Care Packages

Our church has a tradition of sending care packages to college students as a way of continuing to share love with them even when they cannot be with us. Over the years I have enjoyed writing notes to kids I know, encouraging them to hang in there and that, yes, we do notice you’re not here and we care.

This year, just as my kid would be on the receiving end, the project almost fell by the wayside. I stepped up to save it since I knew just how much real mail could mean to kids weathering tough transitions. Truly, any college kid.

When I attended college, I got mail from my mom and my church. The church sent postcards for events I couldn’t attend because I was out of town, which felt insulting: did they not notice my address? And if they did, why not write a quick note? Or at least take me off the list? My experience fueled my desire to encourage other college students.

I’ve written previously that I have never before been to the Post Office so regularly as I have been since the Big Kid started college out of state. And while I am great at writing notes, and encouraging others to write notes, or cheerleading people acting as encouragers, I stink at administering details.

The project became one more stressor in an already stressful season. I often said, “I could use a care package!”

A few weeks ago, I went to visit my college kid. Minutes after we arrived at his dorm room he said, “Oh, Mom, I wanted to show you this…” He held up a reusable plastic envelope filled with cards. He explained, “It’s every card I’ve received since I arrived at college.” The notes from his dad and me, his grandparents, friends, church members and Scout leaders, the cards I was sure were being skimmed and recycled… No, they were being read and reread, treasured.

I should mention: he didn’t know I’d taken up this project. He shared because he knew it would touch me to know how much those cards meant to him. I took his picture, better that than welling up with tears.

Eventually it came together. We gathered 75 college addresses for kids who grew up in our church, or whose parents/grandparents attend our church. We collected donations of microwave popcorn and Halloween candy, and lots and lots of encouraging notes: many written to kids people knew and others written generically to kids no one knew well enough. We also collected dozens of home-baked cookies to send study break packages to small groups organized by our church’s mission partners working on college campuses—and included plenty of hand-written notes to those kids, most of whom we will never meet.

On a Saturday morning, about fifteen volunteers came together to assemble USPS flat-rate boxes, to write yet more notes, to stuff popcorn and candy and cookies into boxes. My morning had not gone according to plan (of course not, because life), and I arrived late and frazzled. Yet there they were, faithful helpers already on task loving on kids away from home.

It had felt to me like details enough to drown me, yet one dear gal said, “We’re like water, settling in to our well-worn spots.” Yes. My spot is encouraging, not organizing. But I stuck it out, I told the story, and people filled in their places in a beautiful whole.

When we finished in less time than we’d allotted, we gathered around the boxes to pray. And there it was: my care package. These friends and servants prayed for our kids, for strength and perseverance and guidance. They prayed for professors and mentors to come around them. They prayed for roommates and suitemates and hallmates, boyfriends and girlfriends, all of whom might wonder why a church would send care packages to college kids. They prayed God’s love and peace would shower over these precious young people. This time, I couldn’t hide my tears.

I couldn’t have imagined the impact on our postal workers. It took two of us making multiple trips with arms full to carry in all the boxes: their eyes went wide. I sensed their initial shock, then overwhelm, then deep breaths as they settled into a rhythm of typing in zip codes and printing labels, restacking boxes along the way. Eventually, they began to laugh, thanking us for supporting the US Postal Service.

They asked what we could possibly be mailing to individuals all over the country; when we explained, they grew visibly happier to have a role to play in this big act of encouragement. When after almost an hour we were done, they were also done for the day. One postal worker declared, “Since everyone should have a little something for joy, here you go!” He reached under the counter and pulled out two Dove chocolates for Guy and me.

Last night I received another care package: my kid, home for the first time, three months to the day since college move-in. Happy Thanksgiving indeed!

Not Alone

I have been to the post office three times in eight days. Four, if you count the trip I made to pick up boxes, which made for two trips in one day. I set a personal record.

So what? you ask.

