Mary Dell writes: Name. address. click, click. I type the info into each box, working my way down the page. Yes, three dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and cold milk to be delivered to my daughter’s freshman dorm for her birthday. Yes, her cell number for the delivery person. Credit card. click. click. The order is 99% complete. But the final question – completely innocuous in every other context – Do you agree to the terms and conditions? My heart sank. No, no. I do not agree. I do not want to be 400 miles away on our daughter’s birthday. That is not a term or condition I want to agree to, ever. But then, long sigh, of course I agree. click.
Our daughter will wake up this morning, on her birthday, will reach for her phone next to the elevated twin bed and see dozens of texts from her high school friends and one from me, “Happy Birthday, love, Mom.” This will be a poor substitute for the big hug I desperately wish to give her.
There will be no party waiting for her after school like every one that came before – magician petting zoo-bowling-swimming-discoball in the garage – sweet 16 – golden birthday. No giggling girls for me to watch growing up by her side, delighting in the lit candles, the balloons, the goodie bags, the dj, and, most importantly, the friendships.
Do you have a college kid celebrating a birthday? Since misery loves company, we asked other moms for 18th birthday ideas when the party is far from home. Here is their sage, and very creative, advice:
1. Spring for dinner
“One of the things we did for my son was to give him money to treat his friends to dinner since we couldn’t be with him,” said Mindy Wells Hoffbauer. Think about calling a local restaurant or campus pizza place to see if they have a private room and book it for your son or daughter and a group of new friends.
Don’t forget this tip “We called while she was at dinner and sang happy birthday to her,” said Diana Resnick Musslewhite. Why FaceTime was invented, in my opinion!
2. Roommates to the rescue
“I knew my daughter said she was ‘just going to watch a movie with her closest friend on her birthday.’ I secretly got in touch with that friend and arranged a ‘party in a box’ for her. In the boxes, that I sent to her friend, I included decorations, a few gifts to unwrap, the fixings for her favorite meal, lots of movie-type candy, and a few silly party favors. Her friend took it all from there, and even sent me pics of the room (complete with candy and gifts arranged) before Cait arrived,” wrote Mary Bird Lanzavecchia.
3. Birthday experience
Send tickets for a concert or a sporting event for your kid and a few others. Having a chance to venture off campus for a shared experience with new friends could be one of the best, and most memorable, gifts you could ever give him.
4. Import memories
“My son turned 18 while away at college and seemed ‘busy’ to the point where I wondered if I would get to chat with him! I did a silly ’18 Years of Birthdays’ in a box and he seemed to really like the gesture,” said Sherri Kuhn. Another way to remind your child of his love from home is to take a lifetime of photos and upload into IMovie, complete with a few favorite songs for the soundtrack.
5. Dining hall celebration
Does your son’s dining hall offer to serve a birthday cake during dinner? If so, best to coordinate with a roommate or a friend to make sure that he will show up to blow out the candles. If the college doesn’t provide this service, look what Lisa Carpenter found, “The college my two youngest went to had a group of mothers who took orders for cakes, baked them and delivered on the kiddo’s birthday.” Failing that, consider ordering cookies and, if your child is fortunate to live in one of 50 locations where Insomnia Cookies will deliver warm cookies and milk, give them a try.
6. Old friends
Would your daughter love nothing more than a chance to spend a weekend with her best friend in the whole wide world? Consider sending an airline or train ticket for her to visit that BFF’s at her college campus.
7. New tradition
“Flowers. The kind of peanut butter she likes. A barrette for her hair because she always loses hers. A mom gift” are Dr. Margaret Rutherford ideas who added, “Not to sound overly ‘psychotherapist’ on you… just knowing that you are okay will do her a world of good. So, (for the moms,) plan a way of celebrating your giving birth!”
8. Cupcakes to share
“I once baked a bunch of cupcakes and sent them, along with all the toppings (and store-bought frosting, couldn’t get around that one) in little containers, plus candles, etc. It was a ‘make your own celebration’ kit.” Whether the cupcakes are homemade, like expert baker Mindy Klapper Trotta’s were, or ordered on-line, spring for a few dozen! What better way for the birthday girl to get to know more people on her floor than to walk around sharing her birthday treats?
9. Retail therapy
Gather a fist full of gift certificates from local clothing and sporting goods stores, yogurt and pizza places, the campus bookstore, and if you have a daughter, don’t forget a nail salon, suggests Lisa Lichtenberg. Be generous with the amount so that your son or daughter has enough money to take along a few friends.
10. Cheers for your older student
Is there a micro-brewery or wine bar near campus where your 21 or 22-year-old would love to gather with friends to celebrate his birthday? If there is nothing quite this charming, consider paying the bar tab for an hour at a favorite sports bar.
11. Take a drive
Drive down and have brunch on Sunday,” suggests Sharon Greenthal. If the distance is not too great, why not?
Finally, I took comfort with these words:
There is a part of you that never lets go of the “child” of your children. The child who needs a hug, or a kiss on the forehead. The child who smiles at you no matter what…the one who runs to you after kindergarten, the one who cries just for you…I want Mommy! But if there is that part in us, there is that part in them. They only have one mother…and that is you. And that will never change. Donna Beckman Tagliaferri.
Photo credits: Chocolate chip cookies: aaron; Birthday cake: Will Clayton; Macaroons: Omar Chatriwala