When the Rules Can’t Work

I have rules and routines and procedures for everything.  You know this.  My daughter does too- so much so that is what she wrote her common app essay about.  We thrive on having lists and often do things rote.  It works for us.

One of the oldest rules we have is my meal rule.  When my daughter was in pre school, the year when the stream of activity begins, I made a rule.  Unless someone was out of town, we had to eat three family meals.  It could be breakfast, lunch or dinner, but the three of us had to be around the table together three times per calendar week.

Last week, for the first time in thirteen years, we were not able to do this.

When I was doing my Sunday prep work a few weeks ago, I looked at my calendar, looked at everyone’s commitments and shook my head. Work outings, college meetings, prior engagements, busy lives,  equaled the three of us barely being at home at the same time.

And it made me think of the future.

This rule has gotten us through my daughters formative years.  It has helped us as a family – because we were able to check in with one another- we knew when something was troubling us, we knew what was going on in one another’s lives.  Spending facetime, no phones or electronics, does really help communication.  And we all know communication leads to relationship success, or increases your chance of success anyway.

But I have now faced the harsh reality. Our days of family meals are almost over.  My days with my daughter living down the hall is almost over. There will be new rules and procedures put in place (you know I will have some sort of weekly phone call plan) but my life is about to change.

Ready or not, here it comes.  Glad I have seven months to prepare.

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The Last First Day of School

Yesterday was the first day of school.  The last first day of school that I will be with my daughter. Sigh.  The day started out the same as always.  I went to the corner store to get my daughter her traditional egg and cheese sandwich.  I fastened her necklace after she put on her new and carefully chosen outfit, I took her picture in front of my building, I shed a tear.  It was the picture that did it: I’ve taken her picture in the same spot in front of my building since she was in nursery school.  After I hugged her good bye and watched all walk towards the subway, I entered my building and looked at my doorman.  He just nodded his head: he’s seen me take this picture every year.  He knows the significance as much as I do.

Wow.

Where did the time go?

I was recently chatting with Shalini and Jo, and I regaled the fact that I have become the crazy woman in the market who tells parents with small children in tow to not blink, because before you know it, your kids will be all grown up.  I know from experience: I blinked.  So don’t blink…

What do I mean by this?  Make time for memories.  Make time to do things that are just for fun.  Have traditions.  Take pictures. Build a relationship with your child.

I realize I an the most structured person in the world: I have a schedule and a procedure for everything. I’m a stickler for homework and completing what you started and being a good team player.  I taught her rules and responsibilities.    But I also let my daughter jump in puddles just to see her smile as the water splashed up.  I let her use play doh in the living room, and dealt with the mess.  We built lego forts in the middle of the living room, sang really badly, had game tournaments and Mommy/Daughter outings.  We lived and experienced and enjoyed. And because I have a head full of memories, I am reasonably OK about the future.  (I say reasonably because there is a 33% chance that I will follow her to college and move across the street and stick a GPS chip in her arm while she’s asleep) I truly believe I am going to let her move out…

Remember that the job of a parent is to raise a self sufficient adult.  We’ve done our job if they are able to join the world and leave us behind.  Our job is to push them out of the nest. So when you shed a tear as you watch their back walk away, remember that this is good, that this is what is supposed to happen.  And know that they love you even if they’re looking at you through the rear view mirror.  They see you- they’re still looking- they know you have their back if things go south. They know how much you love them.

Remember the good times.  Laugh about the bad (you can laugh- it’s in the past) Wave good bye for now.  It’s OK.  They’re in your head and in your heart.  And you will always be in theirs.

 

Girl Talk

I’ve noticed a common theme in blogs recently- Moms upset that their teenage daughters are pulling away from them.  I guess it’s the season: it’s the second half of the school year, kids are getting closer to the next grade, the next school, the next milestone.  Moving up and moving on is right in the crosshairs…Mom’s are in the rearview mirror, waving and running towards the car, tears in their eyes….

What happened to my baby?  The words to “Sunrise, Sunset” purr through the mind.  When did I lose my daughter?

Well, to be fair, you started to lose your child pretty much after they were born.  From the moment they breathe air and the umbilical cord is cut, your daughter is striving for independence.  (This goes for non biological kids too, the umbilical cord is metaphorical)

I know this firsthand.  I have a daughter who is 16, and a Junior in High School.  She will be leaving the nest in August 2019, possibly forever. (It better be forever.  There is an elliptical trainer that is going to look great in that room)

I’m not a therapist, nor do I have any training in this area.  I’m just going to throw some common sense and logic out at you.

