Posted by: Debbie Abrams Kaplan | August 28, 2019

The college move-in

It’s not good to start college with strep throat. Or even to move in to college with strep throat. But the Sunday before move-in, Dori was in bed all day. We let her rest, not putting too much stock into the huge, painful lymph node in the back of her neck. Oops. The fancy Sunday night birthday dinner for Mark and farewell dinner for Dori overlooking New York City was cancelled. Mark and I celebrated his birthday at a local restaurant and hurried home.


thermometer, by Wikicommons

By Monday morning when she still didn’t want to get out of bed, I called the pediatrician’s office begging for an early appointment. Rapid strep test: positive. “We’d like to see you in a few days to make sure your fever is gone,” the doctor said. Uh, we’re leaving on a jet plane early Tuesday morning. For college. Hopefully those antibiotics will kick in quickly.

In short bursts over the previous days, Dori had emptied her drawers and closet onto the floor. We bonded as I packed up her bags like I did for camp when she was 10. The Tuesday morning 5 a.m. wake-up call was not appreciated. But the airport gate was full of other incoming freshmen in their college sweatshirts heading to the same school. By my guess, at least a third of the plane was en route to the same college move-in. But she was too tired and sick to try to make friends.

Have you ever gotten a call from the car rental company? Yeah, me either. Until Tuesday morning. They called to ask about my car pick-up timing. “I’m at baggage claim – I’ll be there by 10:30!” I said. “Uh….” was the response. Was there a problem? Why yes there was.

There were no cars at the off-site location I booked, next to the Target in a nearby town. The cars had to be moved from the airport. It would take hours. And my daughter had strep throat and was cuddled up next to her carry-on bag on the floor. The city was out of cars and we had 2 giant IKEA duffles and 2 carry-on bags, and plans to go straight to Target to stock up, before going to the hotel for the afternoon.


“No problem – I can just pick it up from the airport instead,” I said. Tap tap tap went his computer. “Instead of your $115 rental price, it would be $220 from the airport,” he said. “Why? I would be saving you the hassle of transporting it.” Tap tap tap. “Okay, you can pick it up at the airport, but then stop by my location and I’ll adjust the price,” he said. Wait. Tap tap tap. “I just booked you with another car rental company – it’s cheaper than your current rental price. I used a discount code I shouldn’t have used. Here’s the confirmation code. Pick it up at the airport.”

car rental2So we trudged with our bags to the rental counter, and Dori curled up next to the duffle bags while I checked in. Even though I did a recent writing project for this rental company, I forgot they owned several other brands. Show me your ID. Click. Sign. Initial here. Initial here. Sign here. It’s $98. I got the Taco Bell employee discount.

We trudged upstairs with our bags to the lot, passing all the others waiting for their cars. We got to stall K11, where our full size 4 door auto rental was waiting. Only someone was already in it. And the car was running. “Excuse me, are you returning the car or taking it out?” I asked the business guy. I showed him my rental folder. He had K11 too.

Dori leaned on her duffle bags in the entrance area, closing her eyes. The business guy and I approached the 20 year old clerk behind the counter, who looked like Bambi’s mom was shot in front of him when he saw our folders. He went to his trash to pull out a crumpled piece of paper, and then turned his back, whispering to a co-worker. He turned back around and said he needed to reassign one of us to a smaller car. And it would take some time. The business guy looked at his watch. He clearly didn’t have time for this. I had plenty of time. But I also had 2 giant IKEA bags, 2 carry on bags, was headed to buy out Target, and had a kid with strep throat.

target shopping2

“Dori – it was a knock out – we won. Get in the car NOW!”

Off to Target, where Dori proceeded to take several breaks to rest in the aisle while I brought items to her for approval, including food for the hotel  room. “Do you want a thermometer?” I asked. “Why would I need a thermometer?” she said. And I put it back on the shelf. As I checked out of Target, she reclined her seat in the car with the air conditioner running.

Fortunately the hotel had a room ready at 1:00. That was good, because if they didn’t, she would have sprawled out on the couch in front of the receptionist desk, and I would tell them she had strep throat – and it she was contagious. Even though she wasn’t.

This was Dori’s location for the next 24 hours.


