The ride up the New York State Thruway took almost five hours rather than the anticipated three, on account of my frequent bathroom breaks at every rest stop between my home in Westchester and my dorm room on the fourth floor of West College. Filled with doubt and regret, I just wasn’t ready to go. My parents were supportive, but also at a loss; they had never dropped their firstborn off at college and were dealing with their own uncertainty and separation anxiety.
Now that I’m in the throes of last minute preparations before sending my youngest to college, I’m astonished at how different the process is today. I hadn’t met my roommate ahead of move-in day, as there was no FaceTime or Skype, and I certainly didn’t get to choose her. I didn’t bring a laptop on which to take notes, do assignments and most importantly, catch up on Netflix. Instead, I used my recently acquired typing skills on the computers in the dimly lit library basement.
When I needed actual money, I waited for cashier hours at the student center, and wrote a check to myself in exchange for cash, which I carefully guarded. I didn’t have a credit card until American Express set up a booth on campus and convinced me to open my own account (that card, with some upgrades, has been my go to since 1989).
After manually registering for classes, I waited on line with everyone else to purchase books, and by “on line” I mean, literally, not online. I figured out the pharmacy nearest to campus so that I could pick up my own prescriptions and physically walked there and back, as Uber did not yet exist to assist me with this daunting task.
The magic of Amazon Prime had also not yet materialized, so an additional under-the-bed bin, hangers or my favorite mascara were not within 24 hours’ reach. Instead, I waited for my parents to visit, or for a group run to the nearest mall, which was 20 minutes away. On one such outing, my roommate and I decided to buy a fish and named him Montgomery.
We awaited calls from home on Sunday nights after dinner via an antiquated machine called a landline telephone. We had no privacy, and consequently no real way to tell our parents what was actually going on at college, which was probably for the best. We learned upon whom we could rely, making connections with friends, professors and advisors, but most of all we became independent and relied on ourselves.
Although I lament the passing of the good old days that taught us so much and fortified us for life’s ups and downs, I’m relieved by some advancements, as I send my daughter 1,500 miles away. My daughter and her roommate chose one another, and we visited her amazing family several months ago. It was clear that had we lived closer, we would’ve been great friends.
The girls picked out coordinating bedding and room décor, unlike my roommate and I who showed up with red, black and white for one side of the room, and lavender and pink for the other. (You know what? It was fine!) They’ve already connected with tons of kids through the class Facebook group and will be able to keep in touch with their friends from home.
I’m not sure whether to marvel or balk at the security blanket that Wi-Fi provides: 24/7 access to everyone and everything. I’m reassured that my daughter’s life-long friends are only a click away to provide love and support, but I cringe at the reliance and dependence that such accessibility creates.
I question whether the differences between now and then produce more, or less secure and ready-to-face-life kids, but I assure myself that it’s just that: a difference. In reality I’m comforted by all the technological advancements that we just can’t seem to live without. Apparently, we can preorder anything my daughter needs at Bed Bath & Beyond near her college, and pick it up before move-in day. Her college will accept and deliver packages directly to her dorm room before our arrival, and most importantly, Amazon Prime exists for anything else we think of.
Although most retailers accept credit cards, a concept that was new in the dark ages when I went to school, I made sure my daughter knows how to use an ATM (she laughed at me). Anything she can think of is available at the click of a button, including online books, shampoo and underwear.
At my son’s college you could call up and order soup to be sent to your sick (or just hungry) child’s room. While at the time I thought this was charming, I find myself wondering if this level of involvement and meddling is necessary and desirable.
It’s natural and essential that society evolves, and in the thirty years since I attended college, technology has exploded for better or worse. Are parents any less wound up about sending their kids off to college, knowing that at least the material things and creature comforts are covered? If it’s so easy, why are we producing more anxious and less self-reliant kids?
I ponder these questions as I prepare to send my youngest to college so far away that a connecting flight is necessary, and I must admit, I’m comforted by the thought that anything she needs really is just a click away.
We can’t control whether they adjust, make friends, succeed in their areas of interest or truly maximize their potential, but at least we know they can order a dehumidifier, should they need one, and that it will arrive faster than their hovering parent can make it to campus, package in hand.
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