Everyone wants to forge their own identity.  Everyone wants to do things their way.

Is this bad?

No.  Of course not.  Your goal as a parent is to make your child into a fully functioning adult.

Your goal is to make sure they can survive on their own.

Your goal is to make sure they see the opportunities that lie before them, and to go for what they want.  A little bit of Carpe Diem.

Though as a parent, I get the whole thought, “Can’t you Carpe  that Diem tomorrow?  Can’t you just sit with me and be my baby just one more day?”

But ask yourself- am I being fair to my daughter?  Is this the best path for her?

Here’s the anecdote- I know you were sitting with baited breath, waiting to hear what actually happens in my house…

A few years ago, I would look at the weekend calendar and automatically include my daughter in the plans.  As of 9th grade- well, her being around just wasn’t an option anymore.  I had to say to her- “What’s on your agenda?”  I would ask, “can you fit in family/Mommy time?”  (I will also add that I have a strict 3 family meals per week rule- but this is actually more for my husband, and this has been a rule forever.  No one crosses me on this)

I would ask her.  I did not assume, nor force her to spend time with me on the weekends.  You can disagree with me- everyone has their own rules for how their household is run. But I felt that she was old enough to learn/know how to manage her own time.  I know how much homework she has.  I know how many activities she juggles, and how much time she devotes to these.

I’m OK with her figuring out her path.

I know she still loves me, even if we don’t have an activity planned.

But, I have found (and this is me- I can’t vouch for it working anywhere else) that my daughter tries to find a little bit of time for me.

She has been very crazed lately- burning the candle on three ends.  Last week I said to her “I feel like we’re ships passing in the night and I miss you.  Can we play this weekend?”

I asked.  I told her the truth about how I felt.  Her response?

“Sure Mommy.  We can get lunch after my SAT class on Sunday.”

Which we did.  I found a little French café that has this amazing hot chocolate selection, and yummy crepes.  The décor was porcelain tea cups and wrought iron tables, the display case showcasing opera cakes and lemon meringue tarts.  The air smelled like chocolate- did I forget to mention it’s also a chocolate shop?  I knew we had an hour- I wanted to make sure the event was special- because I can’t take for granted the time I get to spend with her.

I don’t have a great relationship with my Mom.  I am trying to forge a different path with my Daughter.  I saw the mistakes my Mother made, and I’m trying not to make the same ones with my kid.  It’s a very fine line, trying to have a nice relationship with your adult daughter.  Right now, I’m still the parent- I need to speak to her as a parent.  But, I’m also learning to speak to my daughter as a woman and as an almost adult. (FYI- this is where my Mother made her biggest mistake- she has still not learned to talk to me, not at me- but that’s a whole series of blogs)

So Moms- accept that your daughters are growing up and away from you.  Figure out how to make the new dynamic work for you.  Figure out how to maintain a positive relationship with you child, who isn’t really a child anymore.

Your daughter loves you.

They just need to find themselves and stand on their own.

 

 

Tempty Nesting

Today marks the last day of tempty nesting (temporary empty nesting).  The daughter will return later this evening, and I will officially go back to being Mom on call.  Here are my random thoughts on the experience.

  1. Tempty nesting is exhausting.  The husband and I had lots of dates, both just ourselves and with other couples. We laughed a lot, stayed out late, and drank a bit too much (it’s actually a little scary how quickly I’m regaining my tolerance for alcohol- I was a one drink and done for the past 14 years, now, Ok, I’ll finish off that bottle)   We originally planned on going out last night, our last night of parental freedom, but we looked at each other in the morning, and we knew.  We knew we needed a night to play remote roulette, maybe a game of backgammon, and just sit on the couch.
  2. Tempty nesting needs to have a cohesive plan of attack.  You must find the right balance of couple time, double date time, alone time and time with friends other than your spouse.  This is crucial.  You need to find balance in a life not dependent on needs of offspring, or frankly, your spouse.  Your spouse can not be your only source of entertainment.
  3. Tempty nesting requires a hobby that requires the use of your hands.  You need your fingers to have an outlet other than texting your child.  I used my hands to take photos of random things that I never before saw the beauty of.
  4. Tempty nesters need to realign their perspective.  You’re allowed to see yourself as an individual, not just a Mom or Dad.  Though you will always keep the parent hat in your arsenal, you are allowed to change to a cap or a beret or, heaven help us, a hipster beanie.
  5. It’s really nice not to have to worry about dietary needs of a teenager.  My daughter is a very adventurous eater and not picky, but she has chosen not to eat chicken, beef or pork.  This would be great if I liked fish….
  6. Quiet is nice- there is no such thing as quiet when you live with a teen- (OK, to be fair, the Husband is quite loquacious, the only quiet time was when I was completely alone)
  7. As my daughter routinely empties both the litter box and the dishwasher (not at the same time) I feel that I’m going to need to hire someone to do those chores when she leaves for good.

