Monday, December 15, 2014

Frank and Dean and the Lennon Sisters on a sleigh ride: Christmas music's not all about the music

I was a very little child in the late 1960s, and my family, like many of that time, had a hi-fi. The parent of the stereo systems of the '70s, the hi-fi was essentially a piece of furniture with a turntable in the middle and speakers on the sides. It looked like a coffee table with a trap door on top.

I wasn't allowed to touch ours, but I didn't care, especially this time of year. All I cared about was that someone kept the turntable spinning at all times, and that the records playing were Christmas ones.

In my house, the Christmas preparations started in earnest around my birthday, in mid-December. We would decorate the tree that night, and the Christmas music would start at the same time. One of the adults in my house would stack the albums one on top of the other, and when one was done playing, the next one would drop onto the turntable and start on its own, a convenience we considered pretty high-tech at the time. We probably had about 10 Christmas albums, and they'd play nonstop.

I remember a couple of Rat Pack albums -- Dean and Frank singing "Winter Wonderland" and "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing," and maybe a couple of different arrangements of "Jingle Bells." I also remember Lawrence Welk and the Lennon Sisters and Perry Como, and Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, and some compilation album that featured a version of "Baby, It's Cold Outside" sung by Tom Jones and woman who sounded like she wasn't quite sure of all the words. The Beach Boys' version of "Rudolph" was on that album, too, and we played it until the grooves were gone. 

A couple of years later, we acquired the Charlie Brown Christmas album, and that quickly became the favorite. And a year or so after that, our household acquired its first eight-track tape player, and with it came more Christmas albums -- the Partridge Family's holiday compilation, most notably, followed by tapes from the Osmonds and the Jackson 5.

I loved the music; I've always loved music. But as I think back, what I really was enjoying was everything the music signaled: the season. The break from routine. The fact that everyone was together, and everyone was in a good mood, and baked goods sat on every available surface. The house smelled sweet, and for a couple of weeks, I felt that sense of anticipation a person feels when something good is going to happen.

Fast-forward a good 40 years, and some semblance of that anticipation remains. I'm listening to a local radio station play non-stop Christmas music, and I'm taken back -- not to any particular day or event, but to the kind of memory that starts deep down inside and builds on itself as it takes shape.

In it, I'm small and dressed in some sort of Christmas regalia, and we're preparing the house because all the relatives are on their way. There's a velvet ribbon in my hair, and I'm sneaking cookies from a tray because I've been told, chubby girl that I am, that I've had enough. 

But the admonition isn't a stern one; after all, it's Christmas. The contentment hangs over the rooms of the house, the ones in which people start to gather, and it mixes with the smells of the delicacies of the day. In the background, I hear the music -- Nat King Cole, maybe -- and I settle down in a chair to watch. 

In my mind's eye, they're all back again: Aunt Sue is already there, having come to us the night before. Grandma walks in with Grandpa, and Nana and Papa and cousin Louise are behind them. Aunt Mim comes in, and Uncle Russ and his mom, Mrs. Landers, and cousin Fran. They carry cookie trays and packages; I note that some are small, and I hope for books. 

There are air-kisses along with real ones that leave lipstick on my forehead. My grandma's coat is camel-colored with fur at the collar and cuffs, and my father uses it to form the base of a pile he starts on his bed. By the end of the night, the pile will be as tall as I am.

Someone turns up the music so it can be heard along with the laughter. It's the Lennon Sisters, and people sing along. It's lovely weather for a sleigh ride, they sing, and I remember wondering what a sleigh ride would be like, and thinking if a sleigh was like a sled, I wouldn't like it much, as I hated tumbling off and feeling snow against the skin on my back. 

But this is what I recall most, as I'm back in that day: The song is a backdrop to the certainly that I never want to be anywhere else, never want the warmth to dissipate, never want life to change. I'm a quiet little girl, serious and solemn, but I never stop observing and never stop assessing. And what I assess in that moment, with the Lennon Sisters playing, is that I am wrapped in goodness, protection, and love.

