An Imperfect College Goodbye

19137734798_da1b7d2e3a_n-1I’ll admit I’ve been rolling my eyes at all the bittersweet college articles featured on the web this fall showcasing mothers slumped over their offspring’s shoulders! I was beyond that! My daughter will be a junior in college and now I was getting ready to drop off my son for his freshman year. Been there, done that. I’m a pro! This is enough! I thought about how parenting has taken an insane turn from laissez-faire to dictatorial! I thought we need to stop and engage with our own lives, interests, and friends. So, my baby was going off in the fall! No big deal! From shower caddies to bed bug mattress covers I had this covered – until I didn’t.

How could that be? Senior year was filled with so many unbearable unknowns how could I want to go back? How could I not celebrate? My son landed on his feet and is attending a great university. All was going well with the move – after wrangling with bedding paraphernalia that brought visions of Princess or rather Prince and the Pea to my eyes. The room was complete. We had a nice evening and boom the next day I found myself standing in front of my son’s dorm feeling as awkward as a perplexed 14-year-old at her first dance. We had one hour left as the Orientation Advisors cheerfully advised along with their subliminal hints that it was time to go! That’s what the line item said in the orientation pamphlet and though we had one hour until my son had to leave for an orientation session – we left. Standing in front of his dorm my son looked strong and manly, so unlike the child he was four years ago, but still harboring traces of the boy who bounded out of the house on the first day of high school. It was time and unlike those choreographed goodbyes of great movies (think Casablanca) I choked and could feel the tears creep out of my eyes and it was all wrong. Parents brandishing mattress toppers and Bed, Bath & Beyond bags were buzzing around us while the Orientation Advisors were doing their job of trying to vaporize us. I could imagine how school personnel prepped them on how to get rid of lingering parents as professionally as my friendly exterminator. So, a hug that’s all I got. A short hug and a shrug about whether or not we should go back to his room. Who do I have to blame now for the worst goodbye ever? How was my son going to collapse in my arms while surrounded by all of these new potential friends? How was I going to swoon like Scarlet O’Hara and have my quintessential “mother/son” moment? So that was a wrap. One hug each for my husband, daughter and me and that was goodbye! I glanced at his face and to my surprise the waterworks cascaded down my eyes as he looked away and asked us to say goodbye once again to his childhood pet, the furry lab rescue he named after Harry Potter. We adopted him because of his insistence and their brotherhood bond was eternally soldered.

The truth is I couldn’t look at his face or I would have been way, way worse than “those” moms I’ve been mocking all summer and fall clinging to their freshman. He said something about seeing us tomorrow, since we were staying one more night, but we said he would be too busy. I turned my head because there it was, visible to only me I saw the expression he had when I whisked him to the emergency room at just three years old for stitches, the look he had the first day I left him at nursery school, his middle school malaise frown and “when am I ever getting out of high school?” face. I could see them all. Yet, there was also a hint of anticipation and a nod that it would be ok. So, I walked away. I shocked my daughter as we strolled to the car in the trail of another mom dabbing her eyes and I laughed a little because that’s what us moms do. We cover up the heartbreak and move on even though I cried again in the car and while writing this blog post. In solidarity to all you moms out there who feel the heartbreak of this goodbye I’m with you all heart and soul.  The raising of a child is not for the faint of heart, so let your heart ride the wave of emotions even ugly cry if you need to and then pat yourself on the back and remember you’re braver than you think are – remember you survived high school. You’re also stronger than you thought possible, think of how many times you’ve held it together! I’m proud of my restraint; I didn’t ugly cry in front of my son’s potential friends and destroy any chance of him having a social life – and lastly perhaps you’re just a tad softer than you thought but that will be just our little secret!

photo credit: garciadiego769 <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/131739375@N04/19137734798″>New horizons</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

College: No Happy Face Required

5403270_565b97272a_m“It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

In the age of helicopter parenting where no stone goes unturned in the raising of a successful, passionate, perfect child the one tenet that has failed to be conquered is that the world will often not comply with all of little Johnny or Sally’s wants and needs. Little Johnny or Sally’s feelings will get hurt, they will fail a test or their heart will be broken. When they are young, most of these areas are covered by the best of helicopter parenting. Social engineering ensures that little Johnny or Sally has the right friends, tutors will be hired to assuage learning impediments and cash will be thrown at hobbies because Carnegie Hall or Shea Stadium is on the horizon.

It’s no wonder that many students suffer from anxiety or are unsure of what path to pursue in college. The yellow brick road to college is filled with endless nights of tutoring, practices and extracurriculars – flying monkeys and houses have been swatted away by well-intentioned parents. The acceptance letter to the “right” school is the denouement to success. Once you arrive on campus, you have one goal that is to be happy. Why wouldn’t you be happy? You’ve landed a spot at a coveted institution; you are the pride and joy of your family and friends. Your parents have scrimped for years for you to be happy at college. There’s no dearth of articles either with lofty titles such as “The 50 Colleges With the Happiest Freshmen.”

So why are parents suddenly taken for a loop when they hear undertones of dissatisfaction from their esteemed offspring?  A recent New York Magazine article chronicled the pressure so many college students are under to appear “perfect.” There’s even a moniker for it at some universities. At the University of Pennsylvania, it’s known as “Penn Face.” That’s the happy face plastered all over social media and the one parents flash at the relatives to let them know how happy their child is. At Stanford, it’s called the “Duck Syndrome” in homage to the way ducks hide their feet when they swim.

From a social context, happiness has upped its game. I don’t recall anyone ever investing in my happiness as a college student. I doubt I’m alone. As a boomer, I also ran my own show, picked my own major and made my own mistakes and lucky me no one was waiting in the wings to hear all about it. It was also a slow journey sprinkled with happenstance and lots of serendipity. Social media was not even on the horizon. The pressure to showcase your latest accomplishment is a growing cancer for our children. Clearly, the “Emperor” has no clothes on but who will be the first one to admit it? Times have changed but one thing that hasn’t is growing up isn’t easy. In some ways kids have it easier than they did 50 years ago and in many ways it’s a lot harder. Our kids have access to a much wider audience and the constant ping on their phones shouting out another peers’ accomplishments can cause an undercurrent of anxiety.

When you get that call from college and hear, “I’m not happy” do not send in the clowns. The struggle to grow up and figure yourself out is not sunshine and daisies. Land that helicopter, walk off the tarmac and show your kids who you truly are. Provide them the tools and observations from your own life experience to help them figure out what’s next. Teach them to laugh at the endless stream of self-promoted posts on their newsfeeds. There is no college in the world that will make a student happy, sorry not even you Harvard. Let’s stop selling college as the “promised land” or “nirvana.” College is wonderful but the bountiful experience has one person driving. It’s up to students to turn their experience into what they want it to be and a little struggle often goes a long way. On point, the orientation program for my son’s college began with this appropriate e.e. cummings quote: “It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are.”

An Empty Nester’s Next Stop

Thoughts on change…

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Artwork by Melissa Morgan

I wouldn’t trade the moments of beauty I’ve had as a parent. The first time I laid eyes on my two children will always be the most perfect moments of my life. My daughters’ eyes as big as saucers absorbing the world around her and my son’s instinctive nursing confirmed for me the power of the maternal bond and the existence of a higher being.

These were connections that started in the heart but ended up becoming my core, my essential being and my purpose in life. Yes, I’ve done a million things besides parent but for nearly 20 years nothing came close, nothing was more important and nothing could stop the locomotive.

The locomotive that’s been slowing down and making fewer stops will be making its last stop this August. I know I will still be needed but I also know that I need a new course and a new track. I’ve been thinking lately, “Who am I?” I’m not sure if it’s an identity crisis or the inner workings of my mind trying to sort out a home without children. I’ve always had hobbies, freelance work and passions outside of motherhood so I’m surprised by this feeling. It’s not unlike the feeling I had when I stopped working full time to stay home with my children. I was plagued with disbelief that I was walking away from a career that was just ripening for a position I felt I was sorely unqualified for. I had never changed a diaper, barely ever held a baby or even babysat. I waited months before I cleaned out my office and I took a leave of absence. There was a mourning period, moments when I felt so lonely, inept and shocked at some of the mundane tasks of motherhood that I felt as though I had traveled back in time to an alternate universe. When I finally disposed of my outdated professional clothes it was another assault, another loss and another goodbye. I mourned all these stops in my life.

