I’m Not My Daughter’s Friend

get-attachment-9.aspxLeaders Stand Alone

I was having dinner with my daughter, who just turned 18, the other evening and she shared that a new college friend of hers tells her mother everything. I wasn’t sure how to decipher this exclamation. Was this negative or positive? Upon further explanation, I unearthed the gist of the comment. She wasn’t enamored with the idea of a “tell all” with me. I’m not so naive that I believed she shares or needs to share all the particulars of her life. Yet, there was s little part of me that was thinking, “hey thanks a lot” and “what are you hiding!” Just like one of those lovely comments, we’ve all been recipients of, stating how great you look that prompts you to think, “how awful did I look before?”

I speared my sushi, sipped my miso soup and nurtured my wounds. Her comeback, sensing this was probably not the best topic for our first reunion since she left for college two months ago, was to state, “Oh it’s just about boys she likes and things like that.” So I began to pepper her with questions of my own which were as welcome as the flu. A few more exchanges about moms that look so young and we were off to an exceedingly positive start. That’s where I began to see the light, or it may have been the wasabi, either way I decided I don’t want to be friends with my daughter. I want to be her mom.

It wasn’t like I shared all my comings and goings with anyone when I was 18 but it was more than that. I believe we had already made great strides in taking the next steps to independence, her going off to college for me to start lobbying for a starring role in her life. We are very close and although she’s now 18 and growing up, I’m not interested in being her friend. I’m certainly not stating that this is the right way or that forging more of a friendship is wrong, just my gut feeling about how we will proceed during the college years. I do not want nor do I need to know everything. I feel confident that I’ve armed her with the skills she needs to make the right choices and I’m smart enough to know she will likely make mistakes but those same skills will help her get back on track.

Motherhood isn’t easy, just ask any great leader. It’s vital to stand by your troops but not necessarily with them. Henry Kissinger once said, “A leader does not deserve the name unless he is willing occasionally to stand alone.”

Oh, and the remarks about moms that look so young well that one I’m not letting go!

9 Lessons For Visiting College Offspring

small_4974012671-1A Metamorphosis

The college application process, the decision, the drop off – I found resources for these milestone events but what about the first visit, two months later, where you want to squeeze your child to death, pinch their cheeks and go back to the good old days? Well, the guidebook has prematurely ended and you are now mining this one on your own. The first visit to my daughter was precipitated by a virus that turned into a bacterial infection and maybe mono. The sojourn turned out to be an eye opening experience, so I thought I would share what I’ve “learned and lost along the way” now that I’ve been to the other side and persevered:

  1. You Are Not Their World Anymore – You pulled out all the stops and halted your obligations for this emergency visit. Don’t expect the offspring to do the same, there’s class (even when you are sick, most professors don’t allow more than three absences), projects, lectures and prefigured lunch plans to tend to. Though some time can be carved out, be warned you will not have your offspring’s undivided attention.
  2. You do not belong in a dorm! - Does a cat belong in a fish tank? Can a squirrel live under the sea? That’s Sandy on SpongeBob – that’s TV. Get out fast! Yes, you will want to see the room you shopped for and set up, scary prelude here, but be warned if your offspring wasn’t tidy at home don’t expect a metamorphosis. No worries that bug is not your offspring (Kafka reference) it is just a bug.
  3. Don’t do laundry! - I considered it since I had the time and she had class. It’s so wrong but felt so right – until I was shooed away and advised that she will take care of it on the weekend.
  4. Refer back to point number 2 - You don’t belong there!
  5. Don’t Overstay Your Dorm Welcome – It’s nice to meet friends and they seemed happy to meet me but I didn’t overstay my welcome, its plain awkward and let’s face it there is no, and I mean no place you will feel older so refer to point number 2 again!
  6. Acceptance is OK - Okay, she was sick and full disclosure, I washed her flatware and dishes, threw out trash and helped make her bed (she is wearing a brace since an easel fell on her hand) but that is where I stopped. I left with the feeling that laundry may not get done and that the bed may not be changed for a while and I was okay with that – refer to point number 2 again!
  7. Get Back To Civilization – I’m being honest here; it felt good to get out of there and back to my hotel so I may just skip the dorm next visit.
  8. The Denouement – your offspring will likely hug you maybe kiss you, depending upon the virus situation, and walk away. That’s right walk away, you’re not in Kansas anymore, I mean nursery school where you were “oh so needed.” Your baby has carved out a life and will walk away and so will you. Cue, for some tears.
  9. Final Metamorphosis – And it’s okay, refer to point number 2 you were a visitor and soon the light bulb will go off: offspring has left the nest and it’s okay. Now the metamorphosis is on you.