What seems a normal act of adulting is An Event for me. You have no idea how bad I am at mailing things! We‘ve lived in our small NorCal town for eleven years and I’ve been to the PO, hmm, three times? (Yes, Guy is a rock star, actually, for putting up with me and handling All the Details). Unless we pay a fortune in postage–which we do, annually–only our hand-delivered Christmas gifts arrive on time. I’m bad at erranding in general, and mailing in particular.

So why this sudden run on the USPS? I sent a kid to college!

And he’s sososo homesick! He called after his first class ready to come home. Not that the class was hard (it wasn’t) but, after a weekend of trying to get to know as many people as humanly possible, he realized that the one person he wanted to spend time with–his roommate–had no time for him.

Roommate’s girlfriend also came to college (that would have been nice to know in advance), and they only have time for each other.

I bet my kid could overlook the sloppy mess invading his space if Roommate’s kindness also overflowed boundaries. But no. And he’s not sleeping because he doesn’t want to make things worse by asking that Girlfriend leave their room after midnight.

Easy enough to say, “He’ll get through it,” or “Transitions are so hard,” or “Everyone feels like that at first.” Yes, he can do hard things and we believe he can get through it. This is the biggest transition of his life and my drama boy takes it so hard. And no, not everyone feels this but yes, most will at some point.

The adults in his life have endured transitions. We all know he can do it. But he’s in it, and that makes his experience real-er than ours for the moment. Don’t you remember? The drive-thru car wash (mundane adulting) = dark, loud, and scary!

And the stakes are higher than ever. This was his #1 college choice. We believe this school is a perfect fit for him–in The Wizard of Oz “…if ever there was there was there was [because the college because because] sort of fit–overflowing with Emerald City potential for great opportunities! And he is not sure he’s going to make it. Because of a stupid roommate.

We sleep-trained Teen as an infant. Guy would throw his arm across me to prevent me from running to my crying baby, until the baby sobs tore through his own resolve, at which point he’d strap Baby-Teen into his car seat and drive around until the kiddo fell asleep. This made no sense to me (although I trusted him entirely and sank deeply into quiet/sleep!) because as soon as he took Baby out of Car Seat, Baby woke up and resumed crying.

Parents are crazy that way.

I feel like we’re at it again. Teen needs to learn to do this for himself, to self-soothe in whole new (and hopefully, healthy!) ways. And we’re learning new crazy.

Throughout his adolescence, we fought about Snapchat. He downloaded it–and I demanded deletion–every few months. During drop-off weekend, Teen asked his brother to create a Snapchat account for the cat, and to Snapchat him every day (he *loves* his cat). Since my phone is better, Snapchat resides on my phone…and I find myself Snapchatting my kid. Often. When I asked for a “1st day of school picture” he replied: “Absolutely not!” But he snaps pictures to “his cat” every day…

To add to the crazy parenting moves, I commented in the college-specific parents’ Facebook group that my kiddo is lonely. Other moms with freshman sons in the same major sent me pictures of their kids so I could send them to my kid; I did the same. OMG: I am setting up ‘play dates’ for my college kid (DS, Darling Son, to use the lingo)! He hasn’t mentioned if it’s helped. [I hope it is helping… Life is all about connections, right?]

I’m happy for these parents that their kids are getting to know one another, hanging out and making plans for Labor Day Weekend. Meanwhile, Teen will be alone in his dorm since Roommate and Girlfriend are going on a couples-only camping trip.

He will be fine. He will be fine. He will be fine…

So I send care packages. I didn’t take my own college transition nearly so hard (freshman roommates as they are, I investigated leaving, but couldn’t stomach another round of college apps), but I still remember my mom’s signature care package ingredients.

And I encourage my kid: what he knows (he chose this school for so many good reasons) and what he feels (I can’t do this) are in competition. He lets his heart lead most of the time; he needs to keep his head this time.

I encourage myself: he is strong, and he can do this. He feels alone, but he is not. I feel alone, but I am not. I rejoice with others, and they hang in there with us.

We are not alone, even when we feel it.

[P.S. As I wrote this, he texted: “Going to dinner with the boys.” No idea who “the boys” are, but hope. Always hope!]

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