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Oregon Family Magazine

Dad’s Freshman-Year Phobia

07/31/2014 ● By Sandy Kauten

The Unlucky 13th Grade

A year ago, God’s College Plan had been working well. He made teenagers hard-to-live-with in order to ease their parents’ sadness at impending separation. Then He made college costs crushingly expensive to distract parents from fears of what could befall Junior on campus.

But here it is August and the divine plan has miscarried. I’ve had the freshman-year finances all figured out since June, and our 18-year-old daughter Marie has been sweet, affectionate and even nostalgic about her childhood and those two scarred and stooped relics of it – her parents.

So I can devote myself to anxiety about her going off to Threehundredmilesaway College. Looking back on my own freshman year doesn’t help. Without wallowing in the details, let’s just say I majored in Journalism with a minor in Drink and closed out the year with a parachute jump that Dad never knew about. (Talk about pass/fail!)

In my current vulnerable state I’ve become a walking anthology of frosh misadventure stories that range from the goofy to the grim.

A co-worker tells me about her daughter, Child X (not her real name), who had some unused credit at the college bookstore at the end of freshman year. She had to use it or lose it, so Child X bought $350 worth of gummy bears to settle the account. Her mom said, “After the way we scrimped and saved to pay for school, I couldn’t believe it when she started loading these big cartons of candy into the car. I felt like the mother in Jack and the Beanstalk and here were 100 pounds of magic beans.”

Another co-worker’s daughter, Child Y, didn’t understand her long-distance calling plan and accidentally ran up a $400 phone bill her first month at college. She finished out freshman year by losing her credit card. Her dad spent June and July convincing the bank that the jubilant shopper who’d carved a golden swath across the state those two weeks in May was somebody else.

Then there’s the neighbor kid, Child Z. He bought a motorcycle in the middle of his first semester and rode away on it. His parents found papers in his dorm room indicating it was a Honda. So every month his mom sends an email to every Honda motorcycle dealer in North America begging for a phone call if Sonny ever drops by to get his bike fixed.  

Certainly each child’s Inner Freshman is the biggest danger when living away from protective parents for the first time, but a college campus teems with bad company of all sorts.

In the spring, all the kids who had been accepted to Threehundredmilesaway College were invited there with their parents for the “April Preview” to help us make a final choice. Our student guides were personable, intelligent and aglow with school spirit. They looked like the kids in all those brochures we’ve been getting for the past two years.

Where were all the delinquents, creeps, stalkers, cheaters, hazers, boozers, losers, pot-heads, punks, posers, perverts and plagiarists? Too busy to give tours? Or were they confined to their lairs until we left? Were they peeking around corners, speculatively eying their future roommates?

And who pairs up roommates, anyway? I’m guessing it’s a guy who painstakingly evaluates personal data, and each match-up is an experiment inspired by his cruel sense of humor and weapons-grade curiosity. I’m picturing an impish geek in a white lab coat, pausing often to rub his hands together with glee.

But my biggest worry is the city factor – which is a big attraction for an artsy young sophisticate like Marie. She wants to unlimber her intellect on the urban coffeehouse scene, while all I can think about is violent crime. What good is blank verse against live ammunition?

Marie’s college is right in the heart of a huge city, assuming a huge city has a heart, which I doubt. She grew up in a sleepy town, population 1,500. “Step on a crack and you break your mother’s back,” is about the extent of her “street smarts.” 

On the campus tour I asked our bright-eyed sophomore girl guide, “Will our daughter be safe?” I resisted an impulse to clutch her sleeve.  

She replied, “Don’t worry! There’s a security guard at the front door of each dorm and campus police patrol the campus 24-7. We have awesome security.”

“But what if she escapes?”

By Rick Epstein.  Rick can be reached at [email protected]