For parents of college-bound students, D-Day is fast approaching. D, in this case, is for departure, for decreasing the number of children at home, and for debt too, but you'll get to enjoy that one for many months to come. Freshman orientation begins soon, and after the final days of farewell parties, of packing and loading and fretting, of last-minute lists and purchases, "orientation" sounds wonderful--yet you've never been so disoriented in your life.
I'm an orientation veteran, having already moved my daughter out of my life and into the start of hers. It's an odd sensation: for 18 years you've been telling your child not to talk to strangers, and now she is going to live with them.
It's an interesting drive to school. Leaving the house, she's just a high school kid who is making off with all your towels, but when you arrive, she'll be a college student. Her conversation along the way--it's actually more of a manic monologue--seems designed to support the thesis "I am the Center of the Universe." This is her moment, so I suggest you silently bear even the most provocative comments ("Maybe next summer instead of working, I'll like hitchhike across Europe").
Your thoughts are probably focused on the titanic changes you'll be facing at the end of this journey. No more insomnia because she's half an hour late for curfew; you'll sleep soundly because she is out all night. Her visits home will be celebrations characterized by hugging and laundry.
Her mood will falter a little as you drive onto campus. "Let's go in and find your dorm assignment first," you'll suggest. "I know it!" she'll snap back. She's under great stress, so don't let this get to you. She wants to appear as if she has everything under control, even though she is actually feeling completely lost.
Let me give you some tips on what not to do in these final moments. Don't gush over the roommate, even though you are so relieved to see that she is of the same gender that you are nearly euphoric. Your relationship with your daughter's roommate is completely irrelevant and will be confined, in the future, to brief phone conversations in which she will claim not to have seen your daughter for days. Don't talk to the resident adviser about anything--it might make you feel better to explain that your child has milk allergies, but your daughter will never forgive you. Don't tell her to eat breakfast every day and study in the library, where she won't be distracted by dorm noise. Those were your mistakes--kids go to college to learn from their own mistakes.
And finally, don't say goodbye in her room, where she will be uncomfortably aware of other people and will need to act aloof. Take her out to the parking lot, where she can give you a real hug and where you can sob uncontrollably. You'll feel better.
Cameron is the author of 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter