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With commencement season upon us, it’s time to reflect on the growth our children have experienced during their college years. I am not referring to academic and interpersonal accomplishments, but rather the life lessons they learned along the way.
These were the moments that caused us to smack our foreheads with the palms of our hands and say, “seriously?”
You probably are recalling a few incidents of your own right about now, ones that you look back on with amusement, although when they happened, you didn't find them so funny. College really is the training wheel period before real life begins. Here are some of the mundane but so-important areas of competence that our sons and daughters have mastered.
One of the first phone calls home from college from each of my older sons regarded laundry. Even though they had watched me do about a million loads when they lived at home and had done some on their own, they were still perplexed when they got to campus. My oldest solved that problem by rarely doing it. He told me he only changed his sheets a few times a semester (as an OCD person I can’t even…), and once when we visited him, he was wearing a bathing suit because he had no clean underwear.
Then there was the time he flew home from the Midwest with a suitcase weighing about ninety pounds. When I opened it, I found a pile of damp clothing. Yes, he brought home wet laundry. He said something about it being his roommate’s fault because he hadn’t put his clothes in the dryer as instructed; the details were murky. Another time, despite my specific instructions regarding this issue, he stored his comforter — which he had actually washed but hadn’t fully dried — in a 2000-degree storage unit for the summer. When he retrieved it for the fall semester, he was shocked to discover it was moldy. And smelly.
I am proud to report my son is now a master of laundry. And not to brag, he can also iron!
Now let’s consider what college students learn about the care of electronic devices, specifically computers and phones. When she was a senior, my friend’s daughter — actually one of the most responsible people I know — made the mistake of leaving her backpack in a cubby at the entrance to a restaurant. The backpack, and with it her laptop, was stolen. As if that weren’t bad enough, her entire senior thesis was on the computer…and she didn't have a back up. She had to rewrite the thesis — a very tough lesson to learn.
My older son destroyed two laptops during his college years; apparently computers and beer do not mix well. Because he needed a computer for his schoolwork, we worked out a payment plan so that he could replace the laptop. Both my older sons, and many of my friends’ children, have had multiple crises with phones as well. Lost phones, stolen phones, cracked phones, dead phones. At some point our students grow weary of paying for repairs and replacements and learn to be more vigilant about keeping their phone safe. If yours makes it through college with an intact phone, congratulate yourself on having raised a uniquely careful individual.
Having a car at college can lead to an entire handbook of life lessons. Our middle son has totaled one car (albeit not his fault) and collected a stash of campus parking tickets. He’s now on a payment plan similar to the one our older son had for his computer. The car also got towed when he loaned it to a friend who parked in an unauthorized spot. Other parents have recounted the headaches associated with their child having a car at school. In one instance, my friend said her husband contacted their insurance company about an accident their son had, only to discover this was actually his second accident in the same month, which their son had failed to mention. Even his 17-year-old sister commented, “Really? You didn’t think mom and dad would find out?!”
“I missed my flight (or bus or train)” is a phrase parents of college students may get used to hearing. Often inexperienced in the art of solo travel, students must learn to consider all the variables in getting from point A to point B, such as weather, traffic and the unexpected. While on spring break recently in New York City, a colleague’s two sons, who had been staying with the mother’s friend, missed the last bus of the evening back to Massachusetts and had to return to the friend’s apartment for another night. After four years in college, most students will not only know to leave extra time when traveling but will become experts in shopping for the best fares and booking flights, summoning Ubers and keeping tabs on their luggage.
When all is said and done, by the time your student dons their cap and gown, in addition to fulfilling impressive degree requirements they also will have amassed a vast amount of knowledge that will help them survive in the world beyond their campus. Those exasperating moments may turn out, in hindsight, to have molded them into the serious and dependable adult you always knew they would become.