daughters

The Bitter-Sweetness of Launching My Daughter

Anyone who has been following my writing/life over the past several years knows that I have written a lot about my first born and the difficulties I had in letting her go, especially when she left for college. Well, thankfully after nearly putting Kleenex out of business, I found my groove, and two years later sent her younger brother off to college as well (nope, not easier the second time). Fast forward another lighting-fast two years, and she graduated from college and embarked upon her new "grown up" life, which in her case involved moving to the Big Apple. More Kleenex, please?

Since Sophie and I are both writers, we oftentimes mark our own big life transitions with a piece of writing in the form of a journal entry, a blog post or an article written with the intention of submitting it for publication.

And here’s where the mother-daughter-writer-connection thing gets interesting.

On the evening of July 10th, Sophie sends me an email telling me that she has written a piece about her moving to New York and she wants to submit it for publication. I stare at the email in disbelief as just that morning, I had submitted a post to Grown and Flown about…you guessed it…Sophie leaving for New York.

Okay, now I understand that it is not that ironic that we both chose to write about the the fact that she moved to New York after graduation. But if you have a chance to read both pieces, you will see that even though her decision to move to New York and her actual move was a process that happened over many months, in both of our posts, we each chose to zero in on the the exact same moment within this process.

I won’t give anymore away but as my husband explains: you will be looking at both sides of the coin.

Click here to read my piece on Sophie flying the coop.

Click here to read Sophie's piece on flying the coop.

As always, would love to hear your thoughts!

To My Husband on our 22nd Wedding Anniversary

To My Husband on our 22nd Wedding Anniversary

I stared intently at my husband last night as he read a story to our 10-year-old daughter. Something hit me hard. I was unexpectedly filled with intense emotions—joy, love and gratitude flowed freely through my mind and my heart. I realized at that moment, as I looked deeply into his ocean blue eyes that were fixed on a page of the book, why I married him 22 years ago.

Spring Meltdowns and New Beginnings

son graduating Since late February when I had the honor of being a guest on Jordana Green’s radio show to tell my story as part of National Eating Disorders Week, I have been on a bit of a blogging hiatus. The spring months have always been tricky for me, especially in the last several years. And while this spring has been filled with all sorts of wonderful transitions, they are transitions nonetheless; and change is not my strong suit. There are my internal changes that include, but are not limited to, a certain chemical combustion occurring within my body that cranks up my temperature to a mere 90,000 degrees (especially at 3 a.m.) and turns the thoughts in my brain onto a high-speed, continuous spin cycle, for which I cannot seem to find the "off" switch. And there are the external changes that include, but are not limited to surviving yet another senior spring break trip (can I be grandmothered out of the next two?), my oldest son deciding to head to across the country to California for college, my baby turning 11 (just days after a shower door fell on her and broke her wrist...I know, alert the authorities), my husband turning 50 (and yes, of course he recently joined a band), and my oldest daughter finishing her sophomore year of college and returning home for the summer.

soph and jo

Turning 50

So while the internal changes make it a little more challenging to roll with and enjoy all of the exciting external changes, I am doing my best (thank goodness for yoga). And although I am not blogging as regularly as I would like to be, I am still writing. A lot.  Submitting 5,000 words a week to my amazing editor at She Writes Press  so that my book on self-care for moms can head to the publisher and then finally into moms' hands.

self-care book

And there are few other fun items to report: At the end of April, I had an incredible experience of being among dozens of Minnesota writers, comedians and musicians who performed at Rebecca Bell Sorensen and Laurie Lindeen’s Morningside After Dark Series.morningside

The spring theme was “Melt With You” and the piece I read, “The Season of Melting and Letting Go” is published in The Mid (with a slightly different title) is about how the spring season parallels my process of letting my son, a high school senior, go. Lastly, I was hired to write a Mother’s Day article for AskMen.Com about how men can win the approval of their wife's or girlfriend’s mother. While I initially found it exciting to have a 20-something male editor email me and say that he thinks I would be a good person to write this and ask if I would be interested, when I began to write the piece, I felt something different…I felt old. But it also opened up my mind to how exciting the next phase of motherhood will (hopefully) be. Welcoming significant others and eventual spouses into the family —Even more “kids” to love!

But for now, and for the next several weeks of "May Madness," I will try to remember to breathe amidst the flurry of finals, baseball and soccer games, grad parties and another school year coming to a close. And on June 4th, when my oldest son walks down the aisle to accept his high school diploma, I will be cheering him on (most likely through tears) as he transitions from the first chapter of his life to his next. And I look forward to seeing what this next chapter brings...

"In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you." -Buddah

It's Play Time! Thrilled to be a Part of the "28 Days Of Play" Project!

So honored and excited to be a par28 Days of Playt of Rachel Cedar’s 28 Days of Play 2015! In the writing of my piece, it was a true gift to be able to reflect back on the past two decades of play with my four children. I realized how powerful this topic is and how many different angles there were for me to explore when writing about my relationship to play. How I play, why I play, why I don’t play, how technology has changed the nature of play, how I love to play, and yet how I dread it sometimes, how I know how important it is and yet how sometimes I just can’t find it in me are just some of the areas that I found myself lingering. Rachel's exciting, relatable, inspiring, and transformative project has provided mothers a with a platform to share their experiences with other moms who grapple with similar issues surrounding play. The 28 Days of Play 2014 contributors beautifully explored many of the above-mentioned topics and then some, and I can't wait to read the thoughts and insights of the 2015 authors! Again, I am thrilled to be able to share my perspective on play among this group of talented writers and thinkers.

Kick off is Monday, February 2nd! Please join in the fun!

College Drop-off Year Two: Still Learning How to Say Goodbye

heading to college

heading to college

college dorm room

college dorm room

I kept it together this time. I really did. Soph and I busied ourselves with the typical back to college activities like combing every isle of Target and Whole Foods. We added some drama to the mix by performing a full fledged reconnaissance mission for the bag Soph left in the overhead bin on the airplane, which, after many tears and incessant phone calls to the airline, was eventually found in another city and returned. After a day and a half of hustle and bustle, I was able to say a coherent goodbye to her in the sorority house, her new home away from home, before she headed off to a house meeting. But as I watched her become swallowed up in a sea of her “sisters,” heading down the stairs, I was overcome with the desire to force time to stand still. Instead of heading directly out to my car for a clean break, my heart strings pulled me away from the exit and pushed me onto the stairwell leading up to her room.

Her room was quiet and calm—a stark contrast to the day before when four of us—Soph, her roommate and her roommate’s mom—crowded into her non-air-conditioned room on an 85-degree day and spent nearly 10 hours unpacking, organizing, assembling, cleaning, running out for necessary items and then organizing some more.

I scanned the room. A decorated letter S that she had “crafted” with her high school girlfriends a few days prior hung above her bed. An outline of the state of MN with a heart denoting the Twin Cites (another craft item) sat on top of her desk. My eyes then fell upon a picture of Soph, David and me taken at her high school graduation. It wasn’t a great picture of any of us, Soph and I agreed yesterday when she pulled it out of one of her many boxes of belongings. “Maybe I’ll find her a better picture,” I vainly thought as I cringed at my awkward smile in the photo. But unlike many of the other pictures of her family and friends that had yet to be put in frames or pinned to her wall, this particular picture—my daughter, standing between her parents, with an ear to ear grin on her face—was propped upright in a frame and centered on her desk.

