The first time your college student comes home for break is a time for celebration. All of your chicks are home under one roof! The world as you’ve known it for so many years is back as it should be. Or is it? While you have been home adjusting to familiar routines and spaces without your child, they have been cultivating a whole new life! They have enjoyed freedom! Choices! A lack of supervision!
While you have remained the same, they have simmered in a pressure cooker of decisions and responsibilities that sends them back expanded and changed. Conflict can spring up if you expect their new wingspan to squeeze back into your nest in the same old way. This conflict can be further intensified if your child cherry-picks exactly what “an adult” is.
As with most things, honest communication of expectations can make the transition smoother for everyone. I started off the conversation over the phone with my freshman daughter before she came home for her first break . . . before we butted heads over differing assumptions of what our relationship as parent and child was now. I think starting it over the phone made it go smoother because she was on her own turf and able to control the length and intensity of the conversation. It was a preemptive move before we were in the heat of the moment. However, no time is a bad time for an honest, respectful conversation. If Junior is on his way home as we speak, carve out some time to talk, just not as he walks through the door.
So how did I kick off this conversation? I started by complimenting her responsible handling of her school work and job, and then I just asked her how she thought she had changed. I asked her what she thought being an adult meant. We discussed how being in the rarefied university environment meant she is not facing all of the challenges that might be upon her once she is really out on her own—everything from meal prep to mortgages.
I had heard nightmare tales of kids bursting through the door thinking rules about curfew, respect, and drinking no longer applied to them. I made sure to discuss what I like to call “The Realities of Adulthood,” the version of grown-up beyond what a child imagines. Being a real adult is not about getting to do whatever you want to do, it’s about being responsible enough to complete all that you need to do.
For example, it’s not about getting to stay up as late as you want, it’s maintaining a schedule that allows you to get your stuff done. And REAL adulthood is being denied sleep and forging on anyway. Furthermore, it’s not about controlling your time and doing what you want when you want, but losing control of your time to your responsibilities. And most importantly, drinking doesn’t make you an adult, but being responsible about it does (and remembering the legal drinking age is 21).
Having freedom doesn’t mean disrespecting others in the household. Because of our open conversation, she acknowledged appreciation for her safety nets instead of slashing them out of resentment. She does have pressures and obligations, but not to the degree she will have later on and she is grateful for that.
We came to the conclusion that she is an adult with training wheels . . . and she was just fine with it. Heaven knows she is pedaling faster and steadier every day.
Why are we starting college tours for our second daughter during her sophomore year?
It’s not to freak out my friends or make them feel like they’re behind.
It’s not to draw the scorn of those who are silently screaming: “WHY WOULDN’T YOU START EARLIER?!” (I will go on record saying to chill with the tours starting in grade school.)
It’s because this IS my second rodeo. The April of my first rodeo—also known as my oldest daughter’s senior year—had us zipping up and down the East Coast with her college decision coming down to the May 1st wire. My brain wants to shutdown and take a nap just remembering it.
See, I was so intent on avoiding the competitive college stress spiral that I may have underestimated how little time there really was. I realized that maybe, just maybe, the parents who I thought were zealous were just good planners. I was also lulled by my daughter’s methodical selection of schools based on the major she wanted to pursue. She was so focused on what each college offered that it almost seemed beside the point to visit them.
But most importantly, we didn’t start touring before junior year because of good ol’ run-of-the-mill naiveté. IT WAS MY FIRST TIME! IT FELT LIKE WE WERE GROPING AROUND IN THE DARK!
Most college advice found on the internet was too intense, and while the guidance office was fantastic at meeting deadlines, it was a little light on the guidance. Even friends were not much help. It seems like the college application process is a lot like childbirth: people forget the hours of labor and only remember the outcome. I mean seriously, my daughter ended up at the perfect school for her so I could be spouting “all’s well that ends well” and calling it a day. Luckily for you, I am cursed with a mind for remembering hardships, blessed with an ability to learn from experience, and overflowing with a passion to share what I know. Apparently, I also have a wee flair for the dramatic.
Why I Now Think Touring in 10th Grade is Swell
It all comes down finding free days on the calendar.
You need to tour when students are there. We learned the hard way that a campus can have a drastically different feel when it’s devoid of life and bustle. It’s really the difference between looking at buildings and truly experiencing the campus vibe. So. This strikes holidays, most of December and January, the school’s spring break, and summer from available tour dates. Remember too that spring session often ends at the beginning of May. Now if you’re driving past a school on your summer vacation and want to take a peek, don’t let me stop you, just think twice before making any costly special trips. Even summer session is not the same.
Shifting your child’s focus.If your kid hasn’t already experienced the college process with a sibling or friend, it may seem very unreal to them. Touring some beautiful campuses can be just the ticket to make your literature-loving child realize that chemistry does indeed matter as a means to an end.
Tip: If the times for tours seem to be full for your desired date when you check online, call the admissions department. More times than not, they are very accommodating.
Junior year is crazy crammed . . . andstressful. There’s SATs and ACTs, regular sports and clubs, travel teams, AP exam prep, proms, driver’s ed, and driving tests . . . to name just a sampling. Couple this with the hardest course load your child is likely to face in high school, and your sweetie might not have a day to spare for college tours. On my junior’s few scheduled days off that coordinated with the college calendars, she just wanted to catch up on her work and sleep.
The stakes are lower. Yep, this also has to do with the calendar; hear me out. When you tour a school as a junior, and especially as a senior, the pressure of getting in can loom heavy. We did not tour some of my daughter’s “reach” schools because she thought it would be too disappointing if she didn’t get in. This left us with at least three schools she needed to see after she got accepted in March. They weren’t close to each other—or us— and it was a struggle to see them before commitment day: May 1st. We all agreed that if we had toured some of them in sophomore year, the pressure would have been reduced.