While she slept from 1:30-6:00, I went sight-seeing, texting her every 30 minutes with no response. I came back and showered. She was still asleep. We had 7:15 dinner reservations at the “it” restaurant in town, reservations made 2 months in advance and confirmed twice. But she could barely swallow, let alone sit up. She encouraged me to go anyway, saying she planned to just sleep and watch TV. My friend Stephanie was in town and agreed to be my back-up date. It would be a short dinner.

I got a text during appetizers. “When are you coming back? I’m fine. Just curious.” Uh oh. “Can you bring a thermometer back to the hotel?” We found the nearest CVS and brought back a thermometer, as well as some hummus and fresh pita from dinner.

Wednesday was move-in day – her slot was 12:00-2:00. Dori woke up, took her antibiotics, ate the restaurant leftovers, and threw up. And then it started pouring rain. The only thing on the agenda for the afternoon was moving in. I made her shower. Stephanie texted that traffic was a mess.

At noon, I followed the school directions for her dorm, turning onto Willow as they said. Hooray! No lines! But also no signs – that’s weird. You’d think they’d welcome the freshmen. I got to a barricaded street on campus and the cop said I had to back up and turn left, and then make a series of turns to get to the dorm. That’s odd. We ultimately ended up on Willow going the opposite direction. The cop there said “you came the wrong way! Your dorm is on the other side.” They told me to drive through the barricade, and then turn left at the next light.

I got to the light, which I had passed on Willow the first time. There was her dorm, and a “do not enter sign” on that street. I entered anyway. Everyone else was coming from the opposite direction. Clearly they got the memo I didn’t get – with better directions. They got the Welcome to College banners, and the traffic cones, and the volunteers jumping up and excitedly pointing the way. I got the “do not enter sign” and my daughter shrinking in her seat, embarrassed that her mother was now doing a K turn to pull up in front of the dorm.

moving in

This was the 2:00 to 4:00 move-in

As promised, the student volunteers cheerfully greeted us and pulled everything from the trunk. They brought it to her room while I parked the car, and she got her ID card. I did a double take at the elevator. They didn’t have these when I was in college.

condoms (1)

Here’s another thing they didn’t have when I was in college. A dorm meeting where you introduced yourself and shared your pronouns.

I eventually unpacked while Dori rested on the bed, and we did some more errands, before it was time to leave her. The essays I read all said not to say goodbye to your kid in their dorm room, and not to cry in front them. Well I failed on both counts. But I did not ugly cry in front of her – I saved that for my sister, who fortunately answered her cell phone when I got outside the dorm. And fortunately it was dark outside and only one mom asked me if I was okay on my way out. Because I was not okay.

That night, Stephanie moved into the hotel with me and we drank wine. We needed it. Our kids were at a pep rally of sorts – with speeches, kids in matching dorm t-shirts, and a DJ tossing “class of 2023” beer cozies to the incoming freshmen. That even though the school told the kids that anyone caught using alcohol or drugs during orientation week would be kicked out of school. Dori snuck out early – she was falling asleep at 10:00 in spite of the noise.


Apparently that weekend, the emergency room was full of kids who broke the alcohol rule. She said kids were puking in the elevator and in the drinking fountains. In the common rooms and the hallways. Rumors were that some were actually sent home – though I can’t confirm that.

Though I miss Dori a lot, I haven’t cried since I said my final goodbye (again in her dorm room – she was still tired) on Thursday afternoon.

By the time I got to the airport Friday morning, Dori was finally on the mend, though we learned that the Hillel will deliver matzah ball soup to students who are sick. That warmed my heart.

Even though she was gone much of the summer, the house still seems very quiet without her. She and Zack talked this morning, and he actually called her on move-in day while he was at camp, because he had 15 minutes free. I hope when one of their kids goes to college, they can call each other and ugly cry on the phone together.


  1. What an adventure! Glad Dori is feeling better. As I read, I laughed as I could absolutely picture you in those moments! I hope moving out is a better experience.

  2. Careful planning foiled by strep throat and rental car companies! Hope your daughter is feeling much better by now.

  3. Hi. Mom relayed your trip but I had to read it. Funny, sad & enjoyable to read. Well written. Glad all worked out well for both of u. Is she in a co-Ed dorm? Has she contacted u or Mark in the past week? Love to u & the family. Dad

    Sent from my iPhone


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