As I felt the all-too-familiar lump build in my throat, I knew that the time had come to let myself feel what this inevitable separation meant to me. I had tried to convince myself that it would be easier the second time, and in many ways, it was. My daughter had taught me how to say goodbye last year at this time. And my prayers had been answered as our relationship had indeed stood the test of time and the 650 miles between us, and had ultimately grown even stronger and deeper. And yes, having her home for part of this summer was wonderful but also highlighted the many reasons that most 18+-year-olds definitely need to be heading out of the nest.

But I also knew that I would miss her.

It’s hard to say goodbye to someone you love with everything you are, even when you know that it is time for her to go.

Your heart feels the shift; braces for the void and tries to figure out how to fill the spaces between what was and what is. It tries to manufacture the cushion needed to transition from seeing your child every day to seeing her a handful of times a year, and possibly a portion of the summer. It compensates for the inability to hug her with your loving arms, by finding some kind of normalcy in saying I love you over the phone or via text message. It jumps around aimlessly, sometimes desperately with its overpowering need to protect her from afar. It aches and rejoices as it acknowledges the passage of time and basks in the treasured moments of her childhood, as well as in its hope for her future.

I pulled my tear-filled eyes away from the picture and fumbled through my purse for a piece of paper and a pen. It became imperative to me that I leave her a note to tell her one more time what she already knows: that I love her. But what she could not understand is the depth of love and connectedness that I feel for her, how mothering her has both challenged me and healed me to the core, and how hard it is for me to let her go—no matter what her age, and no matter how practiced I am at saying goodbye.

I willed my legs to move me toward the door and I caught another glimpse of the picture—mother and father and child—and I became overwhelmed with gratitude and comfort in knowing that we will continue to be her pillars from afar.

"A Mother's 17-Year-Old Secret" in Brain, Child Magazine

Parenting your teen inevitably stirs up a lot of memories of your own teen years. As you stare in awe at your 15-year-old driving a car for the first time, it can feel like yesterday that you first excitedly and nervously grasped onto the stirring wheel and told your foot to push on the gas pedal. When you catch your teen doing something “teen-like,” you may be reminded of the time you snuck out of parents’ house in the middle of the night and the dog started barking and gave you away (or maybe...hold breath...you didn’t get caught). As you help your teen navigate his or her teen joys and challenges, you will decide how much and what you want to share about your teen self. I have always been cautious with how much of my past I shared with my teens. I would imagine that most of us determine that some (or many) of our teen experiences should never be shared with our children. What we may not be aware of, however, is that some of the “secrets” we bury could be effecting how we parent our teens. “A Mother’s Seventeen-Year-Old-Secret” explores the how and why I decided to reveal a piece of my hidden past to my 17-year-old daughter. I am honored and thrilled to have this piece running in one of my favorite motherhood publications/blogs Brain, Child Magazine. Brain, Child Magazine

Why I Love Helping My Teens With their Essays in Your Teen Magazine

your teen magazineOne of my greatest parenting pleasures has been the connection I have made with my kids through the process of writing. An old college professor of mine convinced me that, “If you can think, you can write.” I have continually reminded my kids of this important message, especially when they have become frustrated with their own writing process. I have loved being able to read my kids’ writing work and to provide feedback that I think has been helpful in helping them grow as writers and thinkers, and in their ability to trust their own voice. I know how much I value my writing mentors today, and I think teenagers sometimes have a very difficult time streamlining their thoughts and understanding how best to articulate their messages in writing. I feel so incredibly grateful that my kids have let me into their writing processes, and that I have gotten the opportunity to get to know them in ways that I may not have otherwise. Read the full article about the benefits of helping teens with their writing in Your Teen Magazine.

She’s Coming Home! What I Have Learned During my Daughter’s First Year of College

Welcome Home from College, Daughter!It’ that time…already. My daughter is coming home this weekend after finishing her freshman year at college. I am truly in awe of how quickly the year has gone and how much I have learned over this past year. I wanted to share a few insights about how this life transition has not only propelled my daughter to adapt, change and grow, but surprisingly has done the same for me.

As most of you know, saying goodbye to my daughter was extremely difficult and I felt that I had lost a part of myself when she left.  But thankfully, over time (even though I still don’t like to go into her empty room), I have adjusted to our new normal and have realized that her departure served as a bit of a wake up call for me.

To sum up my mothering of Sophie, I would say that I had an extreme case of the “first-child syndrome.” I wanted to do everything right and to be an all-star, all-knowing mother. Upon her birth, I quit my job as a public relations account executive, and decided that she was my world and that everything else paled in comparison to the joy I felt in being her mother.

Three more kids and 19 years later, I realize that some of my initial new mommy thoughts were on par, but I have also discovered that throughout my motherhood journey I have struggled with defining myself as more than a mother to my children. I have, at times, found it difficult to stay true to myself while taking care of my family (which is the basis for my upcoming book!).

I have had several “hit me over the head” moments (which usually came in the form of mini-breakdowns) that served as reminders that my children could not MAKE me happy, and that my happiness and fulfillment needed to start from within. Sophie leaving for college was definitely one of those moments.

During this past year, I have regained parts of myself I didn’t even know I had abandoned. I realized how much energy, emotional and physical, that I poured into that wonderful, brown-haired, blue-eyed girl. I don’t regret any of it, as I know it was part of my journey and that I experienced a great deal of healing in mothering her the way I did. However, since her departure, I am grateful that I’ve experienced a newfound sense of peace within myself, as well as within my relationship with my daughter.

I now understood that the relationship Sophie and I built while she was living at home was only the beginning. We laid the groundwork for what would continue to be a solid and indestructible bond. Throughout this past year, Soph and I found our rhythm in how much we talked, or didn’t talk; how much she leaned on me for advice or support and how much she tried (or I urged her) to figure things out for herself. I realized that when I missed her, it was okay for me to call her, and when I missed her A LOT, I could even grab my little one and go visit her.

But equally as important, I realized that sometimes when I was lonesome for  her, I needed to not call her. I needed to be present in my life and focus on what was in front of me— my husband and three other kids, my writing, yoga, faith, friends and family. Doing so provided me with an amazing sense of comfort and fulfillment and reminded me that while my kids will always be a huge part of my life, I have many other passions and interests that make me who I am and make me feel whole.

This sounds dramatic, but I found that Sophie’s departure made me look at my life in a “big picture” kind of way. It has taught me that while I initially thought of Sophie’s leaving as a “loss,” it turned out that after I shed all the necessary tears, it actually felt like a gain for both of us. The cord was cut, once again, and we both were thrown into unknown territory where the 650 miles that separated us caused us to be less dependent on one another, and provided us extra freedom and space to grow and explore our individual passions.

