My daughter didn’t sign us up for parent orientation at her college. It was happening simultaneously with freshman orientation. For a very small fee, parents could stay in dorms on campus, eat meals in the dining hall and attend informational sessions for a day and a half.
Maybe it was an oversight. Maybe my daughter decided optional meant my husband and I wouldn’t be interested. Most likely, she wanted to spread her wings and drive the 2-1/2 hours solo to freshman orientation. She has always been comfortable doing things that even now, I need reassurance doing. When I was 18, I remember heading to my own freshman orientation with a little knot in my stomach — and it wasn’t even an overnight event.
I’ve come a long way since my college days, but on certain occasions I’m hit with the realization that I truly am an introvert. I was determined to get a spot at this highly informative parent orientation even though I knew my husband couldn’t join me. But what I neglected to consider was that this experience might be a day and a half of feeling like my 18-year old Nervous Nelly self.
The goal of arriving on campus and being separated immediately from your freshman was to give parents a taste of what it will be like, come August, when we say our good-byes. A session on letting go explained this: Give your child a kiss, say good-bye and be on your way. It helps your freshman get on with things.
It doesn’t necessarily help the solo mother who expected to meet up with her daughter at some point and is assigned to spend the night with two strangers. Thank goodness for upperclassman suites. Each of us could enjoy the privacy of our own bedrooms.
I arrived first, followed by my first roommate. Hi! I say with my warmest smile. Are you on your own, too? Yes, she says pleasantly, then drops her belongings in her room and heads out to meet up with other moms from her home town, I discover later.
Roommate #2 finally arrives while I’m unpacking my few belongings. She disappears into her room so I decide to wait for her in the living room, reading the only piece of literature I have – the parent orientation agenda — until I have it memorized. Is she taking a nap? She finally emerges from her room, cheerful and receptive to me. We chat about our kids and our families. I have a friend. Yes!
We join a large group of parents for a tour of the campus, but halfway through it my roommate tells me she has a raging headache and will return to the room. I follow along with the other parents, straining to listen to the various types of dorms. At the campus bookstore I purchase a college sweatshirt for myself. Another mom from our town calls to me in the crowd. We’re 2-1/2 hours away from home, not 2-1/2 states away, but I’m thrilled to see a familiar face. She’s alone too but spending the night at a local hotel. She’s my new buddy for the tour and for lunch in the cavernous dining hall.
In the late afternoon, my hometown friend says she’s had enough of the sessions and will head back to her hotel to read and maybe sit by the pool. I’m disappointed and tempted to blow off the day and go with her but I head back to my room with no pool and no TV. As I ponder why I am not thoroughly enjoying this peace and quiet that all busy moms dream about, my roommate pokes her head into my room. She’s feeling better. Would I like to join her for the session about academic advising? Absolutely!
We learn about tutoring as well as all about choosing a major for about 30 minutes when she whispers to me she feels sick to her stomach. (She has shingles and this is her medication’s side effect). Good-bye, roomie.
Dinner is next. At the dining hall I make my way to a table with a tray full of enticing ravioli, salad and garlic bread. I pretend not to care that I know no one sitting around me. I scan the room in a mild panic, convinced I am the only parent without a partner. I check my almost dead cell phone for messages from my daughter. Not one. Are people staring at me with pity or is it my imagination? I quickly shovel food in my mouth so I can get out of the place. I should have skipped orientation. People next to me are laughing about something, completely at ease.
My cell phone dies and the only charger is in my car. I drive to the little college town a few miles away to give my cell phone time to charge. I purchase a magazine to read in the suite. A special parent event is scheduled to take place in the gathering area. We are invited to make posters to cheer on (or perhaps embarrass) our kids the next day as they parade through the campus one last time, to the dining hall. Yes, this is silly, as is the DVD of Saturday Night Fever chosen for any interested parents to sit and watch on the comfortable lounge furniture. But I realize I’m not alone in feeling awkward. Others don’t know what to write on their posters. We end up chatting about the college and how much we miss our kids even though it hasn’t even been a full day since we separated from them. The day ends on a happy note.
After checking out the next morning, I head to breakfast and bump into some of the poster-making moms. I reach out to invite another mom from our floor to join us, and she is visibly relieved. My hometown friend finds us as well. Life is good. More sessions take place and then the parade. My daughter and I easily spot each other. She is smiling happily in the middle of the pack, then laughs out loud at my poster which sports one of her childhood nicknames in big bold colors.
On our ride home, she shares all the bonding activities of the past two days. She’s looking forward to August when she’ll see some of these people again. How was your time? she asks me. She’s loving everything about her new school, I can tell, and I don’t want to spoil it for her. I learned quite a bit, I say. My daughter may be an extrovert but she, too, will be wandering a campus full of strangers in September. It may be uncomfortable for her at times, at least initially. This is all part of life. It continues for some of us, even in our forties.
At a recent graduation party, I spotted my daughter inviting a quieter, second cousin to join her at a table full of teenagers. (It’s what I needed in that dining hall). I couldn’t be prouder of her.