Make it Easy

So we just threw the word happy our of the parental lexicon…

Independent was a word that a few people threw out as a possible substitution, and I think that’s a pretty good choice…

“Yes my dear child. I just want you to be independent.”

I like the sound of it. But what does it mean? And more importantly, how do we guide our child towards independence?

For purposes of our discussion, let’s say that being independent means being self sufficient- knowing what you need and how to achieve it. Being able to take care of yourself. Don’t all parents want to know that their kid knows how to survive?

Well…maybe…

The problem with a kid learning how to become independent is that many parents aren’t thrilled with the idea of their kids being able to exist without them. It makes parents superfluous. One minute they’re parents…the next…nothing…

Let’s throw in a real life example: A few weeks ago, my Sister in Law told my Husband that their Mother was upset with my Husband. (Yes- this is what passes for communication in his family- just look up passive aggressive in the dictionary) Why was MIL upset? Because my husband never asks her for anything. That’s right- he is independent and able to take care of his needs, and his Mother isn’t happy about it. She needs to be needed…

Unfortunately, when you have parents like this, it often skews your thinking. My daughter whined over the weekend about how she wants someone to pick her up from school for Christmas break. FYI- we don’t own a car, and there is a perfectly good train line from DC to NYC. My Husband was beginning to relent, while I made the case that she wasn’t a hobo jumping onto a freight train with her stick and bandana full of possessions hanging off her back. She takes Amtrak- with nice seats and wifi and ability to charge your electronics. Bathroom and snack car. This isn’t exactly slumming it…

My husband was trying to be nice, but he was also trying to make it easy for her. (He was also trying to make her happy, but that’s yesterdays blog) He also likes the thought that she still needs him.

My thought is that she has to learn to get to and fro on her own- it’s part of the learning experience. I want her to know that she can do it. It boosts up your confidence when you learn to do new things- when you figure our how to get by.

Yesterday morning we got a text: my daughter got a great price (yay on cyber Monday deals) on a train ticket home at the perfect time for her to leave school. No one needed to pick her up at school- she would make it home by herself (exactly like she did for Thanksgiving)

Finding a good price. Knowing your schedule. Figuring out how to get home. These are all life skills. These are the skills that lead you towards becoming independent.

Independent is a good thing. It doesn’t mean you don’t need someone anymore. It just means you have the ability to survive on your own. And don’t we all want to know that our kids have the means to survive?

The Worst Parenting Mistake

“I just want you to be happy.”

How many parents have uttered this line?

How many children have heard it?

But….

as parents…

When we say these words, are we setting up our children for a lifetime of disappointment?

What does it mean to be happy?

Tick- tick-tick precious seconds are accumulating as I’m waiting for you to come up with a sufficient answer…

What is happiness? How do we achieve it? Why do we want that one thing, above all others, for our children? What does it really mean when we say we want them to be happy?

First off- is anyone happy all the time? I know I’m not. I broke my favorite mug a few weeks ago. It pissed me off. I was having a conversation with one of my closest people and I said something that annoyed them- neither of us is really happy about that. I could continue with all the other things that recently annoyed me, but you get the gist. We can’t be happy all the time.

And this beats around the bush that I’ve been blogging about for a month: our kids expect to be happy and when something takes work, or doesn’t end up according to plan, they get depressed. They wonder what is wrong with them – they wonder why they can’t be happy…because their parents just want them to be happy…and deep down no kid wants to disappoint their parents…

Some kids don’t look for a job, or a career, or their own apartment, because having to do these things might not make them happy. Who wants to go to work at a specific time every day and do work? That certainly doesn’t make most people happy…

Even when things go right- the partner, the career, the car, they wonder why they are not in a perpetual state of bliss. Their expectation is that, like everything else in their young lives, happiness is supposed to be 24/7/365.

I may not know what happiness is, but I certainly know it’s not 24/7/365.

So why do we say “I just want you to be happy”?

Why don’t we say- ‘I want you to pursue happiness- go for the things that will fulfill you and help you grow and learn. I want you to live a life with few regrets, while knowing that everything comes with a price, whether literal or figurative. I want you to know that it’s OK if there are times when “happy” isn’t your predominant emotion- being happy all the time is too much of an emotional burden.

With all the words in our language- how did we become so focused on HAPPY?

