As terrific as Lewis believes they both are, she's having a hard time accepting that Ethan will not call home as often as she'd like. So she's started checking on him via his new girlfriend. "I e-mailed her yesterday: Amanda, is Ethan all right? I haven't heard from him in a couple of days. Did he meet with his adviser?"
The young woman wrote back that Ethan had a headache but was otherwise fine.
Perhaps the most shocking thing about Lewis's story is that her sons do not appear to feel smothered. For the most part, they seem to be as attached to her as she is to them. In April 2008, 24-year-old Ethan sent his mother an e-mail. He typed in the subject line, "Urgent you call... Where are you?" The e-mail continued with a request: Hey, merm, Here's the stuff.... I didn't have an appointment, but I could register for classes at 3:00 P.M. Sign me up for all the classes except Japanese right now.... Ethan.
Lewis did register him for his next semester classes. That same day, 22-year-old Brendan e-mailed her the following note:
Hey...I need some motherly advice.... The girl you met at Goodwill...I took her to the best French pastry joint in town. I was drinking wine on Tommy's tab but I overplayed my hand and bought a bottle of wine for the two of us to share.... I'm sorry, I was a little buzzed when I thought I could play "Big Man" and impress her and now I feel stupid and tremendously guilty....
Anyway, the problem is that she is AMAZING.... She's honors college, Fulbright, wealthy family, polyglot, down-to-earth, outdoorsy, nonreligious, cute, inhibited but sexy. The two problems are that she's nowhere close to on-par aesthetically with other girls I've been used to dating.... The other problem is that I'm leaving.... I think she was made for me.... Can you reflect on all this and get back to me? Love, Bren.
The e-mails suggest a closeness that most people over 30 never had with their mothers and raise questions about 21st-century parenting: How much should you do for your grown children? How do you know if you're doing it to help them—or to make yourself feel better? Just how close should you be?
Helicopter parents tend to have a particularly hard time when their children go away to college. To help alleviate parental separation anxiety (and one assumes to cut down on calls to administration), colleges from New York to Minnesota have recently installed what are best described as grown-up mommy-cams on their campuses. Students can stand or sit in front of "Hi, Mom!" Webcams located in common areas while calling home on a cell phone—a makeshift videophone. The University of Rochester actually has three sites, the "Hi, Mom! Balcony," the "Hi, Mom! Bridge," and the "Hi, Mom! Close-up." Cornell University's "Hi, Mom!" Webcam page gets as many as 60,000 visits a month, making it one of the most popular pages on the school's Web site.
After being flooded with phone calls from concerned parents, the Universities of California at Davis and Santa Barbara created special handbooks available on their Web sites to help with issues about campus living—for mothers and fathers. "We had a family who rented a house here for two weeks," says Emily Galindo, interim director of student housing at UC Davis. "Their daughter was coming and they wanted to help her settle in."
We Hear You!