Visiting a big department store like Wal-Mart or Target in a college town during August produces some fascinating people-watching as first-year students and their bewildered parents buy some of the necessities that kids may never have had to figure out they needed before now.
Parents and their sons can often be found purchasing laundry detergent, accompanied by mom's desperate attempt to forestall the inevitable phone calls with last-minute instructions on how it is to be used. She will also explain why the largest and therefore least expensive container is not always the best buy unless Junior wants to wind up with a wardrobe that's different shades of the same gray color and prone to chafe where it doesn't fully rinse out. They may buy dryer sheets that will be placed on the top shelf of the closet, there to join ones from the room's previous occupants. Junior's confusion is matched only by his exasperation; the room had an adequate number of electrical outlets for the computer and Xbox and he fails to see what else is needed.
Parents and daughters, on the other hand, are nowhere near these aisles of basic necessities -- they have been purchased well in advance (although a quick side trip to the air fresheners may be in order; one can never have enough Febreze). These shoppers may be found among such items as curtains, bed ruffles and small accent rugs, none of which could be bought before the actual room itself was seen or without consulting the new roommate about what she brought. Wall decorations, which in the male room will tend to be musicians, sports figures or healthy young ladies demonstrating the skills of their personal trainers and the need for dermatologists that work with the whole person, will be considered and discarded, then re-considered and eventually deemed "all right for now."
In each case, those involved will also be wearing a vague look of apprehension or even worry -- what will this new experience be like? Will I meet people or will I be alone? Will my child thrive or is he or she not ready? Will I handle this stage of their lives or will I be unable to let go? Will this cost me an arm or an arm and a leg, and does the "academic excellence fee" I'm paying "to help retain top faculty" mean my kid won't get taught philosophy by someone with worse English than Borat?
Good luck, everyone! And down with Illini communism!