There is a ball pit of empty water jugs in my daughter’s bedroom.
You see, she went to college and took her service dog with her. So I’m filling her room at home with her dog’s favorite toys. Lots of them. The floor is covered.
Maybe it’s my coping mechanism.
Four years ago, my oldest daughter's college president had welcomed anxious parents with anxious freshmen with these words: “Your children will miss the family dog – their pets – more than they will miss you.” I have honestly forgotten anything else that man said. I think I immediately tuned out exactly at that point. Because I just looked at my daughter on her move-out / move-in day and I wondered how many minutes the cats would take to adjust to her absence. I really didn’t think it would be a mutual missing and I certainly wasn’t going to tell her that right then.
Her president, as it turns out, was mostly right: my daughter missed the cats (marginally) more than she missed me. But that’s because we talked as often as she wanted / needed to. The cats, on the other hand, mostly walked across the keyboard and butt-faced her as she spoke fluent Meow with them and they haughtily pretended not to listen. I’m not sure that they helped as much as I tried to in all of her moments of indecision or crises but, yes, they were around. And, yes, she missed them.
The thing that this college president didn’t mention – and that I had no way to foresee – is the situation in pseudo reverse. Imagine him saying: “Parents, you will miss your child’s service dog more than you will miss your child.”
And holy crap, he would have been right on that count. I still have 3 cats for company and upkeep. But I no longer have a zoomie doggo that flops over for cuddles when she is unvested.
Granted: The cats are not likely to swipe my glasses and play rugby with them on a tennis court.
And these cats are bored by mice, especially dead ones that have likely eaten rat poison left by the landlord (whilst in between tenants) and if they ate one, they would not projectile vomit in quantities un-feline-like all over the back of the front seat of my car, the front of the back seat of my car –– basically the entirety of my car.
And yes, these cats usually don’t consume human food that is not fitting for them and so avocados and chocolate are safe on the edge of countertops once again.
Still, the cats, while comforting and phenomenal bed-warmers, do not look at me with a goofy face and a tail that may wag off their butt. They remain calm, amusing, comforting, and often worthy of their own YouTube channel but they are just not . . . well . . . just not the same as the doggo. Who knew I'd come to love that pupper when she first arrived 2 years ago for her training and lifelong job?
So I can talk to my youngest daughter. And we do. And she catches me up on all things college and all things disability and all the ways she advocates for herself (and, unintentionally for others).
The thing is when I try to talk to the pupper in the background, the dog occasionally looks toward the camera with great boredom and I feel a sense of depression that screams: “At least BARK at me! What about a slo-mo tail wag? Let me know that you miss me a quarter as much as I miss you!!”
Is it possible she has forgotten me? (More likely it is because dogs have a limited ability to clearly see video and she is probably confused by where my voice is coming from, not to mention why it is distorted. My best guess is that she has politely decided that it is best to ignore me versus looking embarrassingly dog-confused.)
Meanwhile, I am distraught. And I look downright miserable as I talk to her in my high-pitched, just-for-doggo voice. Ridiculous. I know.
Without an ability to keep in better touch, the best I can do to feel close to her is to keep hydrating and saving her favorite toy: an empty water jug.
In a rental home where the water potability is dubious, we buy the jugs. And we recycle every single one of them – AFTER the dog has had her chance to play tug of war, chase her prize catch after tossing it around and pouncing on it and nudging it across floors. Finally ending with a display of her extraordinary skills at compacting.
Each jug has my love in it: from fully "inflated" to the flat-chewed-plastic-toy-thing.
My daughter’s room – well, their room – as I noted, is full of gifts now and that "love a la jugs" has overflowed into the bathtub. So, they'd better come visit soon.
Oh joyous dog. I miss you. And when you get home, I’ve got the world’s best treats for you.
Plus . . . lots of cuddles.
Oh! And . . . a hug for my daughter. I miss her, too.
You know how you “win some; you lose some”? Well, two years ago my youngest lost some.
Her plan went south; which meant, incidentally, that my plan also went south.
At first, it veered. Then it tumbled. And then it plummeted.
Her plan? Go to college. Her reality? Her health. And that translated to: staying home another 2 years and training a service dog.
So that then she could go to college.
And, for me, that translated to: so much for empty nest and downsizing and missing my daughters and re-thinking my life, what I could do, where I could go . . . And ended with how does one get a service dog? And holy cow! How does one afford a service dog?!
It actually meant that we both rethought our lives. And our plans.
To be honest, I took many deep breaths. In our family, when things don’t go as planned, the entire home almost runs out of air because each of us is taking so many deep breaths. We stress. We cry. We rant. We hyperventilate.
Then we get on with it. Don’t get me wrong: we still stress. But we begin to shift. To see opportunities. To create a new plan.
My daughter’s new plan? To work with a professional to train her black lab puppy to be her literal lifesaver so that she could live and work independently. It became her 24/7 job and it was hard work and then some. Her plan depended now on a dog that would go beyond house training, to polite dog training, to disability training. Sometimes a phenomenal dog may just balk at any stage along the way and then becomes a phenomenal pet and you must start again with a new plan. My daughter was – literally and figuratively – banking on this puppy.
