A Holiday Miracle

The Thanksgiving season is usually not considered the time of miracles and yet something miraculous happened yesterday. Not the miracle of weeping icons or spontaneous healing, mind you, but miraculous just the same.

Let me back up.

My 18-year-old, college freshman came home for Thanksgiving break last night and within 45 minutes our battle for control began.

And, no, the miracle is not that it didn’t happen sooner.

After several hugs for the dog, a couple quick hugs for me, and a discussion about laundry he disappeared into his room.

I was a little disappointed by his vanishing act but I figured a home cooked meal would lure him out. I was wrong. I spent 10 minutes trying to get him to join the family for dinner.

I was miffed. Shouldn’t he be thrilled to have real food?

When he finally came to the table, he brought his iPad with him.  I told him to put it away during dinner and he responded with the, “I can do whatever I want because I’ve been away at school and I do whatever I want there,” bullshit that every college kid says to his parents when he comes home for break.

I was even more miffed.

And, when I told him that I didn’t appreciate his attitude, he responded with “Whatever,” and a roll of his eyes.

That’s when I snapped.

I yelled, my 14-year-old left the table, and my husband sat in silence.

At that moment, I just wanted my oldest son to go back to school.

I thought I had prepared for this. I read all the articles and blog posts about how to deal with your kid when he returns home for school breaks – hell, I wrote an article – but it didn’t matter.

I didn’t want to spend a little bit of time with him. I wanted more.

I wanted him to want to spend time with us – well, me in particular. I wanted him to choose us over his friends and his electronics. I wanted him to say, “Let’s watch a movie together,” “Let’s play a board game,” or “Let’s go out for dinner – just the four of us!” All the books and articles told me those were unreasonable and unrealistic expectations, but I still wanted it!

Those parents of college students who say, “That’s how the visit home is supposed to be. I wouldn’t want it any other way. It’s healthy!” are full of it. Deep down, they are just as pissed as I am; they just want to act like they are superior parents who have this whole parenting gig down. Me? I don’t care what it looks like. I suck as a parent, remember?

I know I sound like an infant but watching my kid transition from child to independent adult (albeit one who still needs to borrow our car and doesn’t pay for insurance) is not easy. It’s really uncomfortable to have a child who one day can’t leave you alone and the next day doesn’t want anything to do with you. None of this is new; I’ve been dealing with this since my oldest became a teen but it’s always shocking to me and it makes me kind of sad…or mad depending on the day.

Yesterday, apparently, was a mad day.

But then, just as I was on the verge of destroying any chance of quality family time for the entire week, a holiday miracle occurred: the WiFi AND the television went out.

The iPad my son brought to the table? Useless.

The video games he wanted to play on the Xbox? Unavailable.

The TV shows he wanted to binge watch? Inaccessible.

Was this just a coincidence or did my shortening fuse cause our electronics to go out? Did I suddenly have some sort of power? After all, I have been called a witch before (although it probably wasn’t a literal reference).

It didn’t matter. Just like that, I had my kid’s undivided attention.

“Let’s play a board game,” he said.

A Thanksgiving miracle and, yes, I am grateful.

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Wishing you and your families a very Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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Don’t Tell Me How To Do College!

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“Don’t Tell Me How To Do College!” my 18-year-old son snapped the other day.

What?! That’s ridiculous! I thought. I’m not telling him how to do anything. I’m merely making suggestions. (Insistent suggestions, perhaps, but still…)

For instance, one Sunday during our weekly Face Time session he complained that he had so much work to do that night. I innocently asked if he had thought about doing some work earlier on the weekend or maybe even during the day on Thursday when he has a huge block of free time.

“I got it, Mom! I know what I’m doing!” he barked.

When I scoffed at his reaction and tried to explain that I was merely trying to make a suggestion he responded with his first, “Don’t tell me how to do college!”

Similar retorts have been made in response to my suggestions that he clean his bathroom more frequently (he shares the bathroom with three suite mates), that he go to Health Services before his cold gets worse (he didn’t), and most recently, in response to my suggestion that he attend more activities on his college campus.

That last one is still lingering between us.

He has made friends at school with a group of kids who grew up not too far from the college they attend. As such, they tend to hang out in the city (the school is near a metropolitan area) rather than on campus attending school events.

My son says he’s fine with this. Me? Not so much.

I should be content that he hangs out with a group of kids he really likes—friends who bring him food when he has the flu and can’t get out of bed—yet, somehow, I have decided that he needs to have more of a “college experience” and that includes taking advantage of everything that he has available on campus.

