What To Expect When You Head to College Parent Weekend

I’ve had kids in college for a couple of years now and have visited them on a number of different campuses. Prior to that I attended three colleges (yup, three degrees) and have lectured at more than a dozen other colleges. Suffice to say, I’m reasonably familiar with the world of higher education, even if it’s been a while since I attended class. As a parent, the experience of attending college becomes an adventure balanced somewhere between community building and ceaseless pleas for donations to help offer better programs and amenities. But that’s another story. 🙂

My son is currently attending Pitzer College in beautiful Claremont, California and is solidly into his second semester of classes. Pitzer is a modern liberal arts college where the expectation is that students are going to live in campus housing for their entire tenure at the college, so he’s into the second of his eight semesters in the dorms too. His dorms are nice, but it’s really the dining hall that shines: Pitzer dining facilities are rating in the top ten of all colleges in the United States. Yes, it’s that good!

pitzer college - redford conservancy

When the college announced that Family Weekend would be mid-February, I promptly began planning for the gang to head out with me, hopefully including not just both of my girls, but their Mom too. We both booked rooms at the Doubletree in nearby Pomona and flights on Southwest, my favorite airline. Things are rarely as planned, however, and after a volleyball tournament popped up on the same weekend, plans changed so that my older daughter (currently attending University of Denver) would join me for the weekend, but everyone else would stay home. Okay, we can do this!

I flew out on Wednesday, Feb 13 even though Gareth’s schedule would have him busy starting with an 8am class on Thursday. Valentine’s Day. He finished up mid-afternoon and I picked him up from campus so we could head to the hotel and relax. My vision of visiting a child in college is always “let’s go do stuff” but when they’re living in high human-density dorms, their reaction is “That’s nice. I’m going to just sleep here for a few days…”.

We headed back to the Doubletree (pictured below), he collapsed on the bed and I read a book. After a while we decided it was time for food and being mutually lazy we figured we’d splurge on room service. After all, the hotel has a very well rated Italian restaurant fulfilling room service orders so it should be quite a step up from Costco via microwave (my expectation of most room service meals).

doubletree pomona ca

Now if you’re paying attention to dates, you’ll realize the folly of our decision: We were ordering room service on Valentine’s Day evening. From a super popular restaurant. I called around 5.45pm and they said they could manage even though they were expecting a busy night. Okay. Spaghetti and lasagna, please. An hour later, they call us back and inform us that there’s no lasagna. What would we like instead? We updated the order, then not five minutes later the hotel fire alarm went off. Yes, one of those sort of evenings. Finally we got our modified meal at just a few minutes before 9pm. No charge, at least, but still, if they’d have just said “we’re too busy, no room service tonight!” we would have eaten hours earlier.

Next day was the first day of Parent Weekend at Pitzer but after having closely read the schedule, I had determined that it was really day #2 where the most interesting talks and programs were being offered. Instead, we headed to the airport to pick up Ashley from her inbound flight. And I went to the wrong airport. Yup, she flew into Orange County even as we showed up – early, thank you very much! – to Ontario airport. We got that figured out, met up with her only about 45min after she’d deplaned and headed through a heavy downpour and monster traffic to an old family favorite: Katella Deli in Los Alamitos, not too far from Disneyland. A delicious dinner and we even bought a loaf of challah to have a snack in the room. Prescient, that turned out to be.

college parent weekend - sick child - hotel The next morning Ash woke up feeling less than 100% and G- was clearly exhausted, but we headed onto campus in time to have lunch at the dining hall and attend an afternoon lecture. It was increasingly clear that Ash was feeling poorly, however, so the lecture turned into a mostly self-guided walk to the beautiful Robert Redford Conservancy for Southern California Sustainability, an adjunct portion of the Pitzer campus. Gareth had a class in the facility first semester so it was great to see his classroom and explore the grounds with him.

They had schoolwork pressing and we were hoping to have Sunday free to play, so we headed to a great local cafe called Sanctuary Coffee so both kids could do homework and I could read. Back to Pitzer for dinner (favorite quote from one of the students, admiring the fancy party lights, tablecloths and wait-service: “What the heck is this? This is NOT our normal dinner experience!”) and then back to the hotel room where everyone appreciatively collapsed on the beds.

Uh, so what happened to parent weekend?

Turns out that while we parents might be drawn to this rosy vision of a weekend of being on campus, meeting professors and doing activities with other parents, the reality for students is that it’s a glorious opportunity to get off campus. Since our real goal for heading out to California was to spend some time with my son, vegetating in our hotel room and letting him sleep in every morning was time well spent, even if it meant I was only on campus a little bit. So truth is parent weekend wasn’t Pitzer parent weekend but me parenting my son weekend instead.

Oh, and Sunday? We woke up and after assessing everyone’s health and energy levels, decided to stay in the darn hotel for the entire day. I had visions of heading out for lunch at Dana Point, a stroll on the Laguna Beach boardwalk, perhaps back to campus for a walk around their beautiful gardens, or even a fancy dinner at one of the zillion great restaurants, but… we stayed in the hotel instead. G- and I did head out and get a takeaway dinner from the hidden gem all-vegetarian Chinese restaurant Happy Veggie Garden (excellent!) but that was basically our weekend.

The moral of this story is that if you’re heading out to visit your son or daughter in the dorms for a “College Family Weekend“, be prepared. You might just end up with a child in the other bed in your hotel room, snoozing away, enjoying the space and freedom from being jammed into a tiny room with a roomie!

Addendum: All of my kids are back in good health, so it’s all good. Such is parenting life…

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