As I anticipate her homecoming tomorrow, I am well aware that our strengthened relationship will be tested as she is expected to live under our house rules again. This experience may add an entirely new twist to our mother/daughter “absence makes the heart grow founder” love story. More on that to come…Wish me luck…

Friday Faves: Jamie's Journey: "Travels With My Dad"

Jamie's Journey: Travels With My DadJamie Goodman, along a half a dozen other 17-year-olds, gathered at my house a few weeks ago to hang out with my 17-year-old son and reminisce about the eight weeks they spend in Israel last summer with the Alexander Muss High School in Israel program.  Jamie, who lives out of town and I had never met, arrived before the others and I had a chance to chat with her a bit. As she told me about  her college and summer plans (she’s a  high school senior), she very casually mentioned that she is heading out on a book tour with her dad this summer. “Oh, your dad is a writer,” I asked. “Yes, and so am I. We wrote a book together,” she explained humbly. I was so taken by this adorable, kind, articulate and humble teenager who…wrote a book!  I could have talked to her all night about her project but my son soon "rescued" her and whisked her out of my kitchen and off to join their other friends. Well, today is a big day for Jamie and her book, “Jamie’s Journey—Travels With My Dad,” and she is asking for some help. TODAY, April 11th,  is the LAST DAY you can download her book for FREE on Amazon . She is hoping to get 3,000 people to download it so that it can become an Amazon bestseller. Even if you don't have a kindle, you can download the free kindle app onto your phone or ipad and download the book from there.

Here is a sneak peak of Jamie’s book that she co-wrote with her father. I hope you will support Jamie  in reaching her goal of becoming a become an Amazon best selling author, as well as enjoy her wonderful insights that she shares in her book:

When Dr. Rick Goodman proposes to his sixteen-year-old daughter Jamie that they spend a month together bonding in Europe, she is excited yet skeptical! That’s when Dad dropped the bomb! This Journey would take place only if all of today’s modern technology and distractions were removed! Starting from St. Louis with stops in Chicago, London, Paris, Florence, Venice, Tuscany, Rome and finally Israel, the relationship evolves and the fun never stops! Jamie’s Journey teaches us the importance of connecting and communicating with our children-with the absence of today’s technology. Jamie shares her “Gems” of advice to other teens and parents about the life long rewards of truly spending time and connecting with our parents and friends!

Download today!

"A valiant first effort by a rising young star. Look for big things from her." - Randy Gage, Author of the New York Times bestseller, Risky Is the New Safe

 

Once a Parent, Always a Caretaker

My dad, mom and me

Upon walking into Temple Israel to volunteer at the Jewish Family and Children’s Service Healthy Youth-Healthy Communities Annual Conference in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, I ran into to JFCS’s Executive Director, Judy Halper, and we began talking about different aspects of parenting. We landed on the subject of parenting as a form of caretaking and she explained how the cycle of caretaking continues for the rest of your life. “I went straight from caring for my children to caring for my parents,” Judy explained. “It’s a continuation of the caretaking role. And you are never done caring for your children.”

Agreed. I am most definitely not done parenting my college freshman daughter. Through texts, facetime and phone calls, I am still advising her on her finances, relationships, class schedules, health concerns, and keep an up-to-date pulse on her overall wellbeing.  I make myself available to listen to her and try to figure out the difference between what she really needs from me and what she wants, and how to best support her from afar. The out-of-sight-out-of-mind theory does not apply to mothers and their children. My daughter is in my thoughts every day. When she has a bad day, my heart feels the same kind of ache it did when she had a bad day at home, and sometimes it’s more difficult because I can’t hug her or look into her eyes to see what she is not telling me over the phone. However, it has been a tremendous growing experience for both of us to learn that she is very resilient and highly capable of taking care of herself on her own—thank goodness.

As for my parents, I have difficult time imagining them any different than the young, hip, active couple that they have been throughout my life. I am grateful every day that they are healthy, thriving and completely self-sufficient (I actually feel like they run circles around me sometimes).  I do, however, have many friends who are in caretaking roles with their parents while raising kids in their home, and I see how very difficult it can be.

A close friend of mine, who has two teenagers, has been caretaking for her parents since she was 15 (her mom is legally blind and her dad has hearing issues with his hearing). When explaining how she manages parenting her children and simultaneously  caring for her parents, she says it is an ongoing challenge, “It is a lot about balancing the different worries and balancing the needs of both. I want my kids to be safe and supervised, and I want to be present for their teenage challenges; and yet the worry about my parents is more anxiety-fueled. I worry about them waking up every morning, about them driving, falling, managing their meds, and their ability to care for themselves and each other.”

On the flip side, my friend reveals that as tough as this juggling act can be, there are also rewards in this two-fold caregiving process, “Caring for my parents has provided a wonderful example for my kids. In seeing me take care of my mom and dad, my kids have developed a sensitivity for my parents, and demonstrate their caring nature toward them and toward me. As I age, I realize and appreciate how my much parents have done for me and I am grateful that I can care for them in the way that no outsider could.”

I witnessed my husband care for his father in this way as he fought a five-year battle with pancreatic cancer for longer than we all thought possible. As challenging as it was for my husband to balance his responsibilities to his immediate family and work, with his quest to care for his father, he demonstrated that it is possible to make it work. Just as we feel the need to care for our children, most of us also feel a desire or duty to care for, or at least coordinate care for our parents when they lose the ability to care for themselves.

For now, I appreciate the fact that my parents are strong and independent, and that our relationship is still focused on spending quality together and having fun. I am embracing these times because I do know they can’t last forever, and if and when my parents need me to care for them,  as will always be the case with my children, I will be there.

Friday Faves! A Funny Message about Selfishness from Shel Silverstein

A_Light_in_the_Attic_cover This Friday Faves is a bit off topic but I couldn’t pass it up. My daughter’s third grade teacher has asked her students to  record the number of minutes they read per day and to read books of varying genres (biographies, poetry, fairy tails, myths, etc.) My daughter has developed a real fondness for poetry. Last night we were reading from Shel Silverstein’s book of poetry “A Light in the Attic" and we came across a poem that caused both of us to burst out laughing, and we laughed harder each time we read the poem out loud to each other.

My husband and I talk to our kids a lot about how to be a giving and generous person and what it means to be selfish. Shel Silverstein puts a hysterical spin on a child’s perspective of selfishness:

 "Prayer of the Selfish Child"

Now I lay me down to sleep,

I pray the Lord my soul to keep,

And if I die before I wake,

I pray the Lord my toys to break.

So none of the other kids can use them...

Amen

Feel free to let me know if you think this poem is as funny as my daughter and I think it is.

Escape the Cold by Filling Out Summer Camp Forms!

40406_1533996240929_3885765_n As a Minnesotan, December is the month when our landscape turns into a nasty frozen tundra, and it is difficult to savor the memories of the past summer or to believe that we will EVER be relieved of our constant state of FROZEN. But, of course, even though we sometimes have to wait until May, the thaw does come.  My most notable December reminder of the warm hope of summer is delivered by envelopes and emails containing none other than…summer camp forms.

As much as I dread filling them out, I am filled with gratitude and appreciation for all that summer camp means to our family. All four of our kids were/are AVID summer campers (and our oldest is now an AVID summer camp counselor). To say that they love camp is an understatement. They deeply CRAVE it. My husband and I have always understood the value of summer camp, and the value of sending kids away, in general, to allow them to forge new experiences on their own, and to grow and develop their sense of self, separate from mom and dad. I knew that summer camp and the relationships developed there, helped my daughter escape the stresses of school and some tough years she had socially; and that my son was able to feel whole again after he experienced several months of being bullied at school. My older son’s love for camp prompted him to attend a high school program in Israel last summer with several of his camp friends. And my youngest daughter, who was hesitant to go away to camp last summer, as a more quiet and somewhat shy 9-year-old, came back after her two weeks away, with a renewed confidence and a less fearful outlook on life.

