Archive for the ‘college’ Category

Why Creating Family Traditions is a Bad Idea

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Hey, you, over there, taking the photos of your lil’ punkin in the pumpkin patch, put down the camera and step away from that cute family moment.

I’m doing you a favor here. You may think that this is the beginning of a great family tradition that will last a lifetime but really you are merely starting down a path that will lead to pain and misery.

Seriously.

Sure, right now it’s adorable to watch your 2-year-old try to lug that ten pound pumpkin and to see your daughter grinning from ear-to-ear as you lift her overhead to reach the apple at the top of the tallest tree in the orchard.

But right now doesn’t last forever…they eventually become teenagers and that’s when the fun ends.

The child who one day loved all of your family traditions will turn on you the next day and demand that you stop engaging in traditional family activities that bore them/embarrass them/make them hate you because you are making them participate.

Just save yourself the pain of one day trying to get your teenagers to go pick out a pumpkin with you or go apple picking or decorate the Christmas tree while sipping hot cocoa and listening to Christmas music.

They won’t do it.

“But you LOVE apple picking,” you will remind your 15-year-old and he will look at you as though the very idea of eating an apple is repulsive and you have lost your mind because he never, never, ever enjoyed that activity.

“Help me put out the Halloween decorations, please,” is met with: “Why would we put out decorations? We aren’t little kids anymore—mom.”

Last year I “threatened” (i.e. screamed for a good 30 minutes) to take away Christmas unless someone helped me decorate the tree; five minutes later the tree was decorated but it was shrouded by a cloud of disdain for all things jolly.

At that point I officially hated Christmas.

Eventually your teenagers’ contempt for your heart-warming family traditions—the traditions you lovingly developed to create routine and joy in their lives—will just suck the joy out of the season.

So what do you do when the family traditions you’ve created no longer fit your family (but you still want them – damn it!)?

You could:

A) Have every family tradition involve a gift exchange because, somehow, my family is still ok with the traditions of gift giving for Christmas and Hanukkah.

B) Wait until you have grandchildren and do it all over again while secretly waiting for the day that your child calls you in a huff because his kid won’t pick out a pumpkin without several friends in tow. (This, of course, is my personal favorite.)

Or,

C) You could just adapt.

Unfortunately, option “C” eventually wins.

Until recently, I never thought about not being with my children for a holiday but, of course, my husband and I did that to our parents once we started dating. We had to divide our time between events or, as was often the case once we had kids, trade off between families every year. We solved the agony of making three Thanksgiving stops by forcing everyone to come to our house but even that has changed, as our siblings have had to adapt to their own extended family plans.

But significant others aren’t the only ones who force changes on family traditions. Once my son left for college even something as silly as giving him a half-birthday cake on his half-birthday (one of my favorite traditions) turned into a logistical nightmare since it fell on a weekend and I couldn’t send a homemade half cake. I compromised by sending a half-dozen cupcakes from a local bakery but that turned a simple idea into quite a pricey event and, besides, it just wasn’t the same.

But what about when he studies abroad and isn’t home for Thanksgiving? Or what if he decides to stay for Christmas in his new locale? How will I manage to arrange for his favorite holiday tradition, hanging his stocking on his door for Christmas morning?

It just occurred to me that there will come a day when my boys will not wake up in my house on Christmas morning and their stockings will sit on the mantle, unfilled, as mere decoration, much the same way our uncarved pumpkins decorate our porch now.

“It’s what’s supposed to happen,” my husband just said to me. Clearly, he isn’t quite as moved by this as I am. 

Screw that.

I changed my mind. I’m not going with option “C,” I’m going with option “A” above. A little bribe, I mean gift, could go a long way.

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What NOT To Bring To A College Dorm (And a Few Things Students Couldn’t Live Without)

Around this time last year, just as the first Hello Kitty notebook hit the shelves at Target (signaling the start of the back-to-school frenzy), my older son and I started shopping for his dorm room.

Ugh!

