- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 12, 2007

“I feel like someone has ripped out my very soul,” my eldest daughter says, flinging herself on the floor of my home office.

Lucky thing she’s not too dramatic; otherwise she’d scare me.

I breathe deeply, bracing myself for an onslaught of emotion — or an unexpected expense. Soul-ripping typically costs me time or money — or both. Quickly, I take stock of what the problem might be.

A bad hair day? Possibly, though she looks fine to me and there are no jagged edges in her bangs.

An issue at the coffee shop where she works? Not likely. Working as a “barista” (read: counter girl) isn’t stressful now that she has learned the lingo.

Boy trouble? Blessedly, no.

“What’s the matter now?” I ask. With teenage girls it’s always something, so I take the soul-wrenching with a grain of maternal skepticism.

Katie heaves a heavy sigh and drapes an arm across her face. “I just spent more than $300 buying jeans and clothes for school at Gap online.” (For accuracy, imagine wailing and gnashing.)

Ah, money — a soul-wrenching subject if ever there was one.

This summer, Katie is learning that it takes time and effort to earn money but only moments to watch it sift through your fingers as you type in your debit card number and press the button for “Complete sale.”

“Aren’t you even remotely impressed?” she asks. “I spent hundreds of dollars to buy my own clothes.”

“I suppose,” I say, not looking up from my computer. “On the other hand, I’d think you might be the one who’s impressed with your dad and me, now that you’re learning what it costs to clothe you. And just for fun, multiply that times four.”

“Good point,” she says, dragging herself off the floor. “I just didn’t know how quickly it would all add up.”

“It” is “The List” — an incredibly comprehensive manifest of all the items we must have onboard when we depart in a few weeks to drop Katie into her first term as a college freshman. We got the list from my best friend, who has been down this road before — often enough to have created a complete inventory of supplies one might need when one’s mother is about eight hours away and there is a headache or a hangnail or a hem that needs attention.

I confess that until I saw the list I was naive about how to help my daughter prepare to leave home. Thanks to my girlfriend, I will be spared the hassle of assembling countless emergency care packages and hustling myself to the post office on a regular basis. She already has thought of virtually every possible need a college student might encounter, and better still, she had the presence of mind to write it all down.

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