published Tuesday, September 2nd, 2014

A moving experience: College Moving Day is hard on parents, too

Gavin Barnes, with help from mom, Deborah Barnes, to his right, move his belongings into campus housing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Barnes is from Dixon, Tenn.
Gavin Barnes, with help from mom, Deborah Barnes, to his right, move his belongings into campus housing at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Barnes is from Dixon, Tenn.

UNDERGRADUATE ENROLLMENT NUMBERS

Numbers for the 2014 fall class aren't available yet, but here are the ones from 2013:

• Dalton State College: 6,195

• Middle Tennessee State University: 18,403

• East Tennessee State University: 10,234

• University of Tennessee at Chattanooga: 11,674

• University of Tennessee at Knoxville: 21,033

Source: Various schools

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    A student moves through the stairwell at Lockmiller Apartments at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.
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Most parents who've dropped off their child at college know that Moving Day, especially freshman year, is about more than just moving furniture and clothes. It's moving out and moving on, too.

"I held it together until we got in the car [to come home]," says Barbara McGirl, a teacher at Notre Dame High School.

She and husband Jim dropped off Nick, the youngest of three, two weeks ago at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. The McGirls have been through it two other times with daughters Lindsey and Natalie, but that didn't make dropping off the baby of the family any easier.

"On the ride home, my husband said, 'I didn't think it would be this emotional.'"

For his part, Nick "has been ready for about six years, since we took his older sister, and he's not a planner at all, but he had the car packed the day before."

Parents who have been through the ordeal understand that this is a big moment in a child's development. For many, it means the son or daughter is taking a huge step toward independence, leaving the safety of mom, dad and home. For some students, once they're on the college campus, they can't wait for their parents to scram; it's uncool for a "mature" college student to be seen hanging with mom and dad, don't you know. Some students arrive on their own, choosing to avoid any drama.

For parents, the college drop off often means the child will likely never live at home again, or at least not on a permanent basis. Visits home for the holidays or even the summer become less frequent with each passing year, and knowing that can make Moving Day very emotional.

How long parents stay can depend on whether this is their first, or last, child going off to college. Veteran dropper-offers learn that the physical unloading process is not nearly as tough as the emotional toll. At places like the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and Middle Tennessee State University, groups of students help with expediting the process, helping to secure luggage carts, offering directions, sometimes helping new students find their dorm rooms and lug their stuff to it.

Some parents stay just long enough to unload the vehicle, hug necks and head back home. Others stay for several days, helping to make up beds, unpack clothing and spending as much time as possible with the student.

In many instances, knowing when to cut the figurative umbilical cord doesn't always go as planned

Vince and Robin Palazzolo have been through freshman Moving Day three times and, as it was for the McGirls, the third and latest one was different. The first two girls attended college closer to the family's home near San Bernadino, Calif. This time they were traveling across the country to move daughter Kailey to UTC, where she will join the Lady Mocs softball team as a pitcher.

To help with that transition -- and just in case Kailey was not happy and wanted to go home -- the couple spent a week in Chattanooga, giving their daughter some space to acclimate, spending some final time with her and helping her set up her new digs. They made trips to various stores and helped set up a printer, a TV and the Wi-Fi.

For Vince, the move was made more emotional because it signals the end of a lifestyle.

"My wife went down (to college) with our first and, at the end of the day, Lauren said she wanted to go home," he says. "My wife said no. I was proud of her. Had I been there, I would have taken her home.

"Still, when the oldest goes, you have activities with the other kids. I coached Kailey and we spent a lot of time in the back yard or traveling. Her pitching lessons were about an hour away, so we had that time together. All of our family and friendships were involved in softball.

"But now we can replace that with new toys and activities, so I am looking forward to that."

Two years ago, Sharon and Al Henry from Chattanooga spent several days helping daughter Ashley, the oldest of their three children, get settled into her dorm at the University of Notre Dame. Ashley is now a junior at the school, which is nine hours away in Northwest Indiana, and thinking about her being gone is still emotional for Sharon, but not as tough as leaving her for the first time.

"It was hard," she says. "I tried not to call her every day."

The Henrys traveled to South Bend, Ind., on a Thursday and Notre Dame had events planned for the students and the parents to do both together and separately through Sunday. On that final day, a mass and then lunch were scheduled, but the Henrys left after the church service.

"Ashley didn't want a scene," Henry says. "We said our quick goodbyes. Some parents were starting to sniffle in mass, and I was afraid it would open the floodgates."

"I was fine until we hit Nickajack Dam and then the floodgates opened for me," she says.

But she had another middle-of-the-night meltdown the evening before they were leaving Notre Dame -- and Ashley -- and heading back to Chattanooga.

"Actually, that Saturday night was the worst for me," Sharon says. "I woke up and I realized it was our last night together and that she might never be back. You know, except for holidays. I knew she would be fine, but the big question was whether I would be fine. I still struggle with it."

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    Suzanne Thomas, left, helps granddaughter Hailey Batson move into campus housing Thursday at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Batson is from Nashville, Tenn.
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The McGirls also left UTC earlier than they intended. They'd planned to have a final lunch with Nick, then take him back to campus, but older sister Lindsey, who is in graduate school at UT, offered to take him back to his dorm and he quickly accepted.

"He didn't want a scene," his mother says. "I actually cried more over the summer thinking about it."

All the parents say they are comfortable with where their children are in school, and they are happy, proud and excited for what the future holds. They all said part of being a parent is raising children who are independent and who want to be on their own.

And, in this day of smartphones, Facebook and texting, communication is less of an issue.

Still, proximity does play a role in how often parents gets to see their child in person. If things go as planned, the Palazzolos won't see Kailey until they return here for the Lady Mocs intrasquad game in October.

"It is very a long way," says Palazzolo, "but we told her if something were to happen, we'd be on a plane in a moment.

"You can hear the voice but to see them face to face is worth its weight in gold."

Contact Barry Courter at bcourter@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6354.

about Barry Courter...

Barry Courter is staff reporter and columnist for the Times Free Press. He started his journalism career at the Chattanooga News-Free Press in 1987. He covers primarily entertainment and events for ChattanoogaNow, as well as feature stories for the Life section. Born in Lafayette, Ind., Barry has lived in Chattanooga since 1968. He graduated from Notre Dame High School and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in broadcast journalism. He previously was ...

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