College Fall Break

College fall break.

This morning, I walked into a local breakfast place and literally ran into a girl my daughter went to high school with. I was surprised to see her, because she is supposed to be in college hundreds of miles away. I’m sure I audibly gasped before giving her a big hug. She quickly explained that she is home for fall break and asked, “When is Milly’s fall break?” I replied, “She doesn’t get one.” Her eyes widened and she asked, “What? I thought everyone did!” Well, my daughter doesn’t.

When we moved her into college, I knew she wouldn’t get a fall break. I had already looked ahead at the academic calendar for fall, and I realized that while she doesn’t get a fall break, she does get a full week for Thanksgiving, which I think is ideal. I thought nothing of it. Why does anyone need a fall break, anyway? It never occurred to me that she might need it! Did we have those extra days off when I was in college? I don’t remember.

But she does need a fall break.

As it turns out, it’s midterm exam season, and she is worn out. She was sick with the flu last week. She is ready to come home and sleep in her own bed for a few days, but she doesn’t have a fall break. I’m going down to the football game this weekend, and I thought that might be enough to carry her through to Thanksgiving, but no…she wants to come home for a weekend visit.

So yesterday, I purchased her an airline ticket to come home next weekend. After completing the purchase, I said, “Maybe I should just stay home this weekend, since you’re coming home next weekend?” She said, “No. Please come to the game!” That’s all it took. As soon as I heard those words, I knew I was definitely going. Done! As parents, we know that as our kids get older, every minute with them is valuable, and if she wants some time with me, I’m taking advantage of it. So I’ll be leaving Friday. I’ll return to Charlotte Sunday, and next Friday, I’ll pick her up at the airport in Charlotte. She’s needing some Mama and Daddy time…and that’s OK.

She simply needs a reboot. And she needs to sleep in her own bed. And she needs some of her favorite foods…Mama’s grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup, some roasted veggies, cake batter popcorn (recipe here) and some homemade mashed potatoes…not all at the same time, of course. I’ll be going to the grocery store next Wednesday to make sure we have everything I need to make her favorites. And we will sit outside and have a charcuterie board for dinner Saturday night before she goes out.

I have a friend who has a daughter who is a sophomore at another college, and I vividly remember her telling me that when her daughter was a freshman, she would come home occasionally, and she seemed most excited about sleeping in her own bed. In fact, my friend said her daughter made “snow angels” in her bed the first time she came home from college, saying, “I’m just so happy to be back in my BIG bed!” Those twin beds in college dorm rooms are adequate, but who doesn’t love their own big bed in their own bedroom at home?!? Our daughter has slept in a queen bed in her own room her whole life, so I’m sure she is excited to sleep in her own big bed, with her own blankets and her own sweet dog, who misses her terribly.

So no, she doesn’t get an official fall break. She won’t get an extra two days off to come home, but we will create a fall break for her. She will be home for about 52 hours (the same amount of time I was in labor with her, by the way…don’t ask), and we will try to make it as special as possible. We will try to make her comfortable. We will give her lots of hugs. We will prepare all her favorite foods. And we will just love her. There’s no doubt in my mind that we will be happier than she is that she is home. We are thrilled to have a weekend with her…which will really be just a few hours that we get to see her, but that’s OK. There will be lots of hugs.

And she just called to tell me we will have a bonus! A friend is coming home with her! We will have lots of extra laughs, and I am going to call the friend’s mom right now to find out what her favorite foods are!

They just didn’t want to wait till Thanksgiving. We will welcome them with open arms and help them “reboot” to finish out the weeks till Thanksgiving. Sometimes, college students just need to be loved.

Come home, baby!

College Students/Adult Decisions

College students/adult decisions.

Oh, it’s the Facebook parent page for my daughter’s university again! A parent posted that her son stopped going to class after his computer broke. They are four weeks into the semester, and she is getting him a new computer, but he seems to have given up. The mom doesn’t know what to do to motivate him, and she wonders if maybe she should just cut the losses and bring him home.

Of course, there were lots of suggestions. Some said, “Rent a laptop from the library.” Others said, “Maybe he’s not really ready for college.” Quite a few said, “Maybe you should encourage him to get back in the game. It’s early.” And then, someone said, “When do we let them start making their own adult decisions on their own?” That one made me think.

