Adventures of First Year College Mom – Tip #3 Beware the Addled Dad

In our family, whenever we travel, Doug is what we call the “Cruise Director”. He books lodging and transportation, plans driving routes, makes sure the house is in vacation order and that the car is road ready. He just has a general command of the situation. This held true for our first official college drop off too…or so I thought. 

For the most part, Doug is a pretty steady guy, not prone to emotional highs and lows (except for the usual Type A impatience, frustration and anger) and so sometimes I honestly forget that he has feelings. Terrible, right? I know. I know. Keep reading…you can mentally lecture me later. As we prepared to leave that morning for the school, Doug was his typical, high-intensity self, wishing everything had been done faster (we had plenty of time) and that we had packed less. (I’ll cut him some slack on this one – he is a man living with three women.) After spending an hour trying to fit everything in our four door sedan – which he did  masterfully – he jumped in the front seat, turned the key and…nothing. The battery was dead. Why? Because he had left the radio, interior lights and GPS on the entire time he was packing the car (and my battery is kinda old). I bet some of you have already figured out where the jumper cables were. Of course!  In the trunk, under about 30 pairs of shoes, 75 t-shirts and, well, everything else!

As he worked on digging out the cables and jumpstarting the car, I went inside to grab breakfast, which I suddenly had time to eat. Did I abandon him? Well, have you ever been around Doug when he’s in a hurry and something goes wrong? Best to give the man a little space. A couple minutes later, as I’m walking by the front door shoveling a spoonful of Cinnamon Toast Crunch into my mouth, I heard Jacquelyn say “Woa! Why is it smoking!?” Did I hear her right? Nah. Can’t be. She must be seeing things. Smoke? Silly girl. I was so confident in my cruise director, I just went about my business, enjoying my little breakfast time. When I went back outside, Doug explained that, yes indeed, the car had been smoking. Turns out that because my battery terminals were badly corroded, the red cap to the positive terminal was hidden, and the negative terminal was, for some crazy reason, painted red, Doug mistakenly reversed the charges. Doug. My Doug. Responsible, experienced, alert, cautious, has-jumpstarted-a-car-a-thousand-times Doug, reversed the charges. That is when I started to worry….maybe he is a bit addled after all.

Thankfully, the battery wasn’t damaged and, after Doug corrected the connections, we were able to recharge it. Finally, we were off! Now, this was far from our first drive to her school. Yet somehow, Doug managed to miss the exit. (Sure, I could say “we” missed the exit, but remember: I wasn’t really paying attention because my “cruise director” was supposed to have everything under control.) It’s no surprise that our GPS diverted us into downtown Boston which meant so much traffic and so many stoplights that our average speed was probably something like 12 mph. Show of hands: How many of you want to be trapped in a car with a man who has had the morning this guy’s had? Exactly!

Shortly after we got back on the highway, Christina pointed to our digital gas gauge which displays how many miles we have left before we run out of gas. Here’s what it looked like:  O  – yup. Zero. Zero miles left. There we were, on a highway jammed with August North Shore Weekenders, with virtually no gas in the tank. Trust me when I say that every one of us prayed so loudly and fervently you might have mistaken us for all for Pentecostals. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Pentacostals.) At the next exit, we sat through 3 red lights, staring at the gas station just across the street, fighting off visions of pushing a stalled car and desperately trying to will ourselves through the intersection. So close…so close. Come on, Light! Change! Change! Oh God, please, let us have enough gas. Please!

Well, praise God, we made it! And there was a Subway there too; so God provided gasoline and lunch. And from that point on our trip was fairly “normal”, if you can call anything our family does normal. We arrived at the school and moved all of Jacquelyn’s stuff up to her steamy room on the unairconditioned third floor. I’m not sure where Doug was but I helped get the maintenance people in to fix the broken beds and even had them bunk the beds for us. I could’ve waited for Doug, but by that point I had figured out that he was just, well, not himself. Better to leave it to the professionals. (And by “professionals”, I mean some college kids working maintenance.) Sometime later, Doug arrived with a refrigerator from a nearby Wal-Mart (is that where he was?) – one with a real freezer to fit the ever important pints of ice cream. What a guy! It will come as no surprise that he had to wait in the check-out line, with a dorm fridge, for over 20 minutes. It was just not his day.

After 4 hours of unpacking and organizing, we said good-bye to Jacquelyn and Emily (her roommate and friend from church), but only for the night. They were off to orientation meetings and we were off to find dinner. Do you find it odd that the school sent us off campus for dinner at 5 and then wanted us back at 7:30 for a dessert reception? Traffic was so horrendous that by the time we checked into our hotel and had dinner it was 8:00! We had our first dinner without Jacquelyn at Bertucci’s in Peabody. Sure, we’ve had dinner without her before…but this was official. Oh yeah, and we made a final run to Target for those last few items. Doug bought her a pink and black tool kit. Such a dad thing to do! But seriously, every girl should have her own tool kit. And, no, we never did make it back for the dessert reception. Man, school hadn’t even started and I was skipping already.

The next morning we were due on campus by 8:45 a.m. for an official welcome, after which we spent a very busy day taking care of business – bank accounts, job applications, etc. We closed the day with the school’s Commitment Ceremony and a speech wrought with all sorts of sentimental images – like the first time your child went off to school, or learned to ride a bike, or what it will be like to set the table with one less plate. My goodness…just stick a knife in my heart, why don’t ya? Was this guy trying to make us cry?

Saying good-bye was rough but Jacquelyn cried so hard that I couldn’t cry at all; I was just too worried about her. Doug didn’t cry either, but it was difficult for him to actually get in the car and drive. He stayed and watched her go until she walked completely out of his sight. Christina? She could have filled a bucket with her tears. As a reward for our long days and heavy hearts, we drove to Cape Ann to walk along the beach and then visited Rockport. We watched the sunset from a little cafe where we had dinner. We also bought Christina a sparkly butterfly ring and ice cream, which cheered her up sufficiently. And what about Doug? Well, after dinner and a coffee he drove us home. No dead batteries. No missed exits. No empty gas tanks. Just our very own cruise director back at the helm.

Tip #3 – Beware the Addled Dad – Just because your husband is all business about this college thing – you know, writing the checks, lamenting about how the payments are gonna destroy your retirement, making sure she has all her legal paperwork, setting up her bank account, buying her a hammer and an allen wrench – remember, that somewhere deep inside, this is shaking up his world, even if he doesn’t know it yet. I suspect this is even more true for dads of daughters. After all, it’s his job to protect his little girl, and now what’s he to do when she’s out from under his roof, living among strangers in a strange place? So be kind, be patient and be prepared. You never know when you might need to fix a broken bed, remind him to stop for gas or just squeeze his hand and tell him it’s all gonna be alright.

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