It should have been fun—all the possibilities! But my son had very little enthusiasm for the process and I had very little patience.

Thankfully we don’t have to do it again. But, if I did, I would have done it a little differently.

I still wouldn’t have let him shop alone, though. If I let my son pick out what he “needed” for his dorm room the list would have looked like this:

  1. Food
  2. TV
  3. Xbox
  4. Mini fridge

He would never have thought about buying sheets (“I’ll just take the ones off my bed at home!”) or a shower caddy (“What’s a shower caddy??”).

Of course, not all kids would be as clueless…but it helps to have a parent tag along and it helps to have a plan.

I’m here to help with that plan.

I polled my older son’s friends, their parents, and my friends to find out what worthless items they purchased for dorm rooms—items that seemed essential or items that were on a list somewhere as a “Must Have” but were never—and have never—been used by an actual student.

What not to buy/pack/bring:

  • Too much clothing – specifically, according to one mom, “The twenty button-down shirts that my son HAD to have but never wore.” Two words: no space.
  • Too much formal clothing – If you are in a fraternity or sorority or you have a major where you need to make formal presentations, you may need a suit jacket or a couple of dresses – you won’t need multiple suits, several dress shirts or five dresses and four pairs of formal shoes. See above: no space.
  • Too many shoes – Again: no space.
  • Real plates, knives, forks – use disposable. I know, I know, you are worried about your carbon footprint but, according to the kids, “you will never, ever clean the dirty plate/fork/knife,” and well, that’s just gross.
  • Printer – “They take up a lot of space and there is a print room in every building.”
  • Plastic cleaning gloves – Ok, I admit it. I packed these, and, not surprisingly, they returned home, unopened at the end of the year.
  • A vacuum – If you don’t already have one, don’t buy one. Someone on the hall will have one that your kid can borrow for the two times he actually vacuums.
  • Laundry basket and a laundry bag – No room for both. Bring a collapsible laundry bag.
  • A lot of hangers – “Extra shelves—maybe—would have collected more clothes,” according to one mom.
  • Bulky luggage – pack clothes in collapsible bags or use heavy-duty garbage bags for transport.
  • A Panini press or any other kitchen appliance – save it for an apartment.
  • An iron– this one depends on your kid. One boy swore by it. “College dryers tend to make clothes incredibly wrinkly,” he explained. While another girl said that she never took hers out of the closet.

Now for what the kids couldn’t live without:

  • A foam topper and mattress pad. My son’s bed was at least 6 inches higher than his roommate’s and seemed obnoxious to me at first but my son said it was the comfiest bed he has ever slept in.
  • A fan – Remember not every dorm has air conditioning.
  • A collapsable storage ottoman – Storage AND extra seating! Items that pull double- duty are always helpful.
  • A 6-ft. power strip (or two). Who knows where the outlets will be.
  • Portable speakers – “I couldn’t live without [them]” and “We were always moving around but still wanted to listen to music.”
  • Garbage bags – “Lots of garbage bags.”
  • A mini hot water kettle – Most kids, my son included, thought this was really useful “to make tea, ramen, oatmeal, hot chocolate, etc.”
  • Light bulbs – “You may get a desk lamp but they don’t give you light bulbs,” one mom reminded me.
  • Plastic storage bins – Perhaps not as many as I bought for my son but he did use them to keep things stored under his bed (again probably not in the way that I would have organized them – I mean who puts the snacks with the playing cards?? There should be a separate bin for games, right??).
  • Extra toilet paper.
  • Can opener/bottle opener.
  • Mini fridge.
  • Head phones.
  • Some wall decorations. Emphasis on some.
  • Extra sheets and towels – NOTE: this one actually made both of the lists above. One mom said they were useless as her son never broke out the second set, while my son used all three (yes, three!) sets of sheets but never washed them until Thanksgiving – he just stripped off the dirty sheets and threw them under the bed. Whatever it takes to get them to use clean sheets, right?
  • A plunger – “I lived in a suite-style dorm and shared a bathroom with three other freshman guys.” Enough said.