The difference now is that I see the erosion of time for what it is. I have a lot less time than I did as a young mom in my early 30s. I often consider I’m at midlife but I’m probably a little overdue, since 104 doesn’t sound so appealing. As parents when we exclaim our surprise at how old are children are getting, those years have ticked off for us as well. I recently read an article about the available time most of us have complemented by a visual of how many books you can actually read, how many more summers you have, etc. It was sobering. It is likely I’ll never read all the books I’ve been meaning to read, or travel to all the destinations I’ve dreamed of or write all of the stories that keep house in my head. The aging parents in our family are another reminder of my place in the universe. My train is moving to the next station where there are consolations – I’m wiser than my younger self, more self-assured and less likely to care about the minutia of it all. I know I’ll never do anything as important as raising children but I’m hearing a tiny little voice in my head saying, “don’t succumb to the goodbyes but look toward new beginnings for all of us.”

This beautiful piece of artwork is by artist, Melissa Morgan. You can view her work on her Facebook Page: Melissa Morgan’s Art Page and her website: www.not-so-ladylike.com

If I Could Turn Back Time

27541009_8135904918_nThere are moments in your life when the years seem infinite…

The New Year reminds me of the relentless passage of time. When my kids were young I played a game in my head imagining their next year, what they would look like, what new interests they would acquire and how their personalities would change. Having two children 22 months apart I played out their ages using the two times table musing, “I wonder what it will be like when they are two and four, four and six, eight and ten, and so on.”

The fondest memory I have of this game was when they were two and four. We rented a cottage in Montauk. We’ve done a lot of traveling since then, but it’s still one of my most treasured vacations, one which they likely don’t recall. Simple, serene and still, the cozy cottage spilled out into a grassy knoll and a small bay. We would barbecue or get take-out and then run down to the still water and throw stones or watch my husband skip rocks. He skillfully made the small pebbles by the bay come alive. I can close my eyes and see their clothes, the striped earth tone colors of my son’s t-shirt, the navy blue and white bathing suit my four year old daughter lived in. We were on our way to no diapers, high-chairs and strollers. Plus, just a drive to the ocean, the park and ice cream turned a simple vacation into paradise. I miss that.

I stopped playing the time game at the intersection of hormones and double digits. The joy, wonder and awe of what’s next seemed to be burned out by time sucking activities, school demands, the minutia of everyday life and sometimes even fear. The sweet spot of that little vacation, when time seemed to be all we had has been usurped by the passage of time. I suspect my game is not uncommon among parents, the hopeful dreams, the wonder and awe of how your children will grow up, what will they excel at and maybe even how tall will they be. The ride has been exhilarating, exhausting and gone by too fast. You suspect the clock has a sneaky way of cheating, how has the time passed so quickly? Do I even remember the ages of eight and 10? Was I too busy getting dinner on the table, washing clothes, worrying about trivial details I don’t even remember? Have I missed some of the best parts of their childhood?

The idea of time travel has also been fascinating. Most fictional characters who grab a ride back in time have some sort of epiphany along the way, like Scrooge’s foray to the past. There are moments in your life when the years ahead seem infinite. The summer when my children were two and four was one of those years. I can still see their beaming faces as they watched the skipping stones leap up, dance, fall down and reappear again. I miss the anticipation and the wonder of those magical moments of childhood.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/52532834@N00/27541009″>skipping stones</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>d.

 

 

Saving The Baccala Salad Of Christmas Past

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Lucys’ hands – the masterful creators of homemade Italian food for over 70 years.

Sometimes food is well…more than food

I should be the last person to save the baccala salad. I had never even heard of baccala salad until I met my husband’s family. Though I’m of Italian descent the family traditions my grandparents brought back from Italy which included making fresh fettuccine and laying it out on a bed to dry faded with the next generation. My mother who referenced a dog-eared New York Times cookbook and favored Jacques Pepin endeared herself to a more American palette. Her mother was a good baker but her culinary skills were limited and she subscribed to a minimalist approach to eating. Whether it was the hardscrabble life in the Italian mountains or the immigrant experience they did not revel in excess. My paternal grandmother was a better cook but she too knew her way around stretching dinner, with a family of six to feed. Since our family typically ended up as guests, my sister and I married without the holy grail of foodstuffs that define holidays. Enter my husband’s family, this is a clan that doesn’t fool around and the calendar year represents a tour de force of indispensable holiday dishes.

Christmas Eve is the feast of the seven fishes which means the menu must feature seven kinds of fish. What it doesn’t mean is that you can get away with a simmering bouillabaisse or paella. The feast includes baked clams, shrimp cocktail followed by your choice of linguini with white clam or lobster sauce. The courses continue with fish salad a melange of calamari, shrimp, scallops, mussels, polpo, olives and celery in the correct proportion as well as baccala salad. Baccala salad is a light concoction of escarole leaves, lemony dressing and savory baccala and Greek olives. The dish strikes a perfect balance apropos for any nouveau restaurant menu, so when my sister-in-law told me we were skipping the baccala salad I spoke up.

I’d like to say this is all about the baccala salad as I’m feeling triumphant about reprising its role in our seven fish fete, but it’s about so much more. My mother-in-law Lucy’s traditions are sacred to her and she’s passed the baton to her family. Lucy has sensed the tides of change, we’ve scrapped homemade lasagna on Christmas day, citing its heftiness and vetoed cardoon the stalks of the artichoke on Thanksgiving. We are holding the torch for the next generation but also trying to shed some of the labor and calories of Christmas past. However, this year Lucy is not well. We’ve taken jobs away from her and the changing menu is unearthing fears we all bury and some of it with food. Italians do a wonderful job of washing down fear with a finely fried zeppola. It’s brilliant and though we believe we have struck a delicate balance of preserving tradition and our sanity, we ordered fish salad to save the washing of seven different pots, Lucy will make baccala salad and its presence will serve as a resounding reminder of the importance of tradition, family and love.

 

Getting Real About My Empty Nest

photo-20For some it’s the concerts, plays, sports or parent teacher conferences they miss most – I miss reading children’s books…

I miss reading children’s books. Recently I found myself pining for Corduroy, Sandra Boynton’s The Going To Bed Book crew and The Velveteen Rabbit. I’ll often ask my children, “Do you remember Mooncake? My son and I still reminisce about Goodnight Moon, a story about nothing and everything that matters in a child’s life – routine, consistency and love.

I read every Madeline book created, including all the spinoffs. At three years old, my daughter could recite the lines to an entire Madeline book. Yet, secretly I knew I loved the story more than she did, I swooned over the rhyming, the symmetry and the charming Parisian scenes. I still remember the night I read The Hundred Dresses by Eleanor Estes. When I finished reading, tears streaming down my face, I turned to see my daughter’s reaction and she was fast asleep. What a beautiful timeless story of tolerance and redemption.

I gladly ditched all the colorful plastic in my home years ago, you won’t find a Lego anywhere in sight. Thomas the trains are packed away in the attic and American Girl doesn’t live here anymore. Yet, the books are still here and hold my most cherished memories. I’ll never forget the excitement in my children’s faces when Edward Tulane fell overboard in The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane or when Corduroy, ripped overalls and all, was finally loved.

For some it’s the concerts, plays, sports or parent teacher conferences – nope won’t miss any of that. My nest will be empty next year and passing by their bookcases gives me the most pause. In Barnes and Noble I want to jump up and down in the children’s section, where I spent so much time, but now I begrudgingly pass by. I didn’t cry a river when I dropped my daughter off at college last year but show me a Madeline book and I can make it happen. My kids have outgrown bears that come alive in department stores and talking rabbits. Reading to my kids will always be the most magical and treasured moments of my life. These characters filled up rainy days, sick days, good days and bad – days of exhaustion when reading was the last thing I wanted to do and days I had limitless energy. So they’ve long outgrown the wonder of childhood books but I hope they’ll always honor the hope, wonder, reflection and joy a great story can bring. I couldn’t say it better myself, so here’s a favorite passage from The Velveteen Rabbit:

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

“Does it hurt?” asked the Rabbit.

