Posts Tagged ‘Separation’

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.


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??

It’s Official: I’m Useless-ish

I’ve become irrelevant.

No, really. Apparently, when I wasn’t looking, my children grew up and they no longer need me.

A good thing, I know, but still.

See, last week my youngest got his license. Finally! I thought as I sat in Hell’s waiting room the DMV. No more days broken up by a kid’s schedule. No more trying to finish work, clean the house, run errands and prep dinner during the two hour window between shuttling back and forth to practices or during the surprisingly short block of time between morning drop off and afternoon pick up from school.

And, most importantly, no more late night pickups from friend’s houses!


I would finally be able to don my pjs before 10 pm and not have to worry about running out in said pjs and being pulled over by a cop who would assume that I had been drinking or that I stole the car simply because I look like a vagrant. No silk robe or adorable short sets for me. No, my choice of sleepwear consists of a ratty old pair of shorts, a faded t-shirt and a Mickey Mouse sweatshirt I stole from my brother in high school. Pair that with my drooping sleep-deprived eyelids and my mop of hair and you can understand my fear of being mistaken for a drifter.

Those days are over!

So imagine my surprise when my son got his license and drove away from me for the first time and my first thought was: Wait! What? Driving you everywhere and bitching about it is my job!

Just like that. After 16 years as a chauffeur my services were no longer needed. I’d been unceremoniously let go.


The running joke in our house is that I am constantly trying to get fired from this mom gig. When I cook a mediocre meal or I forget to wash someone’s favorite shirt I beg my family to fire me. “I’m just no good at this job,” I say. “Go ahead, fire me. I’ll be ok.”

But I didn’t really mean it.

I read somewhere that our job as a parent is to make our job as a parent unnecessary. We are supposed to give our kids all of the skills they need to do all of the things we do for them so they can go live productive adult lives and not need to call us to figure out how to boil water. (That’s what YouTube is for).

You teach them things, like how to read, write, use the bathroom on their own, cross the street, organize their homework, feed themselves something (anything!) and do laundry because you want them to be free of you and a little part of you wants to be free of all of that crap, too.

Be careful what you wish for.

I don’t think it matters if you are a stay-at-home mom, a stay-at-home dad, or a mom or dad who works full time or part time, most parents just want to take care of their kids. They want to nurture and dote on their kids and part of doing that is by doing things for their kids. However, when your kids no longer need you to do things for them it is both gratifying (Yay! Job well done!) and bittersweet (Who will I read a bedtime story to now??).

I’m, of course, not talking about the mind-numbing or gross stuff that they eventually can do on their own (believe me, I never felt nostalgic for the diaper changing days) but the stuff that is occasionally fulfilling. Like driving them around. As their private driver I felt my kids were safe(r) if I was driving. I also had the best conversations with my kids while driving since they did not feel the pressure of having a face-to-face conversation. And, (probably the best part) I could eavesdrop on carpool conversations. For whatever reason, kids forget that you exist when you are the driver and they talk about things they would never, ever normally say in front of you.

Sigh. Those days are over.

Now I will just need to be satisfied with my new, pared down job description. My job has been streamlined not eliminated entirely because it’s feeding time at our house (otherwise known as lunch) and as I write this my 20-year-old son just asked what there is to eat.

I guess I’m not completely irrelevant after all.


Bye, 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?


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.



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.


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.


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…

Go Away*

“I can’t wait to go to college!” my 17-year-old proclaimed.

Finally, I thought. I was so excited that I completely ignored the fact that he finished the sentence with: “…so I can get away from YOU!”


Whatever the driving force may be, I don’t care – he wants to leave!

I was worried for a while that I was making his life too easy and he would never want to go to college. He doesn’t need to set an alarm clock because I happily (?!) climb up and down the stairs every morning for at least a half-an-hour begging him to get out of bed. He’s never had to make his own dinner (if food is not prepared he’ll graze until he can get the car keys and go out to eat); and his sheets and clothes are (surprise!) always clean when he needs them.

Why would he want to leave?? (And more importantly, what is wrong with me??)

I know most adults would never leave a place where they are catered to, waited on and downright worshipped, so why would a teen?

But I have finally hit on the best way to get your kids to leave: annoy them, harass them, remove their bedroom door if you have to, whatever it is just do it and let them move out.

Don’t get me wrong. I love my kids. But I really, really, really want them to go to college – preferably a college that requires a 3-4 hour plane ride from home. Of course I will miss them but I will see them again – there are lots of breaks from school where they can come home, sleep late, visit their friends and borrow our car. Breaks that are just long enough to remind me that I want them to become productive members of society so they can move into their own homes and do their own laundry.

When we first started discussing college with our son, I didn’t really think that I would need to sell him on the idea of going away. It’s college! It’s freedom! It’s fun! But he just didn’t seem to grasp that.

We wanted to show him college students having fun (no, not playing beer pong or doing shots off of a co-eds belly) so we sent him to a college football game. Take my advice: If you are trying to sell your kid on the idea that college kids have SO MUCH FUN then don’t let him go to a football game on a rainy 43–degree day with his dad, uncle and grandfather and make him sit in the stands until the end of the game even though the final score is 83-10.