It would take me pages upon pages to reflect on the countless ways that my kids’ (and my husband and my) lives have been profoundly impacted by their/our overnight summer camp experiences. I thought it would be even more beneficial for you to read some of my daughter’s impressions on how summer camp was pivotal in shaping her into the young woman she is today. She gave me her permission to share a portion of an essay she wrote for a college English class on the importance of allowing and encouraging kids to spend some time away from home during their formative years (referred to as mobility).

“In reflecting upon one’s childhood, it is difficult, if not impossible, to uncover a specific defining moment in which one transitions from a child to an adult. If adulthood is defined by reaching a certain age, then perhaps one could say that it is the moment when one turns eighteen. Yet, adulthood seems to be a much more complex concept than something that is marked by the celebration of one birthday. Although I am confident that I am not done developing, and at nineteen years old I still have much to learn, I can identify one specific experience that played a key role in my evolution from youth to a higher level of maturity.

When I hopped on that coach bus headed for Eagle River, Wisconsin, at eight years old, I had no idea what was in store for me. I was eager to make new friends, be independent, and connect to my faith, but I had no idea that this journey I was making on my own would be so crucial in my development. Over my 11 summers away from home at Camp Interlaken as a camper, then counselor, I learned so many things that a summer at home with my family just could not teach me. I learned how amazing it feels to truly be yourself; to be in a position of leadership, to make a camper’s day, to shower in the presence of unknown scary insects (not so amazing, but certainly eye opening), and all of these experiences helped me to become a less sheltered, and more grown up version of myself.

Had I not taken the leap, and stayed in the comfort of my home that fateful first summer, so many aspects of my personality that I feel proud of today, would never have been developed.

What is the value of sending kids away? There were always some moms who sneered at my mother when she told them she sent me to camp for a month at ten years old, questioning her true love and devotion to me. I, however, believe in the wisdom of the age-old statement, “if you love something, set it free.” While it is difficult to send children away, out of fear of something happening to them, or fear of missing them too much, it is so important for children to have experiences on their own because of the fundamental development that results.

It was the second night of camp, and Sarah was still crying. She was having a tough time adjusting: she missed her parents, she hated the food, the small beds and just wanted to go home. As the days passed, Sarah slowly came out of her shell, and quickly became one of my best friends. Had Sarah not stuck it out, it is doubtful that she would have developed the amazing self confidence that encouraged her to pursue her cross country career, which led her to be recruited to run here at this college!

Mobility can do amazing things, especially in our formative years. When we, as children, adolescents, teens, and even young adults, are away from home, and are surrounded by people who hold no preconceived ideas about who we are, we can be whomever we want. We can be fearless, outspoken, mean, rebellious, genuine, greedy, smart, kind—it is up to us. Sometimes these newfound personalities will stick, and sometimes not, but being away affords us the opportunity to try them out, and create our own hybrid of personalities that we want to define us.”

I think that about covers it…So, if you are considering sleep-away camp for your child, but are maybe a little hesitant, I would encourage you to go ahead and start filling out the forms. I highly doubt you or your child will regret it.

If you have stories to share about how you and/or your child/ren have been impacted by overnight camp, I would love to hear them!

Friday Faves! Home For Thanksgiving!

soph & girls This week's Friday Fave is not a quote from book #1. In the spirit of Thanksgiving, and having our family of six all under our roof again, I had to go with this photo. It depicts the raw emotion of my daughter and a few of her closest friends seeing each other for the first times since they all left for college in August. The embrace continued on for several minutes as more of her friends showed up at our house and joined in. These girls have been together since they were 9, and have survived numerous ups and downs in their friendships and in their individuals lives. And yet their bond remains secure and strong. The miles between their colleges are just numbers. They are united by a love that I believe, for many of them, will be lifelong.

I am grateful that my daughter has these friendships, which contain history and understanding, and most importantly comfort and security. And for me, I loved hearing the screeches and the loud voices in my house again. I loved hearing the music blaring and looking over to see the dance party happening in the kitchen. I love that I had a chance to connect with these girls, whom I adore, and are like daughters to me. I am also grateful for the wonderful friendships that my husband and I have developed with their parents, and that they also gathered in our home to toast the holidays and to feel the joy of seeing all the girls together again.

This is a brand new part of Thanksgiving weekend...and for me, it is right up there with chocolate chip pecan pie!

 

A "Letting Go" Biggie—Your Kid: Driving A Car

(Flickr-Chez Martin) It was like in the movie Father of the Bride when Steve Martin is looking at his daughter across the dinner table and he sees her transform from a 20-something young woman to a little girl in pigtails who can barely see over the table as she tells him in squeaky voice, “I’m getting married.” That’s how I saw my daughter behind the wheel of the car. To this day, I am not certain if my unexpected panic about her driving came from my idea that she wasn’t ready to drive a car, or that I wasn’t ready to have her driving a car. Either way, this particular right of passage, especially with my oldest child, hit me like a ton of bricks. (This transition was hard in different ways with my son.) My daughter’s learning how to drive, and then driving on her own was like being on an airplane, stuck in turbulence, for a long, long time and you wonder if you are EVER going to hit smooth air again, or whether this plane is actually ever going to find its way to solid ground.

When my daughter was 15 and passed her driver’s permit test, I thought I would be excited for her and eager to have her practice driving with me. I would be the calm, cool mom, riding shotgun as her daughter cruises around town, both of us grinning from ear to ear, listening to our favorite music. I would be giving her friendly reminders to signal her turns, and to speed up when merging onto the freeway.

Ha!

That was not even close to our reality. All was fine when we practiced in the empty parking lot at a shopping mall during off hours on a Sunday. But when it was time for her to get out on the road...”NOOOOO! STOP!” I couldn’t do it. Why? Because I was petrified that she was going to make a catastrophic driving mistake that would kill us both. And I couldn’t let that happen because I have three other children who need me! When I drive, and she is in the passenger seat, I am in control. But being her passenger was not going to work for me. I was unable to give her that control. Because I was afraid to let go. Or just afraid.

Of course I wanted her to drive. I should have been doing the victory dance that I would soon have another driver in the family.  This would eventually make my life easier. But the fear of letting go combined with the fear for her safety (and mine) was a huge mental and physical roadblock for me.

Looking back at my own 16-year-old track record didn’t do much to boost my confidence in my 16-year-old new driver. As I recall (and my parents can confirm, although they would probably rather forget), I was involved in three accidents during my first year of driving. Two of which involved inanimate objects that simply neglected to get out of the way when my car got too close to them. Needless to say, I am probably not the best equipped to coach an inexperienced driver, given my disturbing memories of being behind the wheel at 16.  I gladly turned the driving coach job over to my husband.

My daughter learned to drive. She got her license. I let go. But I continued and continue to cling onto what dupes me into thinking I have some control—my worry.

The first day of her driving independently was a milestone for both of us. As she put the car in reverse and turned to look out of the rear window while backing out of the driveway, undoubtedly bursting with excitement about her newfound freedom, I felt that my heart would burst out of my chest.  I am not sure that this feeling stopped until I heard her pull into the driveway several hours later. Whether you are a g-d-fearing person or not, these are often the times when you make all sorts of promises to your higher power about how you will never question her again as long as she keeps your daughter safe on the road, ensures that all impaired drivers do not cross her path, and that she does not succumb to ANY distractions while driving.

Even after years of her driving, I still said a prayer every morning when my daughter got into the car with my three other children and drove them to school. “Precious cargo!!” I would yell as she tore out of the driveway, no longer quite as attentive to turning all the way around when she backed up, blaring her music way too loudly from her ipod, and leaving the house usually five minutes past the agreed upon departure time.

