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.

 

 

That a Difference a Year Makes

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What a difference a year makes.

Last year at this time nothing could have stopped me from picking up my older son from college—not my bad back, not my schedule, nada. I had been waiting the entire year to have him back home and the pick up would mark the first day of the summer together again!

Yay!

I didn’t care about the 3+ hour drive to pick him up, followed by the 3+ hours of organizing/packing/loading/of his college life into the car and the 3+ hour drive back home within 24 hours. It didn’t matter that my fantasy of engaging in deep meaningful conversation with my son was shattered because he slept while I drove and didn’t utter a peep except to ask when we would be home and when we could stop for food.

It was all good because he was coming home!

Well, that was then and this is now.

Now my back is kinda sore, we’ve been traveling a lot recently and, well, I have this class that I’m taking on Tuesday afternoons –just for fun – and I would miss it if I had to pick him up.

I know. I know. I DO suck as a parent!

In case you think I am an ogre, I did try to figure out a way to pick him up and make it to my class. For instance, he mentioned that some people were staying for a few extra days to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. “You should stay!” I exclaimed probably too enthusiastically. “That sounds like so much fun!”

“Nah, I’ll come home Tuesday,” he said.

“I can drive down over the weekend to pick up your stuff and you can take the bus home,” I suggested. “In case you change your mind at the last minute.”

(See, I am so thoughtful.)

“No, that’s ok. I hate the bus,” he said.

Hmmm…

“What if I drop off the car over the weekend and I take the bus back? Then you can stay as long as you want and drive home!”

Nope.

See, I tried.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I can’t wait to have him home.

Really.

I would just like someone else to pick him up so I can get to my class.

What? He’s going to be home all summer; there will be plenty of time for me to be with him.

It’s amazing what you can get used to, right?

When my son first left for college I didn’t think I would ever get used to our “New Normal.” I worried that I would never grow accustomed to setting the table for three people instead of four or get used to how quiet the house was with only one kid left. I never imagined not wanting to spend as much time as possible with him even if that included driving in a car while he slept next to me.

Well, things change.

That doesn’t mean that my heart doesn’t ache when he leaves but, for now, I know he is coming home. And, in this case, he will be home for three months – three months that will require a whole other set of changes that I have to get used to.

Last summer we had an unexpected bumpy re-entry when my son came home from school. All visions I had of a warm and fuzzy return were marred with power struggles and readjustments.

“Stay in your room until you remember what it’s like to live with people who are not 19-year-old boys!” I remember screaming, ah, saying.

Those first few weeks were not pretty.

We eventually adjusted to that change and then again when he left for college for his sophomore year. This summer, I am sure there will be similar changes that we need to adjust to so why rush it?

So, yes, while I am excited for him to be coming back he’ll be home soon enough. In the mean time, my husband can get a head start on the joys of summer with our 20-year-old.

I’m off to class.

 

 

Are You Your Kids’ Personal Punching Bag?

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Apparently, while I was teaching my kids to read and write and be decent human beings I was also teaching them to use me as their personal punching bag. Every day, without fail, one of my kids will vent at me and, while venting, will find a way to blame me for whatever has occurred in their lives. Venting about missing a deadline to turn in a paper? Must be because I didn’t teach them better time management skills. Venting about being sick? Must be because I didn’t tell them what medicines they should be taking. Venting about not being independent enough? Must be because I didn’t make them do more chores!

As their mom I am happy to be a sounding board when they are struggling with a problem. I am happy to listen while they beat themselves up for making a mistake and, of course, I will always be there if they are having a hard time and just need a shoulder to cry on but, seriously, why is everything my fault?!?

Because I set up our lives to be that way, that’s why.

I walk around feeling guilty for everything that goes wrong in my kids’ lives. (Yes, I have issues, but that should be obvious by the title of my blog.) I assume that I have failed in some way if they screw up.

It’s funny because whenever my kids do something well I never think, Wow, I did a great job parenting my child. Nope, apparently my influence does not extend to the good stuff – just the bad.

Even now, I’m thinking: They blame me because I taught them to blame me!

Ugh.

A friend of mine told me that her 22-year-old daughter was complaining recently about her lack of money management skills. “You should have forced me to work through college and pay all of my bills so I would have a better understanding of how to deal with money issues!” she told her mom. My friend told me that she felt strangely guilty for a minute before she realized that her daughter was just mad at herself for not having the foresight to take on money management responsibilities earlier.

“The way to deal with this behavior,” my friend explained, “is to recognize that the kids are simply projecting their blame on you, an easy and convenient target.” To deal with this bullshit, I mean, behavior, I am supposed to substitute the word “I” for “you” every time my kids start to blame me for something. So when son calls me from college and starts to bitch about his lingering head cold telling me, “You did not tell me what meds would make me feel better!” I am supposed to be hearing, I did not figure out what meds would make me feel better.

Hmmm…I feel better already; that might actually work. (Or, I could just not take his calls – hey, don’t judge; it’s a work in progress.)

Last night I had another opportunity to use my new anti-projection techniques. My youngest told me I should go back in time and force him to do more chores because then he would be more independent. He said the reason he is not independent is because I always do everything for him (this from the kid who asks me to get up and get him a bowl of ice cream every night while he sits on the couch).

He’s right, of course, I should have forced him and his brother to do more. I should have dealt with the nonstop whining that ensued whenever I asked them to do anything. I should have dealt with the resulting pools of water from their attempts at washing the dishes or the dog or pretty much anything involving water. I should have dealt with the glacial pace at which any chore I asked them to do was accomplished.

But I didn’t.

Is it too late??

Clearly my kid wishes he was more independent, at least that’s what his outburst indicated when I substituted “I” for “you” in his statements. What he was really saying was that he should have forced himself to do chores but, let’s face it, it’s so much easier to blame me because, like most people, he would rather sit on the couch and have someone get him ice cream than get up and get it himself.

And what about me? What am I projecting when I lash out at my kids for not doing something? When I yelled back at my son last night and said, “You should make yourself independent!” did I actually mean that I was mad at myself for not making him help around the house?

So, last night, in order to help my son on his quest for independence, I left. I stomped out of the house to meet my friends and thought,  I’ll show him, I’ll make him fend for himself…right after I put dinner on the table and remind my husband to clean up.

Hey, baby steps. I just figured out how to deal with my projection issues you can’t expect me to take on my avoidance issues at the same time.

 

 

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