The joys (and pains) of shopping for dorm life


University of Miami, here we come! During this summer, our family shared the excitement and anticipation of our daughter, Teresa, attending UM as a freshman in the fall.

Teresa, her older sister Mary and I boarded an early-morning flight equipped with Back to School flyers and a very long to-do list. Within two days, we had to help Teresa unpack, set up her room, meet with an IT specialist to set up her computer (that we didn’t buy yet), attend student/parent orientations and, of course, shop!

That evening, although exhausted, we took Mary’s thorough shopping list and started our expedition. Entering the store, I was immediately handed Target’s Must-haves for your College Student checklist. Hmmm, clever of Target, but heart palpitations for me. I took a deep yoga breath and looked at the checklist categories: Sleep, Organize, Eat, Study, Shower and their items: coffee maker, vacuum, laptop desk, backrest and so on. I neatly folded the list and put it in my pocketbook. Trying to be cheerful and excited, I followed the girls as Mary, looking like the experienced shopper she is, started throwing things in her cart.

I loudly questioned the purchase of an iron, when I clearly knew Teresa didn’t even know how to use an iron. I wondered why a Brita was necessary when both the girls drank the tap water in New York. The simultaneous response from the girls, as they continued shopping, was an impatient sigh. When I firmly questioned the need for both a refrigerator and microwave, Teresa calmly explained that it was for the leftovers from eating out. I’m glad I questioned that, because it simply reminded Teresa that she also needed silverware. Eek!

I wondered how she’d have money to eat out, because my husband and I certainly wouldn’t after paying the tuition. And what about the meal plan? Wouldn’t it be just wonderful after a long, hectic day at work to walk into your kitchen, pick up a tray, select anything you want, have it cooked and served to you, eat, put your dirty dishes on a conveyor belt, walk away and then do it again the next day for breakfast, lunch and dinner? Sign me up!

To avoid friendly fire, I stopped shopping and checked out the items in the girls’ cart: a hamper, $15; detergent, $18; husband pillow, $14; and a bulletin board $15. When I saw the three boxes of Kleenex for $7.50, I lost it.

I tried to calmly explain in this very crowded store of anxious college students and even parents that I would drive to three different stores, coupons in hand, to get the best prices, and I would never purchase a box of tissues for $2.50 each! Then Mary, the Voice of Reason, explained that Teresa needed these things and that we didn’t have time to comparison shop.

And then I found myself having a moment, thinking about the things I needed when I went to college. We didn’t have road trips or plane trips to check out campuses or get to decide that a college wasn’t a “good fit” because you didn’t like the cafeteria meal plan. I was lucky enough to go away to college, and happy to get my mother’s frayed, unmatched towels, sheets, a couple of pillow cases to transfer my belongings in and, of course, our family’s dead pillow. I had to budget the money I earned that summer as a Long Beach lifeguard along with the money my parents gave me to make it through the entire school year. We shopped at Woolworths or Mr. Morris’ stationery store in town for notebooks and pens. We didn’t have to buy dozens of mechanical pencils or different colored gel pens. We didn’t need shower caddies, closet organizers or electric kettles. Things seemed much simpler and less expensive back then.

I simply smiled when Mary offered to treat for the matching pillows, the iPod speakers and the black-out curtains as we proceeded to the register with credit cards in hand.

But standing there with my girls, I realized that this was a great road trip. We were creating some wonderful memories and setting Teresa up for success in college. Her hard work earned her a substantial scholarship that already made us proud. And even though it may be a bit of an expensive journey, and I know that Mary would agree, it is an honor to be involved in such an important time in our daughter’s life.

I sheepishly mentioned that we didn’t buy any notebooks, pens or pencils. But with confidence, I was informed that those things were on tomorrow’s to-do list with the laptop and desk lamp.

Staples, here we come!

Trish Roberts, a writer and special education teacher. She is the parent of three college-educated children.

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