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College Freshmen Say the Darndest Things

Even the most accomplished teens need help navigating the college waters. As my role shifts from hands-on parent to advisory council, I relish my daughter's progress.

“Mom, what’s a voided check?”

My 18-year old daughter, a freshman at Colorado State University for all of three weeks, is calling me with this burning question. I try not to chuckle but realize that for the millennial, smartphone generation, checks are soon going the way of 8-track cassettes and mullets. Much to her mother’s delight, she has landed a job as a lab assistant in an animal science physiology lab, and the department needs a check for payroll direct deposit. I patiently explain why they need a check and how to void it.

This question is just one of many that I have received since dropping her off in Fort Collins in August. Kelsey had a 4.1 GPA in high school, but she has a lot to learn in Street Smarts 101. This became apparent even before she left for college. One day as we were driving through Palo Alto, I pointed out facebook’s offices and she looked at me in surprise and said, “You mean people work there?” As I’m thinking, duh, I’m also thinking that maybe her response is not so ignorant after all. She and her pony-tailed peers have grown up with facebook and thousands of other ubiquitous apps and take their existence for granted. The generation gap in action.

Fast forward to college where she is no longer riding shotgun; she is in the driver’s seat navigating the road to self-sufficiency. As she maneuvers around the roadblocks, I have been on the receiving end of the following questions/comments:

Kelsey: “Mom, I can’t get my bike lock to work.”

Me: “Jiggle it.”

Kelsey: “Mom, I can’t find my debit card.”

Me: “Call B of A, report it lost and order a new one.”

Kelsey: “How do I do that?”

Me: (sigh)

Kelsey: “My professor is talking to someone in his office and the door is closed. I need to talk to him. What do I do?”

Me: (Thinking: seriously?) “Wait a few minutes, knock on the door, leave a note, check his office hours (rinse, repeat).”

Kelsey: “Mom, I need to put three things in a bag that describe me and I don’t know what to do.”

Kelsey: “Mom, Brittany and I got our belly buttons pierced. Don’t ever do it; it really hurt.”

Kelsey: “Mom, I pushed the button for colors on the washer but the water is warm. Is that OK? I can’t change the setting.”

I do my best to turn the questions around and try to help her discover the appropriate course of action herself – teach her to fish, as it were. Sometimes I think she just wants me to double check her thinking. For example, one Sunday, a Japanese girl in her dorm slammed her finger in a door, so she and another boy with a car took her to the ER and stayed with her for several hours. The girl didn’t speak English very well and was grateful for the assistance. I was proud of Kelsey’s compassion, not to mention her ability to get to the ER for someone who’s extremely directionally challenged. A week later the girl had to go back for a follow-up appointment and needed someone to accompany her. Kelsey felt like she should help her, but had two tests the next day. So she called the mom advice line. Operators are standing by.

“Mom, I really want to help her but I have a lot of studying to do. School comes first.”

Me (smiling because for once I’m not the one chanting the SCHOOL COMES FIRST mantra): "You’re right. Maybe you can help by finding someone else in the dorm who can take her. It’s OK to say, no I can’t do that, but here’s what I can do."

Deep down, I’m pleased that she’s asking questions and trying to captain her own ship, even if some of the questions seem like duh-isms. Now, at the end of week five, she is successfully juggling classes, a job, and a lively social life with new friendships in her dorm, the Agricultural Sciences department, and sorority.

Last Sunday she texted me at 6:00am and sent photos from the top of Horsetooth Mountain. Half the kids on her dorm floor decided to hike to the top and watch the sunrise. And this from a kid who is not big on hiking and has been known to sleep until 2:00pm.

Friends ask me if I’m sad to have an empty nest (Kelsey has a twin brother who’s a freshman at UC Santa Cruz; fodder for another blog post). I have reflected a great deal about this, and my response is no. My job orchestrating their lives day to day began diminishing some time ago. Now I am content to give them the reins and gently coach and cheer from the sidelines. I tell them how proud I am of everything they’ve accomplished so far, how I am here to support them, and how much I love them.

During the Colorado State orientation, the Vice President of Student Affairs said that her teenage son would send her texts containing LOL. She thought he was being sweet and telling her “lots of love.” When she found out what the acronym really meant, she said those texts took on a whole new meaning and she had a good laugh. But she encouraged all the students and families to use her definition of LOL frequently. I now end all my text messages to Kelsey with LOL, and she knows exactly what I mean.

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Jeff McKown September 28, 2011 at 04:35 PM
Your list of your daughter's "burning" questions made me LOL (the new-fangled way). Thanks for a great post Laura.
Deborah McEvoy September 28, 2011 at 05:46 PM
love this article Laura, it seems like only yesterday they were in kindergarten!
John Schuck September 28, 2011 at 10:56 PM
I fielded many similar questions when my daughter went off to college (UC Berkeley - Go Bears). She's graduated and your article brought back good and amusing memories.
Ryan Teves October 04, 2011 at 09:28 PM
Great article.... and I think this what kids like about college and didn't like about high school. Learning in the "real world" is so much more rewarding and advice that is given upon request is better received than advice forced upon us. Now, your daughter can call when she needs help... rather than us helping them against their will! haha. Thanks, Ryan Teves author of "In Defense of the American Teen"
Suzanne Bowler October 28, 2011 at 10:04 PM
You hit it right on the button, Laura! The college' freshman-isms' are delightful. Its so fun to hear Kelsey's! Thanks so much for sharing.

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