Why don’t we try another word- How about as parents we say:

I just want you to be resilient.

OR

I want you to be happy 50% of the time.

OR

Just be the best you that you can be- in whatever form that takes.

 

Where is the Line

So I blindfolded my daughter, drove her in a white van with dirty windows to a remote spot in the woods. We walked five miles till we were in the center. and then I spun her around ten times. I walked away, instructing her to count to 100, then remove the blindfold. This was her new home.

OR

I drove to Washington DC, a city my daughter loved so much she applied to three separate colleges there. To a school she really wanted to go to and screamed “YES” after receiving her acceptance letter. We drove through a posh neighborhood, and into the gates of her hallowed campus. To her dorm we went, the good dorm that she wanted with a private bathroom. We spent six hours decorating her room with all new things, met her incredibly respectful, sweet and clean roommate. She had a schedule full of her first choice classes, and a relatively inexpensive bill for rental textbooks. This was her new home…

As we continue on with the discussion of the past two days, we have to focus on what we do as parents, what responsibility we have to guide them. Every parent has to decide what is best for their child. Each child is an individual and has to be treated as such. I know my kid. I know that I can give my kid a nudge and she figures out what she needs to do to survive.

But I also realize that some kids can not be pushed quite the same way. Some kids need a little more coddling- it’s just the way they are built. After 18 years, you know who your kid is, what their strengths are and where their weakness lies. As parents we need to help them develop their strengths, and deal with their weakness. I know this is hard. I have been there. How do you help your child develop, strengthen, or enhance their weak points? I know my daughter needs to learn how to survive as an introvert in an extrovert world. This is why I made her stay. Coming home is not going to help her deal with that issue.

But I want you to think about something else. Does your child need the extra attention, or do you as a parent need to perform the extra act? Are you helping a child solely for your own benefit? We’ve all heard of stage mothers, parents who so want their children to be stars because they never were themselves? Parents who are living their lives vicariously through their children? Parents who can not separate from their child? At some point, the umbilical cord must be severed, for both parent and child.

So whether or not you let your child come home from college for a weekend doesn’t matter. What matters is the why. Why does your child want to come home? What ails them? Why do you want them, or not want them to come home? What’s the reasoning?

No good decision was ever made out of fear or guilt. You can talk to your heart, but use your head to make the choice.

PS- On this day I remember the friends, colleagues, classmates and humanity that was lost 18 years ago today, when I was seven months pregnant with my daughter. My thoughts are with those affected by the events of this day. Peace.

 

Why?

Yesterday I told you that I told my daughter that she could not come home from college till Thanksgiving. Some of you came straight out and said I did the right thing. No one said I didn’t do the right thing, but I could tell…..they weren’t thrilled with my answer. And a bunch of people wanted to know “Why”. Why did I say no?

Ok.

Here’s the WHY.

The job of a parent is to teach their child how to live without them. Seriously- you are a successful parent if your child is able to leave the nest and prosper. And by prosper I do not mean make a million dollars, or start Microsoft, or be the President. Prosper means doing things for themselves: having a source of income and an abode and some sort of goal, even if that goal is binging shows on Netflix. Choosing reasonable friends and mates (but yeah- we screw up there 50% of the time, cause no one has a relationship crystal ball- but that’s ok cause they’re out there) Prosper means taking care of your health and home. Sewing a button. Making pasta. Cleaning the toilet. Eating healthy.

That’s the job description: must teach how to clean the grout in the tub and fold a fitted sheet.

That’s all practical of course. Your kid must learn how to do all the things you routinely do. Which means that you do not go to their house and do all those things…

Seriously- don’t do your kids laundry once they move out.

Now, along with the practical comes the emotional. Which is where my decision comes in.

I miss my kid. Of course I do. She spent almost 18 years in the bed down the hall, and way to long in utero before that. She is my debate partner. We recommend books to one another. We go to cultural events together. We had tea together every night so we could talk out our days. So of course I would love her to come home.

But what does coming home accomplish?

What does it really teach her?

Someone suggested that it would reassure her, to be able to know she can come home. But does it really reassure her? Or does it signal that I don’t think she can hack her new life? That it’s OK to run home at the slightest “misfortune” because Mommy will take care of her….

Shouldn’t the goal be to teach her that she can, is totally able, to care for herself?

