Homesickness, hand grenades and Parenting 101

July 24, 2005|By C. Fraser Smith

TWO MORE OF your own above-average children are on their way to university this fall, so of course you are on your way to parent orientation.

The school is looking for allies. The wise parent is looking for ways to be helpful without being intrusive - to forestall transformation of the campus into a school of hard knocks.

At Boston University, you are urged to anticipate homesickness. A young man from Oregon, one of the student teachers, says this disability arrives early. For him, it started at the airport. "There were lots of tears. The dog was practically crying. Actually, my mother wasn't crying, which was good because it made me feel like someone actually thought I'd survive," he said.

But once on the plane, he was wondering why wasn't she crying. When he got to his dorm room and started to unpack, he found a note. "She knew I would need some sign that she was actually going to miss me."

Then, said one of the deans somewhat sardonically, there's making sure your child is signed up to clear the pre-med or pre-law hurdles. Actually, said the dean, your child doesn't want to be a doctor or a lawyer. He is trying to do what he thinks you want him to do. Back off, in other words.

If you do, one of the deans said, your child will be free to decide - as the dean had decided years ago - that the study of ancient Greek culture is his passion. The dean held an impish smile for several seconds while you thought of how proud you would be to have such erudition in your family - and how much it would cost.

What higher education is all about, the dean said, is "building the mind they'll inhabit for the rest of their lives. They'll be making decisions that will affect the rest of their lives. It's a little scary. But you have to let them feel the weight of that."

The sobering news kept coming. Let me tell you this about your sons and daughters, he said. "People have been lying to them, telling them they are good writers. They are not good writers." Be alert, in other words, for more tears.

We moved on quickly to the university's constabulary. The show-and-tell approach continued with the issue of fake IDs - coveted by some students who, for some reason, wish they were one or two years older. The campus's top cop emptied a large basketful of said documents on a table at center stage.

He informed his audience that marijuana is forbidden on campus. He said he had asked a group of incoming students if they were familiar with the odor of marijuana burning. Many, if not 99 percent, of the hands went up, he said. "We know what it smells like, too," he said. We laughed, but we heard him call alcohol and substance abuse "a tidal wave" on campuses.

There was also a determination to keep weapons of any kind off the campus: One year, one of his men found a grenade.

"I assure you, a hand grenade is not needed on Boston's Commonwealth Avenue," he said. What is needed, he said, is respect for the traffic. There are buses. There is the "T," or trolley system. There are automobiles, bikes, skateboards and pedestrians. Attention must be paid. One September, he spied a young man escorting his mother and grandmother across the busy street, blithely stepping into the traffic, only to be hauled back to safety by the chief.

"Did you come to orientation?" he asked the student.

"Yes, sir."

"Did you hear what I said about Commonwealth Avenue?"

The student said, "Yes, sir."

The chief then overheard the grandmother in the background. "I know this place is expensive, but this is service!"

It went smoothly, as if this grove of academe could make the trains run on time to the benefit of higher learning and parental peace of mind.

The wry and worldly dean had offered us a six-word guide for student success:

"Go to class. Read the books."

C. Fraser Smith is news director at WYPR-FM. His column appears Sundays.

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