Plus, my already mature young adult took on more responsibilities for her health; her life depended on it. She learned to advocate. She learned to navigate systems that most of us hang up on. She learned to read the fine print before signing. She learned to ask questions – and repeat answers for clarity. She learned to ask for names of anyone and everyone she spoke with. She learned to make copies and file every note, test result, medical and legal document. When she became tired of doctors doubting her vague but painful symptoms, she journaled in great detail. She became an insanely organized, medical maniac who could answer every question about her health – to the date, time, meal, weather, etc. OCD? Not so much. More like: “My life matters, thank you very much.”
My new plan? To help my daughter by getting out of her way. To continue to be available as her taxi because she’ll never drive and, with her dog still in training, public transport wouldn't be an option. To be her biggest supporter. To listen to her. To shove her into new, socially awkward (read: any and every social) moments. (Remember that her peer group had moved on. Being "stuck at home" with mom and a growing puppy is . . . well . . . isolating, no matter how cool a mom I try to be.) And ultimately to be grateful for unexpectedly getting 2 more years with her.
During this time, she taught me everything I still needed to know about parenting.
As with every moment of my daughters’ lives, they have always let me know when they were ready – from sleeping in their own bed to piercing ears to driving (or not). It’s not an age in our home; it’s a stage. And I have trusted them to clue me in.
Well, my youngest just clued me in. Her dog just passed all of her tests. The pupper-now-doggo is officially her service dog. And the two of them leave for college. Together. That’s the plan.
Perhaps it was the plan all along. Sometimes, we don’t see a plan coming because we are so engrossed in what we assume the plan is supposed to be.
She is soooooooo ready now. Scared and terrified, but ready.
I am sooooooooo ready for her. Note: for her; but not so much for me. I’m scared; yet, in many ways, I’m ready. I have to be.
We'll both walk tall.
One of us will have her service dog at her side, always worried how others will perceive her and always worried that her well-trained dog will show her best side at all times – lest anyone doubt either of them. She will always need to understand that, thankfully, neither of them is perfect. She will have the memories of how far she has come, of the additional steps she has taken to change plans and begin anew.
And one of us will have the memories of the 2 additional years she gave me as she taught me strength and a determination to succeed against the odds.
To hell with the plan. And to hell with the odds.
Sometimes you win some. And then sometimes you win some more.
Kat is CEO and Creative Director of TiffinTalk, a company that creates cards focused on different themes for different uses (therapy, parenting, coupling, and “senioring”); cards that are meant to be personalized, to engage in real time, face-to-face conversations. The original line, Child & Teen (formerly called Parent – Child & Teen) was written over 16 years: daily lunch notes on construction paper for her daughters. She and her daughters never missed an opportunity to talk and together remembering to breathe while creating new plans.
If your summer goes by the college academic year and not by the traditional calendar, then it will come as no surprise that summer is coming to an end regardless of the actual dates.
And life as you finally got used to it, at least for these past few months, is also coming to an end (again).
The chaotic schedule that you just got used to dancing around? Done.
The arguments over bathroom use (and cleanliness)? Done.
The frustrations over whether chores were done, or rather, not done. Also done.
My daughter is packing up. She’s got a spreadsheet for what she needs for the coming year. She’s making the last of her doctor appointments; is scheduling her before-classes-start-again haircut; and is trying to sync our schedules for shopping trips in whatever minutes still exist for whatever items require my opinion until we get there and I am told that my opinion is even better if I don’t voice it. I am about to really like everything she likes. (And mostly I will.)
She’s ready to go.
The weird thing is: I’m ready for her to go.
No, I’m not.
Wait: yes, I am.
Except when I’m not.
That’s the thing about this parenting gig. It’s confusing as hell.
You raise your kids from tantrum to tantrum (which by the way just shifts in style but continues at every age) to become independent. You wait for them to be independent adult tantrum-ers (did you honestly believe that adults don’t tantrum?).
And then they have the nerve to actually grow up. Mostly exactly as planned. Many go to college, come home, go back, come home again, go back again. For four or more years. Back and forth. And they grow up in these tiny-but-tremendous ways when you aren’t actually watching as you used to because you aren't actually there.
They confuse the hell out of you as they get older and demand (rightfully so) more freedom and the prerogative to be able to make more adult decisions even as they are not 25 (that magical age where the decision-making part of their brain actually matures).
They challenge your personal growth as a parent so that you must learn to parent the young adult (who sometimes returns home with their young adult very close friend who will sleep where?? . . . ) and then let them return to college only to grow up more and get even older and ever closer to that mid-twenty mark. You need to let them grow their way into it and not arrive either totally unprepared or totally over-prepared. There is some weird speed limit that parenting police can’t figure out how to monitor. It’s an under-the-radar kind of thing, I suspect. It may involve a TARDIS. I think my kids know.
They aren’t telling.
My home faces another 9 months of readjusted peace paired with the odd grief as we miss the daughter and the sibling and the friend. Litter pans and early cat feedings are all on those of us left behind again.
Retrieving mail? Us.
Arguing over what movie to watch? Less eventful.
Someone to hang with after work? We are one down.
And on our own again. My daughter is either oblivious or just thinks we can make it without her. We can. We will.
And she can, too. Make it through, that is. Without us.
In fact, when we see her again, we will all have grown up a little bit more.
Oh, yeah, and here are those 4 (+1) Exit / End of Summer Rules for her:
- Call home. Don’t just text. Call. And video conference. It matters.
- Clean. Chores turn out to be a good year-round thing to do even if your mom isn’t checking up on you. (Trust me: when your bathroom isn’t hairy and truly disgusting, your date might actually actually ask you out again . . . oh wait, did I just write that?!)
