It’s just under a month to go before I pack the van and drive Loreleigh off to college at the University of North Carolina Greensboro.
Having spent 20 years living in Greensboro and having “The G” part of everyday life, I’m not feeling the anxiety other parents might be experiencing as they prepare to ship off their oldest child. Loreleigh was born and raised in Greensboro. She’s attended two summer music camps at the college. She’s eaten more hot dogs and ice cream at Yum Yum’s on Spring Garden Street than probably some seniors. She knows that campus about as well as her high school.
Loreleigh and I attended a two-day orientation session at the school last month. The staff and student “consultants” spent the time sharing what we as parents could expect. The overriding message: “Do not expect to get back the child you send us. We’re returning an adult.”
That’s one giant leap for girlkind, or at least this particular girl. As of Aug. 16, two weeks shy of her 18th birthday, Loreleigh will spend more time away from home than in it. Indeed, the whole notion of “home” is about to be turned on its head for her.
What then to send off with our first-born? I’m not talking here about mini-refrigerators and shower caddies. She’ll have that stuff but what she really needs are the building blocks to become the adult that UNCG is going to, in the end, turn out into the world.
Some have counseled that she already has what she needs, that she’s slowly been accumulating the skills and knowledge over these past 18 years to make it on her own.
“Don’t dad-splain everything to her,” one friend admonished. “She’s got to figure it out for herself or she’ll be calling you when she’s 30.”
OK, I don’t want that...do I? No, I don’t suppose.
Still, it’d do me a world of comfort to send off with my daughter some tips for living we didn’t explicitly spend a lot of time on these past four years. There always seemed to be time to talk, and now suddenly it’s all gone by and it’s crunch time. So:
* Be open but not vulnerable. A sociology class should be required for all incoming freshmen so they can learn about the fellow humans they suddenly find themselves in close quarters with at 2 a.m. dorm-floor parties. It’s great to meet and learn all about people — but a healthy dose of self mystery and non-disclosure can serve you well also. Because there are jerks who will try to exploit friendliness.
* Be giving, but not a patsy. It’s one thing to loan a floor mate a $1 for a soda, but buying someone’s prescription on the promise “I’ll Venmo you later” might be a bridge loan too far. One kind act can be well received, and it can also be taken advantage of — over and over and over.
* Time is the most valuable thing you own. Pay yourself first. College is one big distraction, punctuated by about three hours of class a day. Fun abounds: intramural rugby practice, a dorm cookout or just hanging out in a friend’s room. Put in the study time first and you’ll find plenty of time for the other stuff.
* Just because you have checks left in your wallet doesn’t mean you’re not out of money. The money goes fast, especially when you’re swiping that little campus card for your favorite Starbucks concoction a couple times a day. Get acquainted with Ramen. By semester’s end and the bank account low, it’ll be what sustains you. It did me just fine, to the point that I can’t stand the stuff now.
* Be inquisitive. Yes, I know what you want to study. But take some fun classes. Learn some things that’ll stretch and challenge your assumptions. You may fall in love with a new major. Just don’t wait until your senior year to do this.
* Don’t fear failure. This is not permission to flunk a class. This is me saying it’s ok to mess up in life. It’s how we learn. In business, we talk about failing fast and failing cheap. I suggest that for you also.