Parenting 101

So… I survived.


College orientation — when you are not the 18-year-old being orientated — can really put you through the wringer. Things hadn’t even officially started before I faced the first true test of keeping my shit together. We’d just gotten my daughter’s dorm room assignment, 110B, when we came face-to-face with the 18-year-old MALE in a water polo jacket who was also assigned to the bunkbed in 110B.


“Um, I know they have unisex bathrooms in some of the dorms but this doesn’t seem right,” I said to the kid’s mom.

She looked right at me. “He’s a good kid, but I wouldn’t let my daughter share a room with him.”

Yeeeeaaaahhhh, me neither.

We marched back down to sign-in where the jolly young man in a green Hawaiian shirt laughingly said, “My bad!” and gave her the key to 111B. Our second stop was student health, where I got my new pacemaker installed.

Things didn’t get any better….

The orientation came off not so much as a get-to-know-the-school event as it did a scared-straight intervention for helicopter parents, who were made fun of incessantly. I laughed right along with everyone else, knowing that I wasn’t one, but even us chill normcores were taken aback by the presentations.

It didn’t help that the earnest, pop-y music piped in through the speakers before each session seemed primed to trigger our tear ducts.

“You were my September song, summer lasted too long
Time moves so slowly when you’re only fifteen
You were my September song, tell me where have you gone?”

I know it’s a song about first loves, still… It struck me as particularly poignant and made me nostalgic about how quickly time passes and I was crying before the first presenter made it onstage.

Then, there was the movie, made by the college’s drama students, about the dangers of excessive drinking leading to alcohol poisoning and even though you knew one of those shiny Intro to Drama 103 students was totally gonna die, it still didn’t keep your heart from racing, knowing that as melodramatic as the situation on-screen was, it was also exactly the kind of party your kid would go to at some point freshman year.

The city fire chief, who was funny and engaging and down-to-earth, also scared the crap out of us. He flashed up chilling slides intended to spur serious conversations with our almost-out-of-the-nest chickadees: the demolished house with a roof that collapsed after too many drunk kids climbed up on it (off-campus party during an event called St. Fratty’s Day; no deaths but one girl had her thigh impaled  by a chunk of wood), a kid making like a human speed bump in the middle of a downtown street and captured on a police officer’s dash cam. Guess what he’d been doing to excess?

By the time the folks from counseling services came to talk sexual assault and depression, I needed a stiff drink.

The takeaways:

• Don’t just call — Skype or FaceTime so that you can see the bloodshot eyes and surroundings for yourself. Said that nice fire chief: “If they sound drunk or stoned or hungover, that’s because they are.”

• Your actions now determine how many time zones away your adult child, and his or her children, will move to get far from you.

• Get used to feeling left out and helpless.

Yeah…. If you weren’t a helicopter parent before, this orientation would almost guarantee you’d morph into one. All of a sudden, online college classes from behind a locks-from-the-outside bedroom door with a slobbery, 130-pound guard dog in the backyard and GPS tracking in an implanted chip in a back tooth didn’t seem that overly protective.

Though freshmen and their supporters were both required to attend, we were separated and whisked off to different presentations. When No. 1 and I had a chance to meet up and compare notes, she hadn’t seen any of the same explicitly scary stuff that I had.

“Why would they do that? You guys are already freaked out,” she said.

So true.

I trust my kid implicitly. Her dad and I have had all kinds of frank discussions about the serious stuff, and I even dragged her to a two-day self-defense course so I’m not so much worried about her decision-making as I am about the other 19,999 students on campus.

College is a real-life trust fall. You know, that icebreaker game that calls for you to fall backward and someone you don’t know is expected to keep you from smacking into the concrete and cracking your skull? Except in this case, I have to hope that all those seemingly nice college administrators really are as empathetic and cool and nonjudgmental as they seem and will look after my firstborn child — and keep her far, far away from that kid in the water polo jacket.



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