- Find good people. Professors. Friends. And hang out occasionally. (And define “occasionally” with maturity that equals your current age.)
- Work. In class. And outside of class. And sometimes for pay; sometimes not. Balance with fun and random moments of attending on-campus events that you may never have an opportunity to go to again. Maybe a ukelele-cello duet concert will actually turn into an unexpectedly fun evening. Just sayin'.
And the “+1”:
- Come home. Because we love you and we will miss you. So even as you continue to move away and grow up in the process, always know that you can come home.
Now it’s just the small matter of how to pack the car.
Oh, and making hotel reservations for graduation. (Who knew I had to do that 4 years ago?!)
Definitely not ready for summer to end.
Enter, stage front and center*, the child-now-young adult home from college for summer break with a carload of “schtuff” to be unloaded and then repacked (with even more absolutely necessary "schtuff") in just 3 months. Oh joy.
Tis the return of the prodigal son/daughter/brother/sister. Possibly in plural form.
You can’t wait. No. Hold on a second . . . Yes. Yes, you can.
Others – including pets – can’t wait either. Actually, they can, too.
Everyone is feeling the return with growing anticipation and with rising confusion. Excitement or fear? Happiness or frustration? It’ll be a shift. An adjustment. There will be more people to laugh with, argue with, cry with, share with. The house will be full-er . . . again.
Not to be overlooked, of course, is the returning I-am-all-grown-up-now family member who also can’t wait.
But can. But can’t.
Still, it’s time to come home. (Even as they soon discover that they would like to leave again. 2 hours is great. 24 turns out to be insanely long. And there are days, weeks, and months to follow. Whose idea was this?)
Not long after the hugs, after checking to see who has “borrowed” what from their old room or if they even have their old room, the returning college kid is physically or visually touching everything in the house. Their trusted normal is now decidedly not their normal – no matter how hard you tried to keep things in their place or how much you decidedly moved things around. Their dependable is still dependable but … not quite to the same degree. They left that normal behind 9 months ago and, not counting short holiday breaks, they come back to what amounts to a strange degree of chaos.
Mostly internal. Mostly for them.
And that is very normal.
There is a great relief to be home. And a bewilderment. How do they fit in? Where? What’s their role? And hey! What’s this about summer chores AND a summer job?
They had more free time at college. And more friends. And a helluva lot more freedom. And, by the way, there were no litter pans or dog poop or babysitting duty or . . . any inane family rules at college. Just sayin’.
And if they’ve been studying abroad, there’s culture shock at an age that would make anyone push deep inside to debate global peace right alongside internal peace and family peace. As in: “What the heck is going on?” alongside of “How did I arrive back here? And to these politics?” and followed by “What happened to that warm, comfortable place that I remember, the one that sustained me while I was abroad and not admitting to anyone that I was homesick? Where the heck did that happy place go? How did reality screw with my memory?”
As parents, we are left with trying to redefine rules that everyone can abide by and reinforcing the silly ones – like “Don’t pick on your sister.” (Does that rule ever just get deleted with age? Apparently not.) Assuming we can eliminate the need to reiterate rules regarding what to put up your nose (Answer: Only your elbow and no, bendy straws and elbow macaroni are not elbows . . . ) or when to brush your teeth (Answer: More often than whatever you do … ), we are left with:
4 Old Rules to Hang on to (Plus 1 More to CMA):
- Yes, you still have chores. We all live here. We all help. Your list is negotiable – to a point. Don’t push the point. And don’t take advantage. Surprise me with maturity that doesn’t compare your chores to anyone else’s.
- Yes, you still have a curfew. It’s somewhat negotiable, but it still exists. And yes, there are still consequences for broken rules. Being older does not equate to adult status. And, by the way, most adults live with a self-imposed curfew – sometimes career-defined, often child-defined, but defined nonetheless. Define one that makes sense and is responsible, and you are more likely to get my immediate buy-in.
- Yes, you still have to treat everyone with respect. We can always have differences of opinion but everyone is allowed a reasonable, measured, and even passionate voice as long as they listen at least as much as they talk. Remember that talking louder and/or screaming doesn’t equate to being right or well-thought-of.
- Yes, you must still listen to your parents. Chances are we will get it right more than wrong. Questions are allowed and encouraged. (See #3 above.)
- The Plus One: Whatever rule I’ve forgotten, I have a right to remember at any time and put it back into play. I’m getting old and senile – as you like to remind me (or think silently). And a part of that is indeed true: like you, I am older. I will always reserve the right to discuss a new rule or revamp an old one. And I pass that right on to you as well. You’ve earned that much in your old age.
To my own recently-returned, college daughter (who has by now read this post and added her 2¢ worth which is equivalent to 2 gazillion parental points): You are still my child. It’s a lifelong affliction for us both and to which there is no cure. Until age 25, the decision-making parts of your brain are not fully developed. It sucks, because you feel perfectly capable now of making every decision that comes your way. Or, you feel you should be able to make every decision. Perfectly. Trust me, you’ll never be perfect on that front. (Or any other.) Two more things: 1) Please don’t give every decision of every day of your life the same weight. You’ll sink in your own quicksand. And 2) Ask for help. Don’t assume you are alone and need to be grown up and make every decision going forward. Smart grown-ups ask for help. Don’t forget how smart you are.
