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.”
Oh, sigh, It really is all about us, isn’t it? Let’s just say this: it’s a whole lot easier commiserating over things like sippy cups taking over your kitchen and goldfish crumbs smashed into the carpet of your minivan than failed drivers’ tests and low SAT scores. Some of this stems from the truth that your child does not necessarily want you spilling all the details. Respecting your child as a person means that you could and should put a lid on it.
Some of it though comes from a desire to not be judged as a mom. Different methods of handling potty-training or toddler meltdowns can be entertaining. Different methods of handling teen drinking can cause an uproar at Girls’ Night Out. In any case, It’s the height of irony that at the moment when you probably need it most, moms can have a hard time finding support from their tribe. Heck, even finding time to get together with the busy schedules that accompany teen parenting can be challenging. In any case, it can make traveling this stretch of the parenting highway a little lonesome.
All of these ladies are our buddies from our young mom days. It’s tough to find time to see each other but when we do, it’s like no time has passed.
2. You won’t always like your kid.
Love them? Of course! Like them? Well, let’s just say it’s complicated. Kids trying to figure out who they are means that often they are unrecognizable to you. The girl who ate twenty hot dogs at the county fair is now a vegan. But that’s not even the worst thing. The real sticking point comes when she decides to take down the family holiday meal. The 360s that happen can be disorienting, but they are also oddly comforting. There were parts of every stage and age of parenting that weren’t fun or funny. The same is true for the teen years.
But some things never change. Pumpkin patches are always fun.
3. You will feel like you are doing it wrong.
Just know that the moment is coming when you will feel bad about yourself, your kid, every decision up to this point, all of it, every last thing. These are the moments when you will lean into your loneliness from your friends, your sense of alienation from your child, and just need a major chocolate fix. Take that moment to exhale, breathe, regroup. You and your child will live to fight another day. More likely, tomorrow will be rainbows and sunshine, because that’s how things go on Planet Teen.
But they can also save the day, like at Grandmom’s 90th birthday party, and that will make you feel better about all of it. Promise.
4. Things will go wrong.
In the time I have been parenting teens, we have had concussions, car accidents, break-ups, break-outs, heartbreaks, and losses. Expect that balls will get dropped, mistakes will be made, and fenders will be dented. It makes it so much easier to take that phone call when it comes. One of my favorite professors said that a great gift to give a child is a back door. Come up with graceful ways to help your child retreat from situations that get out of hand. Give yourself and your child grace when they do.
5. Things will go right.
The stars will align just so sometimes. At these moments, the grumpiness will recede and all those forgotten aspects of your child’s character will shine through. Forget everything that went wrong. Revel. A lot. Take a picture when you can.
The infamous New Year’s Day hike. Every last teen was not having it, but then the winds changed.
6. Sometimes you will like them so much it hurts.
They are going to be hard to take sometimes, but they are also going to blow your mind with hints of the amazing things to come. Because crowing from the rooftops about their awesomeness is frowned upon by said offspring, you might feel lonely in this knowledge. However enjoy your moment and spread the news surreptitiously. Recently, one of my friends commented about a teen playing kindly with her tween at a swim meet. She was surprised and impressed. While I was happy for her experience, I wasn’t as taken aback by it. I made the point that I have never NOT seen a teen be generous to a younger child they knew. Teens like to keep their goodness simmering below the surface of potential peer review, but there is so much good news to be found. Celebrate the small victories and point out all the good you see.
She did not have to ask them twice to play with her.
7. Sleep will be a luxury again.
Sure you are prepared to lose some zzzzs waiting up for driving teens or worrying about college, but you might not know how much. Adjusting your parenting to adolescent biorhythms means late night Netflix binging and baking chocolate chip cookies at eleven o’ clock at night. All of this is to say that being ready to drop everything and hang means that you might want to invest in some industrial strength under eye concealer too.
Who could say no this face? Why, of course, I will make cookies with you after my bedtime!
8. Friends reign supreme.
Happy families know this. Happy families honor this. Happy teens reward your attention to this important truth.
As you can see, we weren’t really holding back so much as pacing ourselves to reveal the full picture of what it’s like parenting on Planet Teen. In spite of everything, we really are pretty happy here. We think you will be too.
