by Jane Parent
It was just a few weeks ago that you dropped your son or daughter off at college for their first year. Already seems like longer than that, doesn’t it? New friends, new academic challenges, new surroundings – a lot of personal growth and development has already taken place. Who will come home for the Thanksgiving break, and will you recognize the new person growing behind that familiar face?
1. The Butterfly. This kid was quiet, introverted, predictable, and had peanut butter and jelly every day for lunch in high school. He looked so nervous and unsure when you waved goodbye. After a few short weeks of college, he has emerged from that chrysalis and become someone you don’t even recognize. He has joined the skydiving club, pledged a fraternity, is on the Ultimate Frisbee team, and running for some campus-wide office. He wouldn’t even eat fish sticks at home, but now he goes out for octopus sushi with friends. Who is this kid? He is thriving – meeting new friends, joining new activities, and has completely risen to meet all the new challenges of college life. He can’t wait to get back to class. And you were so worried – it’s heartwarming to behold. Life is wonderful.
2. The Barnacle. The first few weeks of her transition to college have been excruciating – for all of you. Roommates, new teachers, finding friends – she has insecurities and fears about them all, and texts or calls you several times each day to unload them on you, her emotional garbage chute. She doesn’t feel like she fits in yet, and is achingly homesick for her friends, familiar food, and the family dog. After you talk to her, you are sick with anxiety for days. She will cry when you take her to the airport to go back to campus.
One day, after spending the weekend with your stomach in knots thinking about your miserable daughter alone and friendless in her room on a Saturday night when she should be enjoying the best years of her life, you will suddenly realize that it’s been a few days since you heard from her. That’s how you’ll find out that she’s has made a new crew of friends, that they’re going out with other freshmen on their floor, and that she loves college.
3. The Phantom. What has your new freshman been doing at college? You have no idea. The last time you spoke with him was on drop off day. Phone calls go unreturned, texts are seen but not answered – and when they are, it’s at 2 a.m. and something random and impersonal like “Could you send flip flops?” The only way you know what he’s up to is when Netflix won’t let you access your account because you get the onscreen message that your account is already in use by someone else. He’s really enjoying his newfound freedom – freedom from you, apparently. You console yourself that you have launched an independent, self-sufficient young adult – but you secretly hope he’s simply too homesick to hear your voice. He won’t tell you until the day before Thanksgiving when or how he plans to get home.
4. The Hot Mess. You know the cautionary tales you hear about kid who gets to college and without the safety net of parents and rules, goes buck wild? You’re about to live it. For this kid, college has been an awesome whirl of mixers, football parties, and hanging out with friends until 3 a.m. He hasn’t figured out where the laundry room is yet, but he has discovered the joys of the afternoon nap instead of going to class. Without anyone there to insist on things like broccoli, he eats Lucky Charms for breakfast, lunch and dinner. He has a good start on “the freshman fifteen,” which to you looks suspiciously like beer weight.
When you notice that no backpack with homework came home with him, he is evasive about academics, other than admitting it’s “a lot of work” and that he needs to go talk the professor about his midterm grade. He will tell you at semester break that he’s already switched majors. Expect about a 2.3 GPA this year.
5. The Know-it-all. He or she will come home for Thanksgiving having been at college for two months, and will already know more than you do. Minimum wage laws, Apple’s tax policies, the flaws inherent in market-based economies – they know it all. He will have a new wispy goatee and haircut that you hate. She will have stopped shaving her legs as a symbolic protest against conventional norms of female appearance. Your formerly compliant, easygoing kid has discovered that he likes to argue with you, and with a really grating world-weary, patronizing attitude. Don’t worry – this is just a phase and it will pass. In your head, keep repeating Mark Twain to yourself: “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.” It’s going to be a long Thanksgiving weekend for you, though.
6. The Go Getter. Ambitious and goal-oriented, the Go Getter is not messing around. She has a four-year plan in place and knows exactly what she needs to go to achieve it. She has a full credit load, several extracurriculars, wants to be a teaching fellow. She’s already working on applications for summer internships. She doesn’t have time for anything as frivolous as fraternity parties or pizza with friends, not if she’s going to get that combined BS/Master’s degree. You worry about her going through college without having any fun or being at least a little irresponsible, but she is so purposeful and energized that you have to admire her focus. When you share your heartfelt concerns with your friends with college kids, they are incredulous and think you are just humblebragging. Relax – you don’t really have to worry about this kid. She’s gonna be just fine.
Before you know it, your freshman will turn into a seasoned sophomore and this phase will be over. But it sure makes for a fun holiday. Better buy extra wine, just in case.
Jane Parent is senior editor of Your Teen.