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Dorm Room Shopping With Dad

Dorm Room Shopping with Dad

This ought to be a no-brainer. It’s just a freshman dorm room, after all. Four dull walls, two simple beds, and one large bathroom down the hall. 

How hard could it be to help my daughter buy the basic necessities? Mom is out of town, we have only a few weeks until we drop off Lucy at college, and now here I am, dad in charge, ready, willing and able to assist her in stocking up on the items she’ll need.

I have my no-nonsense handwritten list. I predict a quick-and-easy trip to the store. And of course I know what I’m doing. I was once a college freshman myself, right?

And this is where the list goes out the window and everything else goes off the rails. You can find me now stuck in the fancy home décor aisle of our local bath and beauty emporium, crumpled against a giant shopping cart overflowing with merchandise I never knew existed.

Maybe it’s a dad thing. Maybe it’s a girl thing. Or maybe you just need to have been born in the twenty-first century to fully appreciate the all-out necessity of equipping your dorm room with a mini-fridge and a microwave oven that have been conjoined top-to-bottom into one terrifying, mutant, alien appliance.

Yes, things have definitely changed since my own college years – a time when Lucy imagines dinosaurs roamed the earth and pterodactyls filled the skies. 

I remember my folks dropping me off at college that first year with barely more belongings than Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer might carry between them. I brought some clothes. I had sheets and a pillow. I must have had a few bath towels, too. I do remember having a big wind-up alarm clock that tick-tocked loud enough to drive my roommate crazy. That was it. 

So forgive me if I take a utilitarian approach to decking out a dorm room. Sure, a lot of what she needs does make sense. I clap myself on the back for thinking to buy antibacterial wipes, some AA batteries, a trash can painted the school color, a portable pop-up hamper, and an assortment of medicines she might need to ward off a cold. And I’m not so dense that I don’t realize Lucy deserves to add a few extra frills to her surroundings and upgrade her wardrobe, even if the jeans she just bought look like wild animals have attacked them. 

But what’s all this other stuff? Where I got by with a few threadbare towels, the cart before me now is piled high with enough bundles of fluffy terrycloth monogrammed with the letter “L” that my daughter could open her own personally branded hotel. In lieu of an iron, she has also insisted on buying a clothes steamer – an item she claims will smooth out her clothes for all the formals she expects to attend, but which I predict she’ll never take out of the box. 

And let’s not even talk about storage. Multiple plastic boxes, metal pans, and fabric-covered containers of varying sizes spill out of the shopping cart. I get exasperated trying to imagine what she’ll fill them with. Is she going to college or planning to circumnavigate the globe on a cargo ship?

“I’m texting Mom!” she huffs, and whips out her phone to complain about me to her mother. Who only tells me that it’s my job just to say “yes” to everything. And also instructs me to buy a closetful of clothes hangers in complementary colors.

It turns out the steamer is only item #1 in an entire dorm-room electronics sub-category. Yes, I had the presence of mind to buy her a reliable surge protector a few weeks back. But at one end of our living room she has also piled not one, but two desk lamps; a Keurig mini-plus coffee and hot chocolate-maker; an essential oil diffuser; a set of string lights; a wall lamp that spells the word HELLO; another lamp in the shape of the ampersand symbol; and a floor fan big and strong enough to create the tornado effect on the set of The Wizard of Oz. Add the requisite computer and phone cable to that poor power strip, and Lucy could single-handedly brown out half the campus.

But it’s the dorm-room bedding that really sends me over the edge. First off, if you have never sent a child to college before, know that you will enter the peculiar realm of the Twin XL bed – the strange, overlong mattress colleges provide just in case Abraham Lincoln decides to matriculate. Trust me, you’ll need to visit multiple stores to find the sheets that fit. But that’s nothing compared to the odyssey of actually assembling the essential dorm-room bedding triad: the mattress protector, the mattress pad, and the all-important, multi-inch, deluxe mattress topper, which is really just a very expensive piece of foam. 

For someone whose primary goal and purpose should be studying, exercising, eating, socializing, and hiking back and forth across the campus quad, our daughter seems to have placed outsized priority on sleeping, lounging, sprawling, resting, and constantly lying down. Now that she’s also added two regular-sized cooling pillows for her head; two sham pillows; two pillow protectors; two hypoallergenic pillow cases; one back pillow; another patterned throw pillow; one bed skirt; one decorative throw (a blanket, apparently); and, finally, an upholstered panel headboard (what?), she will have created a nocturnal universe so comfortable and inviting that it will be a wonder if she ever makes it out of bed.

But don’t mind me, my first-year princess. It’s just my job to say yes. So go ahead and dream of angels upon your downy dorm-room layer cake. Because I see here on your schedule that your first class starts at 8:00 a.m. I’m hoping you’ll be so busy that you’ll end up stacking half this stuff in a corner in less than a week.

And for Dad? It’s a no-brainer. I’m keeping all the receipts.

Tony Farrell
Tony Farrell has written about parenting for many books, magazines, and websites. He lives in Richmond’s West End with his wife, Laura, and their children, Lucy and Will. He writes for the DadZone every other month and shares theater reviews occasionally too.
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