Archive for the ‘Study Abroad’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I don’t like it.

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

Before I started checking flights, I checked my sanity.

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

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

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

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

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

And it happens.

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

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

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

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

(Here’s hoping Mom guilt works).

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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.

mama-bear

As if a weekend concert isn’t enough to put me over the edge, my older son is leaving for a semester abroad in Europe in less than a month. It is taking everything in me to let him go. Granted he’s 20 and I probably have little say in the matter but I have contemplated—on more than one occasion—not paying the tuition bill. “Sorry, check got lost in the mail, I guess you can’t go.”

I’ve also considered bribing him with a shiny new car or just a plain ol’ bag of cash. I can’t even imagine him being so inaccessible at a time when the world is so unpredictable.

Of course the world was never “predictable.” Accidents happen, things get stolen, much is out of our control. But, as a parent I worry about it all.

I didn’t really get it until I became a parent. I traveled to Rome 30 years ago for a semester abroad and flew into the same airport where terrorists shot and killed 13 people just weeks before I arrived.

I still can’t believe my parents let me go.

A few months later the US was attacking Libya and we were on high alert for attacks on Americans. I know my parents were worried about me and they didn’t have cell phones, the Internet or Facebook’s Safety Check to stay touch in case of an emergency. I will never forget when I returned home from that trip that my dad’s hair had turned completely white in my absence. Sure, maybe it was time for his hair to go gray but I’m pretty sure it was stress-induced premature graying.

I totally get it now.

So, yes, barring any unforeseen developments in the next month my son go to Europe and my hair, like my dad’s, will turn completely gray while he is gone. I will attempt to arm him with information and help him prepare for the worst even if it seems pointless. I will force him to seek out the American Embassy when he gets to his destination (or I will cut off funding—fast); I will find contacts throughout Europe to formulate an evacuation plan; I will reiterate (over and over and over again) that he should avoid crowds, travel during off times and always be aware of his surroundings and I will hope that all my planning and worrying was for naught.

As for the outdoor concert this weekend, I’ve done what I can. Now I’m just hoping for severe thunderstorms and flooding of the venue. A girl can dream can’t she??

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