College Trippin’ – Beyond the Guidebooks

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Four years ago I took my oldest son on his first set of college tours—eight schools in five days. That’s a lot of schools in a short period of time and I normally wouldn’t recommend it but I brought reinforcements – no, not Valium – friends.

Touring schools with friends in tow was not a suggestion that I found in any of the “Parent’s guide to college tour” books stacked next to my bedside but I was happy that I stumbled on something that helped me preserve my sanity and preserve my son’s enthusiasm for the process.

Throughout this lengthy and often frustrating process. I picked up a few more tidbits that I will share with you if, like me, you are heading into college tour season for the first, second or tenth time:

  1. If you can, bring along a friend or two  – it’s a great way to divide and conquer.

If I had to plan that first trip alone I would have bailed after the first attempt to secure an information session at two colleges on the same day. You have to plan the most logical path among the schools and then make sure that you can fit into the appropriate information sessions and tours. Then there’s the car rental, the hotels and the meals to plan. There were three moms and our respective boys on this particular trip and each one of the moms provided a necessary skill: one was the designated driver, one was the navigator/scheduler and one just got shit done.

2. Go shopping.

Or to a concert or a sporting event or out for a fabulous local meal. Whatever you do, do not make the entire trip about visiting the school or your child will never, ever want to go beyond the first campus. We went to a concert in Indianapolis, checked out the ‘honky-tonks’ in Nashville and found a taco place near the beach in LA. Find activities that your kid likes and add them to the schedule so they can see what’s available around and beyond the school.

3.  What I learned from our mad morning routine.

If you know you are running a little late for the campus tour don’t bail – just jump in (this means a little late – like 5-10 minutes not 30). The first few minutes of the tour is usually filled with picking up materials (which you can grab later) and a lot of logistical stuff like background about the college, size of the student body and a lot of details about the school that you probably already know because if you are touring a school you have done a little homework on it (right??). Sometimes, it’s better to take that extra five minutes to drink your much needed latte and have your kid inhale a breakfast sandwich (see #9 below). Sure, one of the other parents glared at us as we ran towards the group waving our Starbucks bags and trying not to spill our coffee but he was also the parent who asked how many books were in the library and if the coffee bar had cappuccinos so… (Just remember to be respectful during the rest of the tour and unwrap your food away from the group – crinkly paper bags are highly distracting).

4. As for the tour guides, just because they trip and fall doesn’t mean the tour will be a bust

What you’ve heard before is true: a bad tour guide can ruin the school for your kid. The best tour guides were the ones who were enthusiastic about the school but not so happy that they scared your kid off. Seriously. This can happen. We flew two hours to tour a school my son was interested in but within the first few minutes he wanted to leave. “I don’t want to go to school here,  Mom. The tour guide is way too happy.” One tour guide spent most of the time talking about the party he was at the night before and told us that you could blow off classes because the classes were recorded. I was not amused and even my kid was frustrated by the lack of substantive information.

On the flip side, we had a great tour guide at Occidental College in LA. The guide took us everywhere and spent as much time talking about his classes as he did telling us about the great local food scene, the quick bike ride to the beach and the impressive line-up of bands that perform on campus (that made our kids’ ears perk up). Seriously, we three moms agreed that we would go to school there if we could. The fact that our guide tripped while walking backwards did not diminish anyone’s enthusiasm.

5. It’s better to self-tour then to get stuck in a bad tour.

Never be afraid to cut your losses and flee – or at the very least hit the admissions office and grab a map. If you aren’t seeing what you want during the formal tour, by all means, go off on your own and let your kid explore. Self tours are also great when the school may not be high on your kid’s list but you are in the neighborhood or if you can’t fit in a formal tour. Some of the best experiences that my son had was when he was able to explore what he wanted at his leisure. 

6.  Talk to people other than the tour guide and the other kids in the tour group.

Some of the best information we got was from students who were walking around campus. Of course, it took our then 17-year-old boys a few prods (ok, shoves) to get them to talk to people but after a while they were able to ask random students about the social scene, the teachers and the best places to find tacos.

7. Go off the grid

If you are traveling with athletic kids make sure you see the athletic facilities. They may not be gunning for an athletic scholarship but they will probably want to use the fitness facilities or the athletic fields. Likewise, if you have a bookworm, look at the libraries. If you have a computer geek look for the computer science equipment. Just ask for what you need. These buildings/facilities/equipment aren’t always part of the tour but if they are important to your kid make sure you check them out. This can make or break your kid’s decision.