It is scary to let go. Really scary—but it is a critical part of our job description (written in very fine print). What I realize now, three years after my daughter joined the world of licensed drivers, is that the terror I felt in allowing her to drive a car was a necessary warm-up for all sorts of letting go that we parents must do with our teens.  Each milestone is both necessary and exciting, and yet is often met with fear and uncertainty, especially on the part of the parent. And it may get a little easier with each kid, but the thought of my younger two driving makes my heart start racing immediately!

For the record, I have to admit that I am truly relieved that my daughter does not presently have a car at college. Just one less thing to add to the never-ending heap of motherhood worries that so many of us share.

I would love to hear about your experiences with your new driver or how you feel about the idea of your child driving a car some day. It's a biggie!

College Parents Weekend—Important Lessons Learned

IMG_7464 On My Way to Parents Weekend:

It’s time. I actually get to peek inside her new world. Her new world that she has created in the 6 weeks that she has been away at college. I get to meet her friends and their parents, see her sorority, attend a football game, eat a few meals with her, and most likely take her to Target for necessities for which she would rather not use her allowance. But I know it will be a whirlwind, a frenetic two days, trying to squeeze it all in, trying to get a snap shot, a sampling of her new college life. Yeah, that one, the in which she taught me how to say goodbye (and yet I cried for a month); the one that she spent so much energy and time working toward; the one that kept me up some nights with worry that it would work out for her, that she would have college options she would be happy about, and ultimately, that she would be happy with the college she chose.

My biggest fear, which took me a while to realize, was that in my daughter’s absence, I would lose the one thing that I had worked tirelessly on for the last 18 years, the thing that I desperately wanted/needed to maintain, and that I prayed she would want—our connection. I did not want to smother her or unhealthily hang on to her, but I wanted to feel close to her and truly did not know how that would happen with her away.

And it took us a while. It was awkward sometimes. I held back and didn’t call or text because I was told to give her space. And that was hard and actually pained me. But I did it. Until I told her what I was doing. And she responded very simply, “Mom, you can text me all you want but I may not always text you back right away and please don’t ask me a lot of questions.”  O.k., I can deal with that. Slowly, we found our rhythm and ease in our communication, which is not every day, and sometimes just a few times a week. But it works. One very wise woman recently explained to me when I detailed my struggle around this issue, “You need to understand that you are with your daughter even though she is away. And she is with you. The 18 years that you have spent mothering her are always with her. She knows you are there for her because you have always been there.  She may not need to talk to you a lot because you are already with her.”

Yep, I am going with that!

On My Way Home From Parents Weekend:

I am not sad this time. I am full and happy with the knowledge and the feeling that she is indeed happy. She is creating a wonderful life for herself in a place that is nurturing, engaging, joyful and challenging for her.. (And I am also full and happy because we ate our way through her college town!). She seems older. She seems more confident. She seems more passionate, which I didn’t realize was even possible, given how passionate she was when she left in August. She was sincerely happy to see us, to spend time with us and to share her new world with us…until it was that time…the time when we needed to let her be…to retreat into her life that she continues to develop every single day; her life that does not involve us; her life that she works hard to make good for herself and for those around her.

We had moments with her…moments of pure joy and moments of pure tension. Moments when we met her friends and their parents and could not be happier with the wonderful choices she is making and the people with whom she surrounds herself. And moments of tension when we wanted/needed to assert our parental voices, to deliver messages that she did not like to hear, while trying to respect her need, necessity and right to establish her autonomy.

The blurred lines—so blurry and confusing sometimes. But it helps to be a united front. It helps that my husband and I can turn to each other for help and guidance on how to parent a college student. This is brand new, it's unknown, and it is complicated. I am truly grateful to have a co-captain to help navigate these unchartered territories.

Heading home, I feel good. Time did what it was supposed to do. It healed. It helped put things in perspective and make sense of things that didn’t make sense to me right away. It forced me to deal with and accept the here and now. And most importantly, it forced me to let go and to come to terms with the sheer terror I felt in letting my daughter go. I realized that in sending my daughter to college, I was much more afraid for myself than for my daughter. I was afraid that I would lose her, that I wouldn’t feel complete without her in my house.

And neither of those fears became a reality. She went to college. She's happy. We are connected. And my house is a bit quieter. And it's nice to have a little extra time to focus on the rest of my family and my writing. I am good with that.

“Nothing goes away until it has taught us what we needed to know.”-Pema Chodron

The Agonizing Necessity of Letting Your Child Fail

PositiveWaysFailureAffectsMindThere is no getting around it, even though you may try to shield them from it, and find ways for them to avoid it, your kids will at some point have to face the dreaded agony of failure. For most moms, myself included, whether we admit it or not, when we see our children experiencing failure or disappointment, it feels like the sky is crashing down on both them and us. And sometimes, probably more often than not, we feel the pain even deeper than our children do. In most cases, our children bounce back from their disappointments relatively quickly, and yet we often stay stuck in them for way longer than we know is necessary or appropriate. Furthermore, many well-intentioned mothers, in an effort to try to “spare” their children from having to deal with failure, will go to borderline crazy lengths to assure that their child’s “fall from grace” will be cushioned or avoided all together.

Question to ponder:

What does it feel like to witness your child experience failure?

And even deeper:

Do you feel that your child’s failure a reflection on you as a mother?

Lately I have heard so many moms talk about their successes or failures of their children in a way that it is difficult to decipher who’s is who’s. I recently texted a friend to see how she was doing and she responded that her daughter made the varsity soccer team and her son had lost his tennis match. I wanted to respond, "But wait, I really wanted to know how YOU are doing!" Can we, as mothers, separate our identities from our children’s?

Before I go any further, I have to write a disclaimer: Anyone who knows me knows that I am as guilty as the next mom of allowing my entire being to be directly and significantly affected by what is happening (or not happening) in my children’s lives. I ride the crazy train with my kids and have a first class seat on that well know parenting helicopter that so many of us ride. I obsess about whether they will make a sports team, do well on their tests at school, be asked to a dance or be admitted to their college of choice.  Having said that, I am actually working on this issue within myself right now, so I have become hyper-aware of my own hovering and somewhat controlling nature, as well as that of so many of the lovely moms in my life.

As I dissect this issue of mothers being somewhat unhealthily enmeshed in their children’s lives, I start with a seemingly simple, yet extremely complicated question: Why? Sometimes when my husband has reached his limit on listening to me go over and over and over my worries and concerns about a kid-related issue, he will just stop me dead in my tracks and say, “Why do you care so much? Maybe it would be good if you try to focus on something that you can control, or go do something for yourself instead of obsessing about an outcome over which you have ZERO control. You gotta stop worrying about the kids’ stuff. It’s theirs, not yours.”

Although there is a little sting to his directive, I know deep down that he is right (darn it!). He is encouraging me to give myself permission to let go. To trust that the chips will fall where they may for our four kids, and most importantly to trust that they will be ok, wherever their chips fall. And if their chips fall the “wrong” way, and they feel sad and defeated, then my husband and I will be there to love and support them, and to help them regain their footing so they can put their chips back on the table.

