When Your College Kid Calls at 2AM

Every night when I go to bed, I place my cellphone on the nightstand. This is a habit I got into a few years ago, when my son became a teenager and began spending less time with his parents and more time with friends.

When your kid is 200 miles away, you worry

You’d think now that he’s in college I’d relax a little, but if anything I’m more vigilant about keeping that phone on the nightstand. When your son is 200 miles away, you worry, even if you don’t realize you’re worrying. I turn off my text, Facebook messenger and email notifications, but the phone stays on, just in case.

Why parents dread getting a middle-of-the-night phone call from college kids.
When your college kid calls you at 2 in the morning

Last night I woke up around two in the morning to hear our landline ringing in the living room. I wondered if I might be dreaming. It was Halloween, after all, and I’d admittedly dipped into the candy bowl a few times. All that sugar can cause some strange dreams. As I contemplated this, I fell back asleep.

The call came at 2AM

I then woke to my cell phone ringing. I reached out, fumbled around for a moment and squinted to read the screen – Seth. The late night call that every parent dreads, because kids don’t call at two in the morning when something good is happening. A million thoughts run through your head in an instant, all of them bad.

Unfortunately, I was still half-asleep and couldn’t figure out how to answer the phone. Again, I blame the sugar. I handed the phone to my wife and she answered. When I heard my son’s deep voice, I relaxed. It wasn’t an official-sounding voice from the hospital or the police station. I couldn’t hear what he was saying but I knew our son was safe. That’s all that mattered.

I rolled over and heard my wife’s tone slowly change from worried to annoyed. She got up out of bed, and as she walked down the hallway her voice sharpened. Anger. As I nodded off, I was glad it wasn’t me on the other end of the phone.

My son was asking for our help in bailing a friend out of jail

Our son called to ask if we could transfer money into his account immediately so he could bail a friend out of jail. As my wife later told me, if our son could have convinced her that the reason for his friend being arrested was a misunderstanding or an unfortunate error in judgement, she may have given the money. His reason didn’t quite cut it, though, which she politely but firmly explained to our son.

It’s amazing how a child, no matter how old, can drive parents from the brink of despair to irritation and anger in a matter of seconds. It’s a wonder we don’t all walk around with neck braces from the emotional whiplash our kids put us through.

I’m thankful our son is fine, and I’m glad he trusts us enough to call and ask for help when a friend is in trouble. Under most circumstances we’d be glad to help out. This just wasn’t one of those times.

We decided not to help in this instance

When it comes to jail and arrest and bail money, I tend to have a bit of a short fuse. I don’t think I’d have been as polite as my wife. I found out in the morning that our son had tried my wife’s cell phone before calling mine. Smart kid. Unfortunately, she turns hers off at bedtime.

Our son awoke at 6:30 the following morning to a text from his mother, telling him he’d better be up in time for his first class. He was. She also wrote a reminder that if he’d been the one arrested for stealing, his financial aid would be revoked.

I’m going to keep that phone on the nightstand, probably for the rest of my life. And like all parents, I’m hoping it’ll never ring again.

More by Gary Sprague:

The Real Problem with My Son’s Empty Bedroom

In My Son’s Empty Room: How Did it Go By So Fast?

High School Graduation and the Heart-Rending Optimism of Youth 


About Gary Sprague

Gary Sprague is a freelance writer who lives in Maine with his wife and two sons. You can find him online at Twitter, Facebook and his blog, GarySpragueBooks.

Read more posts by Gary

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