Really?

I was talking to a friend the other day- the incident she was talking about and the ensuing discussions have been tossing around in my mind for awhile. I still don’t know how I’m going to express my ideas today, so bear with me. I know there will be a point eventually.

My friends 19 year old college daughter was dating a guy she knew in High School. They didn’t date in hs, but were “best friends” ( I italicize this because that is probably going to be a whole other blog). While they were at two separate colleges in two separate states that are reasonably far apart for a college student they decided to begin dating.

The dating began a few months ago- with girl A going to visit boy B. Fine. He then asked her to come back for his frat formal in April and then again for his graduation in May. Let’s start out with how much grief this caused my friend. She did not understand why her daughter was going to either of these events. I looked at her: why wouldn’t a guy want his girlfriend to be at these events? And why wouldn’t the girl want to go?

Well, it turned out this was all a red herring. She didn’t care about the events. She just doesn’t like the guy. Apparently he’s a history major (the shame and the horror) and he’s not going to go to law school (NOOOO) and his parents are questionable. They make too much money and go to the Caribbean too much. (Can you imagine New Yorkers wanting to go to the tropics? For shame) And the big thing was – “he doesn’t have ambition. He’s not a go getter like my daughter.” Side note- perfectly nice girl, lots of adjectives to describe her but go getter is not one I would add to the list. And then the kicker: “How will he support my daughter?”

See- she was already thinking they’d get married. Because, you know, they were dating for three months in college.  And that is surely exactly what every 19 and 21 year old are thinking. (sidenote- my friend married her first real boyfriend from college- unsuccessfully I might add)

so…

Are we allowed to have expectations of who our children date? Are we allowed to have expectations of how those relationships will play out? Outside of abusive relationships, do we have the right to tell out children who they can and can not date?

My Husband is Jewish and I am Catholic. I think both sets of parents would have preferred that we married within our actual faiths. They didn’t say anything directly, but there have been some passive aggressive references from my Mother in Law over the years. Trust me: she is not thrilled that we put Christmas decorations up. I know this because she actually said “Why are there Christmas things up?” She has commented about how we eat ham on Easter (from the woman who lives on bacon, but all of a sudden its bad to eat pork….) I am pretty positive she is not happy about my daughter attending a Catholic college….

My MIL expected her son to marry a Jewish girl. Is this wrong?

My friend expects her daughter to marry the first guy she’s in a relationship? Wrong?

My friend expects her daughter to marry someone who will make a lot of money. Is this wrong?

What can and should we expect from the pairings our children make?

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Here’s My Expectation

You know my daughters going to college, right?

Ok Ok- this is not about my daughter and her journey. But it does talk about the path we had to take.

In Manhattan, we don’t have zoned schools- Kids apply to High School. As there are different types of students, there are different types of high schools. My daughters is selective, meaning middle school grades and tests count, and is also considered college prep- the entire curriculum is based upon getting into a four year college. So basically, it’s a school of smart driven kids, backed by smart driven parents.

Oh the parents.

The parents enter this school with delusions of grandeur. Every parent assumes that there kid is going to a “sweatshirt” school- a school so recognizable that pretty much everyone has heard of it, and is sure to remark ‘Oh- that’s a good school” (whether or not they actually know anything about it)

You’ve heard me talk about how hard these sweatshirt schools are to get into, the majority being an acceptance rate of 30% or below. And you heard me talk about how many colleges my daughter and her classmates got rejected from. (FYI- the salutatorian from my daughters school is going to her “likely” school because she was rejected from everything else- so what does a 99GPA and a 35 on the ACT get you anyway?)

I know a Mom who has a son at my daughters school. The son is smart with decent grades and decent ACT score. He does his homework and he goes to class, but he puts in less than medium effort into anything. He did the minimum hours of community service required, and has no extras. None. So when his Mother went to the meeting with the college counselor, the counselor told him he should really consider early decision, and really be careful of what schools he chose, because you know, you need to be realistic. This scared the Mother so her son did indeed apply to a school ED, and was accepted. Done deal.

Now let me say that he got into a really good school- top hundred no matter what survey you look at. Kids get jobs and into graduate school after finishing there. Solid school.