I know this is ridiculous and, no, I’m not trying to relive my college years through my kid. (Really!) I had a great time in college, as did my husband, and we both had very different experiences from each other and from our son. You would that think this evidence—this proof that a “college experience” is not one size fits all—would be enough for me to back off and let our son “do college” his way.

It’s not.

Again, I’m not telling him how to do anything I’m just offering some suggestions.

What’s wrong with that? Is there an age limit on offering unsolicited advice to your off-spring? Because if there is, my mother and my in-laws didn’t get the memo. Neither did my grandmother or my husband’s grandfather. I was 40 when my dad died and until the end he was giving me advice.

Now, I know that when I was my son’s age I would hear my parents (notice I didn’t say listen) and ignore them (for the most part). There may have been a couple of times I heeded their advice immediately but not often. They knew this and yet they didn’t stop adding their two cents.

That’s what parents do! They keep talking and hope that something sticks!

My kid could have lied and told me that he saw the nurse and he could tell me that he’s attending every activity on campus just to shut me up – but he doesn’t. He’s being honest with me and, not so subtly, telling me to back off.

This reminds me of the first time I tried indoor rock climbing. I was on the wall and there was an incredibly annoying woman in our group who kept yelling out where the hand and footholds were before I even had a chance to look for myself. The first time she offered her “help,” I looked down at her and politely said, “I got it!” The fourth time? I snapped. “I know what I’m doing!” I yelled. “If I want your help, I’ll ask for it!”

Now why would that memory pop up right now, I wonder?  If only I had someone to give me some advice…

 

 

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A Letter To My Son On the Eve Of His College Fall Break

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Dear Son –

It has been almost two months since you left for college (well, actually, 52 days but who’s counting) and tomorrow you are coming home for your fall break!

I’m so excited!

And, a little worried.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy that we will get to see you. I’ve missed your voice and your laugh and I’ve missed saying good night to you, but…let’s just say that this weekend might be an adjustment for all of us.

See, we’ve spent the past 50+ days trying to get used to you being gone. We’ve adjusted to your empty bedroom, our earlier bed times, and the lower food bills, not to mention the quiet.

We’ve settled into a little routine. And I’m sure you have, too. You are used to doing whatever you want whenever you want.

Can you see how that might be a problem??

So, in anticipation of these new adjustments, I wanted to make some “suggestions” to soften your re-entry and avoid the possibility that you—or we—might want to cut your visit short.

  1. Spend some time with your family. Yes, we know that some of your friends are coming home this weekend too, but I am sure you have texted, Skpyed and talked to them far more often than you have with us. Please don’t come home just so you can borrow the car to see your friends, have us do your laundry, and eat your favorite meals. As much as you are longing for the comforts of home, we are longing to spend some (quality) time with you. Leave your phone in your room during dinner, come to your brother’s soccer game, help us cook dinner. A little family time can go a long way especially when you want the car keys…or cash.
  2. We are not your roommates. They probably don’t care if you are up all night or if you come in at 4 am. We, on the other hand, do care. A lot. We have schedules, classes, and jobs to attend to. If you want to stay up until 3 am and sleep until 2 pm that’s fine (sort of). But if you wake us up at 3 am you better believe that you are getting out of bed four hours later. Just saying.
  3. Be nice to your brother. He misses you even if he doesn’t always want to talk to you when you are on Skype. Sure, he has been enjoying his “only child” time but he still likes having you around. (At least I think so. I haven’t actually asked. I guess we’ll find out soon enough).
  4. I promise not to ask too many questions if you promise to answer just a few questions with full sentences and no eye-rolls or attitude.
  5. I have been stocking the fridge and planning your favorite meals. I have changed the sheets on your bed and vacuumed your room. I like to dote on those I love—you know that—however, that doesn’t mean that I intend to wait on you hand and foot. Even if you do flash that smile and say please. That’s what grandmothers are for. And, yes, you have to see them this weekend, too.

See you soon!

Love,

Mom

 

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Pathetic 48-year-old Mom Wanders Around Apple Orchard Alone! (or What I Did On My Kid’s Day Off of School)

Autumn, “the season formerly known as my favorite,” is just not the same now that my kids are older.

Before I had kids autumn was amazing: apple picking with my husband seemed so romantic, driving through a picturesque little town to take in the dazzling fall colors was a highlight of the season, and there was nothing more fun than finding the perfect costume for a Halloween party. Then, once I had kids, everything fall-like got even better – and adorable!

Is there anything cuter than a toddler at a pumpkin patch,

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Or a little kid in a furry Halloween costume trying to sneak a piece of candy,

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Or hoisting your baby up as he reaches for the perfect apple at the top of a tree in an apple orchard?

