Category Archives: college

October College-Related Things

Something I had realized but not entirely realized was that as soon as Rob left for college he would start being left out of things happening at home. I HAD realized we’d have one fewer plate to set out, and that he wouldn’t be taking his turn as Paul’s weekly pizza-making helper—but I hadn’t thought about things like having a visit from extended family and Rob not being in the big photo of all the kids, and him now being the only one of the kids who hasn’t met these second cousins, which is too bad because they’re about his age and they’re super funny and cool. Henry in particular was completely starstruck, but everyone liked them.

Well. This is the new stage, where What Happens To Our Family is not automatically What Happens To Him. He has his own timeline.

You know what will be very weird, I think, is that there will come a year that I will not take a picture of all five kids together for our Christmas card. This year I can still do it: Rob will come home for Thanksgiving and I will take the picture then.

Rob is not sending long chatty emails about everything going on in his life, but he is doing a good job of periodically reassuring me that he continues to breathe. A few nights ago he sent a looping video of himself singing “Doe, a deer, a female deer.” A few nights before that, it was a picture of a line in his textbook saying that Norwegian rats are from China, next to a picture of his face doing a “What the heck??”

Some of my friends have had visits from their college kids, and I am studying those visits with interest. The main complaint seems to be that the child comes home and is barely at home at all: always off visiting friends, or else sleeping. I am looking forward to hearing if any kids have been insufferable and mouthy and know-it-all in their new independence and knowledge, but that is not the sort of thing parents tend to post on Facebook so I will have to wait for in-person reports. And maybe it happens less with kids who come home more often. Maybe to get the full impact of Wise Returning College Student, the first visit can’t be until Thanksgiving/Christmas.

I am getting ready to send an October/Halloween care package. I have a movie-theater-candy-size box of candy corn, a tub of Target’s monster trail mix (GET IT??) (it’s not actually monstery at all, it just happens to be his favorite trail mix and the timing seemed good), and a miniature pumpkin, and I will put in one or two of every kind of candy we get to hand out to trick-or-treaters. Plus a pack of potassium iodide tablets in case of nuclear war. Oh, and Howlin’ Halloween Blend Tic Tacs.

Waiting for Email From a College Student

I’m getting together tonight with some girlfriends. We’re going to drink a lot and get choked up about our kids being in college now. I think it’s going to be just the ticket.

Rob is sending occasional indicators that he is still alive: a short video of a fire drill; an email about a detail of financial aid he needed to take care of. But he is not telling us about his classes or his teachers or his friends, or about what the weekends are like, or about what he’s eating, or about what it’s like to suddenly be sharing a room with a stranger, or if the work is more or less than what he expected, or if he’s homesick or if he feels happy and free or WHAT. I sent him an email with some questions, and he answered to say that he’d answer it later. It’s one of my least-favorite answers to get, in part because experience has taught me that people who answer an email that way generally DON’T follow up with a real answer later.

When I was in college I was allowed to call my parents once a week, on Sundays when the calling rates were lower, and they had to cut me off at an hour; I wrote letters/emails in between calls. I told Paul this and he shook his head pityingly. I asked, did he communicate with HIS parents in college? He thought he might have, a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure. I asked, did they communicate with HIM? He thought they might have, a couple of times, but he wasn’t sure. I shook my head pityingly. We both checked our phones to see if there was anything new from Rob.

I’m not going to nag him about it. This is a busy transition. He is SUPPOSED to be working on breaking free from us now.

It helps that I have the other kids, though right now it’s making me more sensitive about any of them being away. William was at work this weekend and I found it made me fretful: I wanted him to come back home, and was counting the hours. Why would it matter, when he just sits at his computer or does homework at the table when he IS home? It’s like I’ve hit my Maximum Child Absence Limit with Rob gone, and so now everyone else has to be home. (I don’t feel that way about the school day: I still enjoy seeing the backs of them in the morning.)