The Mother is not happy. I mean she is really pissy about the school he is going to. Her EXPECTATION is that her son is way better than this school. The reality is that this school is exactly where he belongs- and honestly- he’s lucky he got into it.

Here’s the thing about expectations: they need to have some logical basis. Yes- her son is smart. He had a nice average. But in the world of competitive academics, that’s not enough. You need to stand out.

Everyone thinks their child is the best thing in the world. That’s the way it’s supposed to be: in your heart you are supposed to think that there is no one better than your kid. But in your head….well..in your head you have to know exactly how your kids compares to everyone else so that you can help them achieve their best life. You need to figure out what you can do to help your child succeed at whatever is important to them. This is not the time for blinders and excuses.

This Mom does tend to make excuses for why her son doesn’t do things. It’s so hard to find a volunteer job, how can the teacher expect that of someone, etc. In your head you can’t keep making excuses for your kid. You have to accept the personality that they have and work with it to bring out their high points. You can’t expect them to be something they’re not.

Parental attitude also matters. Now that all the kids have accepted spots in colleges, the paperwork begins. First up: orientation. Many colleges are now adopting pre-orientation programs. They have different areas of interest: some are leadership based, or do community service or just do some sort of survival thing in the woods. They’re done to give kids the opportunity to meet some of their classmates before official orientation. Some of these programs cost money. My Daughter is going to try to do one (her college makes you apply to them) This particular Mom doesn’t want her son to do it because it’s a “scam” to get money. Now, I have a different version of “scam”. I think a “scam” is where you pay for something but get nothing in return. I think of the pre-orientation as an opportunity. And we don’t turn down opportunities in this house. These programs are a chance to learn about something you might not know about. She has told her son that these things are a waste. How does she expect her son to be a doer when she has blocked that path for him?

You can’t make excuses and complain about things that others are doing and still expect your kid to compete with the others. If you’re in a tower building contest and one person has fifty bricks and good quality cement, and you have five bricks and spit, how can you expect to compete?

When you have expectations of your child with regards to schooling, you have to make sure your expectations are reasonable. The main goal is helping your child reach their best life, no matter what path that is. Don’t expect your kid to be something they’re not. That’s only going to breed unhappiness.

 

Is There Something Wrong With Me

A few weeks ago my daughter and I were sitting in the living room. I was writing in my planner, she was watching an episode of “The Office”. She paused the show and began a conversation:

Daughter- Is it odd that I like being by myself as much as I like being with my friends?”

Me (to myself)  Gee- You’re asking ME if it’s odd to want alone time?

Me (out loud this time)  No. Not at all. We’re introverts. We need solo time to recharge our batteries.

Daughter- But why does it seem like everyone else always want people around? I mean, I was studying, but now I’m not, and instead of reaching out to someone, I decided to watch TV.

Me- Everyone is different. Some people feed off the energy of others. Some get zapped by too much external energy. Sometimes your brain needs a rest.

Daughter- But is it normal?

Why do introverts always feel like they are odd?

For some reason, society has decided that being surrounded by people at all times is superior to being by yourself. If you see a someone dining alone, most people feel bad. They think- oh- that poor person has no friends. It’s so sad that they are by themselves. We assume they are upset. But we don’t know this. We automatically thing: they’re alone. They’re losers.

We judge.

My daughter has a lot of friends, including the same best friend since second grade. She doesn’t get into catty dramatic situations. She is a good friend and can be trusted, and has sought out friends who do the same. She is going on Spring Break (woo hoo) with them beginning tomorrow.

She is not a loner.

In elementary school she was the girl who hosted sleepovers with ten girls. Just imagine a room littered with sleeping bags and giggles. And middle school saw her Friday afternoon pizza parties where eight kids would be around the TV playing video games. And high school saw Sunday brunches with friends and mega Instagram events featuring six duck faced girls.

She likes people and is a good friend.

But she also likes to study. And she likes to read. And she likes to binge watch TV shows. All by herself.

So why does she wonder if she’s normal?

What is normal anyway?

And why does society think wanting to stay home alone on a Saturday night and study is weird?