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No, there’s not.

Kids are adorable in the fall.

Sulking teenagers are not; nor, as it turns out, do they want to participate in those fun, fall festivities – especially not with their parents.

I found that out the hard way.

See, I love apple picking – any fruit picking, actually. My dad would take us miles out of our way if he saw a sign that there was fruit to be picked. We would head home with crates of strawberries, peaches, apples – anything we could pick that was in season.

I loved those days.

When I had kids I tried to recreate those moments as much for myself as my boys. Every September, from the time that my oldest was about six-months-old we would go apple picking. We would come home with so many apples that I would eventually get sick of anything apple related. But that didn’t matter because it was about so much more than just apples.

It was shared family time and the boys loved it (well, I’m not sure about the six-month-old but, boy, was it cute!). Post-picking we would savor warm cider donuts, pick out pumpkins to bring home and put on our porch, and even enjoy a pony ride!

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Every kid’s dream!

Until they are 14-years-old, apparently. Who knew?

This year, at the first hint of cooler temps and falling leaves I felt the pull to head to the nearest orchard and fill a bushel with apples.

“Who’s with me?” I asked my family enthusiastically.

Nothing.

“Come on!” I said to my one and only teen who still lives at home. “It’ll be fun!”

“Can I bring a friend?” he asked.

“Sure! The more the merrier!” I said.

I’m an idiot.

(Note: When your teen asks if he can bring a friend (or two) that means that he will not be spending any time with you. Bring your own friend – just saying.)

I, of course, didn’t know this as I planned our outing. I was still optimistic. I had visions of the group of us rambling through the apple orchard searching for the as yet untouched tree dripping with apples, it’s limbs sagging from the weight of the perfectly ripened fruit. I imagined that my son, his friends and I would see this tree from afar and get giddy at the sight of it. We would rush to the tree and fill our bags to the brim with the most perfect apples – stealing a bite or three of one of the apples and sighing with delight.

This is how it actually went down:

We got to the orchard and they went ahead without me.

I let them go because I realized, as we piled out of the car, that my son wanted to be with his friends. Sure, I could have tagged along but no one would have a good time.

So, I let them go.

But I still wanted to find that damn tree with the perfect apples! I could have gone into the store and simply bought a bag of apples but it seemed silly to have driven all that way and not, at least, walk into the orchard.

As I trudged through the apple orchard – alone – carrying my little plastic bag I tried not to look too creepy while families with young children walked by. I figured if I looked up and down every row it would look like I simply lost my group not that I had been abandoned. The last straw was when the guy driving a tractor full of apple pickers yelled out to me, “Where’s the rest of your group? Did they leave you?”

Pathetic.

All was not lost, however. I did find my perfect little tree full of apples and I filled my bag to the brim. I even got my warm cider donut – which I ate in the car, by myself, while I waited for the boys.

I think I’ll skip the pumpkin patch this year.

 

 

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Five Ways that Teenagers Are Just Like Toddlers

Lately I’ve been mourning the loss of my boys’ toddlerhood – the days when they hugged me with abandon, belly laughed over a silly sound and viewed the world with wonder and amazement.

I miss the days when I had little people who smelled yummy and wanted to be around me ALL THE TIME. Now, they are teenagers who are very different creatures – they smell like sweat and body spray and they wouldn’t be caught dead holding on to my leg or arm let alone spending hours at my side.

It’s sad to reminisce but, as I’ve been mentally flipping back through my kids’ toddler years, I’ve also noticed something curious—my kids as toddlers and as teenagers are actually more alike then I thought. See if you agree with my top five ways that teenagers are just like toddlers:

  1. They screw with your sleep. When they are little they wake up before the sun is up then, when you finally get adjusted to that sleep cycle, they suddenly become creatures of the night who can’t get out of bed before 10 am without being physically dragged out of their rooms.  My youngest was a crack-of-dawn kind of kid until a couple of years ago. As a toddler, he would run into our room at 5:30 am, his little feet would pitter-patter on the floor and announce that it was a sunny day. I would hoist him on to our bed and pray that he would give me just a few more minutes of sleep – that never happened. Back then, I considered sleeping to 6 am as “sleeping in.” Now, as a teenager, my youngest believes that being in bed – hell, being home before 11 pm is absurd; so I wait up for him.  Of course, then I wake up early because I’m still recovering from toddler time. It really efs up your sleep.

