It can be a bitter sweet experience to transport your child across the country to attend college and a new lifestyle. We moved our son from California to Massachusetts to attend Williams College. Between fight arrangements, rental cars, packing, hotels, shipping musical instrument, and shopping for dorm room furnishings, you are bound to forget something. Add to the logistics the human emotions of the student and parents and you have recipe for an unforgettable experience. Fortunately, ours was mostly positive.
Moving your child to college can be a family vacation
Moving an eighteen year old across the country is necessarily stressful. As parents, we were flying out as a family of three and would be returning as a couple to a much quieter house. The level of activity is not unlike Christmas were where there is frenetic activity before the event, an emotional couple of hours, then a stillness as you clean up the wrapping paper. On the bright side, we were all on our best behavior. There were no stupid little family fights that seemed punctuate our past family vacations.
Dividing the tasks of moving across the country
The first order of business is to make a big list and start noting dates on the calendar. Divide up the tasks that need to be kept track of and completed. In our family, mom had the flight, rental car, and hotel accommodations. I had the make sure the tuition and health insurance was completed. After exploring a variety of options I was also tasked with shipping Walker’s saxophone to college. Our son had to take care of his class schedule and determine what he could and could not live with 3,000 miles from home. Walker, our son, and his mom jointly worked on what were the necessary dorm room items.
Purchase the major items near the college
We decided that we would make moving our son back to Massachusetts a quasi-family vacation. We figured we should get to know the region that our son was going to call home for the next four years. Consequently, we scheduled a few extra days after the dormitory move in day to explore the local attractions, of which there were many. We took the advice of the college’s student life section by buying all the major dorm room items after we flew into the region. For us that meant we were shopping in Albany, NY, and would be transporting the furnishings in a rental car to Williamstown, MA.
Don’t try to furnish a small apartment
Walker learned that he was going to have a single room so we knew that we didn’t have to worry about what a roommate might bring. If your son or daughter does have a roommate, it is best to communicate with the roommate as soon possible about what they will be lugging into the dorm room. I saw parents unloading what can only be described as the furnishings for a small apartment: refrigerators, chairs, extra storage boxes, etc.
Big SUV was helpful for transporting the dorm room stuff
We ultimately made three stops to pick up dorm room accouterments at Bed Bath and Beyond, Target and Staples. I was surprised at how much room all the bedding items and desk stuff, along with our luggage, commanded in the rental car. Fortunately, the rental car company upgraded our vehicle from a Toyota RAV 4 to a Ford Explore because they didn’t have any of the smaller sport utilities available. Even though it is a relatively short drive from Albany, NY, to Williamstown, MA, the extra room was much appreciated in the Ford Explorer.
Follow the college’s advise on furnishing dorm rooms
The college website on what to bring and what to leave home was pretty accurate. Our most worthless purchase was the dorm bed risers at Bed Bath and Beyond. When we got into the dorm room we realized that the beds can be adjusted up or down in height. While it requires the strength and tool of the staff maintenance person, the mattress and spring frame can be raised a good 24 inches from the floor allowing all kinds of boxes to be stored under the bed. Because we didn’t have time to return the risers in Albany, I gave them to the nice gentleman who processed the return of our rental car.
Shipping the saxophone across the country
Safely shipping a valuable musical instrument across the country is no easy task when the case is larger than the acceptable airplane carry-on dimensions. We researched several options from buying an expensive new saxophone case to survive baggage handlers to ground shipping. We finally decided it was best to ship it via UPS after I had constructed a more study shipping container. I got a shipping box that was at larger than the saxophone case by a couple of inches all the way around. I then bought one inch thick piece of styrofoam insulation board at the local home store. Then at the suggestion of the local music store, I cut up the styrofoam to create an inner box within the cardboard box. While it was messy cutting up the Styrofoam with a jigsaw, the home built shipping container turned out pretty good.
Local banks, health center and storage companies
Part of the move-in day activities was a student life fair. There were representatives from local banks, religious groups, merchants, and on-campus support services such as the student health center with lots of information. Of particular interest were the storage companies. Eventually all the stuff you move into the dorm room has to go back home, but during the summer it can be put in storage. It’s nice to know we don’t have to lug or ship all this stuff back every year. The storage companies will pick up just a couple of boxes that you have, store them over the summer, and then deliver them back to campus housing in the fall.
