Every college has its own drop-off system. But I can tell you how it went when we dropped off Rob at his college.
Beforehand, looking at all the papers, the process seemed overwhelming. Here’s your group! Here’s your check-in time! Don’t forget this! Don’t forget that! Don’t bring this or that! This lot is okay to park in and this one isn’t! Put this sign in your windshield! Label all your things! And you may remember the part where the college told us only a couple of weeks ago that there were assigned check-in times and that it was “CRUCIAL” to follow them—but when I emailed, they said no, those were just suggested times, an answer that suffused me with both intense relief and intense annoyance. Rule-makers, do not TOY WITH your rule-followers.
One way I calmed down was by figuring that it is to the school’s advantage to make things go smoothly, even more than it is to mine; and that the school has way, WAY more experience with this than I do. I printed out the labels and maps, but I trusted to some extent that even if we showed up at the gates without any information at all and without following any of the guidelines for car-marking and luggage-labeling, there would be people there who would guide us through it. This turned out to be 100% correct.
There were signs at the entrance. There were signs at every fork. There were people at every stage to meet us. There were people at every stage to lean down to our car window and make sure we’d been though the necessary previous stage. There were people wearing college t-shirts EVERYWHERE, and they were cheerful about answering anything. I was worried that someone would question us about arriving early and I would have to explain, but no one noticed or cared or viewed any information that would have told them that that was what was happening; it was a complete non-issue.
The whole thing from arrival to departure took about 2.5 hours. A large part of this was waiting in the first line: arriving cars were directed into a series of lines by very! spirited! student helpers, and then the incoming students could get out and walk over to a table where they could pick up their room keys, IDs, student-orientation-group assignment, and goody bag. Rob came back to the car and then we waited for a long time to be included in a batch of cars sent on ahead to the luggage-drop-off part of the process. The spirited helpers came over periodically to chat, tell us their majors, ask if we had questions, apologize for the wait, etc. I’d started leaking tears as soon as I saw the welcoming party, so I was glad Paul took over here, but no one seemed at all surprised to see tears. One student helper said sympathetically to me, “Is this your first college drop-off?,” and all I could do was nod. “Next time you’ll be an expert!,” she said.
When we got to the head of our line, we were sent in a little batch of about four cars to the next stop: it was basically “take a right, and then your next right,” not anything difficult, and there were signs directing us. An adult with a clipboard met us and told us how it was going to go down: we were going to pull into a little cul-de-sac and park; we were going to unload all the stuff onto the sidewalk/grass; and then one of us was to drive the car far, far away to another lot; a shuttle could bring that driver back to us. We parked as directed, and a student helper came over to introduce herself and tell us where/how we could sign out a luggage cart. Other student helpers were going cheerfully from car to car, helping with the unloading and asking where people were from and what they were majoring in.
Paul drove the car away while Rob got a luggage cart and loaded it up. William and I stayed with the rest of the stuff (did I mention William came with us? William came with us) while Rob went off to find the dorm/room; I suggested he ask one of the student helpers but otherwise let him figure it out himself. He came back after awhile with an empty luggage cart, and the rest of the stuff fit on it and Paul wasn’t back yet and wasn’t answering texts, so William and I went with Rob this time.
The hallway was dim and discouraging, and his room was surprisingly small. But I took heart remembering how small my college dorm room looked to me at first, and how quickly I got used to it. And hallways don’t need to be wide or pretty. Paul arrived from the shuttle and met us in the room, after asking for help from a number of friendly student helpers.
Annnnnnd then we hugged Rob goodbye and left. There were “parent orientation” activities that whole day and the next day, but our impression reading over the information was that these were designed to pry parents away from the students. Plus, we needed to get back to the other kids.
We’d discussed this with Rob ahead of time and he knew we were not staying for the parent stuff, but right as we were leaving he got a little anxious, asking if we were sure we were supposed to go yet, and also asking us to double-check to make SURE he got everything out of the car, and asking us to keep our phones handy in case he suddenly thought of something he forgot and needed to contact us. Because we’d checked in early, his dorm floor was virtually empty; this would have been an upside of going at our assigned time. I’ll bet a few hours later there was an RA greeting everyone and lots of noise and kids.