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Be Unapologetic!

small_4441155157It’s hard to write about being “unapologetic” when uttering “sorry” is a close second to guilt to me. Like many women, I think everything is my job or my fault. The reasons behind this are myriad, but sorry I won’t elaborate because I’m sure you are a woman if you are reading this, so you get it. So, it was remarkably refreshing that, at a conference last week run by two amazing women Carol Fishman Cohen and Vivian Steir Rabin (look them up) who launched a movement on relaunching after a career break, stated that “if you want to get back out there, be unapologetic, that’s your past and this is what you are intent on doing now.” This gets better, human resources personnel from Morgan Stanley and Bloomberg concurred with this strategy and the moral of the story: taking a career break isn’t the road to professional suicide it once was.

This message has been percolating in my mind because I just sent my daughter off to college and my son will follow in two years. Though I’ve primarily been a stay-at-home mom (SAHM), I have worked as a freelance writer for the past five years on my own terms and setting my own pace. There is a little voice that’s now asking “what’s next” and “how would it look if I carried on like this?” Why should I care what others think? I’m conditioned.

In America women, are the most scrutinized, dissected, judged group, and that’s a movement that has to end. Worse yet, women judge each other – for the type of snacks doled out to our kids, staying at home, going to work, the type of work we do, our clothes, our hair and let’s not even start with our bodies.

There is a smorgasbord of articles popping up on the intent pondering what SAHMs with children in school “do all day?” I hear traces of this in conversations I’ve had over the recent weeks. I’d just like to go on record as stating that raising a family is one of the most devalued professions in the modern world. I too wondered, when I first moved to the suburbs, what exactly moms did all day as I ran to make a train. When I found out, it wasn’t pretty. I learned I could calm down an angry client but a crying baby was another story. A newfound admiration was formed.

Whether you are a SAHM were a SAHM, didn’t have the opportunity to be a SAHM our collective ire should be propelled against our country – which in my opinion is one of the most unsupportive for parents in terms of workplace flexibility, subsidized childcare and maternity leave – part of the reason many women opt out.

It’s your life and if you are content with your choices create a quirky little one liner, “a la Ann Landers,” to use when someone hurls one of those questions at you.  If you’ve always been a working mom, or a SAHM or a SAHM with a newfound mission to relaunch a career, volunteer, tend to your garden or help raise your grandchildren – it’s your life.

There are no fixed rules, that our paths must be linear. I say be unapologetic about your choices and here’s a dose of Nora Ephron on the ubiquitous topic of “having it all” to send you off with a smile (unapologetically): “…surprises are good for you. And don’t be frightened: You can always change your mind. I know: I’ve had four careers and three husbands.”

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The Middle Years

small_2142478943Time To Wear A Tutu

I was sitting in a light filled room, on assignment for an article I was working on, gazing at a dozen ballet students as they moved to the music and listened to their teacher’s direction. Not sure if it was the music, the light, the energy or watching these young girls that stirred my intense desire to put on a tutu and challenge myself. I could see some of the girls struggling with their positions. Ballet is hard and even at that age I was as flexible as an iron pipe and still am. Yet, I’ve always loved to dance, although most of my dance moves were developed in discos, just moving put a smile on my face. I thought maybe I would enroll in a class. Why not?

