My daughter’s childhood raced from zero to gone faster than a quarter mile of asphalt under the tires of a muscle car. One minute I had an adorable toddler running around the house, and the next, boxes and bags were stacked by the door as she packed for college. Where did the time go?
Dads, our emotions may be in turmoil as we consider our little angels alone on a college campus. Watching a daughter step out on her own is tough, but the process is natural. She has to spread her wings and solo. Her exciting adult life has arrived, and we need to do all we can to assist with her liftoff.
While we can’t stop the growing-up process, we can certainly take steps to make the college transition easier for both of us. Here’s a starter list, in no particular order. By the way, these items apply to sons leaving for college, too. I don’t want to leave the guys out.
1. Pick the correct packing boxes.
College begins for freshmen in mid-August, and here in the south that means 90/90 days— 90+ degrees with 90% humidity. College parking lots are usually vast expanses of smoldering asphalt located a zip code distant from the dormitory. Hundreds of new students will be moving in on the same morning so don’t expect to pull in front and toot the horn for the valet. Dad, you will be the one carrying the sacred possessions to your daughter’s new domicile while Mom helps her unpack and decorate.
Invest in a collection of sturdy plastic boxes with lids. Opt for uniform size and shape with a design that nests in a tidy stack when empty. This is a purchase which will reward you each time you move your child to or from school. Do the math. Assuming four years of college you will be moving the daughter into her dorm four times and moving her home four times. Plastic boxes make the packing and toting easier. Empty boxes can be returned home and shoved into the attic until they are needed. Full boxes archive easily in the garage or attic during summer months.
2. Buy a dolly.
Acquire a folding four-wheeled dolly with sturdy casters or pneumatic tires. You will get much use from this handy tool during her college years and later during her wedding preparations, but let’s deal with one trauma at a time. Stacking the uniform plastic boxes on the dolly and wheeling the entire collection into the dorm is much easier than carrying multiple loads. You might find your daughter’s dorm has an elevator. Now you can wheel the load straight to her room. Other fathers will stare at you with envy as they mentally kick themselves wondering, “Why didn’t I think of that?”
3. Don’t forget the outlet strips.
Most dorm rooms are plagued with a critical shortage of outlets. Each girl will have two or more hair dryers, a curling iron, a laptop, a desk lamp, a goofy floor lamp she just has to have, multiple chargers, a dorm fridge, a TV, and a microwave. Invest in a heavy duty outlet strip as well as a surge suppressor strip for the electronics equipment. Look for long cords (eight feet at least). Strips with right angle low-profile plugs are awesome. The school may have rules about the acceptable wiring gauge for outlet strips so do your homework.
Don’t expect to run to the local hardware store or home center near the campus to purchase these items on move-in day. Hundreds of desperate parents join that hunt and deplete the stock rapidly. Buy your strips before you leave home.
4. Invest in a lock box.
A check book, credit cards, passport, birth certificate, and a host of other valuables represent targets for sticky fingers in this day of identity theft. Outfit your daughter with a small fireproof locking box for her cash and valuables. Show her how to hide the box in the back of the clothes closet. It is not an ideal solution, but it beats leaving treasures in a desk drawer.
5. Provide an emergency credit card.
After four years of college your daughter will (hopefully) find employment, purchase a car, and move into a home of her own. One painless way to establish her credit rating is to provide a credit card in her name with you as the guarantor. Your personal banker can help you establish this account. The daughter makes the charges, the bills come to you, and you pay.
Discuss the credit plan, and explain the card is especially for emergencies. Tires go flat. Batteries wimp out. Ensure she has an easy way to cover unexpected expenses.
When she is a junior, open a second credit account with another financial institution using the same arrangement. Make sure she uses both cards, and remember to pay the bills on time. She will finish college with two solid credit references.
Dad, credit vultures will be waiting at student orientation offering free credit cards with quick approvals. Many naive young people become ensnared in the trap. Protect your young lady, and establish her credit in advance. Help her learn to manage her finances in a responsible manner.
