Five years ago I wrote a blog post discussing what I call “May Madness,” which I am fairly certain most parents with school-age kids can relate to right now. Here is how I defined this “magical” month when the school year winds down and spring catapults us toward summer...
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.
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.
I knew that it was time to do the web search but I wasn’t quite ready. As I forced myself to type in the name of my chosen airline and begin the flight search, it hit me that I would not be able to book our two tickets together. My ticket would be for a quick turn-around, and my daughter's would be for a much more extended stay. I would take her back. Back to college, her home away from home, where she taught me how to say goodbye and where she plans to reside for the next three years, at least. This August, I will fly there with her and once again, help her move into her room, squeeze her with everything I am, say a prayer, and return to live my life at home, a little emptier and yet a little fuller, while she renters her college life.
But we are not there yet. I am with her now. Soph blew in (my daughter doesn’t just arrive, the wind actually picks up when she enters a room due to her passion-filled, larger than life energy) at the end of April before most of her friends were home. I had her almost to myself. While the rest of my kids were finishing their school year, we had the chance to reconnect. She decompressed. She slept. We ate her favorite foods. We talked. I learned about the small details of her life at school that she couldn’t share via text or phone calls. I cherished the opportunities to read her facial expressions and body language as she revealed snippets of new, exciting experiences she had, mistakes she made and questions she was pondering.
And I listened. And I withheld judgment and advice…until I couldn’t. And the MOTHER brain took over and I found myself advising, “teaching,” probably with a tinge of judgment. And then she would pull back. Retreat. Protect her secrets that one does not share with her MOTHER. And I gave her space. Stopped looking for every “teachable moment,” and let her be.
And then she would come back around. Slowly allowing me to see her again—in her full, teen/adult light—to know her thoughts, her insights, her feelings, her vulnerabilities and her fears. And I would listen. And bite the hell out of my lip.
And this is the new language we speak. A mother who craves closeness to a young woman who needs her mom close and yet needs her space all in the same breath; a daughter who is on a bumper car ride toward adulthood, on which there is occasionally room for her mother to sit next to her, and yet, more frequently, needing and wanting to occupy the front seat all by herself. And I am off to the side (most likely biting my lip again), trusting that she's got what it takes to navigate her car without me, and yet always prepared to jump in if the bumps get too intense.
Push me away—pull me close. Hold her tight—let her go. But never completely.
I book two tickets—our outbounds the same, but my return for two days after our arrival and her return for two months later, when my youngest son will celebrate his Bar Mitzvah.
More growing up. More letting go. I am finally starting to fully grasp the true beauty of this cycle, and am trying to enjoy the ride. Bumps and all.
One 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.
This Is 17 It was 2 a.m. on a Tuesday evening and I tried to lay still but my mind spun and heart raced. I was replaying a conversation I had had with my 17-year-old son earlier that evening. It was one of those difficult, reality check, let-me-give-it-to-you straight types of conversations that included messages about the hard edges of life, how there really are no short cuts, that wanting something is usually not enough, that effort is almost always rewarding regardless of the outcome and how when you hit difficulties that seem insurmountable, you have a few choices: you can crumble and quit, or you can do everything in your power to try to help yourself achieve your goals.
Rewind. Play. Rewind. Play. I heard the words leaving my mouth, traveling across my office to reach him where he stood with his arms crossed at the doorway. I saw his eyes pull away from mine and the corners of his mouth turn downward. I knew these words/my words stung him.
Shoot the messenger!
I was overwrought with guilt for feeling like I needed to deliver these messages when I could see how heavily the toll of junior year was weighing on him. And these messages were not new to him. He has not only heard them from his parents but from teachers, coaches, and mentors who have cared about him enough to give him an extra push and some constructive guidance. And, most importantly, he has learned them himself—out there in the real world—succeeding, failing, picking himself up, succeeding, failing, trying again—just like the rest of us. I knew he had been listening and learning...but I told myself that I needed to make sure that he REALLY "got it." But after the words came out and I felt the regret sink in, I asked myself, "What does REALLY "getting" something mean at 17? What does it even mean at 47?"