As I watched the girls experience the highs and lows of their exercises, the intensity, frustration, pain and pride, my mind wandered off to the possibilities of my own life at my age. Part of a generation that did not automatically get “signed up” for an array of classes, I always reveled in most of the classes my children took, especially anything creative. I want to engage in new endeavors before it’s too late.

I’m no fool. I know where I stand, sandwiched between my growing more independent children and aging parents – in my case in-laws and one parent. I also know what it’s like to never reach these years, my mother dying at 45. As I think about my mother’s untimely death and watch my father’s descent into dementia and in-laws ailing health, my despair has turned to desire. I can feel it intermittently, during assignments for my work as a writer but also during college tours or watching my son read a classic I haven’t found my way to yet.

Perhaps I’m naive but I don’t feel the middle years should be anything but exploratory, our offspring are moving on and so should we. These are our years, as the demands of childhood wane, to do the “things we’ve always wanted to do” even if it means delegating to handle elder care or liberating yourself from laundry. We all know the laundry isn’t going anywhere.

I want to paint, dance, love great literature and write forever. What do you want to do?

 

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Hannah Is All Of Our Daughters

small_5982590252I was grabbing a coffee and a banana at a hotel in Pennsylvania last weekend, when shivers went up my spine. We were visiting a lovely college and it also happened to be parent’s weekend, so the hotel was buzzing with families, many wearing smiles and sweatshirts emblazoned with their alma mater’s logo. A large flat screen TV, centrally located for viewing, hummed in the background. The Hannah Graham story came on and soon the morning rhythm seemed to suspend in time. I arched my neck to listen, see and hope that this story was now brandishing a happy ending. There was a young mom who halted somewhat as she sipped her coffee and eyed her two young daughters. Another mom, with a daughter closer to the college years, winced at the news shaking her head. The tone was mournful, all passed in a newsroom minute. I felt fear and longed to shout “what are we doing about this” but I needed to rush off. I believe we were all thinking the same thing.

My thoughts were with Hannah’s family but also drifted off to my daughter who just started college four and a half hours away from home. I felt my eyes well up because no matter how much talking we do about safety and traveling in pairs – stories like this surface and I felt an overwhelming desire to turn back time and whisper in Hannah’s ear. Hannah is all of our daughters, though I don’t know her, I see my daughter in her face. Perhaps she was more sophisticated or more daring but she was in the prime of her life, attending a great institution and learning about life. She made an error in judgement, going off alone, if indeed that is the case but that misstep should not cost her this unfortunate situation. It’s not over and I hope with all my heart she is back enjoying her life again.

I look at my teenage son and I say something that jolts me as sexist. I’m surprised since  the remark jars me as I’m as opposed to a double standard. I tell him “girls need to be more careful.” He looks at me and says, “Boys get kidnapped too” although I can tell he doesn’t really believe this statement. He’s old enough to hear this so I say “girls are targets for sex crimes.”

Truth is most of these young girls on campuses around the country are intelligent but have likely grown up in leafy, green communities where they have been embraced and loved and have always felt safe. Danger seems far away, the truth is it isn’t. On a daily basis, we all read about kidnappings, rapes, domestic violence, finding bodies – all mostly young women and girls.

The media, the economy, testosterone driven entertainment, video games, alcohol, drugs, mental health, a bad start in life – they are no excuse for what’s happening to our girls. Domestic violence, treated as a slap on the wrist, for football players and entertainers. The type of men young boys in this country admire. I recently read about a group of high school seniors who spelled out the word rape on their T-shirts as a joke. The incident received press and the boys showed remorse. The incident is inexplicable.

America’s rhetoric touts we are the land of the free but dare I say, fear runs through my veins a little more every day. How free are we when according to The Campus Sexual Assault Study between 1 in 4 and 1 in 5 college women experience completed or attempted rape during their college years. The president just started his own campaign against campus sexual assault dubbed “It’s On Us.” I couldn’t agree more. Hannah needs to be our wake up call. She is all of our daughters and we have failed her.

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So You Made It To College!

IMG_0437Now What?

My daughter graduated from high school this past June. A new beginning and the end of four years filled with many ups and downs. As I ponder my years as a mother and the 18-year-old I once was, here’s a little advice I’d like to impart to all of the 2014 graduates embarking on their first year of college.