My daughter says/mumbles/screams, “Being home is hard and I don’t know why.”
Here’s the ultimate truth that I share with her: For all the angst – yours, mine, your sister’s, the cats’, and the dog’s – I am glad to have you home. I always am. For every week. For the entire summer. And for all the days of every year that you return.
It will be bumpy. But we have bumped through every age and stage, you and I together. In cuteness and obnoxiousness, in sickness and in health, in playdates and in prom dates, and in all those other crazy times from birth through high school and now beyond.
Really. We can do this one, too. We’ve got it covered. It’s not ever been easy-peasy. But it’s always been worth it.
Just do one thing: Talk to me. I’m listening. Always have been. Always will be.
And remember: when you enter center stage in that way that you just magically appear with all eyes and ears on you, I’m on that same stage with you – waiting for curtains, lights, and anticipating action. The actors are still the same. They just continue to grow into their parts whether you are here or not. That’s what makes the story amazing and utterly worth being part of in all of our changing roles and more noticeable chaos.
So . . .
Chaos and all.
* A nod to my editors: ½ of my editors [equivalent to 1 daughter] say that it is impossible to enter a stage from the center; the other ½ agree with me that the writer is taking liberties using a combination of “front and center” as in “attention-getting” with “enter from stage …” which, in this case, is center because kids coming home from college have a way of suddenly appearing center stage ala Dr. Who or Harry Potter on Platform 9 ¾. Editor #2 won this round. And yes, it’s good to have editors/daughters who don’t always agree. Makes for great long talks which, by the way, makes this entirely the point.
When we send our kids to college, we pack everything they own, then immediately unpack ½ of it, and repack some critical college must-haves (including the damnable x-long twin sheets for beds that only college dorm rooms have).
AND then we attempt to squeeze in all the advice that we can force them to listen to, plus toss in a few handwritten notes (to reinforce anything they couldn’t hear because they were distracted by the necessity to roll their eyes and tap a foot impatiently).
All those notes get tucked into the odd places to be found while they are unpacking throughout the term. (Hints: inside a sock, in the front of a favorite book you know that they’ll open, between winter clothes in the suitcase, inside the fridge, taped to the back of the printer… oh, you can get very creative. And, as long as the advice is heartfelt and fun, the notes will be read – and not automatically crumpled and tossed. Plus eye rolling tends not to happen when no one is watching. You may actually get a tearful eye instead.)
I try to be a talk-with-teen Mom, not a talk-to-teen Mom or, worse yet, a talk-at-teen Mom. I reserve the right to lecture only for extreme and dire circumstances (or rants over litter boxes still not clean). That’s about it. Well, that and maybe an occasional, “Really, you are 18 and still can’t think to empty the dishwasher on your own?!”
But that one is a short lecture, so it doesn’t count.
Everything else is a two-way conversation. I listen. I take turns. I try.
It’s hard. And I try to resist the temptation to roll my eyes back at them. (Confession: I'm not perfect. I roll with the best of them.)
It’s just that I learned long ago that no one really listens or learns in a one-sided lecture situation – certainly not the lecturer (who is too busy ranting or covering every item in their mental or written notes to hear anyone else speak up or even ask a question) AND definitely not the ‘lecturee’ who is bored and losing consciousness and couldn’t give a damn. (Note to my college Psychology Stats professor: Please re-read this last para. Twice.)
So in my home, there is no mother lecturing except in life-or-death situations or litter confrontations.
Those moments and one other: When my oldest knew she was going to college.
This was lecture worthy. I had an important message. A directive really. And only one delivery was possible, though I tried to make it somewhat interesting with personal examples and a few threats (both of which I will spare you).
So has she listened to her mother? Absorbed any of it? Has she in any way truly adapted the message?
Let’s just say that she’s finished her sophomore year and I’ve given her this same lecture over and over and over again. And I am about to cover it yet again. Deaf ears? Stubborn?
Not really. The real problem: She takes after me.
The other real problem? I don’t want her to take after me! (at least not in this way…)
Here’s my spiel:
You didn’t have (enough? any?) fun in high school. You threw yourself on the college track, took every AP class you could; took PE and health in the summer to free up your schedule to take more foreign languages; studied so (too?) much; got involved in almost every honor society, the school magazine, the musical, the elite choir, the local youth film initiative. What have I missed? Plenty! You took language classes outside of school, online classes (void of interaction), and music lessons on several instruments. You had a ridiculously impressive transcript and resume that made me both proud and embarrassed because there was no stopping you. No holding you back. You were doing all the things you wanted to do. I could only support you and try to get you to lighten up.
So here’s the thing: In college, learn to have fun. Don’t wait until you’re 45 years old to realize that you are far too serious.
I’m glad you have a great sense of humor; it helps, but it’s not enough.
Don’t let another year pass before you suddenly realize that you are not fun or not having fun or that you have no idea what fun really feels like without being stressed. You have to know more than just how to spell “relax” and now “chillax”. You have to do it and be it.
Try a few random, out-of-your-comfort-zone things.
Have dessert before dinner. Do that. In the dining hall. On more than one occasion. Especially at weekend dinners when the food is notoriously bad.
Rush out to a party that you hadn’t planned on going to. If your friend decides not to go, then go anyway with another friend. Drag them along. Apparently, they need to have more fun, too. Because I said so.
Find a random concert of totally unknown music and go; maybe you’ll gag, but maybe you’ll love it. Then go to a different concert next week.
