Cheryl Stahle, Contributing Editor

"class of 2013"Twelve years of toil and sweat boil down to the size of an envelope. A standard no.10 white business envelope dashes hopes and dreams. But the fancy 9X12 variety opens the door for a brighter future. We’ve been waiting. The past 4 weeks have been the longest in my life.

My own class of 2013 high school senior has been cool as a cucumber since submitting his application to Belmont University, #1 on his list of colleges. Belmont is the school if you want to study music business and my son wants to launch a record label. I, on the other hand, have asked expectantly every day for the past 4 weeks, “was there anything in the mail?” That’s mom-code for did you hear from Belmont?

To channel my nervous energy away from my son, with the help of a friend, we conducted an informal focus group of our teens’ friends, all members of the class of 2013, about the college application process. More importantly, we sought clues that would help make their transition to college easier. Much to my surprise our teens don’t want the door to smack them on the way out but rather, they want a piece of home with them as they move on to college life.

Pictures! The kids want pictures of friends and family to decorate their dorm rooms. Even the boys. Colin, 17, wants poster collages for his dorm room. He knows something is coming but the surprise of unwrapping the gift from his mom makes move-in day almost as exciting as Christmas. April, also 17, shares her desire for home, friend and family photos, “you will have the memories that individual picture captures. It is also a great way to personalize your room and make it feel like you are at home”. So moms, our kids are telling us loudly and clearly, they want photos to take with them to college. Even photos of us, their moms. Our kids want to take us with them despite their tough facades and faux independence that frustrates us daily.

What I am going to create for my son is a digital photo collection for him to view whenever he wants. By making one digitally, it won’t take up valuable dorm room space. And most importantly, a digital collection will never need to be dusted because quite frankly, once I set up my son’s dorm room, it won’t be cleaned again until he moves out in June.

Savoring those last weeks at home also universally came up in my conversation with the teens. The transition to college is scary enough so that sense of familiarity helps to ease the stress of change. All of the teens who shared their thoughts with me expressed the need to know what is happening at home and want to hear from their families regularly. In this day of technology where we can communicate around the clock through the computer, an old-fashioned care package is still high on this list of items that our teens want to receive from home.

As for my senior, the one day last week when I beat him to the mailbox, it was waiting. The envelope had finally arrived. I knew right away when I saw it but wanted Joshua to be the one to open it. “Josh, we have your letter from Belmont.” He just stood there unable to open it deciding if he wanted to learn his fate alone or with me. “Open it.” Congratulations Joshua and welcome to the freshman class of Belmont University. Joshua had received a 9X12 envelope.

I’m already starting to prepare a digital photo file for him now to surprise him in August before the last hug good-bye. And yes, the file will have pictures of me discreetly hidden among the photos of friends.

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