8. Eat

If you attempt to drag – I mean, take – your child on a college tour and he or she has not been properly fed you will regret it. Approximately 10 minutes into the tour your normally polite child will become a holy terror without some sort of snack/lunch/10-course meal (depending on the kid). A latte will not cut it – you need fuel. These tours require stamina – how else will you or your child be able to take in the non-stop information being spewed by the tour guide or survive the barrage of inane questions asked by well-meaning parents.

9. Let your kid take the lead

You may fall in love with a school and wish you had gone there but, alas, that ship has sailed (maybe). If your kid has no interest, move on. You will find that it is really not worth the battle.

What would you add?

 

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Why You Couldn’t Pay Me Enough To Go Back To High School


 

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I was flipping through channels on television the other day and came across the movie, Never Been Kissed, starring Drew Barrymore as a 25-year-old newspaper reporter who returns to high school for a story.

It’s not a horror film.

Ok, not really but it could be considered one by some because, really, who on earth would want to relive their high school days??

Don’t get me wrong. I actually liked high school when I was there. I had friends I really liked, classes I enjoyed and an all around good experience.

I still wouldn’t go back.

Even if I could go back knowing everything I know now (like, boys are not worth that much energy at that age and you should really only be friends with people who make you laugh), I still wouldn’t do it.

On the other hand, I’d go back to college in a heartbeatYou would think that college would be wrought with so much more pressure than high school, with the whole what are you studying because when you leave here you need a job to support yourself but I found that most people found their college experience to be a bit more liberating.. College was a time when everything seemed possible. We had the freedom to study whatever we wanted, to figure things out without 24/7 parental supervision, and to be who we wanted to be without feeling like we were under a microscope (even though, of course, no one was paying attention to anyone but themselves during high school).

Maybe it was the high school I went to or the school that my kids attend but at least for me, these are the top reasons why I would never, ever, even for a few million dollars, go back to high school:

  1. Being surrounded by people who have undeveloped pre-frontal cortices, aka being surrounded by people who do stupid shit all the time but can’t help themselves.

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  1. Algebra
  1. The boredom of taking the same classes Every. Single. Day. 180 days of Chemistry? Ugh.
  1. Taking classes that you have to take instead of taking classes that interest you. There are so many cool classes offered at my son’s high school—glass blowing! Shakespeare’s Literary Traditions! Forensic Science! Multi-variable calculus (Ha! Totally kidding. See #2 above)—but he won’t be able to take any of them. Between his high school’s requirements and the classes that colleges expect you to take in high school there is no room for the really out-of-the box electives.
  1. High school dances. First, there’s the anxiety over who to ask or whether you will be asked, then there’s the ridiculous need to ask your date creatively because NO ONE just says, “Hey, do you want to go to Homecoming?” anymore; then there’s the cost to attend a party that no one likes because, let’s face it, the dance is boring; and, of course, there is spending the entire evening with someone who you said yes to a month before the dance but now you can’t remember why you agreed. (See #1 above for a possible explanation).
  1. Having to wake up really early every day to go somewhere you would rather not be for at least another three hours (hmmm…that sounds a lot like a bad job).
  1. Gym class in the middle of the day where you have to run laps but there’s no time after running to shower. Seriously??
  1. Cliques, Mean Girls and Social Climbing. It starts early and often but the best part (or the worst depending on your perspective) is one’s clique or status in high school is sooooooooo irrelevant after graduation. If we could only get our kids to believe that.

 

How about you? Would you go back to high school if you could? Why or why not? What would you add to this list???

Her Mother’s Daughter – A guest post

While many kids are heading to college this fall to start on a new adventure it’s good to remember that not everyone takes this “conventional” post-high school path.

And that’s ok.

It may be hard to accept, but our kids are on their own journeys and they need to find their own paths. But, maybe, just maybe, as our guest blogger, Christina Jones, found, part of that “different” path is not so different from yours after all.

 

Having a daughter who took a “different,” non-traditional path, has been a challenge to my own identity. She is my first-born and I was a young mother in my twenties with hopes and dreams (and expectations) when she was born. I was a bit of a rebel myself and often went the extra mile to resist conforming as a teen so I wanted my daughter to be spirited, too—a rebel—and to create her own path; I just didn’t expect her to surpass my own spirited nature and I certainly did not expect the range of emotions that “her path” would stir up in me.

