Archive for the ‘college’ Category

When Your College Kids Come Home for Winter Break: Expectations vs. Reality

The anticipation was high. I hadn’t seen my baby (i.e. my 18-year-old college freshman) in two (2!!) months and he was finally coming home. I expected family dinners and family game nights, trips together into the city to see a play, late night conversations and laughter.

And then there was reality.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad – there were plenty of moments of togetherness – but my Norman Rockwell reunion was not to be. My son had friends to see and sleep to catch up on. Treks into the city were not on his “to do” list unless, of course, they involved his girlfriend.

Sigh.

I’m on my 4th winter break (my baby is now a senior in college) and I can tell you it’s much the same as it was when he was a freshman. And, although I know better, I can’t help but hold out hope that every break will be a little different. So here are the top expectations I have every year for my college kid’s winter break and what I should know by now but clearly don’t:

Expectation 1: The first night that my son is back home we will have a long family dinner where he will tell us stories about school and his friends and we will all stare at him with adoration and laugh at all of his funny tales.

Reality: We eat dinner together. It takes about 10 minutes then his friends come over to pick him up and he leaves with promises to tell us stories when he comes home (and that doesn’t happen because I am old and asleep by 11).

Take away: But at least we shared a meal!

Expectation 2: We will all gather together to watch a holiday movie, snuggled up on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn.

Reality: Everyone agrees to watch a movie but no one will agree on what movie. I feel dissension in the ranks so I demand that they stop bickering and watch Elf/White Christmas/Bad Santa and like it – damn it! About 30 minutes in I notice that my husband is asleep and the two boys are watching something entirely different on their respective computers only glancing up once or twice to watch the movie.

Take away: But at least we are in the same room!

Expectation 3: We will decorate the Christmas tree together – sipping hot cocoa and reminiscing as we pull out ornaments.

Reality: I tell everyone we are putting up the tree. Everyone says they can’t at that moment and I have to wait. So I wait. About an hour later I ask again and get the same answer. I insist we put the tree up NOW, reminding my family that it only takes 15 minutes – tops – to pull out the tree and hang the ornaments. I am met with more resistance. I threaten to cancel Christmas. Everyone begrudgingly walks to the living room to put up ornaments and I am sad because this was NOT what I wanted.

Take away: I should put the tree up by myself. Of course that would result in whining from my family that I didn’t wait for them so basically it’s a no win situation. Maybe I should invite friends to help and offer wine?

Expectation 4: I love going out for breakfast and he loves to eat so I will take him to this great breakfast place I used to go to in college that has the most amazing, over-sized, gooey, iced cinnamon buns.

Reality: He sleeps until at least 1:00 pm. every day and the restaurant closes at 2:00.

Take away: Take him to lunch or dinner.

Expectation 5: We all go Christmas shopping together!

Reality: We buy everything online because after one trip to the mall I remember how much I hate being at the mall around Christmas.

Take away: Start shopping around Halloween?

Expectation 6: We will head to the city to see a play/ eat dinner/see the Christmas lights and it will be magical – just like when they were little.

Reality: When the kids were little heading into the city to see a play/eat/see the decorations was usually a nightmare and did not improve when the kids became teenagers who would rather have been hanging out with their friends.

Take away: Let them bring friends and give them LOTS of advance notice and constant reminders or you will be met with: That’s tonight?!?! when it’s time to leave.

Expectation 7: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school.

Reality: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school and I will forget all about my failed attempts at togetherness which is why I repeat them Every. Single. Year.

Take away: Look for the spontaneous moments of togetherness and don’t worry if your plans fall off the rails.

 

Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!

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On CollegiateParent – How Holiday Traditions Change As Kids Move Away

I am pretty excited to introduce a new collaboration with a site for parents of college students. CollegiateParent is a great resource dedicated to helping parents navigate their child’s college years from move-in day through graduation and beyond. I stumbled on the site when I was looking for some college specific content before my younger son and I set out on college visits but I kept returning to the site for the parenting advice.

My first piece as a freelance contributor for the site is about the shift that happens to your family traditions when your kids leave for college. Even though I expected some changes when my kids got married or moved away I was a bit thrown that we were expected to adjust long before either of my boys had even graduated from college. You can read What Happens to Family Traditions When Your Kid Goes to College here.

 

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Happy Thanksgiving!

 

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.

 

 

My College Junior Won’t Be Home For Thanksgiving (And I Don’t Like It)

I’ve always loved Thanksgiving. I love the food, I love not having to run around and buy gifts for everyone, and I especially love the warm and fuzzy feel of gathering together and being grateful. Over the past few years, however, the holiday has changed for us. Extended family members started traveling out of town for the holiday or had to split time with other parts of their respective families. That meant that our little nuclear family had to switch it up a little, either celebrating with friends or going out to dinner. Those changes were initially met with some trepidation:

What would it feel like to be with friends instead of family?

Sort of the same but without the traditional fights from years of baggage being brought to the table.

Will a restaurant meal be as satisfying as a home cooked meal?

Surprisingly, yes, even more so without all the clean up.

This year, though, I am not going to cope as well with our newest adjustment: our oldest son is studying abroad this semester and he will not be with us for the holiday.

I don’t like it.

When it first hit me, I worried about him more than us, of course. Would he be homesick if he wasn’t with family for the holiday or would he even notice that it’s Thanksgiving because he’s in a foreign country where they don’t celebrate? Should we yank his little brother, a junior in high school, out of school for a few days and spend a ridiculous amount of money to fly there and spend the holiday with him? Should we fly him home??

Before I started checking flights, I checked my sanity.

Sure, I recognize a slippery slope when I see one. First he’s overseas, then he is too busy with schoolwork or some internship that keeps him out of town, then some girl comes around and demands that he spend Thanksgiving with her family. Next thing you know, my husband and I are alone, eating a Thanksgiving-themed TV dinner while watching football with the dog.

But, really, what can I do about it? I’ve been in those shoes and missed holidays with my family because of work or my spouse’s family obligations so I know it’s just a matter of time before he will be in the same boat.

Families evolve – something no one tells you when you have little kids. Sure, they tell you things will change when you get more sleep or when the kids are in school for longer than two hours a day and you can actually run more than one errand, but no one explains what it feels like when the kids move on with their own lives. Even leaving for college doesn’t qualify as moving on; they come back—a lot…at least at first. But then, suddenly, you see a change. It’s not really sudden, though; it was happening all along but you just didn’t notice it. Maybe the texts and calls asking for advice don’t come as frequently, or at all, or you notice a level of confidence – and competence – that wasn’t there the last time you saw him or her.

I visited my son in Europe a month or so ago and I cried when I left him. Big, gulping, worse than when I left him at college sobs. It was not because I was leaving him in a foreign country as much as it was because he was perfectly fine and capable navigating this foreign country without me.

Of course, I want him to be able to separate from me and be independent – it’s what we’ve all been working toward but, wow, it’s like a punch in the gut when it happens.

And it happens.

So, you accept the new change in the family dynamic and you adjust, again, until the next seismic shift and so on and so on and so on, always hoping your family, whatever that ends up looking like, will still kinda feel like a family.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

So, this year my son will not be home for Thanksgiving because, geographically, it’s not realistic…and we will adapt. One day, however, he may be just a couple of towns over with his significant other’s family and (in case my kids are reading this) I will most likely be sitting at home splitting a store-bought turkey sandwich and a bag of sweet potato chips with my husband, thinking about the time when we were all together…

Just kidding, kids. You know I would never eat a store-bought turkey sandwich. 😉

(Here’s hoping Mom guilt works).

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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 to a sporting event…

Or to a concert or a shopping 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???

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??

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