to pick up after you except you”, or during dinner, “You wait, college food isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, you will be calling home begging me to FedEx you Brussels sprouts,” and of course the classic, “Oh, yes, I am well aware you know it all, I only raised you for the past 18 years but what do I know?”
Yes, while my daughter and I were careening down the road of constant bickering underpinned by the fear of the separation we were about to experience, my husband (Switzerland) remained silently neutral—brooding about our soon to be empty nest. He had not drawn up plans to remodel her room into a man cave, but was thinking in terms of the time he and I had long awaited to have to ourselves.
Despite all of the emotional navigation that happens during this season, there are the essentials and strategies of life away from home that need to be addressed.
Here is the real list of what to do to prepare your child for college:
1. Make a list of what your student really needs
Many students won’t wash, let alone change sheets; perhaps a sleeping bag would work instead. Be realistic and forget the suggestions of retailers and their packing lists.
2. Schedule it
Set a time each week to Skype, Facetime, or talk over the phone with your student (they still need you and the consistency, disregard the eye-rolling when you propose this).
3. Emphasize the importance of safety
Sirens and lights, oh my. Encourage your student to check-in with roommates about their plans and to hold each other to arrival times. Request that they familiarize themselves with where campus emergency call boxes are and where to find the campus police (again disregard the eye-rolling).
4. Show your love with food
They need to eat. Pack snacks and throw in some comfort food to get them through the first week or so. Send e-gift cards from familiar restaurants so they can go to dinner with their roommate(s) and experience some life off campus. And believe it or not, a bowl of fresh fruit left in the dorm room will get eaten. So encourage that as a habit!
5. Prevent the Frequent flyer in the ER
Pack medical supplies, ace bandages, splints, ice packs. (Pack up the cabinet in which you stored all the stuff from their high school sports injuries.)
6. An ounce of prevention
Encourage a regimen of vitamins, and if needed immune boosters such as Emergen-C when they feel an illness coming on.
7. Expect the parachute not to open
You will in the first few days or weeks field the phone call that your student has made a huge mistake, their roommates are impossible and the food sucks, etc. (“Good parents” stay positive during this trial, I on the other hand suggest telling your student to: get packed as you’ll be there in a matter of hours to bring them home to the bosom of family, explain college is a huge mistake, that will only lead to an additional income of approximately a $1M over their lifetime…this reverse psychology works, remember parents are still idiots at this point.)
8. Trust your student
As parents, if we take a look back, we realize our children helped us to grow too. They often dictated when they were ready for the next phase of life, and if we listened and observed, deep down we knew what they needed and when. This chapter dictates that as parents we fade into the background and let them do it their way, in their time. (Don’t forget, reserve your right to practice reverse psychology.)
Before summer quickly passes by, tame your parental mind that races through the worst what if scenarios worthy of being including in the Cards Against Humanity game…you know, the what if this or that happens to my daughter while at school? She can’t even keep her laundry off the bedroom floor; she has trouble cooking toast for God’s sake, she still hollers for me if the toilet paper roll is empty.
Bottom line, your student will be fine, and so will you.