Archives for October 2016

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=”″>New horizons</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a> <a href=””>(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.”

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