When do we let them start making their own adult decisions on their own?

That’s a tough question. Should we allow our college students to make their own adult decisions with no input from us, their parents?

The first thing that came to mind for me was, “I’m paying for it. I’m paying a lot of money for our daughter’s college education, so yes, I have input.“ I can have an opinion, and I can tell her what I expect from her. I make no bones about it. Our daughter is very social, so even before she went to college, I stressed to her that while her social life is very important, she has to take care of business first so she can stay in school to enjoy the social aspects. Does that mean she remembers that conversation? Not necessarily, but I ask regularly, “Are you taking care of business?”

Another thing that came to mind about “allowing her to make her own adult decisions on her own” is that I don’t always make adult decisions on my own…and I’m 55 years old! When I was in college, I regularly got my parents’ input about big decisions. Heck…until my parents were dead, I regularly got their input about adult decisions! And now that I don’t have my parents, I often turn to my spouse, other family members, or friends. I get lots of info and do my research before making big decisions. And you know what? I don’t want my college-age daughter getting all her advice or input from other college-aged people. I have always told her it’s good to get input from friends, but she needs to remember their brains aren’t fully developed either. They don’t have any more life experience than she does! I have stressed that she should come to me for advice, because I have a lot more life experience, and I always have her best interest at heart.

Think about it. What are college students like? There are some who do their schoolwork and work toward an educational goal with no distractions or interference. That’s not my child, and honestly, I don’t want her to be that student. There are college students who quickly find a good balance; they enjoy some social time while working hard in school. There are those who play a lot, and the academic part is secondary. And then there are all kinds of students in between.

My daughter falls somewhere in the balance/having fun category. The first semester of college is quite an adjustment! And since she is at an SEC school, football season is a big deal, and she pledged a sorority, which does take some time. I want her to have fun. That’s why I encouraged her to take the easiest classes she could this first semester, so she can learn to manage her time and become accustomed to college. It can take a while for them to learn how it all works! I remember! By my sophomore year, I knew how college worked, and I had a system for “taking care of business” while still having a good time. I think some kids jump in with the hardest classes they can take freshman year, and for some of them, it causes problems/stress. They need some guidance. Mine’s not taking the hardest classes, and she might not even need my guidance, but I “check in” regularly, and I always remind her that I am always ready to help.

She’s almost 19 years old. That means she has less than one year of adulthood experience. Would you hire a lawyer who had one year of experience and no mentors? No. Would you want a surgeon who had one year of experience and no assistance? No. I’m not expecting my almost-19-yr-old to make all her own decisions. In fact, she’s going to get my input whether she wants it or not right now.

So when will I allow her to make adult decisions on her own? She makes some of them on her own every single day. But the big decisions? Personally, I don’t think she really wants to. As long as my husband and I are on this planet, she can come to us. And if it’s something I know nothing about, I will encourage her to go to someone with more knowledge…no doubt. Will I make all her decisions for her? No way. But if I think she is making a bad decision or needs my help, I will let her know it…even from 450 miles away.

I’ve said it a million times…no matter how old they are, their still our “babies.”

I’ve Already Graduated from College

I’ve already graduated from college.

When our daughter was in third grade, she came home one afternoon and asked me to help her with a math problem. She didn’t ask for help often, and I was happy to oblige. I sat down and worked with her, showing her how to do a problem. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” I said, “Well, that’s how I do it. I won the math award in high school…I know what I’m doing.” Again…”that’s not how my teacher does it.” My response? “Then ask your teacher in the morning. I have already passed third grade math.” And honestly, that was the best response for lots of reasons, the main one being that I don’t know how to do “new math.”

It reminded me of my mother when I was in school. I remember asking her for help with geometry, and her response was, “Honey. I don’t remember. That was 30 years ago. I’ve already passed geometry.” And with that, she turned back to continue watching Dynasty, because what Krystle Carrington was wearing was important. At that point in my life, I guess I thought moms retained every bit of math knowledge they had acquired in school. I guess I expected her to be able to recall the Pythagorean theorem on demand…30 years after passing her geometry class. My daughter has not asked me for math help (or any other kind of help in school) since. I guess, if she needed help along the way, she asked a classmate or a teacher.