There's a happy feeling nothing in the world can buy
When they pass around the coffee and the pumpkin pie
It'll nearly be like a picture print by Currier and Ives
These wonderful things are the things
We remember all through our lives 

I watch some more, and the tears well in my eyes. The chocolate and red sugar and dates melt together in my sweaty little hand, but no matter; after I sneak a bite of whatever goodness lies in my palm, I lick my fingers clean.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

I don't care who knows I'm turning 52, but the rest is between me and my mom.

I know people who try to hide their ages, which makes no sense because if someone wants to know how old a person is, all he or she has to do is click a mouse. It also makes no sense because most people look approximately the number of years they happen to be. 

I include myself in that category; I look the age I am, which is 52. Tomorrow. And I am thrilled to be 52, in no small part because turning 52 means I've lived 10 years longer than my mother did.

I was 4 when my mother died, and to a 4-year-old, 42 can seem pretty old. Even as a 7- or 8-year-old, when I tried to process where my mother had gone, I would tell myself, "At least she lived a long time." I laugh at that now, of course, as I realize my mother was so, so young when she died. And it makes me unspeakably said that she wasn't able to raise me, let alone meet my children.

As I was growing up -- and this is a weird thing that probably is common to kids who have lost parents -- I assumed I would die when I was 42, too. When I hit 43, I almost felt guilty. I no longer feel guilty, but I'm hyper-conscious of the fact that I truly didn't expect to still be here, and that I need to get things done.

"In case I die before Christmas," I said to Kevin the other night, "Scott's Christmas gifts are in the dresser. Caroline's are in the dresser and the closet."

"Why do you say things like that? You're not going to die," he responded.

And I answered, "You never know." Because you never do.

Because my mother was too sick to be concerned with leaving things behind for me, she didn't. I don't have a single picture of us together. I have precisely one baby picture of myself. When I think too hard about this, I really don't understand it, and it confuses and frustrates me. So I compensate by storing things -- memories -- like some sort of pre-hibernating animal.

My kids have drawers and albums of photos. They have journals I kept when they were babies, and essays about their first days of school. I have jewelry to pass down, and special articles of clothing, and -- even though I can't really cook -- a recipe or two.

I hope to not have to leave for a while. But when I do, they'll know I was here.

And I guess that's why, even at my advanced age, my birthday matters to me. It's tangible proof that, unlike Athena, I wasn't sprung from the head of Zeus; my birthday is proof that I once grew inside my mother, and that she gave birth to me and held me and loved me, and that we were connected for four years.

Because December 10, 1962, is documented as having occurred, I know she was real. I'll take that knowledge over any trinket or candle. My birthday is between me and my mom, and I hope that wherever she is, she remembers.  

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving. Thank YOU for not giving me a present.

Thanksgiving at my grandparents' circa 1970. I probably was not appreciating the lack of presents as much as I appreciate it now.

I love holidays. Give me a holiday, any holiday (except Columbus Day -- still don't really know why we get excited about that one) and I'm happy. I love the build-up, the planning, and the festivities themselves.

But Thanksgiving is my favorite, hands-down. Here are just a few reasons why.

1. NO PRESENTS. Don't get me wrong; I love buying presents for my family and friends. But I hate what seems to be a universal tendency to buy MORE and buy BIGGER and max the credit cards and not think about any of it till January. I'm certainly guilty of behaving that way, and it comes back to bite me every time. So Thanksgiving is perfect -- time with family, but no gift-related stress. People come empty-handed and leave with leftovers. Perfection.

2. Time to reflect. To me, Thanksgiving is the official beginning to the Christmas season; I don't know why, but as the sun sets on Thanksgiving night, the atmosphere changes. And because there are no presents and no mess and no "where's the receipt because I need to take this back," I really can just sit and think about, as they say, "the reason for the season." I keep my faith pretty private, but when it comes to God, I'm a believer and a big fan. And the fact that we're getting ready to commemorate the birth of God's son is a big deal to me, as it was, in my opinion, kind of a game-changer.