People also have weird responses to her habits. She doesn’t have a boyfriend and has never harbored a desire. There have been no crushes in her teen years. There’s just been a lot of tennis and law team and drama club and newspaper. There’s been a lot of writing and reading. Yet…people have told us that she Definitely has a secret boyfriend. She’s just not telling us. Because it’s more normal to think a teen is lying than just not interested enough in dating. Dating is normal. Not dating is……weird

And then the same for parties. My daughter has never attended a traditional high school party. She doesn’t like the idea of them. And they tend to get raided by the police and there was no way she was screwing up her record and ruin her chances of a good college. Yet people insist she sneaks out to parties- that she just doesn’t tell us she’s going. Why? Because it’s normal for a teen to attend parties. If you don’t, it’s weird…

So why do we judge kids who aren’t the loudest in the room?

Why do we judge those who don’t like a heavy social scene?

Why do we judge those who like to spend time alone?

 

 

All By Myself

A few weeks ago I went to the accepted students day at a college my daughter is considering. There would be two days of parent and student workshops and such, plus my daughter would have the opportunity to stay  overnight on campus. Obviously I needed to get a room somewhere for the night.

Conveniently I was able to get a room at the hotel across the street from the campus at a reasonably good rate via TripAdvisor. Because things happen, I got an email the day before I was supposed to leave from the conduit that took my reservation: they made a mistake- they did not have the room I requested available. Would I like another room, or did I want my money back?

Well, I needed a room. And this was the only hotel not a cab ride away, so I emailed them and said I would take whatever they had- honestly- I had just booked the cheapest room- I didn’t really care where I stayed as long as it was clean, had a bed and indoor plumbing.

It turns out, the room they gave me was a two room suite with a jetted tub and a balcony.

And…

I was going to be all alone. I didn’t have to share it with anyone.

A friend of mine said too bad your family couldn’t join you.

And I said “Are you kidding me? I just wish I had more time there.”

I finished the parent dinner and practically raced back to the hotel. I ran into other Mom’s I had met and I could tell they were itchy being alone. When we entered we all went to the bar. They ordered cocktails. I ordered a glass of milk to go….I had tea bags burning a hole in my pocket and a coffee maker just waiting to boil water. The thought of being able to drink a cup of tea without anyone bothering me was heaven.

I watched HGTV. I talked with some friends. Took a soak. Read my book. Drank hot tea. Slept in the middle of the bed.

King size bed.

Slept right in the center.

What does it say that I didn’t sleep in my “spot”?

Who knows?

Who cares?

I had a night with no responsibility.

And I loved it.

The next day one of my friends asked how my solo hotel experience went. I just smiled. It was nice not being a Mom, or a wife, or a dog walker, cat feeder, housecleaner, organized….

It was nice just being me.

 

 

Going It Alone

Last week my daughter found out the authors of a book she was interested in were going to be at Town Hall here in the city, giving a talk about their book. She realized this the morning of the event, bought a ticket and attended the show.  Completely by herself. No friends, no me…just herself.

At 16, there was no way I would ever attend an event by myself.  My first thought would be “What kind of loser will people think I am because I’m at this alone?” I wouldn’t have been able to enjoy the event.  I would have sat home.

But that sort of summed up my childhood…sitting home alone, too afraid to try anything.  Too afraid of how people would perceive me. I cared so much about what others thought of me.

I guess you know that’s changed.

Nowadays- I really don’t care what others think of me.  I speak my mind, wear what I want, do what I want. And I can’t help but wonder if this is why my daughter has the courage to try- to go out of her comfort zone. Maybe there is something to this actions speak louder than words….

See, when I was growing up my Mom was great at the “You can do anything” speech. Except when it was something my sister or I wanted to do. Then she would say “Why do you want to do that?” My Mother had conceived notions as to what was acceptable behavior, and what were acceptable pastimes. She had very strict codes of conduct that we were supposed to follow.

But my Mother is also the Queen of actually not doing anything.  My Mother has two hobbies: shopping and “discussing” politics. She actually DVR’s home shopping network.  And to say she discusses anything, let alone politics, would be an injustice to the definition of discuss.

My Mother has also never gone out of her comfort zone.  Ever.  I am 78% scaredy cat because my Mother’s innate fear of everything is so ingrained in me and I don’t think I can afford to spend that much money on therapy. So I grew up with my Mother telling me exactly what I should and should not do- what I was allowed to do, and what I was not allowed to do.

