Oh, to trade places with college-bound

July 27, 2004|By Susan Reimer

MY FELLOW mothers and I have recently returned from taking our freshmen to their prospective colleges for orientation - otherwise known as the reality check - and we are not reassured.

Never have we seen a group of children so blase about being supported in the style to which they have become accustomed while living beyond our reach.

College is exactly that: a kind of fully funded semi-adulthood with all of the freedoms and none of the responsibilities. But for some reason, our children do not appear to be excited about the prospect of not having to obey us for free.

Perhaps it is because, after 12 years spent trapped in school buildings, they are burned out on the process. My daughter Jessie said at one point on our tour, "God, I am just so tired of this whole education thing."

And they appear to be burned out, too, on the sports that they once burned to play in college. As one child said, "It's about not being good enough all over again."

Even the shopping required for college - a massive infusion of clothes and dorm room accessories - doesn't seem to trigger much enthusiasm.

The reason might be that, for most of these children, college is not a privilege or even a choice. It is an expectation. It is a decision someone else made 18 years ago when they bought that first savings bond for the purpose of paying for it.

It is the rare brave individualist who can step off the conveyor belt for a year and work, travel or volunteer. Or just grow up.

These feelings of ambivalence have not infected the parents, however.

These orientation sessions are trips down memory lane for parents, most of whom went to college and, with the help of selective memory, now consider it to have been the best four years of their lives.

Our goofy enthusiasm contrasts sharply with the bored looks on the faces of our children. And our amusing anecdotes about college pranks, adventures and the deprivations of student poverty seem to require translation if they are to be understood.

One thing is clear. We wish it was us. Almost universally, my fellow parents and I would love to do college all over again.

And the appeal goes beyond the freedom to read and study things about which we are now curious. We like everything about college.

We like the idea of trading a van or a station wagon, cluttered with family junk and waiting to drop its transmission, for a backpack and a bicycle.

We like the idea of keeping house in only half a dorm room, instead of three full floors. We love the idea that a staff cleans the bathrooms.

We like the idea of eating in a cafeteria instead of running a cafeteria. We don't care about the reputation of the food. Everything tastes good if you don't have to cook it.

We love the idea of an 8 a.m. class. It sure beats waiting up for somebody with a 1 a.m. curfew.

We don't even mind coin-operated washers and dryers, because the only laundry we will be doing will be ours, and it will actually be dirty instead of simply cast aside.

We love the idea of artsy movies and high-brow lecturers and visiting ballet troupes. We like the idea that we will be required to read books. No more feeling guilty about time not spent on chores.

And we would be so grateful that any homework will be ours, and if we don't do it, we will have only ourselves to blame for the consequences. (A familiar lesson?)

Not only would we enjoy all the ways the life of a single college student would differ from the life of the head of a household, we would appreciate it this time around.

We would drink in every drop of knowledge - and not a few beers - and we would sleep late on weekends.

No doubt about it. If youth is wasted on the young, then college certainly is, too.

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