We left him to do his own unpacking. I’d seen stuff about parents wanting to unpack the things, and how kids should be patient if mom wants to make up the bed for the last time, but I didn’t have much of that impulse: it seemed like he should put his own stuff away in his own room. That’s when I feel like I’m taking possession of a new room/apartment/house: when I figure out where to put all my things. Also, he’s been making up his own bed for years. Also, it seemed like a good way for him to kill time before other people arrived.
It did feel distressing to leave him there and walk out of the dorm. That would have been the upside of staying for the parent stuff: it’s a more gradual goodbye. But I was able to talk myself through it, especially with Paul there also talking himself through it. I would have a panicky thought (for example, “What about LUNCH?? We didn’t find the cafeteria with him or go over with him how to use his ID card to get meals!!”), and then both of us would ping-pong assurances back and forth: “He has a map: he can find it,” “Finding this stuff on his own is a GOOD thing,” “He probably still has some car snacks with him,” “He was supposed to check in at lunch time, so there should be an RA around by then, and he’ll help,” “Every single staff member here KNOWS they’re dealing with incoming freshmen who don’t know how to do anything,” “If he misses a single meal he will in no way perish.”
I found it comforting to remember myself being at college those first few days. It was kind of overwhelming and weird, yes, but did I feel as if I were physically and mentally incapable of finding the dining hall? Heck no. Did I feel as if there was no way I could choose my classes, see my advisor, find my way to another building on campus? Bitch please, I was a GROWN WOMAN. Plus, just as the college has a personal interest in making drop-off easier, they have a personal interest in getting the students settled in and feeling comfortable: student orientation is ABOUT getting STUDENTS all ORIENTED so they know where they are and what to do and how to get there.
On the way out I asked if we could stop at the bookstore, because I thought it would make me feel much, much, much better to buy a college coffee mug to drink out of moodily the next day. We’d thought the bookstore might be mobbed, but it was not at all. I got a coffee mug. And a car-window decal. And some pens. Everything was so overpriced, it was silly: four cheapo freebie/handout-quality pens I probably could have taken for free at the Admissions office, $7.98. Coffee mug, $14.98. FREE ADVERTISING FOR THE COLLEGE car sticker: $6.98. WHATEVER. I PAID IT. AND I WAS GLAD.
I continued to feel distressed as we drove away. I kept thinking of anxious things, some of them marginally legit and some more along the lines of “What if we were supposed to stay with him until an RA arrived????” Mostly I was bothered by the mental picture I had of him sitting alone in his room not knowing what to do about lunch. So after about an hour, when William texted Rob, “So how’s college life?,” and Rob texted back, “Pretty good. Having a turkey sandwich at the dining hall,” that took a LOT of weight off my mind: he left his room! he left his dorm! he found the dining hall and figured out how to use it! HE’S HAVING LUNCH!! SOMEONE FED MY BABY!!!
When we got home, we found we could look up the student orientation schedule online and see what he was likely doing each day. Also, there’s a special college Facebook group for parents of students at this college, and they’re being good about posting pictures and videos of orientation activities. (We’re seeing pictures and videos of the “parent orientation,” too, and it looks…dorky. We’re glad we didn’t stay for that.) Paul and I are jumpy about information right now: when the college live-streamed the convocation ceremony, and the camera panned the crowd beforehand, I was about three inches from the screen trying unsuccessfully to find Rob. Paul will cross the house to tell me that according to the schedule Rob is now playing board games with his orientation group.
The whole thing has seemed one part surreal, one part anticlimactic, and one part distressing-at-normal-expected-levels. It’s surreal because it’s Really Actually Happening: this thing I thought about for so long, starting with a weeping fit about it when he was a newborn and I was really tired. Anticlimactic because all that worry, all that stress, all that planning, and then it’s like…”Okay, see ya!” and The Big Emotional Moment is over and life continues; plus, this has been a long road of predictable milestones, so although this is one of the big ones it’s also just the next milestone. Distressing because of course it’s distressing: he’s been living with me since conception and now he lives somewhere else and I only have access to what he chooses to tell me about his life; this is not a small thing or minor transition.
The peak stress for me was the day before we left; once we were on the road I felt better. The second peak of distress was right at leaving time, but then that turned into more of a surreal feeling. The third peak was when I realized we hadn’t figured out his lunch.
I felt better when we got the text from the dining hall; when he emailed the next day and he already had some people to hang out with; and when I had two stiff shots of gin out of my new coffee mug.