The Landmines

So, I have one kid in college. People keep asking me, “how does it feel? Did you cry when he left?”

Actually, I was less sad than I expected. I didn’t cry. Sure, I miss him, but he’s doing what he needs to do, and it’s all good. In some ways, it’s a huge relief. Not just because there is less laundry and less driving. It’s also because I’m done.

I had a college-bound kid. I got him there. Boom. It doesn’t always happen. The teenage years are full of land-mines ranging from mental health issues to drug dealing friends to sheer laziness. But my kid is in a good school that we can afford and, hopefully, he’s mature enough now that we’ve left those dangers behind.

Ian is a separate case. I have no idea what will happen to him, but at least there’s no worry about the landmines.

A friend told me that two days before her son left for college, the kid got stinking drunk, puked on the sofa, and curled up in the bathtub. I told Jonah about this kid and he laughed. He asked, “aren’t you glad that Ian will never do that?” First, I said YES. Then I said no. Jonah told me that the correct answer is yes, because Ian finds his own happiness, and it doesn’t involve destroying his liver and ruining upholstery. Because Jonah is a very, very good kid.

I suppose that there are still landmines that Jonah will face in college. He could sleep through his classes, fail his exams, and drink too much at fraternities.

So, let’s talk about fraternities. I’m not a fan. I’m trying not to be too judgy, because they serve a real purpose on large college campuses. They help to create communities. But, but, but. The drinking. The dubious traditions. The exclusivity. The group think. The everything I hate.

Jonah has been attending the fraternity parties. He’s got open access to booze without any bother with a fake license or anything. The cops and the school don’t care, which surprised me. I thought they would be cracking down on drinking after Penn State.

The only barrier to the booze and the parties have come from the frat brothers themselves who usually don’t want too many freshman boys at their parties. They want the girls. But Jonah has been getting in, because he’s good looking and because he learned how to fix taps and kegs, while at his job at the tavern this summer. Jonah is on the guest list at several fraternities already after three weeks of school. Ugh.

The only mercy is that I don’t have to see this. I will admit that I have monitored his activities using the “Find My Friends” app. (Shhh. Don’t tell him.) But he’s forty minutes away, so I can’t smell his breath or know what time he stumbles in.

He’s taking a heavy math-science course load, so he isn’t going to be able to get into too much trouble without us knowing about it. His grades will reflect his ratio of studying to partying time effectively. Hello, FERPA form! And he’s an adult and he knows it. College is on him. If he fucks up, he goes to community college.

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36 thoughts on “The Landmines

  1. If anything–not to be alarmist–I think more kids go off the rails in college than in high school. My wife and I knew plenty who did, and so did my daughter. There is lots of alcohol and drugs, lots of romantic heartache, and very little supervision. OTOH, heavy, abusive drinking has been characteristic of people in this demographic for many, many centuries, at least as far back as the Latin Quarter in the 14th century (or maybe the Symposium), and most of them survive.

    I wasn’t in a fraternity, but I don’t think most of them are any more exclusive or any more groupthinking than most other student organizations. At least there haven’t been any reports of fraternity members beating up professors recently.

    1. I wonder if insurance companies aren’t going to start to be the deciding factor. In that Penn State case, there was a live-in faculty advisor (whose day job is training the football team) who was in his room at the time that kid was dying. It’s unavoidable that kids will find a way to drink and that, given enough kids, sooner or later somebody is going to get hurt badly, but having another series of expensive and awkward court appearances featuring university employees doing their best Sergeant Shultz impression seems like the kind of thing an underwriter would pay attention to even if a regent does not.

  2. Laura said:

    “But my kid is in a good school that we can afford and, hopefully, he’s mature enough now that we’ve left those dangers behind.”

    Or if he doesn’t, he’s a legal adult and it’s on him.

    “The only barrier to the booze and the parties have come from the frat brothers themselves who usually don’t want too many freshman boys at their parties. They want the girls.”

    I once knew a college upperclassman who kept living in the dorms just for freshman girls.

    Yeah.

    “Hello, FERPA form! And he’s an adult and he knows it. College is on him. If he fucks up, he goes to community college.”

    That’s the spirit. Go, Laura!

    I’m not there yet, but I want to get across that college support is for four (4.0) years, barring some sort of amazingly unusual academic situation that would actually call for more than four years.

      1. Well, I don’t know what Amy means by “college support.” Typically, students who take time off or spend time in internships don’t pay tuition during that period, and in some cases they may not require any financial support. (I took a semester off, but I had a job and supported myself.) So there is only 8 semesters of parental financial expenditure. Or does Amy mean you have four calendar years to draw the money, after which it escheats back to the parents?

