Archive for the ‘school’ Category

It’s Not Personal. It’s Parenting.

For a long time if one of my kids looked at me with disdain, snapped at me, or rolled his eyes, my blood would boil. How could they? I would wonder. I do everything for these kids and this is how they treat me?!?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized most of the time their bad attitudes have nothing to do with me; I’m just a safe target for my boys’ frustrations. Is it fair? No way. But at least it’s not because they don’t love me or appreciate me it’s because they trust me that they lash out.

Seems like a raw deal, I know.

This phenomenon – of lashing out at one person because you are mad at someone or something else – isn’t something that only happens between parents and kids. Often when we feel powerless or stressed or overwhelmed by something, we lash out at someone we know won’t fight back, like a parent or a spouse. Psychologists call this phenomenon “displaced aggression.” I admit I have displaced my aggression on someone else. Like my husband. Thankfully he ignores me or, when I’m really being a bitch, he calls me out on my bad behavior and I can take a step back to figure out what is actually going on.

I gotta say, though, I am not as good as my husband is at ignoring crappy behavior.

Especially from my kids.

It’s really hard not to take it personally.

For instance, just yesterday, as my 17-year-old sat at the kitchen counter enjoying a breakfast of eggs and bacon that I made for him, I asked him if he was cold. Before the words, “Do you need your sweatshirt?” were even out of my mouth, he snapped, “I don’t need anything.”

I’d like to tell you that my first thought was, maybe he misunderstood? Maybe he thought I said, “I am going to dump every single item that you treasure in a big pile on the front lawn and set it all on fire.” I mean, why else would he snap at something as innocuous as an offer to bring him a sweatshirt?

But, in reality, my first thought was actually: Fuck this. Let him freeze.

Thankfully those words did not escape from my lips. See, I’m a grown up (sort of), with a filter (sometimes), and many years of learning how to bear the brunt of my children’s displaced aggression (this part is 100% accurate). There was a time when I would automatically assume that my children were reacting to me – personally – and I would be upset. I remember when my oldest was two or three years old and refused to take a nap. I was POSITIVE he was doing it to spite me. Seriously. I finally figured out that he was just being a two-year-old (besides, he didn’t do things to spite me until he was at least 5).

Now I know there are definitely times when my kids’ anger and stress are absolutely, and properly, directed at me. The difference between those disagreements and displaced aggression, however, is that one situation has context and one comes out of the frickin’ blue. For example, if I say to my son, “No, you can’t sleep at a friend’s house tonight,” I expect an argument and the possibility of a slammed bedroom door. But when I say, “Do you want a sweatshirt?” I don’t expect a normally reasonable and respectful 17-year-old to be so salty.

Which is how I know it had nothing to do with me.

The sweatshirt fiasco took place about 90 minutes before my son’s AP Calc final. Was he stressed? Tired? A little bit of both? Probably. Does that make it ok? Ah, no.

Normally I would have said, “Let’s try that again with a different tone, please,” and possibly thrown in a short lecture on displaced aggression because I can’t help myself. This time I decided to let it go, for that moment at least. (Finals, stress, yada, yada…)

I waited until he came back home – when he was all happy and relaxed – and said, “Hey, remember when I asked if you were cold earlier and you acted like I asked if you wanted me to pour boiling water on you to warm you up? Well, your response was snippy and disrespectful.”

Blank stare.

I pressed on because, you know, it’s my job to teach my kids to be better people. “If something else is bugging you,” I explained. “Please don’t take it out on the wrong person.”

“Sorry. I don’t remember saying anything snippy.” he responded, genuinely perplexed. “I was really tired…and cold.”

Sigh.

 

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Do you take your kids’ actions personally? How do you deal with it?

 

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The Last First Day of High School

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

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

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

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

This too shall pass…

And then it did.

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

What happens to me when my nest is empty?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is very exciting.

 

 

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?

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