My daughter survived her first year of college. She ventured up to the Pacific Northwest with high hopes and blind fortitude. I like to think that I survived it too, but that sounds so egocentric. It was her year, not mine. The truth is, it was a learning experience for both of us.
I don’t consider myself a helicopter parent (those who know me can either laugh or roll their eyes), but I do come from a long line of worriers. So my hands might have been a little more on than off. On the other hand (no pun intended) I had the intention of simply being an “ears on” parent. I would listen, and offer guidance when asked, but not bestow solutions unsolicited. I’d have to give myself a D on that in retrospect. I was way too full of suggestions; “find a study group,” “why don’t you go kayaking with a group,” “is there a Temple up there?”
I think my freshman and I both had fantasies of what the first year of college would be like. I pictured her in a dorm with life long friends, the occasional party (with beer even though she wasn’t 21), Friday night films in the dining hall, study dates in the library and occasional forays into the great Pacific Northwest with outdoorsy groups sponsored by the University. (Her fantasies were probably different, but this is my story.)
It wasn’t like that. From the day we moved her in, it was clear that reality was entirely otherwise. I could tell that she and her roommate were different kinds of people. It turned out they had nothing in common. The occasional beer parties turned out to be vodka parties. She and I quickly adapted a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. There were long walks into the great Pacific Northwest woods all right, but they weren’t university outings. They were midnight romps, and I could only hope that she was never alone, and that the bogey man murderers were already asleep by then.
Friendships, which usually came easily to her, were starting to be more difficult. She went from a 1,500 student body high school to a 14,000 underclassmen state university. You can get lost amongst 14,000 people. At first she did. And that was hard for her. It was hard for me to hear. To the left and right of me I was hearing other parents wax euphoric on their offsprings’ successes, “Oh, Sally is doing great at her college, she loves it, it’s amazing.” I was happy for them, but wondering, don’t any of your kids get homesick? Don’t any of them find the rigors of college to be more challenging than they’d anticipated? Don’t you ever worry?
But comparing kids is fruitless. It only matters what my kid’s experience was. Towards the middle of the year, some of the issues started sorting themselves out. She moved to a different dorm and made a few new best friends. She took classes that were of greater interest, and eventually realized the calorie count of vodka. I started hearing about how often she went to the campus gym. Since I could visualize where that was, and the lighted path that led to it, I felt better.
By the end of the year, when I helped her pack her things and head for home, I saw that she had lots and lots of good souls to hug goodbye. She stored some supplies with them for next year’s off campus apartment. I walked the Arboretum path with her and felt better about its lack of obvious bogeymen. She assured me she would never, ever, ever walk it by herself at night. I vowed to do better next year, being an ear only and not a tongue. Listener, not solver.
College yielded some valuable lessons — for both of us. It’s always a learning curve with kids. Next year she gets to be a sophomore. The word itself means wise fool. I’m counting on the wiser part, for both of us.