I’m Fragile, But At Least I’m Organized

This is an emotional time in our house: our oldest is leaving for college and our youngest is starting high school.

I feel like I have no control over the events that are unfolding and I’m not ready.

It would be fine if I was the only one in the house who felt this way, but that’s not the case, of course. There can never be one person in the house who is stressed – it’s like a virus.

For instance, last week my younger son had tryouts for the high school soccer team and he was a bundle of nerves, so I was walking on eggshells wondering what I was supposed to be doing to be supportive. Should I ask him any questions when he talks about tryouts? Should I ignore him? Should we distract him? He would come off the field beating himself up and I would try to find just the right amount of humor and silliness to take the edge off…unless he wasn’t in the mood for humor and silliness, in which case there was silence.

That was fun.

And, I’m overtired because I’ve been staying up late waiting for my oldest to come home from saying his goodbyes to friends leaving for college and then I’m up at the crack of dawn to drive my youngest to his tryouts.

No sleep + no control = over emotional mommy and that’s not a good thing…for anyone.

Then, of course, my son is leaving in 3 days (or three days, 11 hours and 26 minutes according to the Welcome Week page on the college website that I just checked).

3 days!

Why couldn’t he have left last year when he was a total pain in the ass? Last year I would have gladly moved him out of our house and into a dorm many, many hours away with barely a glance back.

But now he’s become sweet again and pleasant to be around and nice to his brother!

What is wrong with him!

So, I’m fragile right now and I get teary-eyed at the littlest things like yesterday, when I got a delivery notification for a table I bought that will be delivered on August 25. My first thought: my son won’t be here to see it. I shed a tear!

It’s ridiculous.

Do I sound a bit manic? Well, I am. Nothing, at this moment, is within my control and I need to control something.

So I organize.

I may not be able to control what is happening in my life but I can control what goes into my junk drawer and how well my fridge will be organized.

Thankfully the times when I’ve felt that I’ve had little or no control in my life have coincided with packing and organizing.

For instance, moving after I got married was a bit overwhelming but I distracted myself by looking for great baskets and drawer organizers at the Container Store; having a baby was also a bit stressful but I passed the time searching for the perfect bin, box, and shelving system for my kid; and, when my dad was dying, I distracted myself by helping my mom unpack and organize the house that they had just remodeled and moved into.

I am great at organizing under duress.

Now, as I get ready to move my kid out of my house and into his dorm room I have become maniacal about plastic storage bins. Wherever I go I have found an endless supply of plastic bins in every shape, size and color you can imagine.


And believe me, I can imagine a use for every one of them.

That three-drawer number in blue? It’s the perfect size for school supplies right next to his desk and a great height for a bedside table!

The extra long bin with the hinged lid? Perfect for storing wiffle ball bats, golf clubs and tennis rackets under the bed.

That little red container is perfect for first aid supplies! (Get it? First aid? Red?)

Don’t worry, I didn’t buy any color-coded bins…yet, and I’ve held back from slapping labels on the side of each container which, I realized would be mortifying for my kid but, believe me, I really, really want to!

My husband thinks I’m nuts and my kid just shakes his head but I don’t care.

I can’t control what’s going to happen to my kid but he will be the most organized freshman on campus…at least until I drive away.



Fiscal Irresponsibility



How much control should we parents have over how our children spend their money?

That is the question that has plagued great minds since the beginning of time – or at least has bothered my small mind for the past month.

It all started with the bank statement and the missing $190.00.

That’s how much money my 14-year-old son spent on an on-line game over a one-month period of time.

190 freaking dollars!

This isn’t one of those cases where I could contact the company and ask for our money back. Well, I suppose if he used my credit card I would but it was his debit card, not mine, so I didn’t want him to get the money back.

I wanted him to suffer.

Until this summer I have used my credit card for my younger son’s video games, Xbox games, ITunes accounts, etc. so I could keep track of how much he was spending. He would ask me to charge something, and then he would give me cash. I thought this was a smart way to control his spending. If I thought he was spending too much money I wouldn’t charge what he wanted.


