When your baby goes to college

I volunteered today at a university incoming student orientation. As a member of Texas Parents Association at University of Texas in Austin I had signed on to greet incoming families, parents mainly, to Family Orientation, directing them to the opening event. Much like the parents who did this gig last year, I smiled, said hello, answered questions, told options for the day’s events, pointed out directions, trying to be of help and such the like. It was a different experience than when I brought my own child for his 3 day orientation last summer. 

I looked at the parents as their children lined up alpha by last name initials and gauged their level of anxiety. On a scale of 1-10, one being boredom and yawning to 10 being near freak out, I would say most parents landed in the 4-9 range. No one looked bored, yawned or disinterested. The majority seemed to be trying to look happy but were more nervous than happy.

Parents were supposed to move out of the way of the lines and once the kids were herded to their alphabet letter table the parents couldn’t accompany them to the gauntlet of tables for getting signed in, getting their rooms and information. This caused a stir more than once, with panic looks and eyes starting to glisten. It would be at this moment I would get questions about when could they see their children, how soon, and where to get to them as fast as possible.

I felt compassion for most, and a little irritation for the few that you just know are helicoptering in all ways possible up to this point.  Last year I was the parent bringing my baby boy (ok by 1 minute after his twin sister and he’s almost 19 at orientation, but STILL he’s my baby boy) and it was a lump in the throat moment without a doubt. I was the one who was working hard to be calm and cool, inside was working through all manner of worry, the gamut of health welfare and the big one, would he be alone or lonely these next three days.

Orientation, college and life for that matter are fraught with that question especially for a parent as we launch our children from high school and home to the next thing. But we must. We must look brave even when not feeling it because for all their bravado and facade of worldliness you know they are thinking “what if know one talks to me and I am lonely and this is awful and I hate it.” They will look at you and not ask that but search your face for the “it will be ok” look that just you and yours know.

It’s our job to do the brave face, send them to the registration line, smile, wave and head on out the door until the 5pm BBQ in my case where we will see our kids and hear about the day. If we have done our jobs, all the butterflies may not have gone completely away, but our children will have navigated an important day on the path to their rest of their lives. And we weren’t far but they got to do it for the most part without us holding their hands.

I can say on this side as a greeter it does get better easier and they will be ok. And so will you mom or dad. Take a deep breath. Because if you’re crazy now, and it’s just orientation, what’s going to happen on drop off and move in day for semester? This one day can help in a baby step way for the bigger one coming.

Enjoy watching your child become an adult. You did good. Take some comfort in that. 

Or I bet there is a bar real close by the college campus!


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