The Last First Day of High School

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When I first quit my job to stay home with my kids I had big plans. Being with my kids was my only job and I was going to make the most of it. Those warnings about “appreciating the time with your kids because it goes by so fast” were not going to be lost on me!

I learned, rather quickly, however, that it’s really hard to appreciate EVERY moment, like the ones when, sleep-deprived and delirious, I would curl up on the floor of my younger son’s bedroom, praying that my mere proximity to him would help him drift back to sleep at four in the morning. I wasn’t trying to wish away his babyhood but, at that moment, while he giggled and babbled at me through the slats of his crib, clearly not going back to sleep, I would silently repeat the mantra, this too shall pass.

Then there were those mind-numbing days when we would make our daily park/library/grocery store circuit, desperate to fill the hours before bedtime. Soon they will start school full time and I will finally be able to get things done, I would think.

Once they were in school I longed for the days when they would be able to do their own homework without my nagging, take care of their own things, and eventually be able to drive so I could skip the carpools and late night pick ups. Just this summer, for instance, as I waited up—again—for my youngest son to get home, I caught myself thinking, once summer is over and he is back at school I can finally go to bed before midnight.

This too shall pass…

And then it did.

And now summer is over and it’s my youngest son’s last first day of high school and I’m wondering what happens when this passes??

What happens to me when my nest is empty?

When I dropped him off for the first day of his senior year of high school I thought I was simply sad because it had all gone by so quickly; he would be heading to college next year and, given his uncommunicative nature, I would probably rarely, if ever, talk to him. But then, when I realized that at this time next year I will have no one left to drive to school (or pick up after or make dinner for or dote on…), my unease grew rapidly. Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of doing whatever I want with my time and I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be.

In my rising panic I turned to my good friend (who also happens to be a therapist) to help me deal with my immediate need to calm the f**k down. Christina Jones, LCSW, suggested that I view this new phase of my life as a time to figure out who I am today and who my “future self” can be.

“What if you see this as an opportunity to discover who you are now and accept that it might not be who you used to be, even as a mother?” she asked me.

I could tell this was not going to be a quick fix.

“You can never really go back,” she added, “But you can take who you’ve been – in every chapter in your life – and figure out who you are now. That can be exciting.”

Hmmm…exciting, terrifying, anxiety provoking, all of the above?

This isn’t the first pivot I’ve had to make. When I decided to go from full-time lawyer to full-time mom, I went into a bit of spiral, as well. I would joke that I was a “retired lawyer” instead of admitting that I was a stay-at-home-mom – I simply couldn’t let go of that persona even though it was my idea to make the change. It took me a while to let go of who I had been—or thought I was—and to come to terms with the idea that my focus had shifted and continued to shift with each new phase in my and my family’s lives.

And here we are again; new phase, new focus.

This time, as I plan my next act, I will try to be more mindful of the passing days and try to embrace even the moments that can’t end fast enough. In a year I will be a “retired stay-at-home-mom,” and who knows what else. Maybe “the mom who has to nag her college graduate son who moves back home for a year to save his money while he works before grad school”?

This is very exciting.

 

 

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Savoring Those Last Moments With Your College-Bound Kid

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Parents everywhere are preparing for the imminent departure of their soon-to-be college kids. Some parents are shedding tears of sorrow and some (if not most) are crying tears of joy as the unending power struggle between parent and child comes to a close – at least until fall break.

When my oldest was a high school senior I remember thinking that he could not leave soon enough. Every day was a battle and every fight was punctuated by the words, “I can’t wait to get out of this place!” I don’t know what my son was saying because I was yelling those words so loudly that the neighbors started to ask where I was going and when I was leaving.

But seriously, my son could not wait to leave and every day –sometimes every hour – I had to remind him that although he would be going to college soon and I wouldn’t know where he was or what he was doing while he was living at home we still had rules, which included being civil to everyone around him.

College couldn’t come soon enough.

Senior year in high school and the summer right before college is a time when kids really start to separate from their parents. They are testing out their independence to ready themselves for the moment when mom and dad will no longer be there to guide them – except via text at all hours of the day and night.