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  1. They like bad music. I was never that mom who popped in Disney CDs in the car and sang along with my children. My kids listened to what I listened to: Classic Rock, Alternative Rock, maybe a little Frank Sinatra just to keep it interesting. But every now and then they would sneak some of that kiddie crap in at home and I would find myself listening to things like Get’cha Head in the Game from High School Musical - and singing along! Thankfully they’ve outgrown Disney tunes (even, happily, anything from the Frozen soundtrack) and they listen to music I want to listen to.  But, every now and then, I’ll be out jogging, listening to my music on shuffle and some misogynistic rap song that one of my boys downloaded will pop up. I’m not a prude but the lyrics in songs by 2Chains and Schoolboy Q are not meant for the listening pleasure of a 47-year-old mom even if the tunes are catchy and easy to run to.
  1. Toddlers and teenagers do stupid things. There was a time when my kids weren’t rushing headlong into stupid activities or asking to do, say, eat something that no reasonable person would want to do, say, or eat. That time was in between the toddler and teenage years.

Sigh.

See if you can tell if my kid was a toddler or a teenager when he made these statements:

  • “I’m going to sit on top of the swing set and see if I can catch my friend as he swings up.”
  • “What if we put three people on the sled and spin the sled as we go down the hill?”
  • “What if we pile the snow up to the roof and make a sledding hill?”

It’s hard to tell isn’t it??

(FYI: Only the last statement was made by a teenager but it could have gone either way. Or maybe it’s just boys…).

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  1. Both toddlers and teenagers can be overly emotional and prone to tantrums. Granted, most teenagers will not flail about on the floor in the middle of a supermarket to make a point but they are just as capable of throwing a tantrum as a toddler. Both toddlers and teenagers might break down in tears when they don’t get their way and in both cases the tears will not be real. Toddlers and teenagers will try to wear you down by asking the same question over and over; that question is usually “Why?” as in “Why can’t I have another popsicle/puppy/toy?” or “Why can’t I have the car to drive my friend 700 miles to see her boyfriend?” Often the question “Why?” will be followed by foot-stomping and a loud, exasperated, “It’s not fair!” You may even see a pout – although it’s only cute on the toddler and then, only the first time.
  2. And, finally, neither toddlers nor teenagers communicate very well. Toddlers have a very limited vocabulary by virtue of their age and their level of education, while teenagers have a vocabulary limited less by lack of knowledge and more by attitude. Toddlers can’t always say what they mean because they don’t quite have the words (which makes them angry) and teenagers can’t always say what they mean because we parents “just don’t understand!!” However, “No,” “mine,” and “why?” are common means of communicating in both age groups. Beyond that, teenagers grunt, sigh and speak volumes by saying nothing. Although toddlers rarely say nothing they often do speak gibberish, which is not much different from teenage grunting. Occasionally, toddlers swear like teenagers, too. Like when you drop the “f” bomb in front of your 4-year-old and he repeats it over and over again in preschool the next day often with the perfect timing.

So, the next time you find yourself staring at your teenager and wishing for the toddler version to return, remember they are the exact same creature only less portable.

Do you think teenagers and toddlers are alike? If so, how?

 

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How Much Do You Really Know Your Kids?

 

“Did anyone really know their child? Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you…”

-Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

I’ve decided that I don’t know my kids very well. I keep thinking that I know how they will respond to things but, lately, I’m always wrong—especially with my youngest. It’s not like he’s trying to be difficult (that’s a whole different story). But if I say black he says white – even if he was nowhere near me when I said black.

I started thinking about this last week when I attended the advisory parent night at my younger son’s high school. When we first walked in we were handed a sheet to fill out about our son – questions like “What’s the best thing about your kid?” and “What is your kid most looking forward to in high school?” Questions, that as a parent who has had hands-on experience, 24/7, with this kid I should be able to answer easily.

But I was stymied.

What is he looking forward to? What is he struggling with? Why can’t I answer any of these questions??!!

The one about the best qualities about my kid should have been easy…or so I thought. I started to realize as I wrote down my pat answers: sense of humor, love of learning, blah, blah, blah, that those answers were, perhaps, not true of the kid he has become. Sure, he loves to laugh and I think his sarcasm is the funniest thing ever but was I really answering the question about him as a 14-year-old?

Well, since the first question – the easy question – was such a bust I moved on to the next question that asked what my kid gets excited about?

Hmmm…nothing? He’s a teenager! 

Moving on…

What academic class does your child enjoy most?

No idea. He won’t talk to me about school, but he doesn’t grumble as much when he’s doing his Latin homework so I guess the answer is Latin!

I wouldn’t be so focused on this if I weren’t constantly reminded lately that I don’t have a clue about him.