Location matters. If my daughter had visited Boston University in February of her sophomore year, I doubt she would have applied to any school north of the Mason-Dixon line because the cold stunned her. Instead, we were trying to book hotel rooms during the Boston Marathon because that was the only open weekend for us in her senior year. See? Still about the calendar.
Just look at her middle school room redo. How did we not know she was destined to fly south?
One disadvantage of touring in 10th grade: your child might not be focused enough to know their desired major. Tours of specific departments really are invaluable in the selection making process. But even so, the general tour will help your child decide if the school makes their list. Also, school doesn’t necessarily need to be in session for department tours to be informative. Those sessions are more about the facilities, professors, curriculum, and advisers.
So the countdown is on again: we are sending another kid to college. While this means that already tight spring schedules just got “sweet-cheezits-loosen-that-buckle-please” uncomfortable, there is a silver lining here: it’s not quite as rough the second time around. Now don’t get me wrong, I still get a little catch in my throat thinking that this time next year I’ll be the only girl living here besides the dog. And I will miss having my girl’s special blend of spunk and sass on the daily too . But having been in this place before means that I can lean into the excited part a little more than I did the first time around. We can hang out in all the upsides of this big new step for her without wallowing too long in the emotional messiness for me. If I have to keep sending kids out into the Great Beyond known as college, I might as well share some of the things I learned sending another kid to college.
1.There’s more financial aid.
This silver lining that came with the shiny acceptance letters was much appreciated. Oh, the joy! If I could have fired cannons into the air, I would have been that obnoxious neighbor. With one son currently residing on a campus, the gods of FAFSA were kind and benevolent in ways they had not been before. As a mother who will have a child (or two) in college for the next twelve years, this was the best gift ever.
2.There’s less angst.
When I was sending my oldest to college for the first time, I wrote about our emotional fall (read: MY over-the-top emotionally splashy fall), my resolutions (which should have included not tearing up every five seconds), and some things I needed to say to him (cue the tissues) before he crossed that stage into the brave new world of college. I couldn’t imagine my everyday world without him in it. Furthermore, I was bucking at the very idea of it altogether. My people took some time getting used to our new normal too.
Ellen, in her way, was less fraught in the build-up to college, but she wrote beautifully about the change for her household when her daughter came home for Thanksgiving. The truth is that having your child move up and on is a big change. But the more beautiful truth is that moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving away. We parent differently the ones who aren’t in our nest, but parent them we still do. Exhibit A: the 19 year old calling home from his Canadian Spring Break, because his route home was literally closed due to a freak March storm.
“Help me, Mom and Dad, you’re my only hope.” Nah, he didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what I heard. They are still ours; we are still theirs. Time, distance, and a college dorm room doesn’t change that. Acknowledging this makes it easier to go to the college’s Accepted Student Day and imagine it as your child’s home away from home for the next four years.
3.There’s a different list of Must Haves/Would Likes/Etc
The first time around, my son had a very specific dream of sports journalism and we were laser-focused in our search. While my daughter can fill out a March Madness bracket with the best of them, she has different aspirations. But the college list we built this time wasn’t only different due to intended major. My son liked smaller schools; my daughter thought the bigger the better. He was open to rural; she was insistent on a city. What I really loved this time around was seeing the way she was already starting to spread her wings as she focused on what was important to her. The conversations that evolved over college catalogs were enlightening and let me into her head a little.
4.There’s a better To-Do List
The really great thing about doing this a time or five is that you learn a thing or two. Like . . .
Just how important it is to try and get an ACT and SAT in before the end of Junior year. Honestly, if you have a child on the advanced math track, you could even think about scheduling at the end of sophomore year. Ideally, the best time is when your child has finished Algebra II, and it’s still fresh in her mind.
Create the high school resume as you are living it. No joke. My high school sophomore just pulled up the document he started and added his winter volunteering and sports. It’s so much easier to build as you go.
Build relationships with mentors. College recommendations are important elements of the application. When they come from someone who knows, understands, and likes your child, they could tip the scale to your child’s favor. I encourage my kids to write thank you notes to every coach, teacher, and advisor. When they reach out years later for a letter, hopefully, the gesture will resonate and help that adult remember them positively.
Focus on moving your needle forward. The first time around, we bowed before the cult of the almighty resume. While it IS important, my time spent with many a college
recruiter has changed my thinking. Resumes should tell a story of personal growth, not just be busting at the seams with activities. To that end, we talk to our younger kids about following ideas and exploring pursuits. “You love boats? Have you tried to get your boater’s license?” “You love basketball but didn’t make the team? What else can you do?” In both cases, my kids responded in ways that made them more interesting in person, not just on paper. We also push them outside their comfort zones. “So your friends aren’t doing it? Tell me again why you don’t want to.”
Take younger siblings on college trips. It’s nice to have time alone with your child on these visits too, but if you have siblings that aren’t that far behind, it’s a great opportunity to get a two-fer. The conversations about the school will differ of course, but they are valuable in helping create those future lists. An addendum: if you are already planning travel near a college, swing by and check it out even if it’s just a walk through campus.
5.There’s better downtime
Knowing how things will change means we leap at chances to create memories
together when we can. Whether it was doing an escape room together, hitting the road, taking an international trip, or even just hanging at home watching movies, we focus less on ourselves and more on just being together. Most of the time. We are a regular family and sometimes retreating to our individual corners save lives. But we ARE mindful of our time now in ways that make for an overall better family life.
