I confess that I have invited myself into my daughter's dorm room and done her laundry. Don't judge me. It was an exceptional situation.
During her freshman year, we visited campus to see her in a play, and I could see the stress in her face. She was juggling so much: classes, jobs, a show schedule. A mom can sense the rope about to snap. "Is there anything I can do to ease your stress, honey?" I asked as we scarfed a quick lunch together. "Do you want me to do your laundry?"
In a vulnerable pleading tone that exists nowhere in her personality, she said "Oh, Mommy, would you?" (Who isn't a sucker for a 19-year-old calling you "mommy?")
That day in the college dorm laundry room gave me a peek into my daughter's living conditions. It showed me that laundry at school requires more than grabbing an armful of clothes and popping them into mom's front-load Maytag. And, it sealed my conviction that when the laundry is done, everyone breathes a bit easier.
The short-term outcome was a very happy daughter. Long-term, it forever changed my college care packages. Sure, I'll send food goodies now and then, but with two girls in college, my favorite care package, at least twice a semester, includes the following:
1. Socks. The first drawer to go empty is the sock drawer, as socks are not likely to get sink washed, like lingerie can be in a pinch. Extra socks in the mail gives your busy loved one a fluffy, clean breathing space when laundry day slips off schedule. I like to send a couple of pairs of zany or mismatched socks (it's a thing, you know) with a pair of chatty Notes To Self socks. Created by a hometown entrepreneur mom friend, these socks speak affirming messages like "I am kind," "I am brave," and "I am awesome." It's like giving a morning pep talk. My youngest credits them for some of her best days.
2. Soap. Yes, the laundry room likely vends some small expensive boxes of detergent, but the odds of not having quarters or the machine being empty is just enough to risk sending a busy student back to his room with a dirty basket of clothes. Or worse: to risk a load getting washed without soap (it is common, I am told.) I send single-load portions of my daughters' favorite, fragrant, earth-friendly soap, Zum Clean Laundry Soap. Who wouldn't their clothes to smell like Sweet Orange and Eucalyptus-Citrus instead of dorm funk?
3. Clothes pins. You know it's true. Clothespins are cheap, practical and adorable. When college students have clothespins around, they find old and new uses -- to keep clothes on hangers, to pin socks together, and as funky paper clips, just to name a few. Add some oversized novelty pins to make your package more colorful. Who knows why, but clothespins are an add-in surprise that never gets old.
4. A fun read. Offering something to do during the wash cycle is a subliminal hint that laundry time can be an enjoyable escape: pack a trashy magazine or a fun book of short stories. Or, may I suggest a made-to-order option: my own book Do Your Laundry or You'll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening. It's a rag tag collection of conversation topics that gets young people thinking, talking, and caring for their delicates. Laundry is a mostly a metaphor in the book, but I sneak in critical laundry tips and some snarky, but loving, motherly counsel.
If you recall, CARE packages originated to give essential aid to people in extraordinary situations of need. After a mid-semester day in my daughter's dorm room and her co-ed university laundry room, I have identified the real, ever-present need. College students don't need another tin of Rice Krispy treats or Starbucks gift cards. They are not wasting away or wondering how to get their caffeine fixes. If you want to give aid that makes a difference, help them CARE for their laundry.