Obviously, this list is not exhaustive and it will depend on your kid but remember, most dorm rooms are about 12 x 14 feet – for two people!

Less is more, people.

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What would you add to this list? Let us know.

Get A Job!

I was driving my younger son and his friend to soccer practice when they both started lamenting how busy they are this summer. My son’s friend is starting driver’s education as soon as soccer ends because, as he explained with a touch of sarcasm, “I can’t have one day with nothing to do.” My son groaned in sympathy. “I know,” my son added. “I don’t have a single day off this summer.”

Insert eye roll here.

I have no sympathy for this complaining. First of all, taking driver’s ed and playing soccer were my son’s requests, not mine, (as if I want another teenage driver in my house!) and, more importantly, he was complaining about being bored two days after school was out!

It would be great if he could have one of those idyllic 70’s summers. I can picture it perfectly: he would yell up the stairs in the early morning to say goodbye to me, the screen door slapping behind him before I can react. Then he would head to his best friend’s house on his bike and they would wander the neighborhood picking up other friends while looking for something to do, eventually following the railroad tracks to find the body before Keifer Sutherland and the other greasers could find it.

Oh wait. That’s the movie, Stand By Me.

All kidding aside, I wish he could have one of the carefree summers of my youth.

But he can’t.

They no longer exist.

Unless we parents collectively decide to yank our kids out of ALL activities my son will be home—alone—playing video games and watching YouTube videos, all day, EVERY DAY while his peers continue with their extensive summer plans.

This trend is not going anywhere especially if you factor in the get-into-college-summer-resume-building frenzy of activities that all high school teenagers seem to be involved in.

My son is a rising high school sophomore and according to the Internet (where everything is true) my son should be on a service trip in Guatemala or working on a novel or starting a company in our garage (although that would be nice…).

With nothing but soccer and driver’s education on his agenda, his college admissions resume will be light.

There go the Ivy’s.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, the author of a new book, “How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success” and author of The New York Times article, “What’s Your Teenager Doing This Summer? In Defense of ‘Nothing” wants parents to take back summer. She encourages parents to jump off of the get-into-a-good-college bandwagon and let “summer feel like summer again.”

She believes that free time will morph into time spent “cooking, biking, building models, drawing, talking to Grandma, reading books from the library, keeping a journal, feeling bored, making money mowing lawns or washing cars, noodling around on the piano or the guitar, learning how to drive, going for a swim, daydreaming in the hammock, lying on the grass staring up at the clouds.”

Hmm…I don’t know many teens who would fill their days daydreaming in a hammock or talking to their grandparents. I know my kid wouldn’t.

Don’t get me wrong. I agree that teens should not spend their summers padding their high school resumes but should they really spend their summers doing nothing?

I have a better idea: let’s tell our teens to get jobs.

Not an “internship” at a family friend’s company but a real job. Preferably an annoying job with a bad boss, mean customers and a lot of responsibility.

This works on so many levels. Not only will your teen have some activity to fill his days but, if you, or your kid, care about the whole resume-building exercise, he will develop skills he would never develop if he was on a 3-week trip to the Galapagos Island with a staff to help him navigate the experience.

Maybe, because I’ve been through the get-into-college rodeo already, I recognize that the over-priced, completely scheduled, 2-week summer service trips and the full-time internships that Lythcott-Haims mentions aren’t fooling any admissions counselors.

What stood out on my older son’s resume wasn’t his two-week trip to a tropical paradise to tag turtles (yes, we were those parents) but his summer jobs as a baseball coach and a camp counselor for nine-year-olds. Talk about developing communication and problem solving skills! And those were just the skills needed to deal with the parents.

But, and this is important, he didn’t get those jobs with an eye towards his high school resume; he took those jobs to make money and because he likes kids. The rest (the experience, the learned skills, the connections) was just a bonus.