“Sometimes,” said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. “When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.”

“Does it happen all at once, like being wound up,” he asked, “or bit by bit?”

“It doesn’t happen all at once,” said the Skin Horse. “You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally, by the time you are Real, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all, because once you are Real you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I’ll always be a parent but the path of parenting children is nearing its end for me and I do feel “Real.”

One More Ride

 

Radio Flyer in the back yard. Strobist Info: Just the sun.

I apologize to the “Helicopter Mom Police” but today I was one of “those” moms.  I trailed behind my son, in my own car, as he drove to school. No need to gasp, it was his first solo expedition and he had his license for a little over an hour. Of course, he’s been driving to school with me as a passenger for quite some time. He completed Driver’s Education and has been practicing for about a year. Yet, there was something monumental about today. The day he could finally legally drive to school. As I watched his car move farther away, his childhood flashed before my eyes.

I’ve been his cheerleader for every milestone serving as a precursor for this day. A beautiful fall morning with leaves dancing in the street punctuated this momentous event and the ever changing, fleeting and final year ahead. He’s 17 and a senior and I know this was the first of many goodbyes.

Goodbye to driving to school, since he was two and a half and in nursery school this has been my job. My minivan was filled with giggling boys, sticky juice cups and lollipop sticks. I was usually half conscious, sleep deprived and happy. Yes, there were years he took the bus but then I was driving to practice, a friend’s house and a million other places.

As I watched him pull out, I traveled back to the day he took his first step. He was enthralled with walking and joining his sister. Sitting was no longer an option and at two years old he told me flat out, “No more stroller, no more highchair, no more nap.” I was devastated, he was only two but he liked his mobility and he wasn’t wasting any time. I also remembered his first set of wheels, his beloved red wagon. Of course the fuel behind the wagon was me but he loved canvassing the same neighborhood he was driving through today to collect leaves, rocks and sticks. He loved the wind in his face, the speed four wheels provided and the thrill of the ride. I also saw his second set of wheels, his first tricycle, then his training wheels and the day the training wheels came off. He learned along with his older sister and his determination was amplified by his love of movement. I remember jumping and screaming hooray as he plowed into a bush, but he was riding his bike. When he passed his road test, I jumped as well as he eyed me with a “come on Mom get in the car” look.

There were other wheels, skate boards and wave boards and bikes and as he drove along the streets he slowly transformed from little boy to young man. I watched as he maneuvered the car and for every move forward I said my silent goodbye. Goodbye to the one year old who made his first step, goodbye to the two year old who ditched his stroller, goodbye to toddler in the wagon, goodbye to the boy on the tricycle and the little guy who gladly said good riddance to training wheels, goodbye to the middle schooler who sailed away on his bike. I said my goodbyes but I’ll never stop worrying, never stop celebrating his victories by jumping up and down and I know I’ll always be behind him the way I was today.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/11113739@N04/3945913161″>Day 256 – Red Wagon</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/”>(license)</a>

The College Tour 101

My alma mater, Fordham University.

My alma mater, Fordham University.

Sniffing The Elixir Of The College Experience

I’ve trekked through snow, ice, gale winds and smoldering heat all in the pursuit of the “right college.” First for a college that would propel my daughter and now launch my son into a functioning member of society, the son who calls me when he sees a spider, proof that we all have our dreams!

We’ve seen storied buildings, soaring sustainable ceilings, charming ivory encased stone edifices, professional gyms…even a planetarium! Two kids, two years apart I’ve been on over 20 college tours. Tours that have left me, at times, exhilarated, bored and befuddled. The $64,000 question, and tragically in many cases the price tag is: “Where will my child thrive, be happy, get excited about learning, make friends and find a major for a successful life?”

To gain the best insight for your college tour hit up their website to learn about academics and essentials. The information session, which is usually emceed by a faculty member or admissions representative, will review the basics. If you’ve done your homework you can dig deeper with questions. It is also here where you will hear some erudite quotes about the world today.

The tour is conducted by a student who has experienced the positives and negatives of the school, so ask away. Topics to consider:

  1. Housing – Find out where freshmen live. I’ve found “freshmen only” dorms are wonderful for forming friendships. Don’t assume anything, there are schools that don’t house freshmen on main campus or they will show you the best upperclassmen dorms and skip freshmen housing. Find out where upperclassmen live. Housing can be complicated, get the facts before you commit.
  2. Social Life – Ask what students do on weekends, your child may not forgive you but hey you’ll be separated next year! There are parties on every campus, but insights into cultural events, clubs and school offerings will provide a general overview of options.
  3. Greek Life – Ask the guide, how pervasive Greek Life is and when rushing occurs. Many students thrive in Greek life while others stay away; consider how your child would manage in a school where a high percentage is involved. Beware of rushing before second semester where your child will have to make decisions before settling in.
  4. The neighborhood – Find out how involved students are outside of school and address safety concerns.
  5. Career Planning/Internships – I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the number of tour guides who have had internships. Granted these students are involved but dig a little deeper to find out about where they’ve interned and their experiences.
  6. Students – Observe students walking around, eating at the dining area or in the library to get a feel of the culture and how your child fits in.
  7. Majors – Ask about popular majors and if your child doesn’t know what they want to major in pursue a college with a broad spectrum of majors.

The overall tone of the tour will give you a good idea of how vested the school is in attracting quality candidates. I’ve seen it all from being addressed by savvy professors to a tour given by a clueless freshman who made us wait outside in the snow for a van that passed us by. College is a big investment so before writing that behemoth check get the facts!

Eradicating High School Behavior

small_430162762One Woman At A Time

The other day my daughter made a comment to me about a situation at college. She bemoaned, “It’s like high school all over again.” I advised her that she has the control to change every situation as my mind wandered off to the many times, as an adult, I have thought, “high school never dies.”

I didn’t attend a traditional co-ed high school, so without boys and all of the sports and interests that align kids today it was pretty mild. Yet, my kids enjoyed the full kahuna of groups, cliques and posturing. In my daughter’s case we watched enough of Mean Girls for total immersion in High School 101. So I began to mull the events in my life that prove the inner workings of high school never truly go away…

  1. The Senior Community – My father was losing his mind to dementia and a newbie in his senior community decided it was funny that he kept waiting for a car to bring him to the airport for a trip to Rome. One day this woman asked about his plans and began to laugh a la Regina George. So I approached her little clique, determined to ensure he wasn’t going to be her punch line anymore and said, “I assume you all know there are no travel plans and he is not well.” I walked away and said to my niece, “high school never dies.”
  2. The Group – I’ve always been an equal opportunity kind of gal with friends of all ages but this whole idea of being friends with your children’s friends parents doesn’t always work. Sometimes you’re late to the table and a crew of women has already formed a group and well you’re just not invited. This whole grouping concept, which seems to be a social norm in high school as well, is counter to the kind of friendships I ever had which are open and inclusive.
  3. The Opportunist – Oh, how high school rears its ugly head. Someone is showing a strong interest in friending you, play dates with your children seem to be increasing as well as phone calls. In the back of your mind you are thinking, “Isn’t this nice or not.” When the dust settles you find out that this person was jockeying for a favor. It’s important to note that this type typically moves on to new prey fairly quickly once they have no use for you.
  4. The PTA – There are those that volunteer for the pure joy of it and those that think volunteerism will bestow privileges for their progeny. Lest I say anymore…
  5. The Judger – I was told once that my suit was nice but the color was outdated. This was at a nursery school function. I had two children 22 months apart, I was barely functioning and happy the suit fit. Was I concerned that the fashion police was going to issue a ticket in the form of a “friend” who judged everything from my clothes to my car?

