18th Birthday Ideas for Your College Kid

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.

chocolate chip cookies

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 16golden 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.

birthday cake

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!”

macaroons

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?

cupcakes

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

11 Reasons Why College Admissions is HARDER Than You Expected

Lisa writes: You thought college admissions would be challenging, you knew it would be difficult, you had no idea.

College Admissions

1. Prepare for heartbreak

You are filled with confusion as you watch your kid prepare to leave. The frustration and sadness you feel is not about college admissions but about the inevitable change that is coming to your relationship and your family. You worry that this next stage in life may not be good, for you.

2. Rejection is coming

Your kid is going to be rejected by some universities and, if history is any guide, as a parent, that is going to sting. You know you have raised a great kid, but not every university in America knows it. When the inevitable thin envelopes appear, it is going to hurt her, and perhaps you, even more. We take our kids disappointments to heart, that is what makes us parents.

3. 18 is not adulthood

Eighteenth birthday looming or not, despite what the calendar might say, you are looking at a half-baked adult. The law says that on that one day he will be an adult, that his decisions and responsibilities are his own. But what the law doesn’t know is that your kid is still a kid, and that he still asks you what you think of his clothes or what to eat for a snack, that he may look like a grown up but he is not ready for the big time yet.

4. Give her space?

Your kid is about to make the single biggest decision of her young life and you are supposed to back off. Step away, give her space. You are supposed to keep your mouth shut at college admissions information sessions, read her essays noting only typos and grammar mistakes and let her take control of the “process.” Well, the people doling out this advice do not know how naive your kid can be, or that she could compete, nationally, in any procrastination competition. They do not know that she is confused, overwhelmed, overtired and, despite standing at the crossroads of her life, just wants to crawl in bed and take a nap. You are scared to enter into the process and equally scared to back away.

5. College admissions is costly

Every single step of the college admissions process is more expensive than you could have imagined and you have not yet written your first tuition check. It adds up quickly: Road trips, application fees ($41 on average), SAT sittings ($52.20), SAT sittings (again), Subject SATs ($26.00 each), and APs ($89.00) and sending out all those scores comes at a steep price. Oh, and by the way, why don’t we try the ACT ($54.50) too? Hell, why not?

6. And the costs keep going up

And the corollary…you can throw any amount, almost any amount at the college admissions process. SAT tutoring can cost upwards of $500 an hour. Visits to five, ten, twenty schools can eat up thousands more. The litany of decisions on how to rein in these costs, even before your kid begins to write her first application, is not something you expected.

college admissions

7. College is worth it, right?

You keep reading research that says college may not be worth the expense. Though you know the research is largely aimed at for-profit universities and kids who start, but do not complete a degree, while going heavily in debt, the questions remains. Is there any chance you are shelling out over $100,000 for your teen to party for four years? It is a scary thought and not true.

8. Try hard not to be That Parent

You are pretty sure that your wonderful kid is not getting the attention that he needs from the guidance office at school. They seem to be overwhelmed with the number of kids they need to help and the typical, well-adjusted, middle of the pack kids don’t seem to be getting the attention. You want them to sit up and take note of your kid, but you don’t want to be That Parent.

9. This is not familiar, at all

You feel completely out of your depth, this is not college admissions as you knew it. You applied to one state school and got in. Or you applied to three private schools and went to the one that accepted you. You didn’t even study for the SAT. Schools that were not on your radar are now impossible to get into. Schools you thought might be great for your kid, elicited a chuckle from his guidance counselor. You had never heard of “a hook,” “a safety,” or “EA vs. ED”. You have entered a parallel universe and you cannot wait to get out.

10. Too much information

There is too much information. Life was easy just a few short years ago when a handful of viewbooks came through the mailbox and leafing through the pages of leafy college quads was a relaxing and largely uninformative process. Now there are websites with thousands of pages, emails and texts sent to your high school senior, rankings, blogs …. You know that it is important to make an informed decisions, life has taught you that. But you suspect that the torrent of college admissions information may be beyond the capacity of the human mind.

11. Were you a good parent?

You had no idea that the college admissions process could make you, not your kid, feel so insecure. You are not a pushy parent, but should you have pushed more? The SAT prep class seemed great, but should you have hired a tutor? His main essay topic seems a bit weak, but it’s his, should you leave it? Should you have urged more AP classes or made her try out for varsity basketball? Those overseas trips seemed like a scam, but what if they weren’t? Did you actually spend all the hours you meant to with your child? Were you even a good parent?  College admissions does not seem like a healthy process for a parent’s ego.

Finally, back to number one. The pain, frustration and even anger that the college admissions process engenders may have little to do with the process. One of the people you love most in your life, have loved beyond what you ever could have ever imagined, is getting ready to walk out your door. And if that isn’t’ hard, I don’t know what is.

When Joining a Sorority is Part of the College Decision

Mary Dell writes: Sorority. Rush. Pledging. Do these words bring back memories from your own college days or has the sum total of your familiarity with Greek Life come from repeated viewings of Legally Blonde?

If your high school daughter is now in the college hunt, determining “fit” with a school’s social life will be a crucial part of her decision and one that is difficult to ascertain from afar. Though clubs and social traditions at colleges have infinitely more iterations than simply Greek or not-Greek, researching the presence, and dominance, of Greek Life on campus could become an important part of her college due diligence. Further, understanding the financial costs and time commitment of sorority membership, reported yesterday in the “Education Life” section of The New York Times, makes this a relevant family discussion.

Joining a sorority may or may not feel like the right choice for college students who discover camaraderie through other campus extracurriculars or with their own close friend group. But for women who decide to pledge and stay involved, sorority membership can be one of the very happiest, and most memorable, aspects of their college lives.

Where to Begin

The terminology and organization of Greek letter clubs are a confusing Tower of collegiate Babel. Each college has a unique roster of sororities and the timing, cost and rules of recruitment (aka rush) vary from school-to-school. Further, old school sororities, with roots dating from the late 19th century, exist side-by-side with historically African-American sororities, multi-cultural Greek groups and others clubs that all emphasize commitment to service. They are all known by names that combine two or three letters of the Greek alphabet, from Alpha to Zeta.

University of Nebraska Sorority Pledges

One starting point is with the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Founded in 1902, the NPC operates as an umbrella organization for 26 Greek-letter sororities on North American campuses. These specific clubs were started by collegiate women who desired the same social opportunities offered to men in fraternities, from which they were excluded. From feminist beginnings, the NPC has grown to represent more than 4 million women on campus and in alumnae groups, becoming one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the US. We recently posed a few questions to the NPC Chair, Jean Mrasek.

Interview with NPC Chair, Jean Mrasek

G&F: Can you give us some statistics of number of sororities, numbers of college campuses that have sororities, and number of women who are active collegiate members?

Mrasek: Our 26 member organizations have chapters at over 670 campuses across North America. During the 2013-14 academic year there were more than 350,000 undergraduate members.

G&F:How have those numbers changed over time, especially compared with the 1970’s-80’s, when their moms were in college?

Mrasek: By all indicators, sorority membership is thriving. Evidence shows that college women value what we have to offer and what we encourage—friendship, teamwork, leadership opportunities, networking, scholastic achievement, community engagement and outreach.
We are seeing large numbers of registrants in sorority recruitment as well as expansion requests to add more NPC organizations to College Panhellenic communities on campuses. Reports from 2012-2013 indicate a 10 percent increase in recruitment numbers this year over the previous year. These significant increases have continued for several years and correspond with the current high levels of female student enrollment at colleges and universities.

G&F: What, in your opinion, are the strongest arguments in favor of sorority membership?

Mrasek: Sorority life provides great opportunities for young women — leadership, scholastic support, community engagement and friendship.

Sorority upperclassmen and chapter officers often serve as mentors and help other members to campus resources and encourage members to get involved in campus activities. There are alumnae advisors who provide emotional support and help teach the value of lifelong commitment.

Texas A&M Sorority Members

G&F: The recent Gallup-Purdue University Index study queried over 30,000 college graduates to “research and measure whether they have ‘great jobs and great lives.’” What did the data show about sorority membership?

Mrasek: The Gallup-Purdue Index revealed 43 percent of sorority members who are employed full-time for an employer are engaged in the workplace compared to 38 percent of all other college graduates who are employed full-time. Even more specifically, other findings from the research determined sorority women scored higher in all elements of well-being – purpose, social, financial, community and physical; workplace engagement; emotional support from their college, experiential learning experience as a student; and alumni attachment compared to non-sorority women.

G&F: How do you answer critics of sororities? 

Mrasek: It is impossible to counter all the negative stereotypes and negative portrayals of sorority women and sorority recruitment. The good news and positive benefits of sorority membership does not always get covered. The NPC is encouraging our women to be brand ambassadors and to advocate for the sorority experience. We all play a role in shaping our positive message.

Sororities have evolved in recent years to meet the needs of students with a variety of special interests, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds and the entire sorority system continues to work to provide positive changes.

Other Sources of Information

College Admissions Book

Christine VanDeVelde, Co-author of the excellent college guidebook, College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, offers this advice about researching a college’s social life:

When visiting campus, talk to current students and ask questions in the information session about the culture of a campus and its social climate. Is it dominated by a Greek system? Populated by artsy students? Is it known as a party school? What do students do on the weekend? What do people do outside the classroom? Is the library busy on Friday night? What type of people do you encounter on the quad? Do most students live on or off campus? Whether or not Greek Life is a priority for you, this is important information.

There’s no shortage of information — YouTube, websites, guidebooks. But the challenge is to sort through it all and extract meaningful information. Some of the subjective guidebooks or websites, including College Prowler,  have very good information for students and parents on a college’s culture and social life. These resources “review” schools, offering both fact and opinion and use feedback from students, faculty and alumni. So they can convey the personality of a school, the vibe of the student body and a sense of the campus’ values. Also, kids really relate to their anecdotal nature. They also honestly can give you the scoop on aspects of campus life that you won’t hear about from the admission office.