So, when your kid asks to go to Hawaii for three weeks to help the dolphins or you feel the itch to sign your kid up for one more learn-to-code class, hand your son or daughter the Help Wanted section from the local paper instead.

Then start planning your trip to a tropical paradise with the money you will save.

What are your teens doing this summer?

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How To Survive Summer Vacation With Your College Kid

Nine months ago I wrote about how my oldest son was off to college and I worried about how I was going to adjust. I was so sad and so convinced that I would never grow accustomed to setting the table for three instead of four and I would always mourn his absence.

Well, I got used to it.

It was so conflict-free! My oldest is the child who brings out the fight in me. I don’t know what it is but we butt heads over everything. It’s not so much what he says as how he says it: with a snarky tone that just begs for a fight.

And, far be it for me to back down.

When he was away at school we didn’t fight…much. It’s hard to fight with limited communication. But, our disagreements, if we had them, were usually via text (I could hear that snark in his words even when I couldn’t actually hear him). Thankfully we didn’t have time to text-fight very much because angry typing takes forever.

But now he’s home. Let the fighting begin.

I was so naïve. I thought that summer break would be exactly like his winter and spring breaks: short and sweet with nary a disagreement. I guess we were all on our best behavior because we had such little time and, now that I think about it, he had the flu over winter break and strep over spring break so he really was on his best behavior. Sick kids are so much easier to deal with.

Now that he’s healthy and we have three months instead of three weeks, I’ve come up with this survival plan:

  1. I will encourage him to sleep until 3:00 pm. This limits the amount of time that we can see each other during the day. Limited face-to-face interactions limits the number of fights we can have. Unfortunately, this can’t go on forever (for so many reasons, of course). Only one of his two summer jobs has started and the one that will get him up and out of bed by 7:00 am doesn’t start for another week. In the mean time I am relishing the quiet of the morning/afternoons.
  2. I will ignore the snark. Often, when my son misses breakfast and lunch because he has slept through both meals he gets snarky. I WILL NOT ENGAGE! I will simply tune him out like a teenager engaging with his or her parents. I will let my mind wander to pleasant thoughts while he complains about being bored/tired/hungry/oppressed. And when his venting loses steam and he turns back into my sweet, loving child I will tune back in.
  3. I will make my home less appealing. When my older son was younger I wanted to have the house where everyone would hang out. I thought it was a good way to keep an eye on the kids. Now, I would prefer they go elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong. I really adore my son’s friends. I do. They are great kids who are polite, kind, smart, engaging and they even clean up! But they are at the age when they may want to do things that I don’t want to know about. I don’t want to always be the parent who will have to say no. So, as a deterrent, I will hide the snacks and fall asleep on the couch when his friends come over. Or maybe I will sit at the counter with them and ask them a lot of questions. Or, even better, I’ll invite my friends over to sit at the counter with them and ask a lot of questions. That should make them want to flee.
  4. When I actually want to spend time with my son (which is often, in case you were worried) I will take him out for a meal. He LOVES to eat so taking him to a new restaurant and offering him a good (free) meal are easy ways to get some quality time. Family dinner every night is another way to “force” him to spend time with us but that usually only lasts five minutes (although it is a pretty good five minutes). If I want real, extended time without conflict, he needs food.
  5. I will torment him when he starts to fray my nerves. I’ll crack bad jokes, play my music too loudly, ask him questions or ask him to help with chores. This will force him to retreat to his room or the basement. It’s like a time out without having to ask him.
  6. I will not wait up for him. I used to lie in bed waiting for the back door to open before I could drift off peacefully. Now I put in my earplugs and promptly fall asleep. He usually doesn’t stay out too late so this one is pretty easy. I also know that if he gets arrested, gets into an accident, or gets abducted someone will call me and wake me up.
  7. And finally, I will not worry about him getting arrested, or getting into an accident or being abducted. At least not obsessively (I’ll always worry a little). There was a time when I worried about all of those things and the only time I felt secure was when he was home in bed and I knew exactly where he was. And then he left for college and I knew nothing about his whereabouts. I had to trust that I taught him well and that he would make good decisions…ok, good-ish decisions.