3. The food choices -- and not just because there are a lot of them. For someone like me, who's trying to keep a whole bunch of weight off, Thanksgiving can be all about some pretty healthy choices. Lean protein and fruits and vegetables are everywhere. If I want to eat healthily, I can -- unlike on Christmas, when I seem to succumb to every green- or red-wrapped Hershey kiss within a mile of my house.

4. A month-long universal good mood is just beginning. From Thanksgiving to Christmas, most folks seem pretty happy to be alive; people who don't usually speak to you manage a "happy holidays" when you walk by. And everything is pretty. Yes, it's cold out in most places, but snow is floaty and gentle and beautiful, especially when it's falling at night and you catch it just-so in the glow of a front-porch light.

5. Family, of course. Even if you don't always get along with your extended family, there's something about Thanksgiving that shines a light on the memories you all share and allows you to focus on the things you like and appreciate about all those people. (Come on; you know you love them.) And with any luck, they're able to focus on the things they can stand about you, because you're no party, either.

6. The opportunity to just be quiet and be grateful. Most of us experience moments of gratitude all year long, but Thanksgiving seems to make us want to take stock of all the things we appreciate.  And gratitude can't be overrated; as the late Maya Angelou said, Let gratitude be the pillow upon which you kneel to say your nightly prayer. And let faith be the bridge you build to overcome evil and welcome good.

I'm grateful for many things, including those who happen upon this blog every so often and find a smile or a laugh somewhere inside. I appreciate you, whoever you might be, and I wish you the opportunity to love Thanksgiving in your own way today.

Monday, November 24, 2014

By all means, check the blow dryer .. and don't forget your pants

Between September and now, I've traveled almost as much as I've been home. This is relatively new to me; I've traveled in previous jobs, but not as much, and certainly not in as condensed an amount of time.

One of the good things to come out of all this travel is the realization that I've come up with some helpful hints that could possibly help others who are embarking on travel-heavy phases of life. They're not Heloise-type hints; they're kind of random, and they're all borne from wishing I had done some things differently the last few months. Hope you find one or two of them useful.

