How did my college son become such a slob?

Mara Williams with Jordan and Trey
Mara Williams with Jordan and Trey The Kansas City Star

I couldn’t wait to get to Nashville to pick up my youngest from Vanderbilt University at the end of his freshman year.

Since I dropped him off there last June, I’d seen him for only a brief visit home at Christmas. Heck, he didn’t even come home for spring break. He stayed to study, even though most students had left for fun in the sun.

What I’m trying to say here is that I really missed him, and I just wanted to hug his neck and smother him with kisses. At least in my head that’s how the meeting was going to go.

I drove nine hours, making pit stops only to refuel. I was there by 3 p.m., checked in to a hotel, dropped my luggage and headed straight to campus.

Everywhere there were students loading moving trucks with packed belongings. Or cars had pulled up to dormitory exits, and students stuffed them to the brim with as much as they could and still safely see out the rear window.

Campus dumpsters spilled over with trash, a lot of old pizza boxes, furniture, pillows, microwaves, lamps and other seemingly good stuff students dumped because they couldn’t fit them in their vehicles.

Jordan met me in a parking lot, and on the way to his room we noticed at least a half dozen perfectly fine mini fridges left by a dumpster.

I knew Jordan wasn’t tossing any items like that. Besides not having a fridge or futon in his room, he knows I would rip him apart for being wasteful. I work too hard for my money to have you just throwing it in the trash, is what I’d say. If you don’t want it, sell it. If you can’t sell it, donate it.

But I soon learned there were bigger problems to deal with.

We finally reached West House, where Jordan and his roommate lived for a little more than 10 months. He’s moving into an honors house next year. I’d been telling Jordan for months to find a place to store things that he wouldn’t need for the summer, especially the big stuff that wouldn’t fit in my little car.

I also told him to start packing a little at a time during breaks from studying so that the load would be light by the time I arrived.

When he pushed his dorm room door open I nearly passed out.

The smell that slammed into my nostrils was among the worst I’d ever encountered. Clothes and shoes covered the floor, the beds, every chair. Books and papers were piled up. I have no idea how they lived like that. His roommate, who was reclining comfortably on his bunk bed, admitted they were both slobs, so neither paid attention to the filth or the funk.

I started cleaning. They had to leave the room the next day exactly the way they’d found it when they moved in. At that moment it did not seem possible, ever. And to top it all off, Jordan hadn’t packed a thing, nor had he pinned down storage space. And every place I called required 48-hour advance notice. I was furious and screamed at my son about being irresponsible and inconsiderate and worse …

“Mom, all I could think about was studying and trying to pass my finals. They were so hard it took everything I had to get the best grades I could,” he responded.

“Sorry for yelling, son.” I hung my head and continued picking up, folding clothes and packing as fast as I could. A residence assistant offered to let us store stuff in one of the dorm basements. Victory No. 1.

I swept the floor for what seemed like an hour, and dust collected ankle high. I found old socks so dirty they really did stand on their own. The bedsheets hadn’t been washed since I put them on the bed the day he moved in. Yuk. And then I saw chicken bones. Not just one or two, but a small heap behind the bed. “I DID NOT RAISE YOU LIKE THIS” came flying out of my mouth.

My oldest would come home from college with everything packed in the boxes they came in. Even his shoes. He’d save the boxes neatly in a closet. His clothes were folded and clean.

I knew Jordan was a bit of a messy Marvin (my nickname for him), but I’d hoped having a roomie would force him to keep his stuff together. Obviously cleanliness is not something he’s learning in school. But you better believe it’s something we’re going to be working on this summer.

Mará Rose Williams: 816-234-4419,, @marawilliamskc