And now, she is finishing high school in the next few weeks and preparing to leave for college! Exciting times at our house! She is enrolled, but she has lots of things to do before she can go off to college.

Back in the 80s, when I was applying to college and preparing to leave, I did it all. I don’t remember my parents helping me at all. Sure, they paid for everything, but I did all the legwork. I remember brochures and packets coming in the mail from different colleges and universities. My mother put a bag in my room to deal with that. Every day, after the mail arrived, she would bring all the brochures and packets up to my room and drop them into the bag. Every now and then, I would weed through the information and throw away the information from the schools I wasn’t interested in. When I applied to colleges, I simply asked her for checks to mail with the applications. I wrote the checks, and she signed them. I’m not even sure if she knew which schools the checks were going to. And that was OK, because I was the one going to college. She had already graduated from college.

Now, as my daughter is preparing to leave for college, I have joined some Facebook parent pages for her university, which is also my alma mater. I have written about the parent pages before. They are annoying, to say the least. Moms asking how to send baked potatoes to their kids’ dorms. (Not kidding.) Moms asking where their kids should park. (Not kidding.) Moms asking about tutors for their kids. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to do their kids’ schedules. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to drop/add classes. (Not kidding.) Rarely, there is someone who asks a question or shares information that is useful.

Why did I put “not kidding” behind each of those items I listed? I will tell you why: because those are all things the kids should be handling themselves. And do you know why? Because they are the ones going to college. Fortunately, my daughter hasn’t asked me to handle anything for her (I don’t have any login information for her student account). She likely knows I would say, “That’s something you need to figure out like I had to do when I went to college. I’m not going to college; you are. I’ve already graduated from college.” Does it mean I don’t care? No, it means the opposite. It means I care enough to let her do it herself. She needs to learn to solve her own problems. She needs to know how to get her own questions answered. She needs to be responsible for herself. I have full confidence in her, because I have let her figure things out for herself for a long time. Heck, it’s easier for them now than it was when we were in college! Now, all the information they need is on the website!

Back in the good ol’ 1980s, if we had questions about college stuff, we had to search through the university catalog. Or get the university phone book and make some calls to get answers. If we were wondering about where to order a baked potato to have delivered to our dorm, we had to find the yellow pages and look it up. Only, we couldn’t look up “baked potato delivery.” We had to look up restaurants and search for one with an ad for delivery. We also had to have some idea of which ones offered baked potatoes. Or we could walk down the dorm hall asking people if they knew where we could order a baked potato…that often worked. But back in the 80s, our moms were not ordering food to have delivered to us. No way. Honestly, I’m not even sure my mother knew the name of the dorm I lived in freshman year! No joke.

All this also makes me think about something that happened when our daughter was about six years old. My friend, Wendy, and I had taken my 6-yr-old daughter, Wendy’s 6-yr-old son, and my twin 6-yr-old nephews to Great Wolf Lodge one weekend. When we took them to dinner, my daughter was holding her own plate, but standing next to me at the buffet. Wendy’s son was holding his own plate but standing next to her at the buffet. I looked around for my nephews and saw one at the prime rib station, asking the server for a slice of prime rib. The other one was navigating the salad bar on his own. When we sat back down, Wendy and I talked about how awesome it was that they handled it all on their own! I called the nephews’ mom the next day and said, “Wow! They handled the buffet like champs!” And I still remember her response. She said, “That’s what happens when parents ignore their kids. They become self-sufficient.” I laughed, because I knew she didn’t really ignore them, but she didn’t baby them. They handled things for themselves at six! And I learned a valuable lesson. l didn’t ignore my daughter, for sure, but I let her handle things on her own. Those same nephews are off to college this fall too, and I feel sure they can handle anything that comes their way.

When we get my daughter moved into the dorm in August, I will feel pretty sure she can figure things out. She can handle it. She has always been a decision-maker. She is like me; she can make a decision…it might not always be the best one, but she can make a decision, and that is a life skill. Why can she make decisions? Because I have always stepped back to let her make her own decisions. I might present the facts before she makes it, but she makes her own decisions. I’m proud of that, because “the road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” If your kid is about to leave for college, and you haven’t let them make life decisions, you have a few more months to let them practice, so they don’t become a flat squirrel.

