You survived having your son or daughter home for a few weeks of vacation and have been planning to pack up the car and drive them back to college for the next semester soon. Let’s face it, they somehow have accumulated much more stuff than they had when they arrived home. How is that even possible?
As long as they leave the new kitten or puppy (that you keep trying to convince yourself you didn’t get to replace them), that’s fine. Tarzan stays.
And then, seemingly out of nowhere, your college kid says they need to talk. They say they aren’t going back. They can’t go back. And you stop breathing for more seconds than you can count.
They are stressed, anxious, having trouble adjusting, don’t like their roommate, are afraid they picked the wrong college. They are homesick, don’t want to leave their friends and family, it’s too far, it’s too hard, there’s nothing to do, the professors are mean, and they are now interested in a major the school doesn’t have. Having been home for a few weeks helped them clear their head and sort through their feelings and they are Not. Going. Back.
Does any of this sound familiar?
You have a split second to decide if you are choosing the, “You are going back no matter what, are you crazy?” route, or the, “I understand and we will figure it out,” route.
3, 2, 1…
You’re doing your best to hold back tears as you watch them cry, scream, plead, defend, apologize for disappointing you and themselves, even though you try to convince them it’s ok. Then you watch in disbelief as they turn on a dime and get mad at you for letting them go to the college that they picked in the first place. It’s always your fault, you’re used to it!
You are secretly calculating the costs of transferring…fees for new applications and transcript requests will be offset by cancelling and getting a partial refund on dorm insurance and calling Campus Police to find out that you have to scrape the parking sticker off their car windshield to get half of your money back, minus a 90-cent surcharge. Again, your fault somehow, but the money refunded ends up in your kid’s bank account, not yours. How is that?
You’re wondering if they missed all the deadlines to apply as a transfer student for this semester and will have to go back unwillingly if it’s too late to get in somewhere else, or they can take classes locally and possibly non-matriculated until they figure out what they want to do next. Which will all also be your fault somehow, but you knew that already.
Feeling envious of your friends whose kids seemingly have it all together and answering to your family as to why your kid isn’t returning comes next. Oh, and you still have to drive back with them to their dorm to gather all of their belongings – whatever they didn’t bring home for vacation – and return their key and do battle with Student Accounts.
But it’s going to be OK.
That’s what everyone tells you so you might as well believe them. Your uncle’s neighbor’s cousin switched schools and now they are an optometrist, so don’t worry. You know your kid will land on their feet, but it doesn’t feel that way right now. And if this didn’t happen to you but happened to a friend, just give them a hug and offer chocolate.
Fill up the gas tank, head back to their dorm and try to enjoy the ride. Just keep in mind the list of things you can’t talk to them about because it stresses them out. Do they know that by not talking about those things, we get stressed out? So not fair.
As you pack them up and wonder where you are going to store everything, you are not alone. Even if it’s just you and me, we will get through this. There will be another college that will gladly take your money, and, deep down, your kid will appreciate any help you are able to offer them while they are in academic and emotional limbo.
I do wonder, when our transferring kids become wildly successful later on because they persevered and overcame this hiccup, and made a new decision that was a better match for them, will it still be our fault?
Randee Bonagura is an elementary school administrator by day, mom and stepmom of 4 girls by night. She reads, writes, crafts and plays clarinet in a local ensemble, and adopts way too many rescue kittens in her spare time. She lives in New York with her husband. Follow her at Just Ask Randee.