While it’s true that my family will not be off this college-launching ride for awhile, it’s definitely more fun the second time around. We are happier sending another kid to college not because we love her less, but because we are appreciating the moment more. This time around we have clearer eyes to see what lies ahead: a chance to watch her knock it out of the ballpark. Watch out, world, she’s on her way! Stay tuned for what I learn as we launch 3, 4, and 5!
College tours are essential for deciding where your kid’s home away from home is going to be for the next four (or more) years. It’s a big deal! In fact the gravity of the situation may have you obsessively making lists of questions to pepper the tour guide with once you get them in your sights.
But . . .
Remember college is all about your child stepping out on their own. If you take over the tour group time, you’re essentially creating a filter between your kid and their experience of the campus. A wise compromise is to discuss using the tour group time effectively BEFORE you slap on that name tag. This list of questions will help. In fact, why not just forward the entire article to your child now?
3 General Tips
1. Only tour when students are present. It makes all the difference in the world. Without the students, you’re just looking at a bunch of buildings. We already made this mistake, learn from it. The first school we toured was on winter break, and my daughter got a very negative impression of it: cold, too expansive, and boring. We went back later and she discovered a whole new perspective when the student union was hopping and the quad was filled with students. Luckily this campus was only a couple of hours from our house, but who has time to tour all the colleges on their list twice?
2. Understand what questions NOT to ask the tour guide. If it’s a question that can be answered from the website, skip it. Enough with obsessing over the average SAT scores already. Also, realize what is beyond their scope. Your guide will generally be a student—a well-trained student—but still, they have no admissions authority. On every. single. tour. someone asked about financial aid. Just no. That’s what an appointment with a financial aid counselor is for.
3. If you have to choose between a tour and sitting in on a class, take the tour. While it may be exciting for your student to get a taste of college, they’re getting a very narrow experience just sitting in on one class. We got much more decision-making information from thoughtfully using a tour. By our third visit, even if we had time for our daughter to sample a class, she was passing on that option. Sitting in on a class was more helpful on accepted student days.
Questions to Ask
First consider your tour guide to be your window into what it’s really like to attend that school! Just remember, this is their job, a job they picked because they love their school, but still a job. They’re trained on how to deflect negative questions. I’m definitely NOT saying they are disingenuous, but let’s just acknowledge that questions like “how’s the party scene?” have certain scripted answers.
To get information not found anywhere else, it helps to get your guides talking about themselves—everyone’s favorite subject.
With that in mind, a good place for your student to start is . . .
1. Why did you choose this school? Ask this of as many people as you can to get as clear a picture as you can. It’s better than the anonymous info on College Niche.
2. What is this school known for? If you keep hearing “sports,” you need to decide if that’s an important thing to you or not. When the social scene revolves around going to games, you may be lonely if you don’t join in.
3. What do you think the “big” majors are at this school? If all you hear is “engineering” and you’re a dance major, you may want to assess how much funding goes to the arts.
4. Have you switched your major? How hard is it to switch your major? MANY students switch their majors. One school dropped off of my daughter’s list when she discovered she had to pick between applying to the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. If she wanted to switch between the two after she started attending, it was a whole new application process, not just a transfer form.
5. What year are you? How easy was it for you to get the classes you wanted? How about when you were a freshman? Most students readily spill aboutthe pain and annoyance of being shut out of classes. This is very telling.
6. How were you assigned your adviser and do you use them? Be very concerned about finishing in four years at a school where people claim not to use advising. It of course can be done, but it takes a high level of diligence.
7. How did you communicate with your adviser before you signed up for classes as a freshman and how helpful were they? We did not ask this once and it should have been one of the deciding factors for picking a school. We lucked out that the advisement program at my daughter’s university is superb. Her adviser spent a couple of hours with her on the phone over multiple calls helping her map out her classes for freshman year and beyond. Be aware that the quality of advisement can vary by major even at the same school.
8. What year do people start to get internships? Be a little worried if the answer is senior year because from internships come jobs.
9. Is studying abroad a big deal here? What year do people do it? Also be aware that some schools encourage it during winter breaks and summers meaning extra cost on top of tuition. Some schools have programs where a semester abroad is covered by tuition plus travel costs.
10. What are the best dorms? Did you get that one as a freshman? Good to get the inside scoop.
11. How did you get your roommate? At my daughter’s school there was an official questionnaire and matching service, but my daughter found hers on the unofficial Facebook page. Also good to note, especially if it is a local college, do people seem to room with friends from high school?
12. Are there “quiet” dorm or floor options? Another question we did not think to ask. This is good for the introvert and the extrovert. The quiet person can get what she wants and the socialite can avoid being shushed (or worse) all of the time.
13. Do you still live on campus? When do students generally move off-campus? Another question we should have asked. I thought my girl would have at least three years in the dorms, but alas, many of the students at her school move off-campus after freshman year (the only year they are required to live in the dorms).
14. Have you been here during a campus lockdown? Are alerts sent out often? These questions delve deeper than “is the campus safe?”
15. Does the campus clear out on the weekends? If you are hundreds of miles away from home, you don’t want to end up at what is essentially a commuter school.
16.Describe your typical Saturday here to me. Gets at the above question from a different angle.
17. What are you involved with on campus? This is a more open-ended way to see what clubs, endeavors, and activism your tour guide is involved with.
18. What kinds of off-campus things do you do? This canbe very telling about the surrounding art culture, jobs, and club scene . . . or it can drive home that you are looking at a school in the middle of a cow pasture.
19. What do the locals say about this school? Also very telling.
20. How necessary is it to have a car? If freshman are not allowed cars, how do people work around that? This will clue you into how prevalent the use of Uber is or whether there is a sweet garage where students keep their cars off-campus.
