gratitude-a-thon day 2071: off to college

I remember being pregnant (which only took me three years to accomplish and a total of 12 months of being nauseous) and slowly experiencing the dramatic changes my body was going through. The way my stomach began to protrude, how I kept spilling out of my bras, the heavy exhaustion I would feel and that deep coma like nap I would fall into daily. Oh, and the cravings: McDonald’s french fries, fettuccine alfredo and watermelon.

I think there’s something in there that correlates to sending your child off to college. You shed part of your mommy skin as you drop them at the door of a whole new world in much the same way that you shed your old body when you were carrying, around your child inside you.

Pregnancy both excited and terrified me (it also, did I mention,  made me nauseous, very, very nauseous). On the one hand, I deeply wanted a baby and on the other hand, I had no idea what being a mom might be like, or if I had the capacity to even pull off such a feat. I had no understanding of what I might be giving up in order to make this new person part of my life and yet, I knew I had to, I knew something deep within me desperately and fervently wanted a child.

It’s not that different when you take your child to college that first time. It’s both exciting and terrifying. On the one hand you deeply want your baby to experience this new phase, be able to take this important step toward freedom and adulthood, but at the same time you wonder if they have the capacity to do so. And you also wonder if you have the capacity to do so….

For all you new college parents, for all you first time empty nesters, it’s going to be alright. I got one through and the other is going into her senior year. GRATITUDE! You will cry. You will begin to talk baby talk to your dog. You will wonder why the laundry detergent is lasting so long.

You will have dozens of emotions and they will keep changing, just like your body did when you were carrying around that kid in your womb. The thing I can tell you is that the process keeps changing, too. And you and your child keep changing with it. Just when you get used to one phase, it will morph into another (just like when you got used to being a mom of babies, you were suddenly a mom of toddlers and then pre-schoolers, then…well, you know how it goes).

Be kind to yourself as you undergo the changes that come with that tiny baby being out of your nest. Just like they couldn’t stay in your body forever, they can’t stay in your home forever. And truly, this move, this change means all that you did, preparing them to go out into the bigger world for all those years, worked. They will learn a lot at college. And so will you.

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gratitude-a-thon day 904:time’s up

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My head is filled with a thousand emotions–each doing another kind of crazy dance. We’ve got the Samba happening, and a whole area of Disco. We have versions of the Watusi, the Twist, the Bugaloo and the Nae Nae. We have Square Dancing. We’ve got the Macarena, the Salsa, the freaking Frug. It’s a mad house party.

My daughter is leaving for college at the end of the month. My son who was home for the summer, is leaving next week. We will go from four to two. Yup, the classic empty nest syndrome is about to envelope my house.

The feathers are flying.

While hundreds of thousands of people do this every year, I have to tell you that it’s kind of a big deal.

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I remember when Jake was about a month old and realizing the impact of his arrival. I vividly recall thinking to myself, “18 years. You will be doing this for 18 years before you can go out for recess.” After working and not being a mom until I was 35, I felt a certain kind of confinement I had never known when that boy came into my life. It took me some time to understand and embody this new role. But then you fall in love with your baby and you hope you never have to give them up to adulthood.

But time does its thing, and you do. You do have to give over your kids to the adult world. You do have to let them begin their own journeys, far and wide. And what you are left with is another new role. Of course, you know this role, but you haven’t practiced its script in a long time. You need to study your lines. You need to remember how to play this part.

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But the dancing emotions are taking up a lot of space in my head. They’re making me tired and scared. Worst of all, they’re starting to make me cry. It must be all that exercise. Maybe it’s just sweat.

When Ally walks out the door, it will not just be a new experience for her, it will be a new experience for me. I resort to my go to: “If other people can do it, I can do it.” (Or anyway, I hope so.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

gratitude-a-thon day 514: they come and they go and they come and they go

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College catalogs and S.A.T. books litter your kitchen. Discussions of scores and GPA’s and weather, and campuses become the norm. Conversations about dorms and frats, and majors never seem to get boring, but the incessant dissection of a college’s attributes contributes to the generalized anxiety plaguing everyone in a home that houses a high school senior.

