Must-have for college move-in day: shopping

Must-have for college move-in day: shopping

My sister was in Target the other day and overheard the following conversation:

Mom 1: “My daughter and her roommate are getting matching comforters for their dorm room.”

Mom 2: “I asked my son about that. He said, ‘What’s a comforter?’”

That kind of sums up life with teenage boys, amplified on college move-in day.

I’ve now made my fourth trip to Target, both here and afar, to support our firstborn’s transition to a school several hours away.

As any parent of a college freshman knows, there’s a list of must-haves for any dorm room, from personal-care items and cleaning supplies (one can always hope) to towels and those XL sheets. And for those of you in communal bathrooms, don’t forget the shower sandals. Otherwise ... ick.

I figured my son wouldn’t be terribly interested in the decorative aspects of this venture. So I set out a couple of weeks before the big move to get the Blog Photoessentials, thinking we wouldn’t have to worry about anything at the last minute. (We can be so naive, can’t we?)

I bought a laundry hamper and Tide pods. I loaded up on desk supplies, towels and bedding, and congratulated myself for thinking about those shower sandals before seeing them on the must-have list. I picked up a compact fridge — on sale! — and my son’s roommate agreed to get the microwave. They decided to get a futon later.

I wasn’t sure about a comforter. My son already had a new fleece blanket that would work. I asked a mom and dad shopping nearby; they gave me an odd look and mumbled something about boys not caring. I opted to buy a navy blue one, just in case.

I felt pretty organized after that, giving me a sense of control over what I knew would be an emotional event. Shopping is always good therapy.

I had been putting off thinking about this transition for most of the summer, determined not to let my usual habit of advance-worrying ruin our last few months together. It worked. We had a nice vacation and a really good summer.

Now, it was here. I would wake up in the morning and my heart would drop, knowing the days of him being just down the hall, or poking his head in to say good night, were numbered. I let myself have a few cries, thinking I’d rather mourn when he was still around than after he was gone.

The weekend before the big move, I went to the grocery store and realized I wouldn’t need to buy the s’mores granola bars he loves or his favorite yogurt for a while. I awkwardly brushed away tears and sniffled my way up and down the aisles until I got out to the car.

Luckily, we had plenty of distractions, most involving errands or paper work — like arranging to send a college transcript that had gotten lost in the shuffle.

My son mentioned one night that a friend said he never went to the dorm showers without sandals on. “I already thought of that!” I said proudly, only to realize later that I had never actually bought them. Back to the store.

On the big day, we managed to get to his dorm at the assigned time without much traffic and found a choice parking spot.

After securing a cart, we went upstairs and met his roommate’s parents, who were friendly as could be. They had already put together the futon — and his roommate had a comforter. Score.

They chatted with us about what else the room might need before heading off to Target. We decided to make another run, too — with all the other freshman families. We got a study pillow, a storage cube/ottoman, some plastic totes, snacks and other odds and ends.

We went back to the room to find his roommate’s family had also purchased two storage cubes, along with a couple of throw pillows. I am sure the boys did not care, but it made the moms happy. Creating a home away from home made the idea of leaving easier.

The next morning, before leaving town, I decided to hit Target one more time. On our last day at home, I had grabbed some photos of my son and his friends, his cousins and one with our family. But I needed to buy frames.

I don’t know if he put them out or stuffed them in a drawer. But they’re there, if he wants them.

Through it all, my son went along, resisting the impulse to say “no” when I suggested he needed something — although he balked at another dorm chair and rug.

Later, my husband confessed that he had told him, “Just let mom buy what she wants for you.”

When it came time to go, we stayed positive. He seemed fine, so I was, too.

We followed the orders we had heard at orientation in June: Avoid emotional goodbyes. Say, “We love you, we’re proud of you, you’ve got this.” Write a sappy letter for them to read later.

Just as with kindergarten and middle school, the anticipation was worse than the reality. Maybe I was just prepared, with so many friends warning me about it ahead of time.

It is hard, one of the hardest transitions you’ll face as a parent. You’ll cry, probably in Schnuck’s like I did, or some other “last” moment that hits you in the gut.

But I’ve decided to take it one step at a time, as I counseled him to. We got through move-in. He enjoyed orientation and is meeting new friends. We are adjusting to life with one less plate at the dinner table, planning fun things to fill the space.

We still have moments. But it’s not jail. They’re not leaving forever. It’s just another stage. Their childhoods are gone, but they’re becoming our friends, ready to have their own lives.

Plus, cellphones and texting and FaceTime make connecting so much easier.

My husband and I have dealt with other life transitions over the past few years — health struggles, the loss of loved ones. This is a happy one.

The other night, my son mentioned that maybe he wouldn’t mind another comfortable chair to sit in. Off to Target I went. The chair is at home, waiting for us to take on our first visit. I can’t wait.


Get more advice about college move-in day on Julie Wurth's "Campus Conversation" podcast. And read other parents' take here.


Reporter/columnist Julie Wurth writes about kids and families and covers the University of Illinois for The News-Gazette. Contact her at 217-351-5226, or

Photo: Engineering freshman Jared Trupp relaxes on his bed while talking to his dad David, from Elgin, after settling into his third-floor room at CARR Hall during move-in day in at the University of Illinois on Aug; 24, 2017. Rick Danzl/News-Gazette

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