Archive for the ‘letting go’ Category

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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How Much Do You Really Know Your Kids?

 

“Did anyone really know their child? Your child was a little stranger, constantly changing, disappearing and reintroducing himself to you…”

-Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies

I’ve decided that I don’t know my kids very well. I keep thinking that I know how they will respond to things but, lately, I’m always wrong—especially with my youngest. It’s not like he’s trying to be difficult (that’s a whole different story). But if I say black he says white – even if he was nowhere near me when I said black.

I started thinking about this last week when I attended the advisory parent night at my younger son’s high school. When we first walked in we were handed a sheet to fill out about our son – questions like “What’s the best thing about your kid?” and “What is your kid most looking forward to in high school?” Questions, that as a parent who has had hands-on experience, 24/7, with this kid I should be able to answer easily.

But I was stymied.

What is he looking forward to? What is he struggling with? Why can’t I answer any of these questions??!!

The one about the best qualities about my kid should have been easy…or so I thought. I started to realize as I wrote down my pat answers: sense of humor, love of learning, blah, blah, blah, that those answers were, perhaps, not true of the kid he has become. Sure, he loves to laugh and I think his sarcasm is the funniest thing ever but was I really answering the question about him as a 14-year-old?

Well, since the first question – the easy question – was such a bust I moved on to the next question that asked what my kid gets excited about?

Hmmm…nothing? He’s a teenager! 

Moving on…

What academic class does your child enjoy most?

No idea. He won’t talk to me about school, but he doesn’t grumble as much when he’s doing his Latin homework so I guess the answer is Latin!

I wouldn’t be so focused on this if I weren’t constantly reminded lately that I don’t have a clue about him.

For instance, I was certain that he would have a melt down when his brother left for college. I was so worried that my sobbing on the way home would be really hard on him because he would be dealing with his own emotions.

Boy, was I wrong.

As we toured the campus and attended family activities, he kept checking the time and asking when we could leave! “I have school tomorrow,” he kept reminding us.

That was not at all what I expected.

And there have been other moments – like when he had a very strong emotional response to a soccer gaffe or when he decided he should be a Buddhist which is in sharp contrast to his desire to be an Atheist. Then just last week, I was POSITIVE that our youngest doesn’t eat avocado and yet, he assured me when I got home with his sandwich—sans avocado—that he LOVES avocado and how could I not know that?

Huh?

Shouldn’t I have noticed this change? Shouldn’t we have talked about it?

Sure, his older brother had moments that threw me for a loop – like the time when he started talking to girlsactually talking to girls – I mean, using words in long sentences and not just grunting at them – but, for the most part, nothing he has done has been a great surprise. That’s because he likes to talk.

When he stopped eating mustard there was a discussion about it. We talked about what it was about mustard that he didn’t like. We talked about other types of mustard and whether he would like to try those. Clearly, it was a long discussion because I can remember the moment vividly.

Our youngest, on the other hand, doesn’t mull things over out loud. He just changes his mind and forgets to tell us.

He also has a very extensive inner life that none of us are privy to. When he was five or six-years-old he started having these moments when he would stare off into space, often with a smile pulling on the corner of his lips. We knew that he was, as he called it, “telling himself a special story.” He was the toddler version of Walter Mitty—with long, complicated daydreams that involved him saving the day or traveling the globe.

(He probably learned to love avocado during one of those daydreams. But, I digress…)

So, why am I so worried about what my kid wants on his sandwich?

Because I want to know my kids. I don’t want to be that parent who says, “My kid would never do that!” only to find out that my kid has most definitely done that…and more.

So, I ask them questions and talk to them during car rides and dinners and talk to their friends when they are in our house – all in an effort to get a glimpse of who they are.

But, I’m not naïve. I know there is plenty that my 18-year-old doesn’t share with me and I actually like that my youngest is very much his own person who tries to figure things out on his own.

