I’m here to discuss a very important problem that most Harvard students must deal with at some point in their collegiate lives. It can happen suddenly, often at the most inconvenient time possible. Regardless of whether or not we’re able to anticipate its occurrence, it’s nearly impossible for us to prepare ourselves for the tumultuous event that we are about to endure. No, I’m not talking about a mysterious burning sensation. I’m referring to something far more emotionally draining: a visit from your parents.
Now, I know a lot of you are thinking that I am being overly dramatic. After all, most of us appreciate our parents. I mean, if it weren’t for our parents, most of us probably wouldn’t even be alive. Personally, I love my parents. They help me with a lot of difficult decisions, like whether I should use hot or cold water with the washing machine. I even enjoy hanging out with them while they tell me exciting news from home, like which birds have been frequenting our backyard feeder or about the new “yield” sign on our street. But let’s face it: When our parents come to visit us in college, our stress meter reaches the red.
When my roommates and I learn about an impending visit from any of our parents, we immediately begin “parent-proofing” our room with the same focus and determination as if we were preparing for a hurricane. We come just short of boarding up our windows. You know what I’m talking about. You want to make sure your room meets your parents’ lofty expectations, devoid of anything that might reveal your “alternative” lifestyle. While you may have worked harder on it than, say, your senior thesis, you reluctantly dismantle your life-size replica of the John Harvard statue made entirely of empty Bud Light cans. Relieving it of its duty as a support for your broken futon, you pull out your calculus book and, after removing its shrink wrap and highlighting random paragraphs, place it on your desk open to the most complicated-looking page you can find. Finally, you remove your two favorite posters from the wall, including the one that depicts a keg and reads, “Alcohol: My Anti-Drug,” and the other one that displays a young lady performing CPR on another young lady.
Preparing your room to be “parent-appropriate” is only the first obstacle you must surmount when mom and dad come. I’ve found that the introductions and conversations between your parents and roommates can be nerve-racking. For instance, roommates are often accustomed to calling each other by nicknames or by their last names, which can lead to some awkward exchanges. The first time my parents met my roommates they were treated to this introduction: “Hi, Mr. and Mrs. Kester. I’m Adam, Kester’s roommate.” I winced when I recalled the story my parents always tell about how much effort they put into choosing “Eric” as my name. At least he didn’t call me by my other nickname.
Informing your friends about the topics that are off-limits with your parents is essential. You can’t count on your friends being savvy enough not to bring up the fact that you are dating a girl you’ve never met from a border “training camp” in Syria via the Internet. Also, it’s best to leave out all inside jokes when talking among your friends and parents. It’ll make them very uncomfortable if they ask your friend why she became an English concentrator, only to have someone reply, “because she loves Hamlet,” followed by resounding laughter by everyone but the parents.
At some point during their visit, your parents may invite you and your friends out to eat. Unfortunately, parents not only eat breakfast, they particularly enjoy it. If they invite you out to a nice breakfast, you must go along with it as if getting up at 9 a.m. on Saturday morning is a natural occurrence for you. After all, you always eat three meals a day, just like your parents raised you, right? Dinner can be just as stressful as breakfast. In a large group of friends with your parents, the dilemma is always whether or not you should order an adult beverage. If you’re 21, this is no problem. But what if some of your friends are under 21? Is that John ordering a Jack and Coke? Oh no, he’s pulling out his fake ID. Will he be shot down in front of mom and dad? Would they care? Do they know that he’s not a 28-year-old guy named Rodrigo Sanchez who requires corrective lenses while driving? How much longer before their flight home?
My advice for dealing with visiting parents is to not get too worried about how they judge your college lifestyle. Sure, they might disapprove of some aspects of it, but then again, they’ve always disapproved of you in some way. They’re parents. They can’t help it. But when it comes down to it, all they care about is seeing you. Plus, whether they admit it or not, they like checking out your college lifestyle and reminiscing about its similarities with their own. They weren’t perfect back then, either. How do I know? I met my dad’s buddy from college the other day, who said to me, “Hi, Eric; I’m Lloyd. I used to go to school with Mad Dog.”
Eric A. Kester ’08 is an anthropology concentrator in Winthrop House. His column typically appears on alternate Mondays.
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