I’m only three weeks into my plan but so far, so good. If it doesn’t work, however, there’s always summer school next year.

When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

When you were little did you know what you wanted to be when you grew up?

I mean really know? And, more importantly, is that what you became?

I wanted to be, among other things, an investigative reporter, a flight attendant, a ballerina, a meteorologist (not the “weather girl” on the news, but the person who actually predicted the weather – as if that’s a real job!), a lawyer, and tall.

At least I got to be a lawyer.

I can honestly say, though, that with all of my potential careers I never once contemplated the path to get there. I just thought that I would go to college – because that was what I was supposed to do – and then I would find a job – because that’s what I was supposed to do. I moved through my education believing that I would find a job somewhere, doing something, even if it wasn’t the perfect job because that’s what we were supposed to do.

Even when I started law school I never contemplated the possibility that I wouldn’t find work after graduation.

Yes, I was young and stupid and a couple of months before law school graduation—when I still didn’t have a job—I realized my naivete.

I’m so glad it took that long.

As a freshman in college I never once thought I better not switch my major from business to journalism because I’ll never get a job. If I really thought about the lack of job prospects in college and law school I would have been paralyzed.

Enter my 19-year-old.

He recently returned home from his freshman year in college with a lot of angst about his major. He didn’t like his biology classes as much as he thought he would but he didn’t want to switch majors because he thought this was a good path to get a job.

Who is this kid??

My husband and I have never told our kid that he should set his sights on a “practical” major (although my husband has suggested that he take some business classes but my son is like me and just hearing the words “Accounting 101” puts him to sleep).

Now, I know that taking some business classes can’t hurt but the Liberal Arts student in me sees as much value in a writing class or an improv class as Stats or Econ.

It’s a good thing my kid is thinking about his future but I don’t want him to stress out about finding “his thing” at 19. That’s what he said, “Science is my thing. What else will I do?”

A thing??

I didn’t realize you were suppose to have “a thing” as a freshman in college. When I started college I thought college was the time to figure out your thing, and also meet people and be inspired.

I started college as a business major because I thought it was a practical choice. I think I was two weeks into business ethics and accounting when I jumped ship and switched to Liberal Arts and Sciences. I knew what my thing wasn’t: it wasn’t being an accountant or a marketing executive. I shared my experience with my kid and tried to explain to him that it is just as important to know what you don’t like as it is to know what you do like.

Yes, I know that the current job market sucks and college is very expensive so taking random classes with no definable path is not always prudent. But I don’t want my kid to keep taking classes in a field he is not interested in on the off chance that he might get a job in a field he has no interest in. Chances are that he will end up getting a job in a different field entirely and what a waste of time and money.

But that’s just me.

When I was in college there were definitely people who knew exactly what they were going to do with their lives and they did it. My brother was always going to be a doctor and he is. But I also know an English major who wanted to write the next Great American Novel but started a hedge fund instead, a music major who went into medical sales instead of cutting a record, and an education major who started a yoga studio. They are all very successful and extremely happy with their choices. They also have great skills, interesting hobbies and maybe even a new chapter waiting for them when they grow up.

As for me, I still don’t know what, or who, I want to be when I grow up – right now it’s a toss up between Emily Blunt and Emma Stone.

I have a better chance of being tall but I’m keeping my options open.

What about you? What did your career path look like?

The Too Much Information Age of Parenting

 

My mom and dad had it easy. There was no pressure to parent the right way – everyone did it wrong. At least by today’s standards.

Kids roamed the streets unattended, parents left kids home alone and made them prepare their own meals (Salisbury Steak anyone?) and most importantly, kids didn’t tell their parents what they were really doing so parents didn’t really know – and they liked it.

I miss those days.

Now, with technology, we parents expect that we will know where our kids are at all times. I don’t know how many times I’ve texted my kid, “Where r u?” and been frustrated that I didn’t get an immediate response. If he didn’t have a phone I probably wouldn’t ask. But he does, so I want an answer. Now.