College Student Care Packages

I would like to collect ideas for care packages for all the college students in our various midsts. I have sent Rob two boxes so far, though I’m counting them as one. The first was when I had to ship him some mail that came for him right after he left, and it needed to get there quickly, so I used a small flat-rate priority box and stuffed the remaining cargo area with granola bars, Belvita Bites, Ritz crackers-and-cheese—basically one of everything we had for school lunches. Later the same day, I sent the second: an 18-pack of microwavable Kraft Macaroni and Cheese:

(image from Amazon.com)

I’d had this in mind as something to buy a big box of and then put a couple servings in each care package, so that he doesn’t have to store 18-packs of various foods. But then he sent a photo to a friend of himself searching online for “Kraft Mac no milk or butter” while holding a box of regular Kraft Macaroni and Cheese, and I upped the priority. Plus, there was an online coupon. Plus, we have Amazon Prime, so I could ship it to him directly for free. The cup kind might be better and/or more convenient, but would only ship free with $25 worth of stuff, so I’m starting with the packets and we’ll see if those are okay.

Here are some of the other things I have on my Care Package Ideas List (not to send all at once, of course, but just to consider for each box):

vitamins
his favorite pens
his favorite little pocket notebooks
trail mix
brownies
seed bars
candy
granola bars
beef jerky
breakfast-type things
microwaveable food (popcorn, Easy Mac, ravioli cups, instant oatmeal, Ramen, etc.)
Tabasco sauce
Altoid mint tins
gift card to local pizza place
new toothbrush
Dentek flossers
socks and underwear
photos of the cats
letters from the other kids

I would very much like to know what things you like/plan to send to college students, and I also very much want to know what you liked to receive when you were a college student. I liked to receive candy and snacks, and once my mom sent this giant orange tissue-paper flower (flat, so it could hang on a wall) and I hung that on the wall of dorm rooms and apartments until it finally fell apart. My parents also used to send dried fruit, which was nice to have on hand, and at Easter they lined a box with Easter grass and put an Easter basket’s worth of candy in there, and that was one of my favorite care packages ever.

Post-College-Drop-Off Moody; Books

I have some books to mostly-recommend, but I am feeling moody. I went grocery shopping for the first time since bringing Rob to college, and I kept getting little unexpected shocks. The amount of groceries doesn’t change much when going from seven people to six—but there are a few things that only Rob eats, or that he’s the main eater-of. So instead of getting a pack of bologna, I didn’t get a pack of bologna, because he’s the only one who eats it. And instead of getting another giant bottle of Tabasco sauce, I thought probably I could wait on that, because he and Paul are the only ones who use it. And so on throughout the store. Little weird pangs.

And some happy feelings too: “Ooo, Easy Mac! I wonder if he’d like that? He could make it in the dorm microwave!” “And here are some little Chef Boyardee ravioli bowls! I could send him one and he could see if he likes them!” “Breakfast bars are on sale; maybe he’d eat those on days he’s running too late to go to breakfast?” “What a cute little jar of Tabasco; that might be good in a care package!”

I am still waking up in the morning and doing my usual mental inventory, and then arriving with a startled feeling on the news that Rob is not here and is at college far away. He’s been away for a week before; he’s never been gone this long. And now this is “coming home TO VISIT” territory, rather than “coming home” territory. This is still his legal residence, but he doesn’t live here anymore. But I remember so clearly shopping for his crib. There were so many choices! We ended up following the Consumer Reports advice to get a cheap but sturdy crib and then spend the savings on a good crib mattress.

Sending a kid to college is an aging transition for the parent. I’m old enough to have a kid in college = I’m a certain level of old. This morning I noticed a couple of white hairs at the nape of my neck, among the ones that never get long enough to fit in a hairclip. Obviously those white ones must have been there before we took Rob to college. The skin on my underchin and throat is looking increasingly fragile. Two of my former classmates have grandchildren. There’s such a clear contrast to all those kids just launching now, just starting out now, all the big decisions still ahead of them.

I’m trying not to text him or email him too much. His college strongly recommends that during the first few weeks the parents leave it to the students to initiate conversation. But then I got nervous that he’d think we didn’t care about him and weren’t interested in what he was doing, so I emailed him to let him know that the college said that.

A number of years ago, a boy from our town went to college and died soon after in a fraternity hazing incident. I think part of the reason that story lingers, besides the obvious horror and tragedy and STUPID POINTLESSNESS of it, is that, at least for me, my gut instincts are misinforming me on whether or not it is safe for My Baby to be so far away. Just as when he weaned as an infant, just as when I put him on the bus for first grade, my feelings are that this is WRONG and BAD and I need to STOP THIS FROM HAPPENING. I am consciously overriding those feelings, because I know that it is good and right for him to go. But I imagine that other mom thinking, shocked, “I was right. I was right.” And every year there are parents whose worst fears are justified.

