Let Your Babies Go

Posted by September Blue Wednesday, 26 September 2007

Parents of undergraduates are clingy. You might think you know this already, but believe me, you don't know clingy like I know clingy. I didn't even know clingy like I know clingy until this semester, and I say this as someone who's previously had a conversation with a student's mother which included the words "and this has ruined our entire weekend, I hope you realise!" in re: a plagiarism case. This semester, I worked on the first-year induction side of things for a week. Clingy and me are now on first-name terms.

On the morning of day one, the new students moved into their rooms. The campus was full of wide-eyed teenagers and parents staggering around under oversized suitcases, which is customary and to be expected, although I'm sure that back in my day none of us brought our own fridge. (My favourite moment from Moving-In Day all those years ago was the boy hiding a yellow teddy-bear under his jacket while his dad said things like "Everyone can see that, you realise," and "Listen, son: if they can't love your CUDDLY TEDDY BEAR, they aren't worth having as friends anyway.") On the afternoon of day one, the new students went to a welcome talk. The parents gathered outside the lecture theatre doors in a huge overprotective mob. On day two, the students went to some more induction lectures, including How To Use The Library In Such A Way That Our Staff Won't Be Driven To Early Retirement By Answering The Same Question Seventy-Four Times A Day. Parents sat in the lecture theatres with them. On day three, students registered for their classes and sorted out their timetables, and the parents were still here.

I don't even mean that they were sort of vaguely there in the background, either. Presented, below, a typical conversation:

MOTHER OF STUDENT: Katie's taking Biology, but it says here that her lectures don't start until next week. Is that right?
ME: Yep. [To Katie] All you need to do this week is get your textbook and sign up for your labs, which -
FATHER OF STUDENT: So what does she need to do? Is she doing that today?
ME: [Still to Katie] You need to go along to the department on Monday between two and four, and they'll tell you when the timeslots are.
MOTHER OF STUDENT: [stepping in front of Katie] Where's that? Is that in this building?
ME: [Leaning round her to talk to Katie, who's staring at the ground and looking bored] It's in room so-and-so. Here, you can have a map.
FATHER OF STUDENT: [taking map off me] Right, we'll go there on Monday. Now, where did you say she signs up for the sports clubs?

Lord.

We had a fun time of it wondering how first-year socialising worked when parents were still around ("Excuse me, dear - Gavin here would like your phone number...") and e-mailing the department secretaries with sympathy and warnings ("Choppers, incoming!"), but really, now. Really. I'm sure I got less parental involvement than this on my first day at nursery school, and I was three years old and convinced I was Superted. If my parents trusted me to find the sandpit by myself and work out in my own time that I couldn't actually fly, I'm fairly sure that the eighteen-year-olds of today can find their way to the canteen without anyone holding their hands. And yet! Parents asking when lectures were, parents asking what the first week's reading was, parents kicking up a fuss because department registration didn't start until the week after and "what do you mean, he won't know his timetable until Tuesday?"

Go home, parents. They don't need you here any more. And if they do, it's about time they didn't.

1 Responses to Let Your Babies Go

  1. sefkhet Says:
  2. I spent two and a bit years of my undergraduate degree working as a warden in halls of residence overnight and over weekends. Alcohol poisoning, students who never did quite figure out that if a toilet won't flush then you maybe want to tell somebody that *now* and not in a week when the waste has reached the rim and your warden's thesis is due tomorrow, cheers very much, students who'd survived eighteen years without learning how to change a lightbulb. You name it.

    I was also the unfortunate soul who got to hand out their keys and move them in and dole out tissues while their parents got tearful, and I have never seen clingy like I saw clingy my first move-in weekend.

    FATHER OF STUDENT: And I can have the telephone number?
    ME: If you give your dad this phone number, that's for that phone in the corridor [for the landline shared by the students in the flat] and he'll be able to phone you on that.
    FATHER OF STUDENT: No, your telephone number.
    ME: The number for the warden is XX-XXXX. It's in your welcome pack, too. If you have any problems, you lose your keys, you have no hot water, you want someone to talk to, you can call that. It won't necessarily be me but you'll get the warden on duty.
    FATHER OF STUDENT: No, *your* telephone number.
    ME: My personal number? No.
    FATHER OF STUDENT: But if I can't reach him then I can call you and you can find him for me.
    ME: No. No. No.

    Because there's clingy, and then there's asking for a lost children's tent.