I know that I will never fully KNOW my kids and I’m good with that. I want them to separate from us – they need to separate from us. But, I think that I want my 14-year-old to be who he was when he was younger because if I acknowledge that he is changing I also have to acknowledge that he will, one day, grow up and need to leave and I will know him even less.

But until that time I will keep peppering him with questions—whether he likes it or not—and I will assume I know nothing instead of assuming that I know anything because tomorrow he will probably be vegan…or a Buddhist.

 

 

 

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The New Normal

It’s been a week since our son left for college and I still close his bedroom door every night and open it in the morning.

I have made a habit of closing my boys’ bedroom doors when they are gone for the night to avoid that moment of panic when I wake up in the middle of the night, half-asleep, see one of their doors open and think they are gone.

Of course, now it’s the opposite. I open my door in the middle of the night, see his closed door and forget for a minute that he is not here. Then I remember he’s not behind that door and, ugh, tears spring to my eyes.

This will take a little getting used to.

I asked a friend of mine who just sent her youngest of three off to college if it ever feels normal once your kids have left and she told me that you just get used to the “new normal.”

So that’s what I’m trying to do.

I know that moving out and on is normal, it’s just a natural progression of my kid’s growth, like moving from walking to running or going from half-day of school to full-day of school (when, naturally, I cried). Every new stage, every new milestone in my children’s lives, has required an adjustment in our lives, a tweak in our schedules, a shift in perspective.

But this is different.

Even though every one of those stages changed our definition of what was normal for us, none seemed to shout, “Nothing will ever be the same!” like this stage did.

Our whole world is a little off right now. Now, I set the table for three instead of four (and yes, I burst into tears the first time I had to do that), I had to stop myself from buying his favorite cereal and ice cream today, and I have to get used to how quiet the house is with one kid instead of two.

But, I know we will adjust. Just like we adjusted to having a home with two people to a home with three and then four, we will adjust.

For right now, however, I’ll keep closing his door at night and opening it in the morning. Then, one day, just maybe, I’ll forget to close the door.

And just like that, that will become our new normal.

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Yet Another Thing I Will Miss When My Kid Goes to College

We are less than a month away from the day that we leave our older son behind at college and head home to a slightly emptier house.

In order to avoid thinking about that for too long, I have been putting my energy into dealing with all of crap that needs to be done before he leaves for school: dorm room shopping, doctor’s appointments, haircut appointments, clothes shopping and, as a last-minute stressor, wisdom teeth extractions.

I’ve also been cleaning out closets, reading articles about easing the transition, and trying to get a prescription for Xanax to help with my separation issues (just kidding – I actually bought a case of wine).

I am going to be ready…or so I thought.

This morning I found a box of donuts and a bag of gummi candies on our front porch. They were from my older son’s friends. Apparently, he’s been having a rough week that I was unaware of. Yes, I knew about his sun poisoning and previously mentioned wisdom tooth pain, but the other part of it—the possible end of a long-term relationship—I was not privy to. He turned to his closest friends for that support and they rallied.

See, the best way to cheer up my 18-year-old is to feed him, so that’s what they did.

I cried.

My son has the nicest friends; they really look out for each other. But, more than that, they are really a great group of kids to have around…and they are leaving, too.

I’m going to miss having them around.

I may bitch and moan occasionally because they are at our house a lot, but I really only care when I’m in the mood to sprawl out on the couch in my stretched out yoga pants, eat cookies and watch bad TV. (I try not to do that in front of the kids lest they think that’s what happens when you’re older than 45, move to the suburbs and have kids. I don’t want to scare them).

The reality though is they usually don’t mind if my husband and I are around—yoga pants and all. They sit with us and even invite us to play board games or poker with them. Once, when a couple of the boys were hanging out with us, one of the boys told my husband and me about his plan to go to Las Vegas with our son for their 21st birthdays.  “You should come, too,” he said.

“You probably won’t want your parents with you in Vegas on your 21st birthdays,” I explained smiling as I pictured the scene.