This separation is known in parenting circles as “soiling the nest,” (not literally, in case you are worried). As kids try to come to terms with the idea of leaving the comforts of home and deal with their uneasiness about entering “adulthood” they develop a swagger, an I-don’t-need-my-parents façade to mask their nervousness with the transition. Instead of wallowing in their anxiety and sorrow they tend to separate messily and make everyone involved want to shove them out of the tree (not literally, in case you are worried).

I worry about this phenomenon as my youngest son starts his senior year of high school. Even though I know what may (I’m optimistic) be coming, I will still be shocked and saddened when my usually polite, sweet child tries to push the limits of our house rules and the limits of my patience. I really don’t want to spend this year fighting with him, resenting him and wishing him away.

And, yet, that seems to be the norm come the end of August.

So how do you make the most out of the little time you have left before your kid goes to college? (And don’t say, avoid him at all costs). 

Even if the last thing you want to do is spend another second with your kid, believe me, when you are ugly crying at drop off you will wish you did.

Here are some ideas from seasoned moms about how to spend those final weeks, days and hours with your kid before they start college:

  1. Invite another friend and his/her mom for a lunch, a mani/pedi, a baseball game, a movie – whatever your kid is into. Tell your kid it was the other mom’s idea if that will get him to go.
  2. Enforce a mandatory dinner – at least one. Include your kid’s friends if that makes it easier. Whatever it takes.
  3. Sneak in a family game night, even if “family” includes friends. Board games not your family’s thing? Play tennis, go to a movie, go golfing, go for a bike ride, just do something with the family. Feel free to riff on this line: “Your little/older sister/brother is going to miss you a lot so maybe we can all go to a movie/dinner/football game so you can spend time with her.”
  4. Use the family pet as a bargaining chip and “suggest” your son or daughter join you for a few walks around the block with the dog/cat/pet rat to ease the pet’s transition.
  5. Go shopping. Bribery works.
  6. If your child surprises you by sidling up to you and chatting pleasantly, don’t do a double take and say something like, “Now there’s the sweet boy I know. Where have you been?” which can only lead to your baby bird reverting to his vulture self. Instead, as my friend, Kim, said, “Pull up a chair and enjoy the moment because it’s probably all you are going to get.”
  7. And, if you are down to the wire and it’s move-in day eve, splurge on a movie and room service if you are in a hotel. My older son and I did this before his freshman year and it became a tradition of ours. It was 2+ hours of uninterrupted time together. When I take him back this year – the last year of his college move-in days – we plan to do the same thing. Sure, room service and an in-room movie are ridiculously expensive but those 2 hours are worth every penny to me.

 

Any other thoughts for spending time with your college-bound kid?

 

 

The Amazing Race: Family Edition!

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I love a good scavenger hunt, which is why, when I was searching for a way to teach my family where we store essentials items in the house I thought about creating a treasure hunt to help them learn.

I know what you are thinking, what a fun way for young kids to get to know where things are! Yes, it would have been fun for my young kids only this treasure hunt is for my 17-year-old, my 21-year-old and my husband.

Apparently, I forgot to train them at an early age.

I think it really shouldn’t be that hard to remember where the extra jarred tomato sauce is, where we keep the extra sheets for overnight guests, or where the cupcake pan is because they have all been in the same place for the 20+ years we have lived in the this house.

And, in case you think my system of organization is at fault, I believe that I have organized our home in a way that makes sense. For instance, the dishes and glassware are in the kitchen and close to the dishwasher; extra towels, toothpaste, toothbrushes, soap, etc. are in all of the bathrooms; and cooking utensils are organized by use, i.e. measuring cups and other baking needs are in one area, small appliances are grouped together and grilling accessories are in a separate area.

Sounds logical, right? (and, yes, maybe a bit uptight – I’ll own that)

And yet…

Not a day goes by without a “where is the…?” question. Does my family think that once a week I rearrange the shelves and closets just to mess with them? Although messing with them is something I might consider doing, I assure you that I have not done that (who has time for that!?).