And it took me a long time to get out of my comfort zone.

When I finally had a child, I knew I did not want her to grow up with a sense of fear that was part of my DNA.  I knew I had to tell her she could do anything. But I also had to show her that I was willing to go out of my comfort zone. (well- a little, because we all know I hyperventilated climbing the steps of a lighthouse) I had to show her that I am willing to speak my mind about anything, take intellectual risks, go places alone if I am interested in something that no one else is.

Maybe it worked.

I will not take all the credit for her confidence. I actually don’t know what you’re born with and what you take on. (for the record I’m not getting into the nature/nurture today) But I do know that my daughter has a confidence that I just don’t have. My Husband, her Father- well, he doesn’t have it either.

I took the risk of having a child. I took the risk of choosing a way to raise her. I took the risk of believing in the path that was in front of me. I was confident in my choices.

I guess my daughter was watching.

Psych….

I mentioned that my daughter is a humanities girl.  So, after four long years of hard sciences, she is finally able to take a  science class without labs.  Enter psychology- soft science.  Have any of your kids taken psych? Yeah…good times.

After about two weeks of psychology my daughter had already obtained a few theories.  We sat at dinner one evening, and I asked her about her day.  She went through her classes, so far so good in Calculus, AP Comp Gov was really interesting as they talked about the Singapore economy and she’s just read the Crazy Rich trilogy, etc.  Then she got to psychology.  “Hmmm. I don’t know if I should say this.” She said.  Now, the minute someone says a statement like that, I have to know what the statement is.  I will not sleep if I don’t know what the next thought is.  So I pestered her.  Finally, she relented.

“Well” she began, the look of concentration evident in her expression, “You know what you’re biggest failing as a parent is?”

My first thought was, I don’t have any failings as a parent.  I’m perfect.  But to be fair I asked, “No.  What is my biggest failing as a parent?”

“You’re too nurturing.”

I see.  My biggest flaw as a parent is that I’m too nurturing.

I let that sink in for a minute.  I am not known for being warm and cuddly.  When something goes wrong my favorite phrase is “Suck it up Buttercup.” When daughter was in sixth grade she played soccer.  During one game she took a particularly hard hit, went flying and really scraped her face up.  Instead of running onto the field to hug her I gave her a big smile and a thumbs up from the bleachers. When the game was over I took to making sure everything was clean and bought ointment. Practical.  Not overly nurturing.

“How am I too nurturing?” I asked.

“Well” she started.  “If I tell you this, you might stop.”

I just looked at her.

“Ok.  You make my breakfast every morning.  If I’m running late you make my bed for me.  Really, I should be doing these things for myself”

I looked at her again.  “You know, I can stop doing these things for you…I mean, if it’s damaging you as a person and all…”

She looked exasperated.  “See.  That’s why I didn’t want to say anything.  I knew you would get all ‘I’ll stop taking care of you’ and I don’t want that.  I like when you take care of me.”

I smirked. “But is it going to damage you forever?”

“Well” she began “It might eventually effect my relationships.  I might have expectations that my future partner will nurture me and that might not be realistic” and she went off on exactly the things you expect a teenager to say after they’ve had twelve high school level periods in psychology.

So Parents…  We can’t win. No matter what we do, our kids are going to find faults.  They are going to pick apart all our actions and reactions towards them. We will always be too much, or not enough.

Here’s my parenting advice.  There’s nothing we can do or see or read that will make us perfect parents.  Just use your best judgement and try your hardest.  And try not to overanalyze.  They’re going to find something wrong no matter what we do.

 

 

 

What’s More Important

You all know that my daughter is in the process of applying to college. And some of you may know that college marketing is huge.  Many colleges hold recruiting events in NYC and the immediate suburbs, and my daughter has been attending them when she is interested.

Recently, my Daughter received an invite to a school that is high on her list.  The event was scheduled for a Monday at 630 in midtown Manhattan.  My daughter had a tennis match that same day, which ended at 6pm.  Her tennis match was in another borough, and quite possibly as far from midtown Manhattan as possible.

