There are plenty of unsettling things that a parent thinks about when he has a daughter off at college. Among them: guys, easy access to beer, unfamiliar pressures, guys, excessive academic workloads, a diet of Oreos, pizza, and Mountain Dew, and, of course, guys.
Many of these fears can be lessened when said daughter is living in a dormitory, which presumably provides her with some degree of supervision and security. Our daughter has spent her first two years of college in a dorm, and we've made it pretty clear that we'd be just as happy if she'd stay there for another year. In fact, we'd be happy if she lived in a dorm until she was about 35.
But all good things come to an end, and that apparently includes this little security blanket. Our kid and her friends say they're sick of dorm life, they don't eat the cafeteria food anyway, and they can't wait for the freedom that having their own place will bring. To that end, they've lined up a rental house for next fall.
It's located in a neighborhood near campus referred to by students as the Ghetto, where a good portion of the college's upperclassmen live. We've passed through the area before and seen rows of dilapidated houses with bare patches where the front lawns used to be. You almost expect to see tanks and bomb craters in the yards.
Most of the houses have front porches, and on Parents Weekend, many of them feature kegs, large groups of students, and big banners with messages like this: "Mom and Dad, we're glad you're here, now take a break, and have a beer."
I've been anxious to see the house the girls would be living in, and I got the chance the other day when I was down for a quick visit at school. During a trip to the local superstore to stock up on Oreos and Mountain Dew - she must get her pizza someplace else - she directed me to take a detour down a street in the Ghetto.
"OK, so which one of these palaces is going to be yours?" I asked.
She motioned me to stop the car, then just smiled and pointed.
I looked out the window at a reddish, one-story wooden shack that seemed to be leaning at an impossible angle, like something out of a Saturday morning cartoon show. The fact that it was standing at all clearly defied the laws of gravity.
"You won't believe how cute it is inside," my daughter said.
"Ack," I replied.
One reason I'm so leery about our kid's future living arrangements is that I did the same thing when I was in college. And despite what she thinks, it's not the prospect of wild parties that concerns me the most. It's more basic, everyday concerns - like eating, for example.
When I lived in an apartment in college, four roommates and I didn't so much share food as steal it from each other. Occasionally, though, we'd pool our meager resources and buy the makings for gigantic vats of macaroni and cheese with peas, which would serve as breakfast, lunch, and dinner for everybody for several days. Two of us worked at bars, so we sometimes brought home a handful of Slim Jims and tossed them into the vat, too.
But maybe girls don't operate that way. Maybe they actually shop and cook cooperatively and have sensible, nutritious meals. When our son's girlfriend - now his wife - was in college, she had an apartment like something out of Good Housekeeping magazine, where she and her roommates would bake chocolate chip cookies for us when we visited. We'd sit on nice couches nibbling on warm cookies and sipping lemonade.
At our son's apartment, there were no cookies, and he and his roomies would consider it a major cleanup effort if they had stacked up the empty beer cans and taken the underpants off the light fixtures before we got there. And we wouldn't have sat down on any of his furniture if our legs had been broken.
So it will be interesting when we go to visit our daughter at school next year. I don't expect warm chocolate chip cookies; in fact, we'll be lucky to get Oreos. But what I'm really hoping is that there won't be any underwear hanging from the light fixtures.
Mike Kelly's column appears on Tuesdays. Readers may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.