Desi O’ Desi: No stone unturned for sending kids off to college milestone

Anu Chitrapu
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Anu Chitrapu
Anu Chitrapu

By Anu Chitrapu

INDIA New England Columnist

BELMONT, MA–It is an emotional week all over the world as many parents are sending their kids off to college to the US for the first time.  It is particularly tough for us desi parents because we are trying to find a balance between being very involved in the whole thing, to giving our kids the space to grow and enjoying this milestone in their life.

It is difficult for us parents not to think about how our parents sent us off from India to the US, complete with pressure cookers, at least 5 extra spare weights to put on those cookers and a ton of vessels which we did not use. In spite of the fact that we are sending our kids within the US where the same stores can be found as in the hometown, the urge to pack everything is irresistible!

The back to school sales don’t help at all. Everything is included in back to school from underwear to large screen TVs. My son asked why buying underwear is such a big part of joining college – it seems to suggest it is not needed unless one is going to college for the first time, which we know is not true (I sincerely hope so). Yet, all lists include at least 6 pairs of new underwear!

Everyone’s favorite store is Bed, Bath and Beyond. If you did not use the 20% off coupon for your child’s college needs you can be sure to find your name on the top loser list. In the store one can find everything one needs and does not need. Like the metal head scratcher – at $2.99 it feels like a steal till you realize it is Rs.25 on the streets of India. I have to admit, it was really tempting to buy it. For some reason my head started itching as soon as I laid my eyes on it. Maybe the store was trying some kind of pavlovian experiment, anyways, I promptly obliged.  And since it was 2 for $5, I thought I would get two and give one to a friend. Only problem, whichever friend I mentioned it to, suddenly does not want to be my friend anymore. In any case if anyone wants 2 (yes, my son refused to take one to college), get in touch with me.

Even though all stores have made it easy to buy things like bedsheets, quilts etc. for dorms by putting all the dorm sized items in one place with a big sign that says “DORM BEDDING”, a lot of us moms wander through the aisles admiring all the other sheets and quilts and then after an hour ask the harried store person where we can find dorm sheets. You start believing in Zen teachings like it is not the destination but the journey. Unfortunately, for the store people, college shopping time is as far away from Zen as they will ever be.

I think parents and kids feel this is the time when they can really start getting organized in life. I found most stores were sold out of the organizing boards with fancy calendars. Of course, we all probably have a few lying around at home, bought when our kids entered elementary school, middle school, high school… but college is a big milestone and needs fresh organizing boards. I did notice most dorms had dry erase boards in study rooms and lounge areas but that is besides the point. The funny thing is while shopping for things to get our kids well organized we have so many new ideas to get ourselves organized! I was in Container Store the other day with the excuse that I needed to buy some under-the-bed storage boxes that my son did not want. I left the store without the boxes (he did not want them anyway) but came home with shoe shelves, cute metal drawers, kitchen liner and great ideas on how to “contain” everything at home. After dropping my son off at college, we moved all the freshly bought organizing stuff into the garage. I am looking forward to the day when I can get super organized with all that! Either that day or the day when I will return all the stuff and can put my car in the garage again!

Finally the day came for us when our son had to be dropped off at college. It was only 15 mins away from home so we felt really lucky and waited till the last minute to pack everything into boxes. We helped him pack his clothes into 2 suitcases – helped by putting in stuff that he kept taking out saying he did not need it. He repeated several times that all he really needed was pillows and bed clothing and a fan to blast air on his body and a quilt to cover himself against that air. Drop off was really easy. In his room, I proudly took out the cotton sheets from the packaging and made his bed. My husband and I were congratulating ourselves on how efficiently we accomplished the move when my son asked where the pillows and quilt were! I quickly blamed my husband for forgetting the most important thing. But I did not see them – where were they, my husband asked. Of course they were on his bed in his room at home! Remember he said he did not want new ones! My son rolled his eyes so fast and so far back that I was worried he may need an eye doctor. But no worries, that night my son slept without pillows (builds character and also teaches them that you need to adjust to new things in college) and the next morning, right before parent orientation, I sneaked into his dorm and handed him the only things he really wanted, all this while avoiding eye contact with other parents who had come from Japan, South Africa, India… without missing anything!

As we left the dorm, I wanted to take one more picture of him against the backdrop of his dorm but he absolutely refused.  Near the car, I stood looking at the dorm which would be his home for the next 4 years. In my mind’s eye I was beginning to imagine how he would come downstairs every morning for breakfast and… till I heard him say “Do you mind? Do you mind leaving so other parents can park their car in the loading/unloading dock?”  Well, of course I did not mind. As we drove away I turned back to look at him and wave … I thought I saw his eyes glisten but my husband said I was imagining it and if there was a glisten it was tears of joy that we were finally leaving.

Good Luck to all students of Class of 2020.  May all your dreams come true. Go change the world but also don’t forget to change the sheets on your bed every week. Your parents spent good money buying those for you!


  1. Great job, Anu, as always! You typically reflect many mons’ feelings to say the least! Way to go! I can be one of the volunteers for the metal scratch::))


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