Fiske Guide To Colleges

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 by  former Education Editor of The New York Times, reviews more than 300 of the country’s “best and most interesting colleges and universities.” Each college profile includes an overall assessment of social life, indicated by a number of telephone icons (on a scale of one to five.) A discussion of Greek life and percentages of men and women who are members of sororities and fraternities in each college is included in every profile.

College Websites

Every college website will proudly catalogue the numerous social options available to students. If your daughter is curious about Greek Life, she will want to take a close look at how a college depicts sororities as part of the culture. Once she has finally decided on a school, she should research any requirements for registering for recruitment, especially if rush happens before school begins in the fall.

US News And World Report

Poking around the rankings and features stories of the US News and World Report Best Colleges 2015 can provide data-driven insight into a school’s social fabric. For instance, I found this article ranking schools with the greatest percentage of sororities to be an eye opener. From UT-Pan American at 100% down to Willamette at 28%, the list includes liberal arts colleges, big state schools, Ivys and more, coast to coast.

Washington and Lee Sorority Houses

 Personal Note

I was a member of a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, at the University of Texas, in the 70’s. Like others who have written on the subject, I found pluses and a few minuses during my four years. The drawbacks for me were the time demands during pledgeship and the uncomfortable process of exclusion required to not exceed the new member cap of 50/per year. In that era, diversity was bringing in one girl from Oklahoma, 49 from Texas. I know that has changed.

Kappa Alpha Theta

The positives were far more numerous. Tuition at a state school was a bargain so the added dues for Greek membership were not onerous. Being in a sorority on a mega-campus of 50,000 gave me a social anchor and I met more people freshman year than I have ever again in life. My pledge sister and roommate for two years in the Theta house remains one of my dearest friends in life. My mother was a Theta at SMU and I love that we share this bond, as well.

Having never attended a single sex school or gone to a girl’s sleep away camp, being part of a sorority was a very different experience for me. I was happy to be a member of a sisterhood with clout while at college and I felt that membership was a source of strength, afterwards, when I encountered various “boys’ clubs” later on in life. Finally, the opportunities among sorority alumnae for networking when moving to a new city or wanting advice with a career change have been real and helpful.

Kappa Alpha Theta

Finally, let me circle back to Legally Blonde. Like Elle Woods, I was president of my sorority and wrote about that leadership experience as the basis of my application to Harvard Business School. There were no video clips of me floating in a pool wearing a bikini and my resume was printed on unscented white paper. I admit that pink remains my favorite color.

Photo Credits: Charles Roberts, vintage University of Nebraska sorority sisters

Texas A&M, sorority sisters

Tauber Andrew Bain: Washington and Lee sorority houses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go Ahead, Call Your College Freshman

Mary Dell writes: Whew, congratulations, we survived month one! Since that memorable hug goodbye, we have spent the last few weeks trying to adjust to the absence of our college freshman. We miss them like crazy, long for their phone calls and are thrilled when they text! We follow the rules about not hovering and abide by the sacred parenting principle that states that NOW is the time to let our kids take the lead. But after we dropped them off at their dorms, does that mean we should drop off the face of the earth?

College freshman

 

Parenting college freshman, especially during this first semester, is a hybrid activity. No question that we must respect the fact that our kids are living independent lives. But fully acclimating to college takes time and, while that process unfolds, parents should look for signs that either their child has adjusted and is thriving and or is truly struggling.

In her article, Parents of College Freshmen: Don’t Let Go Too Fast, psychotherapist, teacher and author, F. Diane Barth, identifies red flags: “Eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, failing grades and other difficulties don’t happen overnight and aren’t a sign that a young man or woman is inadequate or bad. They are, however, signs of trouble and require adult intervention…Do not be put off by the advice to ‘let go.’”

She writes that parents who are concerned about their college student:

hear from friends, books, and the internet (telling) them to let their adult youngsters figure things out for themselves….But surprisingly, there are other professional voices telling parents not to let go so fast. In 2007 George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor, found that students whose parents were more involved were actually more successful at college than their “liberated” peers.

If you are, like us, trying to find the sweet spot in parenting your college kid, here are:

Nine Reasons Why You Should Call Your College Freshman

1. Schedule the Call

Make a plan to talk to your child weekly. Ask about his teachers, his roommate and other kids in the dorm. Ask about his weekend plans. If he bristles at what seems like an intrusion into his new-found independence, let him know that you want to stay in contact regularly, especially early on. As Barth writes:

Staying in touch is not by definition neurotic. It does not mean a parent cannot let go. It is an act of responsibility, a communication that you are letting go, but standing by to provide support and balance. And, as one colleague put it, “by listening to their voice on a weekly basis, you can tell how they’re doing – just as you could tell when you looked at their eyes when they were younger.”

2. Phone on the Weekend

Our kids learned how to drive only once they got behind the wheel. They will learn to drink with a cold one in their hand. Some kids already may have had painful lessons of being over-served while in high school; others will learn in college personally and/or by observing the behavior of other students. Schools try their hardest to get kids to understand about the downside of alcohol by mandating online awareness programs during the summer or at orientation. But painful learning can come with shots, kegs, or grain alcohol.

The results of this study,  Protective Effects of Parent-College Student Communication During the First Semester of College found that  “Encouraging parents to communicate with their college students, particularly on weekend days (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays) could be a relatively simple, easily implemented protective process to reduce dangerous drinking behaviors.”

Researchers theorized that “First, there could be a direct effect such that when parents express their concern about excessive drinking and suggest strategies for reducing harm, the students consume less alcohol. There could also be an indirect effect whereby interaction with parents may remind the student of shared values, internalized norms, or the importance of longer-term goals.”

3. Share Contacts

If there is a problem and you are unable to reach your son and daughter who would you call? There is a number for the Dean of Students but that may feel like calling the president of a company if your office computer is broken. Ask your child for his roommate’s number and ask that he give him yours, in return. Assure your son that exchanging numbers does not mean you will be sending texts with smiley-face emojis to his new friend.

4. Discuss the Game Plan

There is no returning to high school days with curfews but ask about the weekend plans. Is your daughter going to a fraternity party or the football game and, most importantly, is there a buddy with whom she will walk back home? Ask her to text you or send an email once she is back in her dorm. When you get up at 7AM on a Saturday morning and see the email at 2AM, you will feel great relief. (Note: I am, admittedly, more on edge about campus safety issues in the wake of a disappearance of a classmate of my daughter’s. We asked our daughter to text us and, as long as we make no comments about the time the texts come in, she is willing.)

5. Provide Warmth

Kids have emerged from the group hug that defined their high school years but they have not yet had the shared experiences that create deep friendships. They are on a campus of strangers and the gulf in closeness will be felt most keenly right now. Until they have developed the new friendships, you can try to fill in the gap with regular phone calls, a shipment of homemade cookies or periodically texting video clips of the family dog back home, this last one guaranteed to garner a response.

6. Support School Work

College and high school are like night and day in terms of work demanded. Your child may be completely overwhelmed by the volume of reading, the length and number of papers, the complexity of tests. Help him avoid an academic train wreck by making academics part of the conversation. If there is a problem, discuss the options the school makes available – tutoring, advisors, study sessions.

7. Check the Calendar

The fall is filled with campus meetings and deadlines. Foreign study, Greek rush, second year housing and course selection. Check out the academic calendar online and put these on your list of things to discuss. Do not begin a sentence with “You should…” but instead try “Have you given any thought to…” Be aware of dates and deadlines in case there is something looming that your daughter might have overlooked.

8. Look for Signs of Poor Health

There is a bounty of food at your child’s fingertips and comfort eating risks unhealthy weight gain. Does he need some new athletic gear in a care package for extra motivation to schedule working out into his week?

9. Plan a Visit

Whether it is a formally organized Parents Weekend, a home football game, or a random weekend after midterms, try to visit your child in college this fall. There is nothing like seeing first hand how your son is faring with his roommate, whether he is stressed by his classes or if he has gained or lost weight. Plus, taking your child out to dinner – with or without a group of new friends – and inviting her to spend the night in a hotel room with you will be a welcome break from dorm life. It will also give you a chance to do a little on site, and not merely long-distance, mothering. At this time of family transition, there is not much that can top a real life hug!

Daughter at College: What Keeps Me Up at Night

Mary Dell writes: We got a call on Monday night from our daughter at college who began by saying “Mom, I’m ok but…” At that point, my stomach twisted and every nerve in my body began to buzz as I waited for the phrase to follow. Surely something bad had happened.

Daughter at College: What Keeps Me Up at Night

She told me that one of her classmates had gone missing over the weekend. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, Hannah Graham, 18 years old and a second year student at UVA, has still not been found.

Since my daughter’s call, I have immediately opened emails to parents from the University and read the Graham family’s heartbroken appeal. Local and national media report every development and show each grainy surveillance video. I study the photos of Hannah, now missing, and cannot imagine how her mother is enduring the pain. After dinner with friends at 11pm Friday night, Hannah left alone, and has not yet been found. She texted friends saying she was lost at 1:20 AM and then, nothing. As I gaze at each photograph, I agonize for her family and think, that could have been my daughter.

I cannot imagine the terrible state her parents, brother and friends are living in while authorities search for Hannah. The school has made counselors available for students and staff. They have, again, published the phone numbers of the midnight-7am Safe Rides car service, late night buses, and cabs that will take kids home, charging the bill to the student’s account.

I feel an emotional wrestling match between my protective instincts and my daughter’s new-found independence. I want her to fully enjoy her college years, but as her mom, I cannot help but fear for her safety. I have a parenting double standard based on the gender of our children; our daughter is vulnerable to sexual assault (a widely discussed topic this year) in ways that her older brother was not. I know that she is making friends and becoming familiar with the campus. But until she is woven snugly into a friend group and instinctively knows her way around school and it’s environs, my concern for her will keep me up at night.

