The Last Drop Off

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Discus: Parents Forum: 2004 Archive - Part 2: The Last Drop Off
By Coureur (Coureur) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 11:00 pm: Edit

Or perhaps the near-last. Maybe the UCs haven't started yet, but it seems that D was the last among all her friends to go off to college.

We flew to Boston last Friday to drop her off at Harvard. Saturday was the Big Day and the place was mobbed by a reasonably well controlled and directed herd of parents and freshmen lugging their chattels out of the cars and up the various stairwells in Harvard Yard (this being perhaps the only day in your life in which you actually get to "park your car in Harvard Yard").

The weather has been perfect this entire trip. We are from San Diego and felt right at home. Evidently the Boston reputation for harsh weather is an elaborate hoax. Everyone was polite and helpful. In fact I never met a single Harvard parent, student, or employee who was anything other than gracious and friendly.

D's roommate is from NY and they seemed to hit it off very well. We spent the first day moving everything in and the second day at Target buying up all the necessary stuff that we didn't or couldn't pack to carry on the plane.

Sunday at noon W and I met Marite and Thoughtfulmom (whose D is also a Harvard frosh) for lunch and had a fine discussion over Thai food. It was great to finally put some faces with some of the CC screen names.

We went to some of the Orientation lectures and ceremonies. The choirs sang and the officials spoke. It was impressive to hear the Dean officially declare open the 369th year of the university. He recounted that back in the first year of the school it had only one professor who was fired at the end of that year for beating the students. His wife and been in charge of providing meals, and there had been many complaints about the food service too - SOME of which have since been cleared up.

Another good joke from the speechifying: the Dean noted that there are many dollar bills out there in circulation with Harvard president (and former Treasury Secretary) Lawrence Summers' signature on them -- and "Harvard is striving to get them all back".

Overall, I was very impressed with Harvard. Just about everything seemed first rate, although W insists that the dining hall food was much better at Pomona.

Even though we will be in the Boston area doing touristy things until Wednesday the 15th, we took our leave of D on Sunday evening. Her room was set up, the accessory stuff was bought, she had internet access, and her cell phone was ordered. It was time to go -- time to get out of her hair and let her get on with being a college student. There was no point in the two of us continuing to hang around her dorm room like some mournful Greek chorus.

There were no real tears; just a few misty eyes. It was great to see her confidently going off to begin her new life. But one day later we find ourselves constantly thinking: I wonder what she is doing now.

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 11:23 pm: Edit

Coureur, finally your D's turn! It sounds like a terrific send off. I am sure she is having a blast. You know that is "Pahk ya Cah in Hahvahd Yahd", right? Get with the program! My worst nightmare each day when I lived in Cambridge was when I drove through Harvard square, to never be stuck at the center of that intersection and sure enough one day on the way to school, my car broke down in the center of Hahvahd Square!

Did you see inside of the freshman dining hall there? I think it is called Annenberg (hope I have that right) and is in Harvard Yard? It looks so much like the set from Harry Potter.

It is really great that you met up with CC parents. I have had the pleasure of meeting Marite too.

Would love to hear how it is going for your daughter in the coming weeks. It is really neat to hear these stories after the times we have shared online when the kids were all applying way back when. Now, they get to taste the fruit, finally.

And for YOU, Welcome to the "club".

By Iska (Iska) on Monday, September 13, 2004 - 11:53 pm: Edit

By Enjoyingthis (Enjoyingthis) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:25 am: Edit

Coureur-- great post! You made me laugh out loud, always a good thing, I figure.

By Patient (Patient) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:45 am: Edit

Coureur, second that! alma mater. I'll be there next month for my 30th reunion. (and 30 years ago I too was a freshman from the San Diego area!) Have a wonderful time in Boston. That elaborate hoax you speak of will begin to dissipate soon, but your daughter will be completely enchanted by the first snowfall in Harvard Yard. Hope she continues to have a wonderful time.

You are not the last, though! The Stanford kids are sitting around twiddling their thumbs until Monday, September 20th, move-in day....UCSD and Davis kids also have a few days to wait too.