For instance, I was certain that he would have a melt down when his brother left for college. I was so worried that my sobbing on the way home would be really hard on him because he would be dealing with his own emotions.

Boy, was I wrong.

As we toured the campus and attended family activities, he kept checking the time and asking when we could leave! “I have school tomorrow,” he kept reminding us.

That was not at all what I expected.

And there have been other moments – like when he had a very strong emotional response to a soccer gaffe or when he decided he should be a Buddhist which is in sharp contrast to his desire to be an Atheist. Then just last week, I was POSITIVE that our youngest doesn’t eat avocado and yet, he assured me when I got home with his sandwich—sans avocado—that he LOVES avocado and how could I not know that?

Huh?

Shouldn’t I have noticed this change? Shouldn’t we have talked about it?

Sure, his older brother had moments that threw me for a loop – like the time when he started talking to girlsactually talking to girls – I mean, using words in long sentences and not just grunting at them – but, for the most part, nothing he has done has been a great surprise. That’s because he likes to talk.

When he stopped eating mustard there was a discussion about it. We talked about what it was about mustard that he didn’t like. We talked about other types of mustard and whether he would like to try those. Clearly, it was a long discussion because I can remember the moment vividly.

Our youngest, on the other hand, doesn’t mull things over out loud. He just changes his mind and forgets to tell us.

He also has a very extensive inner life that none of us are privy to. When he was five or six-years-old he started having these moments when he would stare off into space, often with a smile pulling on the corner of his lips. We knew that he was, as he called it, “telling himself a special story.” He was the toddler version of Walter Mitty—with long, complicated daydreams that involved him saving the day or traveling the globe.

(He probably learned to love avocado during one of those daydreams. But, I digress…)

So, why am I so worried about what my kid wants on his sandwich?

Because I want to know my kids. I don’t want to be that parent who says, “My kid would never do that!” only to find out that my kid has most definitely done that…and more.

So, I ask them questions and talk to them during car rides and dinners and talk to their friends when they are in our house – all in an effort to get a glimpse of who they are.

But, I’m not naïve. I know there is plenty that my 18-year-old doesn’t share with me and I actually like that my youngest is very much his own person who tries to figure things out on his own.

I know that I will never fully KNOW my kids and I’m good with that. I want them to separate from us – they need to separate from us. But, I think that I want my 14-year-old to be who he was when he was younger because if I acknowledge that he is changing I also have to acknowledge that he will, one day, grow up and need to leave and I will know him even less.

But until that time I will keep peppering him with questions—whether he likes it or not—and I will assume I know nothing instead of assuming that I know anything because tomorrow he will probably be vegan…or a Buddhist.

 

 

 

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The New Normal

It’s been over a week since my son left for college and I still close his bedroom door every night and open it in the morning.

It’s a bad habit I started when my oldest had his first sleepover at a friend’s house. Normally, we close our bedroom doors at night but that night, since he was out, I didn’t think about it. I still remember waking up in the middle of the night, opening my bedroom door and feeling a split second of panic because his door was open and the room was dark. In my fog I thought he had fled or been taken (I was half-asleep and I have a wild imagination, sorry!). Since that night, I always close the doors when the boys are out and open them in the morning.

Even now.

Of course, now, when I open my door in the middle of the night and see my older son’s door is closed, I forget for a minute that he is not here. And in that split second when I do remember, I feel a little sad.

This will take a little getting used to.

I asked a friend of mine who just sent her youngest of three off to college if it ever feels normal once your kids have left and she told me that you just get used to the “new normal.”

So that’s what I’m trying to do.

I know that moving out is normal, it’s just a natural progression of my kid’s growth, like the shift from walking to running or going from half-day of school to full-day of school (when, naturally, I cried). Every new stage, every new milestone in my children’s lives has required an adjustment in my life of some kind. From sitting to walking, from crying to talking, from home all day to preschool three mornings a week, to elementary school, to middle school, to high school, every stage has required a tweak in our schedules and a shift in perspective.

Still, this stage feels different. Even though every one of those changes was permanent none of them made me feel so out of sorts.

Our whole world seems off right now. Now, we set the table for three instead of four (and yes, I burst into tears the first time I had to do that), we don’t need to buy as much food, we don’t have as much laundry, and our house is much, much more quiet with one kid instead of two.

Right now it feels like something is missing but, we will adjust. Just like we adjusted to having a home with only two people to having a home with three and then four, we will adjust.

But for right now, I’ll keep closing his door at night and opening it in the morning. Then, one day, just maybe, I’ll forget to close the door.

And just like that, that will become our new normal.

 

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