So the countdown is on again: we are sending another kid to college. While this means that already tight spring schedules just got “sweet-cheezits-loosen-that-buckle-please” uncomfortable, there is a silver lining here: it’s not quite as rough the second time around. Now don’t get me wrong, I still get a little catch in my throat thinking that this time next year I’ll be the only girl living here besides the dog. And I will miss having my girl’s special blend of spunk and sass on the daily too . But having been in this place before means that I can lean into the excited part a little more than I did the first time around. We can hang out in all the upsides of this big new step for her without wallowing too long in the emotional messiness for me. If I have to keep sending kids out into the Great Beyond known as college, I might as well share some of the things I learned sending another kid to college.
1.There’s more financial aid.
This silver lining that came with the shiny acceptance letters was much appreciated. Oh, the joy! If I could have fired cannons into the air, I would have been that obnoxious neighbor. With one son currently residing on a campus, the gods of FAFSA were kind and benevolent in ways they had not been before. As a mother who will have a child (or two) in college for the next twelve years, this was the best gift ever.
2.There’s less angst.
When I was sending my oldest to college for the first time, I wrote about our emotional fall (read: MY over-the-top emotionally splashy fall), my resolutions (which should have included not tearing up every five seconds), and some things I needed to say to him (cue the tissues) before he crossed that stage into the brave new world of college. I couldn’t imagine my everyday world without him in it. Furthermore, I was bucking at the very idea of it altogether. My people took some time getting used to our new normal too.
Ellen, in her way, was less fraught in the build-up to college, but she wrote beautifully about the change for her household when her daughter came home for Thanksgiving. The truth is that having your child move up and on is a big change. But the more beautiful truth is that moving on doesn’t necessarily mean moving away. We parent differently the ones who aren’t in our nest, but parent them we still do. Exhibit A: the 19 year old calling home from his Canadian Spring Break, because his route home was literally closed due to a freak March storm.
“Help me, Mom and Dad, you’re my only hope.” Nah, he didn’t say that exactly, but that’s what I heard. They are still ours; we are still theirs. Time, distance, and a college dorm room doesn’t change that. Acknowledging this makes it easier to go to the college’s Accepted Student Day and imagine it as your child’s home away from home for the next four years.
3.There’s a different list of Must Haves/Would Likes/Etc
The first time around, my son had a very specific dream of sports journalism and we were laser-focused in our search. While my daughter can fill out a March Madness bracket with the best of them, she has different aspirations. But the college list we built this time wasn’t only different due to intended major. My son liked smaller schools; my daughter thought the bigger the better. He was open to rural; she was insistent on a city. What I really loved this time around was seeing the way she was already starting to spread her wings as she focused on what was important to her. The conversations that evolved over college catalogs were enlightening and let me into her head a little.
4.There’s a better To-Do List
The really great thing about doing this a time or five is that you learn a thing or two. Like . . .
Just how important it is to try and get an ACT and SAT in before the end of Junior year. Honestly, if you have a child on the advanced math track, you could even think about scheduling at the end of sophomore year. Ideally, the best time is when your child has finished Algebra II, and it’s still fresh in her mind.
Create the high school resume as you are living it. No joke. My high school sophomore just pulled up the document he started and added his winter volunteering and sports. It’s so much easier to build as you go.
Build relationships with mentors. College recommendations are important elements of the application. When they come from someone who knows, understands, and likes your child, they could tip the scale to your child’s favor. I encourage my kids to write thank you notes to every coach, teacher, and advisor. When they reach out years later for a letter, hopefully, the gesture will resonate and help that adult remember them positively.
Focus on moving your needle forward. The first time around, we bowed before the cult of the almighty resume. While it IS important, my time spent with many a college
recruiter has changed my thinking. Resumes should tell a story of personal growth, not just be busting at the seams with activities. To that end, we talk to our younger kids about following ideas and exploring pursuits. “You love boats? Have you tried to get your boater’s license?” “You love basketball but didn’t make the team? What else can you do?” In both cases, my kids responded in ways that made them more interesting in person, not just on paper. We also push them outside their comfort zones. “So your friends aren’t doing it? Tell me again why you don’t want to.”
