Adventures of First Year College Mom – Tip #3 Beware the Addled Dad

In our family, whenever we travel, Doug is what we call the “Cruise Director”. He books lodging and transportation, plans driving routes, makes sure the house is in vacation order and that the car is road ready. He just has a general command of the situation. This held true for our first official college drop off too…or so I thought. 

For the most part, Doug is a pretty steady guy, not prone to emotional highs and lows (except for the usual Type A impatience, frustration and anger) and so sometimes I honestly forget that he has feelings. Terrible, right? I know. I know. Keep reading…you can mentally lecture me later. As we prepared to leave that morning for the school, Doug was his typical, high-intensity self, wishing everything had been done faster (we had plenty of time) and that we had packed less. (I’ll cut him some slack on this one – he is a man living with three women.) After spending an hour trying to fit everything in our four door sedan – which he did  masterfully – he jumped in the front seat, turned the key and…nothing. The battery was dead. Why? Because he had left the radio, interior lights and GPS on the entire time he was packing the car (and my battery is kinda old). I bet some of you have already figured out where the jumper cables were. Of course!  In the trunk, under about 30 pairs of shoes, 75 t-shirts and, well, everything else!

As he worked on digging out the cables and jumpstarting the car, I went inside to grab breakfast, which I suddenly had time to eat. Did I abandon him? Well, have you ever been around Doug when he’s in a hurry and something goes wrong? Best to give the man a little space. A couple minutes later, as I’m walking by the front door shoveling a spoonful of Cinnamon Toast Crunch into my mouth, I heard Jacquelyn say “Woa! Why is it smoking!?” Did I hear her right? Nah. Can’t be. She must be seeing things. Smoke? Silly girl. I was so confident in my cruise director, I just went about my business, enjoying my little breakfast time. When I went back outside, Doug explained that, yes indeed, the car had been smoking. Turns out that because my battery terminals were badly corroded, the red cap to the positive terminal was hidden, and the negative terminal was, for some crazy reason, painted red, Doug mistakenly reversed the charges. Doug. My Doug. Responsible, experienced, alert, cautious, has-jumpstarted-a-car-a-thousand-times Doug, reversed the charges. That is when I started to worry….maybe he is a bit addled after all.

Thankfully, the battery wasn’t damaged and, after Doug corrected the connections, we were able to recharge it. Finally, we were off! Now, this was far from our first drive to her school. Yet somehow, Doug managed to miss the exit. (Sure, I could say “we” missed the exit, but remember: I wasn’t really paying attention because my “cruise director” was supposed to have everything under control.) It’s no surprise that our GPS diverted us into downtown Boston which meant so much traffic and so many stoplights that our average speed was probably something like 12 mph. Show of hands: How many of you want to be trapped in a car with a man who has had the morning this guy’s had? Exactly!

Shortly after we got back on the highway, Christina pointed to our digital gas gauge which displays how many miles we have left before we run out of gas. Here’s what it looked like:  O  – yup. Zero. Zero miles left. There we were, on a highway jammed with August North Shore Weekenders, with virtually no gas in the tank. Trust me when I say that every one of us prayed so loudly and fervently you might have mistaken us for all for Pentecostals. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Pentacostals.) At the next exit, we sat through 3 red lights, staring at the gas station just across the street, fighting off visions of pushing a stalled car and desperately trying to will ourselves through the intersection. So close…so close. Come on, Light! Change! Change! Oh God, please, let us have enough gas. Please!

Well, praise God, we made it! And there was a Subway there too; so God provided gasoline and lunch. And from that point on our trip was fairly “normal”, if you can call anything our family does normal. We arrived at the school and moved all of Jacquelyn’s stuff up to her steamy room on the unairconditioned third floor. I’m not sure where Doug was but I helped get the maintenance people in to fix the broken beds and even had them bunk the beds for us. I could’ve waited for Doug, but by that point I had figured out that he was just, well, not himself. Better to leave it to the professionals. (And by “professionals”, I mean some college kids working maintenance.) Sometime later, Doug arrived with a refrigerator from a nearby Wal-Mart (is that where he was?) – one with a real freezer to fit the ever important pints of ice cream. What a guy! It will come as no surprise that he had to wait in the check-out line, with a dorm fridge, for over 20 minutes. It was just not his day.