Which is why I said “No”.

Remember when kids were little: how many band aids did they go through? They were still getting their sea legs, which cause them to fall. Running too fast, doing things they shouldn’t. My daughter would be covered in Dora the Explorer band aids…..Until she learned how to walk more confidently, and learned when to run fast and which situations could be dangerous….then she didn’t need as many band aids. She was solving the root of the problem. Coming home is a band aid. It covers the problem, masks it, but doesn’t really solve what caused the scrape. Coming home is essentially running away. If she is not at school, how is she learning to deal with what ails her at school?

Running away. Do we really want to teach our children to run away from problems? Run away from things that scare them? Emotionally I mean. If Godzilla is running towards you by all means RUN….

Don’t we want our kids to confront what’s in front of them?

Do we want them changing jobs because they don’t like their boss? I mean continually. I had a friend who used to change her job every year because of personality differences. Trust me: that story does not end well.

Do we want our kids giving up on relationships because their is a little bump in the road? While there are clearly times when divorce is necessary, do people give up and walk away a tad too easily?

Do you move because you don’t like your neighbor? (true story- my sister has a friend that did just this recently- and we’re talking selling a house)

So big picture: what lesson do I want to teach my daughter?

I love her. She knows that. Every action she takes dictates that she knows she is loved immeasurably. Her strength, character and resilience show that. I love her, but I am also tough with her. I am her parent, not her friend.

I want her to continue to be strong.

I want her to continue to be confident.

I want her to continue to be resilient.

But she needs to be a few hundred miles away.

Because while I am always there for her, I can’t always be there for her. She has to find me in her heart, not resettle herself in her bedroom down the hall. “Mommy loves you, but you don’t need me anymore. You got this.”

That’s why.

“No You Can’t Come Home”

Ok- this is like a flashback sequence: I gave you a hint in the title as to how this story plays out. Let’s now give you some background…

Text conversation:

D: How are Peter Pan busses

Me: I don’t know. Why (translation IDK Y)

D: I might want to come home on the 21st

Me: No. You can’t come home.

D: You’re not letting me come home?

Me: Nope

D: Seriously?

And the discussion went on like this…..

So- My daughter wanted to come home for a weekend and I said no.

This was truly my Cruella DeVille moment. Telling my daughter she could not come home was akin to making a coat out of puppy skins.

What Mother tells their kid not to come home?

Well, me….

My daughter is homesick. According to my research, about 67% of first year college students are homesick during their first semester. She’s in the average. Most kids are homesick….

So what do we as parents do about it?

Well, I don’t know what other parents do. This appears to be a dirty little secret: there are tons are articles about kids being homesick, and how that is almost the norm, yet if you actually ask people….No one has a homesick child. Everyone has a child who is TOTALLY adjusting. So everyone who actually speaks about this topic is in the lucky 37% of kids who experience no homesickness. The parents who have kids in the 67%- well I guess we’re the silent majority…

And just when I thought parent competitiveness was over, I see it’s found its way of rearing its ugly little head even when your kids are no longer actually residing in your house…

But anyway…

So what do you do with a homesick child?

If you’re me, you tell them that they can’t come home till Thanksgiving.

You tell them that you have to confront your fear, confront the demon that scares you.

You tell them that this is always their home, but yeah, you’re not letting them back in for awhile.

Do you know how horrible this made me feel?

Do you know how I wanted to jump on the train and race down to her? Hop a flight out of LaGuardia and I’d practically be there in two hours…..

I wanted to hug her and tell her that it will be all right. Mommy is here.

And really, I am always here for her….

But I just can’t rush in to fix everything.

I guess this is like that baby sleep method where you let them cry it out and you don’t rush into comfort them. I totally failed at that one. She cried. I took care of her.

But now…..

She cries, but I had to let her.

Am I doing the right thing?

Who knows.

As with all things parent, I am doing what I think is the right course of action. Trying to teach her, and help her grow into adulthood. Letting them go is so hard. My daughter thinks I’m being cruel. And, I guess I am. Sort of. But I hope I’m also teaching her how to be strong, to rely on herself, to be confident.

To be an adult.

The First Fight

“I’d love it if she just knocked on her neighbor’s door and introduced herself.” my Husband said. He’d said this phrase about 15 times during the four days of drop off/parent orientation.