I went into the kitchen and poured myself a bowl of cereal. Maybe the Wild Berry Clusters and Flakes would take away the pit in my stomach that accompanied the thoughts of, “You really screwed up. You didn’t need to say those things to him. You are putting even more pressure on him. He is going to crack.”
I knew that my intention was to ready him for the sometimes harsh world that periodically hurls daggers of disappointments at us, whether we are ready for them or not. And even though I had made sure to tell him that I have always and will always love and accept him exactly the way his is, I also told him that the world might not always be so kind; that colleges would only know him by his GPA, ACT score, and a 500-word essay. What I wanted to say, but chose to omit because I knew he would immediately roll his eyes and say very clearly, "STOP, MOM," was that the seemingly powerful people who will only know him by a piece of paper and will soon determine his fate (or at least where he is admitted to college) won’t know some very crucial things about him. They won't know that he bear hugs his younger brother every day and helps him with his homework without being asked; that he tells funny stories to his little sister when she has trouble falling asleep; that he drives his siblings to school every day; and that he loves and treats his friends like brothers. But I do know, and so does he.
And this is 17: Mothering him with unwavering love and support, but trying to determine when the unconditional love includes honestly and intentionally delivering messages that will help prepare him for the real world; helping him formulate his future plans while guiding him in the management of his the immensely growing number of current responsibilities and pressures; and slowly and gently turning the reigns of his life over to him as he moves toward exiting his boyhood dependence and responsibly embracing his adulthood independence.
And in the midst of it all, when I least expect it, I find myself staring at him. Wanting to slow down the clock, and maybe even rewind it to revisit a few moments of his childhood where I could hear him say, “Uppy, Mommy” one more time, or see his ear to ear grin when he impressed the whole neighborhood by riding his bike with no training wheels at 20 months, or to feel the warmth of his small, trusting hand clutching mine as I walked him into his first day of preschool. But I can’t because time is flying by at a pace unlike anything I experienced in his early years—before he drove a car, attended school dances, spent the summer in Israel, and began his college search—before he was readying himself to leave his childhood behind.
This is 17.
This Is Childhood
My eyes, damp with tears, veer away from my cereal bowl and fall upon the book that I had just received in the mail. I opened "This is Childhood,” edited by Randi Olin and Marcelle Soviero of Brain, Child Magazine, and was immediately pulled into its wonder and comfort, and into my own memories.
As I read through the 10 essays, each one representing a different age of childhood, 1 through 10, I felt an immediate connection with the writers and their stories, including local writers Nina Badzin (This is Three), Galit Breen (This is Four) and Tracy Morrison (This is Seven). Each essayist gives a unique, realistic and poignantly beautiful portrayal of what that particular age looked and felt like. Within their personal stories lie many universal themes like “three has an almost worrisome obsession with bandages that we parents accept for the speed at which they make tears go away” (Nina Badzin) that unite all mothers and make us nod our heads in unison, “Yep, mine did that too,” or “I felt the exact same way.”
I love this book and my only regret is that I didn’t have it sooner. My baby is 10 and I am already beginning to forget the “time stands still” moments that spill out onto every page of this book. And at the end of each essay, there is a prompt that encourages the reader to take a moment and reflect on what that particular age looked/looks and felt/feels like to them by zeroing in on a specific moment or angle like: “Is your little one more big or more little at age four? Capture the words and the faces, the jokes and the stories that make it so.”
My extremely inconsistent journaling and nearly empty baby books (not even positive that I have one for my 4th child) have left me with only fading memories of these years (wish I had started my blog 19 years ago!). But I think to myself that maybe I will try to resurrect some of these memories and jot them down in my newly treasured book.
But for now, it’s 3 a.m. and the few remaining flakes of my cereal rest soggily at the bottom of my bowl. My tears had dampened many pages of my new book as reading the deeply meaningful essays triggered the release of many sweet memories of my children’s early years; especially, those of my 17-year-old. I am baffled by the passage of time.
In returning to the thoughts about my earlier encounter with my son, I feel more at peace. The book reminded me that I have spent the past 17 years loving and guiding this green-eyed, loving boy who was well on his way to manhood. I knew he was going to be just fine. I knew he trusted me to tell him the truth, even if it stings a little.
