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!