The true process of acceptance has begun. Not the emails or the fat/thin envelopes or the mailing of deposits or the twisting in the wind known as wait-lists. All but the most determined or self-deceiving of you, depending on your point of view about tilting at windmills, have moved on. You know where your kids are going to college.
But after one or two or twelve years of planning for this moment, the parental metabolism revs a little high. All that adrenaline: Psychologically, we're all dressed up with no place to go. High-school graduation -- remember high school? -- will siphon off some of the energy, but it's almost an exercise in nostalgia at this point..
Don't be concerned. There's a lot more to do. The following advice, culled from years of personal experience and hard data collected from other parents, may sound penny-ante, but trust me: This is what you need to know to improve the odds that your child will actually enjoy the four years you're about to subsidize. I say that as someone who came home with an extra suitcase full of clothes at Thanksgiving and begged my parents not to send me back.
Accepting the acceptance; that's the next step. By category, then:
The prospective student event: Do not go on about how every single person in that windowless hotel room is the nicest person you ever met. First, they aren't. Second, selling paradise can backfire. If your kid's smart enough to have gotten in, he or she is also smart enough to worry that you're overcompensating to hide what you really think.
The roommate assignment: Ditto. If your son's best friend is his computer, he is probably not going to be thrilled to be rooming with a jock. Roommates don't have to be best friends; it's probably more important that they respect territory, possessions, and have a built-in sensor for activities that will get everyone expelled.
The room, the prequel: Those of you whose kids are heading for major cities (major defined as having a participating Bed, Bath & Beyond outlet) may think you're too cool for this kind of activity, but do spend a summer afternoon pointing a sensor at items that will be packaged and ready for you to pick up at the branch near campus. B3 isn't the only one who does this, but whomever you pick, pick someone. See "schlepping," below.
Having said that, don't buy everything on the list the school gives you, because you'll be amazed at some of the stuff the roomie brought from home -- and because somehow, in the twisted vocabulary of leaving home, failing to buy your child an important item means that you respect their autonomy.
The room, schlepping: Once you arrive for move-in, division of labor is your only hope of survival. Consult with your spouse or partner and decide who's the runner and who's the cleaner. Make sure all cell phones are fully charged. It is inevitable that the parent who helps unpack will remember three more things even as the runner wears a groove between the dorm room and the nearest retail supply source. And let the incoming freshman pick the color of the cheap area rug even if you don't like it.
The room, cleaning: No matter how much you paid, no matter how lax your personal standards, the dorm room will not be clean enough to suit you. Clean off one space, pile everything there until it's safe to unpack, and plan on hours of scouring. You may have thought until this moment that a Swiffer was nothing more than a contrived necessity, a brilliant bit of marketing, but disdain will give way to reverence long before the mid-morning coffee break.
The room, storage: There will not be enough room for all of your child's towels and bed linens, no matter how light you travel. This is one of those moments when the runner measures the width of every bit of dead space and heads out to buy a set of stacking drawers, or, failing that, a handful of adhesive-backed hooks.
You did remember to bring a tape measure, didn't you?
And so it goes, macro to micro, the seemingly most important transition in your child's life reduced to a shower caddy and an under-the-bed storage container. By the time we were done making our daughter's freshman dorm room habitable, all we wanted was a hot shower and the comforts of our hotel room -- which is, of course, all part of the grand design.
A truly great school, I have come to realize, schedules the first dorm floor meeting for dinner-time on move-in day. Forget the merits of the freshman seminar reading list; the genius move involves getting parents out of the building before you embarrass yourselves.
It saved me. I had just settled in on my daughter's freshly-made bed to make some heartfelt pronouncement or another, and she, trapped, looked at me with an appropriately deer-in-the-headlights stare -- when suddenly the bouncy, perky, insistent resident advisor stuck her head in the door and announced that the meeting was about to start, so it was time for parents to leave.
My husband and I were on the pavement before we knew what hit us. In retrospect, I am eternally grateful to that anonymous RA. By move-in day, it's too late for speeches. You should have made the various cautionary speeches years ago, and beyond that, they really do know you love them.
There's nothing left to say. So start planning now: Dinner? A movie? Room service? You have less than four months to figure out what to do on the first night of the rest of your life.
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