Friday, August 27, 2010

The "In and Out" Three Day College Visit

The mass market version of Being With Him comes out September 7th, and in the spirit of whoo-hoo, I'll give away three copies to the first three people who write to me through the contact page on my web site:

(I know there are a number of you parents out there about to send off your college babies. Here's a little of what I figured out over eight collective years of parenting college-aged kids. Good luck!)

The “In and Out” Three Day College Visit

What do Olympia, Washington, Granville, Ohio, Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, and Sherman, Texas all have in common? Aside from all being very small to moderately populated cities, each hosts an excellent college that your high school grad might be attending this fall. Off you will all go for the orientation and the dorm move in, and away you parents will go, leaving your chick behind. Sometime after the holiday break, as the winter drags on and you find yourself pining for your college student, you decide to visit.

If your child were studying a major metropolitan area, your visit would be packed with tourist destinations. You could take in a play, a museum tour, a ferry ride around an island or two, and then pick the kid up at the dorm and have dinner at a Michelin rated restaurant.

Back in Sherman (population 2,930) or even Olympia (population 42,514), you don’t know what to do during your visit. You’ve driven the city in fifteen minutes. You’ve investigated the few blocks of downtown. You tour the campus again. And again. You will sit in the dorm room, wishing you could clean it. Meanwhile, your child who has managed to forge a life of his or her own wishes, frankly, that you’d go back to the motel.

After eight consecutive years with two sons who attended The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, I developed what I call the “in and out” visit. This visit was a perfect balance of activity and then absence, gave me the dose of my kids I needed, and kept them from wishing I’d just go on home.

I would leave Oakland around 10 and arrive at SeaTac about between 11.30. I would rent a car and drive down to Olympia at a leisurely pace, managing to miss the afternoon commute. Before contacting my sons, I would check into the Red Lion Inn. If I hadn’t had the chance to workout at home, I would change and go over to the 24 Hour Fitness and have a nice workout.

Don’t expect your children to drop everything and rush to you the moment you show up. Do what you need to do. Take a nap. Eat a sandwich. Work out.

Then I would gather whatever child was around—both or one—plus the significant others of the time, and take them out to a great dinner. College aged students are always hungry, even if you can’t take them to a restaurant with even one star. At various times, we hit Gardner’s Seafood, Ramblin' Jacks, The Mark, and The Ranch House. This is the time for largesse –appetizers, entre, and dessert. If this is your child’s freshman year, he or she is bored to death of marginal dorm food and a night out will really be special.

The next day was mine. Really. The whole day. At first, I wasn’t so sure what to do on this day. In a big city, it’s easy: grab the kids, get on the subway and hit the fine arts museum and a major park. But what to do in the middle of proverbial nowhere? Get in the car and drive to some far away tourist site like Mount St. Helens? And when I asked my sons what they wanted to do, they just shrugged. I had imagined that they would entertain me. Wrong again.

So on my second “in and out” visit, I Googled Olympia and came up with a few really fun activities that I was able to spread out over a couple of visits, one we did several times.

I typed in “Things to do in Olympia, WA” and came up with a list that surprised my kids and one I kept adding to over the years. They’d been in town but hadn’t really explored it, except to go to class, the cafeteria, and friends’ dorms or apartments. As it turned out, they were as clueless as I was.

Here is a sample day’s outing. After coffee and baked goods at Caffe Vita, we headed to The Capitol Campus, which includes the Washington State Legislature, Supreme Court, and Governor's Mansion. Because Olympia is a small and has very groovy vibe (I call it Berkeley on the Sound), it’s often hard to remember it’s the state capital. The official web site will tell you the legislative building weighs 94,250 tons, but the bottom line is it’s a lot of massive stonework. Wander the buildings and head down to the park below the Capitol and Capitol Lake that sits at the mouth of the Deschutes River.

Next, with water as your guide, drive south three miles to Tumwater and Tumwater falls, the former home of Oly Beer. No Oly is brewed there anymore, and the failed brewery is for sale. But walk the trails of Tumwater Falls Park that follow the Deschutes and feature waterfalls, river, woods, and wetlands. You will likely spot local fauna, such as kingfishers, mergansers, and waxwings.

It’s probably time for lunch. My favorite pizza in Olympia is Vic’s, and you can buy it by the slice. Eat up, and then time for some bowling. Yes, bowling. Many small towns like Olympia still have old fashioned bowling alleys, and Westside Lanes reminds me of women named Ethel who wear pink bowling shirts. Rent some shoes, find a ball that fits, and see how well you can embarrass yourself.

On another trip, we drove a few miles north toward Tacoma and stopped at Nisqually National Wildlife Refuge. Currently, you can’t hike more than a mile or so, but the paths are set up for viewing and photographing aspects of the three thousand acres of preserved wetlands and forests. There you can observe migratory waterfowl, songbirds, raptors, and wading birds. When we visited, the three of us watched a blue heron fish pose stoically.

We’ve gone to Point Defiance in Tacoma, where we visited the zoo, walked the shore trail, and bravely faced Fort Nisqually Living Museum (people dress up as pioneers there. Don’t laugh!). Another time, we visited the Yashiro Japanese Gardens in downtown Olympia. On rainy days, we’ve gone to books stores and movies, too.

The evening after the long day is a more casual eating out. We have had burritos or salad or sandwiches, and then after a quick trip to the grocery store for an infusion of supplies for the college folk, I say goodbye and head back to the Red Lion Inn.

In the morning, I get in the rental car, get coffee, and then drive up from my midday flight home to Oakland.

What the “in and out” three day visit doesn’t do is put the burden on your student. They are busy with their classes and new friends and becoming themselves. They don’t have time to figure out an itinerary. So no matter that you are in a small town, you can find things to do that will be fun for you and your student. More importantly, you and they get to learn about their new town together, and that’s something you will both take away from their college experience.


Linda Henderson said...

Not that I don't wish my daughters had went to college, but I'm so glad they never moved away. I sent you a message on your website.

Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

Got it--and I am so happy at least one of my boys has moved back home!



Pat Cochran said...

My children all went to the University of Houston here in
town. Our granddaughter Ashley
just left for college in Indiana.
This is her sophomore year, with
a major in Japanese Studies. For
her junior year, she will be in
Tokyo, residing with a Japanese
family. For her senior year, she
will be back in Indiana. How's
that for education on the go!
Although, that junior year might
make an "in & out" visit a wee
bit difficult! LOL.

SiNn said...

I staye dat home and went to school from there but i got burnt out andhave taken time off

cheryl c said...

My son is a senior this year at a college a couple of hours away. My husband and I also went there, and we are huge fans of the football team. This fall we can tie in going to the game and visiting with him. Then he is anxious for us to leave so he can party. :-)

practimom said...

luckily my boys are only 7 and 4. i have a long way too go!!!

Jessica Barksdale Inclan said...

I think there are so many ways to handle them leaving, but it's distressing! This was my solution, and they haven't complained about "those mom visits" yet.


Mary said...

My daughter went straight from high school to working. I would have liked for her to have gone to college but when they get old enough, you can't tell them what to do anymore....and make them do it! lol I do like having her close to me though.

I sent you a message on your website. :)