The push to get the applications in isn’t easy. Unless you have an organized kid. which I do not. So, you cajole, beg, plead, and finally cry. They get in, those essays and apps, with an entire 45 seconds to spare.

Then you wait.

And wait.

The first round of Early Decision kids up the stress level as word spreads like mono around the school. Acceptances, deferments, disappointments. You’re in or you’re out. It’s Project Runway without Heidi Klum.

You wait some more. Meanwhile you note the “last” everything you do before college. The last time you’ll vacation, get a haircut, go see Aunt Ethel (you don’t even have an Aunt Ethel).

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All the while you hate yourself for wondering, “Is my kid good enough?” Why exactly didn’t you send them to Russian math school? Why didn’t you let them get those light up sneaker in kindergarten? Should you have nursed longer? (You should have, you know you should have. They’ll never get into a good school because you didn’t nurse long enough.) You become obsessed with how to react to rejection, because you know how to react to acceptance (You will have a small parade of 984,321 if there is an acceptance, ANY ACCEPTANCE).

And then you silently wonder, or not so silently wonder how it will be without your child in your house? How they will cope? HOW YOU WILL COPE?

How you will live.

And then it happens and they’re in. They’re into their number one long shot first choice, and they can’t believe it and you can’t believe it and for a good long time the excitement of this seeming miracle is like finding out that Aunt Ethel has left you an inheritance the size of Nebraska. You float. You feel vindicated for every parenting move you have ever made (nursing be damned). You feel proud of your brilliant offspring. You order a tuition worth of t-shirts, sweatshirts, and hats with the college your child has just been accepted to emblazoned on the front (because you realize this may be the last clothing purchase you can afford for the next four years.)

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And then they go. And you cry. Tell me if you don’t cry. Because if you don’t cry, you probably run on batteries. But then you stop crying and you start adjusting. And they call, and you call, and you wonder at night if they are safe, but you can’t know, because you forgot to microchip them before they left.

Then you see them and they’re the same, but different. And it’s so good to see them that you want to squeeze them until they can’t breathe. (and then you could keep them home!) But you don’t, you know you have to give them a long leash on this, the first time they come back. And you have a sort of up and down time, because things are a little topsy turvy now, with the new independence that’s been their life at school, mixed with the old life that’s been their life since they were born. And when they leave,  you cry again. Because you were just getting used to them being home and then, just like that, they’re once again, not.

And this continues to happen. And you get a little smarter with each visit. You realize there is an adjustment each time you see them. They’ve grown and you, too have grown. You’re used to having their room clean, and you shudder a little when you see the clothes piled up like Mount Fujiama. They don’t think they need a curfew. You push and you pull. After a few days, you adjust. Again. Again, you adjust. And again, you say goodbye. And fuck it, again, if you don’t cry.

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And this is what it is. This is what college is for we parents. They go. They come back. They love you, and hate you, and admire you, and disregard you, and separate, and hold tighter, and show off, and act aloof, insecure, despondent, silly, funny, out of their ever loving minds, completely and totally sane.

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And every time they leave, a little part of you leaves too. And you’re blue for a day or two, until you remember that they can do it, they can do this thing you’ve been preparing them near 15 years for, they can do the college thing.

And so can you.

gratitude-a-thon day 230: doing the work

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Jake in a club in Barcelona. Hey, not everything you learn is in the classroom.

I have been mentally preparing for Jake to go to college for like three years, when I literally woke up one day and it hit me like a sledge hammer to the skull that I was looking down the barrel of the end of a very particular kind of parenting. I’m not sure why it struck me during his sophomore year that the end was near. It seems premature, as I look back on it. But for some reason, this was the beginning of my mourning process. And while I don’t think it’s appropriate to equate dying to having your kid go to college, there are some similarities. Of course, I wear black whether there’s mourning going on, or not.

The thing is, I am actually not killing myself here, having Jake gone! This is a real surprise to me. I considered that a crane might have to be called in to lift me out of bed, the National Guard to prevent my jumping off the roof, the rescue of ten puppies at the MSPCA to escape the sadness. I thought I might wear pajamas for a year, not be able to walk past his room, or say his name without breaking down into mental hospital psychosis. But guess what? None of that has happened. In fact, I’ve been doing really well! Knock me over with a miniscule feather from a petite bird.