      2. Cranberry said:

        “Apparently it now takes six years to complete a four year degree. Only a third of students complete it in four years”

        That’s often the effect of working one’s way through school. I’ve seen a number of people online who took 6-8 years because they were paying for it all themselves.

        I’m very alert to the risk of too many years of family college support because one of my younger relatives with initially-undiagnosed ADHD did 7 years on her parents’ dime without ever graduating, with repeated major and college switches. It turned out that she had substance abuse problems and an abusive boyfriend that her parents had been unknowingly supporting the whole time. If I had a kid who reached the 4 year point without being almost done, I would want to pull the plug.

        But if there is a legitimate academic reason and progress is happening, sure.

        y81 said:

        “Or does Amy mean you have four calendar years to draw the money, after which it escheats back to the parents?”

        Funny!

        Four years of actual support, but if the kid was 21 without having started college yet, I’m not sure the deal would still be available.

      3. AmyP,

        I think one of the most important signs of progress is academic success in individual courses. It’s one thing to change majors, and take an extra year or two while earning good grades – quite another to go from bad grades in one major to bad grades in another.

  3. And he’s an adult and he knows it.

    The age of majority in Nebraska is 19. This created some small panic during my first semester when I wasn’t legally able to check myself out of a hospital after a minor car accident.

  4. y81 is right, I can’t count how many kids in my boys’ graduating classes came home after one or two semesters and ended up working or going to community college. Not ideal, maybe, but not the end of the world, they just weren’t ready.

    I’ll bet Jonah will be fine, though.

    I hate fraternities and sororities. Many are no longer about the binge-drinking – but they’ve morphed into a way for kids from privileged UMC suburbs to continue to socialize exclusively with other kids from privileged UMC suburbs. For this you need college?

  5. I think Laura should get a month of thinking she has guided her child through the landmines, at least :-). And, I adore that your adult son can correct you and point out that his younger brother finds his own happiness.

    Is he really 40 minutes away? My eighth grader is probably 40 minutes away (at least with traffic).

    1. Yeah, okay. There are what, 20 days left? And then she’ll hear from her son about new landmines. Or, er, not hear about it. But I recommend reading the campus newspaper.

    2. Definitely a month off is called for. I’ll save my stories of good sons gone bad until then, or until such time as they can serve as reassurances that it happens to everyone.

      1. My number one, who is a college junior, got a ticket for public drunkenness over the weekend, $500 fine and a multi-session compulsory alcohol abuse course. Just saying…

      2. dave s.,

        Oh dear.

        How are you structuring this to make it educational for him, or is the multi-session alcohol abuse course educational/embarrassing enough?

  6. I’m very chill about S being gone. I kind of like it. Less drama. Way fewer requests for money. We’re also looking into setting her up to be financially independent/emancipated. There are good reasons for us to do this, though she will need some practical support as she transitions into taking care of her own stuff.

    Cornell had an incident last week with a frat that is on probation and basically set up in a satellite location off campus . Apparently several members, many of whom seemed to be pretty drunk, beat up a fellow student who is black, calling him racial epithets. http://cnycentral.com/news/local/cornell-president-responds-after-racial-slurs-shouted-during-fight-involving-students

    The frat is known as one that attracts wealthy, mainly white guys, fwiw.

    Meanwhile, I was just talking with my student assistant about the negative views of frats/sororities that one of her professors holds. She says he has a view of Greek Life as non-stop partying, and she says that is very much not the case at our college. I have to admit I have heard the same from other students, that Greek life is very much about community and friendship, not drinking. So I guess it’s different from place to place, and maybe even from frat to frat.

    PS: I follow S on Find My Friends, too. 😀

  7. Wendy said:

    “She says he has a view of Greek Life as non-stop partying, and she says that is very much not the case at our college. I have to admit I have heard the same from other students, that Greek life is very much about community and friendship, not drinking. So I guess it’s different from place to place, and maybe even from frat to frat.”

    Our local Greeks spend so much time teaching ballet to special needs children, raising money for juvenile diabetes, and doing community improvement projects that I wonder how they find time for the more expected Greek business.

    My husband’s colleague dislikes the local Greeks because he said that the formal system (where you are required to bring dates to events) pushes couples into going steady too soon and puts them on the track to marriage too fast (“ring by spring”), when it’s not necessarily the right person.

    Not a Rutgers problem, I expect.

    “PS: I follow S on Find My Friends, too. 😀”

    I feel like you could get a really nice Portlandia episode out of this.