After 4 hours of unpacking and organizing, we said good-bye to Jacquelyn and Emily (her roommate and friend from church), but only for the night. They were off to orientation meetings and we were off to find dinner. Do you find it odd that the school sent us off campus for dinner at 5 and then wanted us back at 7:30 for a dessert reception? Traffic was so horrendous that by the time we checked into our hotel and had dinner it was 8:00! We had our first dinner without Jacquelyn at Bertucci’s in Peabody. Sure, we’ve had dinner without her before…but this was official. Oh yeah, and we made a final run to Target for those last few items. Doug bought her a pink and black tool kit. Such a dad thing to do! But seriously, every girl should have her own tool kit. And, no, we never did make it back for the dessert reception. Man, school hadn’t even started and I was skipping already.

The next morning we were due on campus by 8:45 a.m. for an official welcome, after which we spent a very busy day taking care of business – bank accounts, job applications, etc. We closed the day with the school’s Commitment Ceremony and a speech wrought with all sorts of sentimental images – like the first time your child went off to school, or learned to ride a bike, or what it will be like to set the table with one less plate. My goodness…just stick a knife in my heart, why don’t ya? Was this guy trying to make us cry?

Saying good-bye was rough but Jacquelyn cried so hard that I couldn’t cry at all; I was just too worried about her. Doug didn’t cry either, but it was difficult for him to actually get in the car and drive. He stayed and watched her go until she walked completely out of his sight. Christina? She could have filled a bucket with her tears. As a reward for our long days and heavy hearts, we drove to Cape Ann to walk along the beach and then visited Rockport. We watched the sunset from a little cafe where we had dinner. We also bought Christina a sparkly butterfly ring and ice cream, which cheered her up sufficiently. And what about Doug? Well, after dinner and a coffee he drove us home. No dead batteries. No missed exits. No empty gas tanks. Just our very own cruise director back at the helm.

Tip #3 – Beware the Addled Dad – Just because your husband is all business about this college thing – you know, writing the checks, lamenting about how the payments are gonna destroy your retirement, making sure she has all her legal paperwork, setting up her bank account, buying her a hammer and an allen wrench – remember, that somewhere deep inside, this is shaking up his world, even if he doesn’t know it yet. I suspect this is even more true for dads of daughters. After all, it’s his job to protect his little girl, and now what’s he to do when she’s out from under his roof, living among strangers in a strange place? So be kind, be patient and be prepared. You never know when you might need to fix a broken bed, remind him to stop for gas or just squeeze his hand and tell him it’s all gonna be alright.

Adventures of a First Year College Mom – Tip #2

I knew it would be crazy – this last summer before college. Summer’s always a little crazy for us anyway. But this summer, with the shopping and paperwork and all of the “lasts” – the last visit with this friend, the last visit with that friend, the last sleepover with discipleship group, the last trip to Sonic, the last night watching Suits and Gilmore Girls, the last drive in her car, the last late night bedroom dance party, the last trip to Tulmeadow for ice cream, the last dinner with grandparents – this summer left me not only exhausted, but emotionally drained. And by drained, I mean sucked dry like an Oklahoma creekbed during the dustbowl. “Tired” doesn’t even begin to describe how I feel.

Looking back, however, I am so grateful for the last couple of weeks we had together. First, Jacquelyn stopped working two weeks before she left, in part so that she could be more available for Faith Quest, our church’s summer camp. I had mixed emotions about Faith Quest happening just a week before she left, but as one of the directors I had to be there; and in the end it was a blessing. As a family, we had little choice but to spend every night together and we ended up enjoying a shared experience. Then, each night we went home (usually after some McFlurry’s) and stayed up late talking….or making rice krispie treats and watching Rudolph the Red-Nose Reindeer. (No, I have no explanation for that.)  In past years, Faith Quest has sometimes been a strain on our family, but this year I believe we had more joy than ever.

The last week before the big move, Doug and I both took some time off work and I tried to schedule work or personal errands during those hours when Jacquelyn was off having a “last” something with one of her friends. We were trying to protect our time as best we could.  Of course, as often happens, my plans began to fall apart – particularly at work, where Murphy’s Law seemed to be in full force. I fought the urge to flip out or break down and just kept asking God for help, trusting him with the timing and making adjustments as necessary.

We were careful to protect the time we had set aside for dinners with grandparents, visits with neighbors and last minute shopping. I also made some of Jacquelyn’s favorite meals that week (Tomato Basil Pasta Salad, Chicken Fajitas and, of course, Potato Pancakes) and let her order out one night from her restaurant of choice – which ended up being potato pizza from one restaurant and fried pickles from another! Then, I found out that, on her own, she had decided to devote her last two days entirely to family and packing. She couldn’t have given me a nicer present.