By Coureur (Coureur) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 07:04 am: Edit

>>Did you see inside of the freshman dining hall there? I think it is called Annenberg (hope I have that right) and is in Harvard Yard? It looks so much like the set from Harry Potter.<<

Yes, we did see Annenberg Hall. In fact we ate one meal there:

And as you can see it does look a lot like Hogwarts, although I'm told that Harvard does not employ talking hat technology to make the residence college assignments.

By Bookworm (Bookworm) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 07:58 am: Edit

I think the hat-technology is reserved for Caltech

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 08:08 am: Edit


Annenberg is in Memorial Hall which was built to commemorate the Harvard students who died on the Union side in the Civil War. Every once in a while there is a discussion whether the confederate dead ought to be included as well. Other war dead are commemorated in Memorial Church. Memorial Hall is strictly not in the Yard. That's where I took my GRE eons ago.

I suppose it looks like Hogwarts, but at least it does not feature stuffed animal heads as does the cafeteria in St Marks school!

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 11:00 am: Edit

Marite, that is very interesting. I have to say that when I visited schools like Harvard, Yale, or Brown and entered various buildings, I had a sense of awe as to the long history at some of these places.

Coureur, while they do not employ the talking hat technology for the residential colleges at Harvard, I do recall that in the info. session where they had a current student as part of the question/answer part, the student commented that the selection as to which House you got, which is done late in freshman year, felt a lot like the Harry Potter scenario!


By Thoughtfulmom (Thoughtfulmom) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 11:32 am: Edit

We're definitely far from last, Coureur--in addition to the aforementioned Stanford, UCSD & Davis, there's also Chicago and Caltech to come later this month (not to mention anyone heading off to university in the UK!)

Our dropoff was bittersweet--

Lovely weather, delightful roommate, charming and cozy attic suite with sloping ceilings & skylights, reassuring freshman proctor, computer network worked smoothly, everything seemed efficiently orchestrated--even the traffic in Harvard Square was much easier than expected.

Daughter's double suite has very generous square footage if measured by floor space, but cubic footage is limited by those sloping ceilings--gotta be careful how you get up from a chair or you hit your head! I'm sure they'll get used to it--and they'll get lots of great exercise walking up and down all those steps to the top floor! (There's an elevator but stairs are faster.)

I was struck by how bright and sunny the world seemed compared to my own introduction to Cambridge almost three decades ago when I arrived as a grad student (--that September was gray and continually rainy.) I'm sure there will be rainy days ahead, but I was glad that move-in weekend was so nice.

And Memorial Hall has certainly undergone a major transformation since the 70s--it used to be a dark and gloomy place, used for exams rather than for eating! Unlike Marite, I never took my GREs there, but I certainly have memories of taking graduate final exams there--it was a gloomy place back in those days. It's funny to think of it filled with freshman eating and socializing in the spruced-up space.

My overwhelming impression is that Harvard has really given a lot of thought to how to improve the undergraduate experience since I observed it in the 70s (as a grad student TF.) And that they have a healthy recognition that there's still plenty of room for improvement, but they are actively working on it.

I'm not just talking about the physical transformation (though that's significant too--the Sever classrooms are now much nicer learning spaces than they were, for example, back in the 70s.) I think the physical transformation (evident in many small thoughtful aspects--like the outdoor rink in the north yard near the law & grad dorms, for example) is emblematic of a greater thought being given to the students' academic experience as well.

I enjoyed a great talk on Saturday from Prof. Dick Light on "Making the Most of College." That's also the title of his book, which I heartily recommend for anyone heading off to college, not just to Harvard. (Proceeds from the book go to a scholarship fund, not to him, by the way. It's worth recommending to your school and public libraries if they don't already have it.) I believe the thoughtful research carried out by Dick and his group has positively influenced many aspects of the undergraduate experience. And I think there will be continuing improvements in the future--the nature of universities is that some faculty and departments are more responsive and some change faster than others. Many years ago I had the opportunity to work with Dick as a colleague and that profoundly affected my own teaching. I believe many other faculty colleagues have been similarly affected by Dick's research, at Harvard and elsewhere. I'm glad he's had a such a positive impact on the undergrad institution my daughter will be attending. More generally, I see his influence--and that of other like-minded colleagues who share his interest in improving the quality of undergrad education--at many college campuses.