I realize that no one in my house really needs to remember where anything is kept – why would they when I am always available to tell them. It’s like being in the passenger seat when my husband is driving. He doesn’t pay attention to where we are going because he knows I will tell him.

But, what if I’m in a coma? How will they find the toothpaste? Or the peanut butter?? I truly believe that dying is the only thing that would stop my kids from asking me where something is in the house.

Really.

Because even if I’m not home, it is apparently easier to text me and ask where something is then to look for it. And, yes, I realize I don’t have to answer them but they are very persistent and I am clearly an enabler.

Since I don’t think I’m going anywhere soon (knock on wood), I had to come up with another way to train my boys. I remembered the time when my kids were little and the only way to get them to do anything was to turn it into a game. If they needed to get dressed I would say, “Go get dressed, I’ll time you!” and they would race off to see how fast they could get dressed. If I needed them to clean the playroom it was a race, and if I needed them to go get me something it was timed. So in that vein, I’m creating The Amazing Race: Family Edition.

Except without the million-dollar prize and the weird foods.

Whatever, it will still be fun!

I started compiling a list of questions to guide my family to certain often used items.

One of my favorite questions that I’ve come up with so far is, “Where is the water?”

(I assume no one knows where the water is because they always say out loud, “The dog needs water.” But no one fills up the water bowl. It must be because they don’t know where they water is!)

I’m envisioning a sort of scavenger hunt/multiple choice game with prizes hidden in certain locations if they actually go find the needed item.

For instance, one of the multiple choice questions is:

You want to spit out your gum but the garbage can in the kitchen doesn’t have a garbage bag in it. You:

a) spit your gum in the toilet and flush;

b) wrap up your gum in a napkin and leave it on the counter or;

c) find a garbage bag. Extra points if you know where the extra bags are kept!

 

I can’t give away too many of the questions now because they haven’t played the game yet. I’ll let you know who wins. My boys are nothing if not competitive so this may actually work.

Stay tuned.

 

How about your house?

Do your kids know where the flour is? How about the extra sheets? The extra dog food?

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Some Dos and Don’ts to Help Your Kid Deal With a Broken Heart

I just got off the phone with a friend of mine whose daughter, a senior in college, broke up with her on-again-off-again boyfriend. According to my friend, the couple could never quite get on the same page at the same time even after four years. This time her daughter wanted the relationship to progress but her boyfriend’s heart wasn’t in it.

“She’s devastated,” my friend told me. “Part of me wants to make her comfort food and the other part of me wants to tell her to get over it because we all know he’s not ‘the one’ anyway. What do I do?” she asked.

I’m no expert on counseling anyone with a broken heart. Even with the hundreds of hours spent as a teenager dissecting every little detail of my friends’ and my relationships, none of us really knew how to help anyone through the painful stages of a breakup. But – my friend wanted my opinion and who am I not to over-analyze a relationship with a friend – old habits die hard, I guess.

So here are some dos and don’ts for helping a kid through a breakup.

  1. Don’t bash the ex.

My friend’s first impulse was to remind her daughter about all of the bad things the boyfriend did. Really rip into him to remind her why the relationship hasn’t worked and why it wouldn’t work. I suggested she not do that because chances are it will bite her in the ass.

I know of what I speak.

When I was in law school, a good friend of mine was dating a girl who flirted with Every Single Guy She Met – often in front of my friend. It made my blood boil. I was so excited when they broke up that I forgot about the cardinal rule of friends and exes: Do Not Speak Badly About Your Friend’s Ex Because She Might Not Stay an Ex For Long. So I happily told him how bad she was for him and how she flirted with everyone and how he was better off without her.

Then they got back together.

Then they got married.

Needless to say we weren’t close after that and I was not invited to the wedding. But I learned my lesson. Even when they got divorced I didn’t say a word about her because you never know…

Granted it’s not quite the same when it’s your kid. You want to protect you kids and seeing them in pain can bring out the claws on the momma bear but can you imagine bad-mouthing the boyfriend and in six months having to welcome him into the family when he proposes? That’s not the position you want to be in as a parent.

