Setting free the freshmen.

Guess what’s not coming together? That would be the Literary Criticism paper. I’ve been staring at a blank screen for hours today, and have produced two paragraphs thus far, both of which are mediocre at best.  So….

On to other things!

Today I’m at a freshman orientation session at a large, very highly-regarded public university. Beautiful place, great people, stellar academics…but oh my Lord, the hand-holding that goes on at college these days! Remember your own college orientation (if your school even bothered to have one)? Your parents slowed the car to a crawl, you grabbed your stuff and rolled out, found your dorm by asking ten different people for directions, and generally just figured things out.

This terrifying statistic can be explained by the fact that 90% of today’s college freshmen are still nursing….

At my undergrad, we stood in a line miles long in a hot, stuffy gymnasium to register for classes — the poor professors (tenure be damned) were at rickety desks, sweating profusely in their tweed jackets. If you wanted to be in a particular class, you inched along for hours until you reached the front of the line, where you begged for a signature on your registration card, which, if you were a freshman, you generally didn’t get. Then you joined a new line.  The whole process took a hundred hours and was miserable and often times you’d get a signature only to realize that the only section open didn’t work with your schedule at all and you had to start all over again. It was exhausting and nerve-wracking, but you figured it out because you had no other choice.

young man.jpg
A typical freshman, the morning registration opened.

When I was a Junior, my university got a telephone registration system. This meant getting a busy signal for approximately 82 hours, then finally getting through, inputting a series of NASA-level numerical codes, registering for one class, and then having the system disconnect for no apparent reason. Our phone system’s name was Caroline, and the day after she debuted, the headline of the campus paper was CAROLINE IS A REAL BITCH.  That about summed it up.

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The same freshman, at the end of the registration period. 

In case you do not have college aged kids, I will share with you a cold, hard fact: This is NOT how college works now. Your college freshman is no longer required to think for his or herself, much less experience more than thirty seconds of being uninformed or — God forbid — unsure. Furthermore, YOU, dear mom and dad, are expected to participate in the orientation experience. Hooray!!!


Is this the line where I tell you exactly what my child needs in order to be happy and fulfilled on a minute to minute basis? 

I participated for an hour and a half this morning, by which I mean I bought us breakfast at the bookstore and kept up a running snarky commentary. After that, I bailed, with my son’s blessing. He doesn’t need his mommy tagging along through orientation, because (1) he is far more intelligent than I’ll ever be, and (2) he is far more resourceful than I ever was.

But to say I was the exception was an understatement. The other four hundred parents were gung-ho, making friends, setting up carpools, making plans for Parents Weekend, taking selfies in front of campus signs, buying everything that wasn’t nailed down in the bookstore, and waiting impatiently to ask anyone with an official looking shirt who would be holding the hoof of their special unicorn for the next four years. It was exhausting.

After I got back to the hotel, I took a glance at the Parent Handbook I received in my super-nifty Parent Portfolio. Clocking in at 35 pages, it was full of really helpful FAQs, some of which I’ve reproduced (and answered) here for you, as a public service. (You’re welcome):

What if my child is unhappy with his or her schedule? You mean the fact that there’s not a cookie break and a nap built in? Tell him to man the f*ck up and find somebody with the authority to change the schedule, rather than bitch to mommy about it.

What if my child doesn’t like his or her roommate?  This is a given. As any married person in Manhattan will confirm, sharing a small space with another human being is a fast track to Murderville. By Fall Break, your student will have spent far more hours fantasizing about ways to hide the roommate’s body than studying — and this is especially true of the high school “besties” your baby has arranged to room with. This is natural, and the upside is that suddenly, your house won’t seem like such a horrible place.(*Editorial note: Once in awhile, the stars align and you get an amazing roommate, as I did my sophomore year. If this happens to your child, he or she should treasure this person forever).

How do I talk to my son or daughter about drinking on campus? First, open your mouth and force air over your vocal cords. That’s step one to talking. Then tell your college freshman that there are certain rules that must be obeyed:

  • 1) Wine coolers, fruity drinks, frozen drinks, drinks made out of fermented Gummi Bears, or served out of watermelons…these are all verboten. Not because they’re alcohol, but because they’re an abomination unto the Lord and shouldn’t exist.
  • 2) At some point in your college career, you will be offered a Solo cup of something ladled out of a trash can. Every school calls this concoction something different. We called it Purple Jesus, and this is the same god you’ll be praying to as you hang over the toilet in the wee hours of the morning. It’s a rite of passage, but you only need to do it once.
  • 3) Learn to have fun responsibly. It’s neither necessary nor desirable to get paralyzed drunk. Nobody wants to cart your sorry ass home on a regular basis, or make sure you’re safe, or hold your hair back, or run interference when you decide to argue with the campus police. Don’t be that guy, and for God’s sakes, don’t be that girl.
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Part of the College Student Food Pyramid, from my favorite college bar.

Here’s the thing, fellow parents: if you’ve been micromanaging your kids’ lives, so far up in their shizzle that they’ve gone underground in order to have a personal life, you can bet they’ve been lying to you about most everything — drinking included. (Also sex, who their friends are, and what they really want to do with their lives).

It’s time to back off, Mom and Dad. Let your baby learn to fly — which will likely involve falling out of the nest a few times, and possibly also hitting a few windows. But they’ll survive. You did, after all!

So really, the only question in that Orientation FAQ ought to be: What’s the best way to help my child thrive in college? 

Answer: Go home, and let the little darling figure it out.

That’s all. Back to the Lit Crit paper!




5 thoughts on “Setting free the freshmen.

  1. This is awesome! I had the same orientation experience in 1981 at RMC. In our old gym, which was a dark, damp old building that had the smell of dirty gym cloths embedded in the wood. I almost went home that day, because (1) I had no clue what courses I wanted to take; (2) other than English 101, I had no idea what any of them even were. Soviet Systems……really? WTF, I’m a freshman from a school whose graduating class could fit in one classroom here. But thankfully, my parents were as clueless as I was and they piled in the car and headed home as soon as the last Tri Star paper bag full of cloths was tucked into my room. Your blog brought back a lot of funny memories. I am most certain your boys will thrive at their respective universities, because they will get the rolling stop and drop treatment like we did!!! Thanks for another excellent message.


    1. Oh no, I’m totally moving in with them. Gonna live in the dorm, make their beds, tuck them in at night, check that they’ve done their homework and have eaten their vegetables…all the stuff they haven’t needed me to do for 18 years…
      Love the TriStar bags — does this mean your clothes smelled like fried chicken for the first month?! Thanks for reading!


  2. Catching up on your blog posts and absolutely love this one! C and J’s class registration was nothing like the nightmare I had to endure at FSU many moons ago. We need to catch up and swap stories about our freshmen sometime soon!


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