We went out to the hibachi restaurant here in Our Little Town on Tuesday night. Ordinarily this would not be particularly noteworthy – we like the hibachi restaurant, and while it is something of a treat rather than an everyday or even every month occurrence it is something that we try to do now and again. The last time we were there was when we decided to show Fran the joys of eating at a place where the chefs cook right in front of you and try to burn off your eyebrows with massive fireballs, because what could be more American than eating somewhere that might kill you with a simple miscalculation?
The food is good, too.
Our motivation this time was a bit different. It was Tabitha’s last dinner as a non-college student, and she requested it as her going-away meal. How could we say no?
Wednesday morning we piled a fair subset of her stuff and a small refrigerator into the minivan and headed off to her new home at Small Liberal Arts College. It’s not a bad drive really – far enough to prevent unexpected drop-ins by the parental units, but close enough so that nobody has to fly or ship anything and coming home for the holidays isn’t that much of a chore. Lauren stayed home, as it is Band Camp down at Local Businessman High School and she really has had enough of traveling for the time being, so it was just the three of us making the journey.
Let me tell you, SLAC has this whole move-in thing nailed down.
We arrived a bit after 9am, followed the abundant signs and even more abundant brightly-dressed student workers and found a parking spot. Tabitha’s first mission was to get Validated, which has nothing to do with your personal feelings or your parking receipt but is, instead, a check-in process at the Commons – you go in, get a sheet of paper with all of the things you still need to do highlighted, and pick up your student schedule before going downstairs to pick up the parent schedule (notably not the same as the student schedule), check in with the IT people to see if they can figure out why you need to reset your password every 6-12 hours, and fill out whatever paperwork was highlighted on the first sheet of paper.
All of this took maybe twenty minutes.
After that it was time to move in. We went back to the car, followed a different set of signs and brightly-dressed student workers to a check-in point where Tabitha could get her dorm key, and then were separated into three lines of cars, one for each dorm served by that particular check-in point. When it was our turn to head up what I suspect is normally a pedestrian walkway (which was still wider than half the roads in Cornwall), we ventured up the hill to the dorm where we were swarmed with yet more brightly-dressed student workers. Within minutes our van was emptied and all of Tabitha’s stuff – neatly labeled with her dorm room number – was carted up to her room while I drove back down to the original lot to park again.
They also fed us lunch. I have to say that SLAC has some really good food – this is the second time I’ve eaten there and it is a whole lot tastier than what I remember college food tasting like. Kim was impressed by the ample provision of vegetables.
After lunch we parted ways, which was by design. There is a reason why the parent and student schedules are different, after all. SLAC does a very good job of slowly separating you from your child in order to lessen the trauma of the final parting and you have to hand it to them on that. Tabitha went back to her room to finish setting up and continue getting to know her roommate, who seemed very nice, while Kim and I raided the bookstore for SLAC gear and then headed over to the theater for a parent information session which might as well have been entitled “Relax! You Will Be Fine!”
The Jeff Foxworthy-esque routine entitled “You Might Be A Helicopter Parent” just hammered the point home.
We left the theater and headed for a small group meeting with academic advisors – there were three advisors in our room and maybe half a dozen sets of parents, and we got to ask the advisors whatever we wanted while they explained how things work at SLAC. It works differently from Home Campus, which made it interesting even for us longtime university employees.
The final event of the day was a small outdoor convocation/welcome ceremony. The parents lined the main walkway across campus while a procession of students led by two bagpipers (what is it with American universities and bagpipers?) marched by waving and cheering. They went to the right around the building at the end of the parade and we walked around to the left and we all met at the other side for a blessedly short little ceremony that ended with the students getting a big class photo from the overhead drone.
At this point the SLAC chaplain – a pointedly ecumenical woman – announced, “Families! You will now have five minutes to practice letting your child go! And then you must go.”
So we did.
It is a strange thing to see your child heading off to a new stage in her life. As a parent you remember – you remember the little girl, the school-ager, the young teen, and it’s hard sometimes to wrap your head around the fact that those are memories, that the mature young woman in front of you is moving on. That’s what parenting is, of course – the steady process of making yourself less necessary to their lives while still being there for them when they need you.
“No little girl can stop her world to wait for me,” as Natalie Merchant once put it.
I remember being on the other side of that, not too long ago, heading off into the dorm after saying goodbye to my parents. And now it was my turn to drive home, the miles slipping by and the house just that much emptier when we got back, and it’s not a bad thing really even if it is a change from the last eighteen years.
Do well and be well, Tabitha. I’m proud of you.