  1. Don’t push your agenda directly –be subtle with your advice.

I’m not one for holding back but when my older son and his ex-girlfriend did that on-again-off-again stuff I really tried not interfere. I knew from experience and from watching friends go through this that a clean break was a much better plan but I refrained from screaming, “Let it die already! You will never know if you guys like anyone else if you keep getting back together!” Instead I told him in a very nice, very optimistic way, “Maybe if you guys stay apart for a while you can see if you really like each other and then you guys might get back together again after many, many years.”

See. Nice and optimistic.

Then when he tried the, oh, we are just friends bulls**t, I casually asked, “But isn’t it hard to meet anyone else if you guys are together all of the time?”

Subtle, right?

What I wanted to say (actually yell) was that they should delete each other’s contact information, they should date many, many other people, and they should stop pretending that they can just be friends.

But I didn’t.

  1. Do recognize that it is not your problem to fix.

First, it wasn’t my problem to solve. All the advice I could give him was based on my experiences – my own and my friends’ – and none of it was really relevant (or welcome as he pointed out when I started to speak). He needed to work through this on his own.

Second – and this is also based on experience – no one really listens to anyone’s advice when it comes to relationships. It’s really hard to see the logic in something so emotional – at least at first. I couldn’t talk my son out of caring about this girl anymore than my friends could have talked me out of caring about the people I cared about.

  1. Do lend an ear and a shoulder if requested. Just be there.

Give your kid space and lots of ice cream. Maybe throw in some shopping. Then hunker down with a few movies- preferably one where the girl (or guy) realizes she is better off without whoever she is pining for (Legally Blonde, Sliding Doors, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall come to mind). Just because you can’t give advice directly doesn’t mean that you can’t subliminally make your point…

Any advice you would give?

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A Father’s Day Experience

The only thing I remember about Father’s Day  when I was a kid was struggling to come up with a gift for my dad. The gifts were never very original and I’m sure, if my dad was alive today, he wouldn’t be able to tell you a single thing I gave him (all of those red ties and boxed DVD sets blend together after awhile).

Gift giving became a lot easier when I had kids because there was no greater gift for my dad than spending time with his grandkids. He was content just eating a meal with the kids and laughing at their antics or taking them mini-golfing and out for ice cream. Time was all he wanted and I know he remembered every minute of those days until the last.

I’ve always preferred giving (and receiving) an experience as a gift because a trip, an outing, or an adventure is far more memorable than something material (and really, who needs more stuff anyway). Besides it has been scientifically proven that you will be happier if you spend money on experiences not things and who am I to contradict science.

So in that vein I’ve asked a whole bunch of dads to give me their Father’s Day experience wish-list. Feel free to steal the ideas for Mother’s Day because why should dads have all the fun.

We share the same taste in music and love small live concerts so doing that is a treat.”

“An afternoon playing frisbee golf”

“…all being together for a meal when [the kids] are home from college is great. Especially when we hang out by the fire with friends or extended family.”

“Go for a long bike ride together now that she’s older and doesn’t need me to pull her in a Burley.”

“Playing music together in the basement.”

“Get tickets to the bleachers at Wrigley Field for a Cubs game”

“Lagavulin Scotch. Two bottles. One to drink, another for investment or for my kids to drink at my funeral.”

“Golfing together. Not just another golf shirt.”

“Cooking a meal together instead of going out again.”

“Building something together. I need to build a fire pit and I would love for my kids to help.”

“Take a weekend fishing trip together.”

“I’d love to run a ‘mudder’ race with my boys” (https://toughmudder.com/)

“Surfing”

“Make our own beer”

“A night at a comedy club”

“Spend the morning hunting and the afternoon golfing”

“Paintball!”

“Go Kart racing and mini-golf”

Escape Room” 

“A day at the horse races.”

“Go to a music festival”

Now, go forth and plan your adventure.

As Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell professor who has spent 20+ years studying money and happiness noted, “We consume experiences directly with other people…And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”

 

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Happy Father’s Day!

 

 

 

Necessity is the Mother of Independence

They say necessity is the mother of invention but I say it’s the mother of independence.