Okay, now breathe. These questions only serve as a guideline for information you may not have thought to gather, not as permission to monopolize the group. Let others talk. You may just learn something neither you nor I realized we needed to know. And by all means, if you think of a good question, please add it in the comments. I have college tours looming on my horizon AGAIN.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: if your child is very interested in a school and has narrowed their major down, please consider calling that department to arrange for a specialized tour. They may even offer for you to meet with a dean or an adviser before you even have to ask. We found this VERY helpful if we were visiting from far away and “popping over” for another look was not possible.
Oooo, one last LAST piece of advice. Talk finances with your child before you tour. If you can’t swing a school without significant aid/scholarship, let them know that caveat before they fall in love. It’s an easier conversation before they have stars in their eyes.
Happy touring and take plenty of pictures! This may be the start of your child’s new path!
My college freshman daughter came home for Thanksgiving and it. was. glorious. Some friends who still have all of their chicks under one roof commented that Thanksgiving break came up pretty quickly considering it was only three months since I said good-bye. Only. I just again read my piece about sending her off in August—contemplating whether or not my “sweet spot of motherhood” was behind me—and it feels like it has been three lifetimes.
My “sweet spot” did indeed expand as I had hoped to encompass long distance parenting from Maryland to Miami. My daughter has communicated with us with a regularity beyond my wildest hopes via texting, Face Timing, calling, and Snapchatting. She is generous about sharing her new life, and has continued to seek my advice. I haven’t been kicked to the proverbial curb. For my part, I have become the master of high quality care packages.
She is still in my life, it’s just in a different way. In a way that is the epitome of life moving forward. In fact, life continued to march forward for all of us. As soon as we dropped her off, field hockey was in full swing for my sophomore daughter. And then I shoveled out her room. And then we got a dog. There really was no time for weeping or hand-wringing . . . or at least I didn’t leave myself time for that.
In general, I’ve handled marching forward pretty well. That’s why I was taken aback by the wave of emotion that hit me during the week she was home for Thanksgiving.
I missed her most while she was here!
I mean I have missed her since the moment she left, but I had gotten use to her not being around. And by “used to” I mean I just didn’t think about it that much. I really just couldn’t. Besides, she is happily hitting her stride, and we had a lovely visit over Family Weekend. How could I complain about a natural order that was going this well?
But, I have felt a bit off-centered and blah. Not exactly mopey, just unsettled. Beating her room into order and adopting myself some unconditional canine love helped, but I hadn’t really worked through it all. There’s not a lot of space to discuss ambiguous feelings. People can maybe handle hearing that you are sad, but they really just want you to say “I’m fine.” My kid was busy being everything I hoped she would be, so what right did I have to be sad anyway? And really, when people ask you how things are going with college, they want to hear about your kid and then get back to picking through the pumpkins at the farm stand.
While I had adjusted to her being gone like a swell little soldier—my life is pretty good after all—her being here for a week illuminated with LED intensity all that had been missing. It took the return of her vim and vigor for me to realize the full impact of its absence.
I felt unmoored because I missed the dynamic of her just being in our space: her wit, her clutter, her willingness to pitch in, as well as her exasperating insistence that we embark on a ten minute hunt for another tube of toothpaste because brushing her teeth in the shower “saved” time and her sister was currently using the only other tube. While I love her snip-its of news and Snapchats, I missed what her presence brings to our family unit under this roof: completeness. Her whole senior year through college move-in day was such a seismic shift, but when the earthquake was over, I just plowed ahead instead of assessing the aftermath.
When spellcheck bleated just now that “unmoored” was not a word, I looked it up to find descriptive perfection: tobringtothestateofridingwithasingleanchorafterbeingmoored bytwoormore. Eureka! This is it! After spending sixteen years with the tug and grounding of two kids with their schedules, activities and needs, I was suddenly lighter with only one at home. But instead of feeling free, I only had the uncomfortable sensation of buffeting in the breeze. In related news I may be prone to mini-panics that my youngest will be going to college in three short years.
More than once during the week I had to snap myself back into the moment instead of anticipating the empty space yawning wide again once she left. It really wasn’t hard because we had such a great time, but you know what? It hasn’t been that bad she she went back. I feel better now that my brain realizes the void my heart was flapping around. I still miss her, but I feel more grounded knowing that our family “completeness” isn’t gone; it’s just something I have to look forward to now when she returns. And boy, do I have a detailed answer for the next person who asks me how I am doing.
When your kids go to college, it leaves a hole in your heart, in your home, in your everyday. Yes, they are not gone forever, and this is the natural progression of life, buuuuttttt, there is an undeniable void left behind. Or at least there are less shoes to trip over by the door. You can fill this space with a new job, more volunteering, a trip to the shoe store, or maybe even with another heartbeat. Relax! We’re not suggesting a visit from the stork, but a visit to your local animal shelter just might be the ticket. Apparently when your kid goes to college, it’s not uncommon to add to your furry brood. Our story is more than a tale of two pound puppies, it’s about the lengths two moms will go to cope with their kids flying the coop to college.
Erin’s Story: Our dog adventure began as a parenting cautionary tale. My kids were jonesing hard for a dog long before my oldest began filling out college applications, but my youngest son, in the way of wiley family bookends, set the putsch in motion. He asked if he won the Citizenship Award at school if we could get a dog. Now, the first thing you need to know is that my youngest, while sweet, dear, and loved, is not always model student material. The second thing is that I’m not the girl you want to take to Vegas with you, because I thought we were a couple of frozen layers of hell away from my son getting this particular honor. So I took the parenting sucker bet and said, “Absolutely.” Well, ole sonny boy straightened up real good, real quick; so much so his halo was veritably shining.