Shortly after he graduated from junior high, however, we got him the “high school” debit card, mostly because the card can be replaced when it’s lost (he’s the kid who walks out the door with a $20 and two blocks later can’t remember where he put it.) I didn’t even consider the possibility that he would be drunk with power and simply add his account number to a computer game and start making charges.

How naïve am I?

I didn’t even realize that he hadn’t asked me to charge anything in ages. Then I saw the bank statement. I was livid. I thought: What a waste! He could have bought himself a skateboard, a bike, 50 Starbucks Frappucinos!

I made him cancel the game, lectured him about financial responsibility, and threatened to take away his new debit card if he did anything so irresponsible again.

But…then I started to second guess my approach?

After all, I did tell him that half of his graduation/birthday money was his to spend this summer. And, although I never even considered that he would spend it on virtual “gold” instead of Starbucks, hot dogs and movies, it was his money to spend.

Can I really tell him he can’t spend all of his money on video games because I think they’re stupid? Why is a $4 Frappucino any better??

When I was his age, I remember spending money on clothes, shoes, purses, all kinds of crap that I only wore or used once (shoulder pads and neon, anyone?) I’m sure my parents thought my purchases were equally worthless.

But, I learned a lesson. When I ran out of money, I ran out of money. I eventually learned to think before I bought one more pair of stirrup pants or heavy black eyeliner. (Which, is something I should have known long before, but I digress.)

The lesson my son learned is that he should have grabbed the mail before me so I wouldn’t have seen the bank statement.

If I wanted to teach him some useful lessons I probably shouldn’t have yanked the game so quickly.

I should have used that opportunity to teach him how to manage his spending and not buy things on impulse. I could have helped him map out a strategy where he could have spent money on his game and on his burgeoning Starbucks habit. But, the greatest lesson I could have taught him would have been about the value of sarcasm in parenting:

14-year-old, after burning through all of his money. “I don’t have any more money left and I want to go to the movies. Can I borrow $10?”

Me: “You know how the virtual world took all of your real money? Maybe the real world will accept virtual gold. Whadda ya think??”

Now that’s a lesson that would have lasted.


Do you control how your kid spends his or her money?

Did you make any worthless purchases as a kid?


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Yet Another Thing I Will Miss When My Kid Goes to College

We are less than a month away from the day that we leave our older son behind at college and head home to a slightly emptier house.

In order to avoid thinking about that for too long, I have been putting my energy into dealing with all of crap that needs to be done before he leaves for school: dorm room shopping, doctor’s appointments, haircut appointments, clothes shopping and, as a last-minute stressor, wisdom teeth extractions.

I’ve also been cleaning out closets, reading articles about easing the transition, and trying to get a prescription for Xanax to help with my separation issues (just kidding – I actually bought a case of wine).

I am going to be ready…or so I thought.

This morning I found a box of donuts and a bag of gummi candies on our front porch. They were from my older son’s friends. Apparently, he’s been having a rough week that I was unaware of. Yes, I knew about his sun poisoning and previously mentioned wisdom tooth pain, but the other part of it—the possible end of a long-term relationship—I was not privy to. He turned to his closest friends for that support and they rallied.

See, the best way to cheer up my 18-year-old is to feed him, so that’s what they did.

I cried.

My son has the nicest friends; they really look out for each other. But, more than that, they are really a great group of kids to have around…and they are leaving, too.

I’m going to miss having them around.

I may bitch and moan occasionally because they are at our house a lot, but I really only care when I’m in the mood to sprawl out on the couch in my stretched out yoga pants, eat cookies and watch bad TV. (I try not to do that in front of the kids lest they think that’s what happens when you’re older than 45, move to the suburbs and have kids. I don’t want to scare them).

The reality though is they usually don’t mind if my husband and I are around—yoga pants and all. They sit with us and even invite us to play board games or poker with them. Once, when a couple of the boys were hanging out with us, one of the boys told my husband and me about his plan to go to Las Vegas with our son for their 21st birthdays.  “You should come, too,” he said.