I’ve already graduated from college.

College Hiccups

College hiccups can be deciding factors in the admissions process.

Our daughter is a high school senior who plans to matriculate to my college alma mater in the fall. We have paid the enrollment fee. I know lots of people are still deciding. I am on a college parents’ page, and several of my friends are too. We see red flags in some of the posts, so I’m going to share a few here as “cautionary tales.” Every parent/student needs to do their homework beforehand, because stuff happens. There are often things we don’t consider beyond tuition/dorms and usual college stuff, but here are some surprising posts from different college parent pages:

  • “We live across the country. My son is having mental health issues. Can we get a tuition refund?” What the what?!?! I wasn’t the only person who saw red flags on this. The first response was, “You need to stop worrying about a tuition refund and go help your child.” The original poster’s response? “I can’t afford to fly there.” If I could not afford to get to my child in an emergency situation, I would have to reconsider her college. She would need to go closer to home. My daughter needs an advocate in emergencies. Our daughter is going 500 miles away, but we have family and close friends in the area, and we can afford to get there. What to consider: whether the unexpected cost of a last-minute airline ticket would break the bank for you. And please, if your child is having mental health issues (it can happen to anyone), get there as fast as you can.
  • “My daughter joined a sorority, and we thought the dues/fees were all-inclusive. It’s costing way more than we expected.” Anyone considering joining the Greek community needs to know dues/fees don’t include everything. There are hidden costs…t-shirts for every event, tickets for formals, dresses for formals, gifts for bigs/littles, costumes for parties, lettered gear, sorority/fraternity pins…it adds up. If you’re strapped for cash, you want to know the fees/dues before entering the process. At some big southern universities, Greek dues can be $5000/semester for people who don’t live in the house and $10k per semester for those who do. Whereas, at other colleges with smaller or no houses, they can be much lower. For a US News article from November 2021 about this, click here. What to consider: Be sure it isn’t cost prohibitive. It is unfair to a chapter to accept a bid knowing you can’t afford it.
  • “My son forgot to get his necessary prescription refilled. Can someone tell me the name of a pharmacy that makes same-day deliveries?” I get it. I have forgotten to get meds refilled in a timely manner. If your child has a prescription that he/she needs regularly, it is a good idea to check out pharmacies/delivery services on the front end instead of waiting till the “forget” happens. When you visit the college or university, take time to find a pharmacy that would work with him/her…if there is one. It could be a lifesaver…literally. If there isn’t a pharmacy nearby that can help your child on the fly with deliveries of a life/death medication, you might want to think about another school. What to consider: the health of your child.
  • “My child needs a ride to the airport/city, etc. If you have a child driving that way, maybe you can help him out? We are sending our daughter with a car, but if we weren’t, I would do my homework on this. I wouldn’t want her to be dependent on other students for transportation. Sometimes, students need rides. I would research public transportation for rides near campus. For the airport, which is an hour from her college, I would research shuttles/hired cars and expect to pay. I could not expect another student to be my child’s personal airport shuttle; that’s a lot of time/gas/wear and tear. Carpooling is nice for those who have outbound flights at about the same time, but what happens when your child’s return flight is delayed for hours? Expect the other student to wait five or six hours? No. If you’re not sending your child with a car, check college/university web pages for travel information. They often list airport shuttles/car services/taxi companies. What to consider: Make sure transportation is reliable and not cost prohibitive. To read about some of those costs, click here.
  • “I thought there would be nonstop flights between College Town and our city, but there aren’t…” Hmmmm…find out about the flight situation before you enroll your child in a college or university. If your child isn’t going to college in a hub city (Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Miami, etc.) and you don’t live in a hub city, chances are there won’t be nonstop flights. Lots of people have trouble with this concept. Sure, Southwest Airlines doesn’t have a spoke-and-hub system for their flights, but most major carriers do. Connecting flights add travel time (making weekend visits shorter) and increase the odds of cancellations/delays, so do your homework beforehand. Check different airline sites or Orbitz/Expedia/Trivago. And get an idea about the costs of those flights. For lots of people, this can be a deciding factor. What to consider: Travel time, and again, if cost is a factor, this needs to be considered. For even more info about travel costs for students, click here. And always remember the costs listed in the article are “average.” For example, I know my daughter’s travel costs will be more than average. If your child is flying to/from college, the costs likely will be higher than a child who is driving to/from college.