Comfort food or just plain caffeine
We are fortunate that our son is a minimalist. He doesn’t want or need a bunch of creature comforts. However, the one element he cherishes most, silence to study and read, may be in short supply in a freshman dorm. Silence and stillness is something you just can’t pack in your luggage. Walker also became quite an aficionado of espresso and tea his senior year in high school. While the students can’t have espresso machines, we did pick up some Earl Grey along with granola bar snacks for late night snacks at a local grocer.
No parents allowed back into the dorms
We tried to use the delivery of these important study aids, sugar and caffeine, as a way to see Walker one last time. The closest he would let us get to him was meeting us at the curb of the dormitory for the exchange. He wouldn’t let us come up to his room. Other parents mentioned their children were equally aloof after having set up their new residence away from home.
One last family vacation
We did have the opportunity to have some family time before the big move in date. In addition to the quality time spent shopping, which was more of a bonding experience for mother and son, we visited Natural Bridge State Park, walked through the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, and attended church services at St. John’s Episcopal Church right down the road from his dormitory. All these little events along with eating at some local restaurants, grabbing some ice cream on Spring Street, and letting Walker show us around the Williams College campus helped bridge the inevitable separation we were about to experience.
Connecting with the college
We also found it helpful to attend the numerous First Days information seminars offered by the college staff on move in day. There were sessions on financial aid and billing, student health, and off campus opportunities. The most important of these welcome and introduction meetings was the address by the Williams College President Adam Falk and other administrators. The move-in day’s activities were important for getting a feel for the college and the people who would be surrounding my son for the next four years, far, far away from home.
A family adventure
Moving a child across the country is not cheap. You can save money by having only one parent travel with the new student. We decided to make this a family vacation by having all three us of travel back to Massachusetts and do some sight-seeing before the move in day. My wife and I stayed on a couple days after we had moved our son into the dormitory room to visit some of the wonderful museums and other attractions in the area. We also met some other parents who were following the same script.
Freshmen quick to cut off parents
It also seems our children were following their own game plan as well. After we had lugged all the dorm room furnishings up the stairs and helped set up the room; our children firmly showed us the door. It was nearly impossible to see them after that, unless we had to deliver a forgotten item or crucial paperwork. Don’t be surprised if your child quickly pushes you away after you’ve helped them build a new nest.
Giving your child space
There can be a lot of family dynamics at play when a child decides he or she wants to travel so far away from home to attend college. Every child has a different relationship with his or her parents. Our son can get a little defensive if he thinks we are trying to become too close to his decision making process. I get it. He earned the admission he was offered to Williams. Consequently, I was reluctant to become too much of a college parent booster.
Supporting your child’s college experience
But after he gave me a Williams t-shirt for Father’s Day, I took that to mean I could be enthusiastic about his imminent departure from our home. He was even reluctant to attend the send-off party held in San Francisco for all the Northern California incoming freshmen. But I made the arrangements and we attended. It was good for him and me. He met new students and I met new parents going through the same anxiety as me. The realization for me was that it is helpful to participate in as many college activities with your son or daughter as possible. It creates a shared experienced and common bond for future conservation.
A new purple wardrobe of Williams gear
Perhaps I did go a little overboard with purchasing Williams sweat pants, jacket, t-shirt, cap, running jacket, and giant flag from the student store. But at least I let my son know that I was all onboard with his move and proud of his accomplishment. I feel a deeper connection to an institution that I never would have been admitted to. It is important to let your son or daughters know that you aren’t trying to relive your youth with their experience. You just want to fully support their college experience by learning about their new home.
The work of traveling across the country was worth it
Overall, moving our son back to Williams was a positive experience. I think it was important for both us parents to travel back to Massachusetts with him. I realize that our son doesn’t want to think his parents are trying to smother or control him now that he is an adult. On the other hand, we have a firsthand glimpse of his new life and surroundings. While he may not understand it, lugging his clothes, bedding, lamp, fan, etc., etc., etc., into to his dorm room was an important experience for his parents in order to process the loss of such an important person in our lives for the last 18 years.
Other great places to visit if you are back in the area –
Photo gallery of moving our son back east to attend college