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Separation Trials at Chapman

When kids move to the Orange university, partings are often harder for parents.

August 20, 2003|Ashley Powers | Times Staff Writer

Outside Room 263 in Morlan Hall, four parents lean near a door that opens to two single beds, small refrigerator and their sons' adulthood.

In the coming weeks, Chris Bartlett and Ames Ressa, buddies at a San Diego-area high school, will savor all the firsts of college at Chapman University in Orange.

First class. First paper. First "Whoops! I overslept my morning class!"

But also: First kegger. First college girlfriend. First time living away from home.

The four parents wait for their sons to return with their room keys, swallowing the cocktail of elation and sadness that comes compliments of any rite of passage.

"I think there'll be crying, truth be known," said Chris' father, Bob Bartlett, 58.

"But only behind my sunglasses on the drive home," said Lisa Ascoli, 48, the mother of Chris' roommate, Ames Ressa.

Tuesday was move-in day for new residents at Chapman, a school of nearly 4,000 undergraduates, a quarter of whom live on the campus of beige buildings and palm trees. Mattresses peek out of SUVs. Parking lots look like grocery store exits, with students pushing blue carts brimming with "study snacks" and cardboard boxes.

Students were jovial. Parents were wistful. "The 18 years just went by so fast," said Linda Dix, 52, whose daughter, Schuyler, was moving to Chapman from Medina, Wash.

And so, from Day One, the university cradles parents through the college years. There are parent orientation sessions on everything from food plans to studying overseas to mixers with faculty members. Parents are encouraged to play movers and to see the campus.

Ten years ago, dropoff day pleasantries consisted of, "Thank you. Please leave. We'll take it from here," said Martha Hammer, president of the 17-member Independent Colleges of Southern California, which includes Chapman.

Now, most universities try to engage parents. Part of it, she said, is the long college application process. Parents want to see the payoff for months of research. They also want to stay close to their kids, a realization that led colleges to encourage things such as retaining students and alumni involvement, Hammer said.

"It's such a big step: just dropping your child off and walking away for four years," said Chapman spokeswoman Kristi Deschenes.

Which is why, even though the college tries to ease the separation anxiety, parents still suffer and their kids still hear about it.

Christy Brewer, 19, is resident advisor to 32 students in Morlan Hall. The business major realizes that, just like when kids are dropped off at kindergarten, the tears mostly come from parents.

A couple "freaked out" Tuesday morning after their crying daughter showed them the tight space she would share with two other girls, Brewer said.

A mother neared tears as she left one of her twins at Chapman.

The other was leaving for college too.

Erin Steele tries to soothe her family, promising to visit. Often. "I live like 20 minutes away," said Steele, 17, of Irvine. "And my family's like, 'Oh, we'll see you at Christmas.'

"And I say I'll be home on Sunday and do my laundry and I'll visit, and my mom's eyes water."

Steele stood in a long line of students waiting for keys. Some waited nearly an hour, because many arrived before their scheduled move-in times.

After their wait, Chris Bartlett and Ames Ressa bounded up the stairs of Morlan Hall, baseball caps turned backward, gunning for their door. Their moms followed them into their empty dorm room.

Their dads grabbed boxes and bags from the 13-foot-long pile of stuff outside Room 263 that took two SUVs to transport from San Diego, including a 24-pack of toilet paper, an "8 Mile" movie poster and a bottle of bleach Chris' mom had packed for toilet cleaning.

Outside the room, the boys said that their moms and dads had been acting strange -- since July. The boys' refrain has become, "It'll be OK." Ressa compares college to a "big slumber party." Bartlett promises to drop by for home-cooking.

But Ressa's mom, Lisa Ascoli, readied to leave with her husband even before parent orientation.

"I need," she said, "to kiss him goodbye and drive away."

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