Be Bold

Whether you were the head cheerleader or newspaper editor, dust yourself off and start fresh! It may be tempting to preserve your high school persona but it will serve you better if you seek out new opportunities! Try something you always wanted to do.

Mix It Up

So, in high school you played it safe and though you were polite to that boy in your art class you never bothered to develop a friendship. I say mix it up, seek different kinds of friends, take off your blinders. Diversity is what makes life interesting, don’t waste the next four years of your life making friends with people just like you!

Stay True To Yourself

It may be tempting to follow the crowd, for fear you won’t fit in but don’t bother. If your experience in college starts to feel like high school, it’s time to reevaluate your situation.

Lose The Panic Button

You hate your major or feel your college choice is wrong – so you’re hiding under your covers for fear the world will think you are a loser. You are not a loser, you are experiencing life and sometimes it takes several detours to find your destination. Now is the time to figure out what you are really made of by evaluating what went wrong and mapping out next steps.

Fill Your Emotional Tool Box

Ditch the panic button and start filling your emotional tool box. These are the skills you develop when your major isn’t working out, Romeo has turned into a Lothario or you’re alone in your room and something fuzzy with a tail is staring at you! Remember you can tell more about a person when something goes wrong in their life, so start building those skills.

Don’t Go Overboard With The Partying

I know, you’re finally free and it can be tempting to party all the time but this is the fastest ticket home  Don’t be afraid of hard work, it will make your next stop in the real world easier.

Build Your Character

A favorite Einstein quote: “I speak to everyone in the same way, whether he is the garbage man or the president of the university.” Wisdom can be found in all of us despite bank accounts or degrees.

Like Real Life

Take time to walk away from social media. Stop checking your “Likes” and posting every event – this all takes time away from real living.

Learn And Keep On Learning

You don’t know it all and you never will. We spend our lives’ learning – and those that embrace that concept are far more successful.

Appreciate

If you are attending a fine institution in our country, it’s safe to assume you have parents who have sacrificed, saved and planned for you. Remember to thank them, remember there are many who will never have the opportunities you now have.

 

 

 

College Move In Day

IMG_1637Behind The Scenes

Instead of basking on the beach in early August, I was scurrying around from store to store, washing, packing and becoming acquainted with space saver vacuum bags – it felt like nesting! The last time I nested I was waiting for an arrival and this time a departure loomed ahead.

Though it seems counterintuitive, preparing for the send off reverberated memories of being a new mother. I remember going through the motions of buying cute little onesies, folding them neatly and thinking I had it all together when I was paralyzed with fear. How would I know how to handle a newborn? Would I have what it takes? For some strange reason, many of those feelings were reoccurring. Have we prepared her for the challenges ahead? Overtaken with worry for how move in day and the college year would turn out I got sucked into the vortex of dorm shopping. The last time I encountered so many unnecessary items was when I had my daughter – remember the bumpers you have to take off the crib and the comforter you never use. Dorm shopping is not so different. I let the insanity take off, scrutinizing the merits of a backrest versus throw pillows and the best under bed storage system.

All the while, tears would flow sporadically. I’d like to say the last few weeks have been glorious with my daughter as we bonded and shared the love but since I’m as truthful as a two year old – it’s been rough. We’ve butted heads over the impracticality of a duvet versus a comforter, disputed the merits of purchasing a planner and bickered over what should stay and what should go. My daughter did her own dance of avoidance by interrupting this process for friend send offs including her own, creating a museum quality photo collage and wrangling with a last minute Staples order  – all taking precedence over packing.

I steamed like a well boiled kettle all the while wondering how we would make it there in one piece and dreading the “goodbye.” I worried that we squandered this special time bickering over nonsense. I took a stand that I would not cry when saying goodbye, well at least not in front of her. Somewhere between the search for twin xl sheets and laughing at a mix up at the Staples copy center we found the time to laugh.