Mindful of not being a "mournful Greek chorus" or "helicopter parents" hovering nearby, we spent as much of the weekend as possible enjoying Cambridge/Boston apart from our daughter. I went for a long gorgeous walk along the Charles and rambled around Harvard Square early Sunday morning. I peeked in the windows of the co-op daycare center our daughter had attended as a toddler (less than five minutes walk from her current dorm.) Suddenly images flooded into my head of the many happy hours I had spent there doing my co-op time with the dedicated and caring professonal teachers, the many hours I watched my daughter and her mates happily playing in the daycare's gym or on the playground. (Working with those wonderful daycare teachers taught me a lot of things that made me a better parent. Of course, like everything else, there's still "room for improvement!")

I still remember her first day at the co-op daycare as an adventurous young toddler years ago--it was exciting but scary, but the dedicated, caring, and reassuring teachers and the beautiful little space created by volunteer parents who had gone before us made it a terrific experience, despite all my apprehensions. I have such fond memories of those early years. I think her undergrad years will be wonderful as well, though in a very different way.

Where did the years eyes fill with tears and I get a lump in my throat thinking about it.

By Soozievt (Soozievt) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:05 pm: Edit

Loved your account Thoughtfulmom! (by the way, I was a grad student at Harvard in '80-'81). You know, reading your story (and can relate to it so well), in a way, there is a likeness to sending your kid off to preschool or kindergarten. That step also was kind of like the end of one "era" of your kid at home with you and then letting them go off to someone else's care, etc. The college thing is much bigger but also an end to one stage and start of an exciting new one, that also is intertwined with the parent aspect. It truly is bittersweet. I feel so happy for my kid and excited for all she is finally getting to do now that the college process has come to the prize part. Still, it is very hard to experience the change in OUR lives of not having her be a daily part of it. I do want this for her so that makes it a happy thing, plus hearing how happy she seems to be there.


By Thoughtfulmom (Thoughtfulmom) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:38 pm: Edit

One more thing: I'm struck by how much easier it is for us parents to have a sense of what's going on in our kids' colleges WITHOUT needing to interrogate them about all the gory details.

Thanks to the Internet, we can read the campus newspapers on-line, check the schedule of campus events, etc. And it's nice having a choice of technologies for staying in touch (we're not really phone people; my daughters like IM, but for me, email is great, because it's fast and asynchronous--we don't both have to be free at the same time. And it's nice sending the occasional parental advice or suggestion via email, because she has time to digest it and reflect on it before replying.) And it was kind of fun yesterday, when I didn't hear much from her, to be able to check the freshman dean's office website and realize--"Oh, yeah, today is full of mandatory events--placement tests, safety orientations, registrations--they're really keeping them busy."

The Internet has really changed the college experience for students. Things like the make it much easier for students with similar interests to connect with one another even on a large campus. Running student organizations must be much easier with email lists and websites to spread information (and save lots of paper and physical mailbox stuffing effort!) It's also nice to be able to get fast turnaround help in clarifying assignments with a quick email to a professor.

By Marite (Marite) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:44 pm: Edit

Talking about the, here's an article from the Harvard Crimson:

By Bookiemom (Bookiemom) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 12:55 pm: Edit

Thoughtfulmom: That is an unforgettable image of you peeking in the windows of your D's former preschool on the college drop-off weekend. I'm amazed you weren't sobbing! I was also in a co-op preschool (with a parent education component) run by a talented and empathetic teacher with a Ph.D. in child development. It absolutely shaped me as a parent and led to lifelong frienships.

I love the image of your D's room in the attic with sloping ceilings and also climbing up the stairs to get there. I attended a week-long seminar at Harvard several years ago and stayed on campus. It was such fun to be a Harvard student--if only for a week.

By Coureur (Coureur) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 05:03 pm: Edit

Thoughtfulmom -

I can relate to both the sloping attic ceilings and the stairs (44 of them to be exact, with no elevator), since D's dorm room also has them. Remind me, which hall is your D in?