I’m convinced that if I had continued to work full time when my kids were little that now, at 17 and 21, my boys would, out of necessity, know to fill the soap dispenser with soap and not just add water. They would know how to heat up a can of soup, how to feed themselves something other than goldfish and cereal bars while they waited for someone else to prepare “real” food, and they would know how to shop for groceries.

Last week, in an effort to prepare my boys to enter the world without me I sent my oldest son to the store to buy groceries for dinner and he came back with among other requested things, a four pound, $9.00 organic onion.

A four pound onion!

In his defense, I didn’t specify the size of the onion I wanted; I just sort of assumed that after all these years of watching me shop and prep meals he may have noticed that mutant produce was not the norm.

But you know what they say about people who assume…

Yes, it is a little late for my 21-year-old to just be learning how to shop for groceries, but up to this point he has either lived in a dorm or a fraternity house where food is prepared for him or he has lived at home where I don’t like to send anyone out to buy groceries because, well, a four-pound, $9.00, organic onion. But now, my son is moving into an apartment and he will have to prepare some meals (or find someone to cook for him or get three jobs to pay for take out).

I could take him shopping and attempt to pass on my wisdom but I tried that with teaching him how to do laundry. No matter how many times I went over the steps to do laundry before he left for college he conveniently forgot how the whole system worked. Then, miraculously, when he was away at school and out of clothes he managed to figure it out with only minor damage to a couple of white socks.

See, necessity.

By the same logic, if I take him grocery shopping he will expect me to guide him – and by guide him I mean tell him exactly what to do but nothing will stick. If, for instance, I tell him to check for blemishes on the apples that we are buying he will look straight at me as if he’s listening and then pick up the first apple he sees and drop it in the bag. Only when he is shopping for himself and he has spent his own money will he really care that the banged up apple he just bought is riddled with brown spots and virtually inedible.

I don’t blame him. I didn’t start cooking until I lived on my own. Cooking was never a required chore at home – we owned a restaurant so someone was always cooking for us. Once I moved out I lived on salad bar salads from the local grocery store until I realized how expensive that was. Out of necessity I started “cooking” where I mastered the almost daily meal of scrambled eggs, a microwaved baked potato, and green beans straight out of a can. I’m shocked I didn’t develop scurvy from my limited diet but, hey, it was sustenance.

Eventually, mostly out of boredom, I expanded my meals to include things like baked chicken and pasta with jarred tomato sauce (doctored, of course, with a splash of wine and some dried oregano because I’m fancy). Once I had kids, cooking became even more important because kids need food multiple times a day.

Now, I know plenty of people who never cook; they buy their meals prepared from the grocery store, they order in, they eat cereal. But I really believe that cooking is a necessity for kids who, like my son, do not have unlimited funds. He also eats about six meals a day, so you can see the problem.

So, this summer, as I wait for the shove of necessity to kick in, I will keep sending my sons to the store (probably with much more specific instructions – maybe even pictures!) and I will continue to prattle on about food prep with the hope that something sticks (Wash your hands! Never leave anything on the stove if you leave the room! Always salt tomatoes!)

I will also challenge both of my boys to master the following really, really, simple recipe. If all else fails I will challenge them to find the areas in the grocery store with canned green beans and potatoes. Scurvy be damned.

Pasta with Bacon and tomatoes (or Spaghetti all’ Amatriciana if you want to impress someone)

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Ingredients:

3 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
12 ounces good bacon sliced into little pieces or cut up with a clean kitchen scissors (not the scissors you would use to cut open a package – the one I gave you for the kitchen)
1 small red onion (small!), outside skin removed first, then cut into thin-ish slices and then cut again, in half, to make ½ moon shapes

3 cloves (not heads, just cloves) garlic, (remove papery skin first), then slice
3 to 4 shakes (or 1 1/2 teaspoons hot red pepper flakes)
2 cups jarred tomato sauce (preferably Rao’s Marinara or whatever is on sale)
1 pound spaghetti
Freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

