Backstory: How to survive your child's freshman year in college

Pointers on how to stay in touch with your children when they go away to college, including the old phone call trick: Did you get the check I sent?

When i dropped my son off at college his freshman year, I decided not to embarrass him by tearfully saying my goodbyes in his dorm room. Instead, I left a heart-tugging letter that expressed, page after page, my love and pride. Three weeks later he sent an e-mail: "Finally read your letter. It was very long."

When I emerged from an abbreviated period of intense contemplation, three years later, I realized I was not unique. Parents write checks with endless zeros and go through similar traumas all over the country. For those needy fathers and mothers, I have put together a brief list on How To Survive Your Child's Freshman Year In College. Read it and try not to weep.

Do not look at your phone.

They won't call. Trust me, they won't. No matter how often you glance at the phone in the kitchen, no matter how many times you take the cellphone out of your pocket, it will not ring. And climbing telephone poles to check if your lines are working doesn't usually result in anything but splinters.

You can always call the noncalling child using a variety of excuses: "I pressed your button(s) on speed dial by mistake." "Did you get the check I sent?" "Did you get the other check I sent?" Or, when really desperate, "Can I send you a check?"

While the last excuse often brings a response ("yes"), the others usually result in "can't talk, gotta run." Don't ask "where to?" You might find out.

Watch college sports on TV.

Assuming your child, like mine, attends their school's sporting events and assuming they're on TV, the parental sport of child-spotting can fill up many hours. While it is only marginally easier to pick out your child's scream-contorted face in a 20,000-seat basketball arena than in a 75,000-seat football stadium, the thrill of the hunt overcomes the realization that you have no idea what is happening in the actual game.

Donate a $50 million building.

Though this might prove difficult for people not named Buffett, it is an effective way to see your child at school. Most college presidents will drag your child to either the groundbreaking or dedication ceremony. For an extra $10 million or $20 million, the president will probably throw the child into your arms and even hold him there.

Take up jogging.

This is an effective way to maintain contact with your child. Just casually jog past when your son or daughter is heading to class or coming home from a party at 2 a.m. The latter is called the "when they least expect it technique." (Warning: this can result in high-pitched screams and the appearance of campus police. Have a bail bondsman handy.) While at first children may be suspicious of your appearing in running clothes 3,000 miles from home, they will, presumably, get used to your presence before they transfer to another school.

Get a life.

Clog dancing, Eritrean cooking, and counting the coins in your penny jar will fill up hours. Or you can always write yet another long letter. Even the customary reply – "got it, very long" – will probably, make that definitely, bring a smile.

Chuck Cohen, a satirist, lives in California.

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