teens

Why I Am Grateful For Slime

Slime by Jo

Slime by Jo

Let’s check over here,” I motion to my 12-year-old daughter to follow me to the cosmetics isle. This is our fourth trip to Target in the last few weeks for the sole purpose of buying supplies for the new obsession gripping tweens all over the country—SLIME.

The current desired ingredient is a new one. “Baby powder is supposed to make the slime softer and less sticky,” my daughter, now an expert slime chemist, explains to me.  She also assures me that she will be able to pay back the money we’ve spent on supplies with the money she collects from her fellow classmates (most of whom are also in the slime manufacturing and sales business) in exchange for her magnificently mastered mixture of shaving cream, glue, contact solution, and now baby powder.

Shampoo, body wash, lotions…I am not seeing the baby powder anywhere. My agitation rises as I curse myself for being sweet talked into this inconvenient trek to Target on a night when my son needs help with an assignment, my husband is at a work dinner, and I have to teach my teen writing class in an hour.  I calm myself with the notion that at least this obsession, unlike other bygones like silly bands, does involve a creative process when mixing, measuring, and experimenting to form the germ-collecting balls of goo.

“Hi!” I find myself almost yelling to the young, exhausted-looking woman standing behind the nearby pharmacy counter.  “Can you please tell me where the baby powder is?”

Before I even let the you’ve-got-to-be-kidding-me-lady look on her face throw me into a shame pit, I grabbed my daughter’s hand and led her briskly out of the pharmacy area murmuring, “Oh my gosh, never mind.”

We both erupted in giggles as we headed over to the “baby” isle for the elusive “baby” powder.

My internal Target compass paused as we pass the girls section, our usual go-to area. “The baby section is over by electronics, I am pretty sure,” I muttered, still smiling at the irony.

And then it hit me.

The baby aisle had completely fallen off of my radar.

I could not recall the last time I had even gone near the avenue of pacifiers, diaper genies, bottles and diapers. As I walked toward baby land with my baby, disguised as a 12-year-old, I realized that I no longer knew the layout of this section that for decades I was able to navigate with my eyes closed. I didn’t even recognize some of the items on the shelf.

How could this be? This was MY territory! And now, I had forgotten it even existed!

“Mom, here, I found it,” my daughter’s sweet voice lulled me out of my trance. “Let’s go! You’ve got to get to your class,” she reminded me.

I stood motionless, my eyes scanning the baby items stacked neatly on the shelves. “I miss this, “ I said. She tracked my gaze to the shelf full of diapers.

“You miss changing my diapers,” she said coyly with a playful smile on her face.

“No I miss my babies,” I told her with sincerity, ignoring her sarcasm. I miss holding you in my arms, your baby smell, and hugging you and kissing you as much as I want to.”

“Well, I don’t,” she quipped again, her smile growing even bigger. “Ugh!” I groaned and grabbed my belly in reaction to her verbal gut-punch.

Walking to the check out lane, I leaned in to the nostalgia where I saw the baby faces of my four children--their beaming smiles as well as their looks of terror and disappointment. I could hear their shrieks of laughter and their blood curdling cries. I remembered my feelings of joy, agony, exhaustion, uncertainly, and fear that consumed me as a young mom trying to figure out what I was doing. And I remember yearning for the days when I would no longer need anything from the baby isle.

“Beep,” the self-checkout scanner hit the barcode on the bottom of the baby powder cuing me back to the present. My daughter placed the powder in the white plastic bag and started toward the exit.

“Jo, hold up,” I said as I quickly caught up to her and enveloped her in a hug. “You’ve grown up so fast, girl,” I said in earnest. “I love you so much.”

As I prepared for her to immediately shake me off, per usual, instead I felt her body sinking into my hug. “I love you too, mom,” she said softly. “And thanks for taking me to get the baby powder,” she added.

Scurrying through the Minnesota cold toward our car, I felt grateful that our slime mission led me back to the baby isle and for all the memories that I found there. I realized that just like slime, the passage of time often slips through our hands when we are not looking. And without notice, we open our eyes and find ourselves in the next isle at Target.

Driving home, I take in that my youngest child is on the cusp of becoming a teenager but in this moment, she thinks of nothing other than how much baby powder she will add to her slime mixture.

And I am grateful.

Grateful for all of the memories of my children's baby years, and grateful for the fact that there is nowhere I would rather be than right here right now.

Slime and all.