I should have known what path my daughter would take when she was 4-years-old and she had a ballet recital. I had invited her grandparents (my father and his wife) and my oldest sister, who was the most conventional among my four sisters, to watch my adorable little ballerina. As all the little girls lined up towards the audience, their backs to the mirror along the wall, and began to perform the ballet moves they had practiced in sync with one another, my little one stood facing the mirror, back to the audience, and made faces in the mirror the entire time! I thought she was shy…yet, when I look back on other examples throughout her childhood, like wearing sparkly sandals with wool tights to church, or wanting to change her name to Brenda, or telling everyone when she was six that she was going to go to college in Bethlehem, that she was on her way to becoming the free spirit she is now.

I always considered myself an open-minded “hippie” (I was born in the 60’s after all!). I was the first in my family to live on campus at college in Chicago, the only one of all my sisters to take up weightlifting as a young teen with aspirations of being a body builder! I spent a semester abroad in college and married a free-spirited guy (outside my race, mind you) and spent a year backpacking through Europe, living in Greece and Ireland, and traveling everywhere in between, sleeping in tents and hostels and hiking through the mountains, teaching English to young children while my husband played guitar and made signs in calligraphy for any business that would pay for this lost art (did I mention he is her father?).

Never did I expect that 20 years later, my own daughter would make my escapades look conventional. When she was a junior in high school, she started to drop hints that she did not intend to go straight to college. I then, like the supportive, non-conventional (or so I thought) mother that I am, brought home brochures of gap year programs and suggested she take a year off to explore one of these programs. She was less than enthused; clearly I had missed what her intentions were. “I would never travel with an organized school program,” she declared.

I think I was still in denial.

I continued to make suggestions that included sending her to Greece to stay with relatives and sending her to a yoga retreat in upstate New York. Although she enjoyed these experiences, her itch was greater than mine ever was…or was it?

After graduating from high school, she called me on the phone and asked for her passport. When I asked why, she simply replied, “I am going to India.” After several more questions I realized that her plan did not go beyond that—no program, no mission work, no time-frame. I told my then 18-year-old that she did not have my blessing. Her response? “I don’t need your blessing, I just need my passport.”

At that point I thought about what my own mother would do. I could bribe my daughter with a car or offer to pay for sculpting lessons or plan a trip to India together so she could “get it out of her system.” None of these ideas were realistic, nor she did not care about those things anyway. When I told my family what she was planning, they said, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” I didn’t understand. I went to college straight after high school and then grad school, too. Sure I became a vegetarian and married outside my Greek culture and took off with a backpack and a tent with my new husband at 23. Sure I opted out of law school for a career in social work, but I was married and I had career goals and, and, and.

Then I realized: I created this. The more I said this out loud the more I started to feel proud of the young woman I had raised and proud of myself, too. She took off for India for several months and came back with the determination to work and save all her money to go back.

And she did.

She went back and has never come back.

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Photo credit: Naomi Pongolini

No, she is not still in India; now she lives with her Italian boyfriend in Berlin, working and going to school (and, no, not a conventional university). Yet, now, when she called me upon enrolling in the program for naturopathic medicine and said “Mommy, I’m going to be a witch doctor, or when she Facetimes me to tell me she just got back from Croatia where sleeping on a hammock and not showering for a week at a time is when she feels most “at home,” I think to myself, “I created this” and “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.” She is her mother’s daughter and she represents, not only the rebelliousness I have in me, but also the courage, determination (and stubbornness) to do whatever she sets her mind to. Her experiences go beyond what I have ever done—she is still, after all, on her own path, far different from mine—but there is a part of me that lives vicariously through her…awaiting to hear about her next adventure.

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Photo credit: Naomi Pongolini

 

Christina Jones is a psychotherapist and a mother of five in a blended family. She writes about challenges (big or small) that individuals, couples and families face in this journey called life! www.christinajoneslcsw.com

On Grown & Flown

If you have kids I hope you are following Grown & Flown, a terrific website and blog about parenting older kids. I have been a fan for many years and I am so excited that one of my pieces has been published on the site.As a parent, one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with is letting go of my kids and trusting them to figure things out for themselves. It seems even harder, however, when we are constantly bombarded by stories of terrorism, stabbings and other random acts of meaningless violence that could bring harm to our children. My first impulse is to keep my kids close but, alas, that’s neither helpful nor possible.

You can read about how I’m coming to terms with letting my boys go here.

 

Parenting In An Age of Uncertainty

I spent the morning setting up emergency contact information on my boys’ phones and researching the best tracking app to add to my 16-year-old’s phone for his weekend at Lollapalooza, the outdoor music festival in Chicago. I also tried to show him a map of the venue and where I want him to head in case of an emergency but he’s not playing along.