  • First, check the blow dryer. If you don't travel with your own and rely on hotel-room dryers, this is a must: Turn on the dryer as soon as you enter your room, make sure it works, and if it doesn't, call the front desk. Sure, you can choose to wait till morning, but trust me on this: You don't want to be dealing with it at 7 a.m. when everyone in your group is waiting for you in the lobby.
  • Put your smartphone to work. Download your airlines' apps, and use a trip-aggregating site, such as TripIt, to keep your travels straight. Check in to your flights using the app, and sign up for text-message notifications that will let you know if your flight is delayed or changed. 
  • Sure, most hotels provide you with little soaps and shampoos. But if you have any type of fragrance sensitivity, pack your own. It's sort of a crap shoot; even if you're allergic, some of the hotel fragrances might work out just fine. But if not -- again, trust me on this -- you don't want to spend the day with a stuffed-up nose and a headache because your shampoo and lotion are making you sick.
  • Climate control can't be trusted; wear layers on the plane. This may sound like a no-brainer, but there's nothing more miserable than throwing on a comfy sweatshirt for a long flight only to find your plane waiting on the tarmac for a really long time without a functional ventilation system. (Special bonus points if you're going through menopause and are hot-flashing while this scenario is unfolding.) Ditto having to stand on the jetway to retrieve your gate-checked bag (more on that later) in a thin shirt as the Midwestern wind is blowing through the cracks. My rule: Cami, shirt, other shirt/sweater, jacket. 
  • If you're watching your weight, don't accept the key to the minibar. Under all circumstances, simply refuse it. Not only are its contents ridiculously expensive, but you don't need them. If I'm going to be somewhere for a few days, I call ahead and make sure my room will have a fridge; if not, I request one. (Every hotel I've stayed in has happily accommodated this request.) Once I arrive, I take a cab to the nearest grocery store and stock up on healthy snacks for my room: fruit, cheese, yogurt. If you're holed up at your desk working after dinner, you're going to want to snack, and those minibar calories can add up fast.
  • Even if you have an expense-account credit card, stop at the ATM on your way out of town and grab some cash, then exchange it for dollar bills at the airport. From the person who puts your bags in the cab to the hotel's bell captain, people will be expecting tips, and you won't want to spend time fumbling around for money.
  • Another no-brainer that really isn't: Flat shoes aren't necessarily comfortable shoes. Last week, I had meetings and wore some cute ankle boots -- but the boots, while having a nice low heel, were a little too big, and my feet slid around in them. Two airports later, I had blisters. Even the cutest shoes aren't worth the pain.
  • Keep in mind that forgetting your pants is really easy. Lay out your outfits before you pack them; if, like me, you're required to dress in business attire, that means not only the clothes themselves, but jewelry, shoes, socks, and other accessories. Last week, I arrived in Austin with a perfectly pressed blouse and jacket and all the trimmings -- but no pants. Write down everything you're going to need, and check it off the list as you pack it.
  • Speaking of packing ... don't check a bag unless you have to. (You don't want to be the one who holds up everyone else in your group by having to go to baggage claim!) Keep in mind that carry-ons come in various sizes; unbeknownst to me, the one I had been using was 3 inches shy of the allowed size. I bought an expandable 22-inch-tall bag, and I can easily pack three days' worth of stuff in it.
  • And speaking of checking bags ... there's really no such thing as a carry-on anymore. If you're flying on a smallish plane -- say, on a flight from Des Moines to Minneapolis -- the plane won't be large enough to have normal-sized overhead compartments, so you'll be asked to gate-check your bag. That means just before you get on the plane, you'll hand it over to an airline employee who will send it down a short chute into the plane's innards. This works well in theory -- but it always takes at least 10 minutes after you get off the plane for the gate-checked bags to be delivered to the jetway. So, gate-checking and actually checking bags are kind of the same thing these days; you'll just pick them up in different places.
  • If you get to the airport early or have a long layover, move. Think about it: All you'll be doing on the plane is sitting, so who needs to spend time doing the same thing at the gate? Grab that roller bag, strap on your comfy shoes, and walk a couple of miles before boarding time. You'll be less bored, and you'll also be more energized once you reach your destination.
  • Use social media for good rather than evil. It's not difficult to take to social media to slam the airline that lost your bag or caused you to miss your connecting flight; we've all done that. How about tweeting when an airline, TSA employee, hotel bell captain or someone else you encounter does something great? Ask for the person's name so you can be specific; it will make his or her day, and it will make you feel good, too. (A couple of weeks ago, I tweeted about a Delta pilot who had done a great job of keeping us updated during a delay; I not only got a response from the airline, but a heartfelt one from the pilot as well.)
  • If you're required to keep receipts to reconcile your expense account, use your smartphone to take a picture of each piece of paper before you file it away in your portfolio, purse, wallet, or wherever. That way, if you lose the receipt, you'll have a record of it come report time.
  • Above all ... relax. That's easier said than done, but suffering from road rage -- or any other kind of rage -- when you're traveling for business does nothing but make the whole experience worse. Keep in mind that for the most part, people do their best; if someone screws up, quietly ask that person to make things right, and move on.
Do you have a helpful travel tip? Add it to the comments section. I'd love to hear your ideas.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

He opened my eyes to the possibility that an insect could be a diplomat. Now, he's married.

So, if you have anything to do with me on social media, you'll know my son is married.

"My son is married." Those are four strange words, indeed.

I met my son at 5:42 p.m. on August 17, 1988. He was sort of red, sort of blue, sort of gray -- I didn't have any idea what newborns were supposed to look like, but he looked a little worse for wear, and not altogether happy to be there, wrapped in a blanket on my chest. I was allowed about 30 seconds with him before someone whisked him away to "suction him out." That phrase alarmed me then, and it alarms me now; no wonder he wasn't happy.