Within the month, he pinned his bright new award to his shirt and marched home victoriously to show us. It turned out to be just what we needed right when we needed it most. His award came when we were in the middle of a deep familial funk over missing our biggest brother. In lieu of some plans to steal big brother back from college, we all cuddled up to the idea of a new four-legged family member. We had a couple of roadblocks ahead of us though. One was the insane adoption process (Ellen will explain about it more below. I can’t even. Really. It almost broke me.) The other was our crazy spring schedule that would end in a big international family trip to my brother’s wedding. As much as we wanted a dog five minutes ago, we decided to postpone the arrival of our new fur-baby until post-Cancun.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the rescue to meet our perfect, made-just-for-us pup (so perfect he was even named Luke Skywalker!), we were heartbroken to discover that he had been adopted by someone else. Lucky for us, Ellie decided that we were hers and she adopted us on the spot. Bigger than we wanted, younger than we wanted, and a little (read: way more, like a crazy lot more) high energy than we wanted, she also turned out to be just what we needed. And even despite the fact she just ate the baseball glove my husband has had for 33 years, we would adopt her again.
And now there’s just one more face that’s happy to see you when you are home for Fall Break!
Ellen’s Story: It began as a joke between my youngest daughter and I as the oldest of my two was rapidly approaching her high school graduation. Maybe it was because Erin was talking about getting a dog, maybe it was because we could sense the impending sucking void in our household that would yawn wide when Coco blasted off to college, but we started saying, “We need a dog, a replacement Coco, a Re-Coco, if you will.” Well, jokes became discussions, discussions became research, and research set off plans. Well, for my youngest and me that is. Coco just shook her head at us, her attention focused on the distant shores of the University of Miami. And my husband? His battle cry became, “But we have a cat!”
And we do have a cat. An adorable, beautiful, fluffy princess named Pebbles that is just, well, a cat. She gives some love in the morning, but that about taps her out for the rest of the 24 hour cycle. Sparkle, the cat we had before her—that my kids grew up with and thought was the norm—was really more of a dog. She would greet us as we came home by jumping up at the door then flopping on her back, follow us from room to room, and settle down to sleep with my youngest every night, nocturnal rhythms be damned.
See? We had already lost a measure of love three years ago with the passing of Sparkle, we were not willing to have Coco exit the scene without topping off our furry love mug. Plans did not turn into action though until my husband and I went down to the University of Miami family weekend. Seeing Coco in her element and being away from the bustle and grind of daily life brought about the magic words I was waiting to hear from my him, “Coco has this, you all need a dog.” That was all it took. We got back from Miami and I started searching rescues and shelters like it was my job . . . if my job lasted ten hours per day.
Prior to our trip, I had been scouring Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet sending in one application at a time when I found a dog bio that met our criteria: around twenty-five pounds (Corgi mixes were high on our list), good with kids and cats, and willing to dole out the love. I did this for the month and a half after dropping Coco off at school, either never hearing from the organizations or being told the animal had already been adopted. I was starting to think that catfishing was a given in the adoption game: “Oh you’re inquiring about that adorable little Corgi with the lopsided grin?” He was adopted 5 minutes ago, but could I interest you in a 100 pound mastiff that chews on felines for fun?” We were dragging on a Tinder merry-go-round of find the perfect pet, swipe right, craft application essays, have heart broken, repeat. Coco applied to college in less time than it took me to fill out some of these applications (“what is my doggie parenting philosophy??”), but I dropped everything else and focused on following links and scouring Facebook to find new rescues so I could get applications in as soon as I found suitable dogs.
Then at the end the week, I stumbled upon First State Animal Center and SPCA, a more traditional shelter, and they had just updated their new rescues on Facebook. I saw Pumpkin and was in the car within 5 minutes to see her. Well, Pumpkin was indeed there, but she bared her teeth, growled at me, then cowered in the corner shivering. It was less than a match made in heaven. But there was this one dog, one that never even barked when the rest of the kennel run was rioting. I took her to the meet and greet room without even reading her description, where she jumped up on the bench, lay her head in my lap, and the rest was history. Meet Roxie. The sweetest dog with the worst bio in the shelter: noisy, not good with kids, returned twice, 5 years old, and previously heartworm positive. None of those negative personality attributes on her profile were accurate. At all. The vet even said she looked more like she was 3 than 5. In the end, the words didn’t matter, only the love. Before her, I didn’t even know a pug and beagle mix was a thing, but now I know why puggle rhymes with snuggle. And guess what? She’s not stingy with her love! Within minutes of Coco coming home for fall break, she was cuddling with her! And I’ll let you in on a little secret. The dog didn’t replace Coco, it’s there to cushion the blow when my youngest leaves the nest. It’s good to have plans.
So if sending a kid to a university is in your near future, take note of our “How to Cope When Your Kid Goes to College” plan. It’s cheaper than therapy, healthier than chocolate, and infinitely cuter and snugglier. But you better start applying now.
Empty nest? EMPTY NEST?! Bwahahahaha! I wish. My girl may have launched 1150 miles away to college, but she left her nest anything but empty. I think more fitting words would be disarranged, disorganized, and disgusting. In truth it looked like a mob boss had tossed the room for the secret stashes of cash before fleeing the country.
To her credit, she washed, cleaned, organized, and packed all of her things for college. She managed to do such a good job that she was able to get it all in her allotted suitcases coming in under the airline weight restrictions. But once we returned home from drop-off and the brain bash of leaving my first baby at college drained away, the full disaster of her room walloped me. First it stabbed me in the heart because it looked like she should be arising from the rubble to greet me every morning. Seriously, her bed not only looked like she was still in it, but I swear if you stared at the heap long enough, it looked like it was breathing. My girl used A LOT of blankets since her father keeps the thermostat just north of “meat locker.”