Am I paranoid? Well, yeah.

Why wouldn’t I be? Every morning when I check the news there is another story about a shooting/bombing/attack where someone’s child has been killed. It doesn’t matter if the victim is 13 or 30 it’s still someone’s kid and somewhere, some parent is thinking that he or she did not do enough to protect their child.

But how are we supposed to do that exactly?

This morning I was greeted by the story of teenagers being shot in front of their parents as the kids left an all ages show in Fort Myers, Florida. So far reports say that it was not an act of terrorism.

It doesn’t make me feel any better.

My biggest worry used to be about a mass shooting at my boys’ schools but slowly I had to expand my list to include movie theaters, shopping malls, cafes, expressways and nightclubs. And no longer am I only concerned about the unstable lone gunman; now I have to worry about, as the Wall Street Journal noted, terrorists engaging in “indiscriminate targets in civilian life, with the goal of killing as many people as possible.”

I have a hard enough time protecting my boys from injuries caused by sports and and their own stupidity.

As much as I joke about wrapping my kids in bubble wrap and keeping them home there is no way I can really protect them short of locking them in my house (although it still may not be enough for some people).

My younger son thinks I’m an overprotective pessimist. I prefer the term “planner.” Yes, I absolutely recognize that all the planning in the world cannot prevent the unexpected, and, unfortunately, the truly unexpected is fast becoming the new norm. I do believe, however, that having some plan might help – me, that is, because I need to have something.

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As if a weekend concert isn’t enough to put me over the edge, my older son is leaving for a semester abroad in Europe in less than a month. It is taking everything in me to let him go. Granted he’s 20 and I probably have little say in the matter but I have contemplated—on more than one occasion—not paying the tuition bill. “Sorry, check got lost in the mail, I guess you can’t go.”

I’ve also considered bribing him with a shiny new car or just a plain ol’ bag of cash. I can’t even imagine him being so inaccessible at a time when the world is so unpredictable.

Of course the world was never “predictable.” Accidents happen, things get stolen, much is out of our control. But, as a parent I worry about it all.

I didn’t really get it until I became a parent. I traveled to Rome 30 years ago for a semester abroad and flew into the same airport where terrorists shot and killed 13 people just weeks before I arrived.

I still can’t believe my parents let me go.

A few months later the US was attacking Libya and we were on high alert for attacks on Americans. I know my parents were worried about me and they didn’t have cell phones, the Internet or Facebook’s Safety Check to stay touch in case of an emergency. I will never forget when I returned home from that trip that my dad’s hair had turned completely white in my absence. Sure, maybe it was time for his hair to go gray but I’m pretty sure it was stress-induced premature graying.

I totally get it now.

So, yes, barring any unforeseen developments in the next month my son go to Europe and my hair, like my dad’s, will turn completely gray while he is gone. I will attempt to arm him with information and help him prepare for the worst even if it seems pointless. I will force him to seek out the American Embassy when he gets to his destination (or I will cut off funding—fast); I will find contacts throughout Europe to formulate an evacuation plan; I will reiterate (over and over and over again) that he should avoid crowds, travel during off times and always be aware of his surroundings and I will hope that all my planning and worrying was for naught.

As for the outdoor concert this weekend, I’ve done what I can. Now I’m just hoping for severe thunderstorms and flooding of the venue. A girl can dream can’t she??

It’s Official: I’m Useless-ish

I’ve become irrelevant.

No, really. Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, my children grew up and they no longer need me.

A good thing, I know, but still.

See, last week my youngest got his license. Finally! I thought as I sat in Hell’s waiting room the DMV. No more days broken up by a kid’s schedule. No more trying to finish work, clean the house, run errands and prep dinner during the two hour window between shuttling back and forth to practices or during the surprisingly short block of time between morning drop off and afternoon pick up from school.

And, most importantly, no more late night pickups from friend’s houses!

Yay!

I would finally be able to don my pjs before 10 pm and not have to worry about running out in said pjs and being pulled over by a cop who would assume that I had been drinking or that I stole the car simply because I look like a vagrant. No silk robe or adorable short sets for me. No, my choice of sleepwear consists of a ratty old pair of shorts, a faded t-shirt and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I stole from my brother in high school. Pair that with my drooping sleep-deprived eyelids and my mop of hair and you can understand my fear of being mistaken for a drifter.

Those days are over!

So imagine my surprise when my son got his license and drove away from me for the first time and my first thought was: Wait! What? Driving you everywhere and bitching about it is my job!