That’s too low. That’s too low to be thinking. He’s having a good time, and I will hope that he will not be one of the kids who dies because of alcohol in a funnel or whatever. It’s really very few kids that happens to. I really do mostly feel happy and good about this. The college’s convocation was streamed live, so I got to watch it, and so many of the speakers were talking about how diversity is crucial and good, and science is crucial and good, and how we need to support each other and have each other’s back at times like this, and how we need to work together to make a better future. He is living in a good place. He is doing what he is supposed to do next. If we kept him home with us he could still die.

I am having some regrets about my own college experience. I keep thinking how amazing it is that he’s in the strange stage of life where he is surrounded by ONLY people his age: so much friend potential! so much romance potential! relationships everywhere he looks, in a situation where usual social boundaries are waived because everyone is new and it’s okay to approach and talk to anyone! Not that he will realize that. Not that I realized that, when it was me. I wish I’d talked to a lot more people. I wish I’d made more friends. I wish I’d dated more people.

Hey, how about the books. It’s been awhile since I’ve read anything I’ve wanted to tell other people to read, and none of these books are the sort where I’d grab your upper arm too tightly while telling you to read it. But I liked them.

(image from Amazon.com)

Spoonbenders, by Daryl Gregory. This is about a family of people who have minor supernatural abilities: one can move a small item, for example, if he practices ahead of time; one can tell if people are lying. For the first large part of the book (a third? half?), I was kind of bored, and/or tense in a bad way (nervous about someone else’s money situation, for example). Then suddenly we switch to the point of view of someone else, and everything changes, and I was all in.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

The Almost Sisters, by Joshilyn Jackson. Many, many times I was yanked out of the story by noticing the author’s writing. Still, I liked the story and was very interested in it, and I found myself thinking of it a lot, both during and afterward.

 

(image from Amazon.com)

The Secrets of My Life, by Caitlyn Jenner. I am very particular about autobiographies. They have to be the right mix of insider info, snark, name-dropping, self-awareness, humble self-mockery, and confiding chumminess. I like to come away feeling FONDER of the person who wrote it. I expect, and will tolerate, certain levels of narcissism, self-indulgence, and one-sided storytelling, as long as I get the balance in dirt and charm. I wasn’t familiar with Bruce Jenner before the Kardashians, and I was only the baseline level of aware of the Kardashians, but somewhere I saw a review of this book that made me want to read it, so I tried it—and I was glad I did. I liked it. I found it the right level of informative and charming, and I did indeed come away feeling fonder.

What It Was Like To Take a Child to College

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.

Swim Leggings Report

Annoyingly, I often wake up around 4:30, needing to pee. This is somewhat okay on a normal weekday, because I need to get up between 5:00 and 5:30 anyway and it helps me not be so resentful about needing to get out of bed; I can doze a bit until right before the alarm. But on a weekend, I want to get up and go to the bathroom, but then be able to go back to sleep; sometimes this works and sometimes not. This morning, however, there was a spider on the toilet paper roll, and I didn’t see her at first, so I’m up, I’m up.

I finally swim-tested the swim leggings, and they are up there on the list of the best things I have ever owned. I’d worried the high-waisted bikini bottoms I wore under them would make me feel swathed in layers, but they did not: instead I felt snug and comfy and all held together. I didn’t worry about my tankini top rising up and exposing a circle of midsection, because the high-waisted bikini bottom went up to my ribcage (and I am long-torsoed—on a shorter-torsoed person, you might get coverage all the way to the bikini-top region). It was the first time in my post-adolescent life that I have walked in a swimsuit (the walk where you can’t have your towel around you anymore but you’re not in the water yet) without INTERNALLY DYING OF HORRIFIED SELF-CONSCIOUSNESS.

Some people asked last time about the length. For scale, I am between 5’8″ and 5’9″ but, as I mentioned, long-torsoed, which is the nice way to say short-legged; and I wear plus sizes. On me, the swim leggings fully covered my knees and went just a little bit below them—basically knee-breech length. I did go back and order the smaller size (my size is right between two sizes, so I ordered the larger ones first because it’s better for morale to try something on and have it too big rather than too small), and they’re exactly right; I’m keeping the larger size because people tend to put on weight with age, so one day I will likely put on the ones that fit now, be dismayed, and be glad to have the larger size all set to go. What I’m wondering now is if I should order MULTIPLE ADDITIONAL PAIRS. What if they don’t sell them anymore after this year? Then I need to buy a lifetime supply NOW.