When our daughter decided on a college in a bucolic town with a picture book campus, I felt she was in a safe place. Charlottesville ranks high on lists of Best College Towns but no school is set inside a fortress, and “almost every college struggles with campus safety issues.” according to Don Tollman, the former assistant director of admissions at Colorado State University.

This summer, before they scattered for college, I sat in the kitchen with our daughter and a few of her girlfriends and asked about how they were feeling and what they would miss the most. They said they wanted to get along with their roommates, do well in school and make friends. Yet, they were concerned about their safety and one friend remarked, ”I will miss how comfortable high school was, having the same routine every day, knowing everyone, knowing what is safe and not. It is scary to go into an environment where you don’t know. “

In 8 Things First-Year Students Fear About College, Mary Kay Shanley and Julia Johnston explain,

There’s this little secret college-bound and first-year college students outwardly deny: They are scared sick about going off to college. In our interviews with 175 college students throughout the United States for Survival Secrets of College Students (Barron’s, 2007) students talked—sometimes painfully—about what they wished they’d known ahead of time and what they would have done differently. In addition to fears about being smart enough, liking roommates, making friends, and missing home, students also worried about handling the party scene, having sex, covering costs, and being safe.

Concerns about safety are real, especially in the “Red Zone,” the early part of the school year. The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study discovered that  “more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October, or November. The CSA’s findings also indicate ‘that women who are victimized during college are most likely to be victimized early on in their college tenure.”

In a text from our daughter a few nights ago, she said what had happened to Hannah was “an eye opening experience….I always knew that college can be more dangerous but this makes it more real.”

So as we hope and pray for this young woman’s safe return, I double down on reminders to her to absolutely NOT walk alone at night, to not drink at all or too much, and to please, please be careful. She assures me that she travels to and from her dorm with friends when she goes out at night. She has the campus safety numbers loaded on her phone. I now have her roommate’s number in my cell.

I suggested this additional advice from author Kelci Lyn Lucier from her essay 15 Ways to Stay Safe While in College,

13. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Heading to a club downtown? Going out on a date? There’s no need to spill all the intimate details, but do let someone (a friend, a roommate, etc.) know where you’re going and what time you expect to get back.

At the risk of hovering when I should be distancing myself, if our daughter does not yet have a friend to check in with, she knows I will be that person to whom she can send a late night text saying she is back in her dorm.

Meanwhile, I try to not let my anxiety creep into our calls or text messages. I disguise my great relief when I see her phone number pop up on my screen. Trying to keep it light, I send her photos of her dogs back home, a baby goat video and, yesterday, one of a duck snoring. She responds “cute” and my heart melts.

The school urges us to help our kids continue their academic and extracurricular routines. The question remains: how can our daughter and other freshman girls, in particular, best manage legitimate anxiety while embracing an exciting yet still unfamiliar college world? And in the wake of a disappearance of an 18-year old girl, how will the balance between caution and adventure shift?

Update: 10/16/14: Authorities reported that human remains were discovered yesterday outside of Charlottesville. They have been transported to the Virginia chief medical examiner in Richmond and the case is now being referred to as a “death investigation.”

10 More Reasons Why I Love College Football

Mary Dell writes: College football is the second most popular spectator sport in the US after the NFL. Each fall, students and alumni pay homage to their colleges and teams by planning their Saturdays around kick off. My affection for the sport runs deep, beginning with childhood, building steam through my college years and becoming a family tradition that my husband and I share with our kids.

10 more reasons why I love college football
I have previously written about my gratitude toward college football during my son’s high school years.  It was our go-to topic where we ventured when all other subjects (homework, SAT prep, curfews, college applications) became toxic. And now, with a daughter who is two weeks into her college life, I see how football can be a perfect way for freshmen to make a deep emotional connection to their new home.

10 more reasons why I love college football:

1. Socialize

Game day is just that – an entire day where college football is the main course in a feast of activities coming before and after. For freshmen who are not yet involved in campus life, grabbing a roommate and a couple of kids down the hall and heading for the stadium can be a singular event helping them integrate into the community and feeling less like outsiders. To quote a recent college grad who offered her advice to freshmen, “when in doubt, go out.”  Making plans to go to the game is a perfect way to do just that.

2. Identify

Freshman committed to a college during senior year in what must feel like a lifetime ago. Though they have since told every single person who asked that they LOVE their school, the first weeks of college can be lonely. A college football game gives kids a chance to identify with the team and experience an us vs them sense of attachment, making their declared affection a reality. Games give students the chance to bond with classmates while sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bleachers. On game day, strangers who would never exchange glances while hurrying to class are all brothers and sisters.

10 more reasons to love college football

3. Inspiration

A good college football game is absorbing and a great game, unforgettable. It can also be inspirational as UVA English professor Mark Edmondson writes in his new book, Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game:

There are a number of ways to wake up and learn to aim your spiritedness. But I believe that football is one of the best. It’s a game in which you get knocked down over and over and have to get up and start again. It’s a game that awakens your passion and then can help you direct it at a worthwhile object: getting better at the game and maybe helping your team to win. When you have that model for how to deploy the spirit, you can use it for other aims in life.

Though he is referring specifically to playing the game, the heroics and perseverance of the players inspire the fans.

10 more reasons to love college football

4. Multi-sensory

Turning on the flat screen at home and easing back into a comfy couch for the afternoon is the way millions of fans watch college football. It is an easy stroll to the kitchen and the bathroom, televised camera angles get up close to the action, and the WiFi doesn’t fail. But the experience of walking into a football stadium on game day is visceral. Adrenaline begins to pump and each sense remains on overdrive. These things do not happen while sitting in a lazy-boy: hearing the roar of the crowd, jumping up to watch a receiver sprint down the field to score a touchdown. Cheering, high-fiving! Sweat trickling down foreheads during boiling-hot September games and wrapping up in blankets to keep out a chilly October night.

10 more reasons to love college football

5. Students First

Football fields are typically walkable from dorms with no complicated or time-consuming logistics required to go to a game. Both our kids have gone to schools where only their student IDs were required for admission. Some colleges are making even greater efforts to make sure students attend games in the face of a drop in attendance: “Average student attendance at college football games is down 7.1% since 2009,” according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. This is an ideal time to take advantage of any student incentives offered for attendance.

6. College Traditions

Freshmen are just beginning to figure out the hand signals. They are building their team color wardrobe of t-shirts and sweaters. They might not be sure when to clap, or understand the differences between the fight song and school song. One game into the season, they’re experts.

7. Family Traditions

College fight songs are filled with clapping and spirited, shouting lyrics. If you attended a big state school like I did, perhaps you sung your school song to your kids as lively lullabies. My sister and I learned to sing the Aggie War Hymn (Texas A&M) from our dad and I taught our kids The Eyes of Texas, Texas Fight and when to get your horns up (University of Texas) when they were little. Our daughter is attending my husband’s alma mater and we have made plans to join her for a game later this month. The chance for the two of them to lock arms, swaying and singing The Good Old Song (UVA) will be a priceless moment in our family life.

10 more reasons why I love college football

8. Alumni Connection

College football games are the perfect excuses for alumni to return to campus. Students see older grads in attendance and take note. Games on campus help build connections across generations of students, binding them in loyalty to their school. Since football is a sport with roots dating to 1876, read about the history of the football program helps to gain an additional layer of understanding about the school itself.

9. Ice Breaker

Conversation in the early school weeks revolves around the same few questions – where are you from, what are you majoring in, where are you living….over and over. Going to the game and having a shared experience with classmates makes it easy to talk about the team, the game, the schedule, big plays…. topics open to everyone, paving the way for friendship.

10 more reasons to love college football

10. Moms Back Home

It has only been two weeks since we dropped off our daughter at her freshman dorm. To say that I miss her does not begin to describe my longing to see my youngest child. Watching the game last weekend on TV was exciting and the best part for me? Hoping against hope that the camera would catch her cheering in the crowd. I don’t plan to miss a game.

10 more reasons to love college football

Send Selfies

Lisa writes: Today is the day I have dreaded since that second little stripe turned a very pale pink and my heart leapt into my throat. Today is the day without a rushed breakfast, the day in which I did not scream or worse curse, the day I made no threats and took no first day of school photos. Today is the day where the first name I called was the dog’s.

Shadow in doorway

But even as I find missing my kids was every bit as bad as I thought it would be, I have been given the gift of wisdom by two extraordinary women.

I am missing the day-to-day bustle of family life that already seems like a dream. I find it all but impossible to admit to myself that the decades of living wrapped in a cocoon of family intimacy, a world unto ourselves that once stretched out long in front of me, are over. Late this afternoon when none of my boys come bursting through the front door, our house will feel far too still, like a shell that has been cast aside, having fulfilled its purpose. A small part of me will feel like that shell.

Nature.ButterflySeashells.IMG_9840

I did not parent alone. Along with my husband, my sons’ father, I had female friends and acquaintances at every step of the way sharing their thoughts, broadening my insight and now, once again, easing this transition. This morning my phone rang off the hook, two friends dropped by. Everyone was checking in on me, wanting to see if I was okay. And while each of these calls was heartwarming and I am of course okay, if a little heartsick, it was the wisdom of two women, deep profound wisdom, that will see me through.

Liane Kupferberg Carter published a piece in the Chicago Tribune last week. In it she examines the notion that her nest may never be empty. Her younger son, who has autism, may live with her and her husband for many years. In a truly must-read article she explains:

My husband, Marc, and I inhabit a peculiar no man’s land. Our children are grown, but we are not empty nesters. The realization that we will in all likelihood never be empty nesters is a sadness all its own.