My D is in Mass. Hall, which also houses Pres. Summers' office on the ground floor. We were told that he hosts a pizza party each year just for the kids in Mass. Hall at which he autographs dollar bills already bearing his signature if they want. Sounds like he has a sense of humor.

By Sandiegomom (Sandiegomom) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 07:05 pm: Edit

Coureur and Thoughtfulmom --

Do you think the Harvard Housing people know something about CC that we don't? Our D is also in a 4th floor attic space complete with sloping walls. She missed most of move-in day because of the freshman outdoor program. We Parental Sherpas were allowed to pick up her keys for her and lug all her stuff up to her room. H and I have added a new verb to the language: "to sherp." Those stairwells are steep after a couple of trips. I could have used some bottled oxygen.

By Patient (Patient) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 08:13 pm: Edit

Thanks for the lovely descriptions, all! It sounds like Harvard is putting a lot of effort into improvements in undergraduate education and the rooms sound wonderful. Hope all continues to go well.

By Kiddielit (Kiddielit) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 08:27 pm: Edit

For all you parents missing your Harvard students and for anyone else fascinated by Harvard history and traditions, here are some suggestions for great light reading --
Harvard Yard by William Martin. The narrative follows a fictional family and a fictional Shakespeare folio through centuries of Harvard history. Very enjoyable.
Mysteries by Jane Langton, including The Deserter, which is all about the Harvard men who fought in the Civil War and others including The Memorial Hall Mystery, starring Homer and Mary Kelly, Harvard English profs.

By Achat (Achat) on Tuesday, September 14, 2004 - 09:23 pm: Edit

I wonder why I hadn't noticed this thread. Thanks everyone, makes me want to visit Boston! Good luck to your daughters. Loved the story about Larry Summers signing bills with his signature!

By Marite (Marite) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 03:44 pm: Edit

An article for parents who've just dropped off their children at college:

"Weaning Parents from Children as the Head off to College" by Samuel Freedman in NYT, 9/15/2004 (you have to register to read it)

By Rhonda63 (Rhonda63) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 03:55 pm: Edit

Marite, that was a great article with some really interesting points. I liked the "helicopter parents" phrase (hovering and ready to swoop in to meddle) and the image of the kid tearing of the shirt his parents made him wear for move-in day and SETTING IT ON FIRE!!! was really something.

I have to say I often feel torn, even though I'm not quite in the boomer age group the article focuses on -- on the one hand, I want to make sure everything is OK for my child, and to make sure she has not even a single moment of unhappiness or discomfort. OTOH, I want her to experience life and all its marvelous ups AND downs, all the things that makes the journey so wonderful -- I don't want to rob her of any of that.

By Sybbie719 (Sybbie719) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 04:12 pm: Edit

Here's the Article:

September 15, 2004
Weaning Parents From Children as They Head Off to College

SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. One momentous morning 35 Septembers ago, Abby Snay's parents packed their Oldsmobile from trunk to dome light with her suitcases, her books, even her hair dryer, and drove from their Chicago home to her first day of college at Washington University in St. Louis. Once the elder Snays unloaded the car and lugged the stuff into Abby's dorm room, they turned around and rode the five hours back, confident she would survive.

On a comparable day earlier this month, Ms. Snay and her husband sat on folding chairs in the gymnasium of Skidmore College here, having flown cross-country with their son to start his freshman year. From a temporary stage, the sounds of Donovan and Steely Dan wafted across the hardwood floor to the bleachers, aural comfort food for perhaps 500 middle-aged parents. When the serenade ended, an author named Karen Levin Coburn strode to the podium to begin a workshop on a topic on which Ms. Snay's parents had not required instruction. It was called "Letting Go."

Indeed, Ms. Snay, the director of a Jewish social service agency in San Francisco, and her husband, Ed Yelin, a professor of health policy at the University of California campus there, had overseen their son Ben's applications to multiple colleges. Was it 12 or 13? They could not remember exactly anymore. And they, of course, would be paying the price of Skidmore, nearly $40,000 a year for tuition, room, board and fees.