 

 

 

Why I Had to Stop Posting Photos of My Kids on Facebook

This was no small task. Quite honestly, not posting pictures of my kids on social media has cramped my style a bit and has forced me to exercise  a fair amount of restraint in this arena. To understand how and why I arrived at this Facebook turning point, read this post on Kveller, "Why I Will No Longer Post Photos of My Kids on Facebook."  Please leave your comments (which I always love and appreciate) on the Kveller site. Can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one! Thanks for checking it out!Kveller article-No Longer Posting Photos of my Kids on Facebook

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!

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.

The Judging of Motherhood

I think it is safe to say that most writers/bloggers live in a state of vulnerability. The process of writing and sharing your musings with others sometimes feels like you are walking down the street stark naked. Furthermore, writing and blogging about your children as well as your innermost thoughts, feelings, doubts and uncertainties about yourself as a mother, takes this feeling of vulnerability and sends it through the roof. The stories that mothers share about how wonderful, cute, funny, ironic and brilliant their children feel good to write, and for the most part, to read (unless there is bragging all over it!). But the stories that reveal the ugly truths about your children and/or you as a parent are difficult to write, to share and often difficult to read. My recent blog post on teenage angst was featured on Mamapedia. As I read through the comments on the site, I was struck by one comment in particular. A mother of two grown children wrote,

“Sometimes I really feel that, as parents, we get what we expect to get. Why ‘terrible twos’? Why ‘difficult teens’? I believe that if you start from a place of UNCONDITIONAL love, MUTUAL respect and open communication (and are willing to be humble and say ‘sorry’ to your child if you've made a mistake) there's no reason to have to ‘suffer’ through any stage in our children's development.”

Immediately I felt like I had to defend myself. I wanted to call her and say, “But I was just venting! My teenagers are awesome and I am great mom and I DO LOVE MY KIDS UNCONDITIONALLY!! I just chose not write about that this time!”

I do believe my kids are wonderful human beings, and sometimes I write about all their goodness, and the glory I feel in being their mom. But sometimes I don’t. I feel that I have a responsibility as “Unscripted Mom” to reveal some of my innermost struggles as a mother and to explain how some of my children’s struggles and behaviors blips have affected both them and me. I do this in an effort to process some of my feelings but also to help other moms who may be feeling the exact same way to know that they are not alone.

I do not need to reveal intimate details of my children’s lives. I need to respect and honor them through my writing. But for me to divulge that my two oldest children’s teen years have been somewhat difficult for me need not be shameful. There has to be room and space to discuss this. To translate my admission that there have been times when my kids have disrespected me and that I feel a sense of calm having them away from home this summer to mean that I don’t love them unconditionally...well, that is certainly a stretch.

There is a fine line between venting about the frustrations you feel parenting your children and saying that you are “suffering” through their various rough spots. The truth is that your child may encounter a bump in the road and take his frustrations out on you. As much as you talk about and demand mutual respect during these times, sometimes there is a learning curve—for them and for you. And as you both ride the curve, there may be a certain amount of “suffering” that does occur. When you love your child desperately and see her struggle and/or act out, there is virtually no escape from feeling some kind of pain.

I don’t know a love that doesn’t involve a certain amount of suffering.

Are the twos “terrible?” Some days, yes, and many days, not at all. To admit the “terribleness,” does not mean that you love your children less than a mom who says, “My two-year-old is an angel, and even when she throws herself on the floor in the middle of the grocery store, I think she is absolutely, delightful and fabulous and I love being her mother every single screaming second.”  It is probably safe to say that most mothers who write and read about motherhood love their children more than they have ever loved another human being. We are all conscientious parents and want to raise good kids. However, despite sharing the same goal, none of us will have the same journey with our children. Some parents’ and some children’s journeys will be more bumpy than others. But how one describes the level of difficulty in raising their children has zero correlation to how much love one feels toward her children.

I did/do experience some angst raising my teenagers, and they also experience angst being teenagers.  I have enjoyed a little break from this angst as they have been away this summer.             But do I love them more than anything in the world? Yes. Do I miss them terribly? Yes. Are they great kids? Yes. Do I wonder if it is my fault that there is this angst? Sometimes. Have I ever apologized to my kids for making a mistake? Probably too often. Do I work my ass off every day to be the best mother I can possibly be? Yes. Have I had to look deep into my soul to try to discover why I cannot connect with my teens sometimes, why they disrespect me sometimes, and why I have tolerated it sometimes? Yes. Have I found answers? Some.