But once in a while, it certainly would be nice to be able to revert to the fail-safe, take-the-pain-away-immediately band aide method. Unfortunately, however, this no longer works at 17.
Click here to order your copy of this wonderful book—Enjoy!
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…
Jamie 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!
"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
This past weekend, I took my 9-year-old daughter to visit her 19-year-old sister at college for the first time. Soph was initially hesitant about having us because it was St. Patrick’s day weekend, which meant there would be lots of not-to-miss festivities—not appropriate for her mom and 3rd grade sister to attend. But this was the weekend that worked for us and I assured her that we would retire early and she could have her nights out with her friends. As our arrival date got closer, I could tell that Soph was truly looking forward to spending time with us. As hard as it is for college freshman to admit that they are sometimes lonesome, the truth is, they are…and then they’re not. But my motherly instinct told me that since Soph had chosen to go away with friends instead of coming home for her spring break, the time lapse between winter break and the end of her first year of college would be too long of a stretch to go without seeing each other (and I certainly knew it was too long for me).
I couldn’t wait to see my girl, my young adult, who made the transition to college look relatively seamless (which was not the case for me when she left for college). In addition to the joy I felt in seeing her, something took me by surprise during our weekend visit. It began the moment we walked in to the lobby where Soph was waiting for us. Soph looked at me and smiled big, and then I saw fireworks explode in her eyes as she laid eyes upon her “baby” sister. My two girls made an immediate B-line for each other and Jo literally leapt into her big sister’s open arms. They hugged each other tightly, for quite some time, and I could feel the connective, sisterly energy surge between them.
Sophie has been more than a big sister to Jo. She has nurtured her younger sister with the love and tenderness of a mother figure. Their ten-year age gap took the elements of jealousy and competition, so common amongst siblings, out of their relationship. Soph was secure with herself when Jo was born, and secure in her relationships with her parents and her brothers. Jo was a huge bonus to Soph—the sister she always wanted, her dream come true.
I watched how proud and happy Soph was when introducing her sister to all of her friends. “Oh my gosh, you guys look exactly alike,” her friends said, as they swooned over Jo. My girls both smiled.
After an entertaining dinner with Soph and some of her friends (of course I had to ask them to share “Sophie stories"), we headed back to her dorm. Talk of a sleepover began. As my girls tried to convince me to let Jo sleep with Soph in her dorm room, I have to admit, I felt a bit left out. But then it hit me. Soph chose not to head out with all her friends on the Friday night of St. Patty’s weekend, and was excited about sleeping next to her 9-year-old sister in her twin bed, in her cramped dorm room. (They declined my offer of spending the night with me in a nice, clean hotel room with two queen-sized beds).
As I walked out to my car to head to the hotel by myself, I was completely overwhelmed with gratitude for my daughters; for my relationship with each of them, the relationship that the three of us share, and the relationship between the two of them. I felt comfort in knowing that Jo will have Soph as a strong and solid role model to help guide and support her throughout her life, and that they will have each other long after I am gone.
All of my concerns about whether or not my daughters would be able to have a close relationship because of their age difference melted away. It became clear that the strength of their sisterly bond is not measured by the years or the distance that divides them, but the strength of their love and their commitment to each other.
This Friday Fave is an excerpt from Book #1 and deals with gaining a better understanding of why your teen acts the way she does.
“Troublesome traits like idiocy and haste don’t really characterized adolescence. They’re just what we notice most because they annoy us or put our children in danger.” (National Geographic, October 2011, Beautiful Brains by David Dobbs)
In a November 28, 2010, article in the Star Tribune’s Parade section entitled “What’s Really Going on Inside Your Teen’s Head,” the author, Judith Newman reveals “When my friend’s son—a straight-A student and all-around sweetheart—recently ended up in the hospital getting his stomach pumped because he went out drinking with friends for the first time and had now clue how much was too much, that is when I realized: There is just no predicting. Even for the most responsible kids, there is always that combustible combination of youth, opportunity and one bad night.” Newman goes on to explain, “Truth is, the teenage brain is like a Ferrari: It’s sleek, shiny, sexy, fast, and it corners really well. But it also has really crappy brakes.”
