What’s the one reason you should let your kids watch 13 Reasons Why—the story of why Hannah Baker committed suicide?
It’s because they’ve already watched it.
By the time the school emails and letters were spawned from the reports on CNN, NPR, The New York Times, and the like, that barn door had been opened and cued up for a month.
It doesn’t matter that you have controls on your Netflix account, or that your child doesn’t have a smartphone, or that you have drawn your line in the sand over what is appropriate viewing. Your child has gained access even if they had to watch it in ten minute increments on Billy’s iPhone before batting practice. This show is that much of a phenomenon.
Think I’m wrong? Just ask your kid, “Hey, what does ‘here’s your tape’ mean?”
And believe me, I know the issues with 13 Reasons Why. I already visited this fun house seven years ago when the novel was assigned to my daughter for a book report in seventh grade. She was twelve and her teacher RECOMMENDED this book. Yeah. I spent two days skimming it and gathering age appropriate information on sexual assault and suicide so I could have discussions with my daughter to give her some context for the book’s themes.
I was not pleased . . . but I am grateful. This was my wake-up call: I was no longer my daughter’s filter for the world. My control had been evaporating since the moment she stepped foot on the bus for kindergarten, but I had been too busy to notice just how gossamer it was. Fast forward to when I found out my other daughter had binge-watched “American Horror Story” at a sleepover, and I was primed to accept that forbidding books and shows was like the Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the holes in the dyke. Just when you think you have it covered, another one springs up.
There is a real danger in forbidding certain shows, books, and movies, too. If your child has to sneak behind your back to be part of the pop culture tsunami, you’ve closed off the possibility of discussion. Worse yet—in the case of “13 Reasons Why”—maybe they’ve only had time to sneak the brutal rape and suicide scenes without any of the context of the rest of the series.
I am not campaigning for or against kids watching “13 Reasons Why.” That is already being covered in the news outlets by experts and playing out in PTA meetings across the country. I am acknowledging that it simply is, and it has to be dealt with.
I urge you as a parent to watch it, invite your kids to watch it again with you, or at the very least watch the documentary at the end, “Behind the Reasons,” together. This documentary was filmed as a tool to help parents and teens frame the mindset of the artistic choices made by the creators, and to encourage those at risk to speak up and seek help. This show needs that explanation and discussion. There are some very useful talking points available from the JED Foundation, a teen suicide prevention group, and there is crisis help information on the 13 Reasons Why website.
This is arguably a dangerous series for at-risk youth, but it is not going away. Many summaries of the series claim that the story ends with Hannah’s suicide, but it actually doesn’t. It ends with one of the students reaching out to reconnect with a girl who was once his friend.
This series provoked tears, anger, frustration, outrage, and indignation in my own daughter. However, when asked what she got out of it, she replied, “Well, we all need to be nicer to one another.”
Why are we starting college tours for our second daughter during her sophomore year?
It’s not to freak out my friends or make them feel like they’re behind.
It’s not to draw the scorn of those who are silently screaming: “WHY WOULDN’T YOU START EARLIER?!” (I will go on record saying to chill with the tours starting in grade school.)
It’s because this IS my second rodeo. The April of my first rodeo—also known as my oldest daughter’s senior year—had us zipping up and down the East Coast with her college decision coming down to the May 1st wire. My brain wants to shutdown and take a nap just remembering it.
See, I was so intent on avoiding the competitive college stress spiral that I may have underestimated how little time there really was. I realized that maybe, just maybe, the parents who I thought were zealous were just good planners. I was also lulled by my daughter’s methodical selection of schools based on the major she wanted to pursue. She was so focused on what each college offered that it almost seemed beside the point to visit them.
But most importantly, we didn’t start touring before junior year because of good ol’ run-of-the-mill naiveté. IT WAS MY FIRST TIME! IT FELT LIKE WE WERE GROPING AROUND IN THE DARK!
Most college advice found on the internet was too intense, and while the guidance office was fantastic at meeting deadlines, it was a little light on the guidance. Even friends were not much help. It seems like the college application process is a lot like childbirth: people forget the hours of labor and only remember the outcome. I mean seriously, my daughter ended up at the perfect school for her so I could be spouting “all’s well that ends well” and calling it a day. Luckily for you, I am cursed with a mind for remembering hardships, blessed with an ability to learn from experience, and overflowing with a passion to share what I know. Apparently, I also have a wee flair for the dramatic.
Why I Now Think Touring in 10th Grade is Swell
It all comes down finding free days on the calendar.
You need to tour when students are there. We learned the hard way that a campus can have a drastically different feel when it’s devoid of life and bustle. It’s really the difference between looking at buildings and truly experiencing the campus vibe. So. This strikes holidays, most of December and January, the school’s spring break, and summer from available tour dates. Remember too that spring session often ends at the beginning of May. Now if you’re driving past a school on your summer vacation and want to take a peek, don’t let me stop you, just think twice before making any costly special trips. Even summer session is not the same.
Shifting your child’s focus.If your kid hasn’t already experienced the college process with a sibling or friend, it may seem very unreal to them. Touring some beautiful campuses can be just the ticket to make your literature-loving child realize that chemistry does indeed matter as a means to an end.
Tip: If the times for tours seem to be full for your desired date when you check online, call the admissions department. More times than not, they are very accommodating.
Junior year is crazy crammed . . . andstressful. There’s SATs and ACTs, regular sports and clubs, travel teams, AP exam prep, proms, driver’s ed, and driving tests . . . to name just a sampling. Couple this with the hardest course load your child is likely to face in high school, and your sweetie might not have a day to spare for college tours. On my junior’s few scheduled days off that coordinated with the college calendars, she just wanted to catch up on her work and sleep.