Last night during the Presidential debates, Trump was accused by Rand Paul of “junior high” behavior for his predilection of judging candidates by their looks. This behavior is just everywhere and now I’d like to add “we all know what they say about people who peak in high school”!

Applying to College: Round Two

5427517501_79340c3ac2_m-1Watch out College Process

You know how it is with the first one. You walk around with sanitizer 24/7, ban sugar consumption and delude yourself that you can protect your progeny from all evil. Number Two is a different story.

Number Two is applying to college this fall and since I still have lingering post-traumatic stress disorder from Number One’s senior year, she’s now a college sophomore, I’m heading into this terrain with a brand new mindset.

Last time I absorbed, inhaled and feared the massive amounts of information headed my way. From college nights, websites, computer match-ups, articles and other parents proclaiming they knew better, the process owned us. This year I vow to:

  1. Ignore the college tsunami of information. For every truism that was out there I could hold up examples that negate it. Lesson: Mind your own business and schools fill up with many different kinds of students and yes some of it is not fair. So, if you want to give a reach school a try, why not, it’s only money and keep your checkbook open.
  2. Hand the reins to Number Two. During round one, I was too involved. I enjoy my sanity too much for that to happen again.
  3. Keep my mouth sealed. Remember naming your baby? Everyone wants to know your choice and then they will tell you what they really think. There is so much more to consider in choosing a college than impressing others, like programs, grants and distance. So you won’t have to ask when we meet in the supermarket: “My Second is not going to Harvard.” The 5 percent acceptance rate got in the way.
  4. Not spend my year in fear. Go through the process once and the curtain has been revealed. Colleges play games like sending out free applications as a ploy to lower their acceptance rate so they place better in the rankings race which is so flawed that’s another article. The lesson here is that colleges are harboring their own fears, managing a business to pay for rock walls and group study rooms. The hype is everywhere, so remember they need you just as much as you think you need them.
  5. Demand more for my money. From a recent Washington Post article: “…everyone, except for the super wealthy, is having a hard time paying for college. Tuition has risen faster than the rate of inflation. Wages certainly have not kept pace with the costs of college, neither has any form of financial aid.” Enough said.
  6. Like my child. When child Number One went off to college; I was too exhausted to enjoy many of the milestones.
  7. Develop a new kind of kitty litter with college mail. I threw this one in to make sure you were paying attention!

If there is anything I learned during this process two years ago is that shedding the pomp and circumstance of finding “the perfect school” is an absolute necessity. You may believe one school will set your child on the correct path but there is no school that will magically achieve this. This is your child’s job and whether you see it in them already or you’re still waiting, this is what we all should get worked up about – helping them build the skills to succeed. Deciding on a college is just the beginning!

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/92574222@N00/5427517501″>The Fighter</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Digital Age Discontent

file6681269982727“Men have become the tools of their tools.” – Henry David Thoreau

I’ve adapted to technology but I do recall a time where documenting every restaurant meal, new haircut or your pet’s cone of shame would have put you in the minority. In those days, I survived and thrived, and sometimes in the wee hours of the night or when I’m facing the “beach ball of death” on my Mac I wish someone would take me back to a place where I don’t have to see these messages:

  1. “Safari Can’t Find Your Server” – My MacBook has aged or maybe it’s my internet provider who is going through their own midlife crisis, thanks Netflix, but whatever the reason this message keep popping up on my computer: “Safari can’t find your Server.” If there’s been a “server” in my house and if this “server” is hiding I implore you to come out. I can assure you that you will be a welcome addition to my world and as long as my meals are lukewarm, but served to me, I will be elated.
  2. “You Haven’t Logged Your Dinner” – The year I paid for the Weight Watchers app would have been better spent on a pair of leather boots. I attempted to reach lifetime membership but I broke up with their app and downloaded My Fitness Pal for free. The point is to track your meals and I often lose steam by dinner. I now receive alerts telling me that I haven’t logged in dinner. Well, maybe I’d like to keep that to myself. Perhaps I don’t want to share that I inhaled 50 pistachio nuts or smothered artisanal cheese on a rosemary, olive baguette before dinner so ponder that the next time you stalk me for my dinner log!
  3. “Storage Is Full” – My Iphone is on the way out since upgrades are stolen from you in the middle of the night in my household. “Storage is Full” when I attempt to take a photo of the dog looking cute or the dress I’m considering purchasing, events I would never dream of documenting when photos carried some import. So now it’s not just my kitchen cabinets that need to be decluttered.
  4. Facebook Notifications – I’m a magnet for folks who tell me their secrets in store lines, various offices and when I’m trying to buy a pair of shoes but it’s the endless oversharing of happiness on Facebook that puts me on edge. I’m happy you are happy but please let’s have some balance here – either mess up your hair in some of those pics or let us in on the secret that you don’t really know all those good looking people!
  5. “You’ve Got Mail” – I’ve never been a numbers person, so AOL stop counting how many emails are sitting in the account I escaped from by creating a new account that I attempt to keep under 500. If you’ve just asked me for my email because you are a manning the register at Ace Hardware I’m sorry I responded as though you asked me for my kidney.

So before “Big Brother” was a reality TV show, this omnipotent force introduced by George Orwell spooked me. Fretfully I have to advise that the time has come and the “server” I never met has been abducted, I’m now forced to report what I had for dinner, Marie Kondo lives in my phone, happy perky people have invaded the planet and if I open one email a day I might catch up before the “beach ball of death” stops spinning!

6 Signs You’re Stuck In The Middle!

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Portrait by my son who beautifully captures the Mom “worried/weary” look!

It’s not easy being in the middle. Yet, this is precisely where many Boomers sit, part of the sandwich generation where raising children and caregiving for the elderly intersect. As older parents ourselves we’ve find we’ve landed on the corner of helping our parents who are living longer and teens and young adults who seem to need a lot more assistance than “back in the day.” These hurdles are not for the faint of heart and on any given day you may very well find yourself:

  1. Managing sobriety – Wondering if the quip your doctor made about your mother enjoying her drugs (true story but not mine, although my father once told me he saw a mirage in my den) is something you need to add to your “worry list” or should you just keep hoping your teenager hasn’t slipped beer into the basement yet.
  2. Serving as the “grand purveyor” of lost and found – You’re either chasing canes or searching for that “school form” – you know the one that was due yesterday. If you’ve ever searched for a cane in Costco or scooped up a water pill before the dog inhaled it you know what I mean.
  3. Embracing telemarketers – A ringing phone, yes we still own landlines, in the evening incites paralyzing fear. These are the times you embrace your alma mater’s 100th appeal, celebrate your plumber’s anniversary special or fall for “don’t hang up you’ve won a free timeshare.” You’re so relieved you’re not dealing with an accident you may consider that timeshare.
  4. Fighting losing battles – Your advice will be resisted on a daily basis – well one set can’t hear and the other tunes you out. While on a mission to teach my father about meal planning, apple pie is not dinner, I come home to a teen who gorges on snacks and leaves a meal, I didn’t want to make in the first place, untouched.
  5. Holding the keys – This is why your salon visits have doubled. Passing the keys to one set, while simultaneously trying to abscond with aging parents’ car keys are formidable tasks. This is where you sigh and thank the Gods for hair dye.
  6. Facing the unknown – Whether you are waiting for SAT scores, college decisions or the results of yet another medical test the unknown silently torments you.

Yet, we muster courage on a daily basis to guide teens or young adults and assist elderly parents. Sometimes being in the middle is a good thing, your wise self knows escaping high school was the best thing that ever happened to you while spending time with the older set allows you to evaluate the time you have now. So if you suddenly find yourself humming “clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right, here I am, stuck in the middle with you…” – you realize maybe it’s not such a bad place.

The Search For Dad

photo-1On becoming what you need…

For as long as I can remember, my brother wandered. He never sat but paced back and forth, so it made sense that he followed his sense of wanderlust. Yet, I secretly knew he wasn’t just someone who loved to travel and see new places. He also didn’t possess the naiveté of a tourist, who shared photos of their journeys, and allowed yearly vacations to fill photo albums. No, he was moving, pacing, thinking and trying to outpace his desire to change his past – but he knew all too well there was no way back.