Researchers and scholars have been studying and writing about the adolescent and teen years for centuries. Aristotle characterized adolescents as lacking in sexual self-restraint, fickle in their desires, passionate and impulsive, fonder of honor and of victory than of money, and prone to excess and exaggeration (AC Petersen, BA Hamburg - Behavior Therapy, 1986 - Elsevier). More recently scientists and researchers have been analyzing the teenage brain in an attempt to find a scientific basis for teens’ frequent unpredictability, moodiness, carelessness, and an almost frantic desire to take risks.
Currently, there are some conflicting theories about the teenage brain. One theory states that a young adult’s brain is not fully developed until the age 25. However, Dobbs looks at recent research that sheds a slightly different view of the teenage brain. Instead of looking at the adolescent brain as an immature of a work in progress, Dobbs discusses a theory that closely resembles the principle of natural selection. The “adaptive-adolescent story,” as Dobbs calls it, “casts the teen less as a rough draft than as an exquisitely sensitive, highly adaptable creature wired almost perfectly for the job of moving from the safety of home into the complicated world outside.” B.J. Casey, neuroscientist at Weill Cornell Medical College concurs, “We’re so used to seeing adolescence as a problem. But the more we learn about what really makes this period unique, the more adolescence starts to seem like a highly functional, even adaptive period. It’s exactly what you’d need to do the things you have to do then.”
Research reveals that the when a child is six years old, her brain is already at 90 percent of its full size by and that most of the subsequent growth is the thickening of her head skull. However, between the ages of 12 and 25, ”the brain undergoes extensive remodeling, resembling a network and wiring upgrade,” according to Dobbs. During this time, the main difference between and adult and teen brain is that teens value rewards more than consequences and are thus more apt to make riskier decisions.
In a study that compared brain scans of 10-year-olds, teens and adults, while the participants played a sort of video game with their eyes, that involved stopping yourself from looking at a flickering light or “response inhibition.” It turns out that 10-year-olds fail at this almost half the time but teens, by the age of 15 could score as well as adults if they are motivated, resisting temptation 70 to 80 percent of the time. The most interesting part of this study, however, was in looking at the brain scans, the teens brains were virtually the same size as the adults but “teens tended to make less use of brain regions that monitor performance, spot errors, plan, and stay focused—areas the adults seemed to bring online automatically.” So, as it turns out, teens do understand risk, but value risk versus reward differently than adults. “In situations where risk can get them something they want, they value the reward more heavily than adults do.”
So the next time your teen does something really “stupid,” remind yourself that he is flexing his adaptive muscles. You can certainly set rules and limits on what behaviors are acceptable, appropriate and safe but know that there is more going on his brain than we may think. He will continue to push his boundaries, and according to this research, this is exactly what he should be doing.
Even though the above-mentioned principals make sense on paper, the reality of living through the adolescent and teen years with your children can be terrifying and maddening at times.
Here are a few pieces of tried and true advice that the moms I surveyed offered about managing the adolescent/teen years:
“We did (and still do) our fair share of "biting our tongue." There are so many times I want to tell them what they should do, or offer suggestions, but I think the times that we have sat back and let them make mistakes on their own have been good and have helped prepare them for the real world. I'm glad they made those mistakes while they were home with us and we could help support them.” (Mother of three children, ages 24, 22,18, married 26 years)
“My key strategy is TRUST! Trust your teenager until they prove other wise. They will respect you a lot more! I have seen parents who hover and get really involved. I have trusted my teenagers and when they get off track we re-direct, but I think they value my trust and genuinely want to hear what I have to say. It's the ‘I'm on your side’ kind of attitude.” (Mother of four children, ages 18, 16, 14, 12, married 19 years)
"I tried to allow them as much privacy as possible while also encouraging them to share as much of their lives as they were comfortable sharing. That was the only strategy I had. Fortunately, it worked. Of course, there were many difficult moments, or maybe I should say months, but generally I felt they knew what they were doing and I supported them as best I could. When the anger level rose to red, we walked away from each other, but never for too long." (Mother of two adult children, ages 42 and 40, grandmother of four, divorced)
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!