The stakes are lower. Yep, this also has to do with the calendar; hear me out. When you tour a school as a junior, and especially as a senior, the pressure of getting in can loom heavy. We did not tour some of my daughter’s “reach” schools because she thought it would be too disappointing if she didn’t get in. This left us with at least three schools she needed to see after she got accepted in March. They weren’t close to each other—or us— and it was a struggle to see them before commitment day: May 1st. We all agreed that if we had toured some of them in sophomore year, the pressure would have been reduced.
Location matters. If my daughter had visited Boston University in February of her sophomore year, I doubt she would have applied to any school north of the Mason-Dixon line because the cold stunned her. Instead, we were trying to book hotel rooms during the Boston Marathon because that was the only open weekend for us in her senior year. See? Still about the calendar.
Just look at her middle school room redo. How did we not know she was destined to fly south?
One disadvantage of touring in 10th grade: your child might not be focused enough to know their desired major. Tours of specific departments really are invaluable in the selection making process. But even so, the general tour will help your child decide if the school makes their list. Also, school doesn’t necessarily need to be in session for department tours to be informative. Those sessions are more about the facilities, professors, curriculum, and advisers.
Oh, you know how we love a good booklist! In fact, our last one was so chock full of good reads that you might want to give it another look. As Erin is currently teaching middle school, we thought it was time to put together a list for the younger set too. Sometimes, tweens are hard sells on a book, but these reads are so good, their stories so compelling, that even the most reluctant reader will succumb to their charms. So here it is: a tween booklist guaranteed to hit that reading sweet spot for your favorite young reader!
Um, an enchanted harmonica. Say what? Trust us on this one. Ryan’s magical tale that spans multiple generations and travels across continents is a new classic. The book dives right into some of the thornier aspects of our history and brings a wide-eyed, open-hearted approach. Sometimes this makes for heart-wrenching reading, but ultimately the story is a triumph and a powerful reminder that we can overcome all with love.
Beautiful and moving, this story set in the shadow of World War II is an inspiration. Our hero Annabelle must withstand the local bully, Betty Glengarry, but her actions set in motion a larger, more important story that one of bullying. This remarkable story is “To Kill a Mockingbird” for the middle school set
Caveat: please read this one before you hand it to a child younger than middle school. That being said, Park handles what could be a very violent book with grace and care. Told from two vantage points and set in 2008, the book follows Nya, a young girl from Sudan who has to fetch water for her village and Salva, a young Sudanese boy whose village is attacked by the rebels in 1985 and who ends up fleeing across the desert to a refugee camp in Ethiopia. This story has true elements to it and the heartbreak of this African village is certainly real, but it’s also an important beautifully rendered account that kids will read quickly.
This book is a true classic and even won the Newbery Award. Set in the South during the Great Depression, this book is hard but hopeful and the characters are bright and entertaining in the face of tragedy and racism. You will appreciate the warm ties and truths as your kids will identify and cheer for the family.
This book is just a great time. Funny, chocked full of adventure, and filled to the brim with heart, there’s nothing not to love here. But the magic is in our protagonist, Tiffany Aching, who sets out on a mission to become a witch. The six inch high tiny but fierce fighting men who assist her help create the magic here. If funny fantasy were a genre, this book would be at the top of it.
Set on our beloved Eastern Shore of Maryland, we would probably have a little love for this book even if it wasn’t so deftly knitted together. Luckily for your young reader, this story of a tragic kayak accident is powerful in and of itself. The moral questions the protagonist Brady must answer as he uncovers the truth behind the accident propel this story past the regret and sadness to another place. As the author steers Brady through some tough moral dilemmas without losing any of the suspense, you are reminded over and over again why the book won the honor of being named a Black Eyed Susan book.
This Texas Bluebonnet Award winner is a wonder in and of itself. The central character August Pullman has a facial deformity which has prevented him from attending a regular school. When he does finally become a student at Beecher Prep, this buoyant tale takes off. Augie just wants to be treated like everyone else, but, well, everyone else might not be ready for that. Told from the perspective of Augie, his classmates, and his family, this anti-bullying story never comes off as preachy, but does allow room to talk about fears and prejudices and, ultimately, the power of kindness. Wonder of all wonders. A must read for all middle schoolers!
Wow. Just wow. This book sticks with you. Melody is the smartest kid in school, but she can’t talk or walk, so nobody knows. When she finally finds a way to communicate, she seems on her way to fulfilling her dream of just being a “regular” kid. But, sigh, middle school is hard, yo. Frank and open, this book takes us inside one girl’s journey with cerebral palsy and, even with detours into some heavy stuff, we are all made better from the trip.
This book reads like Charlotte Rogan’s Lifeboat for the teen set. Poor Robie leaves Hawaii for a trip home to Midway when her plane goes down. Unfortunately, nobody really knows she’s missing or where to look for her. Oh, yeah, and she’s pretty much on her own adrift on a raft in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. It’s disaster lit at its best. Your older tween and teen will enjoy this fast-paced easy read.
This series tops the middle school lists. In this dystopian future world, society is divided into five factions named for dedication to five different virtues— (Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). This is the next series for any kid who devoured The Hunger Games and has been hankering for more of the same. This series adds some different elements that make it interesting for sure, but your child should probably have the same level of maturity to really enjoy it. Think of this one as upper middle school.
Set during the Middle Ages, Silvano is a guy having kind of a bad streak of luck. Wrongfully accused of murder, he is sent to a Franciscan House for his own protection. Posing as a young friar there, Silvano can’t help falling for the lovely girl in the nearby abbey. But he just can’t catch a break. More murders threaten to take Silvano’s freedom for good and keep him from his love. Unlike Hoffman’s popular Stravanganza series set in an alternate world that looked like Renaissance Italy, this suspenseful tale is actually set in fourteenth century Umbria. The historical element just adds another layer to this already rich story. Your young readers will swoon.
