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Redefining the annual collegiate tradition
By Shelley Murphy
Last Friday I followed the “Parents’ Weekend” signs lining the grass guiding me toward the middle of campus to the university’s welcome tent.
Waiting in line, I overheard excited parents picking up passes to dine in campus cafeterias, attend sunset lawn picnics, feast at breakfast receptions, join library excursions and visit information booths.
A seasoned smile crept across my face as I watched parents stuff their bursting bags with schedules, tickets and maps. Three Octobers ago I was that parent.
I scoured the slick invitation to attend our older son’s freshman Parents’ Weekend. I fell for the carefully-crafted words promising a memorable visit. I registered our family for every reception, meal and tour offered. My son, however, did not share my enthusiasm for early morning activities and skipped most events.
Determined not to repeat my rookie mistake, this October I resisted the brochure’s temptation to join picture perfect parents and smiling students bonding over barbequed burgers. I signed up only for functions my freshman son would attend—the pre-game buffet and football game.
Tickets in hand and back in the car, we pulled up alongside the curb of my younger son’s dorm. My husband and I waited for him to emerge from his residence hall. Three years ago, I begged my older son to meet us inside the dorm; he suggested skipping his room, but I persisted.
I should’ve listened. There are some things that can’t be unseen. I recommend remembering the dorm room from move-in day—clean, organized and odor-free.
As we waited, my husband marveled how I’d survived our son’s August move-in and the college’s request to refrain from visiting during the first six weeks of school while students adjust to college life.
I sat silent. During orientation, I heard university officials instruct parents not to visit the first six weeks. But I can’t help it if my son underestimated the nice clothing he’d need for fraternity rush and club interviews. Maybe I made a couple of covert deliveries to his dorm. Sure, I could’ve mailed the items, but my mailman is busy juggling all of my Amazon orders.
My husband, who has never met a direction he didn’t follow, hadn’t seen our son in six weeks. As our son approached, my husband smiled and said, “He looks older.” I frowned and said, “He looks tired.” He hopped in the car and began enthusiastically talking—and coughing.
My husband quizzed our son about fraternity rush, the best part of college (“doing what I want when I want”) and the worst (“doing laundry”). Driving to lunch, I asked how much he’s sleeping and how long he’s been coughing.
I flashed back to my older son’s freshman year living in a dorm. The first semester in a dorm is similar to the first weeks in a preschool classroom—energetic runny-nosed kids touching everything and everyone, sharing meals, skipping sleep and catching colds.
Finishing his sandwich, my son admitted to not feeling well and sleeping only four hours the previous night. We ditched the trip back to campus and detoured to our hotel room where our son slept for hours.
I watched my son nap, as I had after a morning of preschool. I remembered his little, curled-up body clinging to his faithful stuffed friend. Now my lanky son lay rigid, hugging the edge of a king size bed—the effect of wedging onto a dormitory twin mattress. Watching my son’s chest rise and fall, I pined for preschool and dreamed of turning back time.
Our weekend soon fell into a peaceful pattern—eat, sleep, repeat. We traded long lines at the buffet and a loud stadium of 30,000 people for the solitude of room service and our family cheering the football team to victory on television.
Sunday afternoon arrived and we hadn’t participated in one school sanctioned event; we didn’t meet his new friends, nor see his classrooms on campus. Instead, we experienced something not offered in the Parents’ Weekend brochure—uninterrupted hours reconnecting with our son and the most memorable Family Weekend.
Shelley Murphy has lived in San Clemente with her husband and two sons for the past 14 years. She’s a freelance writer and contributor to the SC Times since 2006.