by Shelley Murphy
August signals the end of summer, and the signs seem to be everywhere as students receive recorded telephone messages from school principals announcing packet pickup and registration dates; and Village Books struggles to stock required summer reading for procrastinating students.
This fall, I’ll send a sophomore to San Clemente High and a freshman to college. It’s a threshold I’m admittedly unprepared to cross, so I’ve been searching websites for suggestions to cope. So far, my favorite site suggests substituting the word “camp” for college until it’s possible to say “college” without spontaneously bursting into tears.
Needing a break from my incessant Internet searches, last week I volunteered to distribute registration packets. We passed out packets to seasoned senior students and panicky freshman parents.
I empathized with the fearful freshman moms; just two weeks ago, I anxiously attended a college orientation for the class of 2016.
The orientation began with parents and students being ushered into a huge lecture hall on the college campus. Then, after a brief introduction, officials separated students from parents for the remainder of the program – goodbyes quickly became the theme.
During our parent session, speakers welcomed us, but they also warned us: Your child is no longer a child– he or she is an adult and it’s time to back off. My husband insists they said it nicer, but that’s what I heard.
They explained that federal laws prohibit the university from dispensing any information about our adults without written permission—this includes semester grades, health records and disciplinary interventions.
At that point one poor parent piped-up, “But I’m paying for his tuition?” Tough. Federal privacy laws prevail.
We were told that our kids — excuse me, young adults — would register for fall classes during their afternoon session while we attended a lecture appropriately entitled “Money Matters.”
Immediately, one mom shot her hand into the air and made a mammoth rookie mistake, “Can I go into the computer lab during registration to help my daughter?” University officials cringed and again reminded us orientation is a good time to establish independence.
At noon, we reunited with our young adults in the quad to find boxed lunches and an information fair. My son gravitated toward the International Student Education Abroad booth. I calmly suggested he focus on his first semester outside the county before he set his sights on leaving the country.
Secretly, I told my husband that our son will find dorm life completely foreign. I also whispered it’s callous to have a Study Abroad booth at orientation and suggested we find the booth that pours salt into our gaping, wounded hearts. After an hour of togetherness, the university did what it does best and separated us from our young adults, again.
We returned to our lecture hall, and this time we were told parent involvement plays a critical role in student academic success and that our partnership is crucial. Finally, I thought, this is more like it. But, as they talked, it became clear that our role is one of a silent partner.
We can call, but not too often.
We can provide care packages, but not hand delivered.
We can be supportive of their grievances, but not intervene on their behalf.
And we can visit – in six weeks.
After six weeks of school, which coincidentally marks the most critical period of adjustment, we’re invited back for the annual Family Weekend.
It had to be the cruelest oxymoron of the day: If the first six weeks are the most critical, then waiting 42 days, or 1,008 hours, to visit makes no sense. Of course, my son will need me during those crucial six weeks. Won’t he?
Eventually, orientation ended. My son completed his registration and induction into college life. My husband and I heard policies, procedures and pleas to embrace pathetic platitudes, such as: “Change is inevitable” and “The best thing a parent can do is give a child wings.” Blah, blah, blah. I know all this, and I’m tired of hearing it—it doesn’t make it hurt any less.
In a couple weeks, my son will trade his Toyota truck and home cooking for a trolley pass and meal plans. And, me, I’ll start mailing care packages and crossing off days on the calendar until we can visit our son at camp.