Darling Daughter is about to leave for college. Don’t ask me when, because for once in my life, I’m not keeping a daily countdown. I don’t want to know. Instead, I’m spending our dwindling days together like 52-year-old doe in headlights, immobilized by an onslaught of “What To Pack For College” lists.
I. Hate. Those. Lists. Hate ‘em. Not just because they signify Darling Daughter’s imminent departure, but because most manage to be both tedious and absurd.
If you have a college-bound student, you surely know what I mean. And if you don’t have a college-bound student, then you may be even more irritated than I am, because at this time of year, “what to take to college” (and its equally irritating cousin, “what not to take to college”) is the topic du jour for morning talk show hosts and mid-day journalists and Facebook bloggers and, let’s not forget -- total strangers in the aisles of Target.
One such list urges coeds not to leave behind their phone chargers and tampons. Phone chargers and tampons? I’d like to meet the girl who is ever farther than 10 feet from one of her (many) phone chargers. And tampons? The only time a typical teenaged girl is without one is when she’s heading to CVS to buy more.
Another list suggests that a college freshman shouldn’t fail to pack costume clothing and a step ladder. Say what? In 18 years, I’ve never once seen Darling Daughter atop a step ladder. Whatever would she do with one in a dorm room that’s only slightly larger than her shower stall?
Nonetheless, we’re neck-deep into buying “stuff” to ease the transition from home to school – extra long sheets, rugs, mattress pads, and really, sheet straps? But I worry that I’m losing sight of the most important things she needs to take. For example:
Self-respect. Darling Daughter, you’re a smart girl, but a lively (both academically and socially) campus environment can leave even the smartest girl questioning what she stands for, hopes for, and lives for. I’m trusting you – my darling, precious, daughter – to take care of you -- mind, body and spirit. Make the decisions that are right for you. You’re the only one who can.
Self-confidence. You’re about to tackle some gargantuan life changes – moving away from home, leaving friends you’ve known since preschool, demanding college classes, seemingly limitless freedoms. And while, pretty much everyone you know will be facing the same changes, that doesn’t make them easy. There will be days when classes are tough, professors are unreasonable, and some people won’t like you. There will be days when you question your abilities and your worth. But Sugar, that’s how it is here in the real world. So remember, I didn’t raise you to please other people. I raised you to be you. So go ahead, be you.
An open mind. Darling Daughter, despite and because of my best efforts, you have lived a sheltered life. And for the most part, that’s been a good thing. Even though you’ve had opportunities to roam the globe, you’ve been raised and educated in a pretty snug little community, where you’ve been protected and nurtured and kept safe. These next four years, you’ll be exposed to things and people and events you (and I) can’t even begin to imagine. And while some may be shocking and appalling, others will be eye-opening and, if you allow them to be, life-shaping. Please remember that “different” isn’t the same as “bad” or “wrong.” Keep an open mind; your life will be forever enhanced.
Perspective. People love to say that college represents the best four years of your life. To me, that’s a heck of burden. You can’t look at things that way. You’ve got to just take one day at a time. When you’ve had a great day, build on that. When you’ve had a rotten day – and you will – remember that it’s just that one day. The next day, you get a fresh start. So go ahead – start fresh.
Common sense. One of the things I love about you is how very, very practical you are. You think ahead. You plan. So if you’re ever tempted to pull an all-nighter, rather than preparing along the way, or trying to convince yourself that you can start studying at midnight, or that you don’t need to return my calls or texts, consider what advice you’d give to a friend who was making the same unwise decisions. You know what to do. And when you do the right thing, you won’t have regrets.
So that’s it. That’s my own “what to take to college list.” Or, at least, it’s the beginnings of one. Oh -- and a cooler. Take a cooler. Because although I can’t help you pack self-confidence or self-respect or an open mind or perspective or common sense, I can pack a cooler. And when you come home for a visit – I’ll want to fill yours up with favorite foods, like this cold veggie noodle salad.
I love you,
Spicy Summer Noodle Salad
8 ounces spaghetti or rice noodles, broken into 3” – 4” lengths, cooked al dente, rinsed in cool water and tossed in 1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, grated
1 English cucumber, halved lengthwise, sliced into very thin moons
1 cup raw sugar snap peas, stacked and sliced, crosswise, thinly
2 scallions sliced thinly
½ red bell pepper, halved lengthwise and sliced very thinly
¼ head purple cabbage, sliced thinly or grated coarsely
1 handful of fresh mint leaves, chopped coarsely
¼ cup crunchy peanut butter
¼ cup rice vinegar
¼ cup canola oil
¼ cup ponzu sauce
juice of one lime
1 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
generous squeeze of sriracha sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1 teaspoon coarse salt
In a large bowl, toss noodles and fresh vegetables. In a small bowl, whisk together dressing ingredients. Toss dressing and salad in large bowl. Adjust seasonings and serve salad chilled or at room temperature. Pack leftovers in small containers, seal well, pack in a cooler, and send back to college with your precious daughter.