Take younger siblings on college trips. It’s nice to have time alone with your child on these visits too, but if you have siblings that aren’t that far behind, it’s a great opportunity to get a two-fer. The conversations about the school will differ of course, but they are valuable in helping create those future lists. An addendum: if you are already planning travel near a college, swing by and check it out even if it’s just a walk through campus.
5.There’s better downtime
Knowing how things will change means we leap at chances to create memories
together when we can. Whether it was doing an escape room together, hitting the road, taking an international trip, or even just hanging at home watching movies, we focus less on ourselves and more on just being together. Most of the time. We are a regular family and sometimes retreating to our individual corners save lives. But we ARE mindful of our time now in ways that make for an overall better family life.
While it’s true that my family will not be off this college-launching ride for awhile, it’s definitely more fun the second time around. We are happier sending another kid to college not because we love her less, but because we are appreciating the moment more. This time around we have clearer eyes to see what lies ahead: a chance to watch her knock it out of the ballpark. Watch out, world, she’s on her way! Stay tuned for what I learn as we launch 3, 4, and 5!
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!
It’s that point in the busy holiday season where we are all calling which corner we want to rock in later when we get a free moment. We say that you can keep on railing against the gods of time suck or you can make some adjustments. While we can’t stuff your stockings, hang your baubles, or roast your beast, we can help you find happiness amidst the hullabaloo. In fact, finding calm in the Christmas chaos is as easy as putting down the paper and scissors and putting on your thinking cap instead. We’re gonna keep this short and simple, folks, because quite frankly, who’s got the time, but here are five things better to give than presents. It truly is better to give than to receive, and these will bring you back to the holiday spirit in no time. Promise.
1) The Gift of Experience
We both believe that experiences trump things. To that end, over the years, we have given concert tickets, special trips, museum visits, and special lessons. We could say that the memories from those special moments were as much a gift to us as to our kids. But spending special time with their awesome moms is the ultimate gift for our kiddos AND they usually end up with a souvenir AND we end up with great pictures! Consider this idea a win-win-win!
Bonus that these gifts don’t need to be wrapped either.
The lads and Ellen AND her kids had a brilliant Christmas.
2) The Gift of Tradition and Time Together
We both be-deck our halls and weight our trees with as many memories as the walls and limbs can stand, but we never underestimate the power of unplugging.Erin’s family kicks it old school with a new puzzle every year. After they work as a family to put it together, then they mount it, and use it for a Christmas decoration the following year. A foolproof plan for fun and festive flair!
We both also give games. Sure, one might argue that our deeply rooted competitive natures might be at the heart of this one, but we offer this counter-argument. The Great Scrabble Rout of 2007? The Epic Camel Slaughter in Parcheesi? The time the four year old won the UNO tournament? These memories all rival any trip we have ever taken in the annals of family fun. So bottom line, you can think what you want. And if you are coming over this Christmas, be prepared to pick a card.
Every year, Grandma likes a photo with all of her grandbabies. It goes reasonably well most of the time. Not this year, apparently, but most of the time.
3) The Gift of Memory
Each year we both work our Shutterfly accounts like a boss to create calendars with pictures from the past year to guide us through the new one. We also both make family yearbooks. Because we started blogging in 2011, Erin is a little behind so her family is getting the 2011 yearbook this Christmas. Resist the urge to point out that we are now in the fleeting days of 2016. She knows. She KNOWS!
We like the also ran photos more than the album-worthy ones. These are the memories we hope we don’t lose.
4) The Gift of Acknowledgment
Every year Erin’s kids pick someone who has been an angel to their family. Then they give a plate of cookies and an angel ornament to that person. The conversation as they decide who to pick each year is a gift to them all as they realize how many wonderful people they have in their life.
5) The Gift of Each Other
As a general rule, the best gifts don’t actually fit in a box or bag. When Erin’s kids were young, they spontaneously created a play one Christmas Eve. Even as the kids have crossed over into Planet Teen, they have never given up creating a special performance for that night. It is, without question, the best gift Steve and Erin get all year and they are really hoping that one of the videos from these performances will hit it big on Youtube. Then it can keep on giving all the way to the Ivy League. How’s that for a Christmas wish?
Watching a little girl get all her big cousins to play trains with her is wish fulfillment of a different but equally great kind.
But that’s not all.
