Freshman Move-in Day

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You may or may not have noticed that there’s this whole ‘back to school’ thing going on. In fact, television commercials have been advertising back-to-school since early July! But, now it’s really here. Parents with children in elementary, middle and even High School are flooding Facebook with those ‘first day of school’ photos. Some of these parents are ecstatic! Some might be sad. Some might be wondering what to do to fill their days.

College however is an entirely different ball of wax!

If your child is an upper class-man, then you’ve been here before. Let me know if it gets any easier!

If your child if a college freshman and she or he is leaving home for the first time – this can be a traumatic experience! Prepare for tears.

You would think that because I work on a college campus, I’d be used to this. I mean, I see it every year. But when it’s your kid going off to live on their own for the very first time – it’s bittersweet. Of course, we’re over the moon happy that she got into her first choice (Barnard) and she’s so excited to be on a new adventure. And, of course, we’re a little worried that she’s alone in the ‘big city’ of Manhattan. I choose to focus on the positive.

So how did this all go down, you may ask?

Sunday morning, my husband and I drove to the upper west side of Manhattan and then south on Broadway where you have Barnard on the west side of the street and Columbia on the east side of the street. We were a little early and luckily found a parking spot on the Columbia side directly across from the Barnard entrance. Seriously, we couldn’t have found a better parking spot. At 7:50am, we watched a group of about twenty Barnard women all in pink tee-shirts count down from ten to one and then break out in cheers and dance. That’s when the tears started, in case you’re wondering.

The first group of freshmen had an 8am start. My step-daughter had a 9am start. So we got to witness the process before she arrived. And it was beautiful! As each new freshman walked through the Barnard gate, the pink-shirted women all cheered and danced in excitement – welcoming her to her new home. Yup – tears.

Our girl arrived at about 8:30am with her mom. There was a fire hydrant just behind us, so they were able to pull in and we all watched the 8am crowd. And of course we had to take pictures of her car filled to the gills with all the necessary dorm-room-stuff. All of us in front of the car, then all the girls, then just my step-daughter. At 8:45, they had had enough of waiting so they got back in the car and drove back to the Barnard side where the right-most lane was gated off for the incoming class to unload. A guard moved some gates out of their way and they were able to park. My husband and I met them in spot #132, which was a chalked-off square about 8 feet by 8 feet where we had to put all her stuff as an interim step.

Once everything was unloaded, my husband and I took care of the cars, putting mom’s car in our spot and finding another spot two blocks north. Then our girl went to check in, pick up her ID and room keys, and let them know which spot we were in. As soon as she came back, her new roommate, whom she recognized from Facebook, walked by and stopped for a chat. It was obvious immediately that this girl has good energy and the two of them would get along very well.

Less than ten minutes later a student volunteer walked over to spot #132 with a big cart for all of our girl’s belongings. Everything went in. Well as much as could fit, anyway. Fortunately my husband also had a smaller cart that we use for camping. We definitely needed it!

The five of us trudged over to the gate where we were greeted with the now familiar cheers and dancing from the pink-shirted women. Then up a small ramp, through an outside hallway of sorts, into the quad (an outside grassy area in the center of the residence halls) and then into her building where we waited for the elevator. Once at the room, we emptied the school’s cart so someone else could begin the process. Then mom and I feverishly cleaned the room from top to bottom, wiping down every surface with some name-brand-I-won’t-mention anti-bacterial wipes. We had about 45 minutes before the roommate arrived upstairs, so we were able to do quite a bit of cleaning and organizing before there were too many people in the room. I wonder if they knew we were cleaning and deliberately stayed away letting us do all the work. Did I mention it was hot? And there was no air conditioning? Seriously, after ten minutes we were drenched in sweat from head to toe.

My husband, who was putting the fan together, seemed to be taking a really long time. It was probably only minutes, but it felt like hours! Did I mention it was hot?? Where’s the fan !!!! How long does it take to put a fan together???? He said there was a piece missing. WHAT?????????? No, he figured it out. Air flow helps.

Once we got everything clean and the bed made, we could relax. The rest was really up to our girl and her roommate to turn this ugly square of a room into their home. So, my husband and I went back outside. It felt 20 degrees cooler back in the quad! We had about thirty cooling-off minutes before they came back down. Thirty minutes of watching a parade of freshman moving all their worldly possessions. There were no two alike. It was the most diverse group of women and families I’ve ever seen. It was a beautiful sight to behold.

After that we all headed to a close-by coffee shop. Which had air conditioning. By this time it was close to 11am and grandma was about to get into a taxi to come meet us for lunch. We had reservations for 11:45, but fortunately the restaurant opened at 11, so we went a little early and relaxed. And yes, I had a drink. As did mom. There was no-where to be until 1:30pm.

After lunch, which was really good, by the way, we went back and waited for the 1:30 presentation by Barnard’s President Debora Spar. She is truly a great speaker! I think all college Presidents have to be great speakers – it’s kinda part of the job – but she is remarkably good. I could tell in the first few seconds of her speaking that more tears were coming. Fortunately mom had tissues! The President talked about her experiences when she brought her three kids to college for the first time. She was down-to-earth and funny and truly knows how to string words together in the perfect sequence.

She talked to us about how our girls were going to be transformed into women. That during the process of being at Barnard for the next four years, something changes. You can’t pinpoint the exact moment or the exact event or the exact circumstance – and more than likely it’s not one thing that does it. It’s the four years of being surrounded by brilliant bold young women, four years of new experiences, four years of living in NYC, four years of learning and growing and developing into women who will change the world. I already think my stepdaughter is an amazing human. Wise beyond her years. An old soul, if you will. I am beyond excited to see the woman who emerges on the other side of these four years.

Alas it was time to say good-bye. The walk from the auditorium back to the front gate was slow and quiet. I’m in tears right now as I write these words and think back to two days ago. Seeing my husband and mom break down as they remembered our girl. Their girl. She was just five year old!!! Like… yesterday!!! I don’t know how Grandma held it together; I know I certainly couldn’t. Our girl came out five minutes later and there were hugs all around. Tears were flowing freely at this point. Nobody could really speak. I remember telling her to enjoy every moment. Someone said how proud they were of her. Then she was walking away. She never looked back. And all we could do was walk to our cars and hug everyone.

Thankfully our girl is somewhat close by. We can easily be there in about twenty minutes. So it’s not as if she’s hours away or even a plane ride away. She’s only a few minutes away. And yet, she’s an entire World away.

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