“You probably won’t want your parents with you in Vegas on your 21st birthdays,” I explained smiling as I pictured the scene.

“Why? You guys are cool,” he said. And he meant it!

No, really. He meant it!

I could have cried but that would have shown him how un-cool I really am.

The fact that these boys don’t want to flee when we walk in the room is only one of the reasons that I like them. They work hard at their jobs and at school, they do charitable work without being hounded and they are respectful of our home. They may eat all of the ice cream but the bowls are in the dishwasher when they are done and the counters are wiped clean. I can’t get my 14-year-old to do that; hell, I can’t get my husband to do that!

But the best thing about these boys is that  they are really, really nice to my youngest son.

That wasn’t always the case with my oldest son’s friends but, somehow, over the years, the friends who were mean to his little brother stopped being part of his posse.

I know it’s not easy to have a little brother around all the time (I’m a little sister, after all) but no one seems to mind him or, if they do, they don’t let it show. Half the time, a couple of them will be hanging out with him in our family room while the rest of the group is in the basement. Other times they invite him to join in. Just the other night my husband and I came home and found our youngest beating the older boys at poker, the next day he was playing tennis ball golf with them, and, as I write this, one of those boys—his “brother from another mother”—is working out with him as he prepares for soccer tryouts.

I’ve been worried about how my youngest is going to handle the separation from his brother but I didn’t think about how he might deal with the separation from his brother’s friends.

Thank God for social media…

I, am only “friends” with one of the boys on Facebook (his request, not mine) so I will have to get my information from my kids or hear snippets when they are back for school breaks.

In the mean time it will be odd—and a little quieter—without them around.

They will be missed.


Four Ways In Which My Life Is Totally Different Now That My Kids Are Teenagers

I’ve been chugging along, doing the parenting thing and not really paying attention to all of the changes in my life. Sure, I’ve noticed what’s going on with my kids growth and I’ve noted their milestones but I didn’t really pay attention to how much my life has changed (and I’m not talking about the gray hair, wrinkles and all around aging that I’ve done since they were little).

No, it’s the day-to-day stuff that changed and I didn’t really see it coming.

Until now.

Suddenly my husband and I are home alone three or four nights in a row!  We aren’t always sure what to do with ourselves, though. Before kids we went to bars, new restaurants, even art exhibits in the city. Now one glass of wine puts me to sleep and waiting for a table at a new restaurant requires patience that only a 20-something can muster.

But this major life change got me thinking about the other ways in which our lives have changed. Here are four of the more stressful ones for me:

  1. Holidays. I imagine that Thanksgiving might be the same for a little while – at least until the kids start bringing home their significant others – but other than that the holidays are just not the same now that my kids are older. For instance, the Fourth of July used to be so festive. It was an all day event for us – beginning with the kids lined up on the curb for the local parade and ending with gathering with friends and neighbors at our town’s fireworks a few blocks away. We would spend the day playing badminton in the backyard, eating barbecue and hanging out with the family and friends. This year the kids wolfed down some burgers with us around 5:00 pm then disappeared. We saw them at a distance at the fireworks but they didn’t sit near us where I could watch them staring at the display with wide-eyed amazement (not that they would do that now but they used to).  As for Christmas, without the magic of Santa it’s just a day to pass out presents and eat too much. The Easter Bunny went the way of Santa so Easter is really now just a meal no matter how many plastic Easter eggs I try to hide around the house. And Halloween? It’s just a day to watch a scary movie and eat the candy that I bought for our trick-or-treaters.
  1. Sleeping. I still don’t get any sleep it’s just that my hours have shifted. If my kids fall asleep before midnight it’s a miracle and no matter how hard I try to fall asleep before them I really can’t until I hear their doors shut for the night. I used to love getting up at 6 am with the kids; I felt like I could get so much done. Now, I have been forced to become a night owl and, as much as I like having control of the TV remote when my husband is asleep, I’m usually too tired to accomplish much past 10 pm.
  1. The bedtime routine. Probably the saddest part of the shift in my kids’ sleep patterns is their bedtime routines: I am no longer part of them. I still get to give them a hug and say goodnight but that’s about it. Our bedtime “process” used to be fairly elaborate for each kid: there were assorted books (with nightly negotiations for more), different bedtime songs and different places to sit in each room with the lights out for a few minutes before we left. I remember the first time my oldest son told me I didn’t have to stay in his room anymore after I said goodnight. It was like a knife through my heart! Then there was the time that my youngest and I were going through our usual “Love you. Sleep tight. See you in the morning. Good night,” routine when he said to me, in a very solemn voice, “You know, we won’t need to do this when I’m 42.” I left his room and burst into tears. Whadda ya mean! I thought. We will always do this! Obviously we wouldn’t, but there was a part of me that couldn’t fathom stopping. And now it has.
  1. And, finally, probably the hardest change has been my knowledge about their lives. I have no idea what my kids and their friends talk about or think about anymore. Every now and then they will share a funny story about something someone did or said but for the most part getting information out of my kids requires being in an environment with no distractions, asking the right questions at the right moments and knowing when to stop talking. I am really not good at the whole “stop talking” thing so I usually ask one question too many or ask something that is so stupid like, “Where is John going on vacation this summer?” and all conversation comes to a screeching halt. This is in sharp contrast to the days when my kids would talk and talk and talk about their days with such incredible detail that their stories often took more time to tell than the actual event took to happen. I miss that even if, at the time, I could not believe that they could talk so much.