College Expenses Spreadsheet

I see I was not sufficiently clear: when I said in my last post that I wanted to know what you thought about what kind of sedation I should use for a tooth extraction, what I MEANT was that I wanted you to all AGREE on ONE answer, to make things easier for ME.

Part of the issue is that none of us know what the actual alternative to the laughing gas is in this situation, and it makes a big difference. On the billing estimate it says “deep sedation / general anesthesia”—but those may be two different things that just happen to be on the same line of billing, and online searching shows me that both terms have varying meanings anyway, depending on which particular medications are used. Another difficulty is that we’re all so different in how much dental anxiety and dental pain we feel, and in the way medications affect us.

Let’s talk about college stuff some more, because that is increasingly on my mind and also because this way I have something to look back on when we are doing this same thing for William in two years.

One of our financial concerns is that we don’t want to end up paying pretty much all of Rob and William’s college expenses and then having nothing left for the three littler ones. (The worst will be poor Henry, who starts college two years after a pair of TWINS.) We want to divide what we can contribute EVENLY and FAIRLY (based on many, many factors, since they won’t all get the same scholarships to colleges that all cost the same amount). But colleges and financial aid care not one whit about fairness: if we have a savings account, they won’t let us divide it by five in anticipation (for all they know, none of the other four WILL go to college). We HAVE to pay out everything we have: they will feel sorry for poor Henry later, but they won’t let us budget for him now. We have an investment account my grandfather set up when Rob was born, to be used toward college; my grandfather put it in Rob’s name, but told me it was to be divided among any children we had. But because it’s in Rob’s name, it all counts as Rob’s for financial aid purposes; we MUST drain that account for Rob and CAN’T save four-fifths of it for the other kids.

We don’t really know how to handle this fairly or how to make it work; we’ll have to figure things out as we go. But what I DO know to do, in complicated situations like this, is keep DETAILED RECORDS: there are a lot of things that can be figured out LATER, as long as we know what we did THEN. So the minute we sent off the deposit to Rob’s chosen college (we’re not going to include application fees in this), I started a spreadsheet. I made it a Google Docs spreadsheet so that I could invite Paul and Rob to view it. It’s tentative because we haven’t had to use it much yet, but here are the column headings so far:

When
Who
For Whom [this will be unnecessary if we make separate spreadsheets for each kid]
How Much
For What
Notes, if any

So for example, when we paid the deposit with his college decision, I put in the date we paid it, and I put that Paul and I had paid it, and I put that it was for Rob, and I put the dollar amount, and I put that it was for registration; I didn’t have any notes. When we paid for the fall tuition/room/board/fees, I put the date, and then for “Who” I put “Grampa’s investment account,” and then I put how much and that it was for fall tuition/room/board/fees; under “Notes, if any,” I put “this account was intended to be divided evenly among all five children.” I don’t think we’re going to forget, but I want it all down: we basically took money out of the other four children’s savings, and used it to pay for Rob’s college.

We were not sure how to count scholarship funds. For now we put it in as Rob paying it, but we noted that it was scholarship funds, and which organizations gave him the scholarships.

[Edited to add: A lot of people are mentioning dividing my grandpa’s money into five 529 accounts, which is a great idea—but it isn’t enough money for that: we’ll use it up completely in Rob’s first year. Also, the financial aid eligibility forms take into account all money (including 529s) owned by all children in the family. This seems ridiculous to me: what business is it of THEIRS what Rob’s younger brother earned this summer?? But apparently it’s to prevent the exact clever idea some of you are having or are on the verge of having, which is that we could hide the family savings in an account in Henry’s name or whatever. Colleges are hip to that game.]

Rob Puts His Foot Down About College Shopping

Rob has had to gently put his foot down, again, on the topic of college shopping. But first, I want to draw your attention to this great article HKS mentioned in the comments section of the last post: Sending Sons Off to College, and Finding Solace in a Big-Box Store. The little animation is distracting, but I found it worth it. (I held up a hand so I couldn’t see it.)