“You’re obsessed with her making friends.” I replied.

“WHY WOULDN’T I BE?! I JUST WANT HER TO BE HAPPY!”

We hadn’t even reached the Jersey Turnpike and we’d already had our first empty nest fight.

Seeing my daughter cry when we said good bye unnerved him. He’d already been sad, and that just undid him. I obviously understand his feelings: after all, she’s my baby too….

But here’s the problem. If you talked to my daughter, she was/is not worried about making friends. She was/is worried about academics. My Daughter is used to being the smart one, the kid who got great grades. Now, well, it’s a different fishbowl. Now every student graduated in the top 10% of their class, they all were 99th percentile in standardized tests, they were all captains and presidents and showered with accolades. She’s most worried that she won’t be able to keep up….that’s why she’s anxious.

The friends thing: first off, my daughter has never been the “popular” girl. But, she had friends, good friends, all the way through school. She had kids that she could rely on, who were solid. She might not be a social butterfly, but she is very able to make acquaintances and friendships. This wasn’t really a worry.

“SHE NEEDS TO GO OUT OF HER COMFORT ZONE.” was the next comment he screamed.

I looked over to him. “She’s in a new city and state. She’s sharing a room with someone she met on Friday. She’s about to take college level classes. She needs to find out where the CVS is. Cleaning her own bathroom. Doing her own laundry. Figuring out how best to organize her time now that everything is different.” I took a deep breath. “Do you think any of that is in her comfort zone?”

He relaxed a little.  “It would still be nice if she went out of her way to meet people.”

Which led me to my next thought, which was clearly a bubble in my head because I didn’t want to engage in the introvert/extravert see saw. Why do people think being an introvert is bad? Why do they want to change us? Why is it bad that my daughter has no interest in knocking on people’s doors?

Why does he think my daughter needs to change?

Why can’t he accept who she is?

As a parent, you need to love and accept your child for who they are. If your child is introverted, you can’t make them change. And obviously, there are a thousand other examples of allowing your kids to nurture their nature. They are who they are: accept them, love them and help them become the best person they can be.

On a side note. My daughter has the greatest roommate. She has been hanging out in the floor common room and met a bunch of nice kids. She contacted a girl she met during the roommate search and is meeting her for coffee. She’s doing fine socially.

Classes began yesterday and so far, so good. Her professors seem nice, though she found out that “Bleak House” is a thousand pages long so she’s not too thrilled about that….

And there you go…..

 

 

I still Haven’t Cried

As we said good bye, a big fat tear rolled down a cheek.

But it wasn’t my tear, nor was it a tear of my Husband.

It was my daughter who cried the first tear. My stoic, tough, low on visible emotion daughter.

Who saw that coming? Certainly not me.

There I was, tissues in hand, waiting to bawl my eyes out. But then I saw that tear, I took a deep breath, and I went into Mom mode. I was thankful for all the sports movies I’ve ever seen as I gave the pre game pep talk: I’m so proud of you, you worked so hard for this moment, you are prepared for the battle ahead. I made a self deprecating joke and my daughter followed it up with a wise crack and a smile, and as I hugged her that final time she looked at me and said

“I’m good.”

I gave her a thumbs up and watched her walk away from us, across campus towards her dorm so she could change out of her dress from convocation into an outfit more acceptable for the afternoon orientation events. She didn’t turn back.

It’s then that the whining started. Not my daughter’s: she was practically skipping down the steps. Nor was it from me. It was my husband.

“She could have walked us to the gate.” he said. “She didn’t even turn back around to wave.”

So I didn’t cry. I consoled him. I talked straight to him.

“She needs to make a clean break. She still loves us. But this is the time she needs to become an adult. She needed to walk away from us in the middle of campus. She needed to head off into the future and not look back.”

“Well” he said. “I don’t like it.”

We got back to the hotel and loaded our stuff in the car, saying good bye to the concierge who had been consoling parents all morning. We began to drive north.

I did not cry.

We got home and greeted the pets, ordered Chinese food and put some things away.

I did not cry.

I met my friends for lunch on Monday, Mother’s who had just performed the same dropping off ritual that I had. They cried. I did not.

