As I maneuvered through morning rush hour on the way to New Student Orientation, my thoughts flashed back 13 years to another early morning drive to my daughter’s first day of kindergarten. I can still picture her in the back seat: blonde ponytail, navy and white uniform and a backpack almost as big as she was. 

Now this young adult in her sparkle-studded jeans and aviator sunglasses sat in the passenger seat beside me with the same confident air of expectation she had displayed as a preschooler. Why is it that these moments of transition in life are filled with such excitement, yet tinged with a lingering sense of sadness?

As soon as we arrived on campus, she rushed off to join the other freshmen anxious to get a glimpse of what their new lives would be like. I joined the other parents awkwardly meeting each other, bragging a bit about our students, sharing our concerns about what is ahead for them. Each week 250-plus students accompanied by about 90 parents take advantage of this preview of college life, referred to as LobOrientation.

The two days are packed with back-to-back sessions that address common concerns and questions as well as provide information that may slip right out of your student’s head and into your lap. Topics include financial aid, campus safety and residence life. I learned about Lobo Cash, academic communities, advisement and counseling.

Just as I was about to relax, feeling that my daughter would be well-cared for here, I got a text from her: “Registration is the most stressful thing I’ve ever done in my life!” I resisted the urge to leave my session, hunt her down and help her schedule classes for her first semester. I reminded myself she has a propensity for drama and that it probably isn’t the most stressful thing ever, after all. I fretted that she wouldn’t remember to tell the advisor that she had AP class credits or that she would schedule classes too close together to get across campus or so far apart she couldn’t fit in a job.

As I pondered what to do, my phone buzzed with a new text: “I got it. I figured it out.” Her stress had subsided, but for some reason mine stuck with me. I met up with her briefly before I headed home. She still had a full evening ahead with more sessions and a social, then an overnight stay in the dorms. No texts came in that night and I didn’t see her again before I headed into Day Two.  

By then, I had a good understanding of the resources available to students and parents, but the next session focused on a different kind of preparation. Using brief clips from the animated films “Toy Story III” and “Finding Nemo,” the presenter talked about redefining the relationship with these new “grown-ups.” Though we were watching kid movies, parents sniffed and wiped away tears at the simple illustrations of that universal tug-of-war with our teens over freedom. As UNM student volunteers passed out tissues and chocolates, once again my thoughts drifted to that very first day of school when the kindergarten teacher nudged us out of the classroom, tissues in hand.

Lobo Lunch capped off orientation for parents and students. I expected we would sit together and talk about what we had learned, but she was already seated with other students in her major. As I walked over to say hi, her table erupted into a chant, “Group one is dynamite… tick, tick, tick. 

Other tables followed with their own mantras. I watched and smiled at these brand new Lobos, college confident with no signs of uncertainty showing.

“Ready?” I asked. “Yep” she replied. “But I’m not riding with you. I’m going with friends. See you later.” 

I had just learned the last lesson of orientation: College isn’t kindergarten, Mom!