The following article was first published in the September 16, 2007 edition of the Baltmore Sun. It is being used with permission from the author (and proud Terp parent).
Taking a college crash course in letting go
By Rob Hiaasen, Sun reporter
Because it's harder to talk about what's really happening, allow us the path of least emotional resistance.
My son left home for college.
It's easier to remember college orientation at the University of Maryland last month. During that weekend in College Park, he went one way, I went the other. The college insisted on the split. On my own, I heard many interesting speakers and received important information in many, many college pamphlets. At one point, parents rubbed a bronze turtle's head for luck. Some rubbed twice.
A month later, I can't remember a thing I learned.
That isn't entirely true. I remember someone named Bursar. I don't know this Bursar chap (he sounds British), but he wanted the fall tuition by Aug. 20. He must be really important because parents don't cross Bursar. He even has his own building.
Since I'm incapable of retaining important information, I have become an electronic Terp Parent with online access to everything I need to know about being a parent of a college freshman. A parent helpline, parent "warmline," parent advisory council and a parents association are offered. On the Terp Parent Web site, there's even a section called "Educating Parents."
All right, who's this Buckley dude? Under "Rights and Privacy," the university spells out the Buckley Amendment that says, in shorthand, He/She who pays Mr. Bursar is NOT entitled to see their kid's grades. Parents need their child's consent before seeing their grades. The balance of power has officially shifted.
The college recommends parents and students agree upon "methods of communication" before classes start. If you are nice to your kids, maybe they will tell you their grades. As if anticipating a natural follow-up question, the Web site says: "Communicating with young adults is not easy; they're not always as forthcoming as we would like."
A little forthcoming goes a long way, though. Do I want to know my son's grades anymore? I thought I graduated from report cards and the incessant interims of high school; even the interims had interims. Letting go also means letting go of grades. I made my own grades in college, and I remain not at all forthcoming.
Speaking of "Letting Go: Necessary Change for Families," this section of the Web site says: "In progress." No doubt important and useful information is forthcoming, but "In Progress" unwittingly says it all. Letting go is an act in progress.
As a Terp Parent, advice is a big part of the educational experience. The university offers uninhibited tips for parents.
- "If you were puzzled by your children in high school, you will certainly be confused by them when they are in college."
- "Home visits will be very different than when the student lived at home." (I don't know what to do with this information.)
- "If you intend to visit campus, let your student know you are coming."
- "E-mail, if you have it, is wonderful."
- "Keep your son or daughter informed of happenings at home." (What's happened is my son is not home anymore.)"
- "Understand the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, also known as the Buckley Amendment." (Got it, thanks.)"
There are also suggested rules for Terp parents: Don't ask your child if he is homesick -- the question itself inspires homesickness; ask questions, but not too many; visit, but not too often; expect change, but not too much; and don't tell your child these are the best years of his life unless you define "best years" as semesters replete with mistakes, insecurities, disappointments -- and roommates whose grooming habits closely resemble those of lower primates.
I have a lot to learn this fall. Having mastered Bursar and Buckley, I still have to learn how to get used to not seeing my son sequestered in his bedroom or at the dinner table or not at the dinner table because he's at Panera's or BK with friends. Home visits will be very different, I hear. New methods of communication are recommended. E-mail is wonderful and all that.
All of us, moving on, insistently.