Change is inevitable, I know, but I don’t have to like it…

How has your life changed as your kids have grown? If they are still little are you looking forward to the changes??

What Happened to Summer??

Summer is almost over.

At least that’s what it feels like to me.

The Fourth of July is next week! What happened to June??

My plan, back in January, when we were knee-deep in the polar vortex, was to have a leisurely summer where we took long bike rides, dined alfresco and relaxed together as a family savoring the longer days and the warm weather.

Instead my summer—so far—has involved driving my youngest 2 hours, round-trip, everyday for two-weeks to a camp in the city and struggling to find 15 minutes of one-on-one time with my oldest son in between his two jobs, his girlfriend and his friends. And then there’s the World Cup…

My bottom has yet to touch my bike seat and I’ve eaten outside once (unless you count a biscotti and espresso at Starbucks as a meal, then I’ve eaten outside twice).

I would like nothing better than to introduce my kids to the summer of the 70s ala Melissa Fenton of 4boysmother but I think I missed my chance. Now, if they are gone all day, I start to suspect trouble–the kind of trouble that only teenagers can get into. I also long for a way to simplify my summer as my friend Joy of Joyfully Green suggested but it’s not gonna happen. There’s just not enough time.

If I want that kind of relaxed, spontaneous summer I need to plan for it.

So here’s my plan:

Wooden-TV1. Watch a lot of TV and movies as a family.

Not quite what one would encourage children to do during the summer but I have a list of movies and television series that my kids need to see before they become influenced by someone else’s Netflix queue. I didn’t realize how far behind I was on my list until I read the blog post, Educating Tweens and Teens on Pop Culture: The Movies I INSIST My Kids See by Momma Be Thy Name. Suddenly it became imperative that we get through the list. We finally watched Stand By Me and Caddyshack the other day so that only leaves 20 more movies including, Slumdog Millionaire, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and now, Wedding Singer (thanks for the reminder, Momma Be Thy Name!) just to name a few. Between those movies and episodes of Hogan’s Heroes, Fraiser and MASH we should be watching TV ten hours a day for the next two months. At least we’d be together. This plan might prove difficult, however, given the next item on my list…

2. Get outside.

I realize that my kids are busy with jobs and friends and sports but do they have to spend all of their time together in front of a screen (see the problem with #1?)? I’m torn because my oldest is leaving soon and I like that my kids are spending time together; I just wish it could involve sunshine. I mean we live in the Chicago area for Pete’s sake! Sun and warmth are gifts to be savored. So, I’ve come up with a list of things they can do together outside (I do love a list): Mini-golfing, golfing, paddle boarding, bike riding, canoeing, playing Frisbee golf…so many options. If they let me tag along, even better.