Go to the movies. On campus. Off campus. With one friend. With a bunch of people. Or, by yourself and say hi to someone you recognize when you get there.
Invite random friends to your room to watch a movie online. Eat popcorn. Let there be crumbs. (You can vacuum later.)
Show up at a sports event that you may never have an opportunity to ever see again (until you have athletically talented offspring that clearly don’t take after you). Scream wildly at any team that scores. Because you can. Then laugh at yourself while others look scandalously at you.
You don’t have to drink (though one safe drink with a friend at your side is okay). Just be smart about it. Drinks often taste good. So drink slowly, eat while you drink, and enjoy. If you realize you are not enjoying it, that’s a good stopping point. Being sick later is not so fun. If that happens, don’t sweat it; it really is something you have to learn for yourself and for what your body can tolerate. Just be with friends to learn it. And be a friend to others. Some things can only be learned experientially.
Don’t do drugs (no matter how many friends are with you). It’s not safe. There is no reason to experiment. Totally not cool. And you know that. Easiest way out? Your feet. Just leave. You don’t have to be rude or a prude about it; just decide that you want to be somewhere else and go. Feel free to blame me. As in, "I forgot. My mom is waiting for me to call her back. Bye."
Never do anything you don’t want to do or stay anywhere that you don’t want to stay. There is always a way out. Any ‘friends’ whom you might lose along the way weren’t worth keeping in the first place.
Learn bridge and/or canasta and/or gin rummy. And stay up all night to do it. (But don’t get addicted to it so that you keep staying up all night. Believe me, it’s not that worth it.) Ditto video games. Back to that “everything in moderation” concept. Fun is more fun in moderation. Addictions are not fun. Find a fun game and learn it.
Take walks. Randomly. Into town. Around town. With friends. On your own. Clear your head. In fact, take a lot of walks. Clear your head a lot.
College offers your major classes, your minor classes and some unusual classes in subjects that you may never have the opportunity to easily learn anywhere else – take THOSE classes.
But college offers you so much more than classes. Find that “so much more” and do as much as you can. Because you can.
Here’s the point: For you, college isn’t about buckling down to work harder. For better and for worse, you are one of those kids who has already mastered that. For you, college is about unbuckling a notch or two. Get a few B’s. Don’t let a C rule your entire life. Be happy. Laugh a lot. Stress less. Sleep a little more. Work smart. Play smarter. Join in. Take care of your physical and mental health.
Remember that you are young, no matter how old you think you are. So be young.
You will look back at these years and know that you “did college”. Your transcript will show what you learned – academically. No one (okay, almost no one) will ask to see your academic transcript. But everyone should ask to see your social transcript – if one existed – as proof of whether you are balanced human being.
Life itself will tell you if you used these years wisely. Have no regrets at 25. At 35. At 45 or beyond.
So go sing off key – okay, you can't, but you should try to! Color out of the lines. Do the interpretive dance on the quad lawn at midnight; then do it again at noon – even better!
Find your quirky self again and let her rip.
End of Off-to-College Lecture
It is now 2 years down with 2 to go and I am still giving that same damn talk.
My daughter is stressed with her double major/double minor combo. (If you must know, it's International Relations & Environmental Science with German & Mandarin minors.) She won’t give anything up because she loves it all. If she could, she’d force the college to let her be a triple major. (Fortunately, they don’t have enough classes in Linguistics.)
So I am doing just what I don’t like to do: talking again at my beloved, unbalanced, quirky, serious, funny, stodgy-around-the-edges, anxious, perfectionist, caring, narcoleptic daughter:
Go ahead and love it all. But love yourself more.
NOW GO OUT AND HAVE FUN, DAMMIT.
It’s time for a change.
I’m your mother. Don’t be like me.
And, remember that I love you. A lot.
we can talk about this more later.
Just the two of us.
But, I am right.
And you know it. (Just sayin'.)
PS: I can see you rolling your eyes at me.
Right back atchya, Babe!
It’s that time of year.
We are in urgent need of PACCAPs (Public Announcements from College Children for Addlebrained Parents).
We can save the breath of anxious college-bound children and the going-deaf ears of their anxious parents. Hundreds of thousands of parents will no longer feel the compulsion to shoot the human messenger (aka: their children).
Let’s just save on anxiety levels (on both sides), overuse of sighs, whiny toddlerlike tones, and unspoken “duhs”. Believe me – I’ve paid my “duhs”.
This system delivers the same, reliable message at regular intervals – automatically. Painlessly. Aloud. Over secret wireless technology that has already been installed in every house with a college-bound child who cannot afford college (much less the list of required “must haves”). Oh wait. That’s a huge percentage known only to those organizations that manage student loans and sales of anything stating “I am the proud parent of a <insert college> student”.
What is the message? It is the message from child to parent reminding them of the necessity and urgency of purchases and paperwork.
But wait! That’s not all, for an additional fee, the PACCAP can be customized for the specific college to be attended and thus will include the exact dates due and accountable hours to complete all tasks.
And that’s not all! For even more money, the announcement can be personalized with names and recognizable voices – sans whiny tones.
(Note: No Ginsu knife infomercials were even considered in the making of this blog.)