Scott was a serious baby. No gurgling and smiling for that guy; just a lot of looking with giant eyes. I'd never seen a baby raise an eyebrow, but he could; many of his expressions seemed to convey a sort of disbelief with the place in which he'd found himself. For those of you who remember Mork from Ork, that was Scott -- a silent Mork, though, and not silly at all. Just quietly incredulous that he had landed in such a strange place.

As he grew, though, he questioned everything: Was I sure the rides at the amusement park were safe? What would happen if the power lines up above us randomly fell and landed on us while we were taking a walk? What if the ant I had accidentally stepped on was some sort of diplomat ant, and now the ant community would have to schedule three days of mourning?  I kid you not -- these were the kinds of questions I fielded daily. He could be mentally taxing at the end of a long day, but he was always enthralling.

And that never stopped -- the enthralling part, I mean. He grew up and studied philosophy. He headed up student groups that helped raise money for countries devastated by natural disasters. He grew his hair long and wore shoes with toes in them.

One year, he announced that he was going to drop out of college and become a bartender. But after the worst fight we had ever had, he grudgingly agreed to finish his studies and get his degree. "In anything -- anything," I had begged him. "Just get the piece of paper. You'll need it."

"Mom, no offense," he had said before he put the phone down. "But you exemplify what's wrong with this society."

It was a tough time for us, but we muddled through. And gradually, I apparently became smarter -- and less damaging to society -- because he did get the degree. Two of them. And in the midst of earning those "useless pieces of paper," he found himself a wife.

She didn't become a wife right away, of course. But I knew the first time I met her that she could be a contender. She was beautiful, and different, and from a land far, far away. She liked that he had a heart for helping others; he liked that she didn't subscribe to rigid gender roles, and that she didn't care that he played FIFA for hours every night. They got together, and it seemed right away as if they had been mated forever, like swans.

And now, they are mated legally -- not like swans; in part like the rest of us, but somehow different. Of course, they argue, but they also respect one another in a way that I think is unusual for young people. He accepts that she is on "South African time" -- placing no urgency on the clock -- and always will be. She accepts that he sees the world a little differently, and will probably always have to be reminded to put his keys where he can find them and to mow the lawn.

They live in an unusual sort of universe, a peaceful one where people don't seem to want to change one another.

I wish I had thought better on my feet when I was asked to toast them at their wedding. "Congratulations, Scott. I have always learned from you, and I keep learning from you," I said, among other things. And it's true.

But I also would simply have wished them a lifetime of what they have now.

As a mother, it's all I could hope for for my child.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Eddie Spaghetti, Pin-Dodgeball, and Holding On to Home

I didn’t love grade school. But you never would have known that last night if you’d seen me sitting around a table at our local Chili’s with seven other people, reminiscing about the time Ed Lavoie crawled out the window and got detention.

We go back a long way, we members of the Sacred Heart class of 1977. Most of us met as first-graders in 1969; Nixon was in the White House and Neil Armstrong had just walked on the moon, but we were more worried about penmanship. When we graduated eighth grade, “Star Wars” was released, but we were champing at the bit to see “Saturday Night Fever.”

The times changed, and we changed. But last night, we all rushed headlong back to those days, and I never could have imagined what a soft, warm place the past would be.

Grade school, which morphed into junior high for us Catholic-school kids, was not a place for square pegs, and I was decidedly a square peg. First, I was the only child in my class who didn’t have a mom; second, I was tall. Very tall.  I’m not tall now, but when you reach your full height of 5’4” as a fifth-grader and everyone else comes up to your chest, your world is an odd place, and you spend all your time looking down.

I loved spelling and writing; I also loved microscopes and rock-polishers and read encyclopedias for fun. I had glasses; later on, I had braces. My hair was dark, short, and frizzy while the other girls sported silky, blond, feathered-back bangs. I wanted badly to be popular, instead, I was smart. But all the intelligence in the world didn’t matter to a girl who was different.