I am thrilled that I survived Tempty Nest 2017.  And I know that the actual empty nest will be a bit harder- but I like a challenge.  I’ll never be ready for her to leave home, but I know I will survive it.

 

Stepford Child

My daughter (community service, central America- you’re up to speed)) did actually communicate with me over the weekend.  The email goes something like this:

Dear Mother,

I hope this letter finds you well.  My community service experience has exceeded all my expectations thus far.  This morning we had to work with cement to repair the walls of a school.  This was grueling labor, but it was a worthwhile experience knowing that the children will have a safe environment to pursue their studies……..blah….blah….blah……

Please express my warmest regards to Father, the canine and the feline.

With Love,

The Daughter

And upon receiving this email, I screamed.  For the first time since she left, I was truly worried.  It was obvious that my daughter had joined a cult.  Or was abducted by aliens.  Or got off the plane in Stepford.  So I fired back:

Who is this and what have you done with my snarky, sarcastic teenager?  Where is she?  I’m sorry we don’t have any money.  We used it all to send her on this trip.  

And then my second thought was “My husband is not Liam Neeson.  He has no skills.”

My email pinged.

Wow Mom.  You think you would be glad to hear from me as I’m the only reason for your existence.

And I breathed a sigh of relief.  It truly was my daughter.  I could feel the sarcasm and teen angst surging through the internet.

But why the formal Edwardian language?  I’m pretty sure she didn’t bring down and highbrow literature (in fact I know she took a teen lit page turner because I saw the Barnes and Noble charge)  And though her school writing is just shy of brilliant, (no maternal bias at all) her communication with me is…..informal.

And my guess is, she was a little home sick.  By writing more formally, she was probably able to distance herself.  Too much witty repartee would remind her that I’m not there to drink a cup of tea with and chat about our day.  I’m not there to fluff her pillow just a little bit before she goes to bed.  It would remind her that we’re apart.

Our past few emails are how we always talk to one another- short, to the point, yet filled with warmth.  I’m figuring  she realizes that it’s OK to miss me…to miss home.  Missing something doesn’t make you weak, but working through the missing and allowing yourself to have fun and experience life makes you strong.

We are ending our emails with XO- which is how we always end our communications, whether it’s a text that she’s met up with her friends, or an email from Central America- because no matter where she is or what she’s doing, I always want her to remember that I love her.

 

 

Room to Grow

The following are a sample of text messages between my Mother and me, after my teenage daughter left the country for a community service trip:

Mom: Have you heard from your daughter?  (Tuesday 2pm)

Me: Yes.  Arrived safely. (Tuesday 2:05)

Mom: Did you hear from daughter? (Tuesday 11pm)

Me:  Not since this morning. (Tuesday 11:05pm)

Mom: Did you hear from your daughter? (Wednesday 10am)

Me: Not expecting her to contact me. (Wednesday 10:05 am)

And this exact same pattern kept repeating, at increasingly smaller intervals, until I received the following text:

Mom: Don’t you care about your daughter? (Thursday 11pm)

(Here’s a short disclaimer about my Mom- she is a tad overprotective.  And lets just say, if I ever have to make a parenting decision, I always think, “What would my Mom do?” and then I go about 160 degrees off that and come up with my plan/decision.)

And for the record, I care about my daughter very much.  So much, that I know I need to give her just a little bit of freedom right now.  That is the whole purpose of this trip.  For her to learn to survive without me being her safety net.

Of course I am worried about her well being. The kids are going to go rafting and ziplining and all sorts of activities that required signing about a million waivers.  She is thousands of miles away from me right now.   When I did “Find my iPhone” (yes- I did this) it was bizarre to see all that distance, to see the icons as tiny little dots because they were so far apart.  It was not so bizarre to see the signal coming from a Starbucks- obviously she was observing the local culture in a foreign habitat.  And no- I will probably not have a really sound sleep until she comes home.  But that is part of being a parent- we kind of glide through the sleeping portion of our lives.

