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Don’t Worry, Be Happy

By Karen Walasek
College parent Karen Walasek wrote this article for, where she provides entertaining accounts of her experiences as a parent of an out-of-state college student. This humorous article for college parents, also includes valuable insights.

Karen Walasek is a freelance writer who has three adult children in college.
She runs a 34 acre retreat with her husband, Ronald Heacock. See

When my son Andrew went to a college 2428.45 miles away from home it felt like he was moving to the other side of the world with each fraction of a mile adding to the number of gray hairs on my head. You see, Andrew was one of those kids who put his pants on backwards well into grade school, and spent so much time on his computer he didn’t even get his driver’s license until he turned eighteen. Even then, he only got it because I forced him to take the test, and later wished I hadn’t after he totaled my Jeep Grand Cherokee. Yes, folks, we seriously considered moving the whole family to Oregon so we could keep an eye on him, because Andrew was the living archetype of the brilliant genius who knew very little about functioning in the real world that we all knew and loved.

But Portland, Oregon, the city of his school, is rich with art galleries and plenty of cozy restaurants where a student might be able to get a part time job for some extra spending cash. It also boasts an excellent public transportation system that allows a young person the ability to get around without having a car. In his program of study there are lots of computer geeks making him feel less like the odd duck he often felt like back home in Tennessee. All and all, on a range of one to ten, I had to admit, he was way up there on the mom-can-sleep-well scale, knowing her fledgling was safe and in good hands. Yet when parental panic struck, none of this made me feel any better. Neither did knowing that he will often sleep through the phone ringing and his cell phone rarely had good reception in his dorm.

It began with the weather channel. Portland was experiencing fifty mile an hour winds and the coast was getting slammed. I had just finished reading, The Coming Storm: The True Causes of Freak Weather—And Why It's Getting Worse by Mark Maslin. Reports of a jet stream that was hovering unusually low only brought visions of The Day After Tomorrow where Dennis Quaid has to save a young Jake Gyllenhaal during a freak storm because of jet streams that bring a deadly drop in temperature to his son in NYC. At least Dennis Quaid could drive part of the way from Philadelphia to save his son! It would take me thirty-five hours and twenty minutes without sleep to save mine.

So I did what every hyperventilating panicking super mom would do. I called the school. It only halfway registered that I was calling at six a.m. pacific time and the office staff would not even be drinking their morning coffee for several hours. Logic just didn’t register when all I could think of was that his dorm room was less than two blocks from the Willamette River… and if there was a bad storm… then there could be flooding… and if it shook the Earth up enough, maybe Mt St Helens could erupt. I couldn’t help myself. The crazy thoughts kept coming until I called everyone. I even left a message on the president’s answering machine demanding to know what kind of emergency procedures they had in place.

Late that afternoon, long after Andrew had called home to say he slept through the storm, and long after I had forgotten the passion of my morning freak-out, I received the phone call from the president of the school. Yes, I wanted to crawl under the kitchen table to hide. Yes, I wanted to pretend that no one named Karen lived here. But instead, I owned up to my parental lapse of sanity so that he could gently assure me that he was a parent, too, and that he totally understood. We all do this on some level. We worry.

These days Andrew calls if there’s even the slightest shift in the weather. He calls to say, hi, if for no other reason than to tell me he’s slammed with exams and that I might not be hearing from him for about a week. Partly because I know he loves me; but partly, I know, because he doesn’t want to get anymore calls from the president telling him to call his mom. These days my motto is: Don’t worry, be happy. But it helps that Andrew calls home. My advice to parents? Let your college bound kids read this article. Thinking their mom might call the president of their school might be incentive enough to remind them to call home, especially when the weather is bad. It’s in our make up, when we get older, we watch the weather channel and worry because we can’t look out the window where you are and see it’s not as bad as they make out--- or if it is, we don’t know you are in your room in a cozy bed.

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