Our trees are trimmed to the nines with handprints, school pictures, and handicrafts of all skill levels. Our schedules are crammed with band concerts and Christmas plays and choral recitals. Our houses are full of trays of cookies, homemade decorations, and gingerbread houses.
Apparently when boys outgrow gingerbread houses, they get creative and start crafting things on their own. Like the TARDIS from DOCTOR Who.
We know that this is the good stuff. So we clean up the glitter glue and the paper confetti on the floor, work our crockpots to the max to get dinner to the masses before each performance, and buy more cookie sheets to keep our little cookie sweat shops cranking. The big wide world will be taking these kids soon enough.
For now, we will just take a deep breath, enjoy the chaos, and be grateful for our gifts.
And if none of this helps, we have found that nothing will help you get your holiday spirit on like a reluctant angel.
These are some things that have helped us find the happy sweet underbelly of Christmas in the midst of the madness. Think of them as the cookies before the main course. What? Cookies don’t come first? We’ll never tell. It’s the most wonderful time of the year after all.
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.
Even this far out, the first days of motherhood stand out in relief against the the thousand days that came after them. In between the marathon feedings, the endless diaper changes, and the general taking-care-of-new-baby time suck, there wasn’t a whole lot of time for a breath let alone a shower. The baby book was an Everest we felt we needed to attempt simply because it was there and everybody else was doing it. Well, time and experience are wonderful teachers and we can say with all authority that you can skip the traditional baby book entries. Who really needs to know what Junior’s first food was? Get to the heart of what parenting is really about anyway with these firsts that should be in the baby book. Childhood moments aren’t slaves to Hallmark standards. So in the spirit of true sisterhood, we are opening up our old archives now to share some of our favorite firsts. But we offer them with this this caveat: you don’t really need to write them down, they’ll be burned on your heart and brain.
1. First Epic Spit-Up
Are you wondering who can remember a spit-up since they are as common as political rants on Facebook? Well, Ellen can. It’s all about timing . . . and volume. Ellen had settled down on the couch with her hubby to watch a movie — what was to pass for their date night in their new life with a newborn. A spontaneous date night because they didn’t expect the baby to sleep. Hooray! There was no time to go to the video store and no, streaming was not an option. Did you not notice video stores were mentioned?
So at the mercy of HBO, they settled in to watch Dante’s Peak, a purely cheesy movie about a volcano erupting . . . when the baby awoke with a wail. Newbies that they were, they didn’t see that coming. So Ellen, desperate to watch the movie grabbed the baby and started nursing, and nursing, and nursing. At the EXACT moment the volcano erupted on their television, the baby erupted on herself, on Ellen, on Frank, on the couch, on the wall . . . are you getting that it was epic?
2.First Epic Diaper Blow-Out
Everyone has a great blow-out story, but Erin’s, like Ellen’s above, has the added bonus of uncanny timing. The scene: one sweet baby in a beautiful heirloom white christening gown, in the front row in Erin’s hometown church, with 300 witnesses present. As the strains of the first hymn floated out over the congregation, the sweet baby at the center of the scene let loose with a diaper blow-out that seemed completely at odds with the size of said child and necessitated not one, but TWO, wardrobe changes (for mom AND baby).
Unfortunately for Erin, as she checked the diaper bag, she realized that the only option for clothing was big brother’s dinosaur t-shirt. Seeing as how she was in church, it seemed like an awkward time to take the Lord’s name in vain, but she was thinking it. Long story short: Kid was baptized in brother’s growling dinosaur t-shirt. Come to think of it, this one was immortalized in photographs and probably doesn’t need a mention in the baby book.
3.First Time Baby Bites You
Nursing moms recognize this as the moment where you fully realize pain on a whole new level, the level being apocalyptic-holy-crap-that-hurts. It is also the moment when you realize that you could imagine putting a “Baby For Sale: Cheap” sign around his neck, if you could just get his clenched teeth off your nipple.
4.First Time Traveling with Kids Alone
Traveling with two mobile kids under the age of three on an airplane with a connecting flight was almost her undoing. Natural disasters pale in comparison to the maelstrom Erin’s kids whipped up in the Bangor Airport circa 2000. Things began unraveling the second she checked in. Erin was so worried that her little girl who was faster than Speedy Gonzales was actually going to vault her way onto the baggage carousel that she left her son’s jacket at the front desk. We’ll just call that Casualty #1.