Though I worry about her well being, I also worry about her ability to function as an adult.  They don’t turn 18 and get a manual stating- “You’re an adult now.  Here’s the instructions.  FYI- they were written by the same people who write instructions for self-assemble furniture.”  So they need to practice- baby steps, so to speak.  They need to do laundry, and cook food and learn to budget both their money and their time.  They need to problem solve- on their own- without anyone stepping in.  They need to learn how to be self-sufficient.  And they need to do this before they leave home for good.  (At least what we assume is leaving home for good)

While I miss my daughter, I am happy that she is managing without me.  I am hoping that her laundry ends up the same color that it started. I am glad she is managing sharing a room with someone she does not know.  I am happy that she is figuring out the language and cultural differences of a place she has never been.  I am glad that she has not felt the need to call me.  I am thrilled that she has learned how to say Frappuccino in Spanish.  I am hoping above all else that she is realizing what a strong, self-sufficient  person she has become.

Of course, I hope to eventually get an email, or a text, just a hi, or an XO (though my only communication will most likely be a picture from the tour company, of my daughter standing on a table and dancing.)  But in my heart I know she loves me and  I know she feels loved.  And I guess that’s really the job of a parent- to make sure you’re child knows they are loved, whether you’re next door, or a few thousand miles away.

 

 

 

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the U2 Concert…

Coincidence.  That’s the word of the day.  I was going to see U2 last night.  New Jersey Transit was all sorts of messed up, and the Husband was going to be a train behind me. I texted him that it was just so crowded, he should just meet me at the seats.  But in a bizarre coincidence, my husband happened to get on the same car as me, and the exact same part of the car.  The odds of this happening  are…. I don’t know…I have my writing cap on now, not the math one….

After we exit the train and begin walking to the stadium, I heard my name…..I turned around and it was one of my best friends from high school.  We’re friends on Facebook, and we chat, but I haven’t seen her in 30 years.  1987.  The year Joshua Tree came out.  Joshua Tree- the album that was going to be glorified by U2 that very evening.  Coincidence.

So on a night already filled with nostalgia, I was really transported back in time.  For just a little bit, my memory was very clear.  The 80’s just came rushing back.  It was the decade when I graduated High School and College.  Got my first real job.  Became friends with the three most amazing women.  Fell wildly in love.   It was the decade when everything seemed possible.

And as I walked to my seat I looked around.  People were showing ID and buying beer, but the ID was just a formality.  It was clear we were all well past 21.  it was clear that a lot of people were wearing clothes that were old enough to buy a beer.  The crowd was moving a bit slowly, and the conversations centered around tuition bills, and retirements, and arthritis.

But then the stage lights finally started to light red, and we realized there was movement on the stage…..

And the crowd started to sing ” ‘Cause tonight, we can be as one”-

People began swaying, tapping their feet….

Standing and jumping in the air….

And when I looked into the eyes of those around me….

I didn’t see people thinking about retirement….

I saw people as they were in 1987….

Young, full of hope and full of dreams- ready to take on the world.

And as they sang side A- I mean- the first half of that album is almost perfection, filled with songs most will instantly recognize.  But if you’re going to have a tour that is centered around an album, you need to play the flip side.  The songs that you might not necessarily remember.  And the crowd- well, U2 didn’t come on till 9:20, so I’m going to say a lot of the audience hadn’t been up this late recently.  And with the average age being around 47, there were a lot of trips to the bathroom, and some muttered grumblings about the volume…..  and there eyes started to show their age again.

But I looked at the Husband, who I’d met by coincidence tonight, and met due to a coincidence 25 years ago- and I smiled.  It’s wonderful to go back in time for a little bit, to think about places, and things, and people that you may not have thought about for awhile.  I have amazing memories, of love and loss, happiness and sadness, good and bad- and I treasure every one of those moments, because they have made me the person I am today.  I don’t want to go back in time- I don’t wish I could change anything.  I’ve had a pretty great yesterday- today is pretty awesome- and I can’t wait for tomorrow.

 

 

 

 

Community Service?

My daughter is going to Central America next week for a community service experience.  According to the itinerary, they will spend an hour painting a school (for which she was required to watch a two hour video on how not to waste paint) and an hour working in a day camp (and was required to watch a 3 hour video on what a child is).  I’m imagining a meaningful college essay on how this experience changed her life.

The summer of  2017 totally changed my life.  I was fortunate enough to get my parents to pay exorbitant amounts of money to send me on the most awesome adventure community service experience.  I learned so much about painting- I painted an entire  half of a wall.  And the kids were so cute.  My background in French really helped out when teaching Spanish speaking children English.

Preparing for the trip was also life changing.  I learned a lot about my mother when I told her I hadn’t actually looked at the packing list.  Oh how we laughed 4 days before the trip when we realized I needed 60 items out of the 75 things required.  And the joy as we measured out suitcases and backpacks and realized that none of them met the size requirements.  I’ve never had such an intense bonding experience with her.  Money truly can buy happiness.