I dropped off dry cleaning yesterday- my dry cleaner sends her son off to college for the first time on the 30th. I watched her eyes well up as she spoke to me, because we are sisters in this: I know how she is feeling as she knows how I am. As I patted her shoulder I did not get weepy, I did not shed a tear.

Alas, as I spoke to my very special friend last night, I spoke of how I have not cried….yet. I know it will come- it’s inevitable. But I need to still be strong for my daughter. She is adjusting well so far, and I know when classes start today she will get better. She likes the routine that classes and activities give her. Neither one of us does well with unstructured time- we like routines and planners and all things like that. We like busy. So she will shed no more tears. She will thrive in her new environment of new studies and new friends.

Then- it will be my turn to cry.

 

 

Search For: Roommate

Prolougue:  Our heroine clicked the button “Accept” and the roommate search was done.

Chapter One: When I went to college, there was one way to find a roommate- the college sent a questionnaire, we mailed it back, and a month before school began you received a name and an address. Welcome to your roommate. Now- there are all sorts of ways. Most of my daughter’s friends found roommates through their schools official Facebook page. Some ended up with friends of friends, or classmates from their High School.

Chapter Two: My Daughter’s school does it a little differently. Students fill out an online questionnaire and are then matched with about 30 people based on their answers to certain questions. You are then supposed to reach out to the people that interest you.

Chapter Three: Stress: OMG emailing total strangers? What do I say?

Chapter Four: You have the ability to write a “profile” a short paragraph that basically describes who you are. This is not mandatory, but my daughter did write one. She also had the expectation that the person she would room with would also have written one. So immediately upon receiving her matches, she was able to eliminate about fifteen names. She also eliminated anyone who appeared to be a partier- just not her thing.

Chapter Five: Stress- How do I know what answers are red flags?

Chapter Six: My daughter ended up sending notes to about ten people. Five responded. This annoyed her a little that some people didn’t even have the courtesy to respond back. Now, they could have had an issue with the system, some kids did. But really- how do you not respond at all…

Chapter Seven: Stress- What’s wrong with me that people don’t want to reply? Am I too uptight? Too urban? Too perky? Not perky enough? Do I look like a nerd?

Chapter Eight: She ruled out one girl right away. She just knew the fit wasn’t right.

Chapter Nine: Stress: Is she sure that girl wasn’t right? Am I basing it on that her social media profile pictures would not correspond with the person that I am?

Chapter Ten: Continual conversation with one girl who seems more social than her. Girl seems nice.

Chapter Eleven: Stress. This girl is really into the sorority thing. She almost went to Tulane and Ole Miss. Will she be too outgoing?

Chapter Twelve: Rule out nice, but probably too outgoing girl and concentrate on other three. All seem nice. All have much in common with our heroine.  Two of the three want to be lawyers. All on the history/government track.

Chapter Thirteen: Stress. One girl has almost no social media profile. Is this a red flag? Did she scrub her profile? Does she have a secret profile? Is she just out of the loop of a teenage girl? My gut instinct is saying No. But we’re oddly similar…

Chapter Fourteen: Our heroine has come to the realization that any of these three girls would be fine, even the low social media one. But she is still unsure if any one of them is better than another.

Chapter Fifteen: I, the Mother, is starting to get stressed because the deadline for a roommate is Monday and I don’t want her to get a completely random roommate. I want her to decide, because there’s that quote- the devil you know…. With these girls she already has an idea….do you want the great unknown?

Chapter Sixteen: My Mother is driving me crazy. Doesn’t she know how stressful this is?

Chapter Seventeen: One of the girls has popped the question: Will you be my roommate?

Chapter Eighteen: Stress. This girl seems fine. There’s no reason not to room with her. Why is it so daunting saying Ok? Maybe because I just got home from prom and I’ve been up over 24 hours straight and my feet hurt? My makeup stayed on great though.

Chapter Nineteen: Mother perspective- OMG just tell the girl yes or no. But remember tick tick tick

Chapter Twenty: Will literally live with Charles Manson and Ted Bundy clones just to get away from the crazy maternal roommate I have now

Chapter Twenty One: Did you accept her yet? It’s not fair, not letting her know.

Chapter Twenty Two: *&%$#@

Chapter Twenty Three: I make some sort of hand gesture to my daughter.

Final Chapter: A roommate is chosen- a very smart government major who wants to be a lawyer and is from Florida.