My daughter doesn’t miss anything.  She hasn’t had a sick day from school since 3rd grade. She is also never late to anything. She asked me- “Should I miss the tennis match? Or should I be late to the event?” I told her that her first responsibility was to the team.  She is both a starter and Co Captain.

She listened to me, won her match, and made it to the event about 15 minutes late.  She was there for the lion share of the presentation and got to chat with alumnae.

Fine.

When I related this story to someone else, they said she should have blown off the match, because the college thing was more important. They thought of it as a make or break moment for the college admission process.  I thought that if they don’t want my daughter because she’s 15 minutes late for a dog and pony show because she was honoring her commitment to her team, then it probably wasn’t the right school for her.

So I ask of you today, how do you assess a priority?  If you have two things at the same time, what factors go into your decision making process? How do you determine what is more important?

One of my Momism’s is “90% of success is showing up.” I have always stressed the importance of not letting people down, that when you sign up for something, you commit.  But are there times when it’s OK to bail?

So, what are your thoughts? How do handle the double/triple commitment thing?

 

 

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.

 

What would you do?

Once I pick a topic to blog about, I don’t look back- I just figure out a way to write and just write it.  This topic is a little different-I’ve actually pushed this idea off a few times- I know there’s a point I’m trying to make, but I’m not sure what it is.

But- because I never give up, and once I get an idea in my head I have to keep pushing through.  Passionate?  Stubborn?  I’ll let you decide which…

A few months ago I went to the gym.  As one does, when I came back I was hot and sweaty and my muscles were a bit fatigued.  I walked into the air conditioned lobby of my building and drank my water as I waited for the elevator. A mother and daughter (about two) stood beside me waiting for the elevator.  When the doors opened, the mother and daughter got on the elevator.  When I tried to enter, the little girl screamed no and actually tried to push me off the elevator, hitting me. She continued to throw a tantrum screaming no no no.

The Mother was embarrassed and did all the mother things we do when our offspring behave in an inappropriate way. She apologized to me, tried to get the child to apologize. the whole deal.

The whole thing left me a little uneasy.  I’ve seen kids misbehave.  All kids misbehave.  All kids do things we wish they didn’t.  I understand testing limits- it’s what kids are supposed to do.

But- this didn’t seem quite like that.  This seemed different. This seemed more troubling.

So- my question is: how do we know what is acceptable bad behavior, and how do we know when bad behavior is hiding something bigger? Was this an appropriate two year old tantrum, or is something going on in this kids life/mind that is should be evaluated?

As parents, as bystanders…how do we know?

What do we do?

Nature /Nurture

I am fascinated by the topic of nature vs nurture- more so since I saw the documentary “Three Identical Strangers”.  What is it that determines how people will turn out?   Is someone’s destiny predetermined at birth. or does upbringing help?

I have a friend who adopted a child.  The birth mother was a drug abuser and had other assorted issues.  The adoptive family were/are loving and supportive.  They provided the child with a nurturing and loving environment, exposed the child to art and culture and sports and whatever else the dream childhood consists of. They were involved in the child’s life in every aspect, and supportive of whatever path the child chose.

The child was quite intelligent and grasped onto concepts fairly quickly.    Child had a gift for language and writing.  But, the child was a behavior problem both in and out of school.  Respect was not one of the things this child exceeded at.  Child, who we will call Z, was regularly in trouble at school, little league, whatever.

When Z was in third grade, one parent passed away- cancer.  It was quick and brutal.

After the death, Z really started to go off the rails- the transgressions got larger. The actions of the child were starting to get dangerous.  Middle school saw Z stop working at all- work so poor that the decision was made to send Z to a special school.   And then another special school.  Because the problems kept multiplying. And drugs.  and alcohol.

Ninth grade would need to be repeated because Z was unable to maintain anything close to a good average- obviously, this highly intelligent child failed everything.

I recently found out Z is now in rehab.  Z is the same age as my daughter- they played together in pre-k.  And now Z is in rehab. This talented amazing child.  16 and lost.

So there you go.

Did the death of a parent throw Z right off the rails?  Or was Z destined to make questionable choices and become a substance abuser?

So what do you all think?

Nature?

Or nurture?

Both?