I also learned so much about health issues.  The pills you need to swallow to protect you from typhoid are sort of big.  I realized that if I stuck the horse pill in a jar of jam, and ate the jar, you don’t even realize you’re swallowing a pill.  I was also glad that anti-diarrhea medicine really does work, and is not just an advertising ploy to get us to buy it.

Though the community service time was extensive, we managed to get in some fun time.  We squeezed in surfing and rafting and zip lining and hiking and swimming.  But I was there for the life changing experience of helping others………

You see- this essay is just writing itself.  I’ll give you an update when I read her journal  have a meaningful mother/daughter conversation with her in three weeks.  For now, I’m glad to be a proud member of Amazon Prime.

 

 

 

 

Sorry- 35 and Older Only

A few weeks ago I read that a new club would be opening in NYC.  The theme is 70’s ,80’s and 90’s music- the clientele is 35+.  Though I’m not much of a dancer, I find this concept highly desirable.  It will be nice to go somewhere and recognize all the songs, to see dances that neither whip or nay nay.  It got me to thinking- what else would benefit from an age make-over?

Fitness classes.  In my normal Sunday body conditioning class, we’ve already sort of done this.  The over 40’s end up on the left side of the room-what we refer to as the geriatric section.  When the instructor is particularly grueling, it’s nice to have lined faces to grimace along with as we realize we can’t do 100 burpees.  It really provides motivation too- hey, if that old guy can do it, so can this old girl.

Book stores.  Now I enjoy zombie/vampire/dystopian books as much as the next guy, but sometimes I’d like to find interesting books on the first floor. Not the fifth floor. In the corner. Under the dust.

Drug stores.  I would like to go into a store that has all the anti-aging products in one section.  The other things the store could sell would be hair dye, heavy moisturizer, (frankly, products that moisturize everything), orthotics, gingko biloba, and bifolcals.  The store should also have a sign listing the most commonly bought items by the 35+ community  just in case we forget what we came in for.  And forgot our shopping list.

Clothing stores.  I would like to enter one that doesn’t play music at levels akin to the eruption of Krakatoa. ( Sometimes, for fun, I go up to an employee and silently mouth the words of what I want.  I enjoy seeing them scream “WHAAAAAT” over and over again.)

Restaurants.  I think that an awesome centerpiece would be one containing attractive flashlights.  It might look nicer than 6 people pulling out their cell phones.  Perhaps print the offerings on both sides of the menu.  This way you have the option of reading the menu of the person sitting opposite you.

Theaters.  I would like to purchase inexpensive mezzanine seats in a theater that doesn’t have stairs that feel as if I’m scaling Everest while wearing heels.

These are just a few thoughts off the top of my head.  As much as I love watching the vitality and exuberance of the Millennial generation, sometimes I’d like to mingle with the boomers and the gen exers .  They usually have higher credit limits.

 

 

 

How to be a Good Empty Nester

My friend asked me the other day if I wanted to go to the ballet with her.  In November.  And I said “Sure.  What day is good for you?”  And she replied.  “Any day.  I’m an empty nester now.  I have nothing but open days on my calendar.”  And I decided she was handling empty nesthood so well, I would transcribe a “How-To” list of what an empty nester needs to do.

  1. Every time you make a plan, remind people how you have an empty calendar.  They’ll appreciate how much you really want to see them.
  2. Make sure to find the Facebook Parents page of your child’s new college.  Befriend all the other Parents and make plans to visit your kids every weekend.  The kids will love that.
  3. Remind your spouse that you only married them for their ability to create children.
  4. Remind the cashier at the market that you’re buying less food because your children have moved on.
  5. Befriend the post office worker who mails your care packages.  I’m sure they would love to have lunch with you.
  6. Make every day “throw back Thursday”.  Go into the photo archives and repost special moments of your children’s lives.  And don’t forget to tag them.
  7. Hang outside of playgrounds.  Tell all the parents about how quickly the children grow up.  And they should cherish every moment.  When security escorts you out because you are not with a child, start crying and explain your children no longer want to hang out with you.
  8. Trace your kids cell phone and randomly text them citing the location they’re at- “Hey, how’s Joe’s Pub?  Are you talking to a nice boy/girl?”
  9. Friend all of your child’s new friends on facebook/Instagram or whatever.  It’s a great way to remain a part of their lives
  10. Take out your children’s mementos from wherever you have stored them.  That shriveled blankie really does make an awesome table runner.

You’re welcome.