It was with a healthy dose of trepidation that I sidled into the room and threw off the comforter. Hey, she once had a bat doing a jig at the end of her bed so a family of possums setting up camp under there was not beyond the realm of possibilities.
“Whoosh” went the covers and “ewwww” went the very core of my psyche. Had she even changed her sheets in the past three months, wait . . . THREE YEARS? It really could have been longer because I think I stopped cleaning my kids rooms and ceased being the sole laundress when she reached middle school. Silver lining: I still didn’t have to wash the sheets because they went directly into the trash.
But gah! Even though I wasn’t cleaning my daughters’ rooms, they were expected to clean them. But now that I think about it, I never inspected them. I would inspect the bathrooms they decontaminated weekly because I swear the blow dryer would just whisk the mechanics of scrubbing a toilet clean out of their heads. And there was that one time our mismatched sock basket overflowed to Vesuvius levels because apparently it was easier to assume EVERY sock in our dryer was flying solo than it was to match and fold them. But their rooms? If they bothered me too much, I just closed the doors.
I truly thought she had cleaned her room though. I know I had seen it tidy at least once during the Obama administration, but once the stripped bed floated like an oasis in the middle of the room, it became clear that instead of following the “touch-it-once” rule, she was employing the “why-throw-something-away-when-you-can-shove-it-under-your-bed-in-your-closet-in-a-drawer-or-behind-the-trash-can” rule. “Just-leave-it-in-the-middle-of-the-ever-loving-floor” rule was her fail safe for when doing the bare minimum to qualify for lazy was just too taxing.
What started as “I’m just going to just pick up those pencils and put them in the caddy,” turned into a full-on excavation. Oh the treasures I found.
There was the solitary volleyball knee pad that was so old, the spandex crumbled when I picked it up. At least there was a deteriorating lollipop gluing part of it together.
Then I found a little straw dress-up purse that contained such treasures as an expired coupon for toilet bowl cleaner and yet another decaying lollipop. (I’m starting to think her superior dental health was because she liked to hoard candy rather than eat it. Why we didn’t trade dental bills for exterminator fees, I’ll never know.)
Also amongst the rubble was a princess jump rope (permanently tangled), a junior scientist kit (never opened), and one hundred plus eleven lip balms (half of which where plastered to—you guessed it—lollipops).
I’m going to save you any more particulars, but suffice it to say, I filled up three garbage bags with stuff I didn’t even have to think twice about throwing away. Okay, I did pause over the one little purple fuzzy slipper because WHAT IF THE OTHER ONE TURNED UP?? They were pretty stinkin’ adorable.
Seems not cleaning my kids’ rooms was an initiative that should have had an exit strategy. This became abundantly clear when I started stumbling over emotional landmines like her “All About Me” kindergarten profile, the stuffed cat she use to snuggle with, and her stack of Webkinz adoption certificates. Those trips down memory lane would have been so much better with her rather than by myself three weeks into her departure when the ache of not seeing her was starting to set in. Silver lining: I had the cover of dirt dervishes to explain my reddened eyes and snuffly nose.
I really meant for the Big Clean to happen over the summer with her fully in charge; but when faced with grief or change I tend to “panic travel.” It’s like a driving force that overtakes me, compelling me to move forward and make new memories rather than dwell with the ghosts of the past, no matter how cute they are.
Besides, I hate to clean, too. Going to Philly was soooo much more fulfilling than battling dust bunnies.
Oh, but snooker me once . . . you’re obviously the oldest child. Second child: don’t even think about it. You’ll have to blaze your own trail to elude me because this pathway has been scorched.
My 10th grader is shoveling out her room even as we speak . . . under protest of course. “My sister made it all the way out of the house before having to do this and now YOU’RE cleaning her room.”
True, but I did leave this wall of memorabilia for her to deal with. I’m COMPLETELY positive I won’t be the one taking it down weeks after her wedding day. I just wasn’t ready to turn her nest into the perfect guest room quite yet. She needs somewhere familiar to land when she comes homes to roost every once in a while.
I’ll leave you with a pro tip since we are after all the Sensible Moms. My girl has a TON of knick-knacks as you can see. I consolidated a bit of the tedious mess by putting the smallest treasures in a two gallon glass container creating a Memorabilia Jar. It truly cut down the clutter more than it may seem. The biggest trick to it is to put some boxy types items in the center so that everything gets displayed around the perimeter.
[Speaking of memory lane, I found the post I wrote when we redecorated my daughter’s room five years ago. I actually wrote about how I would be happy for the massive clean out I was doing then because it would save me from doing it when she went away to college. I don’t know whether to be grateful for the realization that THIS cleaning could have been worse or to tip over laughing at my delusion that a whole new mountain of stuff wouldn’t accumulate in five years time. (Obviously things slithered through that first wave of cleaning like her kindergarten profile because, well, we’re awesome.) You can be the judge after reading it here.]
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I was a cliche, a caricature, a tale as old as time. I was that perspiring cartoon cat chewing down her nails like a wood chipper watching the second hand stutter around the clock like a sledgehammer–boom, boom, BOOM–waiting for time to run out.
You see, this was the summer of the “Off to College” countdown for my oldest daughter. She actually flew from the nest, her college is so stinking far away. If my memory of physics serves me correctly, a light year equals eleven hundred miles. Oh wait, that’s what my heart told me when it saw the distance to Miami. My brain was stuck in the groove reminding me I was about to exit my sweet spot of motherhood.
