Thirteen Lessons My Son and I Learned During His First Year of College

My son just finished his first year of college. Whenever I look at him, I see a little boy I want to smother with hugs and kisses and make him a grilled cheese sandwich, just as he likes (yellow mustard in the middle), with apple slices on the side.

But he’s not a little boy anymore; he was alone in the world for the first time, and I’m proud of everything he learned (particularly outside of classes).

My son just finished his first year of college, and we both learned lessons. (Twenty20 @TonyTheTigersSon)

What my son learned in college (from his questions)

1. “How do I get the string inside a hoodie back into the hood?”

I laughed for a good thirty seconds and then tried to explain (not over FaceTime) how to locate the lost part of the string and scrunch it forward until it reached the other side. He thought maybe there was an easier way to do it. Without a safety pin, there isn’t one. He doesn’t have a safety pin or sewing kit, my bad. Note to self — teach him how to sew a button and repair a hole in a T-shirt this summer.

2. “How do I get pizza sauce from a sweatshirt?”

BLOT FIRST to soak up excess sauce (never rub) and dab with dishwashing liquid or laundry detergent. Rinse, and wash. Repeat if necessary.

3. “How do I replace the shower curtain and rings?”

Examine the rings; it’s like a puzzle — there is a locking mechanism, and YES, you need a liner!

4. “How do I report a lost credit card?”

He was too stressed to realize he could do this online and certainly wasn’t interested in conversing with a live person over the phone. We did it online together over FaceTime.

5. “How long does fruit last?”

Not as long as he thought when outside the refrigerator — he had a net bag full of oranges, one was avocado green with mold, and the rest exploded at a first squeeze!

6. “How do I get rid of ants?”

Find the source and discard, keep open food in sealed containers, and get traps.

7. “Can I drop a class if I got a ‘C’ on the first test?”

This one provided a lesson in navigating his large university. It’s intimidating to contact a professor you’ve only met virtually, but he did it and voiced his concerns. They emailed back and forth, resolved some issues, and he got an ‘A’ in the class.

8. “How am I supposed to feed myself on a budget and without a car if I don’t like the food in the dining hall?”

Meal delivery services are NOT the answer, although he ordered two meals simultaneously to save on fees. We’re still working on this one, and before returning to school, where he’ll be out of the dorm and in an apartment but still without a car, we’ll have to master some easy meals this summer. So far, he makes excellent scrambled eggs, but if I could convince him to buy a cooked rotisserie chicken, oh, the dishes he could make!

9. “I feel sick; what do I do?”

Find the medical container filled with medicine I packed for you and the spreadsheet that lists what to take for specific symptoms. Hydrate, rest, and don’t leave your room while you’re contagious to others (you have permission to use a food delivery service). If you’re feeling sick, head to health services.

And then, there were my lessons

I did my best not to call my son unless I really needed something. I didn’t want to be THAT mom. So, when he called, I never wanted to miss it.

My husband teased me for how fast I dropped what I was doing and ran across the house to follow the sound of my ringing cell phone every time it announced a call from my son. But I knew every conversation was an opportunity to learn what kind of man he was becoming. 

What I learned (from the things he told me)

  1. When he made a kid he barely knew, sleep on his floor and let him vomit all over the bathroom rather than drive himself home — I learned he was a good friend.
  1. I learned he could prioritize healthy eating when he bought real maple syrup and wouldn’t let his roommate eat the crappy artificial kind that came with their takeout meals.
  1. When he did his laundry and put clean sheets on his bed before coming home for winter break — I learned he could be responsible.
  1. And last, as I moved him out of his dorm a few weeks ago, when I saw a handwritten note from me propped up on his desk — I learned he valued my presence in his life. And he recognized that I valued his. There’s not much else a mother can ask for.

More Great Reading:

College Freshman, Welcome Home and Here’s What’s Changed Since You Left

About Sheryl Zedeck Katz

Sheryl Zedeck Katz is an attorney who spent most of her career working as a human resource consultant in the banking industry. Counseling and managing people provided her with a unique insight into interpersonal relationships and she focuses her writing on the role familial relationships play during difficult times.

She has contributed to,, and She writes a blog highlighting thought-provoking lines from published literature called One Great Line and coaches high school and college students on their application essays.

Read more posts by Sheryl

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