…I’ve been a member of an invitation-only Facebook group of middle-aged female writers. …They lament their empty nests, but mostly they write with excitement and joy about rediscovering themselves. They celebrate their newfound freedom to travel, return to the workplace, new hobbies or new passions.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much I envy these women. I’m not scaling Machu Picchu, sailing the Galapagos or climbing Kilimanjaro. I’m not “finding” myself. I’m right here. Where I have always been.

In her beautiful writing I think Liane is not asking her reader to feel sorry for her, nor is she arguing that having an empty nest is not a real feeling of loss. She knows the heart tug of our kid’s moving on as she experienced it when her eldest son left home. But the wisdom she shared with me was to step back, to zoom the telephoto lens of life out and take a far broader view of existence than that offered by the confines of our own experience. As always, Liane brings warmth and humor to everything she writes, but in reminding her reader to see beyond their own narrow slice of life, even if they cannot fully understand it, she has done me a great favor.

Another wise friends reached out to me the night before I took my youngest to school. She asked me to remember that the thing which pains us is that which gave us such joy. And that like everything in life, we only fully appreciate things that are not forever. I wanted to argue with her, tell her that I appreciated things that were forever, that if my children had stayed small forever, lived with me forever, I would have remained grateful.

Vistas.BeachandSand.IMG_2033

But I know that to be a lie. I may have loved my sons’ childhood because my love for them is the purest emotion I have ever known. The marvel of their very existence never lost its novelty, but it would be untrue to suggest that in the grind that is daily life when our days together still seemed limitless, this remained uppermost in my mind.

I heard the sound of time whooshing by in their very first weeks of life. In the days and months as their infant selves grew and changed rapidly I could feel an undertow so powerful that I knew it would lead us to this day.

This morning I sent my sons a group text and said, “First September morning since 1994 that I am not taking your first day of school photos. Send Selfies.” I am still waiting for those selfies.

Photo credit (black and white): Cathrine White
Photo credit (color): TBKilman

 

How to Find Success in College: 9 Things the Research Shows

Lisa writes: For years college feels like an endpoint, the focus of so much of our kids’ energies. But it turns out to be just a beginning. We have looked at the view of one experienced professor  regarding successful students and we have asked graduates for their input as well. Now we have reviewed what experts have found through years of research and present nine findings on how freshmen can find success in college.

How to Succeed in College

Stick to Your Own Definition of Success in College

Students who did best in college were not motivated by outside factors like jobs, or grades, but rather a genuine desire to learn.

“Intrinsically motivated by their own sense of purpose, they were not demoralized by failure nor overly impressed with conventional notions of success.” “These movers and shakers didn’t achieve success by making success their goal. For them, it was a byproduct of following their intellectual curiosity, solving useful problems, and taking risks in order to learn and grow.”

Take One Small Class, Every Semester

Students who took one small class, defined as less than 16 students, had a higher level of engagement and actually worked harder, according to Professor Richard Light of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Another study showed that students who took a small freshman seminar (thus had an early experience in a small class setting) were less likely to drop out of school.

“Students who choose at least one small course each semester have, on the average, a significantly better overall experience than those who do not. [They] are noticeably more engaged, by their own rating, than students who take only larger classes. …Either small classes demand more time or students choose to invest more.”

Engage With Faculty, Early and Often

Every study seemed to confirm that students who engaged with faculty, in venues outside of the classroom, had better educational outcomes. The studies concluded that for most students, more contact with faculty was always better.

“Informal student-faculty interaction activities—being a guest in a professor’s home, working on a research project with a faculty member, talking with instructors outside of class, and serving on committees with faculty—are positively correlated with student learning and development.”

How to succeed in college

Don’t Just Look to Get Requirements Completed

It is tempting freshman year to look at the list of graduation requirements and to try to knock off a substantial portion of them freshman year. Professor Light suggests being careful with this strategy, because when sophomore year begins, these students have little idea of what subject matter genuinely interests them.

“When talking with freshmen, I stress this point especially heavily. I urge them not to just choose a series of large, introductory courses during freshmen year. “

This is Not High School, Work in Groups

In many high schools, individual work is stressed, but this is not high school. Students who seek out study groups and connect with their peers over academic content have greater academic success and satisfaction during their four years.

“Not only do students who work in small study groups outside of class commit more time to their coursework, feel more challenged by their work, and express a much higher level of personal interest in it—they are also much less likely to hesitate to seek help. The critical point is that the relationships are not merely social. They are organized to accomplish some work—a substantive exploration that students describe as “stretching” themselves. And almost without exception, students who feel they have not yet found themselves, or fully hit their stride, report that they have not developed such relationships. “

If it is an Option, Live on Campus Freshman Year

Every school is different and not all students are offered on-campus housing their first year or any year. But multiple studies showed that living in freshman housing increased social engagement. Students living on campus were more likely to be members of study groups and get involved in extracurricular activities, both markers for success.

“…living on campus had a direct, positive effect on learning outcomes, and educational aspirations had the greatest indirect effects on learning and intellectual development. In fact, living on campus had the greatest total effect (i.e., the combination of direct and indirect effects) on learning outcomes of any institutional characteristic. “

Pick the Right Friends

Students should think carefully in choosing their friends because no influence seems to be as forceful as peer group pressure. A student’s peer group, according to one study was, “’the single most potent source of influence,’ affecting virtually every aspect of development—cognitive, affective, psychological, and behavioral.”

“Peer interactions are particularly important with regard to social integration because students are more likely to stay in school when they feel comfortable and connected to other students with similar interests and aspirations. … In addition, institutions with higher levels of student social interaction also have higher levels of student educational aspirations.”

Parents Still Matter and Our Kids Need Our Encouragement

Even as our kids move on with their lives, it appears our influence is still very relevant. College can be a daunting and far more challenging experience that high school, requiring a great deal more self-direction. Some kids stumble their first year and can become demoralized. Research shows they are aided by a reminder that their parents’ confidence in them is undimmed and support unreserved.

“Aspirations and family support foreshadow student success. … On balance, it appears that students perform better and are more likely to succeed when their families affirm their students’ choices and encourage them to stay the course; this is especially important for underserved populations.”

The Effects of Success in College Linger Long After Graduation

A 2014 Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates showed that it is a few simple things that increase the odds of turning a successful college experience into satisfying work life. Every freshman should know that the positive effects of constructive relationships with professors, meaningful work experience and extracurricular activities and in-depth academic work, can last a lifetime.

“ if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.”

 

And Then They Were Gone: Leaving Home for College

Lisa writes: It all happens in the next few days. After two and a half years of pondering the empty nest here at Grown and Flown, and eighteen years of dreading it, Mary Dell and I will bid our youngest children farewell next week as they are both leaving home for college. Mary Dell is threatening to bring home a new puppy and I am just now realizing that I should have had a fourth child.

College move in day, University of Denver

As we measure the time of departure in hours, rather than days, a montage of my youngest son’s life plays before my eyes. I am carrying him into school to pick up his older brothers and his sweaty sleeping body is nestled against mine. He is scoring his first goal and, as the ball dribbles into the net, he will trip over his own feet, face plant on the field and bounce back up grinning. We are in the ER and as I offer him my finger to bite as the doctor stitches his foot, he grasps my arm tightly but does not shed a tear. I drop him off at the high school for a summer orientation and he strides into the building without hesitation or even a backward glance at me. And then today, as we fill duffel bags with sheets and towels, I am both grateful and sad at how eager he is to leave.

One of the wonderful things about exploring the path to the Empty Nest is the way so many moms have shared their families’ stories with us. We asked a few moms to tell you what it was like when their kids left home and we urge you to share your story in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or give us a link to your story and we will include it below. As you read through the thoughts of these wonderful women, think of us because we are on our way!

Mindy Klapper Trotta The dropping off was not the issue, the coming home and looking at an empty room was more of a heartbreaker. Still don’t like to look when my kids visit and then leave. It all just seems so stark.

Kerry Flynn Barrett I will never forget the day I left my eldest daughter in Boston where she was to attend a program for kids with special needs to have a full college experience. It was 100 times worse leaving a young lady with special needs In a big city than sending off my second daughter in North Carolina which is about three times the distance. I literally felt paralyzed on the Massachusetts Turnpike as I apparently drove the car home. I don’t recall an exit I passed or a special sightseeing spot. I felt so empty, yet I knew it was the best thing for her as we all rationalize our thoughts are fears do. The memory that stayed in my mind and still does today is that I left her with the biggest smile on her face. As I look back, this was a crowning moment in both of our lives that I will never forget. She now happily resides in Cambridge.

Sharon Hodor Greenthal It was heartbreaking, even though I was so excited for my oldest to start. It was much easier with the second child.

Claire Dansby Our first to go to college had to be up at school for most of July for football conditioning….I guess a trial run so to speak. I am full of mixed emotions…sadness, joy, panic, excited for him to start the best four years of his life and sad that the best 20 years of my life are closing in.

Wendy Walker Cushing I was so full of excitement for her I could just squeal! Loved the whole experience of it last year! It’s been awesome!

Laura Fehl I have been preparing for this day all year. I know it will be hard as it has been my daughter and I for the past ten years! I am very appreciative of reading all of the feedback from this group! I know that my daughter will be fine and so will I, but not without tears! Stay tuned for my first thoughts. I am sure it won’t be much different from most of the other posts. It is just helpful to know that you are not going through it alone!

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn Funny enough, I felt pretty good when we drove off. I liked his roommate, I liked the dorm, I thought the college ran a great drop-off day program for parents and students, and I felt my son was in a very good place. It wasn’t until we got home that things became harder. Setting the dinner table without a place for him was the hardest thing of all!

Heidi Kachline Hanley The drop off of #1 seven years ago was hard. My other two kids teased me about how I would fall apart as we left. Although on the ride back it was my husband who had a tear roll down his cheek as he was driving us all home. He just said. “I wasn’t ready for that.” Dropping #3 on August 16 and as someone here said, proud and excited. I’ll miss him like crazy, but know it is as it should be!