Ideal for all fluent readers, this series is a runaway hit. Luke is a 12 year old kid who has spent his life in hiding. The Population Police have dictated that each family can only have two kids. As his family’s third child, Luke’s life is in danger so he has never experienced many of the simple joys of childhood. As his world changes, he glimpses others like himself and launches a daring plan to come out of the shadows that gives energy and momentum to the series. Your kids will be so busy trying to keep up with all the plot twists and turns that they won’t even know they just spent their summer reading.
This recommendation cannot come without also calling attention to Anderson’s other wonderful titles Speak and Chains, both National Book Award finalists. Anderson is the master of historical fiction for the Axe and Aero set. This novel takes us to Philadelphia during the yellow fever epidemic is one of her best. Told from the point of view of Mattie Cook, this tale weaves a narrative around the real-life events and characters of the time. Anderson never treats her young readers like unintelligent ones so the language in the book is just as rich and interesting as the story itself. And there’s an appendix at the end with facts about the epidemic. Sqwee! To a certain reader, it’s kind of like getting a birthday cake on Christmas. Score!
This is an oldie but greatie. Several of us remember this book as one of our favorites from childhood and at least one of us taught this book to our students. Another Newbery winner, this book has been charming readers for over twenty-five years and it still reads as fresh and inventive as it did back then. Sixteen people show up to the reading of Samuel Westing’s will. Any of them could walk away with his millions. The fun is in the unravelling. An absolute delight to read!
Animal-lovers will flock to this book! Zelly is moving to Vermont and she desperately wants a dog. Her grandpa Ace comes up with a crazy scheme to convince her parents that she is ready for one: he makes her a dog out of an old orange juice jug. There is a lot to love about this book. The sweet but complicated relationship Zelly has with her grandpop Ace, her new friend who encourages her to stay true to her convictions even in the face of social pressures, and the subtle themes of responsibility and treating all people (even bullies) with respect woven throughout. The author even inserts some great education about the Jewish faith into the story as Zelly meets two families who are devout Jews in a town that where they are a distinct and noticeable minority. Kids will love the Yiddish glossary at the end!
So you had to know this book was special once you figured out that this sequel won the Newbery Honor Award, but it’s also pretty apparent from the moment you open the spine (without breaking it, of course) and settle into the pages. Thirteen year old Dicey and her three siblings were abandoned by her mother in a parking lot and she has heralded them safely to her grandmother’s house where this story begins. The truth and beauty of Dicey’s voice and story, the pace and strong characters, and ultimately the honesty that permeates from this fast-paced read are all part of its charm. Oh, and it was one of Erin’s favorite books from when she was on the cusp of teendom.
This funny, tender book about being true to who you are doesn’t ever come across as schmaltzy and boys will be laughing too hard at all the crazy adventures of Gabe and his friends at Nerd Camp to notice all the sweet stuff anyway. Gabe’s dad is getting remarried and he is getting a stepbrother who happens to be the very same age. This is great news for Gabe until he realizes that his new brother Zack is a cool skateboarder while he is, well, not. Gabe desperately wants to hide his geekiness from Zack and the story unfolds. In the end, this is a story about accepting yourself for who you are. It’s such a positive, upbeat story narrated by an engaging young voice that tween boys won’t be able to put this book down.
Oh, we love a strong female lead and this book has one in the firecracker protagonist named Mo LeBeau. Big on personality and heart, this book is also a full-blown mystery topped with a little Southern charm. As a read, it goes down like a smooth glass of perfect lemonade. Your kids will be charmed by the quirky cast of characters and the precocious but believable dialogue.
Erin’s kids have been known to fall asleep clutching spy goggles and our friend Mary’s son brought his spy watch kayaking, hiking, and camping last year. Boys LOVE spy stuff. So a book about a school for spies? It has Hogwarts for Future Double Agents written all over it. Even the hero Ben is a little Potter reminiscent. Slow to warm up to the spy stuff, Ben wins in the end—making friends, helping to uncover the hidden mole, and getting his spy groove on. This book brings the action, ninja stars, and combat simulation (in the form of paintball—of course) to the CIA Academy and kids who enjoy a witty tale with a side of suspense will be delighted. This would be a great read-aloud for younger kids too.
College tours are essential for deciding where your kid’s home away from home is going to be for the next four (or more) years. It’s a big deal! In fact the gravity of the situation may have you obsessively making lists of questions to pepper the tour guide with once you get them in your sights.
But . . .
Remember college is all about your child stepping out on their own. If you take over the tour group time, you’re essentially creating a filter between your kid and their experience of the campus. A wise compromise is to discuss using the tour group time effectively BEFORE you slap on that name tag. This list of questions will help. In fact, why not just forward the entire article to your child now?
3 General Tips
1. Only tour when students are present. It makes all the difference in the world. Without the students, you’re just looking at a bunch of buildings. We already made this mistake, learn from it. The first school we toured was on winter break, and my daughter got a very negative impression of it: cold, too expansive, and boring. We went back later and she discovered a whole new perspective when the student union was hopping and the quad was filled with students. Luckily this campus was only a couple of hours from our house, but who has time to tour all the colleges on their list twice?
2. Understand what questions NOT to ask the tour guide. If it’s a question that can be answered from the website, skip it. Enough with obsessing over the average SAT scores already. Also, realize what is beyond their scope. Your guide will generally be a student—a well-trained student—but still, they have no admissions authority. On every. single. tour. someone asked about financial aid. Just no. That’s what an appointment with a financial aid counselor is for.
3. If you have to choose between a tour and sitting in on a class, take the tour. While it may be exciting for your student to get a taste of college, they’re getting a very narrow experience just sitting in on one class. We got much more decision-making information from thoughtfully using a tour. By our third visit, even if we had time for our daughter to sample a class, she was passing on that option. Sitting in on a class was more helpful on accepted student days.
