Every August and September for the last twenty-four years, I've been helping students transition to college – adjusting to the dorms, going through orientation, helping them understand academic requirements and what it will be like to leave their parents. This fall was a little different: the student heading off to college was my own daughter. I thought I knew what to do – how to act, what to say, how to feel. HA! Little did I know.
My daughter, Lily, is an only child and very close to my husband and me – we are a happy trio. During the summer, she started to get bit of an attitude with us (well, with me mostly). I thought, “This is fine. This is all part of the normal separation process. Don't take it personally.” And that was fine, until I started to take it personally and got irritated (and sad). Instead of our last few months together as a fun family, she and I were sniping and glaring at each other. We were saved by the Pixar movie, Brave. If you haven't seen it, it's all about the relationship between a very strong-willed mother and daughter who learn to value and appreciate each other. Thank you, Disney, for the timely intervention! The summertime was also when I had to learn to stop the hug first. I'm always the one who keeps the hug going longer than she wants it to; I had to leave her wanting more.
Lily was headed to UC Davis, which is where Dave and I both attended college. I still work for UC Davis; I run the College OPTIONS scholarship program and my job is to be aware of campus resources so I can help my students get connected, use resources and maximize their college experience. My entire job is essentially communicating to students the who, what, where and when of college. Listening to the presenters talk about resources and opportunities for my own child was exciting...and confusing. How do I help my child make use of these resources without being the overbearing helicopter parent? I'm erring on the side of minimal input (after all, Lily has picked up a lot of information about resources considering EVERY dinner conversation for her entire life has revolved around college).
The end of summer meant packing up and moving down to college. Did I refrain from offering oh-so-helpful suggestions about getting in touch with her new roommates? No (she already had). Did I refrain from commenting about how much stuff she was packing, and remember, you are in a triple and space is limited? No (a ridiculous amount of stuff). Did I refrain from wanting to take over the entire packing process? Yes (but only barely). I was starting to go into logistics mode about move-in day when I had a flash of brilliance. I asked Lily, “What do YOU want move-in day to look like?” And she told us.
Move-in day was a blur. So many people, so many boxes, so many flights of stairs (yes, Virginia, there was an elevator, but it was as slow as dial up in 1992). All too soon lunch was over and we were dropping her off in the parking lot for the final good-bye so she could head upstairs and start unpacking her new life. The hug was brief; I wasn't the one who stopped hugging first.
The first week was much harder than I thought it would be. Because the first week of college is jam-packed with orientation activities to help the students meet each other and get to know campus (and keep them out of trouble before classes start), we didn't hear from Lily for a couple of days. Now, when I attended college, I called my mom maybe every 3-4 weeks (long distance was expensive!). Over the last few years, I've asked students and their parents how frequently they talked (or texted) and most said “oh, every day, or every other day.” Internally, I scoffed. I thought, “Sheesh, those are long apron strings. Oh my word, let them go!” And at the end of day two, I found myself texting Lily these words, “Lily, apparently I'm taking this a little harder than I thought I would and I need you to text me. Every day, preferably, just for a little bit and then maybe you can wean me to every other day, and then after a couple of weeks we can see how I'm doing.”
And now? We text just about every day. (Feel free to scoff.)
Part 2 coming soon: "Coming Home for the Holidays".
Buffy Tanner has worked in various roles at College OPTIONS since its inception in 2003. It is a partnership of 12 education-related organizations and The McConnell Foundation, which seeks to strengthen the college-bound culture in Shasta and Siskiyou counties, and to help students and families make informed decisions about post-high school educational opportunities.