College move in day, UWGB

Risa Nye My husband dropped off the first two, since I’d done the college tours with them and he hadn’t been on their campuses yet. But we both went with our “baby” when the time came. I don’t know, I guess we were all really prepared and excited, so when we did actually part ways (him to a student thing and us to the parking lot) it was a moment that signified a new beginning for all three of us. I just knew he would be happier at college than he ever was in high school, and that we were starting a new chapter too. I agree with Mindy that coming home was different–we took the leaf out of the kitchen table…really back to two after so many years.

Linda Snyder Long I drop my baby on August 19th, we live in Chicago, she’s going to AZ. I know she’ll do great and she’s so excited to go, it’s selfishly me! I will miss her so very much, she’s been pure joy to raise and the sunshine of our lives!

Camille Montesi Schaeffer It’s heartbreaking. I cried. Your family is never the same and the house is too quiet.

Holly McFaul up to the day a combination of abject fear and extreme pride for her. The day of nothing but pure joy and pride for her to reach her dream.

Cyndi Cervera Whitten Never try to talk and give last-minute instructions etc. while hugging them for the last time before driving away….

Jane Shrewsbury Hillis It was 1994 when we took our oldest to college. That morning before we left, I went in his room to wake him up and found the usual lump in the bed with head covered, yellow blanket on his pillow and Pooh bear under his arm…I know it sounds childish but it was what I loved about that boy. He slowly held Pooh Bear up in the air and announced, “Pooh, its time for you to find you a woman. I’m leaving & you have to stay.” Leaving the parking lot with him waving was just about the hardest moment of my life. Neither his Dad, nor two sisters, or I could say a word for the next two hours. For fear of losing it. We did and guess what? four years later he graduated and got married the same weekend. Two years later we had our first grandchild ( now a total of four.) So we think the trade-off was worth some of the tears!

Cindy Redd For my first son, I felt a huge separation from “our” world. It now seemed like HIS and then the life at home. I ALWAYS jumped at the chance to be a part of whatever I was invited to! And blessing the guys at college with food is ALWAYS a WIN/WIN!!! With my second son, I was shocked that I actually left him at his dorm room door after dinner, in the dark, in a BIG city before his roommate even moved in! I still remember the horrible feeling driving away! But they both settled in, called, texted, brought some friends home. And then the football games began!!!!!!!!!! Yes!!!!

Janet Runkle Wall I dropped my first son off five years ago – I kept lingering trying to “fluff his dorm room, but boys don’t like much “fluffing”! I felt proud of and excited for him, but very empty inside; tearful and sad. I drop off my 2nd son and youngest in three weeks. I have a feeling it will be very similar, except emptiness x 100! Not ready… #emptynest : (

College move in day, UWGB

Wendy Roever Nelson It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. My first thought was how was I going to make it until the next time I saw her. I think I was more worried about me than about how she would do. I was pretty sure she would be fine!

Andrea Viets My eyes have been threatening to spill over with hot tears for months (and frequently do). My son is so ready. I feel proud, happy and excited for him, and heartbroken for me. This is the end of his childhood. We will find a new way of being mother and son, I know – but oh how I shall miss these days and years of mothering him up close…

Suzanne Croce McGonigal I felt victorious, like we had achieved a goal as a family. We had delivered a child with many challenges finally to the point of starting college. When I returned him to college after Christmas break I felt that overwhelming emotional separation that most (moms especially) feel in the fall. I sobbed my way out of town on the trip home!

Jean Manos Andreacci With the first, I felt like I wanted to go to college again; with the second, he looked so forlorn, I was worried; with the third, I was concerned that he wasn’t ready; with the fourth, I knew she would be fine but I was lonely!

Lauren O’Donnell Weinstein To avoid the empty nest ..I got pregnant ..had 18 years between…so I got to start all over !

Annette Scolini Chastain When I took my daughter to University of Washington Seattle she was certain that is where she wanted to be. We are from Northern California. The night before I left to come home after we had gotten her all set up in her dorm she had a melt down. I knew I needed to stay strong but seriously considered packing her up and taking her back home. We decided she would stick it out one-quarter and then if it wasn’t working out we would come get her. I left with a lump in my stomach that didn’t go away for at least three days. Long story short she will be starting her senior year soon and we couldn’t be prouder of all of her accomplishments. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stay strong

College  Move in Day, Lafayette College

Vilma Sicilia-Sceusa As The Nest Empties  is a blog post I wrote about sending my daughter off to college. Love your blog!

Annemarie Favatella Enoch I made myself sick for a year knowing I would be dropping my son off at college, which was only 1.25 hours away. Now he is going to London to pursue his Masters and PhD. Who knows when he will come home.

Cheryl Nicholl I wanted to cry, and feel the loss, but we got a call from our daughter-at home (w/ her grandmother) who had just been caught giving a HUGE party while her grandmother was out. It was on Fox news. I. Kid. you. Not. So… instead I was screaming.

Julie Silverman Burton How To Say Goodbye: A Lesson From My Daughter ”

And finally like so much else about parenting, we don’t really know what it will be like until we are there.

Julie Warwick I drop my only child off  – four hours away! – on August 21st. I just keep trying not to think about it……I am excited for her but am going to miss her sooooo much.

Crista Cornwell McCormick Will let you know in twenty days

Linda Faucher-Swallow Will let you know in less than a month

Judy Lanoue Dudley 17 days away from dropping off my first at WVU. Will let u know

Becky Stone I will be dropping off my one and only child, my daughter, at ASU and then I’m moving to Utah! The kids are supposed to leave NOT the Mom! Who does that? Feel guilty but I guess I have to get on with my life like she’s getting on with hers. I will miss her soo very much!

So grateful for these heartfelt comments left below.

Becky Blades  I am trying to keep it light, because I’m in a house full of comedians. But the sense of immanent loss feels heavy today.

Patti just dropped off my first child yesterday and my heart is still very heavy. Honestly, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have enjoyed mothering him up close and now need to figure out how to navigate from a distance. He is ready to be on his own and I need to figure out to let him go.

Michelle I feel like I left a piece of my heart at my daughter’s college! I have the level headed mom on one shoulder and the emotional mom on the other. Emotional mom is winning. I am allowing myself to feel every bit of sadness I feel. I can say I was not prepared the overwhelming since of heartache that I feel.

Kathy Radigan I have three years before my first heads off to college and reading these accounts is breaking my heart! I know that it is wonderful for our children to be at the stage of life to start spreading their wings. This is what moms work for right? The whole point of our job is to get our babies ready to live on their own. But I want more time!!!

Alison at the Gracious Posse  I surprised our family with a puppy on Christmas Eve, and for the last few months my son has been calling the dog his “replacement.” I will have to shrink our breakfast table and find ways to keep from dwelling on the memories. At least the puppy will get me out of the house.

Nancy My mother passed away of Alzheimer’s several years ago, but was living with us when my oldest went off to college. She had moments of clarity at that point, and I will never forget what she said when we took him to school…”He will come home again, but it will never be the same.”

Debbie None of my daughters went close by and as I look back on it that was a very good move. Not only did they become independent and self-assured but they trained me to start a life of my own as well. And that I did. I work part time and went back to college and now am looking forward to attaining the long lost Bachelor’s Degree.

Melissa Lamke Beyond thrilled for both of our daughters as they begin their journey of becoming who they will become, heartsick as I feel like it is almost a death of my motherhood. I also have this overwhelming drive to recreate/nest our new, childless space- maybe it’s to lessen the feeling of the missing family members. I feel a need to make changes so that I don’t miss the old and familiar as much.

Annette Officially me and hubby aren’t empty-nesters as the older brother is back home after graduating and the oldest of our 3 sons bought a house, a mile down the road from us. So, not officially empty-nesters but still missing the youngest like crazy today and for weeks to come, I’m sure!!!

Normaleverydaylifeblog I will drop my oldest off in three days. There is a constant lump in my throat and I could cry at any minute. I know she’s ready, but it’s still hard. The best 18 1/2 years of my life and it’s hard to see that change!

Tanya  I want to redecorate/repaint my home. And that’s how I will distract myself for the first few months of this new chapter. After that, I can’t see where the road ahead leads. Honestly feeling a bit lost. But you put one foot in front of the other – what else is there to do?

Patti/KnowsyMoms Just said goodbye to our younger son. Of course, it’s not a final goodbye but today marks the end of 23 years with kids at home. That’s a big chunk of life and a big chunk of my heart. When I wrote about our older son going to college four years ago, I could not have anticipated what is now, truly, the end of an era.

Marisa Davis We noted a couple of engaging young men trying to find common ground with our son, so it was time to leave. Our son was ensconced and the cramped dorm room a comfortable mess. Husband and I drove to Martha’s Vineyard afterward and celebrated our success and the wealth of opportunities ahead for our son, for the people he would meet and those random late night conversations and events that would shape his life.

Laura Over the past couple of days, I keep remembering the look I saw in our son’s eyes as he hugged us goodbye; he was unafraid, proud to be there and ready to get on with it. Thus, maybe we do, indeed, deserve to take that victory walk. :-)

Janet We go tomorrow morning to take my first and only daughter. I can barely read the blogs without crying. I am so excited for her and so sad at the same time to be having her leave me. There I go again. I am sure eventually my eyes will stop leaking tears.

NKP And then there is the guilt…guilt that moving on is so hard, guilt that this is so silly to be sad about, guilt that this hit me so hard. Move on, I hear myself saying, take classes, hike, walk, meet friends, do projects, and sometimes I do. It’s just …different…hard…words don’t describe it adequately.

Janet  I cried over cheese yesterday – yes, CHEESE! I was making a grocery list and put the kind of cheese I use to make my son’s breakfast sandwiches in the morning before school and realized I won’t be doing that anymore!