We moms have such a tough time with the letting go piece. From the moment we hold them in our arms as newborns, we are programmed to “make it all better” for our kids. We make it our life’s work to make life good and safe and happy for them. But thankfully, Wendy Mogel (Blessings of a Skinned Knee and Blessings of a B-) comes along and beautifully teaches us how kids must fail in order to grow.  She explains that we are doing our children and ourselves a major disservice by not allowing them to experience failures and disappointments. When mothers don’t set clear boundaries with their children, and take on too much of their children’s “stuff,” they run the risk their children developing this line of thinking:

“I don’t really have to care, or feel anything about whether or not I make the team, make a bad decision, or get an A or a D on my test because my mom is taking it all on. Therefore, I am not even really accountable for my actions or inactions, because mom’s got me covered.”

Some moms, (myself included, on a few occasions), will actually not only take on their children’s successes or failures emotionally but will go a step further. They will intervene. They will call a coach, a teacher or an admissions director and threaten, question, manipulate, and even beg or bribe the person in the decision-making position to give their child what she “ABSOLUTELY DESERVES!!!” Okay, this is probably a good time for mom to step back, be very honest with herself, and figure out whether this is about her or about her child.  This type of behavior sends an even scarier and potentially hazardous message to her child, which could sound like:

“You are not capable of accomplishing your goal/s on your own and therefore you need me to step in and take care of it for you.”

This deprives your child of learning the invaluable, character-building lessons that one learns from failing or falling short of a goal, with resiliency at the top of the list. It also could lead your child to feel that:

  • “My mom does not believe in me enough to let me figure things out for myself. I must be inadequate.”
  • “My mom cares more about whether I make the team or get the grade she expects me to get than she does about me as a person. She doesn’t love me for who I am, she loves me for what I do. Therefore if I come up short of her expectations, she won’t love me.”

Confession: My daughter got a B- on a paper her senior year. She is a fantastic writer and that was not a typical grade for her on any type of writing assignment. I am friendly with her teacher and when I saw him at her school one day, I said casually, “Hey, why did you give Sophie a B- on her last paper?” He stopped, looked at me straight in the eyes and said in a very serious tone, “Because I knew it was not her best work. She knows she can talk to me about it if she would like.”

Yikes! I cannot even begin to explain the scolding I received from my daughter when I crawled out of my shame hole a few days later and told her about it. “Mom! I wasn’t really bothered by it. It wasn’t my best work. I can’t believe you did that! Why would you do that?!”

With helicopter parents attending job interviews with their children http://huff.to/18cx1PG and micromanaging their every move, it is hard not to get sucked into thinking that being overly involved in your children’s lives is a way of showing your children that you care. It’s difficult to draw the line and know when it’s ok to advocate for your child, and when you need to bite your tongue and/or detach yourself from their “stuff.”

Next time you want to step in and try to prevent your child from failing or facing disappointment, take a moment to sort out your own feelings, and ask yourself:

What am I afraid of?

Exiting the Nest: Don't Cry Because it's Over...Who Said That?!

images “Don’t cry because it’s over, be happy that it happened,” my older son preached to me nearly every time he saw me for weeks after my daughter left for college. Even if my eyes weren’t filled with tears (I really tried to cry privately), he could see that there was sadness and loss that I was feeling deep from within. “She’s gone but she’s not GONE,” was the message my brain kept sending to my heart. I talked to many moms who forged this trail before me; who sent their children off to that never-never land place they call college. I heard, “It feels like someone died, like you are in mourning. You walk into their room and just weep. You kind of wander around in a fog for a while. But it does get better with time. And then when they come home again, it reminds you that it was definitely time for them to go.” I also heard, “I was so happy for my daughter and felt like I did my job in raising her. Now she’s off doing what she is supposed to be doing and that makes me feel good.”

I would put myself right smack dab in the middle of those two sentiments.

It has been exactly one month since I left her in that Ann Arbor parking lot across the street from her dorm and I am just now able to write down how it feels to launch a child. Although, ironically, I recently heard author Wendy Mogel speak and I had a chance to chat with her briefly. “I just launched my first child,“ I told her. “Did she graduate from high school or college,” she asked as she signed my copy of her recent book, Blessings of a B- (fantastic read, by the way). “High school,” I said with a questioning smile. “She’s not launched,” she said with such authority that it took me aback. She recommended a book called “Letting Go” by Karen Levin Coburn http://amzn.to/16VPYnG , which talks about the various stages your child goes through when in college, some of which can be very difficult as your child is trying to navigate the world as a young adult. I wasn’t sure if hearing this from Dr. Mogel made me feel any better or worse.

When doing research for my book, I interviewed many moms about the process of letting go. Some of my favorite responses include:

“The letting go process is sort of like walking off a cliff and praying you land safely! Or, letting a bird fly free, hoping it travels in the right direction. This is what we have all worked so hard for, to let our kids go, experience life...we just pray we gave them the foundation they need to be successful on their own terms. Sometimes it is very hard to parent while on the sidelines of college. Issues can be tough. Just remember you did the best job possible to get your kids where they are and hopefully they will take it the rest of the way—and they need to.” (Mother of three children, ages 23, 20, and 17, married 27 years)

“They always see you and need you in some sort of Mommy capacity. It's the hugest relationship of their life, whether they realize it or not. So smile and give the independence and try to keep the advice in the solicited category, but also feel free to smirk a bit when they still need you, which they will. And realize they may still act like a baby around you sometimes. You are their safe place.” (Mother of three children, ages 19, 15 and 7, married 20 years)

“I don’t really think you ever really let go. It’s reorganization. It’s just a different way of thinking about things and shelving things. The worries…I do think they become bigger in some ways. You are not worried that they are going to get hit on the playground but you worry for their safety out in the world. You hope that you are still the voice inside their head that guides them when they are making decisions.”  (Mother of three children, 21, 19, and 17, married 22 years)

As for me, I am still somewhat raw with emotion and yet, am finding my way to embrace the letting go process, which, in my opinion, cannot be rushed.  I just recently stopped automatically pulling out six placemats when I set the table for dinner. I still find myself wandering around the grocery store, feeling a little lost as my daughter was the one with the STRONGEST opinions about what food MUST be in the pantry and in the refrigerator, and what she would and wouldn’t eat for dinner. I just booked her ticket to come home for fall break and when searching for flights, I habitually typed in round trip from Minneapolis to Detroit. After a few minutes, I stopped in my tracks and stared at the screen. “She is not traveling from Minneapolis, she lives in Michigan,” I had to remind myself. I also caught myself saying to a friend when she asked if I could go for a walk on a recent Sunday, “Well, Soph will be home studying, so I can leave the younger kids home with her.”  And I finally re-patterned my brain to stop thinking that she was going to walk through the door when I heard the chime that goes off every time a door in our house is opened.

Letting her go was indeed very painful for me. Moreso than I thought it would be. My acupuncturist suggested that there should be a ritual for moms when their child leaves the nest.  Moms need time and space to allow themselves to deal with the separation. They need not be immediately thrust back into life and almost shamed for feeling sadness and loss. They are almost expected to shake off any sadness and to feel overjoyed that they have a kid in college. “She’s super happy, right? She’s doing great, right? Aren’t you sooooo happy for her,” wonderfully good-intentioned people would ask.  Yep, she is and I am. Yet, I was sad too. For as much as I knew it was time for her to go, the reality of her leaving knocked me off balance…for a while.