One reason I mention this is that a lot of you are on the same page as me: adding MORE items to the list, wanting to make the list LONGER and MORE COMPREHENSIVE. Like the mother in the article, we find it soothing: making lists, being prepared, Thinking of Everything. But that is not what Rob wants. When I came home yesterday with more things for his college stash, and one of those things was duct tape, he said, “What is this for?,” and I said, “…I don’t know, I saw it on a list, I’m sure it would be useful for…something; duct tape is always useful for something!,” and he said, not unkindly, “Okay. Yeah. If neither of us can think of anything I need something for, then I’d rather not bring it. If I find out I need it, I’ll buy it there.”

I never used duct tape in college, not once. I don’t know why I bought it for Rob, except that I saw a list online where it was written in all-caps. I used regular scotch tape in college, though, and he uses it regularly, so he will bring a roll. And packing tape, to remake his broken-down packing boxes when he needs them again. And scissors.

He does not want a tool kit. I wanted Paul to make him a small tool kit anyway—until Paul and I realized that neither of us had a tool kit in college. I know I took apart bed frames, and Paul and his roommate built a loft—but neither of us owned tools. Where did we get tools? Neither of us remembers. I think my dorm floor had a communal supply, or maybe the R.A. had some? Paul thinks his dorm’s desk clerk had them and you could check them out like a library book.

Rob is willing to take along all the medicines I think might be necessary, so I included even some he’s never taken in his whole life, because it makes me feel less anxious to think of him texting me with some illness that’s left him bedridden, and me being able to say, “FIND THE X IN YOUR FIRST AID KIT AND TAKE SOME.” It also makes me feel better to know there’s a Student Health Center he can go to for anything a basic first-aid kit isn’t prepared for.

He will take along the bottle of multivitamins, but he will not promise to remember to take them. I asked would he TRY, and he sighed and said yes. I accept that compromise. I will not text him every day to remind him to take one.

He does not want more than one set of sheets, or more than one set of towels. I didn’t have more than one of each, either, when I was in college: on laundry day, I put the sheets and towels in with everything else. He says if he runs into problems with this, he will acquire more sheets and/or towels at that point.

He doesn’t want a mattress pad. I didn’t have one either in college. I’m sure the mattress wasn’t particularly deluxe, but I don’t remember noticing it at all. He says if it gives him trouble, he’ll acquire a mattress pad at that point; he can certainly survive with the provided mattress until he can figure out how to get to a Target, or while waiting two days for Amazon Prime. And his college has banned some types of mattress pads anyway, for flammability reasons.

His dorm is not air-conditioned, so he will take a little fan. He will take the shower caddy he thinks is wrong (BUT IS RIGHT), and he will take the shower shoes everyone agrees he needs. If he noticed the box of condoms I put in with the shampoo and body wash and razors and deodorant, he did not comment or protest.

But he will not bring the hole-punch, even though I saw it on a list. He says he has used a hole-punch approximately twice in his life, and that in a pinch he can borrow one or cut a hole with scissors or poke a hole with a pencil; and if he finds he uses one regularly, he will buy one there. He will not bring a bathrobe: he plans to walk to the showers in his pajamas and get dressed after the shower before going back to his room; if he finds shower protocol makes this an uncomfortable or unworkable plan, he will acquire a bathrobe then. He will bring an umbrella, but not rainboots or a raincoat: “I have never worn either of those things.” (He is wrong—but to be fair, the last time he did so they had little froggies on them.) I didn’t have rainboots or a raincoat in college, either; I had and used an umbrella.

He has agreed that it seems like a good idea to bring a microwave plate and bowl and mug, and I am happy because those are HIGHLY FUN to choose: Target has a ton of by-the-piece options, and I am going to get him to agree to indulge me by considering and discussing each possibility rather than choosing the first acceptable one. So I’m glad he doesn’t know that what we all did in college was swipe some from the dining hall. The dining hall put a big empty bin in each dorm at the end of the year, with a wry note from the kitchen staff asking if on our way out we could please drop off all the dishes for a good cleaning before we re-borrowed them next year.

I’m guessing I can sneak one of those tiny sewing kits into his gear. But he is not bringing a doorstop, even though we’ve seen it on a lot of lists: he says if he wants to prop the door open, he’s pretty sure he can use a textbook or a half-full laundry bag or a pair of shoes or something.