Just like that. After 16 years as a chauffeur my services were no longer needed. I’d been unceremoniously let go.

Wow.

The running joke in our house is that I am constantly trying to get fired from this mom gig. When I cook a mediocre meal or I forget to wash someone’s favorite shirt I beg my family to fire me. “I’m just no good at this job,” I say. “Go ahead, fire me. I’ll be ok.”

But I didn’t really mean it.

I read somewhere that our job as a parent is to make our job as a parent unnecessary. We are supposed to give our kids all of the skills they need to do all of the things we do for them so they can go live productive adult lives and not need to call us to figure out how to boil water. (That’s what YouTube is for).

You teach them things, like how to read, write, use the bathroom on their own, cross the street, organize their homework, feed themselves something (anything!) and do laundry because you want them to be free of you and a little part of you wants to be free of all of that crap, too.

Be careful what you wish for.

I don’t think it matters if you are a stay-at-home mom, a stay-at-home dad, or a mom or dad who works full time or part time, most parents just want to take care of their kids. They want to nurture and dote on their kids and part of doing that is by doing things for their kids. However, when your kids no longer need you to do things for them it is both gratifying (Yay! Job well done!) and bittersweet (Who will I read a bedtime story to now??).

I’m, of course, not talking about the mind-numbing or gross stuff that they eventually can do on their own (believe me, I never felt nostalgic for the diaper changing days) but the stuff that is occasionally fulfilling. Like driving them around. As their private driver I felt my kids were safe(r) if I was driving. I also had the best conversations with my kids while driving since they did not feel the pressure of having a face-to-face conversation. And, (probably the best part) I could eavesdrop on carpool conversations. For whatever reason, kids forget that you exist when you are the driver and they talk about things they would never, ever normally say in front of you.

Sigh. Those days are over.

Now I will just need to be satisfied with my new, pared down job description. My job has been streamlined not eliminated entirely because it’s feeding time at our house (otherwise known as lunch) and as I write this my 20-year-old son just asked what there is to eat.

I guess I’m not completely irrelevant after all.

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Bye, Mom!

 

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Thank You All You Mothers

After 20 Mother’s Days as a mom and far too many to mention as a daughter and daughter-in-law, I’ve realized a few things about the day. Perhaps I’m alone in these thoughts, perhaps not. Let me know.

  1. Mother’s Day has an apostrophe because it’s supposed to be about honoring one’s individual mother so…it should really be about my children “honoring” ME, but it never is, which is fine. Really.
  2. Handmade cards from your younger children will always be better than the store bought ones you get when they are grown. Not that I don’t appreciate all of them but, c’mon nothing is better than these:
  3. 98% of girls will gush about their mothers on social media but only 1% of boys will do the same. As the mother of boys I know this is true and it’s fine. Really. No, I swear.
  4. If you wait until the last minute to order flowers for your mom they will cost four times as much and they will look like this:IMG_2977
  5. If you have children who play sports there will be multiple games scheduled on Mother’s Day (but, shockingly, none on Father’s Day).
  6. You will never find the perfect last-minute gift for your mom if you look at web sites that scream: “Mother’s Day Gifts Your Mom Actually Wants!” While I appreciate some of the ideas, my mom has never wanted a unicorn head, at least not that I know of and certainly not for Mother’s Day.
  7. Most moms I know don’t want any gifts for Mother’s Day anyway; all they want is time — either with or without their kids depending on how old the kids are. When my kids were little, for instance, I really, really, desperately, could not wait for some time by myself but, alas, my kids had other plans. They LOVED spending time with me on Mother’s Day. It was all Mommy, it’s your day and we are going to the park and out to eat and we are going to play baseball and take a walk and make a craft and, and, and. So, I played along and took time off on another day. Now that they are older, of course, all I really, really want to do is spend some time with them, which I get to do, but it’s not quite the same. Sure there are hugs and meals and some conversation (they are 16 and 20-years-old so I don’t expect much by way of conversation) but what I wouldn’t give for a little bit of Mommy, Mommy, Mommy (just a little bit boys, in case you are reading this).
  8. And finally, I’ve figured out that Mother’s Day is really a day to be grateful for all the mothers in your life. I am so grateful for my own mom, of course, but also for all of the women who have taken care of me and, especially, all of the women who take care of my boys. I know that I am not the only woman who feeds my boys, worries about my boys and would step in and mother my kids as needed. In case I don’t say it often enough – thank you.

 

 

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