What I Learned at Orientation
I just spent a few days at child #1’s college orientation, desperately trying to fit in with the cool kids (the other parents) so that I wouldn’t have to eat alone in the dining hall. But this whole post begs a question: for those of you who went away to college, did you have an orientation? Was it three days in July or two hours before class started in late August? Did your parents attend? Did they even want to?
I joke with my daughter that yes, my parents did drive me to Orientation and upon our arrival on campus, slowed the car down just enough so that I could grab my belongings out of the trunk—encased in black plastic garbage bags—and head into the dorm to figure out where my room was, who my roommate was and if this was even the right school. Yes, they waved lovingly as they drove off in search of the local steak house where they would have the last meal they would ever eat in a restaurant, at least until they got the four of us through college.
Orientation today is different, part summer camp, part boot camp. I think it’s great for kids who have chosen a college based only on one formal tour and perhaps a drive through at a different time; there really is no way to get a feel for what it will be like to go to college and live away from home unless you do an intense dry run in which you stay in the dorms and are thrown together with a diverse group of people who you may never have met in your regular life but with whom you will now be living and learning, and hopefully playing a little bit. (But just a little bit. College does not come cheap these days.) Husband and I chose not to stay in the dorms as some other parents did, as we are close enough—and far enough away—to have commuted back and forth to Orientation. Did we learn anything we didn’t already know? Maybe not. But we made some good friends in the other parents, one of whom I will be having dinner with in a few weeks, and we had a chance to be voyeurs and see our kids in their new environment with their new classmates and friends.
Although it is presumably for the students, there is a strong parent component running through the program and while husband and I chose not to participate in a lot of it (parent lip-synching anyone? Can you think of a quicker way for your child to die an immediate social death?) we did stay for the important stuff, like residence life and the financial talk. We only caught glimpses of child #1 as she processed from one activity to the other and in those few moments, we ascertained that she had 1) made friends and 2) seemed to be enjoying herself. As far as I was concerned, Orientation was a success.
When I posted about this on Facebook, I got a variety of responses ranging from “My parents wouldn’t leave my dorm room for hours on move-in day!” to “Your parents dropped you off? Mine sent me on the bus” which is a testament to the diversity in styles that existed in the old days when I and my friends went to school. These days, it would seem, parents want to be involved from morning until night if some of the talks we heard were any indication. Many of them centered around tips for dealing with separation—not child from parents but parent from child! Times have certainly changed; rather than parents longing for the day when they will be empty nesters—and we still have five years to achieve that goal—they now long for the time when their kids were still small and living at home. I don’t know; I guess I fall somewhere in between. I remember college being as one of the most rewarding and enriching times of my life; every wonderful thing that has happened to me can be traced back to my time there. It was a time when the world really opened up to me and I started to figure out my place in it. I hope the same is true for my confident, smart, and successful daughter, who clearly doesn’t have as far to go as I did at her age but will more than likely do great things.
And that’s something I already knew before I went to Orientation.