My brother’s father died when he was three. When you lose a parent that early you lose a piece of yourself as well. It’s not just the isolation of knowing that your friends have two parents but the knowledge that you will never share an ice cream cone with your Dad, have him teach you to ride a bike or have the chance to stare at his angered face when you dent his car. The years of adoration, rebellion and gift of loving acceptance were never an option for him. The senseless arbitrary unfairness of life ushered him to keep moving. This roving, sensitive brother of mine became my idol and in an ironic twist a second father. I saw the missing piece he yearned for, very early on, as he shared his love of books and reading and mocked my taste in music.

Ours was a little universe of broken pieces. After his father’s death, my mother married my father and my twin sister and I were born. Ten years our senior, he was a babysitter and antagonized us with endless tickling. Years later, he brought me on my only college tour and advocated for me to make a better college choice. He took my sister and me to museums and the beach and although he sometimes forgot to feed us he nourished us with the outside world. He somehow knew what we needed and threw pillows at my sister and let me browse through his books. When our family suffered the untimely death of my mother when he was 21 and we were 11, he left for graduate school in California. Postcards filled us in on his travels which led him to cities across the U.S. and ultimately Europe. He traveled forward and in the past, finding long lost relatives and becoming the keeper of memories and old family photographs.

An aunt once advised me that there was too much pain for him here and he felt the need to flee but I knew, at the ripe age of 11, standing in his room weeping at my concurrent losses, and gazing at his Don Quixote poster that he possessed what he was searching for. He had already gifted it to me and when he had his children the light went on again. As a new father, he balanced sensitivity with warding off worry. He was a kind and gentle father to his children when they were young but avoided hovering, knowing all too well the need to build resiliency. He lovingly continues to share his love of travel, photography, food and life. Fathers come in all shapes and sizes and though he was my brother, he was a beacon of light for me – precipitated by the light that went out for him too early in his own life.

Thanks For Rejecting My Kid!

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This is for all the folks who have rejected my children, whether deserved or a biased assessment, I’d like to express my gratitude.   My kids accuse me of bragging about the hoops I jumped through during my childhood and though it was a different world theirs is far too easy sometimes. To truly develop skills to become an adult, rejection is a necessary evil. Starting as early as grade school through high school, here are some rejections I’m thankful for:

  • The Dreaded Cut – Thanks for allowing my child to see that sometimes you’re just not good enough or sometimes you should make the cut but for reasons beyond your control the spot was not yours for the taking. Picking up the pieces is what life is all about. Most kids are able to assess their performance honestly and this is a prime time to “talk.” I once heard one of my children say, “What can I do, sometimes life isn’t fair.” A great and necessary lesson to which I added, “One person does not define you.” There’s so much value in acknowledging you may have to work harder, accepting that the tides won’t always go your way or choosing another path.
  • The Friendship Dump –  I’ve found that friendships that last are often developed in middle or even high school. Hanging out with your friends’ children may work but beware kids often move on and develop their own friendships. Don’t be surprised if your child is dumped or your child does the dumping. I’ve witnessed this with both my children.  I worried but in the end I’d like to say thanks. When you lose friends, you become more empathetic and open-minded to others. This is also a prime time to teach sensitivity.
  • Losing & Failing – These are not textbook rejections, but still disappointments that make kids feel inferior. If your child is winning all the time, that’s a problem. My sister and I played cards often when we were growing up and she was always won. It was irritating but it was just not my thing. Losing allows you to learn about yourself, your capabilities and skills. Let’s talk about grades. First of all no child should have their self-esteem tied into their academic performance or any activity. Secondly, you don’t want them to fall into the trap of expecting perfection all the time. So what if your child always earns a 100? Praise them for their hard work and find appropriate challenges for them. Believe me this child won’t always achieve perfection and you don’t want their world to implode when it happens.

I’ve been thinking about the importance of rejection because the focus on performance in my suburban town is seismic. I’ve also been reading stories of college suicides. These are students blessed with outsized talent who feel stuck in a maze of high performance. These actions represent a small percentage but there’s a larger majority of teens, college students and young adults who face disabling anxiety because they are in a race to keep up with unrealistic standards.

Don’t swoop in to fix every taxing situation your child faces.  I say bring on the rejection, the nepotism, the losses, and failures – and once again thanks to those for those rejections!

 

Keeping Up With Caitlyn Won’t Be Easy

1586972480_0dc49d8d7d_nWhen Bruce Jenner’s photos started popping up everywhere my first thought was, “Ok, why does Caitlyn Jenner look so much better than me?” I texted several friends and posed that question. One friend said she looked better than all the Kardashians and another jested she wanted her plastic surgeon’s number. As the day went on another friend queried on Facebook, “How come Caitlyn looks better than we do and she’s only been at it a year or so?!?

Of course we know when you have her resources, Annie Leibovitz photographing you and the magic wands of Vanity Fair how could you not look fabulous. Like most of us, I’m happy for her and she does look great but it is just the essence of her veneer that is bothering me. The vast majority of comments have commended her on her outside shell and let’s be honest other than Hollywood most 65-year-olds do not remotely look like Jenner. Yet, it’s hard for me to get past the fact that if she truly wanted to be taken seriously beyond her exterior she wouldn’t have posed a la Marilyn Monroe. In essence she has created a new image and standard to live up to. I empathize that she’s in the public eye, a society that couldn’t believe Susan Boyle could sing like an angel. We judge and we judge hard and women are judged the harshest. Plus, we’re still fighting objectification and equal pay from Madison Avenue to board rooms across America.

As a middle-aged woman I don’t want to be judged by how I look on the outside. It is likely that Jenner is making up for lost time and with unlimited resources and time perhaps she will keep up the race with Father Time. Yet, I believe most us by the time we hit middle age are happy to settle for looking our best, making the most of our genetics and focusing on who we are beyond our shell. This has become my mantra as I age. Mother Nature has also provided some nice perks like worsening vision. The gift of motherhood has also humbled me in ways no other role I’ve ever held has. I’ve learned that perfection in any area of your life is typically doomed.

For me, middle age is a time of wisdom and light and for those seeking to enhance themselves that’s fine but I’m aging with the notion that I’m good enough. I don’t have a career predicated by how I look. Most days good enough is I’ve covered the grays, exercised, eaten well, limited sugar and treated myself kindly. Women have long struggled to be viewed and respected for who they are and not what they look like and aging in a society that worships youth and beauty is not for the faint of heart.

I’m not judging her and I always loved “it’s a never too late story” but her positioning is worrisome. I hope Jenner doesn’t become a slave to her outer shell, as it stands keeping up with Caitlyn won’t be easy…as most of us know.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/63754393@N00/1586972480″>rouge</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

 

Words Are My Diamonds

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“Good words are worth much, and cost little.” – George Herbert

We just celebrated Mother’s Day and I requested “words” as a gift from my children. Words are important to me not just because I’m a writer but because after the flowers die, candy is eaten and gifts put away “words” last a lifetime. Though the card was store bought, my son told me how he felt about me including inside jokes and humor but also observations about our relationship. He had me teary eyed after the first sentence.

To write and be able to express yourself, show someone you love and appreciate them is a task everyone is capable of. I’m hoping he will write heartfelt cards to the future love of his life and his children. I’ve saved all of his cards so someday he can peruse them and travel the journey of his childhood from baptism, birthdays, holidays and more. I’ve written letters and kept journals for each of my children. In the so-called connected world we live in, writing may seem passé but for me each crafted word means so much more than a typed out sentence somewhere on the internet or even a sparkling diamond. For those who have received love letters, which I hope is not a thing of the past, the tangible joy of reveling in that moment and feeling loved is priceless.

Parenting teens is not easy, especially when I often find candy wrappers strewn throughout the house and what looks like the aftermath of an earthquake in his room, I sometimes feel unappreciated. Of course, I know he loves me but even a Mom likes a little affirmation. He’s nearing the end of his high school career and the pressure of junior year has worn him down. I often feel guilty that we pepper him with too many orders and don’t recognize that he is still a kid, a teenager and that all this pomp and circumstance is not as important as launching a human being, one who thinks, loves and knows who he is, off to college. He is sensitive, kind and thoughtful and his words reminded me of that.

