Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The math of college dorm move in weekend. aka PTSD and cookies

When you work at a university, the weekend that the Housing office opens up the dorms for student move-in is a big deal. It’s one part social event and three parts work, work, work. For us, it means no real weekend because we work Saturday and Sunday.  We put out cookies and lemonade and we put on our best smiles. (For an office like the tuition billing office, cookies=big time party. We kinda have a reputation for being boring. A well-earned reputation for being boring.) Anyhoo, the office is crazy busy, but somehow it’s still fun.

Across the rest of the University, local radio stations do remote broadcasts from campus, the cheerleaders and mascot greet folks as they drive onto campus, there’s food and drinks everywhere (non-alcoholic drinks unfortunately) and the University president makes a few appearances and shakes alot of hands. (I’ve always wondered how much he spends on hand sanitizer each semester.)

For the students (and their parents) it’s the same mix of social event and work. They’re greeted like royalty by cheerleaders and blaring music and given the aforementioned punch and cookies when they check in. And then they carry everything they own in the Texas and August heat and try to cram it into a tiny dorm room.

It’s a stressful time for students and parents that is a perfect formula for family meltdown. Mathematically/scientifically, I would imagine it goes something like this:

(A + B  + C) x D = X


A= Number of parents trying to hide emotion of letting child move away and have some independence

B = Number  of 18/19-year-old kids dying to have some independence while secretly terrified about going to college (can I make the grades/will I find some friends/Dear God don’t let me be a social outcast) while also trying to look cool carrying their stuff that includes a pillow in a Star Wars/Little Mermaid pillowcase  

C = Number of bored siblings along for the ride who constantly cry/complain

D = The temperature outside (which has been around 100 every day this week)

X = Potential for casualties when tempers finally erupt. increases exponentially as X increases

You may think I’m exaggerating on how bad things can get, but I’m not. My own personal college dorm move in weekend was 22 years ago (Dear God, I’m getting old) and I still have flashbacks to it every year when I work dorm move in weekend as a University staff member. Think of it as Back-to-School PTSD.

Anyway, I had chosen a college 8 hours away from home. We packed everything up in my car and my parents’ car and hit the road. Since it was so far, we got there in time to have some dinner, check into a hotel and get to bed. We were excited but tired, and already a little stressed. (Or at least I know I was.)

Our  hotel room was the kind with two queen beds: Mom and Dad in one and me in the other. As previously mentioned was a little nervous about the next day...which means I was terrified. We were going to quickly move my stuff in, not even unpack it,  because I was heading out the same day for freshman camp...aka 3-4 days of skits and “ice breakers” and crafts and school traditions and all manner of wonderful ridiculousness. Anyway, since I was kinda stressed about the next day, I couldn’t go to sleep right away. Mom and Dad, however, had no issues sleeping. They passed out as soon as their heads hit the pillows...and then they started snoring. LOUDLY. BOTH OF THEM.

There was no hope of going to sleep once the snoring started, but I tried. I really tried. At first I covered my head with the pillow. But then breathing became an issue.

I went into the bathroom and attempted laying in the tub, but it was too small and the spigot dripped.

Around 3am I remembered that my boom box (this was long before iPods and smartphones) and headphones were in my car and snuck out to the parking lot for them. Even that didn’t help. I considered sleeping in my car in the hotel parking lot, but I’d seen enough Lifetime movies to know that that was a bad idea.

By the time it was time to get up, I hadn’t slept at all. I was (more) stressed, in tears and ridiculously pissed off at my parents when it was time to start moving in. I know they couldn’t help that they snored, and they wouldn’t have ever stressed me out on purpose, but I had to direct my anger somewhere and they were the target. Add to that high heat and humidity that none of us were used to, and I was not a pleasant person to be around. I’m sure every time Mom or Dad said a word to me that day I bit their heads off. To my parents’ credit, they were alot more chilled out than I was and didn’t strangle me the way they totally should have.

Eventually, we got everything into my tiny little room and we said our goodbyes so I could go on to catch the camp bus. I stood in my dorm room by myself for just a bit. I confess I cried for a couple of minutes. And I confess that I cried for the fact I that was glad they had gone and I was finally “on my own”. And I cried for the fact that I was terrified and sad they were gone and I was finally “on my own”. (I use “on my own” in quotes because that’s what I thought back then, but clearly living in a dorm room that was paid for by my parents doesn’t actually constitute being “on my own.”)

And that crazy mix of fear/stress/excitement is what’s going on in the minds of most students when they move into the dorms for the first time, or it’s at least in the minds of the students smart enough to be worried. And probably something similar is in the minds of the parents, but with the added stress of paying for the whole thing.

And that’s why we make move in weekend a party. We know it’s stressful on so many levels. We know there’s more to it than just moving stuff. And we want everyone to survive looking better than this:

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