  • “I loved the university when I was there, but my child has not made friends and wants to transfer to a smaller school. What to do?” Maybe it’s going to take time, or maybe they need to transfer. The school that was perfect for you might not be perfect for your child. Or maybe you didn’t go there but wanted to; it might not be the place for your child. Maybe you thrived, or would have thrived, in that environment, but your child won’t. I have friends who went to big schools, but their children need to go to smaller colleges…and vice versa. One friend who went to college with me said her daughter is intimidated by the school. She said her “less-than-fashionable” daughter (her words, not mine) fears she won’t “find her people” in the big setting. She even went so far as to say her child is afraid she would feel like “the poor kid” (again, her words). Yikes. If she’s concerned about it, it’s a real concern. I spoke with a friend this morning whose daughter has been accepted to her southern alma mater that’s mostly in-state students, but they live in Ohio. My friend said, “I was southern, but she’s not. We are taking that into consideration.” Make sure your child spends some time at the colleges he/she is considering. What to consider: They need to feel comfortable. You can’t fit a square peg into a round hole. Are you pushing your child to do what you did/wanted to do? Same with this next post…
  • “I always wanted my child to attend Prestigious University, but he wanted to go to Big State University. Anyone else have trouble reconciling that?” This one bothers me. Your child is going to college; you aren’t. Instead of saying anything further, I’m going to recommend you read a piece from Grown and Flown here. What to consider: where your child goes to school is not who he/she is.
  • “We want to visit our son during a football game weekend, but I’m having trouble finding inexpensive lodging. Suggestions?” Depending on where your child goes to school, it’s important to consider lodging costs. If you want to visit your child on a “big football” weekend at some schools (especially SEC schools), it’s not going to be cheap. And if it is cheap, you probably don’t want to stay there. Factor in lodging costs if you are going to need to stay overnight when you visit your child. You can’t stay in the dorm! Where our daughter is going, I know hotels are not inexpensive, and the price goes up during football weekends (supply and demand!), and on some other weekends too. You want to be able to visit without breaking the family budget. What to consider: will you be able to visit when you want? To read an article from 2018 that offers some examples of the cost of attending college football games…without inflation, click here.
  • “We live out of state, and my daughter only wants to to to College Z, but being out of state, we are going to have to get loans for everything. I’m worried about the debt. Anyone else?” I feel so badly for this mom. She clearly cares about her child’s happiness. But I worry about their taking on unnecessary debt. I know lots of people who tell their children they can’t go out-of-state, because of cost. I have a friend who went out of state for a specific major; when she changed her major, her parents told her, “Then you’re coming back to our state. We aren’t paying out of state tuition if you can get the same degree in-state.” And she did. I feel like, in the 1980s, when I was a teenager, lots of parents told their kids they had to stay in-state. The person who created the post in question is sending her child to a school that is going to cost her $50-$55K per year…all in loans. She could likely send her to an in-state public university for $30k or less per year. Big difference: $200k vs $120k. If you can afford the out-of-state tuition, it’s one thing, but she would be taking on all that as debt when her child can likely find an acceptable, fun in-state school. Remember what the Rolling Stones said: You can’t always get what you want. What to consider: Are you or your child going to be in debt forever for an educational experience they could get closer to home for less?

Here’s my official disclaimer: I am not a college counselor. I am not a professional anything. I am a parent of a high school senior, and the posts above are from parent pages of different colleges. Trust me when I say these are tame examples. Some of them are real doozies.

My thoughts? Do your own homework about the school, all possible hidden costs, and as many different situations as you can conjure up in your brain. It seems like a lot of the posts I see are about money and mental health. Do your homework. It can make a big difference in whether your child will be happy and healthy or not…and whether you’ll be able to visit each other during the school year or not.

And good luck with the process. One day, we will look back on this with fond memories.

***If you are on a college parents’ page and have seen some submissions to share, please send them to me in a private message! Maybe we will have a Part 2!***

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!