3. Prepare a meal (or two or three) together and eat outside.

This accomplishes two things: first, it will prove to me that my children can feed themselves (always a little questionable) and two, we will eat outside! My youngest used to love to cook. He and I used to watch The Barefoot Contessa together, and then cook one of her recipes. I even had her autograph one of her cookbooks for him. And then, suddenly, he stopped. Now if he has to feed himself he eats a bowl of cereal or a bag of goldfish. He needs a cooking refresher. Besides, cooking together is fun for everyone (I swear!) and no one needs to know that they are learning something in the process.

4. Teach my kids all of the things I failed to teach them in the past 18 years.

This may seem daunting especially when my kids will be watching ten hours of television a day, preparing dinner and spending time outdoors but…I just found out this morning that my oldest has never changed a light bulb! And he’s leaving for college.

How is that possible??

My husband and I started ticking off the other things that our kids don’t know how to do yet (or at least not do very well). Laundry tops the list, followed closely by tying a tie, knowing basic first aid, putting out a fire, hanging a picture (and patching the wall when they do a bad job), sewing on a button, the list goes on and on…

5. And finally, force togetherness with a little vacation.

We are taking a four-day vacation this summer that is significantly shorter than I would like but all my kids would fit in with work and sports tryouts.

I’ll take it. Four days is better than nothing.

When you have four days you have to plan though; there isn’t much time for lounging around and seeing what happens. So, we will fly fish and whitewater raft and hike but, most importantly, we will eat three meals a day together.

Even if each meal takes only 30 minutes, that’s an hour and a half per day of uninterrupted family conversation, something that would never happen if we were at home.

Three meals without cell phones, television and friends.

Maybe if I’m lucky a couple of those meals will be outside after a bike ride.





Mother Doesn’t (Always) Know Best

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Honey, when someone is mean to you, don’t give them flowers. Give them the finger.

My kids are far better people than I’ve ever been.

I can be mean and hold a grudge, but my kids? Never. No matter how much I try to make them be mean and hold a grudge.

Occasionally their unwillingness to lash out at others upsets me. Friends have abandoned them, lashed out at them, made fun of them and all I can think is: why won’t they say something??  The perfect comeback will spring to my lips and but they won’t go there.

While I stomp around getting mad for my kids they are busy moving on…

I like going for the jugular. It was the best way I could come up with to stop people from picking on me when I was younger. I would find my antagonist’s weakest spot and hammer away at it until he or she backed down.

I’m shocked that I didn’t get punched. I guess it helps that I’m a girl.

I also had (ok, have) a tendency to hold a grudge. Thankfully none of this is genetic.

For example, my 14-year-old has been playing travel soccer for many years and two years ago he was passed over for a spot on his club’s top team.

He was disappointed. I was pissed.

He played every minute of every game for the past three years! What more could he have done?? I wondered to myself and out loud to my husband (and maybe to a couple of close friends) but never, ever to my son (I’m not that parent).

I fumed for an entire year and secretly hoped I could control my son with my thoughts:

Move to another club!

Take up another sport!!

Tell off your coaches!!!

Not surprisingly, he did none of those things and I said nothing.

Dutifully, my son went to every practice for his new team without complaint. He played in every game even as his spirits dropped. It wasn’t a very skilled team and he’s a competitive kid. It was hard to watch but he stuck with it and when tryouts came around again he was moved up. He was thrilled!

I was still pissed.

Now, in case you are wondering, I do not think that my kid is the greatest soccer player in the world, on his team, or even in our neighborhood—nor does he. He’s not shooting for a college scholarship or a spot in the MLS. He just likes to play soccer and I don’t like to see him get screwed.

When this season started he got—maybe—15 minutes of playing time in the first few games. I thought:

Move to another club!

Take up another sport!!

Tell off your coaches!!!

But he was content to be with the team and to play when he was asked.

A turning point came during one game where he played an entire half. He ran off the field excited and dying of thirst. “I figured I wasn’t going to play at all so I drank all of my water before the game even started,” he said, gulping down a bottle of Gatorade.