The End

But don’t worry: Sequel to follow….

Take it to the Limit

How honest should we be with one another? I ask this often and I sweat this is not an entire post about this subject: it’s going to lead to something else.

When you are at someone’s house and they serve you food, do you immediately say that it is salty? More than once? When asked how the meat is, do you reply “A little tough.”

Think about that- do you tell your host that the food isn’t good?

Now let’s add another variable: What if the cook is your Mother, and the one making the statement about the food is your Father in Law?

FYI- true story about my Father’s Day meal and the food my Mom took three hours to prepare. Let’s see, at the meal my FIL also told my Dad that the way he was treating his cancer was wrong. (No- my FIL is not a Doctor, nor is he in the science field at all. And no, he did not have cancer- so yeah- no frame of reference).

To add to his conversation, he also yelled at me. Nastily. Why? you ask. Because while we were at the table eating dinner I turned off the TV in the living room. He yelled  “Why did you turn that off? I was watching.” Nasty. In front of my parents- and you know- that doesn’t put them in an odd position at all. You know, my parents who can’t cook a meal nor know how to treat an illness…

Last night I had the pleasure of eating dinner with my Mother in Law. Look up passive aggressive in the dictionary- her picture is there…. She proceeded to tell me that no one ever tells her when my daughter wins anything. First off- usually posted on Facebook, which she has. Second off- I know my husband forwards her the pictures. And she’s going on and on about how she’s only the Grandmother, why should she know anything. To which I said to my Husband (rather loudly) “You don’t tell your Mother anything?” thereby extricating myself from the situation.

I also heard that the weather in Ithaca NY is the same exact weather as Washington DC because my MIL is a little (ha) annoyed that my Daughter is going to a Catholic college and though she is all accolades, she’s writhing that my daughter didn’t choose another college….(FYI- she didn’t talk to me for a month and a half after my daughter chose her school)

So Friday, which is already going to be emotionally laden for me will be made worse by the onslaught of family at the table. Good times. I know I am whining, but I don’t have the energy to deal with pettiness this week. I just want to watch my daughter graduate, and take pride in her accomplishments.

Why does family make it so difficult?

 

Prama

My Daughter has Prom tonight.

Well, actually, she is getting her make up done at 10am. Then her hair at 11. Then Pre-Prom starts at 2, and it will be a half hour cab ride to the person hosting pre prom. Need to be at school by 4pm for the busses to leave at 430.

As of now it’s like, a 65% chance of rain.

Pre prom is outside- big roof.

Prom is at a lovely place in New Jersey, with a big terrace overlooking the Hudson River.

Hence prama….

But the whole thing surrounding prom….

Some people hated prom. Others said it was the best night of their lives. Some simply do not go. What makes this night special enough to warrant a million emotions?

My Daughter hates the abstract idea of prom being something that one takes a date to. To her, it is a school dance, and therefore, as a school event, there should be no push to have this a dated event. At the beginning of Senior Year, she and her five best friends made a pact: Unless someone was in a relationship, there would be no dates. This would be their last Hurrah as a group, before they head out to various parts of the country.

Fine.

Except the first prama came when one girl wanted to bring a date- a boy she did not know that well…

In the end, she’s not bringing a date. But the angst….the ridiculous conversations….the prama….

Tables. Who is going to sit where and with whom. That was a fun ten days…

Where are they going to do pre prom? How many pre proms are they going to?

Where are they changing after prom for the after prom….

Do you want to go in the talk of who is renting a space for after prom? Which diner they will go to at 6am?

Prama.

And the anxiety has already begun in my house as my daughter is one very taut nerve. If you want to know why parents lose their cool, it’s events like this….

I’m sipping tea, listening to the jackhammers in the background, knowing that that will be the least annoying sound I hear today. I’m sure the whining will be much worse….

But I also know that at 4pm, when my daughter is standing under golf umbrellas with her friends, and they all look so pretty, and their smiles will be flashing, I will stand next to by friend S, and we will tear up a little, and we will hug each other. We will smile and laugh and cry. We will watch our incredible daughters head off to, hopefully, an incredible night under the stars.

I’m sure that Billy Joel tune will ring in my ears- “Now before we end, and then begin, we’ll drink a toast to how it’s been, I’ve loved these days.”