“Why? You guys are cool,” he said. And he meant it!

No, really. He meant it!

I could have cried but that would have shown him how un-cool I really am.

The fact that these boys don’t want to flee when we walk in the room is only one of the reasons that I like them. They work hard at their jobs and at school, they do charitable work without being hounded and they are respectful of our home. They may eat all of the ice cream but the bowls are in the dishwasher when they are done and the counters are wiped clean. I can’t get my 14-year-old to do that; hell, I can’t get my husband to do that!

But the best thing about these boys is that  they are really, really nice to my youngest son.

That wasn’t always the case with my oldest son’s friends but, somehow, over the years, the friends who were mean to his little brother stopped being part of his posse.

I know it’s not easy to have a little brother around all the time (I’m a little sister, after all) but no one seems to mind him or, if they do, they don’t let it show. Half the time, a couple of them will be hanging out with him in our family room while the rest of the group is in the basement. Other times they invite him to join in. Just the other night my husband and I came home and found our youngest beating the older boys at poker, the next day he was playing tennis ball golf with them, and, as I write this, one of those boys—his “brother from another mother”—is working out with him as he prepares for soccer tryouts.

I’ve been worried about how my youngest is going to handle the separation from his brother but I didn’t think about how he might deal with the separation from his brother’s friends.

Thank God for social media…

I, am only “friends” with one of the boys on Facebook (his request, not mine) so I will have to get my information from my kids or hear snippets when they are back for school breaks.

In the mean time it will be odd—and a little quieter—without them around.

They will be missed.

 

A Different Angle

As I dropped my youngest son off this morning for the last day of his sophomore year in high school I was reminded of the day, two years ago, when I dropped off my oldest son at his high school for the last time before his graduation. Ugh! That was an ugly cry day for me. But, as is often the case in parenting, I survived and moved on to the next tearful/joyous/stressful moment.

So, for all you parents filling my Facebook feed with posts about the difficulty of suffering through a child’s last days of high school or college I thought I would re-share this post, originally published on May 22, 2014, to remind you that these days are not ends but beginnings – it just depends on your perspective.

Today was the last full day of high school for my oldest son. Yesterday was the last Wednesday and tomorrow will be the last time he sets foot in the school as a student.

I’ve been doing this morbid mental list of last moments for months now. Yesterday I even took a photo:

 

photo

The Last Wednesday I will ever pick him up from school!

 

The hardest moment, up until this week, was: this is the last birthday we will celebrate with him at home.

I’ve tried not to think about that one for too long.

I can’t stop myself. It’s such an automatic reaction that, this morning, I found myself thinking: this is the last time he will carry his lunch to high school in this black lunch bag—ever!

It’s an illness.

Obviously, I know that he will return home at some point (to visit, hopefully, not to live) but I know it won’t be the same.

As much as I complain about having to wait up for him on the weekends at least I know where he is at night. I also like sitting around the dinner table almost every night even if the meal takes 45 minutes to prepare and only 10 minutes to consume—at least I know that we have those 10 minutes!

Yes, he will eat meals with us again and I’m sure I will still want to wait up for him when he is back from college (although I guarantee I won’t make it past the first weekend) but today marked the last day that I will drive him to and from school. Those few minutes in the car every morning and every afternoon felt like stolen moments for me. Facing forward in our seats with no pressure to “have a conversation” my son would chatter away about his classes or who did what during the day at school, but once we walked into our house all conversation would stop.

I know that I will never have an opportunity like that again, at least not every day.

And, yet, this is as it should be. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

My son, through his own sadness today, pointed out that the end of high school is just the beginning of his independent life as a college student, a time filled with many firsts for him (many I’m sure that I don’t want to know about). “It’s all about perspective, mom,” he told me.

I’ll give him perspective.

For instance, today’s last lunch in his black lunch bag means that tomorrow will be the first time in nine years that I won’t have to make two lunches every day!