"This is a whole generation of boomer parents who've been so involved with their kids from the beginning," Ms. Snay said with appealing self-awareness and a trace of apology. "Baby groups, selecting the best preschool, piano lessons, soccer games. This is just the next step. And I think of us as being in the middle of the spectrum."

She must be right, because in an era when parents increasingly orchestrate their children's lives, and nowhere more so than in the process of applying to college, the business of orientation for grown-ups is flourishing.

Scores of institutions, from Utah State to Oberlin, from M.I.T. to Notre Dame to Wake Forest, offer some combination of practical information and virtual group therapy. At Wofford College, a Methodist school in Spartanburg, S.C., a minister cites biblical verses to reassure parents.

Ms. Coburn, an alumna of Skidmore who is an assistant vice chancellor of Washington University, started holding workshops 20 years ago, drawing perhaps 200 parents on her own campus. These days, Washington University devotes three days to parent orientation, and her session attracts a standing-room-only crowd of nearly 1,000. Top high schools like Francis Parker in San Diego, Stuyvesant in Manhattan and Ridgewood in New Jersey hire her to address parents of college-bound seniors. Her book, "Letting Go," first published in 1988, has sold 300,00 copies in four editions and is growing in sales with each passing year.

The trend has remade even the language. College students are now known by the euphemism "emerging adults." As for their mothers and fathers, the authors Neil Howe and William Strauss have dubbed them "helicopter parents" for their habit of hovering over their collegian children, ever ready to swoop in and meddle, er, rescue.

Of course, there are some perfectly logical reasons for the current generation of parents to enmesh themselves so deeply in the process.

College costs a huge amount of money. Admission to an elite university is viewed, albeit without proof, as the guarantee of a child's success in later life. Issues ranging from date rape to attention deficit disorder have emerged on campuses in the last decade or so.

While the parents of baby boomers may not have attended college, or stayed close to home at places like City College in New York or Loyola University in Chicago, the boomers consider themselves experienced experts, knowledgeable consumers.

Still, one cannot escape the overarching sense that, for the parents who populate workshops like Ms. Coburn's, youth is too important to be left to the young. And the young, having grown accustomed to dependency, harbor profoundly mixed feelings about being let go. Sixty or 70 years ago, teenagers worked full time to support their Depression-era families and enlisted to battle fascism in a world war; now the question is whether to pick up the cellphone when Mom or Dad show up on caller ID.

"There's two really dominant sides within the same person," said Rachael Caine, a Skidmore sophomore who performed in a skit that was part of Ms. Coburn's session. "One is: 'I really need you here. I need you to sign me up for my classes. I need you to put me to bed. I want to do this on my own, but, oh, my God, I can't.' Then there's the other side. 'I don't want to talk to you. I'm finally living my own life and it's fabulous. And even if it isn't fabulous, I'll work it out on my own.' "

Amid such a thicket of anxiety, Ms. Coburn presented herself to the Skidmore parents as a kindred spirit. She spoke about how differently her own two children reacted to the onset of college - her daughter shopping for her wardrobe months in advance, her son asking as the family drove to campus, "What's the difference between archeology and anthropology?"

She recalled the freshman she spotted at Washington University who tore off the shirt his parents had commanded he wear for arrival day and set it afire.

"It can be hard to remember," she told her audience, "just who it is who's going to college."

In fleecy tones, she set about weaning parent from child. She talked about the need to appreciate a child's "four I's": independence, intimacy, identity and intellectual development. She suggested that the parents see themselves as coaches for their children, available to share advice and wisdom when asked but as much as possible pointing them toward support services on the campus rather than offering to solve every problem.

"We need to learn how to keep our own feelings separate," Ms. Snay acknowledged. "Ben's our youngest, and there are all these feelings of loss."

Her husband added, "And for me, to learn how to keep away and learn how to let him fail on his own without jumping in to help him."

By Momsdream (Momsdream) on Wednesday, September 15, 2004 - 04:28 pm: Edit

Congrats Coureur!

I would have loved to have been part of the Thai Food discussion. It's my all time favorite!

I wish my S would have been more interested in Harvard. I was definitely "vibing" with Harvard Sq., even though he wasn't (or refused to).


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