When my daughter was two weeks into her freshman year of college we went to visit her. We went for several reasons – she was homesick and a little anxious, she’d forgotten a few things, and frankly because I missed her. We are fortunate her campus is less than 90 minutes away, and we took advantage of being able to go see her so easily.
“I wasn’t aware it was already Parent’s weekend” commented a friend of mine when I mentioned preparing to head down to campus.”
Apparently visiting so soon was a no-no in her book. When we arrived on campus that warm early September day, I was carrying a few things into my daughter’s dorm and tripped on a curb landing flat on my hands and knees in front of a gaggle of co-eds.
Later when I recounted the incident the same friend said “that’s what you get for visiting before Parent’s Weekend.”
What are Parents Supposed to Do the First Few Weeks of College?
I know she was teasing but I admit, it stung. Those first days and weeks as a college parent felt as uncertain and anxious to me as the first days and weeks at home with a newborn had felt. Do you call or not call? Text or not text? Visit or stay home? Comfort or tough love? And just as I had been incapable of letting my infant “cry it out” in her crib all those years ago, I was equally incapable of staying away when I could tell she needed me.
And if we are being really truthful, I needed to see her just as much as I had needed to hold and rock that tiny infant. During those stressful sleep deprived days of new motherhood, both baby and mom had sought the reassurance of each other’s presence. Nothing had changed. And if it meant sprawling my overweight 50-something mom body all over the sidewalk in front of her dorm to give it to us then, by gosh that’s what I was going to do.
During that visit we went out for burgers, we talked about the pressure of college classes and her first tentative steps toward new friendships. She teared up a few times recounting how easily everyone seemed to be fitting in while she was struggling a bit. We reassured her it was normal and that both her stepmother and I had taken a while to find our tribe. We hugged a bit longer than we needed, replenished the dorm room snack supply and parted ways buoyed by our few hours together.
And as so many things do in our family, this “two-weeks in” visit became a tradition. Her sophomore year our visit was spent in Target finding a chair for a room much bigger than she expected, stocking up on LaCroix water, eating overpriced avocado toast at a trendy coffee shop and reassuring her that the door decorations she had made for her residents as a newly-minted RA were cute without being corny.
When we dropped her off for the start of her junior year she said “see you when you come down in a few weeks,” rather than goodbye because we both knew I would be there for the two-week check in. This year, over salads and chai lattes at the same trendy coffee shop, I noticed that while she had her traditional “two-weeks-in” list of things that were worrying her, there was a new maturity to balance the nerves, there were no ‘must haves’ she needed to buy for her room, her needs seemed more modest, more manageable.
She was as inquisitive about what was going on ‘back home’ as we were about her life, and eagerly introduced us to one of her professors who was lunching with her family. We did a little shopping at an arts market where she bought a feminist empowerment t-shirt (with her own money!) and our visit felt more like old friends catching up than a mother and daughter.
It occurred to me that just as that crying infant in the crib had grown into a toddler who called out for mom, who in turn grew into a girl who just needed a tuck-in at night – so too had she grown and changed from year to year at the “two –week visit.”
She still needed me, but not as intensely. That baby who knew I would always come to her was now a bright capable 20-year old who knew the same thing. That I would always come to her when she needed me. For her, that was at the two-week mark of each year, for other kids it may be sooner, much later, or not at all. Babies are different. So are college students.
I recognize that not everyone has the luxury to make a ‘quick visit’ to campus and that, as in all things, staying in touch with your college student is a question of balance – with the ideal falling somewhere between “talk to you at the end of the semester,” and Vicki Gunvalson showing up uninvited at her son’s keg party on the Real Housewives of the OC . But trust your instincts. If you want to call, call. If you want to text, text. And if you want to visit and it’s not Parent’s Weekend yet, go for it. You may start a new tradition.
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Katie Collins is a native Mainer who has called New Hampshire home for the past 29 years. A nonprofit development professional by trade, Katie also has over 25 years of experience in community and professional theater and in 2013 was awarded NH Theater Award for Lead Actress in a Drama or Comedy. She resides in quiet domesticity with her adorable wife, with occasional visits from her talented daughter, a college junior . Katie is a lover of musical theater, the original Star Trek, cheeseburgers, old Carol Burnett show reruns, and weekly lap swimming at the local YMCA. She tries very hard not to take herself too seriously.