I am a good mother—not to be confused with a perfect mother—but sweet baby booties, the infant years with my two nearly killed me. In a past life, I worked through the horrors and stress of a trauma unit, yet it was my splendid first-born who had me on the floor crying in the fetal position of surrender. She had colic and she adamantly screamed about it . . . for an average of four hours a day. And yes, I timed it as a my own little sanity check.
Don’t get me wrong, I relished the joys dished out by my two healthy daughters born two and a half years apart: the smiles, the laughter, the hugs, the “firsts,” but the mundane neediness was just so much. The day-to-day rinse and repeat of feeding, diapering, clothing, bathing, and putting to bed sapped the spring of my being in a way, that while not unique, is not something all mothers experience. You know those women who must scoop up and snuffle every baby they see? Yeah, I’m good with just oohing and ahhing outside the splash zone.
But each mother should be handed an embroidered pillow upon delivery that reads “Don’t Despair Over any One Moment of Motherhood Because It’s a Fluid Time-Warp Sand Dune That Changes and Morphs Each and Every Day One Grain of Sand at a Time.” Granted, it would be a large pillow, but you can’t put a word count on truth.
My psyche improved as my girls could reason and read, talk in complete, decipherable sentences, and feed themselves. As they learned to run, jump, and swim like competent little humans, I relaxed my toddler-watch wariness.
In fact, each step of independence they took away from me made me a happier mother. With the absence of tantrums and diaper bags weighing me down, I loved to explore and travel with them. I reveled as they discovered their talents and personalities. I volunteered to give them the activities and opportunities that would help them blossom into their best possible selves.
I really hit my stride as the mother of teenagers. It was . . . is my sweet spot. I find the bustle and commotion invigorating. I love the friends, the events, the deep heart-to-heart talks, the companionship, and the exploration. Contrary to popular mythology, teens really aren’t the devil. They are complex, interesting creatures simultaneously learning about themselves and the world with equal parts wonder, joy, skepticism, and despair. They are your heart, but so much more and better than you could have imagined. Of course the “so much more” also encompasses slamming doors, eye rolls, and sharp words, but how would you know when you’re on the mountaintop without the valleys? The rough patches are worth it to be center stage for the best show ever. And hey, the teen years make me crave the days when I could protect them with a bumper guard on the coffee table. There is no bubble wrap for sex, drugs, alcohol, driving, disappointment, and broken hearts. Perspective is everything.
And speaking of perspective, mine has changed again, except this time with the force of a brutal sandstorm rather than the steady trickle of sand through an hour glass. My daughter left for college a week ago and my days of having my chicks come to roost every night under one roof are gone. Sure she will come home again, but both feet will never be planted in childhood again, that spell is broken. The nuclear bubble of our “home team” is forever changed because she is a free agent branching out from my constant supervision and coaching. I am sidelined to being the whisper in the back of her head and praying that I used my eighteen years with her wisely.
But you know what? That’s okay and how it should be. And I’ve learned during this week that while I feel like my role as her mother has drastically changed, from her point of view, maybe it hasn’t. As mothers we can feel like we are at the centers of our kids’ lives because they are on the center stage in ours, but just remember back to your own teen years and you’ll realize that’s not so true. Maybe, just maybe, her crossing that stage for her diploma was not about leaving me behind, but about continuing on the path she has set for herself. This truth gives me hope that my sweet spot is not behind me, but will be expanding in new ways for years to come.
First and foremost: THEY CAN DO THEIR OWN EVER-LOVING LAUNDRY!
Ellen: In a very few short weeks my daughter is traveling 1,147 miles away to college. In related news, I may personally make headlines if one more person asks me: “Wow, that’s far. Are you going to miss her?”
While that makes me want to kick a kitten, there is a dumbfounding twist to this irritating conversation that makes my jaw drop. They will say to my daughter: “Well that’s too far away for your mom to do your laundry. What are you going to do?”
“Um, do it myself,” she replies speaking veeeerrrry slooooowly. My high school sophomore daughter generally just stares in disbelief.
One woman of a soon-to-be college freshman even went so far as to tell us, “I told my son if he is coming home every weekend to see his girlfriend, she needs to do his laundry.”
My high school daughter (once again staring in disbelief) replied, “Or he can maybe do it himself?” To her credit, she saved, “Well, isn’t THAT a lucky girl?” for when we were back in the car.
At a party, the subject of laundry came up yet again (really), and a woman looked at me like I was Hermione Granger incarnate and breathed, “But HOW do you get them to do it?”
My high school daughter jumped in with, “Well, when we were too short to reach the buttons, she bought us a step stool.”
The woman may have lost some of her awe as she mentally lumped me in with the orphanage supervisor from Annie, but it’s whatever because this woman (me! it’s me!) is not her family’s laundress.
Erin: But it’s not only about how it benefits you, the parent, it’s about how it benefits your kid. While Ellen is getting an inkling of the laundry ineptitude at college, I KNOW about the lack of skills. My son was the hero of his freshman floor because he knew how to work a laundry machine and what products to use in it. He made lots of friends and he should have gotten a thank you note or two from some parents.
So to recap thus far:
If your precious is smart enough to attend college, they can work a washing machine.
It is not Quantum Physics. (See number one.)
Girlfriends are not for laundry. (Neither are mothers.)
Laundry skills = instant popularity.
Even if your kid has never lifted a stain stick, it’s not too late! Don’t let them learn about it on the streets . . . er, on the freshman hall. Bonus: they probably won’t even need a step stool. Here’s a laundry checklist/tutorial/pure genius to share with them.