It’s hard to get children today to think about why they are fortunate. I tell my kids often, “There are starving kids all over the world” and they roll their eyes. I believe the act of writing, thinking about their message, planning it out and considering the receiver is a way for them to reflect on their life and the relationships they have. In this case, for my son to write about me I’m guessing that he thought about all that I do for him as a parent. His words confirmed that. For me, its confirmation that he is thankful and appreciates the home and life my husband and I have worked to create.

I didn’t have an agenda for any of this when I asked for words but I’m glad I did. In a time where kids are programmed worse than the Energizer Bunny, an opportunity to slow down, think about their emotions and relationships is time well spent – so the next time I find a sock in my dining room I may not have a coronary!

 

The Unsung Heroes Of Mother’s Day

 

file2801302980272There are all types of mothers and the honor of celebrating Mother’s Day should be theirs as well.

I just read author Anne Lamott’s view on Mother’s Day. She doesn’t celebrate the holiday nor has she indoctrinated her son to bestow her with fanfare. Her points include a forced type of sentimentalization and at worst a day for those who have lost moms, aren’t moms by choice or infertility, those living alternate lifestyles, women who have lost children or those who experienced damaging childhoods to feel left out.

I get it. In the 70s as a sixth grader who just lost my mom, I dreaded Mother’s Day. The question, “What are you doing for Mother’s Day?” prompted anxiety. While everyone was making Mother’s Day cards in class, I wasted time. My siblings and I felt alone and tended to ignore the holiday with an exception of a cemetery visit.

Despite my experience, I don’t entirely agree with Lamott. Our calendars should be slotted with a day to celebrate motherhood. I believe that all mothering whether biological or spiritual should be honored. I do, however, agree with Lamott that reaching “a level of love and self-sacrifice” is not exclusive to parents. So here’s my list of unsung heroes, whether they have biological children or not, who deserve recognition:

  • Aunts – Blood or honorary, many aunts have taken children under their wings by spending time with them or tending to their needs during troubled times. Love to all my aunts!
  • Teachers – The ultimate nurturers their job goes beyond teaching, touching lives in positive ways. Miss O’Farrell if you are out there, thanks for printing my poem in our class yearbook and making me believe I could write.
  • Siblings – Siblings often fall into a caretaking role, naturally or due to need. Here’s a shout out to my brother who, at 10 years my senior, often guided my sister and me.
  • Neighbors – For all those neighborhood “moms” who keep an eye out for the kids, bake cookies or simply impart a kind word a celebratory wish is in order.
  • Your Friend’s Mom – If my daughters’ friends need me, I would be there in a heartbeat!Love to my best friend’s mom who drove us everywhere and taught us to be brave!
  • Cousins – Spending time with younger cousins, caring about their life, sharing interests…cousins are often so much more than playmates.
  • Foster Parents – The unsung heroes for so many needy children.
  • Grandmothers – Many a wise grandmother has helped raise a child. I’ll never forget my grandmothers who came to this country as young mothers, and though they never worked outside the home, their work was cause for celebration.
  • Mother-In-Laws – Thanks for the jokes Rodney Dangerfield, but many of us have been doubly blessed. The years I lost with my own mother, I gained with a mother-in-law who taught me how to make chicken soup, was there for me when I had my babies and showed me the value of tradition.
  • Two Dads – If you are being raised or were raised by two dads, you were mothered (love that verb)!
  • Spiritual Mothers – A coworker or a friend who listens and has been there for you I would say a sappy Hallmark card is in order!

I’m sure there’s more to add to this list but my advice is to honor and acknowledge someone special in your life, who may not have taken a traditional path to motherhood, but helped raise, influence or love a child.

College Pick-Up

IMG_1637The Real Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

It was nearly nine months ago that we drove away and left our soon to be 18-year-old daughter at college. Numb from the Herculean task of packing almost the entire contents of her childhood room (not recommended) into our car and then unfurling it into a dorm room with a roommate with the same idea it’s hard to believe we will be retrieving her shortly. At the time, I was certain I was suffering from post- traumatic stress disorder from the college process, the bells and whistles of senior year and college shopping to feel anything but exhaustion. Yet, sadness did cast over me, back at home, when entering her uncluttered room and setting the table for three. My dog Harry lobbied for the spot but I wasn’t that insane yet.

Somehow the year droned on, busy with life, work, writing, my husband, son and assorted pets. I never really had that big moment, except the first time I entered her room after she left and it was likely the lack of stuff that did it to me. I was really joyful, happy to shed the college process nightmare and see how life would unfold for her. Like most moms and daughters we are close but we did a lot of bickering senior year, the pressure of applying to college, finalizing an art portfolio and squeezing her entire life into our Acadia for the drop-off caused friction. I was happy to be Mom again and not stage manager which is what I felt like.

Now we will be on our way to pick her up. She’s still looking for a summer job and she’s crossing her fingers. It’s not the big college internship but it’s a job. For me, I’m going to take a deep breath and have her lead the way and make peace with her stuff (truthfully, I’m terrified of the invasion). I’m not sure what I will be dealing with next. I do hope she’s different but not too different. I know she does laundry, makes her own appointments and can solve problems herself. So, I’m not offering laundry service or stepping into those arenas. It will be an adjustment for her as well. She will miss her friends from school but get reacquainted with her high school friends. It’s going to get some taking used to for both of us but I’m glad she will be home for the summer. I need a little more time to get used to the fact that one day all that stuff will be gone as she strikes out on her own.

Prom: Tiaras & Treachery?

5358704690_13b0ac0fc1_mI’m reposting this tongue-in-cheek essay about the prom with a serious note to parents to encourage your graduating senior to be kind and inclusive, avoid the “prama,” help out friends who may need dates and be careful!

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? Sorry to say that most of it is orchestrated primarily by girls, some not all, who are determined to make prom the night of their lives brandishing a “take no prisoners” attitude.

Perhaps Disney is to blame for some of this throwback sensibility by feeding, these girls didn’t grow up with the “Frozen” anthem, 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 “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, prom is rife with conundrums such as finding the “right date” and then “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 nail 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.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/38389614@N07/5358704690″>Tiara</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>(license)</a>

Still Deciding On College?

My Alma Mater, Fordham University

Decision Day Advice!

It’s been a long year for high school seniors and their parents. The emotion, drama, hype – the hushed conversations while avoiding that question, “So what college is so and so going to?” Take it from someone who’s been there, this too shall pass and in many ways, with the halo of high school over, things get better. I’ve developed a list of considerations before you choose:

  • ‘Dream’ School – Your child is steering the way and they are the only ones who will make their dreams come true. Certain schools will open a few more doors but perseverance, grit, determination and hard work will be the final barometers for success. Rejection at a dream school means dreams can be realized elsewhere.
  • Brand Name – Ever since I vied for those Jordache jeans, I’ve been acutely aware of the allure of the “brand” and the fact those jeans never fit well. An education should not be reduced to the shallow allusion of a “brand.” College is a big business, so shop wisely and don’t shell out your hard earned money for a “name” that may not offer your child their major or the best opportunities. If Harvard comes knocking that’s fine but with 5% acceptance rate the majority of us won’t be wearing Harvard sweatshirts.
  • Major is not a Minor Matter – At this stage of the game, you know if your child will be heading off to major in Neuroscience. Students need to think about what courses they’ve enjoyed and been successful at. There are many resources and career aptitude tests out there that can help chart a course. This could save tons of angst when your child discovers they want to be a Marine Biologist and there is no program at their school. A little homework can provide insight into a potential major and the type of institution they should attend.
  • Curriculum – College is school! I’m sure “senioritis” has hit and their attitude will make you wonder if they realize they are signing up for four more years! I made my daughter review the courses she would take at the schools she was choosing between. Many colleges have core curriculums so a review of those required classes is essential!
  • Waitlisted – Start a “campaign of interest!” Call, send a letter or email with news such as awards or achievements or just let them know you are still interested! Do not take this personally; colleges are overburdened with way too many qualified applicants. Though some schools pull only a few students off the waitlist, without the effort, you’ll never know.
  • Money Matters – With the skyrocketing cost of college, it’s important to consider all offers! Now is the time to call and/or write an appeal.
  • Raise Your Hand – Interested in a special program (such as Art or Music)? Encourage your child to call the department or visit. Some departments need students, this may help advance their application or gain aid.
  • Visit – Get rid of preconceived notions. After a while, info sessions/tours start to blur, visit and get a feel for the students. Ask your child if they can picture themselves at the school.