Last night, though, no one was different, or maybe we’re finally old enough to see those differences as good things. Or perhaps we learned a few things around the table that helped us understand that we all thought we were different in those days, and we all faced hardships that set us apart, even if we kept them to ourselves.

We learned, for example, that one of the guys, as a boy, had been picked on pretty mercilessly; we learned another had been tested for learning disabilities because our teachers were concerned about his behavior. (Nothing was amiss; he saw the world differently and was, and is, simply very entertaining.)

We learned we all were at least somewhat insecure in those days, but we also learned how our classmates had viewed us. And we were pleasantly surprised, I think, that we were remembered fondly despite all the pressure we had placed on ourselves to look and act a certain way. The junior-high years are cruel years, but we had not been cruel kids.

We had a bond, we Sacred Heart kids, even if we were unaware of that at the time. When you spend eight years with basically the same 40-odd kids, you form a pseudo-family; you may not like all your family members, but you’re connected, and you’re loyal.

Neither of the men I married shares my history; I met one at 22 and the other in my late 30s. While that's perfectly fine, that fact remains that neither of them remembers the time our seventh-grade science teacher had head lice, or the way the ceiling tiles looked in Mr. Pilgrim’s office, or the Mouse House or Minnie Pearl's or the Little Red Barn.

They don’t remember the tunnels in the church basement, and they know nothing about pin-dodgeball or Kill the Man (just a game; no real death) or the time Amy fell on something that went through her knee, or the time Polly got so sick. They didn’t know Tom Vial and his silky hair and his love of KISS, or that everyone either liked or "went with" Bobby.

They don’t remember Jeff Hoffman, our classmate who died at 14. We toasted him last night through tears, and cheered one another with a litany of “remember whens.”

A shared history isn’t critical, of course. But as we get older, it’s soothing. It validates the things that shaped us, and it reinforces that we weren’t alone, although we may have been quite sure, at the time, that we were.

All of us around that table last night are 51 now. Most of us have lost at least one parent; some have lost both. We don’t look the way we looked at 14, naturally, but as several of us pointed out, we all have the same faces, and the same eyes. And some of those eyes were a little watery last night, but they were smiling as they looked upon all the laughter.

As Faulkner said, “How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home.” Those of us around the table last night are all lucky enough to feel at home with families who love us, but part of “home” will also be a once-little town called West Des Moines, which ended, in those days, at Valley High School.

When we’re all gone, that town and that place, as they existed then, will go with us, so I think it’s natural to want to hold on to them a little while longer. The next time Ed -- we don't call him "Eddie Spaghetti" anymore -- comes to town, then, we’re doing this again, and with any luck, even more of our classmates will join us around the table.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Moving a child to college: Tears, gift cards, and why the towels will always, always mildew

A friend of mine is moving his daughter to college this week, and his understandable anxieties about the task at hand are causing me to reflect.

One of my kids spent five years as an undergrad, and the other spent four, so, all told, I moved kids into dorm rooms, apartments and/or sorority houses nine times. After a while, the job got to be somewhat old-hat, especially after each began spending summers living independently as well. But I vividly remember the first time the kids’ dad and stepparents and I moved them into their homes-away-from-home, and despite having read obsessively about best ways to handle such a thing, I was ill-prepared, emotionally or otherwise.

So I spent some time this week thinking back to those days, and remembering the all the feelings that made up each event. And I came up with a checklist of things I wish more-experienced parents had taught me – everything from the practical to the wholly emotionally driven. And while no one has all the answers, I’m hoping at least one thing on this list may serve as a practical takeaway for any first-time college mom or dad. 