Anonymous Our first just left last week. He has been a joy to raise. He has been a mentor to his younger sister, a calming influence to his brother with autism, and quite frankly… he has been co-parenting for a while with us. This has been the biggest adjustment of our lives, and its awful.

Melissa Wells  I wrote this last year when we dropped off our younger son and officially became empty nesters. It’s not so bad.

Mary Beth Dropping my only children off 4 hours away tjis weekend. I have identical twin sons who I adore. I’ve been preparing myself that its going to be hectic and busy moving them in. Im hoping to break down in car on ride home. We shall see.

 

Brian Rutter  Kept repeating The Circle Game in my head with each goodbye. Offered dumb platitudes/advice while the years crumbled away.

Nancy Wolf  Missing her already; younger bro in backseat, now solo kid, unhappy too!

Kate Boucher  the first time I was sick to my stomach. This one will be so much easier. Almost looking forward to it!

We would love for you to share your story about your child leaving home in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or give us a link to a story you’ve written. Thanks!

Photo Credits: University of Denver, UWGB (2), Lafayette College

Advice to College Freshmen from Recent Grads

Lisa writes: I would love to send my soon-to-be freshman son off to college with a fist full of good advice from me. But let’s be honest, it has been a little while since I was in college and there are those far younger and more knowledge than I who can help him on his way. Luckily I was able to corral some recent college grads (and current seniors) and here they share some very wise and relevant advice for college freshmen. college, campus

Very Wise Words

Find a Constant

There is an extraordinary amount of change you will encounter as you transition to college – find something to hold on to, something you can carry with you throughout college as you encounter a new living environment, schedule, friend group and set of academic expectations. Your constant might be an activity you’ve done your whole life, a new hobby, a book series you re-read for comfort right before bed, a TV show, a “splurge” you indulge in once a week at the local (overpriced) coffee shop, or something else entirely. Regardless of what your constant is, you should practice making it as routine as brushing your teeth.

For me, it was running outdoors and exploring my new environment. It was a different kind of hard work that allowed me to set goals for myself, but was not something to be graded or judged by teachers or peers. Finding a constant is a gift that keeps on giving; even after you graduate – or whenever you encounter intimidating transitions as you move forward in your career – you’ve got it in your back pocket to keep you grounded.

Now, the Nitty Gritty

Freshman Fall

Put yourself out there in the beginning of freshman year and meet as many fellow freshmen as you can. It is such a unique time where EVERYONE is in the same boat – no one knows each other and everyone wants to make friends.

The early days can be tough…if you think you hate your school and want to transfer, at least give it your all until after Christmas break. It gets better once you’re settled and find a good crew of friends.

If you are feeling lonely or homesick, you are not alone. We think about college for years and yet when we arrive it is a huge adjustment. All of the freshman around you are making the same adjustment, even if they are not showing it.

My recommendation to college freshmen would be to push yourself outside your core group of friends from time to time and try and meet lots of new people. Your core friends will always be your friends, but you may be glad you met a wide circle of people if you end up in a new city or country one day. Then a peripheral friend may become your new best friend!

Find a group to join early. Even if it doesn’t last, even if it isn’t something you are passionate about, join a club or a team because it will give you an activity and friends right from the beginning. The earlier you meet people and find a place to belong the sooner you will enjoy school.

The days of high school gym class and healthy home cooked meals are over and the Freshman 15 loom as a very real challenge. Less time in the cafeteria line and more time at the gym is the only answer. Find a workout buddy and keep each other on track.

When in doubt, go out.

Academic Advice

Take advantage of all the amazing professors you have at your disposal as a college student. Go to office hours, contact professors in a field you’re interested in and ask if you can get coffee and chat about the field and their work… get to know them! They’re there for you.

Take classes you’re actually interested in!! If you’re interested in that 8:30am Friday class –  take it! Get your butt up, go to class, and then you can sleep the rest of the day (another beautiful thing about college). You’ll regret it later on when you’re not looking at “Intro to Fairy Tales” on your transcript instead of something more useful and productive.

Just because you don’t need to keep up your grades to get into a good college now doesn’t mean stop working hard. Even three years of hard work after freshman year can’t erase a year of not trying at all.

Don’t be shy about getting academic help even if you have never had it before. College is a big step up. Struggling academically will ruin your first year and a tutor can get you on the right track. Many schools have academic support easily available. If you need it, get it.

Group work, study sessions and other academic collaborations are the norm in college. This is a change from high school. In college it is expected that you will work together academically and it is a great way to meet new people. Get into study groups early in the year, before the midterm rush.

Finally, for the Planners

If you are a planner, and always have been, get ready for some bumps in the road. After graduation nothing will go as planned – which might just be the best thing that ever happened to you. The job you expect to have for years will change, your friends and where they live will change, you will get married sooner or later than you had anticipated, and everything you had once dreamed your life would be after college will be different. Life is full of surprises and the best ones are still to come!

campus, freshmen advice, college students

 

 

Back-to-School Shopping With College Tech Needs in Mind

This is a sponsored post* Mary Dell writes: The page on the family calendar may be labeled August but, whenever I see that word, my mind reads back-to-school shopping. The countdown is now merely days, no longer months, until my husband and I drop off our youngest at college. Shopping for freshman year  has been unlike any other that has gone before and, although we are now fairly organized, one final line on the dorm to-do list remains. I want to sit down with our daughter and review the technology she is taking with her and upgrade or adjust where needed.

camus, back-to-school shopping

If you have a teenager at home, you already know how dependent he is on tech devices for both his social and academic life. Our kids going off to college will take their handhelds and their habits onto campus and will immediately plug into the college’s network. (BTW, one bit of advice is to have the phone number and email address of the IT department handy in case the process is not exactly seamless.)

I envision my daughter on move-in day carrying a box up the stairs to her dorm room with as much care as if she was holding a beating heart for an organ transplant. Inside will be a laptop, chargers, surge protector, printer, USB drive, a portable external drive, a tablet with bluetooth enabled keyboard, ear buds and noise-cancelling headphones. Her smart phone will be in her back pocket.

She will set up her desk while my husband and I struggle to make up the twin bed in the crowded space. college, freshman year

Though her collection of electronic gadgets may sound excessive, on this subject, she is a typical college student: According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In a survey conducted this year by the education-technology organization Educause, 76 percent of undergraduates reported owning a smart phone, an increase of 14 percentage points compared with the previous year. Fifty-eight percent said they owned at least three Internet-capable devices.

As a result, this has led to explosive growth in the demand on Internet at schools:

Campus-technology officials say they struggle to maintain and expand wireless-network capacity in heavily taxed locations, such as lecture halls, common areas, and sports venues. They are excited about integrating wireless technology into classroom learning, but worry about safeguarding personal and research data increasingly viewed on mobile devices. Underscoring their concerns are budget realities and an obligation to transparency and collaboration.

Until my daughter is settled at school, and connected to her college’s network, I’ll wait to see what the quality of the WiFi is for her. If it seems lacking, I already know one tech solution. At BlogHer14, a recent blogging and social media conference, NETGEAR gave Grown and Flown a mobile hotspot, the  AT&T Unite Pro by NETGEAR.   Since I needed to use a laptop and smart phone during the three-day event and had a long flight from New York to California  to get there, the device became a life saver. Here’s why:

  • 16 hours of battery life
  • Battery Boost that can charge a phone
  • Mobile WiFi wherever wanted and needed
  • Capacity for up to 15 devices
  • Secure network with password protection

There were no WiFi black holes, no expensive hotel WiFi up charges, no need to find a Starbucks to get online, no frantic searching for outlets to charge my phone. I was hooked and I began to imagine all the applications for my college daughter:

  • She would have the ability to access WiFi regardless of where on (or off) campus she might be, even on football game days when tens of thousands of additional fans converge on campus and compete to get online.
  • As long as she had the WiFi hotspot device with her, there would never be a time when she would be unable to power up her phone, so important for her safety.
  • She could share her WiFi with her roommate or study group.
  • In the future, if she lives in an off-campus apartment and/or studies abroad, her connection could travel with her.
  • Finally, she would always be able to Skype or FaceTime with me!

So when move-in day arrives, I will be taking the AT&T Unite Pro with me since I have become spoiled using it while on the road. If she discovers that she needs enhanced WiFi for college, I will send it to her, overnight. If that’s the case, I know exactly what will be at the top of my Christmas list this year. *Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and I received an AT&T Unite Pro mobile hotspot as part of my sponsorship. My words are my own.

Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes

Mary Dell writes: With high school graduation behind us, Lisa and I are turning our focus to the day we will drop off our youngest kids at their freshmen dorms. Though we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable, it is time to get them ready for the tiny new living spaces that will be their homes away from home. Five years ago, we were rookie moms and made our share of rookie mistakes. Frankly, we bought a lot of crap. This time, with experience on our side, we hope to give you some thoughts on how to approach what might be your last back-to-school shopping trip….in life.

trash cans

1. NOT a School Supply List

My daughter’s college mailed a “What to Bring” list with seven categories and 82 separate items. My advice – do not treat this like the supply lists from your child’s elementary school where, scavenger hunt-style, you dutifully checked off each item while wheeling a cart through Staples. Instead, concentrate on basic needs. Anything and everything else can be ordered later online.

2. Dorms are Miniscule

Keep this mantra in mind…..Less is more, less is more. Dorm rooms are tiny and spaces, shared. There is minimal room for the necessities and no room for extras. Forget oversize.

3. Kids are Pigs

Ever seen a photo of a lived-in college room? Appalled? We were, too. The dorm room you help your kid set up will begin to deteriorate the moment you wave your tearful goodbye. In the next nine months, your son or daughter will welcome friends into that room where every surface will be treated as a chair. Some of the “dorm room essentials” you eagerly purchased in July will be stuffed in corners, unopened and collecting dust until they are rediscovered in May.

