Rx for miss­ing your col­lege stu­dent: care-pack­age par­ties

Daily Freeman (Kingston, NY) - - LIFE - By Lisa A. Flam

Eigh­teen years af­ter Diana Sutera Mow gained an in­stant fam­ily with the ar­rival of her twins, her South­ern Cal­i­for­nia home “be­came an in­stant empty nest” when they flew across the coun­try to be­gin col­lege last year.

Gone were the ev­ery­day sounds of her chil­dren, Alex and Rachael, laugh­ing, run­ning around the house and telling her about their day. Gone too were the fa­mil­iar voices of her son’s lacrosse team­mates and her daugh­ter’s friends.

“We went from not just hav­ing our chil­dren but sev­eral oth­ers in our home at any given time to just my hus­band and I and the dogs,” said Mow, of Poway, Cal­i­for­nia. “The si­lence is deaf­en­ing.”

To help fill the void and to stay in touch with fel­low par­ents, Mow be­gan par­tic­i­pat­ing in a grow­ing trend among those with an empty or emp­ty­ing nest: the col­lege care pack­age party.

At th­ese par­ties, par­ents, usu­ally moth­ers, share a glass of wine or a meal and then pack a box of good­ies to send to their col­lege stu­dents. The moms laugh, hug and bond as they swap up­dates about their chil­dren, sup­port each other through new strug­gles, and some­times shed a tear among friends who get it.

Mow, who hosted four par­ties dur­ing her kids’ fresh­man year, opened her home for her fifth on Aug. 31, at the start of her twins’ sopho­more year.

“It gives us an ex­cuse to get to­gether and be a sup­port sys­tem, and see that we’re not alone in this jour­ney and ev­ery­thing is nor­mal,” Mow said.

The par­ties work like this: If the RSVPs show that 12 boxes will be made, each par­ent brings 12 of an iden­ti­cal item, one for each box. Par­ties of­ten fol­low a fes­tive theme, like Hal­loween or Valen­tine’s Day, or boxes can be filled with snacks and stress balls for fi­nals. Some groups of moms wear col­lege T-shirts for ex­tra fun.

Crafty moms dec­o­rate the box flaps with col­ored or hol­i­day-themed pa­per or add tis­sue pa­per in school col­ors. Moms of­ten write notes of sup­port to the stu­dents, or the whole group may sign a card for each box, so stu­dents know who was think­ing of them back home.

The par­ties are spread­ing “like wild­fire,” says Lisa Hef­fer­nan, co-founder of the web­site Grown and Flown , whose Face­book group has many posts on the par­ties.

“Every time we put one of th­ese pic­tures up in the group, it spawns a whole bunch of par­ties,” she said. “Just be­cause our kids got older, that doesn’t mean par­ents don’t need a com­mu­nity and the vil­lage.”

Hef­fer­nan says the peo­ple in­vited to the par­ties aren’t nec­es­sar­ily your clos­est friends but the moms you en­joyed so­cial­iz­ing with through your chil­dren’s ac­tiv­i­ties. Through the par­ties, the moms get to main­tain long-stand­ing con­nec­tions with other par­ents while con­tin­u­ing to sup­port the chil­dren they have adored and cheered on for years.

“We’ve stood on the side­lines of their lives,” she said. “This is a way of us con­tin­u­ing to do that.”

Of course, a mom could sim­ply make a sin­gle care pack­age on her own, but the par­ties are more fun, Hef­fer­nan says: “It ends up be­ing like a girls night out.”

Mia Walsh dropped off her older daugh­ter, Kate, at Bow­doin Col­lege in Maine in Au­gust, and held her first care pack­age party on Sept. 6, wel­com­ing 15 moms of firstyear col­lege stu­dents into her Bal­ti­more home. They had ap­pe­tiz­ers and drinks and talked for 90 min­utes be­fore start­ing the “conga line” of fill­ing the boxes with adult col­or­ing books, dry erase boards, candy and more.

“It was won­der­ful,” said Walsh, who has an­other daugh­ter still at home. “We all had sto­ries to tell even though the kids had been in school for two weeks.”

There were a few tears, but the moms do­ing well of­fered guid­ance to those strug­gling. “It was re­ally, re­ally help­ful to the moms that were hav­ing the most dif­fi­cult time,” she said.

Mow, whose son is at Le­high Uni­ver­sity and whose daugh­ter at­tends Columbia, says the women at her gath­er­ings have grown closer through the re­laxed, per­sonal set­ting at home.

The best thing about the par­ties, Hef­fer­nan says, is that par­ents stay con­nected to peo­ple they care about.

“We call it the empty nest,” she said. “That’s such a de­press­ing, va­cantsound­ing word. This kind of takes away the empty part. This is one way that al­lows us to stay mean­ing­fully con­nected to our com­mu­nity, and it’s just great fun.”

Lisa A. Flam is a news and life­styles re­porter in New York.

MIA WALSH VIA AP

This Septem­ber 2018 photo pro­vided by Mia Walsh shows moms mak­ing care pack­ages for their chil­dren away at col­lege at the Bal­ti­more, Md., home of Mia Walsh. Care pack­age par­ties are a great way for par­ents to bond as they swap up­dates about their chil­dren, sup­port each other and pack a fun box of treats for their child away at school.

MIA WALSH VIA AP

This Septem­ber 2018 photo pro­vided by Mia Walsh shows items that were packed into care pack­ages at the Bal­ti­more, Md., home of Mia Walsh dur­ing a care pack­age party.

DIANA SUTERA MOW VIA AP

This photo pro­vided by Diana Sutera Mow, front row left, shows Mow and other moms hold­ing care pack­ages at a care pack­age party held by Mow in Poway The moms also wore col­lege T-shirts.

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