  • Make your child’s bed. Unless she threatens to physically throw you out of the dorm room, trust me on this:  There’s something about a bed made by Mom or Dad that will make an unfamiliar room feel like home. Yes, she’s 18 and can make her own bed – but she won’t. And if you don’t, come bedtime, she’ll end up sleeping on a bare mattress, covered with her bathrobe.
  • If there’s a coin-operated washer and dryer in her dorm, get her a few rolls of quarters. For some reason, college-age students are incapable of remembering to keep change on hand, and there’s a real risk she’ll skip laundry for way too long and attend weeks of 8 o’clock classes in the same pair of Hello Kitty pajama pants.
  • Frame a couple of small family photos – one of all of you, maybe, and one of the family pet--and leave them in her room. Be unobtrusive about this. Chances are she’ll love that you left something unexpected, and if she doesn’t want to display them, she can always hide them.
  • Make plans to call her at a set time each week, or twice a week -- say, Sundays at 7, or Wednesdays at 7 and Sundays at 3. Chances are you’ll talk and text far more frequently than that, and let her know that you’re always available if she needs you. But let her know she can count on your bugging her only at certain times, and that if she wants to communicate more frequently, it’s up to her. She’ll revel in her freedom while also looking forward to talking to you.
  • Buy, in advance, gift cards to some sort of nearby food establishment, such as a Subway. Give one to her and one to her roommate. When dorm food gets to be too much, they can have a little off-campus bonding time. And her roommate will think you’re awesome, which always helps.
  • Consider a couple other gift cards as well – one to the nearest grocery store, and one to the nearest Target or similar department-type store. Small-amount ones are fine. She’ll be much more motivated to go out and replace Kleenex or a desk-lamp light bulb if she has quick, easy funds on hand to get it done.
  • Leave her with a first-aid kit. Chances are the resident assistant on her floor will have a communal one, but get her her own, and stock it. She’ll need Band-Aids at some point, and she won’t know where to find them; ditto some sort of OTC pain reliever.  Benadryl is also good to have on hand; she’ll be exposed to all kinds of weird potential allergens at college, such as her roommate’s bacon-scented candle or cat-hair-laden favorite blanket. Other good first-aid staples: hydrocortisone cream and antiseptic wipes.
  • Don't believe her when she tells you she needs only one towel. As has been noted, she won’t do laundry nearly as often as you’d like her to, and chances are she also won’t hang her towel up to dry properly. Leave her with at least two or three big towels, and the same number of washcloths.
  • Leave a couple little notes for her, or write her a letter and place it where she’ll see it while she’s unpacking. Social media is the best thing ever, but nothing beats handwritten communication, especially when it’s from someone special about something special. Tell her whatever you want to tell her, but add that you love her and are proud of her. Thirty-some years later, she’ll still take out that letter and read it anytime she needs a little boost. (Along the same lines: Send cards or care packages once in a while. A funny card with a $10 bill tucked inside can be a huge day-brightener.)
  • Prepare for tears, even if she’s not a crier. She WILL cry. Chances are she won’t tell you she’s cried, but if she happens to cry when you’re on the phone with her, it will tear your heart out. Some people will tell you to ignore the crying, to focus on cheering her up; others will tell you to acknowledge it and talk with her about how she’s feeling. Still others will tell you that if she’s not too far away and is really upset, make a plan to visit her, or to have her come home for the weekend. Here’s the right answer: Follow your instincts. Other people don’t know your child nearly as well as you know her. Obey the little voice in your head, the one that tells you what you need to do to be able to sleep well at night.
  • Be prepared, also,for the fact that she will do stupid things. She’ll stay up way too late, then decide to sleep in and skip her early class. She’ll forget the sensible eating habits you taught her and fill her D-card (or M-card or U-card or whatever her school calls it) with charges for Doritos and Mountain Dew. By all means, get a handle on things when you feel you need to – but, if you can, cut her some slack. She’s trying to figure out a lot of complicated things, and chances are pretty good she’ll eventually begin to make better choices.
  • Plan to open your home to her friends, especially if you live relatively close to her school. She’ll enjoy bringing them home to meet you, and you’ll likely learn more about her life at school through those individuals. Keep in mind the friends she makes at college are much more likely than high-school friends to stay in her life long-term, so you’ll enjoy getting to know them, too. 

Finally: Pat yourself on the back. You, and she, survived 18 years together, and you’re sending her to college; that means you definitely did something right.

And even better news: The best is yet to come. I promise.