The last time he lives at home will be the first time I won’t have to do his laundry or yell at him to do his own laundry (at least for a few months but, that’s something).

And the last time he eats dinner with us before he leaves for college with be the first time that I don’t have to be annoyed that he has his ear phones on and can’t hear me so I have to text him in the other room to let him know that dinner is ready and I need the table set!

Perspective is a funny thing.

And it works the other way, too. I started thinking about my kids “first” moments—first steps, first words, first day of school. Those moments were also lasts if I shift my point of view. For instance, my first son’s first steps marked the last time I would be able to sit down for any length of time until my kids went to school. Had I known what his walking and eventual running, followed closely by climbing and jumping actually meant for me I may not have been so enthusiastic about taking photos of him walking – I may have taken photos of me lounging on the couch or sitting at the table enjoying a leisurely meal.

It is all about perspective.

More notable, yet unrecorded last moments masquerading as firsts:

My son’s first words = the last time I would able to have an adult conversation without being interrupted by a child’s questions.

His first “big boy” bed = the last time I would sleep in my bed (for eight years!) without a child climbing in at 5:30 am.

His first pair of big boy underwear = the last time I changed his diaper. Now that moment really should have been captured in a photo.

I guess my son was right, although he probably didn’t realize that he was doling out parenting advice. Parenting really is about your point of view. If you try to see things from a different angle it may not be as bad as it seems.

 

I Left My Baby On a Train!

Ok, I didn’t actually leave my baby on a train. It was my 13-year-old and I didn’t leave him anywhere; I put him on a commuter train heading for the safety of camp in the northern suburbs of Chicago.

Still, as the train pulled away from the station, it sure felt like I placed my newborn on the train and let him go.

It was like that Subaru commercial with the dad who is giving his car keys to his older daughter but instead of a mature teenager all he sees is a little girl in the driver’s seat.

What was I thinking??

Even my husband (he of the “let’s send our kids to summer camp for eight weeks and not have any communication with them” mindset) couldn’t believe that I let our son take the train! WTF?? I thought he would see this as a huge step toward independence.

It didn’t help that I kept replaying scenes from movies over and over in my head as I drove home from the train station.

Have you seen the movie, Source Code? The Jake Gyllenhaal movie where the northbound commuter train in Chicago explodes over and over again? Yes, that scene kept popping up.

Followed very closely by the scene from the movie, Unstoppable, where Chris Pine and Denzel Washington are desperately trying to stop a train from hurtling off the edge of the train tracks as it races toward a sharp bend in the tracks. (Clearly I have to stop watching late night television).

I fretted for a while, wondering if he actually made it to camp then realized, if there really was a problem, I would have gotten a call from the counselor who meets my son and his friend at the train every morning (or at least I would have seen something on the morning news, right?).

Then it hit me: what I was most afraid of when I put him on that train is not that he would end up as the victim of some crazy Hollywood movie plot; it was that he wouldn’t need me anymore.

The more independent my “baby” gets the less he will need me…and then he will be gone.

With my 17-year-old just a year away from leaving for college (and basically gone most of the time already) my youngest is the only one I have left to take care of (unless you count my husband and the dog and my 17-year-old when he is home, but you get the point).

Letting go of my 13-year-old means just that—letting go and not knowing what will happen or where he is or what he is doing. It’s scary…

…and, yet, surprisingly easy to get used to.

Let me explain.

The first couple of days I walked him down to the platform and admonished him to stay behind the yellow line. I waited for his friend to meet him but not for the train to actually show up (I watched for that from the bridge, out of his line of sight).

By the third day I found the walk down to the platform to be unnecessary. His friend will show up, I reasoned. Besides, it’s not like he wanted to sit and chat with me while we waited.

photo

He can’t get away fast enough

Day Four:

My alarm goes off at 6:45 am and my first thought is: why can’t he just ride his bike to the train?

What a difference four days make…

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