“Let me see, the silent treatment works wonders, door slamming, disappearing into the cave, escape into alcoholic stupors, endless hours watching mind-numbing TV, extended shopping splurges. I wonder how my children are coping. All joking aside, we have lots of conversations, and it helps that my partner is a psychologist and adept at navigating this mind field much better than I am. I make all of my buttons available for pushing at any time. Both of my daughters know exactly where they are. In fact we are thinking of making a coat with the leftovers.” (Mother of two children, ages 11 and 15)
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.
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!
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
“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
People often say, “Girls are SO much harder to raise than the boys.” I have not found this to be the case. Through my own experience and in interviewing hundreds of mothers over the years, I have realized that there is nothing easy about raising teenagers in general. Now that I have sent my oldest daughter to college, the teenage boy is next in line, and I must admit, raising a teenage boy has thrown me lots and lots of unforeseen curve balls. One mother explains it like this, “Just when you think you have it down with your son, a teenage alien inserts himself into your son’s body and replaces your mamma-loving, sweet boy with a disgruntled, distracted boy/man who retracts into a universe of which you are no longer the center."
This can be a difficult process for moms.
The following is a list of the do's and don’ts of mothering your teenage son that I have gathered from my interviews with more than 400 moms and from my own experience. I hope you find them helpful. And please feel free to add your own insights in the comments section! I would love to hear from you!
- Continue to say, “I love you,” even when he stops saying it back (and yes, this hurts like hell but hopefully it is just a temporary hiatus for him).
- Love him unconditionally even when you don’t like him. He is testing out new behaviors/personas, many of which will be abhorrent to you (and you can tell him this gently), but remind yourself and him that beneath the behaviors resulting from his raging hormones, is a boy who you love dearly.
- Give him physical space. Really. He really does need to go into his room and shut his door and be left alone. And this does not mean that there is something “wrong” with him. (However, DO trust your instincts and if you feel that he is completely withdrawing from family and friends, then you may need to intervene.)
- Give him emotional space. EXPECT him to pull away from you! He must separate from you for all sorts of very important reasons relating to his transference from boy to man. Let. Him. Go. He will circle back eventually, but this is a crucial step to for him to establish himself as a young man.
- Ask questions (but not incessantly).
- Hold him accountable for his actions.
- Listen to him but hold firm to your beliefs.
- Maintain a united front with your partner! This is a MUST!
- Encourage and model self-care: good eating habits, exercise and adequate rest.
- Trust him until he proves otherwise. If he does mess up (and he probably will), then tighten the reigns until you feel that you can slowly start to loosen them again.
- Having said this, it is essential that you set clear boundaries, expectations and limits: Establish curfews, house and car rules, and give him responsibilities in your house or have him get a job. Make sure he understands what kinds of behaviors will and won’t be tolerated (respect is a biggie), and what the consequences will be if he crosses the line (taking a 16-year-old’s cell phone away is equivalent to sending him to San Quentin).
- Keep the lines of communication open. Even when your son gives you the message that you are the last person on earth that he would want to talk to about anything, continue to let him know you are there to listen. And continue to give him messages about what is important. Even when he seems to be tuning you out, he is quite often hearing you.
- Celebrate the ways in which he does let you into his life: the little things he chooses to share with you. He will continue to give you little nuggets that show that he still needs you and wants to be connected with you, but they may be few and far between.
- Maintain your calm to the best of your ability, even during tumultuous times with your son.
- Have a sense of humor. Look for opportunities to laugh with your son.
- Remind yourself that you are on the home stretch with raising this child. Make sure you are equipping him with the skills he needs to survive on his own.
- Take what he says personally. Grow 17 extra layers of skin (figuratively, not literally). Understand that he may lash out, say things he doesn’t mean, take his frustrations out on you, and be hyper-critical of you. You can (and need to) talk to him about how he must be respectful of you, but try not to personalize the things he says when he is feeling stressed or confused.
