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College send-off scary -- for Mom

August 29, 2009|SANDY BANKS

I remembered from my first go-round to bring necessities not listed in the college dormitory's move-in guide: plastic hangers, scented drawer liners, tools to un-jam a balky closet door.

But what I didn't remember when my daughter and I arrived last week at San Francisco State is how difficult it can be to drop off your kid, leave campus and get on with your life.

I'd been through the drill in 2003 with my oldest daughter. Then, we wandered wide-eyed through every reception and information session that Stanford offered. Two days later, we said tearful goodbyes and I headed home, confident that my child would be well cared for.

This time, my youngest daughter and I joined an endless sea of families jostling for 20-minute parking spots to unload computers and microwaves and cases of water bottles. Then we hauled our stuff up four flights of stairs.

And it struck me that if Stanford was a village, this was a city. And I was about to leave behind an 18-year-old who was pawing through our carefully packed boxes for the teddy bear she'd had since she was a baby.

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A lot has changed in the six years since I left my first child at college -- before grown-ups were allowed on Facebook, laptops came with webcams, and parents knew how to send text messages.

Now it's easier to stay in touch -- even stalk our children if we want. But I found it's just as hard to say goodbye.

College officials have given up trying to rush the goodbyes. Instead, they're channeling the energy of hovering parents with longer, more elaborate orientation programs; some even include sessions for siblings and grandparents.

Surveys show that parents want information in three areas: wellness, safety and how to support their children from a distance.

That's what I got at the lone orientation session I attended last week. But it made me feel more worried, not more secure.

I learned that in random screenings, 30% of students at San Francisco State had sexually transmitted diseases. And that you could connect the dots from that to binge drinking.

I heard from the university police chief that students venturing off campus are easy targets for thieves, with their fancy iPods and "$600 phones."

He said "aggressive law enforcement" on campus might keep our children safe, but it might also get them sent home. On move-in day, the police chief told us, two students "lit up a little dope in their rooms" as soon as their parents hit the highway toward home. "They're done," kicked out of school before they'd even begun.

And those medical marijuana cards that say you can legally smoke pot?

Don't bother pulling them out, one official said. "Medical marijuana cards are not honored here."

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I won't have to wait long to find out how my daughter's adjusting. She'll be home next week for a five-day break, courtesy of the state budget crisis that has furloughed professors, eliminated many classes and hiked fees.

I admit, since I've been home this week, I have peeked at her Facebook page. I've learned that the food is bad, the professors are "chill" and she almost slept through her "Critical Thinking" class.

And I discovered that she's got sources of support that I couldn't have anticipated -- the online chats with old classmates and videos posted by her friends.

It's hard to be lonely when the last thing you listen to at night is a clip of your best friend singing your favorite song from her dorm room in North Carolina.

It took me five days to say goodbye. I dragged her on shopping trips and sightseeing tours. We visited relatives and got manicures. I bought her books, filled her refrigerator, stocked her shelves and arranged her closet.

I figured it was time to go when her roommate's friends began greeting me by name. It seemed that every time they stopped by for a visit, I was assembling a shoe caddy or connecting the printer or plumping up her pillows.

Dawdling, I think they call it.

So last Sunday morning I headed home, and promised my daughter I wouldn't bug her. I asked one favor, that she would text me and let me know how things were going every night before she went to bed.

I didn't realize that would spark a new set of worries. Her texts came in at 2:44 a.m., 3:09 a.m., 1:40 a.m.

But she sounds happy, so I've decided to count my blessings. I'm not lying awake listening for the garage door to open in the middle of the night, or cringing when I hear a siren nearby.

Instead I hear the chime on the phone and reach to read her text message:

" 'nite, love you."

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sandy.banks@latimes.com

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