This article was originally published on Better After 50.
The leaves are starting to change in Maine. The skies are sunny and the air is cool in Colorado Springs. The temperature has begun to drop in New Orleans, and even in New York City, the air is breathable after a stifling summer. You made up your kid's bed with the extra long fitted sheets and said your goodbyes in the end of summer heat, and you're feeling the effects of the empty nest... big time (or maybe not so much).
But, lucky you, it's almost Family Weekend! It's been a whole month and a half (has it really been that long?), and you're looking forward to giving that great, big, hairy kid a hug, to meeting his friends, to getting the "real deal" on his roommate, to visiting the campus in "full swing." Is it homecoming weekend too? Rah! Rah! Perhaps you will even go to the football game! It will be awesome! Maybe...
And the kids? Are they psyched for Family Weekend? The kids really like the idea of seeing their parents, and the idea of showing them around campus. No doubt they will be excited to see you. If you're lucky, their excitement will last more than a few minutes ... but don't dare look disapprovingly at the dorm room which has been transformed into something that looks like an opium den, or at the extra five pounds of the freshman 15, or at the gynormous glass bong on the bureau ("it's my roommate's!") That's definitely when the magic will start to wear off.
You will sit in their dorm room and look around and chat and ask the same questions you asked them on the phone, and get the same answers. They will trounce you around campus showing you where they hang out ("here's the library, here's where I usually have dinner, here's the building where I have my philosophy class, here's the Hillel House ... no I have not actually been in there...")
You will discuss going to one of the lectures at the speaker series, or the glass blowing demonstration, or the talk by local author, and then decide that you would rather just spend time with your kid. So you walk and hang, walk and hang, go into town and buy some stuff for the dorm. And you are all looking forward to dinner out at that fancy Mom and Dad kind of restaurant that they can't afford without you.
Unfortunately, if you didn't make your reservation for that restaurant in July, you can forget about going there.
I cringe a little as I recall (to myself of course -- not wanting to Yuck anyone else's Yum until today of course -- consider yourself Yucked) previous Family Weekends at my own kids' colleges: ridiculously expensive "cheap" hotels, long lines at restaurants, walking aimlessly around a campus I had walked around just a month previously, trying to bite my tongue about all sorts of stuff and failing, feeling guilty about failing, and having to make small talk with every parent of every kid we happened to bump into on the green.
And yet, I still wanted to visit my kids in their new homes.
It's just that I never liked the organized chaos of Family Weekend (but I didn't really like visiting day at overnight camp either). After the mandatory freshman year Family Weekend with the first two kids (I got smart with the third one) I chose to make my annual visit to campus a weekend or two after Family Weekend, and it was always about a 1,000 times better.
- You can do all the same things you do on Family Weekend (walk and hang, walk and hang, go to town and buy stuff, stifle your sarcastic comments), any other weekend ... but the hotels will be reasonable. On Family Weekend, the hotels, even the really crappy ones, double their usual rates. Why? Because they can.
- You'll actually be able to secure a hotel room near campus.
- You'll actually be able to get a dinner reservation at the spot your kid wants to try!
- You can bring your kid's friends to dinner ... and you won't have to make nice nice to their parents!
- You don't have to feel guilty about not going to any the planned activities on campus that nobody wants to go to anyway.
- Some colleges schedule Family Weekend just after the kid has come home for reading days or fall break. That's ridiculous! Schedule your weekend when you miss them.
- You can hang and then assess your kid's roommate and friends because the assessment will be a hellavalot more true if their parents are not around.
- You can see the campus as it normally is ... without hundreds of parents wandering about looking tired and bored.
- Didn't you just drop off your kid a month ago? A little more absence makes the heart grow fonder.
- Your kid won't mind. Someone else's parent will feel sorry for him and take him to dinner on Family Weekend, and then he'll go out a second time with you. The best of both worlds!
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