Well, we thought we had prepared our children for college. When the time actually came, we found out that in several small but significant ways, we had failed. More than once.
Their entire lives, we had stressed the importance of education, without stressing them out. Our intent was to teach them to put their maximum effort in, and that would certainly be good enough, because as with most parents, we saw our children as brilliant. They both took school seriously, excelling in Advanced Placement classes and scored quite well on college entrance exams. They both were extremely active in extra-curricular activities, clubs and sports. Their social lives were vibrant.
We had also spent a lot of time talking about college on a different level. As important as academics were, it was equally important that they grow emotionally and socially, learning to make good decisions for themselves and learning to rely on themselves.
When my son was accepted to six out of eight colleges to which he applied, and wait-listed on one, he chose to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville. We packed with great anticipation to take him there for the new student orientation.
After our arrival in Gainesville, we went our separate ways… he with the students and us with the parents. He would learn the Gator Chomp and get a tour of the campus. We would learn about academics and safety on campus. We weren’t to connect again until dinner. He was to settle into a dorm room for the two days and we checked in to a nearby hotel. Midway through the afternoon, I got a text from him. “Forgot to pack underwear.”
That was our first clue that he wasn’t ready. I calmly stopped at a store, bought some underwear for him and discretely put it in the top of his overnight bag with a note that said, “This is the last time I’m covering your behind… Love, Ma.” We delivered the bag to him at dinner without a word about his faux pas.
The next morning he was to meet his registration counselor at 9:00 AM. We arrived at 8:30, grabbed a sorely needed cup of coffee, and began, anxiously, to wait. I knew which direction he would be coming from, and he would be carrying a neon orange bag so I could spot him quickly. (This is the “hard to let go” mothering instinct that was still obviously very strong.) My husband sat and read the paper. When he hadn’t shown up by 9:05, I was sure I had done a terrible job in preparing him to be on his own. At that moment, he came bouncing out of the registrar’s office with a grin that lit up the entire west side of the campus. He was already registered and raring to go. Okay, so maybe he was ready.
The next step was stocking his pantry. This was my final moment to shine. We went up and down the aisles, and since he had very little idea of what he wanted much less what he would need, he pretty much left it up to me. When I picked up a package of “Baggies,” he wanted to know in what aisle he might find the twist ties. Okay, one step forward, two steps back.
We got him all set up in his dorm room, met his roommates and turned on our heels to leave. (Ha… I bet you thought I was going to talk about long tearful goodbyes.) Well, I made my mind up not to look back, as did he, but I was choking on my tears before we got out of the driveway. Fifteen minutes down the highway, I said to my husband, “Why hasn’t he called yet.”
Two years later, we went through the same motions with my daughter. Same University, same orientation and same text, “Forgot to pack underwear.”