He won’t even look at a Big 10 school now.

We tried other tactics like stopping at a college that “just happened to be on our way” to our destination and scheduling college visits with his friends but nothing motivated him…until we demanded that he give up his phone at 11:00 pm every night.

Now he can’t wait to get away. Who knew?

I have to wield this new power wisely though. I don’t want to tighten our rules so much that we find him climbing out the window in the middle of the night to flee from the tyranny. No, I will pull out the demands only when I find him getting a little too comfortable in our home like when he plops himself on a stool at the counter and says “breakfast,” or when he’s out of clothes and asks me when I’m going to finish his laundry.

Then all bets are off…


*I’ve been holding on to this piece for the past couple of days because it seemed contrary to what I was feeling since the bombing incidents in Boston. This blog post is about wanting my kid to “Go Away” but on Monday I was prepared to have both of my kids live with me forever if it meant I could protect them from random acts of violence. But with a few day’s distance I remembered that no matter where my kids are I will worry about them. It doesn’t matter if they are running down the stairs too quickly at home or driving home from college, I will worry. If I tried to protect them from everything I wouldn’t allow them to go to the movies or a shopping mall without me and they wouldn’t be allowed to participate in largely populated events, teach children in elementary schools or even attend college. And those are only the events of the past year and a half. And so, it is with that in mind, that I can say my kid will leave home and I will worry but it is the way it’s supposed to be.

Separation Anxiety

Three days ago my oldest son landed in Costa Rica. I thought that it would be the first time—ever—that he and I would go more than a day without communicating. Everyone told me that cell service was basically non-existent in the cloud forest. There was also no WiFi in the rooms where he was staying so if he needed to communicate with me he would have to email me from the student area.

He does not send email.

He considers anything longer than a six-word text essentially writing a novel, so, I had prepared myself for limited communication.

And then I got this email:

“I’m not in the same room as [the kids I’m traveling with] but that’s ok, I’ve made other friends…There’s no WiFi in the rooms so this is the last email that I am going to send. Love you! Bye”

It was like a knife through my heart. That’s it? I won’t get anything for the rest of the trip? He’s never been away from me for two weeks and certainly we’ve never gone two weeks without speaking. And now, nothing? I forwarded the email to my friend and wrote: “I’ve lost my baby…” (Very dramatic, I know).

I’d gone through this with my 12-year-old when he went away to summer camp but at least at his summer camp the counselors made him write home – even when he didn’t want to. And, they posted pictures of the campers so I could see if he was smiling and, most importantly, he was in this country.

My 16-year-old was in a jungle in Central America without me.

I was a bit shocked by his ability to separate from me so easily. This is the kid who checks in with me all of the time, the kid who has never wanted to be away from home for an extended period of time, and, yet now, he’s gone. Just like that.

I wallowed in my sadness for a bit but then I realized that this was what I expected and, most importantly, what I wanted.

I settled in with my book for the night when I heard a call coming in on Skype.

Really? I had just accepted the fact that I wasn’t going to hear from him and now he’s Skyping?

I almost emailed my friend to say: “Never mind. He’s back.”

He wanted to tell us about the giant tarantula in the common area and the scorpions scurrying around the rooms. You’re in a jungle, I wanted to remind him. Instead I said, “That’s so cool! Now go to bed.”

An hour later…

The phone rings.

WTF! (It’s amazing what a difference an hour makes.)

This time he wanted to tell us that he had switched rooms because there was a scorpion the size of a baseball cap in the other room.

Creepy? Without a doubt. But still, not an emergency.

I tried to remain pleasant—he was nervous about sleeping in a bed of scorpions—I get it, but I ended the conversation with this reminder: “You really shouldn’t be calling me. It’s very expensive. If it’s an emergency call me, but if not, send us an email. You’ll be fine.”

Nine hours later:

“Hi mom! I got some sleep.”

Remember when I wanted him to call? Well, now I didn’t.

I want him to be independent. He’s going to college in two years and I really don’t want him to have to call me every day. I want him to NOT want to call me – even if I want him to call me. Get it?

When he hung up he was mad at me for reprimanding him about calling. I chose the tough love approach. If I don’t shove him away, will he ever be ready to leave?

Twelve hours later…


I checked email, made sure I was still logged in on Skype and checked my texts.


Remember when I said that I didn’t want to hear from him? Well, I was wrong.

He can’t even send a text? I know that I told him not to call but he never listens to me; why would he start now?

I know I sound crazy but I’m struggling with my need to let go and my desire to hold on for dear life. I know that my job is to teach my kids to be on their own. I do not want them living in my basement when they are thirty but the alternative could be that they are living somewhere else and I never see them.

How do you navigate that fine line? How do you get your kids to want you around but not so much that they can’t function without you?

An hour later…

I hear the beep of Skype.

Damn, I really thought he wasn’t going to call.

Ah well, here we go again…




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