How much would you pay? Well there’s more:
The message will repeat several times to include:
- A reminder to get to a certain store to be unnamed but generally abbreviated with the same consonant that is the second letter of the alphabet used 3 times. That store or another superstore or local five & dime will do. But necessities are necessities. Please purchase the follow:
Twin XL sheets – because these mattresses only exist in dorm rooms. (There is a theory – some say a conspiracy theory – that links XL mattress sheet set sales to the world economy but it has not been confirmed by the conspiracists. Yet.)
- Other items for shared bathrooms. Imagination and lists are both helpful, though there is a strong probability that one or both of you will forget the one most important item, regardless of what you buy. This will necessitate joint therapy. Start budgeting now. And yes, the conversation will begin with “<Insert guilty parent> forgot to buy <insert toiletry of utter importance>” as your parenting degree is scrutinized as it has now prevented your child from achieving their college degree in a meaningful way.
- A reminder to get to a certain store to be unnamed but possibly with the same letter used in the previous store but only 2 times. Or you can just go to that “fruit store”. Again, other substitute stores are acceptable and often preferred because you are on the hunt for the latest in all things tech. Laptops will be purchased that won’t be supported, regardless of what you buy and whatever you’ve told been told by the IT Department which was then translated by your child. Printers will be purchased that will not be necessary. And so forth. And so on and on and on. Look on the bright side: you’re supporting the global economy – just not YOUR economy. But this time it’s tech, not bedding.
- A reminder to get to the store featuring ways in which one can talk or text or chat or play games or write symphonies. Using such equipment for actual phone calls is optional and almost unheard of. Outdated, in fact. These stores will have astronomical fees for contracts and data (which, by the way, is not private so why do we pay for others to have it? In fact why don’t these data “plans” pay us since we are giving them all of our information one way or another?). Don’t forget that you will also be signed up to pay all sorts of taxes that change from device to device and vary month to month. No one can explain the why or ‘whatfor’. Don’t bother asking. (I did. Once. And I can say that quite honestly that it’s not worth even wondering. I was transferred to every sales rep and manager and made it just short of the CEO before the VP and I were both in tears and suffering from PTTD: Post Traumatic Tax Delusions.)
- A reminder to get to the store that prevents starvation. Your child will need ways to cook (or, more likely, reheat) something and survive without risk of salmonella or someone else eating their food from the common fridge in the common and often disgusting kitchen no matter how many locks they put on their ice cream or cookies sent from home nor how well-labeled the container is with names and illegal (except when protecting college food) death threats. Then be prepared to return the fridge (the roommate will have one) and the microwave (the dorm won’t allow it) and the hotplate (also illegal) and the AGA stove – it won’t fit and can't cook better than the illegal hotplate anyway.
- A reminder to get to the store featuring all things stationery (and stationary – please note the difference) for supplies ranging from pencils to paper to staplers to glue sticks and glitter and crayons because one must always remember one’s inner child within their college young adult. (And besides the kid with the most arts and crafts stuff is really the most popular kid when everyone is homesick and wants to color and paste stuff… even if the theme is more adult than you’d like to know about.)
- A reminder to get to the clothing and shoe stores (probably not of your choice) because college may require seasonal clothes or stylish clothes or quirky clothes or just an updated wardrobe that doesn’t include worn underwear that the roommate will likely notice while trying not to notice. It’s a necessary trip even for oblivious (sorry to gender type) boys. This may be the only time that parents of “commando-style” kids have a distinct financial advantage. Enjoy the savings, but woe to the roommate.
- And finally, a reminder to keep filling out and/or signing off on paperwork: Financial aid acceptance letters. Promissory notes. Health forms. Insurance forms. The semester payment. The fees that were not included at first. (You did, at this point, remember just to keep your checkbook out and pen ready?) You will sign everything. And in return, you will have access to nothing. Your child’s progress reports (aka report cards), etc. are now accessible only to … your child. You pay for their independence. Don’t worry. Be happy. (Or so the song goes … thanks to Bobby McFerrin!)
In these last weeks, we parents live in a constant state of announcements. We have a list to do and no time to do it all. But we will. And all the while, whether our college kid will be a freshman or a senior, we live in a constant state of mixed emotions as we watch them gain their independence … just as they continue to rely on us … just as we get ready to let them fly (again and maybe for good).
And finally, here’s the PACCAP we actually need to hear repeated on the system:
Hey, Mom? Dad? It’s me. Hug me often and don’t let go. Forget it if I squirm or get silly or protest. Hug me anyway. Get a reasonable amount of sloppy sad. I need to know you aren’t made of concrete and that you care but only just enough so that the leaving is my emotional time first and foremost. (You can have the second slot.) I need to I know I can still turn to you in the best moments and the worst no matter where I am, no matter the time, no matter the place. No matter how far away my dorm room is from our front door. So, yeah, hug me every time the usual PACCAP comes over our system. Hugs are the least I can offer in return after this many years of giving me the best that you’ve got.
(Well, a parent can dream if she is designing the damn system!)
Good luck getting your kids out and then (settled) in. You will both breathe easier soon enough – and hopefully get the rest you need before you are searching for a cheap hotel for Parents’ Weekend and you’re shopping again. (Pay better attention to the toiletry list this time around!)
According to the parenting rulebook, it is illegal to argue with your child about whose anxiety is worse.
Still, when it comes to the angst of my younger daughter’s college applications, we are neck-and-neck.
No argument necessary.
Her stress is tipping the scales. Not surprisingly.
