Every year about this time, thousands of families endure an emotionally trying ritual: Sending their young high school graduate off to college – or in the case of my neighbor Bert Zablinski’s under-achieving boy Freddie, a four-week correspondence course for road construction flag operators. For many distraught parents it means driving hundreds of miles in a tightly cramped car filled with college gear, then coming to a startling realization – they forgot to bring one essential item: Their child. Don’t let this happen to you.

The experience of sending your offspring to college is different for every family. But there is one feeling almost every parent shares: a desperate hope they’ll have the winning Powerball lottery tickets so they can pay for college. That’s their Plan A. Most parents don’t have a Plan B, now that by latest estimates the average cost of four years of college recently has surpassed the GNP of Uruguay.

About this time last year, my wife Michele (who hates when I mention her by name in this column, so will hereafter be referred to as Jasmine) and I joined these ranks. We sent our eldest daughter off to college at Washington State University (which hates when I mention their institution by name in this column, so will hereafter be referred to as Princeton). We drove our child 650 miles to her dorm at WSU, er, Princeton (actually it’s only 300 miles – we missed a few exits) and helped her move in. Before I knew it, I was back home, staring sadly at her empty bedroom, facing a bleak new reality: Now I would be the one who has to scoop the kitty litter, empty the dishwasher and take out the trash. God, I’ll miss her.

When your turn comes to ship your child off to college, learn from my experience. Consider FedExing your student. Be sure to use plenty of bubble wrap. Here are a few more helpful tips:

Create a packing checklist.

You’d be amazed at how many things your child will need when they head off to college. If your child is a girl, consider the following essentials: a hair dryer, curling iron, some other device that looks exactly like another curling iron but she’ll tell you is a hair straightener, a second hair dryer, in case the first one accidentally gets left at the McDonald’s in Nowheresville, USA en route to her dorm.

Be sure to pack enough variety of clothing to last your child through at least six presidential elections because apparently there are no clothing stores within a 500-mile radius of her dorm. Other essentials include a five-year supply of top ramen and Cup O’ Noodles, along with every last roll of toilet paper she was able to sneak out of our house.

Might as well let her pack that drum set you bought her in 8th grade, which she only used twice. You never know when she might decide to switch her major from international business to African Tribal Annoying Banging Sounds. One thing that for sure will NOT be on your child’s packing list: a photo of mom and dad. You might want to sneak that into one of her nine purses, to remind her you once existed.

Bring a hand truck for the move-in.

Since you needed a U-Haul truck the size of an armored personnel carrier to fit all your child’s crap, you’ll need something to haul it all to her dorm room. While these days college dorms have Wi-Fi internet, they don’t have elevators. We were delighted to learn upon arrival that our daughter’s room was on the 11th floor of an 11-story dorm. So for us, the hand truck was indispensable – for the entire eleven minutes it remained in our possession – until other families concluded it must have been Property of Princeton University and started using it the moment I turned my back to unpack the fifth box of shoes.

Reserve some private time for a parental chat.

This may be the last time you see your child for many months (unless you’re Freddie Zablinski’s parent). They’re about to set off on an exciting adventure. Use this last opportunity to share precious insights to guide them to make good choices on life’s road ahead. Let me suggest some possible mentoring topics:

  • Be tolerant of people with different world views from yours. You will meet all sorts of people here.
  • Study hard, get good grades, but make sure you maintain a balance. Don’t burn yourself out.
  • Have fun. And by fun, I mean wholesome fun, like backgammon, not tequila shots in a wet T-shirt contest at the I Phelta Thigh frat house.
  • If I ever find out you’ve been doing drugs of any kind, kiss goodbye to our paying for college, missy.
  • Hey, what the hell? Are those my TaylorMade golf clubs? I want them back – now!

Don’t stay too long.

As emotional as this experience will be, resist the temptation to overstay your welcome. Your child is anxious to begin her new life, meet new friends and start telling them stories about how lame her parents are. Once you’ve finished lugging the last crate of Diet Coke up to their 11th floor dorm room, take some time to enjoy your child’s company – and by “take some time” I mean four minutes. Any longer and you’re starting to crowd her newfound independence. Then get back in your car – it will be easy to locate. It’ll be the one with the bright red $75 parking ticket for exceeding your 60-minute unloading time limit by two minutes and 11 seconds.

For many parents like Miche- er, Jasmine and me, the trip home can be the hardest part – knowing that your little angel is all grown up, reflecting on how the years raced by far too quickly and how she never did return your golf clubs. But don’t get too choked up. I understand your little princess is going to a community college – nine miles from home. She’ll be back next Saturday to ask you to do her laundry and to borrow your credit card for a few more essential items. So try to hold it together for the next seven days, won’t you?

That’s the view from the bleachers. Perhaps I’m off base. 

PS: Forward this post to your college student. Tell them that reading my blog posts for a semester will earn them 3 college credits. And if you enjoyed this week’s post, please share it on Facebook, post a comment or  it. Thanks.

© Tim Jones, View from the Bleachers 2013

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