Parents’ Weekend a True Test (10/16/13)

Walking the fine line between enabling and disabling

A couple weeks ago I attended San Clemente High School’s Back to School Night. It’s not often I’m encouraged to ask questions about my younger son’s school day and in return receive more than one word answers.

I take advantage of all invitations welcoming me into my sons’ homes away from home.

Of course I jumped at the chance to attend the college equivalent of Back to School Night: Parents’ Weekend. Like its counterpart, Parents’ Weekend is the only opportunity to visit my older son’s campus and ask questions without causing him public humiliation or college exile.

Our son is a sophomore, so my perspective of Parents’ Weekend has changed. Last fall, after receiving a cheery brochure promising a memorable reunion with my son, I enrolled our family in every weekend event.

We went on more campus tours, ate at the family breakfast under a tent with school administrators, attended a pre-game party with other officials, socialized at the football game and more.

As promised, I have memories of the weekend and most include my son complaining about attending another lame event.

Vowing not to repeat my rookie mistake, I tossed this year’s glossy offering and instead accepted an email invitation to our son’s fraternity barbecue.

The email asked us to dress in school colors and arrive at the “house” at noon for a bountiful barbecue, then participate in a pre-game tailgate and afterwards cheer the home team onto victory at the stadium. The fraternity festivities guaranteed fun, provided we could keep pace with 20-year-olds.

I couldn’t wait to get inside the house I’d been banned from gawking at but at the same time, I was nervous and told my husband my plan to avoid all food and bathrooms. I likened it to a train wreck—I wanted to look but was afraid of what I might see.

As a sophomore, our son lives in an apartment, not a dorm—but like the dorm, I don’t get to visit it much either.

Hoping to spend some quality time with my son, I suggested meeting in the morning at his apartment and walking to the fraternity house together. He replied, “Don’t even think about coming over before 11.” My protests for more time together were countered with his plea for privacy.

The next day, I arrived promptly at 11 a.m. to find my son still in bed. My younger son and my son’s roommates all grabbed video controllers and started shouting, while a football game blared in the background.

With nowhere to go, no one to talk to, and an hour to kill until my husband arrived, I decided to clean the kitchen. I hear your groans, but my choices were to watch football, play football video games or stare at walls covered by football pennants.

I know all about the fine line between enabling and disabling. I’ve read studies suggesting over-parenting produces college students more likely to be depressed and less satisfied with their lives.

I cleaned anyway. And for the record, my son and his roommates seemed pretty happy and not the slightest bit depressed with their clean kitchen.

If you think my behavior is bad consider the notorious tale of one mom and her lint roller. Legend has it while at her son’s apartment during Parents’ Weekend she looked for a vacuum to tidy their carpet. Unable to find one, she whipped out a lint roller from her handbag, dropped to her hands and knees, and rolled the entire carpet clean.

At noon we walked to my son’s fraternity house. Similar to secrecy surrounding their ceremonies, passwords and handshakes, I’m forbidden to write about our barbecue at Kappa Tappa Kegga.

I can say I got a lingering look into his home away from home. I noticed there isn’t any carpet in the house–either linoleum is easier to hose down or they heard I was coming.

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