During it all, I could feel our time together running out.  In some ways, I felt alot like I did when I was pregnant: the time was coming, she needed to go, it was the right thing to do, but, man, was this gonna hurt! I described it to my mother as being on a train I couldn’t get off. I wanted to plan something special but not too sentimental and sad for our last night. After some prayers, a little divine inspiration and God’s good timing, I was able to arrange a suprise visit with our friends-that-are-like-family, the Davidsons, at Tulmeadow Farm. Jacquelyn knew we were having ice cream, but she didn’t expect to see her friends there…in fact, they had just flown back that day from a trip to Texas, so she wasn’t expecting to see them before she left for college at all! She was surprised and so happy. We enjoyed our ice cream and sat around talking and laughing until it was dark out. It was perfect.

We finished the night off by driving to Doug’s old childhood home in West Simsbury and letting the girls climb on the big rock on the cul-de-sac green, one of their favorite places to play when visiting their grandparents before they moved. On our way home, we drove around with the windows down, blaring our family songs and singing along. Last year, while on our cross country trip, the song Don’t Stop Believin’ by Journey kind of became our theme song (mostly due to the line “it goes on and on and on and on”) but since then, it has kind of stuck. We also listened to Party in the USA, The Gambler and Sweet Caroline. The good news is that the sun had set and we were moving, so noone could see us our hear us!

While driving along with my hand out the window in the wind, I suddenly felt like we were on our cross country trip again. I was instantly reminded of all those days and nights on the road together, of all the amazing things we saw and did together. Suddenly, I was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude.  I’ll admit, I had fun driving around and singing in the car that night, but thank goodness the music was loud…that way noone noticed when I was too choked up to sing. “Come on, Nichole, it’s OK, enjoy these moments. Enjoy them,” I told myself.

We went home to some last minute packing, a little disco dance party in Jacquelyn’s room (um, without Doug, that is) and the new episode of Suits. I was amazed, utterly amazed, at the gift of time God had given us that night…that week…that summer…last summer…her whole life. What a joy it has been to have her with us these last 18 years. What a gift.

So Tip #2: Take, Make and Enjoy the Time – Time is a gift. Give yourself, your son or daughter and your family the gift of time. And when, like me, you find things falling apart all around you and can’t figure out how you are going to get everything done, say a prayer and let God, the creator and keeper of time, empty your days of what doesn’t matter and fill them with what is important.

Adventures of a First Year College Mom

So seriously, who’s idea was college anyway? Who ever thought: Gee, let’s take hundreds, if not thousands, of teenagers from the safety of their homes and put them all together in one place for months on end? Where was that guy’s level headed friends? (Yes, I am assuming it was a guy.) One would think that the mere mention of such an idea would have been enough to raise a red flag in the mind of most reasonable adults – or at least anyone who has ever raised, seen or been near a teenager. Common sense must have been out of town that day – or no

one envisioned co-ed college in the 21st century –  and soon enough, places were being built to house the hoardes of maturing youngsters.

But what kind of place? Of course, it must one that is perpetually too small for them, that always has too little housing for its guests, and whatever rooms are available offer just a few feet more than than square footage to person ratios of Manila, Phillipines. As for the ratio of showers, toilets and sinks to a student…well, I’m pretty sure you can find more favorable numbers at your nearest prison. To top that off, these same students – the ones living like chickens on a Perdue farm – are then hired by the college to make and serve food in the cafeteria…to one another… Are you getting the picture? I have not even described all other manner of closeness that might occur on a campus full of young adults, but if we’re being real – and you know I like to be real – we can’t ignore the possibilities.  All that (and trust me, I’ve barely scratched the surface) and it’s no wonder students must now recieve nearly enough vaccinations to gain them admittance into a third world country before any college will allow them to move in!

Oh, and did I mention, that all this can be yours for the low, low price of say….$40,000/year?

Photo by John Phelan

Photo by John Phelan

Wow. I’m not even sure what else to write about. That just sort of says it all doesn’t it? But no, there’s more. I never get off the hook that easy…and neither do you. I’ve just decided…seriously, like right now…to report our college initiation adventures, along with some tips for you moms and dads out there, in segments. Otherwise, this post will be way too long and neither you nor I really want to deal with that. Besides, I’m tired and I want to go to bed. So here’s your first tip:

Tip #1 ~ Don’t think about it too much. See how thinking gets me into trouble? If not, I have to wonder if you were paying any attention at all. Just read that first paragraph again! That is a glimpse into the brain of someone who thinks too much. What unhealthy wandering! And look, now I’ve subjected you to it. Goodness gracious – learn from me! Think less and PRAY MORE! Prayer – the solace of every parent who has finally realized she can not control her child’s life; and your best access to the One who can bring you peace, even if your daughter is living on Cheez-its, sleeping 4 hours a night and residing in the same building as 100 testosterone charged men. Yes, think less…PRAY MORE!