I’d read all the empty nest articles streaming on social media and I was sure I would cry all the way home. Well, life can be surprising! We practically pulled an all nighter packing and the next morning was chaotic resulting in a space management tour de force to get everything in the car. I then spent over four hours with a Sterilite bin on my lap eating peanut M&Ms. We settled into a hotel and the next morning began our journey. It was hard work but all was well and despite a reoccurring dream that I would return with most of the items we spent hours packing she had plenty of space in the room. The day of dread was fun. We laughed and organized and the entire family worked as a team. The energy was positive, current students were great and new students seemed so eager – I couldn’t help it but I was bursting with excitement for her. A new beginning with so many possibilities I was flooded with emotion, despite some tears most of it was pure happiness.

 

As The Nest Empties…

get-attachment-3.aspx

One of my favorite illustrations created by my daughter, Alena when she was in grammar school.

My eldest will be going to college this fall. It’s been a year filled with highs and lows and now that the decision has been made I feel a little bit of a letdown. While I’m thrilled with my daughter’s accomplishments, I have that “Sunday night” feeling the kind I had when I was a child after watching Mutual of Omaha’s “Wild Kingdom” – airing every Sunday night I knew the weekend was over and school was on the horizon. It’s that kind of sunken feeling you experience in the pit of your stomach. I often feel the same way right after Christmas when the anticipation is over and you wonder if you really enjoyed the opening of the gifts, the food or the company.

As a mom, we acclimate to the fact that our offspring is usually heading in the other direction and that’s a good thing. Hallmark events like the first day of school are seared in my mind. I can still remember my daughter’s first day of nursery school and the first time I was able to sneak out and she didn’t even notice. First days, whether it was kindergarten, elementary school, middle school or high school, always presented new problems and opportunities. I was a cheerleader for all the good and not so good conundrums but I always knew she’d be home some time later in the day. While I believe she is up to the task, I wonder if I am and I know the answer to that. I’m going to miss that “later” time where even if we fight we reconnect and she lets me in on what she wants to share. We’ve moved on from hot cocoa to tea but we always seem to be huddled together sometime in the evening during the school week discussing this or that. I know that I will be a smaller part of the equation in the future and though I hate to admit it I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Our relationship gave me a taste of what a mother-daughter relationship is like, since my mother died young I celebrated most of my milestones without her. My daughter and I have waded murky waters together and many times I thought, “Oh this is what it’s like having a mom help you buy a prom dress!” From my own experience, I know how important it is to be self-sufficient and in some way leaving home is the only way kids today can reap those benefits. I learned early on that when all else fails, I could lean on myself and my daughter needs to find that strength inside of her.

It’s still bittersweet to know that when we drop her off at school in the fall, this is one time where the return trip will not be a few hours later. Perhaps, I will cry all the way home or bite my lips. I’ll probably do both. Parenting has been the hardest job I’ve ever had and sometimes I’ve aced the assignment and other times I’ve failed miserably but the job was still mine. This is the first time where I feel some part of the job is fading away. While there will always be another weekend to assuage “Sunday night” feelings or next year’s Christmas to erase post-Christmas blues, I know I have to sink my teeth into the fact that this drop off is somewhat permanent and like many of life’s milestone a time to celebrate and a time to say goodbye – Kleenex in hand!

Once Upon A Prom

small_526926484Observations From Prom Sidelines

Somewhere between tuxedos and tiaras, the prom has become a cesspool of treachery. Who’s to blame for the veiled drama this evening of pomp and circumstance delivers? Perhaps Disney is to blame for some of this throwback sensibility by feeding, these graduates didn’t grow up with “Frozen,” young girls a steady diet of fantasy by way of a handsome Prince saving the day. The prerequisite ball, adoring fans and the final kiss have been imbedded in the minds of, otherwise intelligent, girls on the cusp of college and many wonderful things. Reality TV may also be to blame by parading female contestants vying for the same man via the “The Bachelor,” it so makes me pine for “The Dating Game.” “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette” have lowered the bar so low there is no bar, except everywhere on that show. Lest we compare the “Rose Ceremony” to the “Promposal” – don’t get me started.