I miss him, but not in any sort of debilitating way. I am guessing at least part of my ability to tolerate his absence is that I talk or text with him everyday. This has freed me up from thinking that he might be in a Spanish ditch somewhere, lets me know what he’s up to, shuts up the my fertile imagination, which can cook up dangerous and ridiculous scenarios. I am vicariously delighted when he tells me what he’s been doing, even though much of it is partying his face off. I am impressed with the way he has adjusted. I am proud of the adventurous nature he’s displaying.

I have spoken to a handful of mom’s who have been struggling with the transition in the way that I thought I would. A few are now empty nesters, which is a whole different thing. But some are just like me, with another kid or two at home still. The one thing we all agree on is that it’s a TRANSITION in 800 point type, all caps, bold. And for my money, transitions are never simple. They mean the exploration of a whole new way of doing things, a change in patterned behavior, the ability to morph from one way of being to another. It takes time to create the “after” script. It takes processing and energy to make a different kind of life.

I’m so grateful that I realized it would take me extra long to get myself ready for this new stage. I know if I hadn’t I could be wandering around Brookline with Lady Gaga hair,  Courtney Love before she got all designer-y clothing, moaning like a ghost in a low budget horror film. It could literally have been “Nightmare on Elm Street.” But it’s not, it’s more like “The Kids are alright.” And so am I.

gratitude-a-thon day 207: teach your children well (and hope they listened TO SOMETHING)

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I don’t really know best, but I do know some stuff, and I did try my best to teach it to my kids. Did any of it get through? Jeez, I hope so.

As I wait impatiently for Jake to take to the college launch pad (it’s still two weeks away, will this never end), I have been reviewing my parenting over the years and wondering if I hit the high spots well enough to be confident that he’ll know what to do out there on his own (in particular, out there in Barcelona, biggest party city in the world, from what every single person I have spoken to about Barcelona, says. EVERY. SINGLE. PERSON.) This lead me to think about the really most important stuff I think taught my kids. Or, let’s just be real, that I think I taught them, but they may think I never mentioned.

1. Do your best. I have always told my competitive kids that all they had to ever do is their best. I mean, can you do better than your best? No, no you can’t. So, if you’re doing your best, then that’s all you can do and whatever the result, is the best result you could get. You know, because it’s your best. There’s nothing more to say here, is there?

2. Be nice. Gosh being nice is a good thing. I can’t believe how grateful I am when someone is nice to me. Even people I know well. Being nice can help you make friends and keep them. It can help you get a job and excel at it. And at the end of the day, it can help you feel like you’ve made the world a little bit better. Because you have.

3. Be polite. A cousin of “Be nice,” being polite wins points all over the place. Say “please”, say “gracias.” Shake someone’s hand. Send a “thank you” note. These things still matter. A lot, in fact.

4. Be a leader. Don’t follow the pack, unless the pack is doing something you think is really smart, or right, or good. Stand on your own two healthy feet, use your own unique and sensible brain, and make smart, good decisions. And then, you be the leader.

5. Be generous and help out. The world is full of people who need more than they have. I say, give what you can, in time, in money, in empathy. Lending a hand, can change someone else’s path for the better. It can also change your own path for the better, too.

6. Be optimistic. You might as well. What have you got to lose by looking at the bright side? This doesn’t mean, be ignorant. It just means to believe good things can happen. They can.

7. Be resilient. Maybe this is the most important of all the things I tried to get into my kids. This is one of the big ones to master. How do you get through the rough times? When you feel squashed by any number of things, and like you want to hide behind the shower curtain in the bathroom indefinitely, what do you do? You step outta that bathroom and take a step toward the next thing. Nothing lasts forever, not even the good stuff, unfortunately.  So when a tsunami hits, you have to  ride out the rough wave, tumble, churn, and then get up and walk your pretty self down the beach afterward. Life is good at throwing us curve balls. It’s fine to feel down, just so long as you don’t stay there. Shake it off. Learn how to push the forward button and move on.You will have to do it a bajillion times. Know that you can do this. Know you possess the strength. Know it will always get better.