Questions to Ask
First consider your tour guide to be your window into what it’s really like to attend that school! Just remember, this is their job, a job they picked because they love their school, but still a job. They’re trained on how to deflect negative questions. I’m definitely NOT saying they are disingenuous, but let’s just acknowledge that questions like “how’s the party scene?” have certain scripted answers.
To get information not found anywhere else, it helps to get your guides talking about themselves—everyone’s favorite subject.
With that in mind, a good place for your student to start is . . .
1. Why did you choose this school? Ask this of as many people as you can to get as clear a picture as you can. It’s better than the anonymous info on College Niche.
2. What is this school known for? If you keep hearing “sports,” you need to decide if that’s an important thing to you or not. When the social scene revolves around going to games, you may be lonely if you don’t join in.
3. What do you think the “big” majors are at this school? If all you hear is “engineering” and you’re a dance major, you may want to assess how much funding goes to the arts.
4. Have you switched your major? How hard is it to switch your major? MANY students switch their majors. One school dropped off of my daughter’s list when she discovered she had to pick between applying to the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. If she wanted to switch between the two after she started attending, it was a whole new application process, not just a transfer form.
5. What year are you? How easy was it for you to get the classes you wanted? How about when you were a freshman? Most students readily spill aboutthe pain and annoyance of being shut out of classes. This is very telling.
6. How were you assigned your adviser and do you use them? Be very concerned about finishing in four years at a school where people claim not to use advising. It of course can be done, but it takes a high level of diligence.
7. How did you communicate with your adviser before you signed up for classes as a freshman and how helpful were they? We did not ask this once and it should have been one of the deciding factors for picking a school. We lucked out that the advisement program at my daughter’s university is superb. Her adviser spent a couple of hours with her on the phone over multiple calls helping her map out her classes for freshman year and beyond. Be aware that the quality of advisement can vary by major even at the same school.
8. What year do people start to get internships? Be a little worried if the answer is senior year because from internships come jobs.
9. Is studying abroad a big deal here? What year do people do it? Also be aware that some schools encourage it during winter breaks and summers meaning extra cost on top of tuition. Some schools have programs where a semester abroad is covered by tuition plus travel costs.
10. What are the best dorms? Did you get that one as a freshman? Good to get the inside scoop.
11. How did you get your roommate? At my daughter’s school there was an official questionnaire and matching service, but my daughter found hers on the unofficial Facebook page. Also good to note, especially if it is a local college, do people seem to room with friends from high school?
12. Are there “quiet” dorm or floor options? Another question we did not think to ask. This is good for the introvert and the extrovert. The quiet person can get what she wants and the socialite can avoid being shushed (or worse) all of the time.
13. Do you still live on campus? When do students generally move off-campus? Another question we should have asked. I thought my girl would have at least three years in the dorms, but alas, many of the students at her school move off-campus after freshman year (the only year they are required to live in the dorms).
14. Have you been here during a campus lockdown? Are alerts sent out often? These questions delve deeper than “is the campus safe?”
15. Does the campus clear out on the weekends? If you are hundreds of miles away from home, you don’t want to end up at what is essentially a commuter school.
16.Describe your typical Saturday here to me. Gets at the above question from a different angle.
17. What are you involved with on campus? This is a more open-ended way to see what clubs, endeavors, and activism your tour guide is involved with.
18. What kinds of off-campus things do you do? This canbe very telling about the surrounding art culture, jobs, and club scene . . . or it can drive home that you are looking at a school in the middle of a cow pasture.
19. What do the locals say about this school? Also very telling.
20. How necessary is it to have a car? If freshman are not allowed cars, how do people work around that? This will clue you into how prevalent the use of Uber is or whether there is a sweet garage where students keep their cars off-campus.
Okay, now breathe. These questions only serve as a guideline for information you may not have thought to gather, not as permission to monopolize the group. Let others talk. You may just learn something neither you nor I realized we needed to know. And by all means, if you think of a good question, please add it in the comments. I have college tours looming on my horizon AGAIN.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: if your child is very interested in a school and has narrowed their major down, please consider calling that department to arrange for a specialized tour. They may even offer for you to meet with a dean or an adviser before you even have to ask. We found this VERY helpful if we were visiting from far away and “popping over” for another look was not possible.
Oooo, one last LAST piece of advice. Talk finances with your child before you tour. If you can’t swing a school without significant aid/scholarship, let them know that caveat before they fall in love. It’s an easier conversation before they have stars in their eyes.
Happy touring and take plenty of pictures! This may be the start of your child’s new path!
My college freshman daughter came home for Thanksgiving and it. was. glorious. Some friends who still have all of their chicks under one roof commented that Thanksgiving break came up pretty quickly considering it was only three months since I said good-bye. Only. I just again read my piece about sending her off in August—contemplating whether or not my “sweet spot of motherhood” was behind me—and it feels like it has been three lifetimes.
My “sweet spot” did indeed expand as I had hoped to encompass long distance parenting from Maryland to Miami. My daughter has communicated with us with a regularity beyond my wildest hopes via texting, Face Timing, calling, and Snapchatting. She is generous about sharing her new life, and has continued to seek my advice. I haven’t been kicked to the proverbial curb. For my part, I have become the master of high quality care packages.
She is still in my life, it’s just in a different way. In a way that is the epitome of life moving forward. In fact, life continued to march forward for all of us. As soon as we dropped her off, field hockey was in full swing for my sophomore daughter. And then I shoveled out her room. And then we got a dog. There really was no time for weeping or hand-wringing . . . or at least I didn’t leave myself time for that.
In general, I’ve handled marching forward pretty well. That’s why I was taken aback by the wave of emotion that hit me during the week she was home for Thanksgiving.
I missed her most while she was here!
I mean I have missed her since the moment she left, but I had gotten use to her not being around. And by “used to” I mean I just didn’t think about it that much. I really just couldn’t. Besides, she is happily hitting her stride, and we had a lovely visit over Family Weekend. How could I complain about a natural order that was going this well?