- Think that you need to know everything. You really don’t. This is another area in which our generation of hovering parents needs to chill. (Remember as a kid how our parents didn’t expect us home until dark, or on weekends didn’t call other parents to check on our whereabouts, and when we came home they barely asked where we were or what we did. O.k, well, we knew what we were doing and maybe that is what scares us, but we need to allow our children to feel some of that sense of freedom. It is a right of passage.)
- Compare your son with others.
- Over-praise or over-criticize him.
- Be afraid to let him make mistakes.
- Allow your son to hold you hostage—YOU are in charge.
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…
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:
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
It was a mere 3 minutes and 35 seconds from the time she shuffled her way off the plane and I bear-hugged her, to the time she made a snide comment about the “out-of-style” Bermuda shorts I was wearing. She certainly laughed off most of the “annoying” questions I asked about her experience as a camp counselor, and rolled her eyes when I asked her if she had finished her graduation thank you notes. “I am working like 24/7, Mom! When do you think I have time to write thank you notes?!” I bit my lip as I recall talking to a few days prior as she was enjoying her day off. However, within 7 minutes and 47 seconds, we manage to find our rhythm, our connection, our flow of conversation, laced with belly laughter, that is unique to us, and which I cherish more than she will ever know. During the hour lay over she had, before we would both fly to Detroit for her college parent/student orientation, we sit down at an airport restaurant, just the two of us, and I exhale. It’s been only two weeks since she left for her summer job, but my time with her seems so much more essential, precious and somewhat fleeting, as she will leave for college less than two weeks after she returns home from camp (and will want to be her friends 98% of that time).
As I sit across from my daughter, who has transformed into a beautiful young woman before my eyes—yet still gobbles up her sandwich in half the amount of time that it takes me to eat mine, and licks her fingers to boot—we talk and laugh, and my heart feels full again. After not enough time, we hustle to board the plane, and as I take my seat a few rows ahead of her, and pull out my laptop to write, I realize that this life transition that my daughter and I are both currently navigating has caused me to feel off kilter for the past few months (sometimes severely). My sense of balance, orientation and centeredness is askew. The sacred place in my heart and my mind where she has lived is undergoing some reorganization and restructuring. The “normal” that we have known for 18 years is shifting, and as many times as I tell myself, “She is just going to college, not moving to Timbuktu; you will see her, talk to her, text her and skype with her; your relationship does not end, it just changes, and can be even better than what you’ve know it to be,” I just know myself. I know that my heart will continue to be tugged and jolted for a while and that it will take time for me to be able to normalize this statement, “My daughter is away at college.” The word “away” is what gets me.
There is an empty seat next to me and I turn back and get her attention, “Soph, do you want to come up and sit by me,” I ask her with a somewhat pleading look. I follow her eyes and watch her surveying the situation. I know what she is thinking without her even saying a word. She accesses that she is in an aisle seat, I am in an aisle seat and if she moves up to sit by me, she would have to sit in a middle seat. “No, I’m good, mom,” she smiles and gives me a knowing look. I repeat her words in my head, “I’m good, mom.”
And she is. She really is. I swivel back around and stare at my computer in front of me, knowing that I will need to try to find the words to describe the mix of joy, pride, sadness and fear that wells up like a geyser within me. But she is good. Sitting on her own. Excited and ready to delve into her next chapter, the one that she will write without me sitting next to her. As she designs her new life, her more independent life, I hope and pray that she knows that the seat next to me is always available for her when she needs or wants to sit there (even if it means that I have to move to a middle seat).
You would think that after 18 years of parenting I would truly grasp the notion that when entering a new phase with your child, nothing will go quite as expected. Well, I certainly had expectations of how things would be with my graduating senior; how there would be lots of memorable bonding moments during her final days at home and how our house would be bubbling with excitement as she prepares to embark on her next phase of life. Well, once again, I have been blindsided, and what is happening in my house, with my daughter who graduates tomorrow (but has been done with school for a week) is a far cry from the goodbye bliss I expected. Maybe some parents are experiencing harmony with their graduate, but from my own experience and in talking with other parents, I have learned that the reality of this transitional time looks and feels more like this:
- Graduation week is like landing on another planet. You feel like you are having an out of body experience because you swear that it was yesterday that you were wearing that cap and gown…and as you snap yourself back into your reality, you continue to look at your kid (mine has said to me on more than one occasion, “Mom, why are you staring at me?!”) and you wonder how 18 years could have gone by in a FLASH!
