Last night, my older daughter and I had a moment. And lost a moment.
Researching from different computers, each in our own bedroom and without having discussed it first, we both suddenly realized that we had missed our annual mother-daughter Dar concert. (That’s Dar Williams. If you don’t know her, you should.) And there would be no Tom Chapin concert this summer either.
No Dar. No Tom Chapin.
Let me tell you right here, right now: the grief in the unintentional breaking of this tradition was intense. It was as if our memories would now be taken from us as well. It was as if, there were audible “what ifs” playing “round robin” in our heads, like we had walked under a ladder with the black cat.
What does it mean to miss the Dar concert? It’s just a concert after all.
But it is so much more than that.
And, summer might as well be done because – to be clear – there is nothing that we can do together before my daughter leaves for her junior year in college that will renew that Dar - Chapin - mother - daughter bond in the same way.
Since my daughter was a toddler, we’d see Dar every summer. And we’d see Tom Chapin every year. Back then, we went as a family of four: father, mother, older daughter, younger daughter. We’d go to wherever we could see each perform, wherever it was closest to wherever we were living at that time. And yes, sometimes we’d invent reasons to travel farther and visit family if it meant that we could also sit on a picnic blanket and listen to a Dar concert under the stars or if we could dance and sing through a Tom Chapin jamboree in a large public park.
I have pictures to prove it. Those happy kid pictures that defy the other realities of our lives at the time.
Then we left the country for 4 years and my older daughter played tribute to Dar by memorizing every song from low note to high. She sang her favorites at recitals to audiences of expatriates, politely clueless until the song was over and then Dar found another fan. Dar via my daughter, that is. Close enough.
And lest we be completely without great children’s music while literally half-way around the world, we brought every Tom Chapin CD with us as well. (How any parent can travel without his music always puzzles me. His music is the sanity of every car trip, minutes to hours.) I even emailed this man and pleaded with him to come to Asia and sing concerts there. If only I was a venue manager… And believe me, I tried. (Sorry, Tom.)
Six years ago, we returned to the States. Within months of our unexpected return, I surprised my oldest with an outing to a concert at the Keswick theater, a lovely little theater in a lovely little town. Dar was the opening act; we tried, but we didn’t stay for the featured performer. Dar was our moment: she brought my daughter and me back together in those hard, hard months when we were readjusting to the States and to our new circumstances.
By that summer, my daughters and I rediscovered our Dar and Tom Chapin venues. My girls had reached an age where they actually understood Dar’s lyrics; but at this age, they were also technically too old (says who?!) for Tom Chapin’s children’s concerts. Ha! We were where we needed and wanted to be. What mattered was being together to laugh and sing out.
We were reclaiming our lives with performers we loved. Performers who outperformed themselves. Because when the music stopped, the girls would greet these cool people offstage, talking eagerly to these famous people who looked my girls in the eye and asked questions as if they remembered my daughters from one year to the next, as if they recognized them, as if they were truly glad to see them yet again, and then wished them both well. Until next year…
But, this year, summer started when we weren’t looking. We forgot to check concert schedules. On a weird whim, my daughter and I were both discovering at the same time that Dar had sung just 2 (TWO!!) nights ago, just 3 towns over, like she has forever. But this time – without us!
Oh, the mother guilt.
What happened next was an odd throwback that made sense:
My daughter, searching our past and our present, discovered that she had missed seeing Pete Seeger at her college by one year. It was a sad moment that we shared. Missing Pete not just by a year, but forever.
I reminded her that we had seen Arlo together in October 2010. Oh yeah, that was awesome, said she.
Then she remembered a folk singer from when she was 4 years old… Woody Wolfe!!, we call out in odd unison. He was awesome, too, I said as I remembered those concerts at parks and hospital lobbies in our small town.
And then we both shout out Van Wagner!! Definitely. Van. Definitely. <insert sigh> ("North of 80 it ain't the same" ... Years later, we still agree – in harmony.)
And in a very small way, I knew we would both miss Dar, be sad – very sad – to not have sung every song along with her, to not have said "hi" after. But I knew now for sure that no one was taking away the memories, despite how we felt.
Good memories. Those.
Music does that. It sings to those memories. It holds them. It keeps them safe inside. No matter that you didn’t see summer coming this year and messed up. Big time.
I wanted my girls to love the music of my childhood. And each has done that in her own way. My older daughter has brought folk music into her generation while straddling my generation and the generations before. My younger daughter studies music theory and finds meaning between the classical and classics; she's still grabbing for Tom's CDs and humming the songs I sang her to sleep with.
Every family should have their Dar and their Tom Chapin.
I can only hope that these musicians would both know the influence they had on their young (and old) admirers. I can only hope and say, “Thank you. See you as soon as we can. But know that we are still listening.”
That’s the love. The bond that my daughter and I will always, always share. The memories that we will always have.
Even as we solemnly promise not to miss another concert.
To Dar: So we were just wondering… At the Bryn Mawr Twilight Concert, did you cover the usual favorites? “Iowa”? “My Babysitter”? “As Cool as I Am”? And what about “FM Radio”? And your tribute song to Pete? We hope the little kids danced and twirled in the gazebo with you. Lucky them. We missed you.
To Tom: We continue to wait for you to return to this area. We'll be there when you come here.
To Arlo: Thank you. Just that. Thank you.
To Pete: Never forgotten. Still singing in our hearts.
And to Woody, Van, Rick, Martin, and the many folk artists who bring us music: You rock. Or rather... you folk! You are changing lives for the better. I know. And my daughters know.
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.