But, I have felt a bit off-centered and blah. Not exactly mopey, just unsettled. Beating her room into order and adopting myself some unconditional canine love helped, but I hadn’t really worked through it all. There’s not a lot of space to discuss ambiguous feelings. People can maybe handle hearing that you are sad, but they really just want you to say “I’m fine.” My kid was busy being everything I hoped she would be, so what right did I have to be sad anyway? And really, when people ask you how things are going with college, they want to hear about your kid and then get back to picking through the pumpkins at the farm stand.
While I had adjusted to her being gone like a swell little soldier—my life is pretty good after all—her being here for a week illuminated with LED intensity all that had been missing. It took the return of her vim and vigor for me to realize the full impact of its absence.
I felt unmoored because I missed the dynamic of her just being in our space: her wit, her clutter, her willingness to pitch in, as well as her exasperating insistence that we embark on a ten minute hunt for another tube of toothpaste because brushing her teeth in the shower “saved” time and her sister was currently using the only other tube. While I love her snip-its of news and Snapchats, I missed what her presence brings to our family unit under this roof: completeness. Her whole senior year through college move-in day was such a seismic shift, but when the earthquake was over, I just plowed ahead instead of assessing the aftermath.
When spellcheck bleated just now that “unmoored” was not a word, I looked it up to find descriptive perfection: tobringtothestateofridingwithasingleanchorafterbeingmoored bytwoormore. Eureka! This is it! After spending sixteen years with the tug and grounding of two kids with their schedules, activities and needs, I was suddenly lighter with only one at home. But instead of feeling free, I only had the uncomfortable sensation of buffeting in the breeze. In related news I may be prone to mini-panics that my youngest will be going to college in three short years.
More than once during the week I had to snap myself back into the moment instead of anticipating the empty space yawning wide again once she left. It really wasn’t hard because we had such a great time, but you know what? It hasn’t been that bad she she went back. I feel better now that my brain realizes the void my heart was flapping around. I still miss her, but I feel more grounded knowing that our family “completeness” isn’t gone; it’s just something I have to look forward to now when she returns. And boy, do I have a detailed answer for the next person who asks me how I am doing.
Man, it has been a rough teen week in the Dymowski household. My daughter is finishing up all of her college applications, my fifteen year old is learning to drive, and the thirteen year old who hates to read has a book report. We are, in short, a hot mess of emotions. As is our way, we are splashing this everywhere, a fair warning to anyone considering a visit or even a casual conversation. The conditions are, however, optimal for a little introspection and reevaluation. So it’s the perfect time to remember a tip for parenting through the teen years, one born many moons ago before Steve and I were even parents.
Back then, we were just two kids on our honeymoon in Ireland. The wildly changing temperatures meant that even in August, we might freeze like popsicles on a moor or dissolve in puddles of sweat walking through a quaint town. We casually mentioned this to our host at one of the bed and breakfasts. His reply? “That’s Ireland. Our country’s motto should be: don’t like the weather, wait a minute.” Such straightforward, unadorned, and simple advice was exactly what we needed to adjust our expectations. Knowing that whatever foul weather befell us would swiftly give way to sunnier times made it easier to wade though the uncomfortable and unpleasant moments. Armed with newfound hope and perspective, we enjoyed the rest of our trip a little more.
Shortly after we returned home, we moved to the lovely coast of Maine. Ireland and Maine have much to recommend them in terms of raw, natural beauty and friendly natives. In terms of weather, not so much. To be frank, weathermen in both places have the easiest job ever. Pick a weather condition, throw it out there, and for at least part of the day, they are probably right. In any case, we felt that our friendly Irishman’s insight worked here too. “If you don’t like the weather, wait a minute” became a salve on a raw, frigid day, a buffer that took the edge off a wet and miserable one. Better times were a-coming. We could soldier on.
Fast forward thirteen years (we had a honeymoon baby), and we were facing down a storm unlike any we had ever seen before. Our newly minted teen son was shaking our house with the full force and raw power of his adolescent fury. Gale force winds wish they had the power to rattle the windows like he did that day. Completely at a loss for what to do, Steve said under his breath, “if you don’t like the weather, wait a minute.”
“This too shall pass” on steroids, these words defused the situation. We both exhaled. Things were ugly now, but they wouldn’t always be. We could stay calm and cool. We could deflect his words and anger with a soothing presence. We could use the minute we were taking to practice empathy for our son. And we were lucky. This storm, like most teen tempests, blew hard but fast. Dawn brought cooler heads, better talks, and with them some much needed perspective.
Planet Teen can be a rough and inhospitable place. Harsh things are said, emotions run high, and terrible storms blow up. But here’s the thing, they also blow over. The key to staying high and dry when you are in the thick of it is to remember that most of the teen landscape, while a little rocky, is also full of wonderful things to see and do.
But if you have had a week with your teens like I have, let’s all just give ourselves a minute. Not all days are going to make the Facebook feed, but we are still living them. This bad weather we may be experiencing, while tough, isn’t the overall climate of our home. Better times are a-coming, and we are going to soldier on.
Chances are if you have a teen ready to drive, you’ve been motoring around for a decade or three yourself. It’s hard to recall a time when jumping behind the wheel was fresh and new, but this is exactly the mindset you need when teaching your child to drive. Yes, YOU teach your darling to drive. Maybe senility is knocking at my door, but I really feel like “back in the day” the drivers education instructor did most of the well, instructing. Where I live in Maryland, my kid needs to be in the car with me for 20 hours before they get behind-the-wheel training with an instructor.
Here’s a direct quote from the pamphlet:
The behind the wheel lessons are intended to guide your teen by evaluating their current driving skills, determining where they need more practice, and preparing them for the MVA exam. The parent/adult driver(s) that work with the student for the 60+ practice hours are teaching the teen how to drive.