For her, this is the big “IT”. Her life is completely geared to going to E** college – because this is THE ONLY college that she will ever be happy at. THE ONLY college that will lead to her dream job. THE ONLY college that will propel her into her dream life. THE ONLY college that will guarantee her a happily ever after.
She decided this last year.
Now, it’s just the small matter of an application. (And the smaller matter of acceptance. And the much huger issue of financial aid...) And, too, picking those back-up schools that only slightly interest her but are necessary because of a very wise rule that requires just-in-case planning.
So she’s writing. Editing. Rewriting. Sick of it. Rewriting again anyway. And resisting the temptation to just send the damn essay(s) as is. Or, as was.
It is unnervingly close to impossible to complete one essay on a topic that is too broadly or too narrowly defined and requires equal parts creativity, sincerity, and logic. One of these admission essays would make most adults want to hurl. But, of course, there are a nauseating number of essays with topics that are equally as nauseating and often quite meaningless.
No choice. Write anyway. Then edit. And rewrite. Again.
She’s creating spreadsheets to track all of the due dates for early action, rolling decision, and regular decision; for submitting The Common App, the essays, the additional essays, the portfolio; for completing every required standard and institution specific financial aid form plus the additional letters of explanation.
Very few of her colleges have the same due dates and no two have exactly the same required documents and forms. There is no margin of error, no allowance for misunderstanding or misreading or missing a deadline altogether. From the college perspective, I suspect that a missed date is an easy elimination method.
My daughter is now a walking, breathing, organizational fiend who is trying to be original, serious, light, concise, noticeable, creative, extraordinary, interesting, and visionary.
Actually, she is most of this anyway. She really only needs to chill and be herself.
But in the pressure of these circumstances, it is easy for her to totally forget what she is capable of. Uncertain. She draws a blank.
Even as she is up against every other high school senior – and it is hard to push this reality aside – the best that she can do is present exactly who she is and leave her anxiety at the curb (next to the mailbox).
And then wait.
Wait for the admissions office to decide if she is a “good fit”. Wait for the financial aid office to create an offer that we can afford. And hope that this combination will be with the school she’s trying so hard not to want so much.
As her mother, I am "merely" charged with supporting my daughter.
I won’t write her essays. But I will provide feedback when she asks.
I won't look through each college website and compile every date. But I will collaborate on her spreadsheet so that we can both feel secure in the myriad of deadlines.
Working together in this way is my way of further preparing her for her college years and far beyond as I insist that she should:
- do the work herself – complete all the assignments and forms.
- get everything in on time. (Like many projects in the real world, there are no extensions.)
- ask for help as needed.
- ultimately, make absolutely certain that it is completely her work, her words, her ideas.
These days remind me of those first days when she walked on her own without my hands to grasp onto. I stepped back and she toddled forward, then backward, then walked. Then ran. Then bicycled (dangerously!). Then danced.
Staying on the sidelines, I never left her side – but she didn’t always know that.
If she fell – when she fell, she usually righted herself as I resisted every urge to run to her. She simply didn’t need rescuing despite my mothering impulse. She needed to discover her sense of self, to know that could take risks and keep going.
Occasionally, I was called in for kisses and bandaids and I always provided both as she got herself upright and moved on without me.
Rarely, did we race to the ER for a broken wrist or thumb. But, yes, those moments happened as well. I’d be there, instructing doctors to ignore her happy face that misrepresented her agony or fear and instead asked them to listen to her describe the pain. Every time, something was broken. And every time, I’d have to let her try again – with cast and all.
Point being, I worried from a distance – where she couldn’t see me holding my breath.
And I’m doing it again now.
She is needing me less and less – which, I think, is how the rulebook plays this parenting gig out – but I’ll still always be here for her.
Dance. Be free.
What will be, will be.
May your kisses and bandaids be in endless supply
as your senior triumphs over his/her own college applications.
My youngest-about-to-graduate-high-school daughter taught me an amazing lesson recently.
The thing is, I didn’t start out parenting in lesson-ready mode.
20 years ago, my parent-to-be assumptions were clear cut: this parenting thing would be a strictly one-way, mom-is-teacher & daughters-are-students in this family/classroom combo thing.
And yet despite the clarity of my pregnant brain at the time(s), my girls have not stopped teaching me from the moment of their births.
Like all children, my kids didn’t come with the soon-to-be-much-needed directions. And while I had influence and the final say-so (usually), the lessons only truly became clear after learning from them what would work best – for all of us. They were teaching me – right from the start. (Dammit. So much for assumptions of who was at the front of this class.)
My biggest lessons centered around planning. As in, be prepared to un-plan, re-plan, revert-to-the-back-up-plan style of planning.
(This, of course, often meant quickly improvising said back-up plan to look like it always existed. HA! Tell no one. We parents are nothing if not creative with a quick new-and-improved, pulled-out-of-the-hat-make-it-look-like-the-plan-all-along plan. We are geniuses on that front.)
For instance, there’s the kids-get-sick derailments, often followed immediately by (or in conjunction with) the adults-get-sick debacle. And those are topped off with the kids-get-sick-again weeks from hell. Whatever the original plan was, the new plan is tending to a house full of sick people, rescheduling all events and appointments, and basically canceling life as we had known and planned it. Instead, we are now entertaining the infirm with song and dance; music, musicals and movies; and food – preferably of a variety that will stay down or, at least, will not stain if it reappears. (Eewww.)