- They break up with you…in a very ungraceful way. They act like they are done with you during a time when you feel that you want to be spending more time with them. But their priority is their friends. From making the grad party rounds to just hanging out at friends’ houses, you will not find them anywhere near you. And even if they do breeze in, it is only temporary, and they usually ask for money, or just need to eat or possibly sleep for a while.
- They regress. I really wanted to record my daughter today as she tantrummed on the phone and spoke to me like a toddler who wasn’t getting her way. Her tone is often laced with annoyance—annoyance with me that I am still standing in her way to FREEDOM!
- If you expect gratitude, you will most likely be disappointed. “Thank you, mom, for 18 amazing years. Thank you for pouring your heart, soul and pocketbook into raising me. I know that I am the person I am today, in large part because of all the love and support you gave me.” Nope, not even close! Did not hear these words and realize that I probably won’t—at least not for a while. What I do hear is more along the lines of, “Mom, you are so annoying! Why are you imposing so many rules right now?! You know I am leaving for camp in 10 days (to work as a counselor) and then will be off to college soon after! I am so excited to get out of here! To not have to follow your rules! UGH! Can I have the car keys?” Harry Chapin was so right on, "See ya later, can I have them please?"
- Their feelings of nervousness and anxiety are released in bursts. I had some variation of this conversation at least 10 times in the last month, Me: "How are you feeling about leaving? Do you want to talk about it?" Her: “No, I am great, fine, excited. Can you stop asking me?" However, the 11th time, the response is something like this: “How do you think I am feeling?! I am super anxious! I have to say goodbye to all of my friends and my boyfriend, I have to get all my dorm stuff and I didn’t get into the dorm that I wanted so I don’t even know where I am living or who my roommate will be.
And what if:
I can’t stand my roommate;
I don’t make friends right away;
I can’t find my way to all my classes;
There aren’t yoga classes offered at the campus gym;
I don’t like the dorm food;
I can’t find fresh fruit to make my smoothies;
I don’t get into all the classes I want;
I don’t get into the sorority I want?
I’m super overwhelmed and I’m freaking out! But I have to be at a grad party in 15 minutes! Bye!”
As I commiserate with other moms of my daughter's friends about this pivotal time, there is a consensus that most of our daughters are a bit unglued right now, and the push-pull cycle is in full swing—with a heavy emphasis on the push. They are breaking away and it is not pretty. A friend of mine who has four daughters (her youngest is a recent grad) revealed, “You will have times during this process when you will say under your breath, ‘Yep, you’re leaving soon. Well, don’t let the door hit you in the a**!'”
I admit it. I have felt it. But then 20 minutes later, I come across an old picture that she drew for me when she was five, and I realize that she can do all the tantrumming and breaking up with me that she wants, but she will always be my girl.
I finally took a breath. Less than 24 hours earlier my daughter called and said with a certain amount of panic in her voice, “Another girl was supposed to have the senior skip day party but now she can’t so it’s okay that I told people they could come to our house, right?” “Isn’t senior skip day tomorrow,” I asked tentatively. “Yes, she said. I paused. “I don’t think everyone will come though,” she said to fill the silence. “There are 80 seniors, right,” I asked as my mind raced to figure out how I could pull this off as my husband was out of town until early the following evening, I was headed to my son’s baseball game, had another commitment after his game, a meeting first thing the next morning and two more later that afternoon. “Ok, Sophie,” I said softly. “Thanks, mom, I gotta go, I’ll call you later.”
I raced through the next 24 hours, showing up for my commitments, filling my cart up at Costco, but feeling anxious and snapping at my kids and my husband when he called from out of town. As Sophie and I raced to go pick up tables at my sister-in-law’s house, just hours before the guests would arrive, she said, “Mom, sometimes you take the joy out of things because you get so uptight and anxious. This is not a big deal, it’s just some kids coming over. We just all want to be together.”