Do you want to judge me for admitting that being a mom is not always easy for me? For admitting that sometimes a break from them feels good? For the fact that my kids are sometimes edgy and combative? This is entirely up to you but please know that I have made it my life’s work not to judge you, and to provide you with my motherhood truths in an effort to foster a safe, nonjudgmental place where mothers can be sounding boards for one another. Hope you’ll join me.

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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

Flying Solo: A Mother and Daughter's Transition

imagesIt 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).

The Final Weeks of Her High School Senior Year

IMG_6517I 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.)

Did You Know that Motherhood is a Competitive Sport?

Image I didn’t really either until I had kids. It starts when they are babies, “My kid is 18 months old and still doesn’t sleep through the night.”  “Oh really? Sucks for you, my kid started sleeping through the night the very first night he came home from the hospital and has done so ever since.”  Then the competitive banter moves to when they start walking, talking, reading, writing, adding, subtracting and goes all the way to their GPAs, SAT scores and what college they are attending.

I am all for healthy competition. I think it is part of what makes the world go around. But the idea that parents are competing with each other based on their children’s merits…to me, this is downright crazy!

Our children naturally compete with each other, hopefully in a motivating way, but competition can be difficult for kids to navigate. Parents can be helpful or hurtful in the way they teach their children to deal with competition. It is essential for parents to look inward and be aware of how much they are using their children’s accolades to boost their own self-esteem and their feelings about themselves as a parent. Beware of this mindset: “Just look at how great my kid is! I did this!”

This issue is often taken to an extreme when it comes to kids in sports. I am blown away by the adolescent behaviors that are demonstrated by adults when it comes to kids and their sports. Are some parents trying to realize their own unfulfilled dreams through their children? Do they have early visions of their kid playing at Wimbledon, the Super Bowl or the World Series and will stop at nothing to make sure these visions become a reality (and actually think that they have that much control)?  There are actually two issues at hand here. The first involves how hard parents push their kids in sports (and in life, which I will cover in another post), and the second is how some parents develop extreme levels of competition with other parents in an effort to try to get their child “ahead” of others.

As I talk with other moms about this, I find that I am not the only mom who has been completely ignored by another mom who is pissed off that my son was chosen for a certain team and hers wasn’t, or that my son was getting more playing time than hers. Mothers have shared with me stories of how teammates’ parents have marched into coaches’ offices and ranted and raved, “How could you choose Susie for the last remaining varsity lacrosse spot?! My daughter is so much stronger and has trained so much harder! That should be her spot!” And to get even more infantile, this mother will proceed to give both Susie and her mom the stink-eye any opportunity she gets.

I am not saying that I have not felt that surge of competition or even jealousy if another kid gets picked for a team or a position over my kid. Of course, I have, this is only natural. But it is what we do with these feelings that matters.  I am not mad at the parents of the kid who got picked over my son. I am not mad at the kid either. Or the coach. I may be disappointed but I try to deal with that disappointment, and not take it out on others.

How I treat my son’s teammates and their parents is not going to affect whether my kid gets more or less playing time, or gets the position for which he is competing. I wonder if some of these parents who chose to treat other parents and kids poorly think that this is some kind of intimidation tactic. The only word I can think of in response to that is, “ICK!”  Another disturbing fact that I have learned is that sometimes the kid, whose parents are acting like this, doesn’t care that much about whether he makes the team or gets on first or second line on her hockey team. Also, she has no problem with her teammates or their parents. It is solely an issue for the kid's parents! They are competing for the kid's spot on the team more than the kid is! So, what I would like to ask these parents is, “Who this really about, your kid or you?”

Obviously, this issue has hit a nerve with me. Quite honestly, I was very hurt and blindsided by a mom who recently chose to act this way toward me. All I can say is that if your kid is on my kids’ team, I will talk to you in the stands, I will cheer like crazy for your kid, as I do for every kid on the team, and this is what I will tell my kid about being on a team and competition:

  • Work hard and always show respect to your teammates and your coaches.
  • Cheer on your teammates! Even if you are sitting on the bench and are not happy about it.
  • When it comes to direct competition with a teammate: Maybe you are better, maybe he is, but this competition will force you to continually strive to improve.
  • Ultimately it is up to the coach to make the decisions for the team. Respect that (and so will I.)
  • Welcome to life. It isn’t always fair. You will compete for a job. Sometimes you will get it, sometimes you won’t. End of story.
  • Don’t ever give up, on yourself, on your team or on your coach.