People say that it takes about a month to regain your stability, and this was right on for me. Time has truly been a blessing, and I can now say that I have transitioned to a new normal. And it feels good. With the support of family and friends, I am now able to say without crying (most of the time), “My daughter is away at college.” My family is happy and adjusted at home, and Sophie and I have figured out our mother-daughter long distance rhythm via text, face time, email and phone calls. I try to give her space and she tries to connect when she has time. It works...for now.

I realize that there will be many more transitions that I will go through with her, and with the other three kids, but this one was momentous for me, and I am grateful to be on the other side of it.

I did cry (a lot) because it was over, HOWEVER, I am eternally grateful and overjoyed that it happened…And, in a slightly different configuration…continues to happen.

How To Say Goodbye: A Lesson From My Daughter

We weren’t assigned seats next to each other on the flight that would fly us to my daughter’s new home for the next four years. We both had aisle seats, which we usually prefer, one in front of the other.  But this time I desperately wanted/needed to sit by her.  I asked the lady seated next to my daughter if she would mind switching her window seat for my aisle seat. “You know, I really do prefer a window seat,” she said. “Ok, then,” I said with my eyes to my daughter. “It’s not like I’m taking my daughter to college for the first time or anything,” I mumbled under my breath, and sat down feeling deflated. But without hesitation, my daughter started talking to me through the seat that separated us, sharing a funny story about something silly her “most adorable” camper did this summer. I leaned into the aisle, twisted my body and craned my neck to make eye contact with her. She hoisted her computer up and over the back of my seat to show me the countless pictures she had taken over the summer.

“I’m going to switch seats with you,” the woman said to me as she was already standing with her belongings in her hand.  “Thank, you. Thank you so much,” I said as I moved back to take the window seat next to my daughter.  We laughed and talked some more. We took a short jaunt down memory lane until she told me she was tired and done talking. I watched her close her eyes. I saw her as a little girl. The memories kept surfacing and resurfacing in my mind’s eye. The feelings of being pregnant with her, cradling her as a baby, clinging onto her hand when she learned to walk, holding her and stroking her hair when she cried, and even grabbing her arm a little too tightly a few times when I was upset with her came flooding back to me. In that moment, she leaned her head on my shoulder. I stroked her shiny, brown hair. A tsunami arose in my chest that came from the innermost depths of my soul and encompassed my entire being. The water came pouring out of my eyes. I truly did not know how I would make the tears stop.

How can this be the culmination of 18 years?!  How can it hurt so much even when she is doing what my husband and I have raised her to do? How can it be that the start of her next, exciting life chapter feels so excruciatingly painful for me? I leaned my head on her head and I took in her smell and the feeling of her presence. I knew that her presence in my life was about to change…pretty dramatically.

Over the past 19 years of life (actually, her 19th birthday is next week, and will be her first birthday that I won’t be with her), Sophie has taught me how to let go. Her independent spirit has given me a lot of practice in the art of saying goodbye, which has included: the ability to hold back my tears until she couldn’t see me (okay, I couldn’t always do that); give her that “last” hug, and then separate from her, by allowing her to pull away, and then turn and walk away from me, while I worked hard to turn myself away and walk the opposite direction (resisting the urge to turn back around and run to her to give her one more hug). I have done it countless times:  when she started school, skipped off to sleepovers, begged to go to a two-week sleep-away camp at the age of 8, took trips with her grandparents, boarded planes and buses to visit friends in other states, when she spent part of a summer in Israel and when she spent the past two entire summers working as a counselor at an overnight camp.

But even as the goodbyes didn’t seem to get much easier, I always knew she was coming home.

But not this time.

Ok, I know. That sounds extremely dramatic. And it is. Of course she will come home: over her school breaks and possibly over summer breaks (unless she continues to work at summer camp or another job out of state). But those times are the exception, rather than the rule. The majority of her days and nights will not be spent in my house, in her bed, with her siblings at our dinner table.  When I feel this sense of loss come over me, which sort of feels like someone took a scoop out of my heart with an ice cream scooper, I do have conversations with myself about perspective. My message to myself is, “Hey! Your daughter is alive and healthy and thriving!  She is going to college, not Juvie! This is not some kind of terrible tragedy. She is off to have a wonderful college experience! You should be so proud! You will see her, you will talk to her and you will be in each other’s lives!” Yes. Yes. Yes. And I am grateful. I really am.

But there are many different types of losses that we as mothers endure with our children, and I pray that we all experience these types of “letting go” losses and none that are truly catastrophic.  The letting go kind of loss is actually more about recalibrating the relationship than losing it. However, I have realized that I am not exactly sure how to make this relationship shift, within myself and between my daughter and me.

My relationship with my daughter has been one of the most pivotal and powerful relationships I have ever had in my life. It would take me tens of thousands of words to explain why, but as any mother understands, the human being who turns you into a mother, holds an extremely significant place in your heart.  And now I need to figure out how to do this relationship from afar.

As much as Sophie knows that she will always have a place in our home, I know her sights are now set elsewhere. And I am happy for her. And I know she is ready.

We spent a few days in Ann Arbor helping her get her room ready, schlepping back and forth to Target and Bed, Bath and Beyond, taking her and her friends to lunches and dinners. And then, when we knew it was time, she taught me how to say goodbye, yet again.

Last night we brought her to her dorm before heading back to our hotel to get some sleep before our flight home this morning.  We only got as far as the parking lot in front of her dorm. “You guys don’t have to come up. I am okay. Really,” she said in a very sincere way.  “O.k., Soph, I guess we have to do this,” I said. My husband and I each hugged her. And then she hugged us each one more time. I gave her the card I had written her earlier that day and told her to read it later. “I love you, Mom.” “Oh, I love you more than you will ever know, Soph.” "Take care of you, Sophie," my husband said.

And then she did it. She pulled away, she turned and she walked slowly to door of her dorm. But I didn’t turn. I didn’t move. I stood there and watched her this time. I watched her walk confidently and happily to enter the next phase of her life. She opened the door to her dorm, and glanced back in our direction. Then the door shut.

And new doors opened…

goodbye soph

The Gift of Time

imagesMy doctor told me that she was worried that my baby had stopped growing in utero at 37 weeks. She told me she wanted to do a C-section ASAP. She was due on May 15th. but on April 29th, my forth child, my second baby girl came into this world at 5 pounds 4 ounces, just 9 ounces lighter than her big sister weighed at full term almost 10 years years prior. Had she stopped growing or was she right on course to be the exact same size as her sister and me (I was another heavyweight at 5 pounds 14 ounces, full term)? We will never know but the fear that something was wrong with her made the 48 hours we waited before she was born almost unbearable. Thankfully, she was born healthy, and without any complications for her or for me. I only tell this story of her beginnings because I have found myself going back there over the years and wondering if her being brought into this world before she was “ready” has to do with a decision we made for her 8 years later.

My baby girl was and is very much the baby—the baby of our family of six, the baby of my parents’ six grandchildren and the baby in a long, long line of sibling-like first cousins’ children on my husband’s side.  My daughter would be the baby of 20 cousins in that lineage.  Needless to say, her feet hardly touched the ground for the first several years of her life, long after she was able to walk on her own. She didn’t have to speak a whole lot because everyone around her loved to cater to her every potential need before she needed to express one. And the fact that she literally was the size of an American Girl doll for a very long time (and is still not a whole lot bigger), and her voice was so high and squeaky that it made you smile no matter what she said, did not make it easy for people around her to transition to treating her like a “big girl.”