Then there’s the kids-get-new-schedules surprises. They make the team. They make another team that conflicts with the first team. They get a part in the school show. And a bigger (or smaller) role in the non-school show. They get the job you begged them to apply for but they are too young for a driver’s license and need you to drive them to and from. Day and night. Weekdays and weekends. (Uh, what were you thinking??) They decide to join the club that they swore they would never, ever be seen at and they have to meet after school, alternate Monday nights, and occasional weekends. (And oh, yes, you are driving. Again. And aren't you proud that they are joining in?)
More new plans.
Of course, with kids, plans naturally redefine themselves every time school lets out and then school has the audacity to let itself back in just when you had mastered the let-out plan.
New summer? New plan. New school year? New plan.
And too, have you noticed that kids get older? They actually age faster than we do. And suddenly and subtly, they require new boundaries, new rules, new consequences. Less of this; more of that.
All new plans.
You get my point. Flexible planning has been one of my biggest parenting / life lessons.
A few weeks ago, I learned the ultimate (well, the most recent ‘ultimate’) lesson when my daughter’s college dream / plan was derailed by her medical needs. Just like that. The very weekend that the college deposit was due. It's a magical date.
This turn of events came after months of her writing essays, of filling out applications by the deadlines that she kept careful spreadsheets to track. It came after a painstaking and often nauseating process of completing the financial aid forms that went with each of those college applications and then sending individual letters explaining extenuating circumstances with deeply personal information that we were now entrusting to strangers. And these letters were often accompanied by more forms and more details and more tears and more frustration and more follow-up calls – all of which she tracked.
She kept the biggest and smallest of details on a spreadsheet she painstakingly maintained much to my surprise delight. Everything was turned in on time. I know because she verified each single line item for every single school. (For this one character trait – and possibly a few others – I am proud she takes after her mother.)
We were survivors (barely) – my daughter and I – of the college application and financial aid application processes.
We weren’t quite sure where the money was going to come from for next year; but we were determined to get her there without robbing the bank. In the final moments, she was given extensions at two schools as they promised to look again at her/our situation. We were still in the game right up through that deposit deadline weekend.
And then, the plan shifted. In the blink of her tired, narcoleptic eyes.
My daughter needs a service dog for two medical conditions. Conditions which, at home, we had managed without a dog because I unwittingly have been at her service. For better and for worse, I have been available to her 24/7. Like any parent, I have been her dog. Woof.
We had just settled into these roles not looking far into the future. Not realizing. Not thinking. And, okay, not knowing there were alternatives available.
When the doctor said "service dog", we realized how that would change everything for her – and for me. The dog would allow her to gain an independence that she had come to understand she was missing; I would gain an independence that I hadn’t realized that I was missing.
And so, she started looking.
Here’s what she discovered in quick order:
- One must apply for a service dog like one applies for college. There are numerous organizations, each with their own application processes (from forms to essays to home videos to documentation) and their own admission guidelines and committees who make final decisions based on internal policies that we cannot be privy to. As I said: like college.
- One must have or raise $15-$20K (yes, THOUSAND) to pay for the dog, the hours of training a puppy to behave and then training the dog to serve, plus feeding, vet services, etc. This amount does not include travel and long term lodging – because like college, your only acceptance and/or cheapest option may be hours or days away and, at the very least, those final weeks of training must focus on bonding and on the dog being able to perform specialized tasks for the specific needs of the specific person. You go to your dog. It is not unreasonable but ...
- No portion of the cost is covered by insurance and there is no financial aid available (though a very few organizations have small grants through generous and understanding benefactors).
Not knowing about the need for the service dog as she began her college search and application, she never considered local schools where she could have been a commuter student. And on the weekend that the deposit was due, she interviewed with two service dog organizations who both confirmed the reality of something we had assumed was exaggerated:
- This process of acceptance, finding, training, and certifying a dog will take a minimum of two years. Read that again: two years – minimum.
Within 24 hours, my daughter was teaching me 'dream flexibility' – my dream and her dream of college had just been put on hold though it felt more like the dream had crashed. This was only college – now in delay mode. But, it felt like the world was crumbling despite my years of saying that college is wasted on the young and how much better it is to go with more maturity and more depth perception.
I said that. I meant that. But my kid was ready. Had been ready. She was a dreamer. And a pursuer. And a doer. She was prepped with her film production classes. She knew what she wanted. She had a plan.
And now she is doing something else. First.
We don’t know exactly how this will all play out. Her preferred school kindly allowed an unprecedented 2-year deferment. (Though we will have no idea until then whether financial aid will make it affordable as we will have to refile all the financial aid papers …)
Perhaps this is for the best so that she can work on her health and continue to focus on her search for and training of her dog while finding part time work and public transport to assert her independence.
Typical of my daughter, she was perfectly fine with the new plan that fell upon us so quickly. I was turned into a sad, confused mothering mess, worried about the change for her and (selfishly?) worried about the change for me.
That lasted one day. Then my daughter remembered that she was human and she cried and went into a funk.
We talked. And we shared our fears and our tears. Our old dreams. Our still-forming new dreams that we will soon call “plans”. Hers. Mine.
She is raising money through GoFundMe and once again teaching me something: humility and gratitude beyond what I thought possible.
Flexibility has been the most valuable parenting lesson that I’ve learned.
Believing in the generosity of strangers is another.
And the lessons my kids teach me keep coming at me.
I am just lucky to have such great teachers.