Archive for the ‘school’ Category

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??

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.

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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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When I Grow Up I Want To Be…

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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?

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.

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.

 

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