Expressway: Unpacking parental advice for college

Barbara Mars of Plainview with her daughter Kaitlyn, Barbara Mars of Plainview with her daughter Kaitlyn, a student at Molloy College in Rockville Centre. Photo Credit: Lauren Mars

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Pop into some stores these days and you'll likely encounter a colorful college dorm section. In a few weeks, high school graduates will morph into college freshmen.

When it was my daughter Kaitlin's turn two years ago, we loaded up a cart at Bed, Bath & Beyond. She was prepared with supplies. But was she really ready? Every parent of a first-timer worries.

After setting up her dorm room at SUNY Oneonta (one of the top five most exhausting days of my life), I slipped a piece of my heart -- a carefully composed letter -- under her pillow and steeled myself to exit gracefully. I wrote:

To my college-bound daughter,

Don't worry, this will not be a lengthy letter conveying how incredibly proud I am of you as my daughter. I will not go on and on about how far you've come these past few years, academically, socially, personally, etc. I promise not to brag about what a kind and considerate young woman you've become, as a sister, daughter and friend.

But what I will do is offer you some motherly advice as you leave for college and begin this exciting, character developing chapter in your young life.

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Not necessarily in importance order:

1. Don't take the easy way out. Some of life's most worthwhile experiences start with an uphill climb or a bellyful of butterflies.

2. Write in your journal and include at least one positive entry each time. You have much to be grateful for.

3. Breathe. Deeply. Your breath is part of you 24/7. Use it to keep yourself centered and strong.

4. Plan your meals. This will help you to eat healthier. (Ex. If you already had ice cream after lunch, don't have ice cream after dinner. Yes, this includes frozen yogurt.)

5. Be true to yourself. (You've already exhibited this by switching high schools in your junior year)

6. Trust 90% of the people about 80% of the time. Don't believe everything you hear.

7. Floss.

8. Share your feelings with someone who's a good listener. (I am just a text away.)

9. Sleep on it. (And get enough sleep.) Don't make rash decisions. Take the appropriate amount of time to think things through.

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10. Moisturize.

11. Every now and then give in to feeling blue. Have a good cry, or that king-size Reese's. A sunnier horizon is right over the hill.

12. If you're feeling homesick, look up at the moon: It's the same silvery orb that dad, your sister and I can see. We are always with you, no matter how far you roam.

And last, but certainly not least: As you go forward in life, your most important accomplishment is not the knowledge you will receive or the impressive grades or accolades you will earn, but that you will be remembered for being kind and making a difference in others' lives. You already have, and I know you will going forward.

With my deepest love and confidence in you,

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Mom

One week after dropping her off, my father passed away. Two days later as she dressed for the wake, my mom fell and broke her hip. My daughter came home for the funeral and never returned to school that semester. She followed No. 5, helped care for her grandmother (and me) and enrolled at Molloy College in Rockville Centre, where she has earned a place on the dean's list for all three semesters.

Reader Barbara Mars lives in Plainview.

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