Fighting Care-Package Guilt

The parental guilt train never stops.

My 20-year-old son is in his second year of college and although he can do his own laundry without having pink underwear, tie his own tie, go to dinner at the dean’s house without getting expelled, and ace tests and papers with ease, he apparently is a helpless bundle of insecurities. So says a company called On Campus Marketing, which hawks college care packages.

I got this letter from the head of the residence hall association at my son’s campus. She is apparently in cahoots with the care package business:

“Two students showed up to get their Care Packages. One beamed when she received her package. The other, whose family had not reserved a package, immediately used her cell phone and called Mom with a plaintive ‘You didn’t send me a Care Package?’

“Because so many students receive Care Packages during exam time, it can hurt if a student is left out. This year, we have a solution to make sure every student feels supported at this critical time.”

It goes on to say that college kids love food. (This is true.) And then they really lay on the guilt:

“Please respond today. There are always parents who plan to send a package but get too busy until it’s too late. The result: no package for their student.

“A Care Package is tangible proof that the people students count on are thinking of them at exam time. It makes them feel supported, not alone. It’s also fun.”

I’ll tell what else is fun: not spending $55 on a container of Wheat Thins, ramen noodles and gummy bears to make your college kid feel not alone.

My first thought, upon receiving the letter, was, How dare they try to make me feel guilty about not spending $55 on the popular Spirit Pack, a basket of 60 scrumptious treats in all, enough to last through finals. By 18, kids should not be looking at what their friends get and complaining to their moms that they didn’t get one. I thought they taught Life is Unfair 101 at freshman orientation.

Then I felt the trickle of guilt seeping in. I felt like I was back in all museums everywhere, with my kids, leaving the exhibit through the only exit, which was the gift shop. It’s like a haunted house of kitschy souvenirs, with only one way in and one way out - past things that your kids desperately want. Wasn’t it enough that I paid for the museum admission, the rip-off parking, and the extra ticket for the world’s largest spider exhibit? But you’re almost done, almost to the exit sign and you’re faced with a store full of must-haves - a stuffed animal version of the world’s largest spider, a teddy bear in a world’s largest spider costume, and a snow globe with tiny world’s largest spiders falling onto a plastic world’s largest spider.

I WANT THAT! my kids would say in unison. I WANT ALL OF THAT!

Things have changed a little bit. I sent my son a note today that said, “Do you need a Care Package for final exams in order to know that we love you? If your roommate gets the Sun Devil Spirit Care Package (Cheerios, M&Ms and ramen noodles, basically) and you don’t, will you think that we don’t support you?”

He responded: “It seems like a bit of a rip off, but if you want to send me food, I’m not going to say no to that. I accept all gifts.”

Because I have a good-sized chip on my shoulder and I don’t want to cave to the Care Package guilt marketing technique, I’m trying to come up with my own version of a finals week care package. It’s not like I can deliver a bunch of food to his dorm. Even if I was physically in Phoenix, his dorm is locked up with security tighter than the Pentagon. And from 2,400 miles away, I can do even less. Mailing food seldom ends well. (I regularly mail Cheez-Its to my other son in China and I think they’re boxes of crumbs by the time they arrive. He doesn't say anything, but I think he ate the last box with a spoon.)

How about a check and a CVS coupon and he can go fill his own basket of junk food and sense of purpose? Or I could email him an iTunes gift certificate, suggesting music to study by.

Here’s one that’s priceless: I can send him a text message that says Ur not alone. Study hard. I support u. Love Mom. P.S. Tell ur roommate his mom got ripped off.

Labels: , , , , , ,