THE FIRST SEMESTER: IN REVIEW
Part One: Preparation and THE Drop Off
North Shore College Consulting
Jacob, my 18 year old son, has spent the past 10 years at overnight camp in Wisconsin, so I thought I was prepared for it all . . . the preparation, the organization, the logistics, the packing, the send off, and most importantly, the good-bye. June would roll around every year, we would shop, organize and get the duffle bags packed just in the knick of time. We would have our farewell dinner the night before the buses left, rush our kids to their respective buses early the next morning, give them one last hug goodbye and stand there with all the other parents waving as the buses drove away with our kids and eight weeks worth of their possessions. While of course there was always a tinge of sadness at saying goodbye to my children, after the first year, the camp farewell ritual usually ended in a happy dance . . . eight whole weeks of freedom!
Wow was I wrong. Despite 10 years of what I had naively considered “practice,” I was drastically unprepared to send Jacob off to college for the first time, starting with the packing and organization. How hard could this be, right? It couldn’t be more difficult than preparing and packing to send four kids to overnight camp. My naivety was amusing, isn’t it?
You can find numerous college-dorm packing lists online, get one directly from your child’s dorm, or even go to Bed, Bath and Beyond to get their packing list. However, none of these lists compare to the list . . . you know which one I’m talking about. The one that was created by an uber-organized mother in your community years ago, passed along from person to person, and added onto by mothers in the know over the years. This list contained close to 100 items and included items that Jacob would need to “survive” in his dorm. So, we started shopping . . . Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target, the Container Store, Costco, online. I was in a mission to check all of these items off of the list. I mean if they were on the list, Jacob absolutely needed them all, right? Jacob thought I was out of my mind. My husband, Brian, thought I was out of my mind. However, any mother I talked to of a college-bound freshman was also running around like a chicken with her head cut off buying skinny hangers, bed risers, Ethernet cords, underbed storage containers, bedding, towels, hooks, posters, tool kits, water pitchers, and on and on and on and on. Jacob was miserable. The only item he thought he needed and had any interest in purchasing was an Internet-ready television (which ended up not even working in his dorm room by the way). I was scared to inform him that we hadn’t even started shopping for clothing and shoes yet. That was really going to be like pulling teeth.
And then the countdown began . . . one month until D-day. Two weeks until D-day, at which point, many of Jacob’s friends and my friends’ kids began leaving for their respective colleges. It was good-bye after good-bye. Good-bye to his friends scattering around the country, good-bye to his grandparents, his siblings, the dogs. Hours were spent cramming the products of our months-long shopping expeditions into my car. It didn’t really matter if Brian could see out the back of the car, right? And, suddenly we were off on our five-hour trek to drop Jacob off at college. Jacob was abuzz with excitement-chattier than normal. My stomach hurt, there was a lump in my throat the size of a small boulder. I couldn’t speak. How did this happen? I had just dropped Jacob off in pre-school with his three best friends, all also on the way to the same prototypical college town as Jacob, coincidentally. We arrived, we fought for a parking spot in front of his dorm, we left his belongings on the curb, fought to the death for a cart to schlepp his belongs to the 6th floor, and then spent hours trying to figure out the puzzle of fitting all of Jacob’s stuff in a room the size of a shoe box, keeping in mind that he would be sharing this shoe box with a friend from home who had equally as much stuff as Jacob. We settled him in as best as we could (he was thrilled—he loved his shoe box!), went to the grocery store, one more trip to Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond, and brought him back to his dorm.
“No thanks,” he said to our invite to take him and his friends out for a nice dinner. He preferred to hang in the dorms with his friends, old and new. What?? Really? That was not the plan. We were supposed to have one last dinner with him, weren’t we? After finishing a bottle of wine at dinner with Brian, my heart felt a little less broken. We went back to the hotel, and I somehow forced myself not to text Jacob and check in. Where was he? Did he get back to his dorm ok? Did he eat? Was he lonely? I fell asleep finally with these questions running through my mind, visions of Jacob from the past 18 years floating in my brain.
We picked him up around 10:30 the next morning to take him for breakfast. His night was “great!” He hung with his friends from home, met a couple of new kids on his floor, walked to town to pick up fast food for dinner, and stayed up late beginning his journey as a college student. His bed was super comfortable, his shower great, and his dorm room (again, the size of a postage stamp) awesome. He was ready. Ready for us to leave. Ready to start his new life. Excited, eager, anxious to be done with us. He had separated beautifully, so why couldn’t I?
It was time to say good-bye. Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry. I repeated the mantra over and over in my head. I failed . . . miserably. Jacob patted my back. “Don’t worry Mom. I’m going to be fine.” Of that I had no doubt, but was I going to survive? I know that I had three kids still at home, waiting for me, but Jacob wouldn’t be there. How was this going to work? Hugs, kisses, one last goodbye and Brian threw me in the car and drove away as we watched Jacob walk back into the dorm with his roommate. I did not cry . . . I sobbed. For 2 straight hours. All the way to the Illinois border.
College is my business, and I had been sending Jacob away for the previous 10 summers. Yet . . . yet . . . I was not prepared. Not even a little prepared. I had done my job and over the past 18 years, I prepared Jacob for college. Yet, neither my career-choices nor my previous experiences could prepare me for sending my child to college for the first time. Jacob is exactly where he belongs. He’s happy and thriving, and I would not want him to be anywhere other than where he currently is. However, I’m still waiting to be able to walk into his empty bedroom and not get a pit in my stomach!!