August 11, 2009

First Daze of College

Staples was crowded over the weekend. Parents and children loaded up on all the necessary items for a new school year. One can easily spot the college freshman and his anxious parent – they are the ones holding a long list from their college called “What to Bring.”

The parent has terror in his eyes, a look that says, “Some University just cashed the largest check I ever wrote,” while the potential freshman has that “How much longer until I’m away from my parent” look.

All this is in our past now.

The trip to sophomore year is much easier. A year ago August the tension in our house was palpable. Son was nervous about college. We made our 2-day trip in a loaded rental van, and became lost numerous times, despite help from our GPS “Amelia.” (Named for Amelia Earhart. Remember what happened to her?)

We arrived at Son’s new home, a 7-story dormitory, and legions of buxom sorority girls met us in front with moving carts. Friendly, helpful girls in little shorts and halter-tops made nice to Son and Husband, loaded Son’s stuff onto carts, and helped us to the sixth floor. No stress. No heavy lifting.

At the end of son’s first year, Husband had his own finals so I went alone to retrieve son from college. No chesty helpers this time (the University had cashed our check by then). Only one cart was available for all students moving out. We brought everything down from the sixth floor in elevator loads, but waited 45 minutes for the cart to bring down Son’s TV.

His TV is a tube set with a built-in DVD player. He was thrilled when he received this as a 16th birthday gift. He was not as thrilled about this gift as he and his asthmatic, heavy-breathing, hot-flashing, cranky mother balanced the unwieldy object on the cart, covered it with garbage bags, and raced down the slippery entrance ramp in the rain to the rented van. Others waiting in line for the lone cart gave us their scorn waiting for a turn with the cart, as we struggled past.

This year his roommate is bringing a 19 inch LCD TV. God bless his roommate.

After our 2-day nervous drive to campus last year, we arrived just as his roommate and parents did. We met the roommate and parents earlier in the summer at the June orientation. The roommate turned out to be a very nice young man and a good roommate for our son.

You know how you just immediately know when people do not like you. That is the feeling we got when we met the roommate’s parents at orientation.

The six of us ran into each other several times during Orientation and after the initial small talk, the parents seemed to avoid us.

Therefore, when all six of us arrived in room 621 at the exact same moment on move-in day, you can imagine how thrilled everyone was. The tiny, square room was jammed with overflowing boxes, electronic equipment and cords, suitcases, and clothing.

After perfunctory greetings, the roommate’s mother said to us, “I’m very experienced in arranging college dorm rooms, as I have two other children at college.”

“Okay, then.”

Husband and I looked at each other, with that special telepathy long-term married folk have: “Get me the heck outta Dodge while there is still time.”

We did not “arrange” Son’s room at home since he was about six. We did not intend on “arranging” it then. Nor did he want us involved in “arranging.”

Son had a painful look on his face and spent the next two or three hours with his roommate and roommate’s parents, the very “organized” mother and quiet father. We went to see an exhibit of Jacob Lawrence paintings. Yes, we threw him under the bus. We came back after the “arranging” was all over.

If an 18-year-old is bright enough to get into college, he can calculate if the microwave/refrigerator combo should be under the cable TV hookup or across the room.

That is my philosophy.

Oh, heavens, how things have changed since I started Old State U in the fall 1975!

My parents, brother, and I packed up the 1973 dark green Impala sedan and drove two hours south from my hometown. I bit my cuticles down to my knuckles. I convinced my father that I knew exactly how to get to my dorm. Didn’t know diddly-squat and we landed in a subdivision where you could see the campus behind a very large chain link fence. An awful moment – as if I was seeing Oz from inside the Folsom Prison – freedom just beyond the fence.

Old State U always chose September for road construction and filling the streets with orange barrels. (The orange barrel is the State Flower of Indiana.) When we finally arrived at the dorm, hopscotching through construction zones, my room assignment was on fourth floor. No elevator.

My electronic equipment consisted of a wind-up alarm clock, a Smith-Corona electric typewriter, and a close-n-play one-piece stereo. No IPod. No television. Did you read this correctly? No television. Moreover, if I did have a television, there was no reception on that side of the building.

(My father and I like to argue about who was the greenest, most na├»ve, most unsophisticated college freshman, Dad or me. It’s a toss-up. I treasure the image of my father on his high school senior trip to Washington DC. His mother bought him a new suit for graduation and college events beyond. Dad did not want to “ruin” it, so he wore his brother-in-laws 1930s cinch-waist suit on the train to Union Station.)

After unpacking my numerous pairs of painter’s pants, blue jeans, and T-shirts so the suitcases went back home, my parents left. (The ‘70s were the fashion decade.)
My mother cried and my dad said, “Marilyn, it’s time to get on the road.”

My roommate showed up with about half the stuff I had and her parents turned right around and left. At the Interstate exit thirty minutes before arriving at the dorm, her father said to her, “Have a good year”

He was also ready to get back home. In the room, my roommate’s mother cried, and her father said, “Dot, it’s time to get on the road.”

My roommate was far more sophisticated than I was. That isn’t saying much. Our first weekend we walked to a local strip mall. At the Marsh store, I was amazed by the different varieties of breads. The IGA in my hometown had basic items, but no marble rye, no pumpernickel. Green, naive, dumb and dumber.

Many friends, relatives, and neighbors are sending Beloved Children off to college in a few weeks for the first time. The separation is not easy on parents. I cried my eyes out through most of “Team of Rivals” the CD book we bought for the drive home from the inaugural trip to college. I’m sure I will cry again when we leave him this year. That part never gets any easier.

We trust our son. He has demonstrated good judgment in the past. When confronted with a completely new world Son will continue to make good choices. Quoth the raven.