Ha! Just some kids coming over?! I wanted to yell at her and tell her that she doesn’t understand what it really takes to feed 60-80 people, to be unsure of how many people are actually attending, that my house is not as clean as I want it to be, that I am hosting a graduation party for her in a month, that I was a bit annoyed that I would not be able to go watch my oldest son’s baseball game that afternoon, that I was overwhelmed even before she sprung this upon me, that I wish I would have had more notice, that I wish my husband was home and didn’t travel so much…
But I didn’t yell, I mentioned a few of the above-mentioned issues but mostly just listened to what she said and let it sink in. She was right. What she said about me was sometimes true.
We drove in silence, picked up the tables and drove home. “I’m sorry, Soph, I just have a lot on my plate right now. Are you excited to have everyone over,” I asked. “Yes, I am, mom,” she replied. “Thanks for doing it.” “My pleasure, “ I smiled at her as my heart softened.
But then it was back home to the flurry of her friends barreling in and tossing hot dog buns, watermelon, corn, brownies and drinks on my kitchen counter; and then firing up the grill to begin preparing the meal. The evening swirled as my husband got home, another mom came over to help, my sister and brother-in-law came over to lend a hand and check out the action, my son returned from his game, my two younger kids were trying to steer clear of the chaos, and more and more seniors arrived, all of them seemingly giddy, after a day of skipping school and possessing that incredible feeling of being done with high school (well almost done: done with classes but heading into two weeks of a chosen internship). They ate, talked, laughed, played volleyball, jumped on the tramp and signed yearbooks.
I was busy in the kitchen when all of the sudden I looked over at my friend who was breaking graham crackers and chocolate bars for the s’mores that the kids would soon be making, and said, “I have to stop. I have to sit down and look outside for a minute and take this all in.”
I walked over to the window and sat down in chair. I finally took a breath as I stared outside at these kids who were no longer kids. They were young adults, many of whom I watched grow up. I saw two boys (young men) perched up in Josie’s tree house heckling a classmate and then ducking down so she couldn’t see where the call was coming from. “They are still like little boys,” I said to my friend. But they aren’t little boys any longer, even if they still want to play like them.
I saw my daughter laughing, playing volleyball; appearing so happy and carefree. I wanted to go hug her and tell her how happy I was for her. How happy that she invited all her friends to our house. How excited I was that she had reached this stage of life—this stage at which she had freed herself from the angst of adolescence and was right smack dab in the middle of the “I’m free and life is an empty canvas” stage of teen land.
At that moment I felt so grateful for her, for the 18 years that I have had with her, and for all that she has taught me about life. The 18 years seemed, at that moment, like a blip, like a sliver of what I prayed would be her long and lovely life, As I heard her roar of laughter and high-pitched screech of excitement, I blinked and she was three. There she was, playing with her friends, playing ring around the rosie, laughing and squealing with delight whey it was time to “all fall down”! A sense of peace flooded over me with the realization that my first-born baby was 18, happy and free, and that she still emotes the same joy as she did when she was a little girl.
Thoughts of the mess outside and the dishes in the sink snapped me out of my trance. “Thanks so much for hosting this for us so last minute, Mrs. Burton,” the seniors said with sincerity, as they slowly filed out of my house in small groups. My heart was full—full of the many blessing that my daughter has given me, including the gift of filling my house up with her friends’ laughter and youthful energy. And the gift that she had given me earlier that day—the reminder about not letting my stress to get in the way of my ability to enjoy the moment—allowed me to set aside the worry of my messy kitchen and find gratitude and joy in experiencing my daughter’s happiness and the happiness of all of her wonderful friends, who, as they are all getting ready to head out and find their way in the world.
“This goes down as one of my best senior memories,” one of my daughter’s closest friends said as she hugged me good-bye. “Me too,” I said with a smile as I hugged her back, struggling to let go.
“The cleaning and scrubbing can wait till tomorrow But children grow up as I've learned to my sorrow. So quiet down cobwebs; Dust go to sleep! I'm rocking my baby and babies don't keep.”
(A poem I have had in my kitchen since my second child was born.)