Syllabus for College Laundry 101
Laundry bags, hampers, and/or baskets (Basically, containment for the filth.)
Zippered mesh washing bags (Sometimes called lingerie or delicates bags.)
Optional: Drying rack (Over-the-door models are great space savers.)
Optional: color catching sheets
It’s all about the sorting.
Darks get washed with darks and lights get washed with lights. Don’t be the cliché who turns their underwear pink with a red sock; it’s sad.
Either have two separate hampers (the preferred method) and sort as you take the clothes off or sort at the machine. Have a bunch of mesh washing bags near your hamper(s) for things you don’t want to go in the dryer like bras, the tissue paper that passes for Forever 21 clothing, and sports jerseys. Put these items in the zippered bags AS SOON AS YOU TAKE THEM OFF to avoid mishaps.
Also, treat stains with your stain stick before you put them in your hamper. Chances are pretty good you won’t remember about that ketchup blob on laundry day. But take note of this: nothing sets a stain like a spin in the dryer.
What to do with an item that is both light and dark? Most likely wash it with darks because then it becomes all about the water temperature (see below). There are also color catching sheets you can add to your load to “grab” any dye that bleeds.
Besides color, there is another consideration: texture and weight. For example, jeans are best washed in a load by themselves. Think about denim grating against your t-shirt for 40 minutes. It might not have a good outcome. If you have more than one towel, you may want to consider washing them by themselves. A couple of towels bunched up in a load can throw a washing machine off-balance, but this is not as big of a deal in a commercial machine.
One important note: don’t tightly stuff the tub with your clothes. They need room to agitate.
This is a good time to brush up on your reading.
Hey, when confusion sets in, read the label! It’s jammed packed with all sorts of information like what wash temperature to use and whether you should hand wash it. There’s a chart available here to help you crack the code of those symbols.
One caveat, cheaper clothes are often labeled “hand wash.” We often get away with washing them in mesh bags in the machine on a cold water setting. It’s all about the risk. If you would be devastated that your favorite shirt got ruined, hand wash it. If it was SUPER expensive and/or made of wool or silk and it’s labeled “hand wash,” you should heed the instructions. Buuuuutttttt, if it was a twelve dollar shirt that you probably won’t wear past one season anyway, it’s up to you to see what you can get away with.
It’s also about the temperature.
If you want to keep it simple starting out, wash everything in cold. But remember darks should always be washed in cold water. If you are feeling a little braver, lights can be washed in warm with a cold water rinse. Towels, sheets, and your gross light colored gym socks and basic underwear can be washed in hot if the labels say it’s okay.
SO many buttons.
The good news is that commercial washers are pretty straightforward and generally have instructions printed on them. Home washers tend to try to be fancier and more confusing, but all you have to do is Google the model to find the instruction manual.
In general, the “Normal/Cotton” cycle has a high agitation level good for dirtier clothes, “Permanent Press” is a warm wash followed by a cold rinse, and “Delicates” has the least rambunctious agitation and spin cycle.
Don’t forget the detergent.
Detergent pods are the best thing to happen to college students since their acceptance letters. No more schlepping heavy detergent bottles around. One note: the pods go in the bottom of the washer before you put your clothes in, not in the soap dispenser.
It’s dry time!
Back to that pesky label reading thing. Drying instructions should always be heeded. If a tag indicates an item should not go in the dryer, IT SHOULD NOT GO IN THE DRYER. For those things that can go in the dryer, throw in a fabric softener sheet and set the machine for the recommended temperature.
A good life practice is to fold/hang clothes as they come out of the dryer. For those of you snorting over this suggestion, see the next step.
Hahahahahahahaha! More jokes! Ironing barely happens in our own homes.
Here’s Ellen’s situation.
Here’s what the ironing organizer is really used for on the daily.
Which leads us to our next step . . .
Here’s assuming your clean laundry is in a wrinkled heap in your basket. (We tend to be realists.) You can A) seek out the kid whose delusional mom actually thought she would use an iron or B) whip out your Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus. Just spray, tug, smooth, and hang and you’re good to go (remember to allow for a very wee bit of time for drying).
So you let your dirty clothes pile up under your bed, in your closet, or beneath your sleeping head? Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus can fix that too. Spray it, spray it real good, to eliminate the odor and ensure peaceful cohabitation with your roommate. (You can even spritz their piles if they are the offenders.)
Listen closely to this one. Never, EVER, pull a person’s clean laundry out of the washer and dump it onto the floor. You do NOT need to send that kind of bad juju out into the universe to bite you in the butt when you least expect it.
ONE LAST TIP!
It’s not an urban legend that a majority of students do NOT change their sheets. It’s a joke because people are laughing through the tears . . . because the funky sheets are making their eyes water. While we firmly believe kids should do their own laundry, we acknowledge that parents might have to do this trick at move-in.
Put down the cushy mattress topper.
Cover with a mattress protector.
Put on a fitted sheet.
Layer on ANOTHER mattress protector.
Top with ANOTHER fitted sheet.
Make bed up with the flat sheet, blanket, and comforter.
Artfully arrange pillows.
Take a picture because it might never look this way again.
So the thought is, that after a week or fifteen, your student can just peel off the top sheets and mattress protector and have a fresh bed. Of course this isn’t foolproof because your precious still has to tuck in a clean top sheet and change the pillowcase, but it’s worth a try. You probably should recommend frequent spritzes with Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus just to be safe.
One last picture because we’re ironic like this. Okay, we know it’s not irony, but we at least qualify for punny. Right!?
While we were compensated by Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus for this post, all love for this product and hard-won advice about college laundry are all our own.
Get your coupon for Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus here!