Beware of the Burp Method!

DSCN0038This past weekend, my husband took our two boys to Champps for burgers without the bun because it was Passover and they couldn't eat the bread. Our younger son was, according to him, "STAAAARRRRVVVIIINGGG because there is nothing good to eat during Passover." So, they get to the restaurant and order their burgers and wait in anticipation. As soon as the food arrives, the boys (and their dad) dig into their cheeseburgers with bacon. (Hmm, they couldn't eat the bread because of Passover, but had no problem eating the burger with cheese AND bacon, which, if you know anything about the Jewish tradition of keeping kosher, is about as unkosher as you can get). After chewing his first bite, our younger develops a "I'm-not-feeling-so-hot" look on his face. His big brother asks him what's wrong. "I don't know, I guess I just don't feel that hungry anymore," his little brother responds. "You know that if you burp, you can make room in your stomach so that you can eat more food," big brother explains. "Really? O.k., I will try that," his younger brother says with excitement. He then takes a huge gulp of his Sprite and pauses. At this moment, their waiter approaches the table. "How's it going," he asks. At that point, our 11-year-old son, who is not a very big guy, lets out a ginormous, table-vibrating burp that literally emerged from the bottom of his belly. "That was a good one," the waiter said with a smirk, and he, my husband and older son erupted with laughter. But our younger son was not laughing, and just as the waiter was about to leave their table, our son opened his mouth, seemingly to let out another, guttural, big guy burp. However, instead of a burp, he released a heaping pile of vomit onto his plate. "Not such a good one," the waiter said, trying not to gag himself. Needless to say, my three boys quickly left the restaurant and when they walked in the house, I saw our son's ghostly complexion, and my husband and older son just said, "Have we got a story for you!"

Adolescence: A Right of Passage

(*I wrote this piece when my two oldest, now 18 and 16, were in the throws of adolescence.)  As I entered the parenting arena 14 years ago, I began to hear all sorts of talk about colicky babies, the terrible twos, and the f-ing fours (sorry, that’s what my friends called it).  But I noticed that people started to clam up a bit as their kids hit the earliest stages of puberty. When I’d complain about something my toddler was doing, like wetting the bed or throwing food at the dinner table, people with older kids would respond with a little chuckle, “Oh yeah, just you wait.”  And that’s about all they would say. But they would be grinning…in an almost evil kind of way. Adolescence sneaks up on us and we are almost blindsided by it.  It is a force that takes hold of our angelic kids and throws them into an internal turmoil, and one that lasts for years. Adolescents are sweet and kind, they LOVE you; you are the BEST! And then, with a flip of a switch, they HATE you!  They are NEVER going to talk to you again, they wish they had different parents, they tell you that you are doing everything wrong, you have no idea how to parent, you do not understand them and that if only you would listen to them, then things would go smoothly.  And for a split second you think that maybe they are right.  You question yourself as a parent and as a person, “What have I done?!”  You wonder if you are indeed qualified for this job.  You know you are supposed to remain strong but you feel very, very weak--almost overpowered--but you can’t let them see that.  You cannot show any signs of vulnerability or wavering because you know what they do with that!  They pounce!  And your son is on you once again, explaining with incredible articulation that if he doesn’t get to go to the concert that ALL his friends are going to without an adult chaperone, his life will surely fall apart.  He will miss the most important event of his life and will never be invited to another social gathering throughout junior and senior high. His friends will tease him that his parents are over-protective and they will never want to come over to his house to hang out so he just might as well just quit school because he is not going to have any friends! And P.S., IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!!!

It is a very strange time, adolescence.  It is a time filled with internal contradictions: A time of independence and neediness; growth and insecurity; confidence and fear; socialization and loneliness.  It seems as though you almost have to be a mental health professional to understand how to guide your kids through this time.  But do you?   Are there some basic presiding principles for parents that can help us to not only survive our kids’ adolescence but to actually do some good during it?  I am not a professional.  I have four kids from the ages of 14 down to 4, and most of the time, I am learning as I go (don’t tell my kids).  But I will share some things that I have learned over the years, and then will hand you over to a real professional who will share her insights and tips on raising adolescents by having a better understanding of them and what they are going through.

1) Don’t be afraid to say no. Setting limits and sticking to them is crucial to getting your kids to understand and respect boundaries.

2) Know your kids’ friends. Know their cell phone numbers. Look at their Facebook pages (as well as your own kid’s, of course!) Attempt to know the parents of your kids’ friends. And communicate with them. It takes a village to keep adolescents on the straight and narrow.