Of course, there’s other stuff I tried in vain to teach them–clean your room, put your dishes in the dishwasher not the sink. Put your clothes in your dresser, and not on the floor of your room like a rug. Think. Turn off your fucking computer and the stupid TV once in a while and read a book. Listen to music. Dance. Exercise. Go to the beach. Laugh as much as humanly possible every single day. Call your mother.

The truth is, I’ll be grateful if they learned even one of these things, right? Barcelona, here he comes. Ready, or not.

gratitude-a-thon day 124: transitions

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Here’s my boy on our trip to visit California colleges last April. He’s ready for the next step. But am I?

I am still sick with the crud. What is this thing? You need to NOT get it. I hope you can’t catch it from reading the blog.

Anyway, tomorrow is Jake’s last day of high school. Saying that out loud is like saying, “I woke up tall and blonde this morning.” (I will never be tall, or blonde, although that’s not entirely true, since I was blonde for like a few weeks a month ago when my hairdresser went a little light on the highlights and turned me into Malibu Barbie.) Anyway, I am not even sure how this is possible, but tomorrow is the last time Jake will enter BHS as a student.

Life is such a funny little thing. Nobody tells you how really funny it is–you just have to experience it for yourself. I only remember the end of high school in a very foggy light. Little snippets, small moments. A cool dress my sister let me borrow to wear to Senior Night. My family in the stands of the Wildcat’s home football field watching me get my dipoloma in my dorky white cap and gown. The giant picnic my parents threw for me. And that’s really all. I don’t remember anything else. Except that I felt odd, displaced, strange. I guess there was a happiness, but I don’t remember it overwhelming me. I guess I went to the Cape for a month that summer, as usual, but I don’t remember it being remarkable, or especially better than any other summer on the Cape.

Anyway, I want to make this transition special for Jake, but I have to say, this end of high school is overwhelming me with all the feeling I didn’t have during my own graduation. It’s not that millions of kids don’t do this every year that makes it such a landmark moment, it’s that it’s the real beginning of the end of  your child’s life in your house. This is the part of graduation that is remarkable. That the day to day tending, nurturing, coaching, coaxing, cajoling, poking and loving your child is done with. I don’t mean that in a maudlin, or dramatic way. And I don’t mean that I won’t continue to do that to Jake, I just mean it as what it is, factual.  It’s real and it’s big. Your kid is on his way to having to begin a life on his own.

I will miss that boy and his pile of clothes in the middle of his room. I will long for his silly jokes and his hugs, and his insights. I will even miss nagging him to do stuff (maybe I’m overstating here, yeah, I WILL NOT MISS THE NAGGING HIM TO DO STUFF.) In short, I will miss every single thing about this boy who made me a mom. He is the most special thing that’s ever happened to me (along with that girl).

Anyway, I have been trying to create this album for him. It’s forced me to sift through the literally thousands of photos of our family that I have amassed. It’s not like me, but I can’t pull it together. Every time I think of a plan for the book, I think it’s not special enough, and I want to take a nap, or try heroin for the first time. It’s not hard to psychoanalyze myself here. I don’t need a degree. I am totally engulfed in the emotion of seeing not only his life in pictures, but also my own. Where did that time go? Is that why people are always saying that–“Where did the time go?” Because it’s impossible to understand its passing.  I mean, IMPOSSIBLE. If he’s older, so am I. After 18 years of hard labor (privIleged, incredible labor, not to mention that really awful labor before the epidural) I’m done. Just like that. I’m in transition, too. And I’ve never been good at those. They take me a good long time to embrace. I’m better at middles. Middles are much more my thing.

Today I am grateful for transitions ,even though I hate them, they’re what prepare you for what’s next. They may cause you to be swarmed with feelings, like six year olds around a birthday pinata, but they are a must. So, I will let myself jump into the transitional pool and learn to swim. And then, I will get on with making that album. It won’t be perfect, or as special as I want it to be, but it will be from my heart, for my boy. Who will always be my boy (and hopefully will remember those 18 years with as much love as I do).