When it was time for her to go to preschool, she went somewhat willingly but often cried that she wanted to stay home with me. She was sick a lot; colds, fevers, ear infections, influenza, and countless unexplained tummy aches. But she learned and thrived in school; she made friends and she seemed happy and well adjusted.

When we considered moving her from the Montessori school she attended to the private school where my older three children attended, I remember feeling somewhat nervous. I knew she was bright, but she was often shy, reserved and somewhat “young” for her age. The first time through the admissions process, the school told us that she was not ready for the academic, social or emotional rigors of first grade at this college preparatory school. They did, however, offer her a spot in the Kindergarten class. We declined and decided to send her to the Montessori school that she loved for another year and re-assess the following year. She had a great year socially and academically and her teachers thought she would do fine in the grade she was “supposed” to be in. So, back to the private school we went to test her for admittance to second grade for the following school year.

Academically, she did just fine, and her classroom visit went relatively smoothly. We would have to wait to hear from the school about their final recommendations. The following day, after dropping my son off at school, I ran into the teacher whose classroom my daughter had visited. I asked her to tell me honesty how she saw my daughter fitting into this grade. She explained, “Your daughter was fine in my class, but I have to tell you that I had to take several of the kids out in the hall because I heard them whispering behind her back saying, ‘Why is a preschooler visiting our class?’ They couldn’t believe that she was 7, the same age as they were.” The teacher explained that the kids perceived her as much younger and treated her as less of a peer and more as someone who needed caretaking.

After much agonizing and deliberation on my part (my husband had much more clarity about the benefits of holding her back and the school had no question that giving her extra time would be hugely beneficial to her in every way), we all came to the consensus that it would serve her best to start as a first grader the following year instead of as a second grader, which is where her birthday says she “should” be.

But I worried. I worried that she would be teased for being older than most kids in her grade (in some cases more than a year older). That kids will ask her if she was held back, and will ask her why. I worried that it would seem strange that she will be 19 when she graduates high school and I even worried that her fellow college freshmen would give her a hard time for starting college at 19 and ask her if she flunked a grade. I worried about how she will navigate all of this, if it would bother her and how she will normalize her situation. I also had to look at how I felt about it all and find a way to reconcile all of this within myself. I also dabbled with some self doubt: Was it my fault that she needed extra time? Did I coddle her too much? Was I so overwhelmed with four kids that I neglected to help foster some of the developmental tools she needed early on?

But I realized that I had to let most of the above-mentioned insecure babble go so I could fully support her and empower her. I needed to find acceptance with the decision to give my daughter an extra year and look at all the benefits of this decision.  “You are giving her the gift of time,” is what many trusted friends who work in academia labeled it for me. One extra year to be a kid! (And as I am preparing to send my oldest to college in a week, I certainly have a much better understanding of this!)

Fast forward two years to this week as my daughter is getting ready to start 3rd grade.  “Mom, I know I am not the oldest kid in my grade because there is a boy who is older than me, right,” my daughter asks. “Right,” I say not quite sure where she is going with this. “Do you think there will be any other kids starting in my grade that will be older than me,” she continues her line of questioning. “I don’t know for sure but probably not,” I answer her carefully. “O.k. good. Because I love being the oldest. I also love being the smallest, which I will be this year because my friend Susie, who is a little bit smaller than me is not coming back this year.” “So you like being the oldest?” I ask. “I love it!” she says with a smile.

I can say now that I do feel that my daughter is in a good place and that giving her extra time is really what she needed and needs. Whether this has to do with how she came into this world, a bit premature, or how she was a bit coddled when she was young, we will never know. She is not in a hurry to grow up and that is okay. She sees her older siblings and how much more challenging and complicated life becomes. She is good with being a kid. And for me, I will get to have an extra year with her before my nest will be completely empty…but by then, I may be making room for grandchildren (if I am lucky)!

There is Something Huge Missing in My House: Teenage Angst!

It has been about four weeks since my two teenagers left for their summer adventures (one as a camp counselor and one as a student in Israel), and about two weeks since we met my daughter at her college orientation. Over these past few weeks, I have literally have felt my blood pressure drop and my whole being exhale. The anxiety level in my house and within me has decreased significantly, and I have come to a crystal clear realization: Image

Raising teenagers is really f-ing hard.

As absence makes the heart grow fonder, it also allows the mind to gain some perspective. I do miss my 18-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son. I miss their wit, humor and companionship. However, I realize that there are several elements of their teenage-hood that I don’t miss…at all:

  • The backtalk and the continual second-guessing of my rules and “demands.”
  • The battle to get their attention because of their incessant need to be connected with their friends via their cell phone or computer.
  • The worry about them driving, making good choices and staying safe (which doesn’t really ever go away, even when they are hundreds or thousands of miles away).
  • The late nights spent waiting to hear them (please g-d) open the door and come up the stairs to my room to let me know they are home safely and to give me the forced hug so I can do a quick smell test.
  • THE MESS!!! The laundry, dishes, orange juice containers left out on the counter, trail of clothes, papers, shoes, baseball gloves, purses, water bottles that just cannot seem to get picked up on a timely basis.
  • And the final, but most prominent element—their ATTITUDE, which is summed up, for pretty much all teenagers, in five simple words: “You”…   “Just”…“Don’t”… “Get”...“It”… In other words, they feel that we parents know nothing; were never teenagers and could not possibly understand what they are going through; are annoying, pretty much all the time; and if we would stop asking so many questions, imposing so many rules, and just get out of their way!!! everything would be just fine!

A dad friend of mine who takes my yoga class told me today that his teens have been relatively easy. They are focused, kind, respectful and great to be around. Several thoughts and feelings emerged for me, including, “Have I done something terribly wrong with my kids? How did he and his wife make this happen? O.k., I still have two more, maybe it will be easier with them.” It is not that my teens aren’t great kids, thankfully they are, and I wouldn’t change a thing about their feistiness and passion for life. There are plenty of moments where I do sit back and sing their praises and feel gratitude for how they are turning into fantastic young adults. HOWEVER, I will not deny that my journey with my teens has been far from easy, and that their transitions from childhood to young adulthood have included many, many bumps over the past several years (for them and for me). Furthermore, I have learned a lot about myself and the baggage that I carry from my own adolescence and teen years, which I needed to deal with to in an effort to effectively parent my teens.

Furthermore, for the record, I must say that I do not think that any parent goes unscathed during their children’s teen years. I think my yoga friend is in the minority because most of the parents I talk with feel like they are in the trenches with their teens—battling it out and often feeling defeated and confused. It is during those deflated and confused times that I find myself questioning whether or not I have the strength and the know-how to do what it takes to guide my current teens and teens to-be through these tumultuous years. However, as I am gearing up to launch my oldest teen out of the nest next month, I do know now that despite the challenges, which will undoubtedly arise, I am capable of digging up every tool that I have in my growing tool box of strategies and coping mechanisms, and muddle through the teen years with each one of my children.

But for right now, I am truly appreciating the respite from the teenage battleground, which has provided me with the time and space to realize all that I have learned from my two beloved teenage warriors.  Furthermore, this time has allowed me to enjoy extra time with my 11- and 9-year-olds, who are delighted to have first dibs on my attention, and appreciate the calmness in the house and within me.

“No one knows his true character until he has run out of gas, purchased something on an installment plan and raised an adolescent.” – humorist Marcelene Cox