College is just the beginning of more hard work ahead. Change is imminent. Their decision may be spot on or they may transfer. What won’t change is their drive and ambition. They should seek out the best opportunities tailored to meet their goals.

Sorority Rushing

small_85271515Strokes your ego or kicks you to the curb?

I don’t believe in absolutes, not viewing the world as black and white but weighing different shades of grey I was open to my daughter’s foray into rushing for a sorority. It wasn’t as though I didn’t have an opinion, I wasn’t crazy about it, yet I didn’t have enough ammunition of my own to burn out the fire. I went to a college that was void of  Greek life and if they did I likely wouldn’t have been a part of it. I prefer to make my own friends and they don’t need to be connected to each other. The herd mentality did not seem to appeal to my daughter in high school but freshman year has been going great with good friends who were all rushing.

She shopped for new clothing and was genuinely excited. I listened and suggested some Google searches in case she wanted to delve more. She was beginning to sound like she was repeating the party line when she advised me to “trust the process.” I was proud; she recounted interviews where she shared her love of photography, art major, high school yearbook skills and work experience. I believed the interviewing stage was a worthwhile endeavor. Disappointment started early, after visiting 12 houses she was asked back to six, some of her friends were asked back to nine and some three houses. She felt she had good conversations with two of the houses and had already developed some favorites. The next step she was asked back by two and she texted me letting me know she was dropping stating,“It’s not worth my time unless I love it.” She did not feel either house suited her. Her friends were continuing on in the process. She seemed fine but I could sense she wasn’t. I personally thought that it may not be for her but she went for it and for that I give her credit.

Now the hard part, she began to question the process, “How could they make a judgment about me after a five minute conversation?” The whole “speed dating” mentality started to bring her down. She questioned her looks, her intelligence – the rejection was a blow to the ego. She was the first one of her five close friends to leave, three more would follow. It was hard for her; the school was abuzz with excitement. College was beginning to feel like high school, where impenetrable groups were the norm. While I believe many women do have wonderful experiences as members of a sorority the process indisputably either strokes your ego or kicks you to the curb. How can women do this to each other? Surely, there has to be a better way. She began to see how superficial it all was. Additionally, girls were advised that it was very rare not to be offered a bid which turned out to be untrue as many girls were left without bids.

Her freshman dorm, morphed overnight into a hotbed of drama, whispering, crying, hysteria as some girls experienced their first rejection. Many pondered what they were lacking or did wrong as the process you are supposed to “trust” does not provide feedback.

So this week, the new sorority sisters at her school ran through the streets and dorms celebrating their bid. The celebratory mood overshadowed bruised egos, strained friendships and for some heartbreak.

While all will fall back to place again and those not chosen will find other paths and those who eventually pledge may find happiness, the process should be questioned by all young women. I found this quote from a wonderful article titled, “Why Sorority Recruitment Is Horrible And Needs To Change” written by a woman who breezed through recruitment just to find out when she was on the other side how debasing recruitment can be:

“…why do we have a selection system that forces such incredible women to judge and reject other women almost arbitrarily? Why do organizations based on sisterhood pick their members in a way that destroys the confidence of so many young women? We should be encouraging and welcoming new women, not sorting them based on high school activities and 20-minute conversations, tossing many out along the way. Sorority recruitment has become a rigid, overly-structured, needlessly stressful numbers game. You can’t explain “quota” and what Nationals expects for your chapter to a PNM who can’t understand why, after what she thought was a great conversation, she wasn’t asked back. We say things like, “…really, don’t take it personally–they don’t know you after one conversation,” but none of it matters to a young woman who feels as if she’s been told, “We don’t want you.” Women are still fighting for equal rights and equal pay in this world–the very last thing college women should do is tear down new college women.”

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/okiboi/85271515/“>Joe_Focus</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-nd/2.0/“>cc</a>

 

 

Watching My Son ‘Go-Go’

IMG_0198Sixteen is a swooping comet of happiness, acceptance, irreverence, doubt, fear, rage and honesty.

There is female dialogue for 16. Parties, glitz and glamour although anyone who has known a 16-year-old girl will attest that sweet is an oxymoron. The age is a struggle for independence, acceptance and poorly applied makeup. What about boys? I’ve recently read some beautiful essays about ages and what they represent and I’ve decided to explore feelings about my son growing up and moving on.

We’ve gone from wide-eyed orbs casting a happy glow to grunts and an occasional smirk. I still see him dipping French fries in pools of ketchup with his friends at his side. He was always jumping, leaping, grabbing for something he thought was too far but not far enough for limbs on springs. The world was intoxicating and waiting for his introspection. His physical abilities were complimented by an imagination caught on fire by words. This was a child who wanted to speak and created his own vocabulary, until the cognitive abilities kicked in. He named items based on function, a ball was called “go-go” thrilling him with how it traveled unfettered and sometimes unstoppable. I remember laughter, starting as young as several months when he watched his sister run around the house, pure joy at the notion of being fluid and free. Every adventure from pogo sticks, riding bikes to drawing with chalk was embraced with gusto. Blowing bubbles on a sunny afternoon, adopting a dog, rescuing a kitten – his eyes danced with freedom and joy.

Until his mind caught up with his body, he was free to dream and roadblocks were nonexistent. As school became more like school, there were flickers of self-doubt, usually dampened by achievement, but still lingered in the air. At times, spears of his peers would reignite doubt, leaving flying embers. Yet, success and praise were his elixir. Art, writing, thinking, learning quickly and the ability to sit and concentrate made him an endeared student. He discovered books and characters and learned about the power of escape. Grade school innocence swooned in my head and clouded my vision for the tsunami ahead.

The first two years of middle school brought the calm before the storm. The smile was still there, going in a boy and leaving for high school not quite a child or a man. Hormones lurked in the shadows, snipers, ready to attack. He met disappointment and injustice head on, little pieces of his innocence chipped away. His smile eclipsed, tucked inside for occasional appearances, replaced by reluctance, doubt and fear frosted with sarcasm. I could see the boy inside, trapped by influences I could neither control nor stop. The world was moving, forging ahead and I want those orbs to look at me again and smile. I wait. Sixteen is a swooping comet of happiness, acceptance, irreverence, doubt, fear, honesty and rage. I’m no longer infallible and he’s found out I never was. This time 16 is slipping away, leaving me with every step from learning to drive, taking the SAT, girls and college ahead. Sixteen doesn’t have time for me. I tell myself he shouldn’t have time for me. I capitulate and hope to see his mouth move in upward sweeps to greet me.

He once told me, “Mommy if you die, I would cry but I can’t cry forever.” There was wisdom at three, the sense to know that life would roll along and picking up the pieces would be necessary for survival. I loved being his epicenter, he would wait for me, when I went out, telling his grandfather that he needed to sit by the window and watch for me. He would worry about me when I was out shopping, while I grabbed moments of solitude and freedom. We have switched places. I worry now, wondering how I can stave off the darkness he will encounter knowing full well he will “go-go” no matter what I do and he’s already on his way.

A Year Without A Christmas Tree

medium_5250149045-1Being grateful for this year’s conifer

He was there to fix the clogged shower, part of owning a house is you get to know the plumber or electrician. Somehow between talking shower heads and the weather he shared his story. His daughter, a drug addict who just delivered a baby would rehabilitate only to spiral back into addiction. He was burned out from years of providing help which only led to disappointment. When he left he said, “I haven’t had a Christmas tree in three years.” His words washed over me, especially the part about the Christmas tree.

