Ready Or Not…

Well, we thought we had prepared our children for college.  When the time actually came, we found out that in several small but significant ways, we had failed.  More than once.  

Their entire lives, we had stressed the importance of education, without stressing them out.  Our intent was to teach them to put their maximum effort in, and that would certainly be good enough, because as with most parents, we saw our children as brilliant.  They both took school seriously, excelling in Advanced Placement classes and scored quite well on college entrance exams.  They both were extremely active in extra-curricular activities, clubs and sports.  Their social lives were vibrant.

We had also spent a lot of time talking about college on a different level.  As important as academics were, it was equally important that they grow emotionally and socially, learning to make good decisions for themselves and learning to rely on themselves.

 When my son was accepted to six out of eight colleges to which he applied, and wait-listed on one, he chose to attend the University of Florida in Gainesville.  We packed with great anticipation to take him there for the new student orientation.

After our arrival in Gainesville, we went our separate ways… he with the students and us with the parents.  He would learn the Gator Chomp and get a tour of the campus.  We would learn about academics and safety on campus.  We weren’t to connect again until dinner.  He was to settle into a dorm room for the two days and we checked in to a nearby hotel.  Midway through the afternoon, I got a text from him.  “Forgot to pack underwear.” 

That was our first clue that he wasn’t ready.  I calmly stopped at a store, bought some underwear for him and discretely put it in the top of his overnight bag with a note that said, “This is the last time I’m covering your behind… Love, Ma.”  We delivered the bag to him at dinner without a word about his faux pas.

The next morning he was to meet his registration counselor at 9:00 AM.  We arrived at 8:30, grabbed a sorely needed cup of coffee, and began, anxiously, to wait.  I knew which direction he would be coming from, and he would be carrying a neon orange bag so I could spot him quickly.  (This is the “hard to let go” mothering instinct that was still obviously very strong.)  My husband sat and read the paper.  When he hadn’t shown up by 9:05, I was sure I had done a terrible job in preparing him to be on his own.  At that moment, he came bouncing out of the registrar’s office with a grin that lit up the entire west side of the campus.  He was already registered and raring to go.  Okay, so maybe he was ready.

The next step was stocking his pantry.  This was my final moment to shine.  We went up and down the aisles, and since he had very little idea of what he wanted much less what he would need, he pretty much left it up to me.  When I picked up a package of “Baggies,” he wanted to know in what aisle he might find the twist ties.  Okay, one step forward, two steps back. 

We got him all set up in his dorm room, met his roommates and turned on our heels to leave.  (Ha… I bet you thought I was going to talk about long tearful goodbyes.)   Well, I made my mind up not to look back, as did he, but I was choking on my tears before we got out of the driveway.  Fifteen minutes down the highway, I said to my husband, “Why hasn’t he called yet.”

Two years later, we went through the same motions with my daughter.  Same University, same orientation and same text, “Forgot to pack underwear.”

The Nest got Empty–So did the Pantry

The first time I went grocery shopping after both my kids had left for college was the first real reality check.  I had been used to buying a lot of snacks, and large quantities of other foods… enough to feed an army.

We had raised two athletes, after all, and they would bring their friends home with them.  My cooking became legendary at their high school.  It became known as “Judy Food,” affectionately named by a neighborhood kid who happened to dine with us on a regular basis.  I never knew how many teenagers would be at my table from one night to the next.  Go figure from there.

Let me turn back the pages a little bit…  Cooking for a young family was relatively easy, except for the fact that I was working full time.  I’d get home at dinner hour, but since their preference, when they were little, was fish sticks or chicken nuggets, although I wasn’t too comfortable with the nutritional value, it was a quick fix.  I had gone as far as serving the macaroni and cheese from that infamous blue box.  I cringed when I would read the ingredients of the “powdered cheese mix.”  I did believe in healthy eating.  I did.

As luck would have it one day, they asked for macaroni and cheese and I didn’t have any of the instant dinner in the house.  I did, however, have a block of New York Sharp Cheddar, plenty of milk, and a box of elbow macaroni.  I proceeded to prepare a casserole for my family the way my mother did, by making a medium white sauce, stirring in the grated cheese, adding the cooked macaroni and then baking the mixture.  They loved it.

To this day, I can’t make anything from a box… ANYTHING!  No cake mixes, no frozen french fries, no instant rice.  No canned vegetables, no bottled dressings or sauces.  I even make my own chocolate eclairs.  From scratch.

They left for school.  I got lazy.

The problem was that for the first few months, I continued to shop at places like Costco and B.J.’s, and purchased enormous amounts of food.  That might account for the unusual amount of weight gain that followed.

I’m reminded of the time my husband came home with some peanut butter.  I asked him where the other jar was, since it was a “buy one, get one free” deal.  He looked at me innocently and said, “we don’t eat that much peanut butter.”

Our pantry is thinner now, and so are we.  I’m still cooking, all from scratch, all fresh foods.  Dinner time is extremely quiet.  And you know what?  I guess we really don’t eat that much peanut butter anymore.