He found it hilarious.

Little by little he got more playing time. But then the coach he had so desperately wanted to play for left the team and my son had to prove himself again to another coach. When that coach left after the winter season, another coach took over. This coach knew my son and once told me that my son asked too many questions. (Seriously, what coach doesn’t want a kid to ask what he should be working on??)

I secretly hoped that this coach would yell at my son for asking a question so I would have an excuse to tell him off.

He didn’t…much to my dismay.

Instead, the last time we spoke, he had high praise for his my son’s growing skills and was my son’s biggest advocate at the latest round of tryouts. (Good thing I didn’t tell him off, right?)

So now, the soccer season has come to a close and next year my son will be playing for a great team—one that he is very excited to play for. He will need to work hard to prove himself and to get any playing time but he is up for the challenge.

My kid learned a great lesson in perseverance. Too bad he didn’t learn it from me.


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A Different Angle

Today was the last full day of high school for my oldest son. Yesterday was the last Wednesday and tomorrow will be the last time he sets foot in the school as a student.

I’ve been doing this morbid mental list of last moments for months now. Yesterday I even took a photo:



The Last Wednesday I will ever pick him up from school!


The hardest moment, up until this week, was: this is the last birthday we will celebrate with him at home.

I’ve tried not to think about that one for too long.

I can’t stop myself. It’s such an automatic reaction that, this morning, I found myself thinking: this is the last time he will carry his lunch to high school in this black lunch bag—ever!

It’s an illness.

Obviously, I know that he will return home at some point (to visit, hopefully, not to live) but I know it won’t be the same.

As much as I complain about having to wait up for him on the weekends at least I know where he is at night. I also like sitting around the dinner table almost every night even if the meal takes 45 minutes to prepare and only 10 minutes to consume—at least I know that we have those 10 minutes!

Yes, he will eat meals with us again and I’m sure I will still want to wait up for him when he is back from college (although I guarantee I won’t make it past the first weekend) but today marked the last day that I will drive him to and from school. Those few minutes in the car every morning and every afternoon felt like stolen moments for me. Facing forward in our seats with no pressure to “have a conversation” my son would chatter away about his classes or who did what during the day at school, but once we walked into our house all conversation would stop.

I know that I will never have an opportunity like that again, at least not every day.

And, yet, this is as it should be. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

My son, through his own sadness today, pointed out that the end of high school is just the beginning of his independent life as a college student, a time filled with many firsts for him (many I’m sure that I don’t want to know about). “It’s all about perspective, mom,” he told me.

I’ll give him perspective.

For instance, today’s last lunch in his black lunch bag means that tomorrow will be the first time in nine years that I won’t have to make two lunches every day!

The last time he lives at home will be the first time I won’t have to do his laundry or yell at him to do his own laundry (at least for a few months but, that’s something).

And the last time he eats dinner with us before he leaves for college with be the first time that I don’t have to be annoyed that he has his ear phones on and can’t hear me so I have to text him in the other room to let him know that dinner is ready and I need the table set!

Perspective is a funny thing.

And it works the other way, too. I started thinking about my kids “first” moments—first steps, first words, first day of school. Those moments were also lasts if I shift my point of view. For instance, my first son’s first steps marked the last time I would be able to sit down for any length of time until my kids went to school. Had I known what his walking and eventual running, followed closely by climbing and jumping actually meant for me I may not have been so enthusiastic about taking photos of him walking – I may have taken photos of me lounging on the couch or sitting at the table enjoying a leisurely meal.

It is all about perspective.

More notable, yet unrecorded last moments masquerading as firsts:

My son’s first words = the last time I would able to have an adult conversation without being interrupted by a child’s questions.

His first “big boy” bed = the last time I would sleep in my bed (for eight years!) without a child climbing in at 5:30 am.

His first pair of big boy underwear = the last time I changed his diaper. Now that moment really should have been captured in a photo.

I guess my son was right, although he probably didn’t realize that he was doling out parenting advice. Parenting really is about your point of view. If you try to see things from a different angle it may not be as bad as it seems.



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