You could have knocked me over with a feather once I realized this with my oldest daughter. I was already finding this phase of parenting to be the most challenging (realizing 14 years too late that potty training was NOTHING), but finding out I couldn’t really turn this over to a professional was pretty disheartening. Like a bag of chocolate chips followed by a red wine chaser disheartening.
Hey, I’m an experienced driver with a clean record, and the DMV gave me a trifold pamphlet, so it was all good, right? It wasn’t quite as mind-blowing as being handed my firstborn at the hospital with the proclamation “Go forth and be a parent!” but it wasn’t great either. At least now I had the internet. Okay, I had the internet when she was born, but Google didn’t launch until two months later. Let that sink in.
But while handy dandy Google had answers for me this time, they were all over the place. All I wanted to know was where to begin. Luckily I was able to formulate a plan by piecing together what I read and adding it to the advice offered by our Facebook followers.
My biggest revelation with my oldest daughter was that the first lessons happened way before the open road. My biggest discovery with my second daughter was that The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) launched teendriversource.org; a site chock full of research-based guidelines, tools, and tutorials for parents, teens, and educators. The only “problem” is there is so much information, it’s hard to initially land at the starting point.
Here’s how to get rolling:
First Steps for Teaching Your Teen to Drive
Start with getting YOUR mind in the right place. It is your job to remove distractions and one of them is YOU. Yep. Teens report that one of the biggest distractions is when parents get emotional. So get ready for an Oscar nomination because you must maintain an air of calm through it all: keep your voice modulated, try not to stomp a hole through the floorboard, and always have them pull the carover to discuss dicey situations. This two minute video can give you further tips on creating the right learning environment.
Go over the car thoroughly. Remember this is all new. Consider every button mysterious and explain it. Describe how to adjust the mirrors and the seats. Explain how you turn on the car and work the pedals. Need some help remembering what all of the basic steps are? Check out these short videos where it is all laid out. Have your teen put the car in gear and go down your driveway a bit (or do this in a parking lot) so your teen can use the pedals and see if the mirrors are positioned correctly. Believe it or not, this may be enough for the first lesson.
Practice in a parking lot . . . a big, empty one. Go over the car again. Then just have them get a feel for the vehicle in motion. Play around with the accelerator and brake. Have them discover what reverse feels like. Just let them drive around developing a feel for the “corners” of the vehicle. You can even set up some cones or boxes for them to maneuver around. You can review tutorials for your parking lot sessions here.
Discuss scanning techniques. SO IMPORTANT, BUT SO OFTEN OVERLOOKED. You avoid accidents by anticipating hazards you detect while scanning your surroundings. Good drivers routinely sweep their gaze beyond the lane in front of them and constantly check their mirrors. Guess what? New drivers tend to stare straight ahead. Teens must be told how to move their eyes and they need to be reminded every time they get behind the wheel. Scanning from lesson one helps cement it into a habit as soon as possible. For help describing the technique, watch Parking Lot: Introduction to Scanning.
Practice checking for blind spots. Novices need to learn early on that checking mirrors is not enough, they need to physically turn their heads to check blind spots. It’s best to start this early because it may take a while before they can turn their head without turning the wheel. Teaching how to look around before backing up fits in nicely here too.
Comment while YOU drive. Talk about how you’re scanning the road. Comment on the mechanics of making a turn while you’re doing it (so much easier than trying to remember and reconstruct how you do that automatic action while you’re sitting in the passenger seat). Explain why you picked that particular parking space. However, to avoid eye rolls think of this as dispensing public service announcements, not creating documentaries. Narrate little tidbits, not full instruction manuals.
Don’t be anxious to blow through these steps to get out on the road because that’s where you think the real lessons occur. It is so hard for novice drivers because they have to think about every single little action with their higher brains. That processing adds crucial seconds to reaction times.
Driving is so automatic for you because you are doing it from “muscle memory” controlled by your lower brain, and more specifically, your cerebellum. Every time your child drives, they are strengthening neural connections in their cerebellum and thus heading toward better and faster reactions. “Practice makes perfect” was coined for this part of the brain. Because I know these neural pathways are being forged, I don’t rush my kids out onto the interstate. Every time they practice braking on a local road means they will be better at braking on the highway. It’s a matter of brain training.
So there you have it: not everything (by a long shot), but at least your starting point. Don’t worry though, teensource.org will take you to the next level, too. Stay calm, buckle up, have a plan, and know you’re not the only one who is not a fan of this part of parenting!
Fall is in the air! In the past that just meant trips to the corn maze, hot apple cider, and pumpkin spice everything. And while it’s still all about these niceties, if you’re the parents of a college freshman, it now means you get to see your baby during Family Weekend!
Family Weekend is the lifeline many of us hang onto after we drop our kids off at the dorms, especially if they are our oldest, and ESPECIALLY if they are far away. “Just two weeks, seven days, and fifteen hours until I get to see/hug/smooch my girl!” I would market the heck out of a countdown clock if I didn’t think the added hype would break some poor momma’s heart even more.
What am I talking about? Hear that faint noise whistling below the rustle of leaves and the honking of geese? Like air leaking out of a balloon? Well, if you’re within earshot of said parents of a brand spanking new freshman, that’s the sound of high expectations for Family Weekend deflating. Or maybe it’s coming from you as you stand in the middle of that pricey campus with nothing to do and no idea where your offspring even is.
See, not all Family Weekends are created equal. Some are extensively orchestrated affairs that would make cruise directors weep with pride. Others are steeped in vague suggestions like “check out the soccer game, have lunch in the dining hall, then enjoy the city.” Neither one guarantees a great weekend. While it sounds good to have a full dance card, it could dupe you into touring the third floor of the research library instead of hanging with your kid on her break between classes. But on the other hand, “enjoy the city” translates roughly into “better spend tons of time on the internet finding something to do besides eating cafeteria tator tots.”
