I got a text from a friend today about her child’s college decision. I was excited for the kid, who’s an all-around excellent human being, but I had to laugh when the mom followed up that text by asking, “Hey, didn’t you write something about going to college orientation? I’d love some advice about how to make the most of it.”
Ummm….yeh. I wrote something. I’m not sure it’s the advice you’re looking for, but here here you go.
Last summer, I attended freshman orientation 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 (nine of whom recognized you as a dumb-ass freshman and purposefully sent you the wrong way), and figured things out. On your own.
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!) sat 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 the grouchy professor for a signature on your registration card. If you were a freshman, the answer was usually NO. Then you moved to a new line, with a new professor wondering why he thought teaching was a good idea.
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.
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 was an understatement.
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 him or herself, much less experience more than thirty seconds of being uninformed or — God forbid — uncomfortable. Furthermore, YOU, dear mom and dad, are expected to participate fully in the orientation experience. Hooray!!!
I participated for an hour and a half, total. By “participate,” I mean I bought us breakfast at the bookstore and kept up a running snarky commentary about the other parents who were snapping up anything and everything with the college logo on it: dog toys, raincoats, kitty condos, socks, floormats, toothbrushes, notebooks, silverware, hair ribbons, gardening tools, deodorant, candy bars, lighter fluid, chewing gum. Seriously.
After breakfast, I bailed, with my son’s blessing. He didn’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, 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 glanced 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 here for you. Mind you, these answers differ slightly from the Handbook.
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 do something about it, rather than bitch to mommy.
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.
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.
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 your bottom dollar that they’ve been lying to you about 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.