3) Communicate with your adolescent’s advisor or teacher/s. Find out how she is doing is school (not just academically).

4) Take every opportunity to talk with your child. Ask questions. Listen. Remember. Check in. And keep doing this. And when they don’t want to talk, come back later and try again, and again, and again. Do NOT give up on keeping the lines of communications open.

5) Remember to be the parent, not the buddy. They have buddies. They need parents to lead, guide, and advise them (even though they would never admit that).  Not that you shouldn’t have fun with them—au contraire, have a blast! But first and foremost, be a parent, not a playmate.

6) Stay cool when they “freak out.” They need the comfort of seeing you stay calm when they are feeling out of control.  A parent and adolescent both “freaking out” simultaneously… NOT a good thing (trust me, I’ve been there).

7) Show them love as much as possible. Even when they are “hating” you, they still need you to love them. And sometimes love comes in the form of tough love: “You can go to the concert with your friends under one condition; I will be sitting in the row behind you.”

So, there’s my stab at pretending like I know something about parenting adolescents.  Who knows, maybe by the time my 4-year-old gets to be 14, I will look back on this advice and have a good laugh. But with a 14-year-old girl and a 12-year-old boy, I am certainly in the throws of trying to figure things out in the adolescent arena (and yes, still dealing with the fun 4s as well…and then there’s my 7-year-old who will soon start to sneak toward the big A just as the older ones, oh please, are through it!). Thank goodness for professionals, right?! So, here is Katy McCormick Pearson who has worked with adolescents for the past 20 years as a special education teacher, Outward Bound Instructor, and currently as the middle school counselor at the Breck School in Golden Valley. Katy is also the mother of two emerging female adolescents:

Adolescence can be an exciting, turbulent, time for both parents and the adolescents themselves.  An adolescent person experiences changes in physical development at the rate of speed unparalleled since infancy.  An adolescent’s brain is not fully developed until a person is about 20-25 years old. The connections between neurons affecting the emotional and physical development are incomplete at this stage.  Many adolescents have difficulty controlling emotions, impulses and judgment due to this incomplete yet ongoing brain development.

The upside of the adolescent brain is that teens are able to engage in more logical thinking.  They can handle more options and possibilities in this stage of development and, therefore, can begin to grapple with abstract concepts such as faith, trust and beliefs.  Many teens become activists during this stage in life and appreciate being taken seriously.  They can be quick to see discrepancies with adult’s words and actions.  There is a strong sense of a need for justice at these ages.  Adults can help by including adolescents in developing rules and consequences for themselves.   It is important to provide structure for adolescents especially since their judgment/impulse control is not quite effective and many have a false sense of being invincible when in the throws of adolescence.

The main task of an adolescent is to establish their identity.  They are in a phase of life between childhood and adulthood.  They are starting to develop autonomy within relationships, establishing their sexual identity and learning how to further interact with intimacy in all of their relationships.  An adolescent’s body is often awkward as different parts align together.  Many adolescents are self-conscious and a bit “me-centered.”

Parents can help by encouraging healthy eating habits, exercise, and allowing time for those growing bodies to have a good night’s rest.  Don’t criticize or compare your adolescent to others. Patience and understanding is key when living and loving an adolescent.  Parents will need to be “the bigger person” and not take many interactions with their son/daughter too personally.    Remember that adolescence is a stage.  Enjoy the journey together.  Adolescence is a rite of passage and you are the guide.

Look Mom! No More Training Wheels!

For the past 16 years, I have driven this kid around like a chauffeur. Basketball, tennis, baseball, school, friends’ houses, camps…a regular taxi service I was. And I am certain that I complained about it…just a few times. But today that would all change. The reality of the transition that was about to occur hit me when I got out of my car and the driver's license examiner got in and said, "We will be back in 15 minutes." "Okay, I will be here," I responded in a faint voice. I walked away and felt a surge of emotions: fear, disbelief, nostalgia all mixed up with excitement and anticipation. I stood frozen and stared at my car with my son and the tester inside, only to have my trance interrupted by my son bounding out of the car mumbling expletives, “Mom, you took the car keys!” “Oh sorry, honey,” I said as I fumbled through my purse and quickly handed them over. I resumed my trance-like state, leaning against the outside of the driver’s license office building wanting time to stand still for just a moment. Please, just for a moment, so I can process this, wrap my brain around the idea of my son being able to drive...legally...by himself. But my phone rang and it was my husband, who was out of town, wanting a play-by-play of our son’s driver’s test.  Well, the first play I  reported was our son managing to maneuver the car directly over a curb as he pulled out of his parking spot and made a right hand turn. I wondered if that did him in. But I knew he wanted this; he wanted this badly, and he had worked hard and practiced and I believed that he would find a way to turn a rough start into an acceptable outcome.