College Dorm

4. The Container Store Savings

Everything about college is expensive, and that includes dorm shopping so look for some great shopping deals. If you live near one of 50 Container Stores staging a College Savings Event, in July, your son or daughter can attend with a 20% off coupon in hand. Click on The Container Store Facebook events page for more info about each location and a downloadable coupon. Some stores will be having special evenings exclusively for collegiate shoppers with tote bags for early arrivers, prizes, music and water and snacks from Whole Foods. There will be a set up for “selfies” and in-store specialists waiting to help. The store employees do an amazing job of helping the crowds of parents and kids get in and out with great efficiency.

5. Underbed Space? You Have No Clue

This is the single biggest question mark that your kid may not know the answer to until move in day. Those bed risers you were convinced would be perfect? They don’t work with bunk beds and are unnecessary with many elevated beds. Resist the urge to plan for this space until you know the dimensions.

6. Be Careful with Meds

This is one area where over buying is dangerous. Whenever our teenagers were sick, we knew which analgesic, decongestant, or antihistamine to dole out. We have decades of experience in understanding how over the-counter medicines should be taken. Our kids do not and, if we send them off to college with all the meds and none of the wisdom, it is very easy for them to over medicate as they battle their first cold while trying to finish a paper and study for a test. So prescription meds, band aids, a thermometer, and Neosporin – yes. But leave out multiple meds that have the same active ingredients. This is on the advice of none other than Dr. Travis Stork of the The Doctors so take it from him if not from us! (BTW, Target will give send you a free first aid kit bag if you purchase three items like band aids or headache remedies.)

Dr. Travis Stork, The Doctors

7. Don’t Buy Crap

Even the most careful kid will be hard pressed to keep their college possessions in good shape as they move in and out of dorm rooms and college apartments for the next four years. Fragile and dainty will become ripped up and broken. Whatever goes in your shopping cart must be judged for durability. Put it back on the shelf if it doesn’t pass muster.

8. Flying or Driving?

There is a fork in the road here and you already know which path you will take with your freshman kid. If you are flying, it will be impossible to bring much more than your child’s clothes, electronics, x-long sheets/comforter and prescription meds. Seek out the “click and pick up” services from The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. If you are driving your kid, you may still want to use this service and have a far more comfortable ride.

9. No Room for Luggage

As adults, we are accustomed to traveling with luggage but we also have closets wherever we land. College kids have minimal storage space, so consider the collapsible duffel bag that is hanging around in your basement as the perfect piece of luggage. When our son began to drive himself back and forth to school, he used garbage bags for luggage which meant he had a starter pack for the trash can when he arrived.

college move-in day

10. One Pillow is Not Enough

Your kid’s dorm bed will function as bedroom/living room/study and the pillow he sleeps on will not be enough to lean back onto as he studies. Bring a second bed pillow, a large square pillow in a sham, or a backrest pillow to cushion the hard wood or wall.

11. Power Struggle

Your kid will travel to college with a phone, maybe an iPod, a computer, possibly a printer or a lamp, and, if the dorm is not air-conditioned, a fan. Girls may also throw into their bags a blow dryer and hair straightener. All of this translates into a serious need for extra plugs. Do not forget a power strip with surge protection on a long cord. Some of these come with built-in USB port chargers, which can be very handy.

12. Eating not Cooking

A mini-fridge is a real necessity and one piece of equipment that roommates need to discuss before move-in day. There may be space for only one so rent or buy, decide to share the cost or someone can own outright. Plan on helping your son or daughter get this in-house before you turn off onto the highway back home.

The summer before my eldest went to college, I had a powerful nesting urge, much like I did 18 years before when I prepared for his nursery. I poured over every dorm room essential, checklist and must haves at every store with a dorm display. This time my approach is completely different. I will buy two sets of x-long sheets, my daughter will pick out a comforter in a color that she loves. We have an egg crate mattress topper to add to the slim pad that is supplied by the school. She will pack her clothes, shoes and electronics. Fortunately, she knows the dimensions of the under bed space in her dorm room so we will buy heavy plastic storage drawers to fit. They will double as luggage for our drive. She will bring a poster for the wall with photos of friends, family and her dog. We know where the closest CVS is for stocking up on the generic supplies.

The stores all have college lists, but view them with a discriminating eye. Step stools? Paper towel holders? Lots of extra plastic boxes? Think twice.

Here is what will NOT make the cut:

  • Alarm clock – there is an app for that.
  • Furniture – there is no space for a futon or side table or anything decorative.
  • Kitchen – no toasters or blenders, no dishes, cups or silverware that must be washed after use.
  • Media storage – no need for CDs or DVDs, all media comes through her laptop.
  • Pictures in frames – ditto, just flip open the laptop.
  • Plants – guaranteed to die.
  • Cleaning supplies – in our dreams, sadly, college kids don’t clean, so no vacuum, no mop
  • Desk Lamp – worth checking first if it is needed. Many rooms have adequate overhead light and computers are backlit.
  • Composition books, binders, dividers – some of these have gone the way of the dinosaur. Let your kid start class and figure out his own study methods. Many kids prefer to take notes online and have far fewer paper needs than they did in high school. Don’t rush to waste money on a bunch of dead trees.
  • Desk chair – be very careful here, most college provide a chair and you will just end up driving it back home.
  • Printer – might also be an enormous waste of money. Many schools have networked printers available to students and assignment are often turned in online. Desks do not have much room and the floor is a filthy place for an expensive piece of electronic equipment.

Well worth considering:

  • Shoe racks for the closet floor or hanging over the closet door. Shoe space is very limited and this creates a bit more.
  • Closet storage maximizers that hang from the closet bar provide a great place to put sweaters, sweatshirts or any bulky items.
  • Fan if the weather/air conditioning suggest the need for it. Compact fans can do a big job in steamy dorm rooms, no need to buy a big one.
  • Hooks that tape to the wall are handy for jackets, towels or jewelry to keep thing (wishful) off the floor.
  • Small rugs are worth considering but be wary this may not get vacuumed all year. Small throw rugs that can go into the washing machine might work best.
  • Shower caddy – first check what the bathroom situation is. If your child is using a large communal bathroom at the end of the hall, this might be a necessity. If the bathroom is close at hand and shared by few, a waste of money.
  • Mattress pad and bed bug protector, money well spent!
  • Trash can? Some rooms come equipped, others do not, worth checking first.
  • Is your child a coffee/tea drinker? A small electric kettle or the mini Keurig might be a big money saver if they are used to a couple of daily cups of caffeine.
  • Towels – consider monograming or a distinctive color.  Basic white are too easy to mistake for anther’s towels.

One final thought about move in day. It will be crowded, it will be hot, and there will be lousy parking. You child will come face to face with her new roommate for the first time and you will also shake hands with your counterparts. Help her make up her bed and pull the sheets snug. Drive her to the nearest store for shampoo and her favorite body wash. Help her stock the mini fridge.

Finally, slip her a letter  telling her how proud you are of her and how this day is one you  know she worked hard to achieve. Tell her you love her. Hug her tight and know that it is time for her to take it from here.

And from our readers:

From our own Carpool Goddess: Swap out warm weather for cool weather clothes when they come home during the holiday breaks, as space is limited. Linda has some great Get Ready for College Suggestions HERE.

Jill Rutherford Hall:  Dorm rooms have their own special smell.  A few of those odor absorbing jars would not go amiss! Disposable cleaning wipes may the the only thing they use.

Wendy Roever Nelson from My Kids College Choice: A dry erase board is a great to do list mounted on the wall

Theresa DePaepe: A small tool kit is very handy, will be in demand among dorm mates and they now come in nice colors for graduation gifts

Cindy Redd: Look for those pop-up air fresheners to sit on the desk

Sally Neely Nix: 3M strips for mounting pictures on the walls where nails are forbidden.

 

Dorm shopping

That Perfect Letter

Lisa writes: You know those wonderful, heartfelt letters that moms slip into their kid’s camp bags or college duffels, the ones with wisdom and love that make lifetime momentos? Yeah, well, I have never written one of those. Everytime I hear of a wonderful parent who takes the time and care to compose such a missive to their college kid,  I beat myself up for a few moments as a derelict parent. And then promise myself, next time.

Love stamp And as I am fairly certain in the rush to get my third son off to college I will once again fail to write that perfect letter, here is what I might have said, if I could get my act together.

College is a Privilege

Sure, I expected you to go and, in turn, you expected nothing less from yourself. But this in no way takes away from the fact that spending four years learning, growing and focused almost exclusively on yourself is a gift like none other. Before you set foot on campus think through the sweep of human history and try to guess how many people were given this opportunity. Only after you have acknowledged just how rare and special this gift is, will I help move you into your dorm.

Best Four Years of Your Life

You have heard adults say it a hundred times and it may be true, but it is not automatically so. Imbibe deeply of all that a University has to offer. Heap your plate with its academic, athletic, cultural and social offerings. Never again will life mix youth, freedom, opportunity and resources together in quite this heady combination. If these are to be the very best years, you must make them so.

First Weeks of College are a Time like None Other

Everyone will want to meet you and there will be none of the social awkwardness that usually accompanies rushing up and speaking to total strangers. Do not squander this short window of opportunity, it will never come around again.

Drinking Dilemma

You are now in a place where alcohol is both tacitly allowed and legally forbidden. The only thing that stands between you and a very bad experience is your own good judgment. But here is the tricky part. You need to exercise that good judgment at the very moment when it is already impaired by alcohol.

Being Friends in High School was Easy

You sat in the same classes or did the same activities as your high school friends. In college, maintaining friendships is a bit more work. After college it is a lot more work. Investing in friendships now pays dividends forever, truly forever.