  1. Fill a big pot with water, add 1 tablespoon salt and bring to a boil over medium heat.
  2. While the water is boiling , combine the olive oil, chopped bacon, sliced onion, sliced garlic, and red pepper flakes in 12-inch saute pan (not the pan for eggs; the bigger one).IMG_0227
  3. Place the pan over low heat and cook until the onion is soft and the bacon has cooked off most of its fat but it’s not too crispy. This should take about 10 minutes, be patient.
  4. Drain all but 3 or 4 Tablespoons of the fat out of the pan (use a large spoon to spoon it out but don’t pour the fat down the sink! Put it in a bowl and wait until it cools then dispose of it in the garbage).
  5. Add the tomato sauce to the sauté pan, turn the heat up and bring the mixture to a boil. Once it boils, lower the heat to a simmer and let it cook for about five to seven minutes (again, be patient you are letting the flavors blend).
  6. While the sauce simmers, cook the spaghetti in the boiling water until the pasta is a little firm and not mushy. Don’t believe the time on the box cook it for about a minute or two less.
  7. Drain the pasta and add it to the sauce. Toss the pasta to coat.
  8. Divide the pasta and serve immediately, with some freshly grated parmesan or pecorino cheese.

 

 

 

Who Needs “Siri” When You Have “Mom”

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My family doesn’t have Amazon Echo or Google Home. They have me.

I, apparently, know everything. Just ask my family (oh, wait, then they will have to ask me so that wouldn’t work).

I am amazed at how much my family thinks I know. I should be flattered because – obviously – they think I’m brilliant. Why else would they ask me things they can easily find out on their own?

For example, recent requests included:

“Mom, what’s this flower?”

“Hon, when are the kids done with school?”

“Mom, how do you heat up a can of soup?”

I, like any good digital assistant, dutifully answered:

“Daffodil.”

“May 4 and June 7.”

“Pour the can in the small pot and heat on low.”

The thing is, other than the last question (which, by the way, is a topic for another day) I had to look up the answers. I don’t know flowers (after a failed web search I had to ask a friend about this) and I seriously have not memorized my kids’ schedules so why does my family ask me questions when they know I will need to look up the answers? More importantly, why do I actually look up the answers??!

Often, as I’m looking for answers to one of their questions it occurs to me that my children and husband could be doing this themselves. It’s not like I’m hiding the electronics. But by the time I remember that I’m not supposed to be enabling my children (or my husband for that matter), I’m already three Google searches deep into answering their questions and I realize it will probably take longer to lecture them then to give them the answer. Besides, if I say, “See that mini computer also known as a phone attached to your hand? It has the answer to your question; just look it up” chances are they will NOT look up the answers to their respective questions; they will simply avoid the question.

Really, it’s true. I’ve tried it.

For instance, it took me a while to figure out the daffodil answer so by the time I responded my son had moved on. My husband’s request for the kids’ schedules was similarly ignored when he decided not to bother with a possible trip in June and just planned for July because no one is in school then. (Little does he know there’s an entirely different schedule for summer but he didn’t ask and like Google Home, I don’t volunteer answers).

As for the soup question, well, if I hadn’t reflexively given my son the answer or if I had told him to read the back of the can (like I should have!), he would probably have given up and eaten a cheese stick (which would have solved his hunger issue but, seriously, READ THE BACK OF THE FREAKING CAN!)

I think it might be too late to change our ways. I needed to nip this in the bud when they were little (or, in the case of my husband, when we were dating) but everything took soooooo long when my kids were young. If one of my boys asked, “Mommy, what kind of flower is this?” when he was six years old and I responded, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up,” the process of finding the answer would have taken a good 30-60 minutes of haphazard, child-directed searching and I am not a patient person.

This, my friends, is known as a lack of foresight…or stifling independence, or shitty parenting, whatever you want to call it.

But now, if I keep answering their questions will they ever learn to find the answers on their own? Will they care? Should I just buy them a Google Home and be done with it??

The thing is, unless we can use “Mom” as the voice prompt for the digital assistant I’m not sure my family will know how to get it to respond. Then they will just ask me to ask Alexa…

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