About this time two years ago, I was packing my first child off to college. And I mean packing. What a production!
We had checklists, so many that we needed a checklist for our checklists: Bathroom list, check. Desk list, check. Bedding list, kitchenette list, miscellaneous list, check, check, check.
We spent hours, days, coordinating her twin comforter to her table lamp to her bathroom glass, and then tried to tie her stuff to her roommate's stuff — an even more futile effort.
Now as I prepare to send my youngest child off to college, I look back and smack myself. What was I thinking?!
Most of the wrongheadedness was my fault, as usual. I thought I could control my daughter's new environment, and turn a 13-by-16-foot room into an oasis of functional comfort and visual harmony.
Ha ha ha ha. We parents can be such idiots.
On the first weekend I visited her weeks after she'd moved in, I saw that the dorms were chaotic dens of hygienic havoc and bawdy bedlam. Don't these kids' parents care, I wondered? Then I saw my daughter's room. That was humbling. And she had cleaned up.
My take home: Care less!
See, when children go to college, parents get an education, too.
• Parent lesson No. 1: It's a dorm, not a first apartment. For many 18-year-olds it's the first time they have had to manage the basics of daily living. It's not a pretty learning curve.
• Parent lesson No. 2: The more you send, and the more coordinated it is, the more foolish you make your kid look.
• Parent lesson No. 3: However nice you make your kid's dorm look on move-in day, the space will be a pigsty by Halloween.
While I still feel that maternal urge to imprint myself on my youngest daughter's new dorm, I know — despite what all the stores capitalizing on this rite of parental passage will tell you — the process is not that complicated.
That doesn't mean my youngest is not into decorating her digs. She started shopping for her comforter in December. It means that I don't have to micromanage the transition down to her toothbrush. She's going to college, after all.
Two years ago, when launching daughter one, I wrote a couple columns on dorm decorating. For tips, I consulted experts at places like Bed, Bath & Beyond, Target and The Container Store. I downloaded their dorm-must-have lists, and followed them as if they were a road map to my child's success. Down mattress topper equals A in economics.
This time, I consulted the real experts: college kids. I didn't ask them what to bring, since those lists are everywhere. I asked these front-line consumers what not to bring.
Here's a list — courtesy of my oldest daughter, now a seasoned junior at Trinity University, and a few of her also seasoned college friends — of the most unnecessary, often annoying, items kids bring to outfit their dorms, plus a few must-haves not found on conventional lists: