Let’s leapfrog over the current situation and consider the future for a moment. College. Packing. Something to get excited about? Our high school graduates are young adults and officially independent in the eyes of society. In most cases, the graduates feel that they are now independent, as they prepare us for the inevitable, “You know, once I’m at college you won’t have any idea where I am or when I get home.”
Back to packing.
I’ve heard it all…”they are adults, they should pack their own stuff”, “they can figure this out”, “my son/daughter is doing it all on their own”, “it’s not my job”, “they know what they need”, “you’re not doing your kid any favors…”
People told me that I should let my freshman son pack for himself
Although I felt that I should leave freshman packing to my son, people were telling me I should do so, and my son told me he wanted to take care of it on his own, it went down differently at our house and looking back, I’m grateful it did. In fact, I thank my son for resisting my prompts to get going with packing his things. It gave life to a part of our journey together that, not to be morbid, was slowly dying, as any parent and child journey should, giving birth to a new journey between parent and young adult child living away from home.
I come from a long line of organizers. Compound that with my own creative tendencies, and what have you got? A parent, who not only wants to help their son get ready for college but is genuinely excited to do so. What began as a few subtle hints or suggestions “shall we take a trip to IKEA together?”, “do you think you want grey bedding?”, “what technology do you plan to bring?”, over the summer, evolved into a frenzy of activity, almost entirely driven by me.
Through the summer he procrastinated
Through July, my son politely repeated the words, “No, I’ll take care of it all.” During this time, I secretly gathered data, sourced side tables, and pinned closet organization methods. To be honest, I was also casually sharing ideas with my graduate, who kindly allowed my involvement and offered his preferences and even kinder “that’s cool” or “I like that, nice choice” type of comments.
This was all the encouragement I needed to stay involved. So I did.
I may have spent hours reading reviews and blog posts for “what to bring to college” even though I wasn’t going and may have purchased some of those recommendations. But there was that “creative tendencies” thing about me, that drove me to build on the ideas and consider new and different ways to approach the freshman dorm room. And there was also that “parent of an only child” thing, and that “I love my son more than life itself” thing, not to mention the “if I was going to college again I’d want this thing.” You know, the usual things that drive our behavior as parents, from time to time.
Back to Packing. How did it end?
From my perspective, as the calendar turned to August, time was getting tight, shopping trips and shipping timeframes were closing in on us and we needed to make progress, so I could sleep at night. From my son’s perspective (I can only imagine based on observation) as the calendar turned to August, he too felt the time was getting tight, but for different reasons. He felt the pressure to see friends, take adventures, stay up too late and otherwise continue life as he knew it, as long as he could, before everyone scattered to different corners of, literally, the globe. The packing would happen…at some point.
By mid-August packing progressed with a kind of parent and child symbiosis. My husband used his spatial skills to analyze the layout/dimensions of our son’s specific room to see how various elements and furnishings might fit (or not). I got the approval on bedding and bath choices, while our son communicated with his roommate on the usual “Who gets the fridge?” and “Who brings the rug?” questions.
August came and still no packing
August was coming to an end. Repeated trips past my son’s bedroom revealed the same landscape of clothes piled on the floor and his high school backpack un-emptied in the corner. Multiple requests over recent weeks for him to get going so his dad and I could figure out how many Ikea Frakta Bags and how much car would be needed to transport the goods, had gone unfulfilled.
One evening, after dinner, before my bedtime, and before he’d solidified his plans for the evening (ah, youth) things peaked. It was two days before we would drop him off for orientation. As I stepped across his turquoise carpeted bedroom, I gingerly suggested that it was time, and how about we pack up his clothes together? He acquiesced. I rattled off categories of clothing, while he grabbed the items of choice from his messy closet. To be honest, it took about twenty minutes and he was right not to give it much more attention than he had. What he did give plenty of attention to, was the framing of some beloved music posters. Give credit where credit is due. Those posters made his room home to him.
As it turns out, all the planning and organization around our son’s freshman belongings paid off. It allowed the loading, unloading and setting up to go smoothly without much thought, so we could better take in the overall “once in a lifetime” experience of arriving on campus as an incoming freshman. Items fit the space as we had calculated, and the extra care and attention we gave to the choice of items and their use seemed to create a homey space. In fact, for weeks after drop off, it was reported that his room was a favorite among his dorm mates, if not for the apparent “double-wide” size then surely for the choice of furnishings (wink, wink).
Alas, the year came to an unexpected halt, with the early shutdown of the campus just as the students were in the midst of midterms and preparing for spring break. I still recall our son’s breathy call to us. He made his way across campus back to his dorm from the gym and said, “They are sending us home.”
Three short days later we arrived to swiftly pack up his room. Though no one would wish this scenario on our kids at any stage of college, we were gifted the opportunity, as parents, to witness the closeness that had developed between them all, with the sense of loss they were all experiencing only heightening that closeness.
I am grateful we gave our son space and time he needed to navigate the poignant juncture of leaving behind home and homies with prepping for the big unknown of freshman year, and that he allowed us to stay connected to him through the planning and prepping for that big event.
Lessons learned? Go with your gut. Allow your child to be a child a bit longer, while you are allowed to stay involved just a tad longer. Cherish the gift of connection.
And by golly, go for the towels that strike your fancy.
More to Read:
Kathy Marshall lives in Hanover, New Hampshire with her husband, son, and Bernese Mountain dog, Freya. She has spent her career in the design and merchandising field and says, “ I am a creative at heart and a planner by nature, with a passion to create something from nothing and a drive to connect through writing.” Raising her son has been the joy of her life, and she is eager to share parts of the journey with Grown and Flown Readers.