But by asking your student one question, you can transcend events, schedules, and the particularities of their college to ensure that everyone gets a needed boost from the visit. For you: time with your child you have been missing so much. For your kid: moments of unconditional love where they can bask and relax.
Are you ready for the magic words? Drum roll please . . .
When and how can you spend time with us during this weekend?
Simple, right? It’s so simple, it’s often overlooked. Here is why this question is the key to everything.
Your kid has a whole new life. While there continues to be space in your home life for them, their college life has been created without you. There is no place for you to pick up where you left off. The time and space for your visit has to be crafted.
Your kid probably doesn’t know the event schedule. More often than not, YOU’VE been getting the Family Weekend emails, not them. They are just trying to navigate their classes, and maybe a social event or twenty.
Family Weekend is not a national holiday. While you have these dates blocked off in Sharpie on your calendar, your kids’ professors and bosses do not. Class deadlines and work schedules do not break for this weekend.
Your child is hosting you, but they may not realize it. Just like you had to teach your little darling to say please and thank you, you need to teach him how to manage visitors. More than likely, they are use to following your plans, and it’s really not self-explanatory how to take over the reins.
So how do you teach them to host you? Most importantly, start a couple of weeks in advance, or at least allow time for more than one discussion. Don’t put them on the spot. No perfect weekend ever came out of that. Just like everything in parenting, take baby steps.
Forget the word “perfect” and adjust your mindset. I’ve throw it around a couple of times here, but now it’s time to throw that expectation out. Ahhh. Doesn’t that feel better? Also, throw out the notion of spending every minute together (or that you have to attend the scheduled events). It bears repeating that you have to honor their schedules, commitments, and new life. And while we’re tossing things to the curb, also school yourself to not assume anything. Your mantra should be “Clarify Everything.” Ohmmmm.
Ask your kid if she has seen the schedule for Family Weekend. She probably has not. Offer to forward it to her so you can decide together how to make it work.
Follow-up that email. Text your kid and ask him to call you when he can talk about Family Weekend. This conversation is when you ask, “When and how can you spend time with us during this weekend?” Do not expect finalized plans. This is why you started this ball rolling early.
Follow-up until you have a plan. Ask for realism, honesty, and consideration in your discussions. Always remember that this is a learning experience for you all. Ask your kid if they want to stay with you in the hotel or in the dorms. They may want a break from the bunk beds or they may want to go back to the action. Decide if you want to take any of their friends out for a meal and be very clear about what time is purely family time. Also, ask if you can see their dorm room if that is on your list of “must dos;” don’t just assume entry without warning. It seriously may not cross their minds that you would want to see it again and you WANT to give them time to clean up. You need to respect that it is also their roommate’s space.
The best plans are flexible. All of that planning is the key to success, but don’t be a slave to it. There are no gold stars to be had, only good memories. Scheduled events aren’t really fun? Scrap them. You just saw a banner for an apple festival and you all are dying for some pie? Make time for it.
I present this advice to you because it worked for my family. We made our first night in town strictly for family, then took a group of her friends out to brunch and shoe shopping (which turned out to be my favorite). On Saturday we didn’t even see her because it was her first big rivalry football game and she wanted to be a part of all of the festivities, including sitting in the student section. We went to the game (I LOVE college football), but watched from the parents’ section.
She slept in her dorm, but hung out with us at our hotel on Sunday enjoying the food and the privacy of the luxurious bathroom (“I don’t have to wear shower shoes!”). We visited her dorm room during the middle of the day when her roommate was out.
While it was not a perfect weekend, everyone’s expectations were perfectly met because we assumed nothing, respected our daughter’s new life, and discussed how we were going to fit into it. I still can’t wipe the smile off of my face.
First and foremost: THEY CAN DO THEIR OWN EVER-LOVING LAUNDRY!
Ellen: In a very few short weeks my daughter is traveling 1,147 miles away to college. In related news, I may personally make headlines if one more person asks me: “Wow, that’s far. Are you going to miss her?”
While that makes me want to kick a kitten, there is a dumbfounding twist to this irritating conversation that makes my jaw drop. They will say to my daughter: “Well that’s too far away for your mom to do your laundry. What are you going to do?”
“Um, do it myself,” she replies speaking veeeerrrry slooooowly. My high school sophomore daughter generally just stares in disbelief.
One woman of a soon-to-be college freshman even went so far as to tell us, “I told my son if he is coming home every weekend to see his girlfriend, she needs to do his laundry.”
My high school daughter (once again staring in disbelief) replied, “Or he can maybe do it himself?” To her credit, she saved, “Well, isn’t THAT a lucky girl?” for when we were back in the car.
At a party, the subject of laundry came up yet again (really), and a woman looked at me like I was Hermione Granger incarnate and breathed, “But HOW do you get them to do it?”
My high school daughter jumped in with, “Well, when we were too short to reach the buttons, she bought us a step stool.”
The woman may have lost some of her awe as she mentally lumped me in with the orphanage supervisor from Annie, but it’s whatever because this woman (me! it’s me!) is not her family’s laundress.
Erin: But it’s not only about how it benefits you, the parent, it’s about how it benefits your kid. While Ellen is getting an inkling of the laundry ineptitude at college, I KNOW about the lack of skills. My son was the hero of his freshman floor because he knew how to work a laundry machine and what products to use in it. He made lots of friends and he should have gotten a thank you note or two from some parents.
So to recap thus far:
If your precious is smart enough to attend college, they can work a washing machine.
It is not Quantum Physics. (See number one.)
Girlfriends are not for laundry. (Neither are mothers.)
Laundry skills = instant popularity.
