Guest: Coping with the angst of dropping off your child at college
A generation of parents around the country are getting ready to drop their kids off at college. Angst remains, despite all the orientation on campus, writes guest columnist Kent Hickey.
Special to The Times
ALL around the country freshmen are filling up suitcases for college. Their parents’ heads are filling up too, mostly with “remember when”s.
As we prepared to send our first off to college, my mind kept revisiting all those Saturday mornings in parks when our kids were little. They loved to sneak acorns into my pockets and run away laughing as if they had pulled off some grand caper. One day I caught the eye of an older gentleman as he walked by. “Enjoy it while you can,” he said. “This passes fast.”
It has. And that first college drop-off was a big moment for all of us, especially for our daughter, though one likely eclipsed by that even bigger moment when she finally received the highly anticipated and much practiced “Dad’s Wisdom for College” talk.
I found the perfect setting a few days before departure: a car ride to the grocery store, doors locked and vehicle in motion to guard against the inevitable triggering of the daughter’s flight response.
Here it is:
“Introverts draw energy from solitude. Extroverts draw it from company. Know who you are and find your balance.
“Dads are awesome; boys are not. Always do what Dad would think is right. Never do what a boy thinks is right.
“The single most stupid thing done in college is almost always done while drunk. And, while getting high on marijuana may not necessarily lead to doing equally stupid things, it will lead to doing fewer things. Don’t be stupid.
“God has been a friend in your life every day, whether you’ve known it or not. Bring your friend to college with you and spend time with your friend every day.
“You will never really leave your home.”
It’s hard to say what the daughter took from these pearls, especially with all the other messages, often mixed, that young people hear as they prepare to head off for college:
Explore, find yourself; just make sure you earn a marketable degree that guarantees high lifetime earnings. Don’t be afraid to meet new people, but be wary given all those sexual assaults on campuses. Become a lover of learning without obsessing over grades, though they will likely decide your future.
Colleges are now keenly aware of how hard the drop-off is on my generation, the baby boomers. Upon our arrival on campus the daughter was quickly immersed in her orientation. The same experience awaited parents. I’ve never felt so nurtured, or exhausted.
There were days of parent orientation, each session starting with a “Relax, it will all be fine.” Heck, the school’s president even gave out his personal cell number, just in case we needed to chat, and I don’t even think it was fake. When did we become so needy?
My folks, who were of the World War II and Korean War generation, drove me from our home in Kalamazoo, Mich., to Marquette University in Milwaukee 35 years ago. We had one stop along the way, at the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, went straight to my dorm upon arrival and quickly deposited the contents of one suitcase in my room.
Then Mom gave me a tearful hug, Dad an awkward handshake. Right after I moved in, they moved on. No dayslong orientation for them, and hardly one for me. My first lesson was given that very night by two sailors who tried to mug me when I got lost in an alley behind some dorms. I ran away and hid in a dumpster. A passing grade, if not a very courageous one.
Yes, a lot has changed, but one thing hasn’t. That drop-off moment is just really hard.
Right after the final goodbye the daughter gently slipped an acorn into my hand. I’m glad I had already said all that I wanted to say. I couldn’t talk anymore.
Kent Hickey is president of Seattle Preparatory School.