I saw a girl get out of a car holding a piece of paper and walking toward her dad. She was beaming. “Congratulations,” I said as she walked passed me. She smiled and thanked me and proceeded into the building to fill out paperwork with her dad. I wondered about my son's fate. After 10 long minutes and not much to report to my husband, I saw my son pull the car into a parking spot. I saw him step out of the car holding a similar looking piece of paper. He had a grin on his face and immediately gave me a thumbs up. A knot formed in my throat and I tried not to let the tears well up in my eyes as I got the words, "he passed" out to my husband.

A license to drive is a right of passage, a milestone, a part of the natural progression of our children’s development and a big step toward their autonomy. It is something to celebrate.  But at the moment when he emerged from my car with the same "I did it" smile that he has given me so many times over his life, I realized that my time with my son just took a huge hit. He will no longer be forced to spend those minutes or hours in the car with me transporting him to where he needs to be. He can get there without me. Should I rejoice in this? Sure. But now that I can feel this time slip away, I clearly see how precious it was.

On the way home, I told him that I would miss the countless hours we had together in the car, heading to and from his games, practices and social events. I would miss the talking and the not talking…just being in the confined space of my car with him.  He was quiet, still reveling in the glory of his accomplishment. I wondered if he would miss that time we had together. Maybe somewhere in the distant future he would remember and be grateful for those times, but for the present moment, I got a very strong sense from him that he couldn't wait to be free!

So, on those days when you have spent more hours turning your steering wheel than you have doing anything else, remember that your calling as a chauffeur is only temporary. Try to cherish some of on-the-road time you have with your children.  And definitely buy yourself an awesome chauffeur’s hat!

She's Going to College!

It's official, she is going. A few of the colleges she has dreamed of attending wrote her letters and sent her emails saying they'd be thrilled to have her. She screamed! She jumped up and down! She was elated, beyond elated! I screamed and jumped up and down with her. I was elated, but not beyond elated. Because we all know what this really means. Yep, it means that she is really going to leave. She is not sure where she will land...still waiting for letters from a few other potential options. But none of these options are in my zip code or even in my state. She is flying the coop. I pray her wings are strong enough for the flight. I believe that they are but I still pray. I am proud of her, happy for her and yet slightly sad and confused. Elated? For her, maybe. For her that she gets to take those beautiful blue eyes and go out and view the world from a different lens--a lens that is more her own--a lens that she will continue to fine tune, adjust and readjust as she becomes a more aware and conscious adult. Will she know a good thing when she sees it? Will she know danger? Will she follow her heart? Or her head? I will know some of her thoughts, her ideas, her feelings, her fears but certainly a lot fewer of them than I do now. I won't be able to see her eyes every day when she comes home from school and instantly be able to determine if she had a good day or that something is weighing on her. She will get to decide if she wants to tell me--or not. I won't necessarily "just know." The protective layer that I have, or at least think I have with her living in my house, will peel away as she exits. And I don't know what it looks like or feels like to not have that layer in tact. And neither does she.

But once again, I am ahead of myself. The yoga teacher in me says, "Embrace the present. She is still here." The letters arrived and told us she'd been accepted, and she will go, but she is not gone yet. This period of time feels a little bit like a bandaid being pulled off ever so slowly. Ouch! And I don't exactly know what lies beneath the bandaid. My friends and relatives who have older kids who have gone off to college tell me,"It's great. It's like a new chapter and it's cool to develop a more adult to adult type of relationship with your child, which will happen when she leaves." O.k., yes, but I actually really like this chapter. The one in which she lives in my house, and I get to see her and hug her every day. You can't hug via skype or text. Ouch again!

I know, I can kick and scream all I want about this (well, into my pillow maybe), but there's no turning back, she going. And the funny thing is, this is what I wanted, and deep down do want for her. This is when I am supposed to say to myself, "All the hard work paid off. She's going to college! She did it! You did it!" Maybe when that bandaid is completely off and is no longer uncomfortably pulling at the hairs on my skin, I will be able to say that.

I will certainly let you know!