Off to college, parents in tow


At the start of every school year, the media turns its eye to the spectacle of incoming freshmen moving into their new homes.

Many of these new students are accompanied by their parents. Why do parents take their grown children to university? Is there any reason beyond soothing their own anxieties?

In a short piece that was printed in the Beijing Youth Daily last week, blogger “Essays in Idleness” described a move-in day this year in which one student’s parents played a critical role.

What a freshman!

by Essays in Idleness / BYD

It was another sunny day when I accompanied my friend’s child Yangyang to register at school.

As scheduled, the university campus was welcoming a group of new students, but once glance revealed that older, nervous parents outnumbered the students themselves.

Hordes of people crowded around the entrances to the dorms, and it turned out that to simplify things, the managers of the building had prohibited parents from entering. The big door to the dormitory building was opened just a crack, and countess parents argued and pleaded in loud voices outside. I was able to get in because I looked like a student.

As I was helping Yangyang unpack her things, another girl entered the room. She was very pretty. I greeted her warmly, but she ignored me. Instead, as soon as she entered the room she hurried over to the window to talk to her parents.

Fortunately, the dorm room was on the first floor, so her parents could stand outside the window and direct things from there.

Her luggage had already been brought into the room, and her bunk was already set up.

The room was an old-style dorm room: two bunk beds on each side of the room with a big table in the middle. Next to the door stood two four-shelf cabinets. Eight bunks in total, with five people living together, meaning that there were three places to put luggage.

The girl’s luggage by itself was enough to fill the sole lower luggage bunk. Her parents instructed her what to take out of her luggage and where to put it.

“First take your shoes out of that bag there.”

“Where should I put them?”

“Isn’t there a cabinet?”

“The ones on the bottom are already full.”

“Then put them on an upper shelf.”

“How can I reach? It’s so high, and I can’t get up there!” The girl had already become impatient.

“From that bed. Climb up there!”

“How do I get up?”

“Isn’t there a ladder?”

The girl worked her way up to the top bunk, mumbling, “You want me to fall and die!”

With difficulty she put her things on the shelf, but when she went to climb down, she again ran into problems: “Oh, no! How do I get down?”

Her mother said: “Turn your body around and slowly climb down.”

Her father said: “You’re lucky you don’t have a top bunk.”

Her father then instructed, “You’ve got a locking drawer, and don’t you have a small cabinet under the bed? Lock them.”

“Where are the locks?” said the girl as she pawed randomly through her bags.

“Look in the carry-on bag,” said her mother.

The girl extracted two locks, and then complained: “They’re both the same!” She extended her hand through the window and handed the locks to her father.

“The locks are the same, but the keys aren’t,” said her father, as he took the keys off the locks and handed them back to the girl.

“The drawer’s so dirty. What should I do?”

“Wipe it down with a cloth,” said her mother.

Yangyang quickly handed the girl the cloth she had just bought.

After she had finished with the drawer, the girl was still confused: “What do I lock in this thing?”

Her mother, infinitely patient, said “Take the certificates, acceptance letter, and household registration from the bag and lock them up.”

The girl went back into her bags and searched for a while. “Where’s the acceptance letter?”

“Oh, I’ve got it here,” said her mother.

“Well, really!” The girl was quite annoyed by this point.

After the girl had put down her things, she went out, and then came back with a look of disgust on her face. She went over to her parents and stamped her foot angrily: “There’s no door on the bathroom. How can I pee in there?”

Then the girl started arranging her bunk. On the bed was a large bundle of bedclothes that the school had purchased in bulk. The girl opened the bundle and took out one item after another for her mother to identify.

“What’s this?”

“A pillow case!”

“What’s this?”

“A sheet!”

“What’s this?”

“A mosquito net! Can you hang a mosquito net?”

“No!” The girl answered immediately.

“Mom will be back tomorrow to help you hang it up.”

The day was a scorcher. Standing under the hot sun, the girl’s parents were soaked in sweat. And in her room, the girl grumbled and complained.

I actually believe that the girl would gradually learn to solve these little problems in life, even if her mother and father weren’t there to direct her in every task. She wasn’t totally ignorant. Perhaps she just didn’t want to make decisions, or didn’t want to take responsibility. Perhaps she was using this impatient attitude, asking for help in every little thing, to express her displeasure. Perhaps in her heart she was mocking her old, pitiful parents, “Do you really think I don’t know anything?!”

But how many other parents were there outside the dormitory who had come from far off, arguing strenuously but unable to come inside? How miserable and ridiculous their anxiety!

I’m reminded of the American TV drama Rome that I watched recently. When Pompey had been run ragged with Caesar at his heels, he said self-mockingly, “How nice it must be to be a slave, never having to decide anything or make any choices. How restful it must be!”*

Note: This is a back translation; please notify me if you have the real quote (Season 1, Episode 5, from what I can tell).

Links and Sources
This entry was posted in Scholarship and education and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.