Living With Those Who Love You

It is your good fortune to never have lived in a place where no one loved you or frankly cared a whit about you. At the outset, college is that place. Despite everyone’s outward cheer in the first weeks of college you will have no real friends. Sure you will know some kids, but these are not true friends, yet. They are still just acquaintances you really like. It is better to live amongst those you love, but it takes time and only you can make this happen. College gets better after that first Thanksgiving.

Do Not Fool Yourself, I Was 18

When you look at me you probably see “Mom” and “Old.” Do not fool yourself. Not one fiber of my being has forgotten how it feels to be 18. If you have a problem, talk to me. Few things you will say will shock me and there is every chance, though admittedly just a chance, that I might have a good suggestion. And while the law may recognize you as an adult, I promise you that you still have much to learn.

I have loved you every moment of your life. Even as you prepare to move out, I shock myself by loving you even more. This love comes without strings, but life does not. If there are things you want to achieve, knowledge you want to gain, friends you want to make it is now entirely up to you.

Knowing My Sons a Little Less

Lisa writes: So this is it. The third and final time. Next week I will sit through my youngest son’s high school graduation. Like every parent in that audience, and in every high school auditorium and football field, I will burst with pride and more than a touch of sadness. We will have weeks and months before he leaves but experience has taught me that once he crosses that stage, once he takes his diploma in hand, he will begin to drift away. The first time this happened I wondered how I would survive. The second time I braced myself, knowing just how bad it would hurt. And it did. So now, I am girding myself knowing fully how it feels to have a child move on. Yet still I ponder why the pain is so sharp.

boys, sons

Parents who regret their children’s departure are chided for their hovering ways, reminded that they should be proud of their offsprings accomplishments and that clinging to their teens is both unhelpful and unseemly. In a wonderful excerpt from his biography, Rob Lowe brings this into focus,

Through the grief I feel a rising embarrassment. “Jesus Christ, pull yourself together, man!” I tell myself. There are parents sending their kids off to battle zones, or putting them into rehabs and many other more legitimately emotional situations, all over our country. How dare I feel so shattered? What the hell is going on?

I have berated myself for being a wimpy mom, the parent who cannot walk away without tears, the mother who misses her kids every day. I have given myself the stern talk about being overly attached to my sons and told myself a hundred times that it is not about me but about them. I decided that there must be something wrong with/missing from me or my life if saying good-bye was this hard. I have wondered, endlessly, why it hurts so much when they go.

Like so many aspects of parenting, this was a case of overthinking. It just wasn’t all that complicated.

The simple reason that it is so hard to let go of my kids is that the moment they walked out the door for nursery school, middle school, college or their “real life,” I will know them a little less.

They are beings I have loved even before they beheld their first breath. They have made my world bigger and brighter in every way. Being a parent has allowed me to see all of humanity through very different eyes. Speaking only for myself, it has made me a better person.

I will never love anyone more than I love my sons, so why would I want to know them any less? How is it possible that my life will not be diminished by their absence.

sons, boys

 

Experiencing the world without me began the first morning I left them with the nanny and went to work. As their school days grew longer and their experiences further afield, their separateness from me increased. It was all as it should be. The change was gradual and while it was easy to get wistful from time to time, each transition was seamless. Their lives took them on sleepovers and to the movies with friends, on trips further and further away, yet at each step they were ready. And I happily made do with the post-mortem.

If you asked me who in the world I know the best, my sons would be right at the top of that list. From the time they were babies I have understood the rhythm of their lives. I have known what would nourish their bodies, minds and souls. At times I have felt that I knew them even better than they knew themselves.

When they were tiny they seemed to speak in stream of consciousness, to filter almost nothing from my ears. By middle school they were more circumspect, sharing their world and their thoughts, but starting to holding back. And high school? I am not sure that any high schooler could or should tell their parents everything. So the walling off began, the natural and to be expected process of knowing them just a bit less.

And then they left home. They woke up one morning like they have thousands of other mornings and by nightfall they were gone. At first I told myself that it was like camp (my capacity for self-delusion appears to know no bounds) but after a few months I had to let go of this little lie and contend with the fact that college is leaving home.

The pain that comes with empty nest is partly just missing their joyous presence, the way our lives are filled with our love for them. But the real pain of the empty nest comes with the knowledge that no matter how close we are to them, no matter how much we stay in touch, as their lives diverge from ours we will know them that tiny bit less.

Every year they will have more and more experiences that we only know from photos and their retelling, and more experiences we never hear about at all.

The love for my children remains untouched as my knowledge of them is diminished, not in the big meaningful ways, but around the edges. Have they ever tried Paella? Who did they study with last night? Is that a cold coming on or just allergies? Did they work out this afternoon or blow it off and go out for a cheeseburger? They have professors I will never meet and friends I will never know. Now, I get a photo of something that strikes them as funny or strange, texts of random thoughts, and phone calls to catch up. But the day-to-day rhythms of their lives are their own.

boys, sons

But here is the thing. Nothing about them ever stopped being fascinating to me. I never found their recounting of their day any less interesting, nor felt less concerned about their well-being. They may have outgrown telling, but I never grew tired of hearing.

So why is it so hard to let them go? It isn’t that I wanted to hold them back or to play the role in their lives that I once did. It wasn’t that I needed them to need me. These are the three people I have loved beyond reason, have loved more than I ever knew was possible to love, and I just don’t want to know them even a little bit less.

graduation, cap and gown, college graduates

National College Decision Day and Next Steps

Lisa writes: This is a moment to rejoice. Your child was accepted to college and all of your effort and his have resulted in this success. There may be some small disappointments, there may euphoria and there may be some big decisions ahead, but this is one of life’s big moments and it should be noted and celebrated. Let your nearly grown child know just how proud you are and acknowledge how much of his effort it took to get to this moment.

Once your family has taken a time to savor this special moment, there are a few more practical matters that need your attention, especially with the May 1 deadline of National College Decision Day.

college library, Columbia University

Get ready to listen, talk, then listen again.

For many seniors, they are facing the single biggest decision of their lives.  Each school has its pros and cons and it soon becomes clear that, while the options may be exciting, as in life, nothing is perfect.  For teens this can be both confusing and frustrating and parents are at their best as sounding boards in this process.

On the waitlist?

If your kid has opted to remain on the waitlist for one or more colleges, please know that, according to the authors of our favorite college guidebook, College Admission, “The waitlist works in different ways from college to college.”  For the comprehensive advice about how to manage the process, take a look at their writing on the subject here.

Orientation dates are scheduled. See how they work into your calendar.

Orientation dates will be in the summer, fall, or both, depending on the school. Look now and see if you, again, need to book air and hotel rooms. Maybe your kid will go on her own, maybe this is a family adventure, either way, once the college decision is made, it is time to start planning.

Seek hidden funds.

While your child’s chosen college may or may not offer merit scholarships, some exist for the parent who goes looking. Employers, local service organizations and others offer support for deserving students. Your child may be in a swirl of AP exams, Prom prep and end of year activities, but it doesn’t mean that you cannot be researching scholarship opportunities.

The road ahead will have some bumps.

It seems that once the good news has arrived, once both parent and teen are assured that the latter is going to college, the stress should fade and it should be smooth sailing until move-in day. This is the fantasy. The reality is that a massive life change is ahead for both parent and child. And while this period will be filled with many of life’s highlights, it is also filled with some pain and dislocation. Teens getting ready to leave have (despite their protestations) mixed feelings about going out on their own. Some take it in stride, others can become difficult (but you knew this!) as they push us away. Anger and frustration can rise up in us as we attempt to mask our own sadness at their departure, as excited as we are for them.

Academic requirements and advance placement are no longer theoretical.

If your student has not already poured over the pages of the academic requirements and AP policies, now is the time to do so. Colleges vary widely on what they accept for course credit and placement (which you may already know.) AP, SAT and SAT II tests (again, depending on college) might be used to give credit for requirements, and your child still has time to sign up for the May or June SAT II tests, if they are relevant. Additionally, official scores for these tests may still need to be sent to your child’s chosen college.

Book Parents Weekend for the fall.

Many small college towns have limited hotel and restaurant facilities. When your child has pushed the button on their college of choice, be sure to book what you need for Family Weekend in the fall.

Get ready to cheer.

Football fans? Take a look at the calendar of home and away games and see if any of the dates work into your schedule. Might not be easy at all to score tickets but it could make for a fun, non-official parents weekend with your freshman and their new friends.

Avoid Thanksgiving traffic jams.

If school is a plane trip away, take a look at the academic calendar around Thanksgiving and book airline, train or bus tickets. Amtrak often sells out weeks in advance and flights to small towns can be limited. This moment of practical activity will help you remember that it isn’t very long before your freshman will be right back home.

Wait to go shopping for college.

Every kid will need provisions for their dorm room but you may be tempted to over buy as you desperately want your child to be prepared to manage….without you. Other than two sets of extra-long twin sheets (a true dorm necessity) it is best to wait on buying big, bulky things until you know the configuration of your child’s dorm room. Bunk beds? Underbed storage? If so, what is the clearance? Knowing this will make a big difference in determining true “dorm room essentials.” In the meantime, locate the Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond, or Target closest to your child’s college. You can order online and arrange to pick up all your son and daughter needs (and them some) without overstuffing your car for the drive from home.

Take a deep breath and exhale.

Your family is about to make one of its biggest changes. It is a wonderful, heart wrenching and seminal moment. While we watch out kids pass into the next stage in their lives there are more than a few little matters we can attend to help them on their way.

As two moms getting ready to say goodbye to their youngest kids this fall, we have also learned the deep support that friends can give in dealing with the big change that is coming into our lives as our days become our own and our houses get much quieter. As deeply proud as we are of our young adults, this transition can be tinged with a bit of sadness. Good luck to your high school senior and many congratulations to you for helping her on the way.

Our continuing thanks to our photographer, TB Kilman, for her lovely images including the one above of Columbia University’s library and the track below at Bucknell.

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