Empty Nest Magazine
What Are You Bringing to College?
A Grandmother’s Guide for Girls (and Boys!)
by Jean S. Barto
A Lifetime of Concern
So, parents provide new clothes, a warm comforter, a desk lamp, a laptop computer, and maybe even a tiny refrigerator, in addition to the hundreds of other necessities that make the dormitory room pleasant and comfortable. What does the student provide? She brings the most important entity—the student herself. Often, when students arrive at college, they think all other newcomers will be just like them. They find out quickly that’s not so! Various genetic components and environmental influences determine the uniqueness of each of us, and probably the most valuable lesson we learn in college is to have an awareness of this uniqueness of each individual.
Another influence on a child is the family structure. Some students have many siblings, some one or two, and some are “the only child.” The only child has not had to share at home; consequently, the adjustment to a roommate and dorm life is harder. Position in the family—first child, baby, or somewhere in the middle—is another factor. It often determines how the new student will relate to her newly made friends. Some will be leaders, and some will be followers.
And then there is the variety of home towns found among a typical class of students: big city, small town, or suburbia? Northern, southern, eastern, or western U.S. state? Home town greatly influences the college-bound individual. Location of the city or town often determines customs and manners of speaking. High school variations—large, small, city, country, private, public, home school—all have an effect, too.
Locale and high school played a strong role for me when I met my college roommate for the first time. I am relatively quiet, although companionship is important to me. I had gone to a small private school in New York City for six years. While I was leisurely putting things away in my dorm closet on the first day at college, the eruption came. My roommate blew into the room. Chicago is known as the windy city, and my roommate was from the North Shore. She had graduated from a large high school. Bubbly and noisy, she alone filled the room. Enough said! My first course in understanding and getting along with others started that day.
We want our darling to put her best foot forward on opening day. As we know, there is no second chance to make a first impression. So, we hope our daughter will wear the nice sweater and pants outfit we provided, not the “smoking hot” outfit, with a dropped waistband revealing a backside tattoo, that she wore to the family reunion. And our son—he had better wear nice jockey shorts because the crack exposé is certainly evident with the pants young men are currently wearing.
Prior to the first day in the dorm, most students have had a life of “me.” Who will my prom date be? Will I make the team? What am I going to wear? “Me” is the center of a limited universe. Now that Chapter Two of their lives—college—is starting, it is time for them to not only spend time in the library but also give the cell phone and “texting thumbs” a much needed rest and hone their people skills (that is, use their manners and to show a genuine interest in others).
The book lightheartedly touches on the dynamics of social relationships, academics, where to go for help, maintaining health (Mom will not be there with Tylenol or a cramps remedy!), handling money (a topic that should be a book in itself), freedom, and travel to and from school, among other important topics. Amazon published this description on their Web site: “This brief book is a thoughtful but humorous introduction to many aspects of college life, from academic to social. It focuses on the student knowing who she is, where she wants to go and how to get there. Some of the pitfalls of college life are pointed out with suggestions for avoiding them. Along with the chuckles is much vital guidance. It will help the new student cross the bridge from living at home to living responsibly on her own at college, while preparing for a productive future.”
The dog mentioned in the travel section of the book surfaced in a story my daughter tells. Searching for a ride home from college for Christmas vacation and knowing that a young man from one of her classes came from the same home town, she asked for a ride. “Sure,” he said, and the departure time was arranged. She arrived to find she was sharing the back seat of a VW bug with the boy’s St. Bernard. It was a long, juicy trip!
The social relationships chapter addresses, first, the vital initial contact with a roommate, and then, making a whole new set of friends. Neither is easy. These issues follow a theme stated in the book’s introduction and permeating every chapter. The theme assumes that a car might be on the list of things brought from home: “A car is the symbol of freedom and stature. The important CAR is not a Porsche, Honda, or your father’s old Chevy. It is the acronym for Consideration And Respect. Successful relationships with your professors and instructors, your peers, and parents of your friends depend on using these two things.”
My deep interest in the success of my offspring’s offspring culminated in a collection of words of wisdom that I hope proves valuable to others’ offspring as well. Your own thoughts and actions toward your college-bound loved one may go in a different direction, but the common thread is our never-ending concern for those we love.
Jean S. Barto was raised in New York City and earned a degree in fine arts from Connecticut College. She has taught art in elementary and middle school and worked as an interior designer. Jean served as registrar at Harcum Junior College (PA) and also taught in the school’s interior design department. Jean has a Pennsylvania real estate license. An avid animal lover, in 2006 she published Furry Tales: Fins, Feathers and Whatever, a compilation of animal tales. Convinced that everyone has an interesting story to tell, Jean and friend Doris Mackenzie collected memories from more than 100 contributors, which culminated in Humor, Heartache and Harrowing Tales (also 2006). She has completed coursework with the Institute for Children’s Literature. Jean’s “project in the wings” is a collection of short stories, the fruit of many years’ work. Jean enjoys a close relationship with her two children and three grandchildren.
Empty Nest: A Magazine for Mature Families
© 2009 Spring Mount Communications