At the end of August in my 17th year, my parents loaded up their car and drove their oldest child to college. I was nervous, but in that excited, rumbly way; worried about the roommate, the classes, the food, and all of that stuff, but anxious to start this new adventure. I’m pretty sure my dad was feeling the same as I was.
My mom, on the other hand, was psychotic, catatonic and just plain off her rocker. Suffice it to say, she wasn’t coping well.
Although only in college in Selinsgrove, PA, my mom and I were close, and as her first, in her mind, it was as though there was a death in the family.
After move in and unpacking, the family lunch and the convocation, it was time to say goodbye. She chose that moment to drop to her knees, wrap herself around my legs and sob. I stood, stock still and mortified in the parking lot of my dorm, new acquaintances awkwardly staring at me, until my dad finally stepped in, wrestled her to a standing position and helped her to the car. It’s a moment neither of us will ever forget.
So when it was time for my own to leave for college, having a newfound understanding of her stress and her agony, but vowing to never repeat the dorm parking lot fiasco, I knew I needed a plan. By sharing my plan, hopefully, I can save many of you from that same fate.
5 Steps To A Successful Make College Drop-off Day:
1. Allow the emotion: Understand that this will be hard for you and you will cry. Just do your best to do it ahead of time. A few weeks before my first kid left for college, I was in bed when I heard him come home. From my bedroom I could see the family room light come on, and I began to think about how much I would miss knowing he was down there watching tv. So I got up and went downstairs. He took one look at me, got out of the chair and hugged me while I sobbed. Neither of us needed to say a word, but he knew. I soaked the front of his shirt, apologized for soaking it and then thanked him for letting me lose it. I said goodnight and went to bed. It was awesome and ever so cathartic.
2. Spend A Full Day Together: There is a lot to accomplish before a kid leaves for school. You need to shop, pack, organize and plan. I told each of my kids that they owed me a full day with no interruptions a few weeks before leaving. We make a big deal of it and shop for dorm supplies, school supplies and clothes. We go out to a special meal and spend a great day alone together. My husband also spends a day with each of them. While I prepare their living space, he prepares them with a life skills refresher day. He makes sure they know exactly what he expects of them, how to get and ask for help and how to avoid the pitfalls of college life. They have a full day, a dinner out and some dad bonding. It’s been great for each of us and, hopefully, for them.
3. Plan your Drop Off Day and Exit Time: Drop off days are fairly consistent from college to college. You move in, you have a few family activities, and eventually and painfully it’s time for the parents to get out. Most colleges will have the day meticulously planned and will send out a schedule well in advance. Go over it with your kid and plan the exit. I tell my kids that for my sanity, I need to help set up their room, make their beds and help unpack. I feel far better if when I leave, I have left them safely and securely organized in their new space. What they do after I leave is up to them, but at least I feel good for a while. Also, make sure you know and have agreed upon when it’s time to leave. That way, that moment doesn’t surprise you or come upon you too quickly.
4. Write A Letter To Your Child: I have done this for all three of my kids and am so glad I did. Each time I’ve sat down to write them their “Going Off To College Letter From Mom,” I’ve sobbed through the entire thing. Having gotten all the tears going ahead of time makes the moment they walk away from you and into the arms of this new campus, new friends, and new life, so much easier. Don’t save all the things you want to say to them for that split second when their new friends are waiting for them to head to the student center for their first meal together. Don’t wrap your arms around their legs and tell them that the moment of their birth was the best thing that ever happened to you. Don’t, don’t, don’t! Write the letter, and give it to them about a week or so before they go, leaving it up to them to read when they want. Be sure to keep a copy for yourself! I know mine all read it before they left, and I also noticed that they all packed it when they went. Knowing that they know how much they mean to me is enough to make me feel good about letting them head into their new lives. So say it all in advance in writing. It helps to make the burning throat and the filling eyes as you exit so much more manageable.
5. Have The Next Time You See Them Marked On The Calendar: My mom always told me that a vacation is more easily ended if you have something to look forward to already planned. The same holds true here. When you are setting up their desk, have in bold letters on their calendar “Parents’ Weekend” or whatever the next occasion where you will see one another will be. Having a date pre-planned gives everyone something to look forward to and makes the time apart seem less overwhelming.
I’m sending my third back for his sophomore year in a few weeks and it’s still hard. On a recent trip to Walmart for some plastic packing bins for him, I had to move my car in the parking lot to a more remote place so that I could sob without too many witnesses. Oy…this parenting thing is exhausting.
So how do you plan to get through the college drop off day? Anything work particularly well for you in the past?
To those doing it for the first time; good luck! Hopefully, some of my ideas might help you to keep off your knees in the parking lot.