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

 

 

Why Good Parenting Calls For Cheap Scare Tactics

Becky Blades, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: “Dirty clothes shouldn’t be scary,” said a person who has not opened the door to a 17-year-old’s bedroom room or shared a car with an open gym bag. Or a person who has not sent a laundry-challenged 18-year-old out into the world.

Becky Blades, Laundry or Die

Releasing my daughter into society without being sure she would actually do her laundry was a terrifying moment in my empty nesting transition, and I met it the way I meet most scary parenting encounters – with frantic, jerking shrieks of foreboding and emotional threats: “Your life will be out of control! No one will live with you! No one will love you!…Did I not make myself clear? No wire hangars!”

Being afraid my daughter did not know how to take care of herself and her things turned me into Mommy Dearest; I displaced aggression and spent way too much time passing judgment on her closet. But in the end, though it wasn’t pretty, sending her to college was therapeutic for me. It was the crescendo of a decade and a half of using fear as a parenting tool, and it was the leg of my mom journey that sent me into serious self-analysis.

One morning sitting at my journal, I wondered to myself if my two daughters, then 17 and 15, knew the difference between a mother’s warnings and real risk. Like generations of mothers before me, I had used predictions and exaggerations to make points, I had inflated and fabricated scenarios and lorded threats just to make sure I was heard. I always felt these tactics were cop-outs, that a better mom than I would not need to resort to such things.

As I journaled for days, through years of memories, I realized that stirring up a little fear was a big part of my job description. I remembered, for example, that my children had grown up in a much safer neighborhood than I had. They didn’t need to be afraid to walk to school, or to hang out at the neighborhood shopping center. But living in that safe, shiny “bubble” we had worked so hard to create for them had created its own risks. They were dangerously trusting, and truth be told, they didn’t know what door locks were actually for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” were not serious words in suburban la la land.  In fact, the phrase “stranger danger” would set our humor-seeking household doubling over in laughter when properly placed in a conversation.

That’s the funny thing about fear. It’s funny. Until it’s not.

And it’s a parent’s job to clarify the difference. It was my job to make sure my eight-year-old got to enjoy life with enough security to laugh at paranoid clichés like “stranger danger” and also to assure those same words will send a chill down her spine at age 18 when a middle-aged man gets a little too friendly on a deserted subway platform.

That’s why my daughter’s last year at home was so frightful for me. I scrutinized my work and wondered if I’d covered the right material. She was terrified of making a low SAT score but undaunted by the prospect of running out of clean underwear. She did not know that having a laundry routine would save her from the free-floating overwhelm that would endanger her very peace of mind and turn already busy days into frantic clothing searches.

After a year of self-inflicted note making, I bid adieu to my daughter with an e-mail. Subject line: Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Attached were 200+ tidbits of laundry advice, financial lectures and life lessons that I was afraid she might not know.

It got her attention. She read it all. Not because she was afraid of dying alone, but because she was afraid of the parental financial repercussions if she ignored me. (Those threats have not been veiled in the least.)

Come to find out, the things I’m afraid of for my daughter are things she is afraid of, too. As she got to know other young women at college, she reported that I am by no means the most dramatic or fear-wielding mom alive. Other moms fret and stalk and agonize and warn their daughters with much more flair than I.

I should have remembered this comforting fact from my own coming of age: as we step out on our own, women parent one another with the lessons they learned at home. The ones that make it through the noise are the lessons that are most repeated in mom’s most intense voice.

So . . . sorry, not sorry.

If my two daughters aren’t a little bit afraid of the sound of my ring tone between the ages of 15 and 18, shame on me. If my 18-year-old isn’t wary walking through campus after dark, I didn’t do my job. If my 21-year-old isn’t a little freaked out when a guy on a second date won’t take her home when she asks, I’ve missed a conversation.

Parents of sons likely have an entirely different list of fears and parenting imperatives. I hope that in addition to worrying about their sons’ safety, they are terrified of their sons being cavalier with girls’ hearts and bodies. I can think of no stronger deterrent for a well-raised young man than the look on his mother’s face when she learns of her son’s shoddy behavior.

The only thing we have to fear is NOT fear itself – it is losing fear as a parenting tool. But I’m not afraid. I’m betting that just like the laundry, creatively applied scare tactics will always be part of the job that never ends.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

About Becky Blades

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages.

She lives in Kansas City with her husband of 30 years and her Maytag front load washing machine.

Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie, and her blog, startistry. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest at: LaundryorDie.com

 

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.



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.