Even if your kid has never lifted a stain stick, it’s not too late! Don’t let them learn about it on the streets . . . er, on the freshman hall. Bonus: they probably won’t even need a step stool. Here’s a laundry checklist/tutorial/pure genius to share with them.
Syllabus for College Laundry 101
Laundry bags, hampers, and/or baskets (Basically, containment for the filth.)
Zippered mesh washing bags (Sometimes called lingerie or delicates bags.)
Optional: Drying rack (Over-the-door models are great space savers.)
Optional: color catching sheets
It’s all about the sorting.
Darks get washed with darks and lights get washed with lights. Don’t be the cliché who turns their underwear pink with a red sock; it’s sad.
Either have two separate hampers (the preferred method) and sort as you take the clothes off or sort at the machine. Have a bunch of mesh washing bags near your hamper(s) for things you don’t want to go in the dryer like bras, the tissue paper that passes for Forever 21 clothing, and sports jerseys. Put these items in the zippered bags AS SOON AS YOU TAKE THEM OFF to avoid mishaps.
Also, treat stains with your stain stick before you put them in your hamper. Chances are pretty good you won’t remember about that ketchup blob on laundry day. But take note of this: nothing sets a stain like a spin in the dryer.
What to do with an item that is both light and dark? Most likely wash it with darks because then it becomes all about the water temperature (see below). There are also color catching sheets you can add to your load to “grab” any dye that bleeds.
Besides color, there is another consideration: texture and weight. For example, jeans are best washed in a load by themselves. Think about denim grating against your t-shirt for 40 minutes. It might not have a good outcome. If you have more than one towel, you may want to consider washing them by themselves. A couple of towels bunched up in a load can throw a washing machine off-balance, but this is not as big of a deal in a commercial machine.
One important note: don’t tightly stuff the tub with your clothes. They need room to agitate.
This is a good time to brush up on your reading.
Hey, when confusion sets in, read the label! It’s jammed packed with all sorts of information like what wash temperature to use and whether you should hand wash it. There’s a chart available here to help you crack the code of those symbols.
One caveat, cheaper clothes are often labeled “hand wash.” We often get away with washing them in mesh bags in the machine on a cold water setting. It’s all about the risk. If you would be devastated that your favorite shirt got ruined, hand wash it. If it was SUPER expensive and/or made of wool or silk and it’s labeled “hand wash,” you should heed the instructions. Buuuuutttttt, if it was a twelve dollar shirt that you probably won’t wear past one season anyway, it’s up to you to see what you can get away with.
It’s also about the temperature.
If you want to keep it simple starting out, wash everything in cold. But remember darks should always be washed in cold water. If you are feeling a little braver, lights can be washed in warm with a cold water rinse. Towels, sheets, and your gross light colored gym socks and basic underwear can be washed in hot if the labels say it’s okay.
SO many buttons.
The good news is that commercial washers are pretty straightforward and generally have instructions printed on them. Home washers tend to try to be fancier and more confusing, but all you have to do is Google the model to find the instruction manual.
In general, the “Normal/Cotton” cycle has a high agitation level good for dirtier clothes, “Permanent Press” is a warm wash followed by a cold rinse, and “Delicates” has the least rambunctious agitation and spin cycle.
Don’t forget the detergent.
Detergent pods are the best thing to happen to college students since their acceptance letters. No more schlepping heavy detergent bottles around. One note: the pods go in the bottom of the washer before you put your clothes in, not in the soap dispenser.
It’s dry time!
Back to that pesky label reading thing. Drying instructions should always be heeded. If a tag indicates an item should not go in the dryer, IT SHOULD NOT GO IN THE DRYER. For those things that can go in the dryer, throw in a fabric softener sheet and set the machine for the recommended temperature.
A good life practice is to fold/hang clothes as they come out of the dryer. For those of you snorting over this suggestion, see the next step.
Hahahahahahahaha! More jokes! Ironing barely happens in our own homes.
Here’s Ellen’s situation.
Here’s what the ironing organizer is really used for on the daily.
Which leads us to our next step . . .
Here’s assuming your clean laundry is in a wrinkled heap in your basket. (We tend to be realists.) You can A) seek out the kid whose delusional mom actually thought she would use an iron or B) whip out your Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus. Just spray, tug, smooth, and hang and you’re good to go (remember to allow for a very wee bit of time for drying).
So you let your dirty clothes pile up under your bed, in your closet, or beneath your sleeping head? Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus can fix that too. Spray it, spray it real good, to eliminate the odor and ensure peaceful cohabitation with your roommate. (You can even spritz their piles if they are the offenders.)
Listen closely to this one. Never, EVER, pull a person’s clean laundry out of the washer and dump it onto the floor. You do NOT need to send that kind of bad juju out into the universe to bite you in the butt when you least expect it.
ONE LAST TIP!
It’s not an urban legend that a majority of students do NOT change their sheets. It’s a joke because people are laughing through the tears . . . because the funky sheets are making their eyes water. While we firmly believe kids should do their own laundry, we acknowledge that parents might have to do this trick at move-in.
Put down the cushy mattress topper.
Cover with a mattress protector.
Put on a fitted sheet.
Layer on ANOTHER mattress protector.
Top with ANOTHER fitted sheet.
Make bed up with the flat sheet, blanket, and comforter.
Artfully arrange pillows.
Take a picture because it might never look this way again.
So the thought is, that after a week or fifteen, your student can just peel off the top sheets and mattress protector and have a fresh bed. Of course this isn’t foolproof because your precious still has to tuck in a clean top sheet and change the pillowcase, but it’s worth a try. You probably should recommend frequent spritzes with Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus just to be safe.
One last picture because we’re ironic like this. Okay, we know it’s not irony, but we at least qualify for punny. Right!?
While we were compensated by Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus for this post, all love for this product and hard-won advice about college laundry are all our own.
Get your coupon for Downy Wrinkle Releaser Plus here!