Our parents knew we were out – whatever “out” meant. They knew that we would eventually come home; usually at whatever time they told us to be home because that’s what we did. Now, my kids can’t keep track of the time even though they have a phone glued to their hands—a phone with an alarm. Which is why I need to text…

If my parents weren’t home then we were on our own. Even though my parents owned a restaurant I don’t remember warming up meals from the restaurant for dinner; I remember cooking something and by cooking I mean heating up a TV dinner that we ate on a TV table in front of the TV.

Now, if I haven’t prepared my kids a meal before I leave, I order in for them. I do this even though both of them are perfectly capable of cooking a real meal – they are 19 and 15 after all – or simply improvising (cereal or a peanut butter sandwich for dinner never killed anyone).

The biggest difference, however, between my parents’ generation and parents today is that we know so much about our children. We schedule their lives from the time they are very little until they leave for college. We plan their activities, schedule their “play dates,” over-volunteer in their classrooms so we can get to know the other kids and their equally over-involved parents. Because of this shift in the parenting culture we know everything our children are doing and thinking and saying.

That’s how they are raised. They are raised to share. Some share more than others – even in the same house—but, nonetheless, it is generally – at least by the time they are teenagers – too much information.

I’m kidding – sort of.

Do I really want to hear the funny story about my older son’s friends who were completely trashed at a party? Yes…and no. I’m glad he can share but all I’m thinking is maybe you shouldn’t be friends with those people.

And, do I really want to know about disagreements my kids have with their friends? Well, yes…and no. I’m glad I can be a sounding board but long after my kid has moved on, I will continue to not like that person on my son’s behalf FOREVER.

I can’t unknow it.

Maybe we are better off with our heads in the sand.

My parents didn’t know about these things. We didn’t talk to our parents about stuff back then – we talked to our friends or we didn’t talk. Our parents didn’t hang on every word we said, they didn’t micro-manage our lives and, most importantly, they didn’t want to.

My parents, for instance, didn’t know when I stopped talking to my best friend of 10 years. Or, maybe they noticed but we didn’t chat about it. My mom didn’t ask me what happened or how I felt about it. I would have been mortified if she did!

But now, if one of my kids suddenly stopped hanging out with someone they had been BFFs with for 10 years I would notice and ask them what happened and, my kids, being part of this generation of over-sharers, would tell me. Then, long after my child had moved on, I would continue to obsess about the potential scar that the break in the friendship may have caused.

See, my parents had it easy. What they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them (or make them obsess or hold a grudge).

But, me? I’m screwed. I’ve already trained my kids to share with me and I’m certainly not going to tell them that I don’t want to hear what they have to say because I do…and I couldn’t stop myself if I tried because once you know about these things, you know. You know?

 

Do you know too much about your kids? Do you wish you didn’t??

 

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The First Child Experiment

Our poor first-born children.

We parents have no idea how little we know about parenting our oldest child until our subsequent children go through a similar experience. Only then can we look back and say to ourselves, damn, I screwed that up!

First-time parents move through parenthood blindly, figuring things out on the fly because no matter how much experience you may have had with someone else’s kids in the past, you still have no idea what you are doing with your child. You are positive that everything that you do to your child or for your child will have lasting repercussions. Because, let’s face it, that whole nature vs. nurture thing simply means that if your DNA doesn’t screw them up your parenting skills will.

A friend of mine recently joked that she hopes that her oldest daughter recognizes that she is a parenting experiment.

I think her analogy is spot on.

With no roadmap and no instruction manual, most first time parents approach everything they do to their first child like a science experiment even if they don’t realize they are doing it.

Let’s use potty training as an example.

Step 1: Ask a Question

The first step when conducting any scientific experiment is to ask a question. In this case a good question would be: “Will my two-year-old child ever be potty trained or will he be in diapers in college?”