Speaking of entertainment, current day prom is rife with conundrums such as finding the “right date” and then a “group.” The group, for those not versed in prom vernacular, are candidates who go through a sorting process and form a cohesive unit who then proceed to carry on the festivities after the prom. That’s if you’re not kicked out of your group before the shining event. The post-festivities include another party, because the prom in and of itself, does not deliver enough grief. The after party carries even more import than the prom itself and must include some sort of regal transportation for 50, magic carpets excluded, and a fantasy castle by way of a Hampton’s house.

For the “right date” rules of friendship do not apply, which means that you can lose a best friend since middle school for the right to snag a prince. All of this mishap and maneuvering can obliterate what you spent your high school years building like friendship and a sense of community. Yet, it’s so worth it in the end as you glide across the ballroom snag your shoe on your dress, fall on your date and realize you’ve spent so much time in the restroom that you’ve missed the chariot to the castle and now that you’re face to face with your date you realize you he’s no Prince and from the way he’s looking at you – your Princess days are numbered.

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Words Hold Power

Libri, books (Explore)Encourage Your Children To Read!

Once again New York Times writer Frank Bruni has waxed- poetic about an issue that always provokes my ire. His latest op-ed laments the decline in reading among children recently reported by Common Sense Media. Since I’ve been on this good earth for five decades, I grew up “computerless” and in a time when there were fewer than 10 television channels and nary a video game. Recreation consisted of going outside and reading. I had wonderful role models who valued books and right from the beginning it was love at first sight. I remember my mother reading Dr. Seuss’, “Are You My Mother” which I read to my own children and have on my bookcase today. I sometimes pick it up and I can still feel a soulful connection to the little bird’s search for his mother. As a child, the joy, suspense and exhilaration of his journey touched me. I wanted more and never looked back.

On rainy days, I would huddle under the table with “Heidi.” Though I haven’t picked that book up in years, I loved the relationship she had with her grandfather. I can still taste the warm, oozing cheese sandwiches he made her. Literature connected me to children like me, who lost a parent. I was no Scout Finch growing up, a tomboy and fearless, but I found a soul mate in Scout one of “To Kill A Mockingbird’s” great characters. I admired her tenacity and belief in justice. On those same pages, I fell for the mysterious Boo Radley, friending Boo should be a prerequisite for all children so they learn not to judge others too harshly. Atticus Finch became my hero and since Gregory Peck played him in the movie, he still is.

I cried when Francie Nolan lost her flawed but beloved father. Betty Smith made the streets of Brooklyn come alive in “A Tree Grows In Brooklyn.” In the English countryside, I worried about the ever curious Pip, who graced the pages of one of the Dickens best works of fiction, “Great Expectations.” As he grew, I became empathetic for his pining for Estella. To top that off, I feel I wouldn’t be the same without an introduction to Miss Havisham, the quintessential jilted lover, who refused to move on. As an eleven-year-old I was fascinated by the cobwebs and rotting bridal cake. I spent countless days wondering if Heathcliff was going to marry Catherine in “Wuthering Heights” and fretting over Jane Eyre and Rochester’s hidden wife in the attic.

From these pages, I learned about myself and spent time pondering each characters’ flaws and feelings. This is what children are missing if they’ve never whiled away an afternoon with a great book. It is terrifying that the reading rates are sloping downward. It’s like being undernourished. Reading makes us human, confirmed by studies that have indicated that reading makes children more empathetic, while many of the connections kids have today are dehumanizing. Though the digital world offers up many positives, much of what kids are engaging in have no intrinsic value and can be summed up as shameless self-promotion. Great books are timeless and though times have changed, there will never be a time when kindness, compassion and empathy are not necessary ingredients to living a good life.

All is not lost, I thank J.K. Rowling for bringing Harry Potter into the world, although her books appeal to everyone they are especially wonderful for boys, who need more books to relate to. Words still hold the power for change and it only takes one good book to get hooked. Parents should not raise a white flag on this issue! Read, read, read and encourage your children to do the same!

 

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