This past weekend we completed a ritual for the 12th—and last—time: the college move-in. Like many parents, we have the process down to a routine: Hit Bed, Bath and Beyond for the essentials that disappeared since the move out last spring. Buy $300 worth of “toiletries” at CVS. ($10 shampoo is apparently a necessity) Start a stockpile of stuff in the middle of the living room floor. Pull out clothes from drawers and closets and dump them on the bed to sort through. Cram everything into plastic boxes, suitcases and black garbage bags. Pack up the car so Dad can’t see out the back window. Drive to campus (student snoozes in the back seat) and drag the stuff up five flights in 95-degree heat.
Of course, there are variations. Daughters need to go clothes shopping; sons discover at the last minute that they misplaced necessary items. (One of my sons “lost” a chest of drawers between freshmen and sophomore year.) Sometimes kids move off campus to what you consider a slum and they consider a great deal. You keep your mouth shut and buy a new mattress so at least they’ll be no bed bugs coming home in the spring. Some parents opt out of the move-in completely by giving the child a car to keep at school.
My daughter goes to a school with a unique tradition: Seniors move back on campus after a required junior year off campus. The attraction: Senior-only, apartment-style housing just yards from the football stadium, the parties, and, oh yes, their classes. So, we prepared for the usual routine.
For weeks I was nervously anticipated move-in day. Twelve years of college was ending with this academic year. My husband and I enjoyed the experience almost as much as our three children did. We went to football and lacrosse games, plays and concerts, parents’ weekends, and just for visits where we took roommates out to dinner and explored the surrounding areas. The closing of that chapter of our lives is bittersweet. Yes, it’s nice to not be paying tuition anymore after the final payment in December. But as long as I had a child in college I felt like a (young) hands-on parent. Graduation changes that. Graduation means your children are supposed to be fully independent and making their own way in the world, navigating with minimal help from mom and dad. Of course, as this blog has detailed many times, that independence does not come so easily to emerging adults in a recession.
Many college seniors are not wildly anticipating graduation either. All summer long my daughter cringed as people repeated, “Oh, your last year!” In a store in late August, we met a friend who had graduated in 2010. She told my daughter, “You’re so lucky. I wish I was still in college.” When we took my daughter and four friends to dinner Saturday night, they all echoed the same sentiment: “Let’s not talk about graduation.”
That’s not a lot a parent can say to that. I simply reminded my daughter that she has nine months to enjoy the experience, and repeated one of my favorite sayings, “Value the passing time.”
As we left campus the morning after the move-in, I had anticipated I would be distraught. But the tears held back as I watched my daughter head off to a football game with her friends; I knew that this is where she was supposed to be, savoring this fleeting time in her life. (And I was heading home to a neat house and control of the remote!)
When I got home there in the mail was an announcement from my daughter’s school about “Commencement 2012” with the reminder to book a hotel room as soon as possible. So much for valuing the passing time!