Step 2: Do Background Research

Pour over every parenting book, website and magazine to figure out if it is indeed possible to have a child who refuses to be potty trained and ends up wearing diapers in college.

Step 3: Construct a Hypothesis

In this example your hypothesis could be: “If I buy my child super hero underwear, he will be so excited he will then want to use the potty and never use diapers again.”

Steps 4 and Beyond: Test Your Hypothesis

You test your hypothesis, which, of course, fails miserably because as first time parents you don’t yet know that toddlers are stubborn and refuse to do anything that you want them to do, so, you continue to reformulate and retest your hypotheses until you make your child cry which, in turn, makes you cry and so on and so on and so on until eventually you figure it out.

And then your next kid comes along and it’s SO MUCH EASIER!

Why?

It’s not because the second child is less difficult; it’s because you are.

With your second child you know that any fear you have that your child will go to college in diapers is absurd! And, although you may need to tweak your approach with each kid to get the same result (each kid is different after all), without the anxiety of the unknown hanging over you, the process is so much easier.

You would think that once we recognize this pattern we would find a way to speed up the learning curve…but we can’t. Every stage of our first-born child’s life presents some new scenario that we are ill prepared to handle: school, friendships, driving, dating, college, etc.

Everything our first child does is, well, first, which makes everything they do novel, scary, and very, very important.

I was reminded of this again over the weekend when I attended a cocktail party for the parents’ of my younger son’s high school freshmen class. I spoke with several parents who had just survived their oldest child’s first set of high school finals. Every one of these parents had some version of the same story: they had to force their kid to study because their kid wouldn’t get organized or study long enough or care enough: the parent’s anger would grow until eventually the parent exploded; and every one of these parents believed that their child’s failure to comprehend the importance of final exams and their general lack of motivation meant that they would never graduate from high school, attend college, get a job and move out of the house.

“Shit,” I thought. “That’s how I sounded four years ago!”

“If you don’t study, you will fail and you will end up living in my basement!” was my mantra during my older son’s finals.

This time around with my youngest who just completed his first set of finals I took a laissez-faire approach: I did not yell when his focus drifted from his studying, I did not yell when I saw his grades, and I did not yell when he said, “I should have studied more.”

My mantra this time around, as it has been with everything for my second child, was “This too shall pass.”

Because it does…

…unless, of course, it’s your older child facing some new experience, in which case see Steps 1-4 above.

Don’t Tell Me How To Do College!

“Don’t Tell Me How To Do College!” my 18-year-old son snapped the other day.

What?! That’s ridiculous! I thought. I’m not telling him how to do anything. I’m merely making suggestions. (Insistent suggestions, perhaps, but still…)

For instance, one Sunday during our weekly Face Time session he complained that he had so much work to do that night. I innocently asked if he had thought about doing some work earlier on the weekend or maybe even during the day on Thursday when he has a huge block of free time.

“I got it, Mom! I know what I’m doing!” he barked.

When I scoffed at his reaction and tried to explain that I was merely trying to make a suggestion he responded with his first, “Don’t tell me how to do college!”

Similar retorts have been made in response to my suggestions that he clean his bathroom more frequently (he shares the bathroom with three suite mates), that he go to Health Services before his cold gets worse (he didn’t), and most recently, in response to my suggestion that he attend more activities on his college campus.

That last one is still lingering between us.

He has made friends at school with a group of kids who grew up not too far from the college they attend. As such, they tend to hang out in the city (the school is near a metropolitan area) rather than on campus attending school events.

My son says he’s fine with this. Me? Not so much.

I should be content that he hangs out with a group of kids he really likes—friends who bring him food when he has the flu and can’t get out of bed—yet, somehow, I have decided that he needs to have more of a “college experience” and that includes taking advantage of everything that he has available on campus.

I know this is ridiculous and, no, I’m not trying to relive my college years through my kid. (Really!) I had a great time in college, as did my husband, and we both had very different experiences from each other and from our son. You would that think this evidence—this proof that a “college experience” is not one size fits all—would be enough for me to back off and let our son “do college” his way.