When she finally wrestled the kiddos to the holding pen — ahem, the waiting area — things went from kinda crappy to Defcon 1. With kids intent on running in two equal but opposite directions, their belongings unattended and exposed to the whims of terrorists and thieves, and public opinion of her mothering skills tanking, Erin snapped like a twig. She stood in the middle of the airport waiting area and said, “Somebody is gonna have to help me. NOW.” Erin’s sanity, well, we’ll just call that Casualty #2.
Someone half-heartedly collared one of her two little n’er-do-wells long enough for Erin to kind of nudge the kids in the direction of the boarding area as she attempted to carry two carseats while pushing the stroller and shouldering the bags. This memory is a little lost to the elements of time and Post Traumatic Stress. Suffice it to say, casualties #3 and #4 were a second jacket and the stroller lost during the boarding process.
5. First Time Offered Unsolicited Parenting Advice By A Stranger
Erin survived the above scene without so much as a whisper of advice; Ellen was not so lucky in the grocery store. Her gaffe? Using big words with her toddler. In reprimanding her little bundle of fire, she may have used “unacceptable” and “deplorable.” A nice man actually turned his cart around to come back and tell her that her problem was that she used “big, fancy words.” Yeah, the country would just go down the toilet if more children had enriched vocabularies.
6. First Time Being Scolded By a Professional For Your Parenting
Ellen apparently gets all of the hate attention. The scene is now the dentist office where she was upbraided by the hygienist for the condition of her daughter’s teeth. “So did you manage to keep the two teeth she has left without fillings clean this time?”
Ellen was outraged but managed to calmly reply, “That’s not my daughter.”
The hygienist points at the chart, “Well, that’s her name.”
“But, that’s not her birth date, so I’d appreciate OUR chart so we can go to another dentist. One that takes malpractice a little more seriously.”
You should definitely double-check your facts before scolding Ellen.
7.First Time Getting Kicked Out of Story Time
Erin is part of a tribe of moms who all bear silent scars but should be wearing t-shirts that declare “I survived a Toddler from Hell.” Her wonderful, beautiful, spirited child could scale any surface (gravity be damned), escape any restraining device, and hurl herself to the precipice of disaster at any moment. It took great resolve for Erin to take this child into civilization AT ALL to spend time with other children. Therefore, it cut pretty deep when the sweet, lovely lady running the library’s story time took Erin aside and didn’t ask or imply or suggest, but practically begged her not to bring her child back. For the foreseeable future. Ouch.
Don’t let the curls and cute smile fool you. This one is a terrorist.
8.First Time They Read to You
Nothing wil thrill you more as a parent than watching your child enjoy something you love. As readers, those first moments when our kids picked up a page and made that special brand of magic for themselves was a great moment indeed.
9. First Time Your Kid Makes You Laugh Out Loud
We love that moment when the kids cross over from baby to little person. One of Erin’s favorite moments like this was with her then three year old. He was riding in the back seat with his friend whose dad is a hunter. His friend was explaining that you can tell how big a deer is by the number of points on his antlers. Her son thinks about it for a minute, grabs his ears, and then says, “I guess that makes me a two-pointer.”
So take a little piece of advice from two moms who have crossed kids over into young adulthood: celebrate, document, and record the little big moments. The really good stuff of parenting and raising kids isn’t in the neat lines but in the messy borders.
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.
I sent my son away for the summer, and I don’t regret it one bit. While not a revelation on the level of my Andy Griffith aversion, this truth did generate a little buzz beside the pool among my friends.
“I don’t know how you do it, Erin.”
“You know I could never do that either.”
“But I would just miss my kids so much.”
Insert record scratch here. Say, WHAT? Ladies, not only could you, but you may even actually want to. Now, I feel like I should back the story up a bit. I did not ship my fifteen year old off to grandma’s house for the summer, although I’m not taking that one off the table. He wasn’t getting scared straight at boot camp or on a grand tour of Europe either, although any of these options do sound lovely depending on which version of himself he’s sharing with me that day. In fact, I could say in all honesty that I didn’t really do anything. He came to me and asked to work at a local camp on the Chesapeake Bay.
