This winter, my son Dan and I took a trip to the University of Alabama, where he is going to attend college in the fall. He had several orientation sessions without my participation, and when he came out of each one, he said, "Dad, they made fun of my accent."
For some reason, lately I have been concerned about the fact that my children are not too worldly. They have all the experiences that the computer and Internet can provide them, but they just don't get around too much.
So when Dan goes to Alabama, he is going to meet people from the southern United States who talk differently and eat differently and who knows what all differently. He is going to have to learn to accept those differences and adjust on the fly, without a great deal of experience in that area.
Our children have traveled, but always with their parents. We did not send our kids away to camp, and they never traveled by themselves beyond the boundaries of our immediate surroundings.
We never even moved from one side of town to the other, at least not when the kids were old enough to know what that meant. When our fourth child, Kyle, came along, we realized our former house was too small for four kids and we moved across town, but our oldest, Haley, was only 4 years old at the time, and did not have to deal with that awkward phase of going from one school to another that required making new friends.
Our twins were 2 years old at the time of the move and don't remember anything about the old neighborhood.
So our children all went to the same grade school, the same middle school, and now the same high school. Even with the move from one school building to another, they had the safety net of friends from their former school to buffer them through the change.
Actually, I can remove some of the blame from my shoulders for that because apparently moving from one town to another doesn't happen as much today as it did when I was a kid. People don't move as much for work, and relocating is not the industry it once was.
Although I moved twice when I was very young, the traumatic move was when I was in fifth grade, and we moved from Beech Grove, Ind., just south of Indianapolis, to Hoffman Estates. I went from being a big fish in a small pond to a small fish in a big pond. It helped that I moved into a new development (in 1967, Hoffman Estates was our development north of Higgins Road and a whole lot of cornfields), but I learned how to make new friends because I had to. It is a skill everyone needs to develop, and have always worried about whether my kids can do it successfully.
Although my family traveled extensively around the United States, and I have been to 49 of the 50, we did not travel internationally at all. It remains one of my biggest regrets and a bullet point on my bucket list that I need to see more of the world before I check out.
(To my kids, if you are reading this, the minute you get out of college, go backpacking through Europe for a year. Mom will freak out, I'm sure, but she and I will be here when you get done.)
Our suburban life has been so sheltered that I was excited whenever my kids signed up for summer camp because they would get to meet kids from other parts of our suburb. Believe me, the south side of our Northwest suburb is sooo much different from the north side, and don't get me started on those snobs who live on the east side of town.
Haley went to the University of Missouri, where she will start her junior year in the fall, and she survived, even though she was the most insular of our children. So Dan and Lindsey (who is following Haley to Missouri) will figure out how to make friends and meet new people in college and Dan will find out what grits are, and they both will learn that some people call it "pop'' and others call it "soda'' and some people still go to "the show'' when my kids go to "the movies."
And I promise I won't make fun of their accents when they come home.
• Kent McDill is a freelance writer. He and his wife, Janice, have four children, Haley, Dan, Lindsey and Kyle.