He’s not bringing cleaning supplies, or an iron. I didn’t bring those things, either: in my dorm we had to clean our own bathrooms (in his dorm he does not), but the college had a closet on each floor with bulk custodial cleaning supplies. If he needs something the college doesn’t provide, he can buy it there. But I’m not sure what in his room he’s going to clean: a vacuum system is available to use, and the rest of the room is just cement blocks, some desks, some beds. I can’t picture him putting a careful Windex shine on the windows, or using Lemon Pledge on his desk.

College Drop-Off Plan and the Related Panic

I am not panicking, I am NOT panicking. But. We have four children who are not going to be coming with us to drop Rob off at college and so we kept a close eye on Rob’s college’s freshman move-in date: we had to know as far ahead of time as possible, so that we could figure out where to PUT all those children.

For months the college website still showed the 2016 information. Then, suddenly, in early July it showed the 2017 information! There it was: the move-in date, and the times: 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.! We made a plan to drive up the day before, stay overnight at a motel, drop him off fairly early the next morning, and then drive back home that same day. My brother and sister-in-law agreed to take four (FOUR!) extra children for a day and a half (FOUR!). I immediately phoned and booked our motel, figuring that demand might be high for that date. We were ALL SET.

Then, two days ago, an email from the college: it turns out the check-in time frame is DIVIDED INTO ASSIGNED SEGMENTS. This was not mentioned before. I LOOKED CAREFULLY. IT WAS NOT MENTIONED. IT JUST SAID DROP-OFF WAS 9:00 TO 5:00. Our segment is 12:30-2:30. That…does not work. We need to fit in approximately eight-and-a-half hours of driving (distance between us and my brother/sister-in-law’s house + distance from there to Rob’s college) on that same day, either BEFORE or AFTER the drop-off (and if “before,” we need to change our motel reservation). This is why I had it all planned for an EARLY drop-off: so we could fit this whole thing in and get back at a reasonable time, ideally before my brother and sister-in-law were regretting not only this favor but also their own births.

Well. I have emailed the college. Probably one of fifty thousand emails they are going to receive on this topic. My hope is that however strict they act in the presentation of the schedule and how crucial it is that everyone follow it, their response will be, “Sure, no big!” Surely with families traveling from literally all over the world, they will realize an assigned two-hour window won’t work for everyone. Some people will have FLIGHTS booked. Surely just as we REALLY NEED a drop-off time that is either EARLY or LATE, there are OTHER families who REALLY NEED a mid-day drop-off time, and it will all work out. Surely.

And if they WON’T bend, they are making things so unnecessarily stressful for already-stressed parents of freshmen, it’s hard to believe this would be their established plan, and it would considerably affect my feelings about them. But the first-semester payment has already been made, so we have Plan B1 and Plan B2. Plan B1 is Paul’s idea, which is that in situations like this, you just show up at the time that works well for you and you shrug off the disapproval. “Sorry, I didn’t realize we weren’t supposed to be here for four more hours, but we’re here now and we’ve got to get back to our other kids, so…*deposits student and all his stuff on the lawn*.” This is not a plan I feel I can psychologically handle.

I don’t know how Paul and I were both firstborns and yet he lacks the stereotypical firstborn respect for authority and rules. I think the difference is that he was raised as an Indulged Male. Over the years I have thought repeatedly of a story his mother told me, about how she’d tell him to go mow the lawn, and he’d mow for a little while and then she’d find him inside reading a book. And here is the part of the story that makes me feel lightheaded: SO SHE WOULD ROLL HER EYES AND GO FINISH THE LAWN FOR HIM. I will pause to let you really let this sink in.

She told me this story with fond, proud exasperation. Do you know that tone? Like when a parent is pretending to complain, but they’re actually bragging. Anyway. I think of her when I wonder why Paul is the way he is.

Where was I? Oh yes: Plan B2 is my plan. I don’t know why I’m calling it B2 when it should be B1. In fact, it’s B. Paul’s plan is C now. Or D. Let’s just call it Plan P. My plan is we suck it up and do it how the college wants us to: it’ll be one inconvenient day and then it’ll be over. We’ll drop him off right at 12:30 and we’ll leave when that’s done, and we’ll drive late into the night and we’ll pick up the kids very late and we’ll drive the rest of the way very late, and everyone will be tired the next day, and then some of us will take naps and some of us will just be cranky, and then the day after that everything will be normal again except for my lingering simmering resentment.