For full disclosure, my older son worked there for the past three summers. So we knew very well what he, and the rest of us, were getting ourselves into. But that didn’t make it a certainty that this boy should go. Working at camp meant that he would only be home for 24 hours every week. This is a huge ouch for a Momma who likes all of her chicks in her nest. Also, because we used his vacation time for the family wedding in Cancun, he wouldn’t have time for any of our other summer family traditions, including our special visit with our friends from Maine that we have been doing for the last 15 years. The home team would be a man down in making all the memories this summer. Oh, and the son who was usually at camp would be home from college, so that was another factor to consider.
Sigh. My summers really aren’t what they used to be.
However, weighed against some of the larger pluses, I swallowed all of my reservations, hesitations, and selfish motivations, and gave him (along with Steve) the parental blessing. Then I packed the old raggedy sheets, the second string towels, and enough bug spray and suntan lotion to marinate him nicely all summer long. Before I knew it, there were no more tasks to distract me and the day came to say good-bye for the summer. We dropped him off to live like one of the lost boys all summer long. If there was a tear in my eye, I’ll deny it.
While I am certainly a woman who can work herself into a fine emotional lather (see exhibits A, B, and C from the year before I sent my oldest son to college), and there is no tin heart here, the truth is that while I did miss him, I didn’t miss him as much as I thought I would. My recent practice learning a new normal certainly made this transition easier, I know. The truth was that he was happy, so I was happy. But, and this is the dirty little secret that got my friends talking, it was an awesome summer for all of us, even, maybe even especially, with him gone.
From my son’s point of view, camp was always a no-brainer-all-good thing. He wasn’t moving away so much as towards something after all. Certainly, from our point of view, he dipped his toe in the waters of independence and found the water just fine. By working his way through real responsibilities with real consequences, he gained a confidence that we couldn’t have given him any other way. Sure, he worked through scheduling conflicts, personnel issues, and the daily challenges that arise in any job, but it was all in a cocoon of safety. He had the directors, his slightly older peers, and the Boy Scouts of America supporting him too. Besides, I was only twenty minutes away if he really needed me.
But if he wasn’t really cutting the cord this past summer, he wasn’t really holding on to it either. While he told us about those times when things didn’t go as planned, when scouters were uncooperative, or when his fellow counselors let him down, it was always after the fact. The storms that swelled and gathered on his shores this summer both literally and figuratively, well, he found a way to weather them. While not exactly sailing his own ship or charting his own course just yet, he was definitely adjusting sails and battening down hatches all by himself.
But the larger story of his summer was that the camp staff became another family for him and a home away from home. Even seeing my son in a different context than we do, they loved him all the same. This did my Momma heart a world of good. Don’t we all in the end just want to send our beloveds out into the world to be seen as the lovely, rare birds they are? But the larger story for me is what was even better: he found a way to create these bonds for himself with his own two hands, his clever head, and his big lovable heart. For a mom who now knows exactly what it means to see kids fly from the nest, it meant he was one step closer to being launch-ready. It eased an anxiety I had about this child, and gave me some indications that we are indeed, despite our long and curving road, actually moving forward.
This picture made me laugh out loud. American gothic goes to camp. But these are his people and they made his summer truly special.
For us at home, my son’s time at camp meant that we were off the parenting hook in a good way. Anybody who has stared down a summer with a wiley 15 year old boy feels my pain. Teens in general tend towards a state of downtime. Fifteen year old boys elevate this to an art form. With endless options in the Netflix cue and a Snapchat filter for every mood, summer could have been for us one long, tedious conversation about what to do and when to do it. Not managing the program for an active 15 year old boy was a big plus on our end.
However, our greatest windfall was the new and improved version of our son that returned from his ten weeks in the wild. Savvy, skilled, and smarter, my son returned to us looking three inches taller and seeming light years older. It’s funny how just a little time apart changed our dynamics too. The breathing room we didn’t even know we needed actually gave us both some valuable time–to appreciate, to consider, to grow.
Now I’m not advocating that every child leave for the summer, but it wasn’t a negative for us. There are absolutely no regrets from him or from us about the choice we made this summer. Time apart was time well spent. In fact, for this child at this time in this family this time was a blessing we are still grateful for today.
And, next summer, if they’ll have him, I’ll send him away again in a heartbeat.