6. A good computer is a necessity.
The dusty seven year old laptop sitting in your closet is not the right choice. She needs a dependable computer with a fairly recent operating system. Some college programs demand Apple products, which are a bit pricey, while others specify Windows machines. Examine the material the college mailed to your house. Become familiar with the computer requirements, and don’t delay this purchase. Set a goal to have the computer configured before you deposit your daughter in her dorm.
Ensure her computer is equipped with virus protection software, although most colleges offer a free package to students. College networks are ripe with stuff you really don’t want to know about. Ask my wife who eventually became the owner of my daughter’s retired college computer. That rascal had been infected with many problems, including a hidden program that randomly accessed and displayed websites that would curl Grandma’s hair. I finally reformatted the hard drive to remove the offending software.
7. Hand tools are handy.
Provide basic hand tools, and show your daughter how to use them. She may be the only kid in the dorm with a hammer or screwdriver, so your thoughtful preparation will benefit others. Here is a suggested list.
- Flashlight – small LED style that can be stowed in her purse or backpack. A dorm is a scary place in a power outage. Consider a second flashlight she can keep on her desk.
- Small hammer.
- A can of WD-40.
- Duct tape. Add a second roll to the trunk of her car along with a decent set of jumper cables.
- Tie wraps and repair wire.
- Multi-tipped screwdriver or a set of screwdrivers.
- Slip joint pliers.
- Needle nose pliers.
- Side cutting pliers.
- Small adjustable wrench.
8. Pack survival food.
College life will not orbit around three daily meals prepared by a health conscious Mom. Sorry, it just doesn’t work that way. Your daughter’s nourishment is now her responsibility. She may not always feel like walking across campus to the cafeteria. Reintroduce her to peanut butter which can be eaten with a spoon, a pretzel, or even a finger. Give her a supply of Pop-Tarts® in various flavors. There are dozens of cereals that taste good right out of the box, and a dry breakfast beats no breakfast. Someone invented magical noodles that jump into hot water and morph into a decent meal. When your girl visits, send her back to college with a new supply. It does not cost much, and your peace of mind is worth the expense.
9. Review the safety rules
Kids are going to party. Even the ones who attend the uppity Baptist college with the holy campus in the dry county will kick up their heels. Review basic safety rules with your kiddo. She should not attend a party without a girlfriend watching her six, and she should not stay at the party if her girlfriend leaves. Her safest mode of travel is in a girl pack which confuses boy wolves. Warn her about accepting drinks when she is unsure of the content. Soft drinks or sealed water bottles are safer choices in social settings.
Dad, step up and tell her should she need a cab ride for any reason, she should call one. Most will accept that credit card you provided in an earlier step. Let her know you trust her to be responsible.
If she plans to leave campus for a beach or mountain trip, someone needs to know her itinerary and contact information. Likewise, if you and Mom plan to travel, drop your daughter an email with the details.
Campus safety officers are provided to address concerns, and most are happy to help. Some campus safety organizations offer late night escorts back to the dorm if a study session or laboratory activity runs into the wee hours. That phone number should be programmed into your daughter’s phone.
10. Don’t forget rain gear.
You daughter has probably not worn a rain coat since the pink one with polka dots she modeled during first grade. She will get wet a time or two walking to class before survival mode kicks in. Her flip-flop clad feet may become ice blocks before she realizes proper footwear is crucial. Make sure she has good walking shoes and a lightweight rain coat. Provide a collapsible umbrella she can tote in her backpack. When the monsoon strikes on her trek across campus she will unfold that unit and think about her wonderful Dad. Warm gloves, a hat, and a solid coat will be needed for winter campus wanderings. Fashion has its place, but common sense is paramount.
OK, Dad, she’s ready. By following these steps you’re closer to being ready, too. She will survive. She will thrive. She can handle college, even the college guys. She’s a chip off the old block. You’ve prepared her. Now, let her go. But, remain on call in case she needs you.
And she will. No one replaces Dad.