It’s not.

Again, I’m not telling him how to do anything I’m just offering some suggestions.

What’s wrong with that? Is there an age limit on offering unsolicited advice to your off-spring? Because if there is, my mother and my in-laws didn’t get the memo. Neither did my grandmother or my husband’s grandfather. I was 40 when my dad died and until the end he was giving me advice.

Now, I know that when I was my son’s age I would hear my parents (notice I didn’t say listen) and ignore them (for the most part). There may have been a couple of times I heeded their advice immediately but not often. They knew this and yet they didn’t stop adding their two cents.

That’s what parents do! They keep talking and hope that something sticks!

My kid could have lied and told me that he saw the nurse and he could tell me that he’s attending every activity on campus just to shut me up – but he doesn’t. He’s being honest with me and, not so subtly, telling me to back off.

This reminds me of the first time I tried indoor rock climbing. I was on the wall and there was an incredibly annoying woman in our group who kept yelling out where the hand and footholds were before I even had a chance to look for myself. The first time she offered her “help,” I looked down at her and politely said, “I got it!” The fourth time? I snapped. “I know what I’m doing!” I yelled. “If I want your help, I’ll ask for it!”

Now why would that memory pop up right now, I wonder?  If only I had someone to give me some advice…

 

 

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A Letter To My Son On the Eve Of His College Break

 

Dear Son –

It has been almost two months since you left for college (well, actually, 52 days but who’s counting) and tomorrow you are coming home for break!

I’m so excited!

And, a little worried.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m very happy that we will get to see you. I’ve missed your voice and your laugh and I’ve missed saying good night to you, but…let’s just say that this weekend might be an adjustment for all of us.

See, we’ve spent the past 50+ days trying to get used to you being gone. We’ve adjusted to your empty bedroom, our earlier bed times, and the lower food bills, not to mention the quiet.

We’ve settled into a little routine. And I’m sure you have, too. You are used to doing whatever you want whenever you want.

Can you see how that might be a problem??

So, in anticipation of these new adjustments, I wanted to make some “suggestions” to soften your re-entry and avoid the possibility that you—or we—might want to cut your visit short.

  1. Spend some time with your family. Yes, we know that some of your friends are coming home this weekend too, but I am sure you have texted, Skpyed and talked to them far more often than you have with us. Please don’t come home just so you can borrow the car to see your friends, have us do your laundry, and eat your favorite meals. As much as you are longing for the comforts of home, we are longing to spend some (quality) time with you. Leave your phone in your room during dinner, come to your brother’s soccer game, help us cook dinner. A little family time can go a long way especially when you want the car keys…or cash.
  2. We are not your roommates. They probably don’t care if you are up all night or if you come in at 4 am. We, on the other hand, do care. A lot. We have schedules, classes, and jobs to attend to. If you want to stay up until 3 am and sleep until 2 pm that’s fine (sort of). But if you wake us up at 3 am you better believe that you are getting out of bed four hours later. Just saying.
  3. Be nice to your brother. He misses you even if he doesn’t always want to talk to you when you are on Skype. Sure, he has been enjoying his “only child” time but he still likes having you around. (At least I think so. I haven’t actually asked. I guess we’ll find out soon enough).
  4. I promise not to ask too many questions if you promise to answer just a few questions with full sentences and no eye-rolls or attitude.
  5. I have been stocking the fridge and planning your favorite meals. I have changed the sheets on your bed and vacuumed your room. I like to dote on those I love—you know that—however, that doesn’t mean that I intend to wait on you hand and foot. Even if you do flash that smile and say please. That’s what grandmothers are for. And, yes, you have to see them this weekend, too.

See you soon!

Love,

Mom

 

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

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

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

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

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

That was fun.

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

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

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

3 days!

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

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

What is wrong with him!

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

It’s ridiculous.

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

So I organize.

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

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

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

I am great at organizing under duress.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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