It takes effort to put up a Christmas tree, whether artificial or real. A tree is the embodiment of the holiday season for Christians. A shelter for gifts and, though pagan, it serves as a symbol of hope, renewal and celebration. It’s hard to get on that train when you are suffering.

Growing up our family had a year without a Christmas tree. This was the year my mother died and my father declared we wouldn’t have a tree. I held it against him; we were already wrestling with so much loss, and not having a tree set me off on a path of ambivalence about Christmas trees. As fate would have it, I married a man who has to cart home the largest tree in the nursery. Our first year of marriage and pretty much every year thereafter I’ve struggled to fill the tree. I’ve done it all from silk poinsettias to a more sparse look the first years. We’ve now accumulated enough ornaments to trim a large tree. I can now understand my father’s resistance to putting up a tree that year, perhaps he thought it was a symbol of inappropriate celebration or the task was too laborious. The labor part I get, since I’m married we’ve had lots of tree challenged moments like the time we thought the tree was crooked when the stand was defective, we replaced the tree and all its accessories only to find another “leaning tower of tree” or the time we strung lights around a seven foot tree to find we couldn’t plug it in because we were left with the female end. We’ve also had years with “tree blackouts” you know how one light goes out and there goes all the lights or the year the cat found shelter smack center in the middle of the tree and wouldn’t get out.

It’s taken a long time, but our tree has grown into a tradition, well despite the lights, that I look forward to. I treasure childhood ornaments and those that my kids have made through the years. For a long time, I carried that treeless year with me and have learned to appreciate the freedom to celebrate. I’ve learned as life moves on that the unexpected can hit like a ton of bricks but the indefatigable human spirit never ceases to amaze me. All we have to do is read the first few pages of the newspaper to be struck down by despair and we all share heartbreak of some form but somehow there’s always that glimmer of hope, that persists, even when we think it’s not there. So I hope my plumber finds his tree again and I’m going to be more grateful for this year’s conifer, despite what happens to the lights, and what it represents – time with family, faith and enduring hope.

photo credit: <a href=”https://www.flickr.com/photos/bas68/5250149045/“>Bruce A Stockwell</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com“>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/2.0/“>cc</a>

 

There Are Many Ways To Say Goodbye

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I wrote this June of last year, reposting to honor my father and November/Alzheimer’s Disease Awareness month.

Facing a parent with dementia…

According to the Alzheimer’s Association, 1 in 8 older Americans has Alzheimer’s disease. The incidence and prevalence of this disease is on the rise. As we age, many of us will face this disease with our parents. This piece was written to raise awareness and in tribute to my father.

Until I received a very strange phone call two summers ago, I didn’t realize how many ways there are to say goodbye.

My father was on the line and he wanted to know if I was sitting down because he had great news.

“I just inherited a million dollars,” he exclaimed.

I don’t come from the type of family that bequeaths a million dollars. When he told me his fortune was from a childhood friend he hadn’t spoken to in 70 years my concern rather than his bank account increased.

I soon learned that it is futile to disagree with someone who is suffering from dementia. At 87 years old, my father survived World War II, widowhood with two small girls to raise and most of his old age sans too many bruises all to become master of a strange universe. It was sudden and difficult to come to terms with.

Dead relatives have resurfaced and have invited themselves to Thanksgiving dinner. All kinds of celebrities have become distant relations and I’ve even found myself with a new brother. More heartbreaking is my father’s insistence that my mother, who passed away 38 years ago, is still alive and spends most of her time at the Waldorf Astoria waiting for us. He often queries if we have seen her and becomes upset if we haven’t. Though in his own way, he ponders why he hasn’t seen her.

He was someone who loved to travel and he now travels between two different worlds –  the world that seems to agree with the order of things and the one inhabited by the past lacking order or control. The characters who surface in this new world range from those who’ve left big gaping holes like crater in our hearts to others who just flitted by.

The old world barely exists and the new world doesn’t. After the initial shock and denial, I decide to participate in both worlds not understanding either. Meanwhile in my own world, I’m missing a piece. I have a wonderful story to relay and I think my father would be a great audience and then I pause and remember that it would be too arduous to explain. From a wonderful conversationalist he has become taciturn.

I wonder about loss. Is this a legitimate loss? If it feels real, it must be. If that’s so, his premise is not that far off. I pine for our laughs and for his wry and sardonic quips. His generosity always outpaced what he had but he loved to offer help.

Alternatively, he is at times more satisfied than he’s ever been. The pre-dementia father could be unhappy.

We all have many sides to our personality. Forever changed irrevocably my father is here and gone. Now we travel together, he revels in the past while I yearn for it.

photo credit: <a href=”http://www.flickr.com/photos/batega/1865482908/”>Josep Ma. Rosell</a> via <a href=”http://photopin.com”>photopin</a> <a href=”http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/”>cc</a>

 

– See more at: http://thatgirlisback.com/there-are-many-ways-to-say-goodbye/#sthash.2Dyb92Cr.dpuf

A Mother’s Day Wish

get-attachment-164.aspxIf I Could See You Again…

If I could see you again, I would agree that red doesn’t go with purple as you often said, and that life is for the living. I’d also thank you for teaching me the beauty of creating – experiencing the joy of taking a blank piece of paper and painting it with your thoughts or color. I’d thank you for showing me how to experience life beyond your means, to break through the barriers of money and class to defy convention. I’d thank you for introducing me to the value of education, not because it’s right but because knowledge is power. The kind of power that can help you pay the bills but also the kind of power that cannot be taken away. I’d thank you for valuing books, the stories, the words and the thoughts behind great minds. I’d also thank you for never allowing a silly thing like money hinder you from being the most elegant woman in the room. I’d thank you for understanding what true taste is. I’d thank you for not allowing that love of beauty or impeccable taste prevent you from being empathetic, the kind of empathy that would seek out someone in need and offer help without acknowledgement or fanfare.

If we could walk side by side one more time, I’d thank you for showing me that there are no limits to one’s creativity. When shopping wasn’t an option, you learned to sew. I’d thank you for my one-of-a-kind communion dress dotted with daisies, that I may not have appreciated back then among the veils and glitter – but I now realize was truly a fashion statement and a wink to conventionality. I’d thank you for teaching me resourcefulness and that talent resides in all of us. If we could sit down for a cup of tea, I would thank you, a woman born in 1925, for raising a feminist and for warning my sister and me to build careers and be able to rely on ourselves. This was one lesson learned the hard way for you, a young widow without the opportunity to pursue an education. If I could see you again, I would tell you that you taught me more in the short 11 years we shared on earth than many who’ve had a lifetime with their mothers.

If it were possible to see you again I would thank you for introducing me to art. Waking up to a table filled with paints, brushes and canvases showed me that a mother deserves time of her own to dream or pursue passions. If I had one more moment with you, I’d thank you for showing me what bravery is – the kind of bravery to stand face to face with your mortality and still worry about training bras and math homework. The type of bravery to endure sitting in a wheelchair with a beautiful robe on and lipstick and smile and tell us everything will be alright when you knew it wouldn’t be.

If I could see you again, I’d thank you for not being perfect and for being okay with that. I’d thank you for losing your temper sometimes. I’d also thank you for bringing beauty into a house that needed it, whether you painted on the walls or decided on a blue and silver themed Christmas tree. If I could see you again, I’d thank you for throwing the best birthday party a ten-year-old girl could have and for showing me how ingenuity and creativity trumps anything store bought.

If we were to meet again, I’d tell you that I’m proud to be your daughter and I’m woeful we only had 11 short years but I’d tell you that you provided me with a lifetime of lessons. You taught me what life was about and what it wasn’t. For that I’m eternally grateful. For some of us our time on earth is short and others long, it’s what we do here that counts and for me every step I’ve taken is for you to be proud of the woman I’ve become.

If I could see you again, I’d wish you Happy Mother’s Day – the passage of time has taught me that life is a gift and I thank you for bringing me into this world and giving me the gift of life.

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