…Paul and I are evidently thinking about the same thing this morning, because while I’ve been criticizing his upbringing and dissing his mother, he’s been researching a Reddit forum dedicated to questions about this particular college. He just sent me an email with a screenshot of a question about the move-in times, and the answer is that the schedule is really just a suggestion in order to keep everyone from showing up at the same time, and that nobody cares if you come at a different time. Well.

…Oh, and here is a email reply from the college to me, saying the times are flexible and students can check in any time. Well. Well. Good thing I did not panic.

College Student Finances and First-Aid Kits

It’s less than four weeks now until Rob leaves for college. There are two ways I am currently finishing that sentence, and the alternation between the two is fairly rapid:

1. …and he grows up and moves away and remembers only the times we were bad at parenting and only visits his spouse’s family.

2. …and I am pleased to see preparations are getting done one after another despite me feeling as if the number of things to be done was insurmountable.

Our most recent accomplishment was figuring out how he’ll handle money. He needs to have access to his personal savings and also to his college savings, but without getting them mixed up; and there are still many expenses we’ll be paying for; and we would like to put something in place for “emergencies” despite being unable to think of any examples of emergencies we wouldn’t be able to handle over the phone, over the internet, or by driving there.

We were hindered in this decision by being a little behind the times, financially-speaking: I haven’t used a debit card before; I pay bills by writing/mailing physical checks; the only “online baking” I do is transferring money between checking and savings; I don’t do any banking with my phone. Meanwhile, Rob is taking photos of his paychecks with his phone to deposit them, and doesn’t even have a checkbook. So we talked with him about what he thought would work in These Modern Times, and also about what he’d find easiest and most comfortable, and together we came up with this plan:

1. His current bank does not have any branches or ATMs where he’s going. I found out which banks had ATMs on campus, and one of them has branches here in town. He’ll open a student account with that bank and move his money there, closing his old account after that’s all set.

2. He’ll keep his personal money in his checking account, and spend it using his debit card and/or by withdrawing cash from the ATM.

3. He’ll keep his college savings in his savings account, and each semester we’ll discuss how much of it to use to pay tuition.

4. He’ll apply for a credit card with no annual fees and no other costs if it’s paid off in full each month. If he is approved, he will use this credit card for books and other miscellaneous college expenses of the sort that aren’t covered by the tuition bill. And he can use it in situations where he can’t use his debit card but can use a credit card, if those occur. The card will be in his name and will come to our address and we will pay it in full each month; he will reimburse us from his personal account for any non-school expenses he charges (the hope is that that will be rare). Meanwhile, the card will be working to build his credit, and it will be soothing his parents by being available for unknown emergencies. At some point, we will transfer full responsibility for the card over to him.

 

This took HOURS. If right now you’re thinking anything that starts with “Why don’t you just…?,” I think it’s safe to say that someone thought of it and that someone else had a reason they didn’t like it. “Why doesn’t he just have two accounts?” “Why don’t you just do a joint account?” “Why don’t you just transfer his college savings to your account?” “Why don’t you just use a pre-paid card?” “Why don’t you just use the campus account?” “Why don’t you just keep some money in the bank account for emergencies?” “Why doesn’t he just handle the credit card payments himself?” Forgive me in advance for virtually muzzling you, but you will have to trust me that all three people involved have with great effort come to this decision, and that it would not be helpful to disrupt it. I suppose I can conceive of a situation in which one of you, someone with kids currently or recently in college, might say, “WAIT!!! You need to know something we learned the hard way!!” But otherwise: this is what we’re starting with, and all the parts of the decision are changeable if any parts of it turn out not to work for us.

Also! I have had some fun putting together a little first-aid kit for him. Target had a deal where if you bought three first-aid supplies you got a free cute little kit, bright red with a plus-sign on it! But I correctly guessed that Rob would find that embarrassing. Instead I bought him an oversized pencil box from the school-supply section. Then I bought these things:

1. an assorted-sizes box of Band-aids
2. antibiotic ointment
3. hydrocortisone cream
4. Benadryl tablets
5. ibuprofen tablets
6. cough syrup
7. cough drops
8. Tums
9. there might be something else I’m forgetting

It all fit in the box, after a few Tetris-reminiscent tries.