      1. Husband’s colleague is uber-Catholic, so presumably not. (We’re all Catholics in ultra-Baptist TX.)

        I would say for myself that I have a lot more skepticism toward undergraduate marriage than I did even 10 years ago. There is a pretty big risk factor in marrying someone who hasn’t yet demonstrated that they can get up before 10, hold down a serious job, and take care of the basic business of adult life. I realize that there are many working college students who are more than capable of all of those things, but a lot of 22-year-olds just aren’t there yet.

      2. My understanding was that “ring before spring” referred to an engagement ring, not a wedding ring, before the spring of senior year, with marriage to follow once gainful employment had commenced. So it isn’t a question of undergraduate marriages. My view is that the only alternative structures for relationships between young people of opposite sexes offered in the modern world are relatively structured “dates,” or unstructured hookups, and that the former is healthier. Other cultures might have promoted a structure of groups of young people at dances and parties, without either exclusive relationships or random sexual encounters, but we have to live in the world that is, not the age of innocence.

        I guess there is also the “friends with benefits” alternative. As I sometimes tell the associates, we didn’t have the phrase when I was 20-something, but we certainly had the thing. I don’t object to such relationships, but they are unstable.

      3. y81 said,

        “My understanding was that “ring before spring” referred to an engagement ring, not a wedding ring, before the spring of senior year, with marriage to follow once gainful employment had commenced. So it isn’t a question of undergraduate marriages.”

        I was doing a little googling, and a lot of people think that it implies an engagement soon enough to allow for a summer wedding after college graduation. So, not a lot of time to prove one’s ability to function as an adult if one hasn’t already been living a grownup life.

      4. AmyP, it’s interesting to note a correlations. The 10 least expensive states correlate well with the youngest brides, and the 10 most expensive states correlate well with the oldest brides.

        It could reflect the cost of the wedding? Of course there are cultural differences between New England and the Midwest.

        I suspect there’s a bell curve in terms of how long after graduation from college a wedding takes place. Some couples, of course, will do everything except a ceremony together. I am hearing of some graduates getting married or engaged immediately after graduation.

      5. Cranberry said:

        “AmyP, it’s interesting to note a correlations. The 10 least expensive states correlate well with the youngest brides, and the 10 most expensive states correlate well with the oldest brides.”

        Basically–with some anomalies caused by LDS.

        “It could reflect the cost of the wedding? Of course there are cultural differences between New England and the Midwest.”

        I actually suspect housing is a bigger driver. According to Zillow, the median TX home costs $170k while the median MA home costs $377k (our local TX suburb with the good public schools has home prices per square foot just over $100). Median TX household income is $51k while median MA income is $68k–so roughly speaking, the TX home is 3.3X median household income while the MA home is 5.5X income.

  8. My Greek experience was idiosyncratic, but then pretty much everything about Sewanee is idiosyncratic. So yes, as Wendy says above, there is a great deal of variation from school to school and from organization to organization.

    1. The start of that article:

      When 17-year-old Quattro Musser hangs out with friends, they don’t drink beer or cruise around in cars with their dates. Rather, they stick to G-rated activities such as rock-climbing or talking about books.

      Of course, Quattro is from Portland. There’s your Portlandia episode for you AmyP.

      1. Shannon said,

        “There’s your Portlandia episode for you AmyP.”

        !!!!

        True story: while I was in labor with Baby T, husband and I whiled away the time with Portlandia episodes.

    1. There is a great episode of The Middle called Find My Hecks which is about how the parents track the kids on FMF and the kids track their parents. 😀

  9. I hardly checked blogs last week so I’m late to this much awaited post. Glad to know you’re doing ok and actually enjoying your “bubble” as others are saying. 😉 I love the discussion with Jonah about Ian. My kid is 3 years younger than yours, but he is a really good kid too… so far. He got his permit last Thursday and has already driven a lot since then, including a couple of hours in interstates and through D.C. highways on Sunday!! My husband was saying to him,” Are you sure you want to do this? There are people who don’t like to come to D.C. because they don’t want to drive here, but you’re ok with doing it?” and he was. Oh yeah… and a month ago, Kelvin had us install this app with which he can track us and we can track him. He wants to know where we are and when we’re coming to get him. I couldn’t believe that *he* wanted us to do it! I have to look up where he’s been going, I guess… (which is only down the street from the high school to 7/11 where he buys coffee and snacks for his lazy friends — at a profit! So his coffee is always free.). (it’s a boarding school so some kids can’t actually leave campus without permission, he can because he is a “village kid”, but he mostly buys snacks for other village kids who are lazy to walk. They all stay and work at the school in the IT department until 5 pm every day).

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