Spreading Her Wings

cheering woman student open arms at campusThere is a shift taking place in my life right now. As regular life continues to happen around me, I feel trapped in a time warp, a black hole of sorts.

A vortex of emotions.

The stack of boxes, bedding and trinkets has been growing for several weeks. Staged in the back room, away from the path my regular routine takes me through the house each day. The room that used to hold all things Little Tikes, LEGO and My Little Pony. Where imaginations turned boxes, blankets and couch cushions into castles. The game room, formerly known as the playroom.

Teens don’t like to hang out in a playroom, you know. Hence, the name change.

This summer has been deemed “The Longest Summer Ever” for my daughter, who graduated high school on June 17 and doesn’t start college classes until September 22.

College.

I can feel her absence already, as boxes are taped shut and “lasts” are marked off an imaginary list.

And in a twist that seems particularly cruel to a mother, I can clearly remember a time when I would have given my right foot to have a little break from parenting. Maybe an overnight with the grandparents or a few hours away while Dad mans the ship. When your kids are small and needy and so very BUSY, the mere thought that one day they will be out on their own and adulting might be the only thing that keeps you going.

It’s the light at the end of the tunnel, the holy grail of parenting — the young adult child.

Because toddlers can be tough.

I honestly enjoyed parenting, even when I had to dole out a punishment or deliver a lecture. There were times when I cried, when they cried, times we all cried together. Through the foot stomping determination of a 3-year old to the eye rolls of a tween, I pushed ahead with new determination each and every day. Even after the toughest of days I would find myself standing at her bedside after she fell asleep, watching her chest rise and fall as the rhythm of her breathing brought me back to the starting line.

Ready to tackle another day.

Most days, I’m almost giddy that she’s going to college and choosing her own path. Some would say I have made it to the finish line, that I’m done parenting and can hang up my cape. Empty nest! More time for yourself! Freedom! These are the cheers I hear from my parenting crowd, many of whom still have tiny hands leaving fingerprints on the sliding glass door and pounds of Goldfish crackers ground into the carpeting in their minivan. They look wistful, envious maybe. I feel like I’m betraying my people if I don’t have fabulous plans to cruise to Alaska, take up yoga, get a tattoo or start my own organic food co-op.

But some days the tears pool right on the brink of my lashes.

Because I’m still parenting.

What did I forget to tell her? Is there one must-have piece of advice I was supposed to frame for her dorm room wall? I can’t swaddle her in a hug when something goes wrong, can’t ask her to tag along on my Target run on a whim. I won’t see that adorable bed-head when she wakes up or even know what she’s wearing. My grocery store cart won’t hold any of her favorite snacks or that disgusting green juice she insists on drinking every morning.

I should probably still get the ice cream.

It’s like watching a movie unfold as you fall in love with the characters, the story line, the flaws and challenges they all overcome. But you don’t know how it ends just yet.

Is this the end of a chapter, or of the whole novel? My brainer-than-me writer/parent friends often debate this topic as a way of postponing the inevitable letting go. Which is really all it is. But am I launching or casting out? One implies setting free, while the other leaves room to reel them back in when needed.

Letting go.

That’s what I am doing this weekend. I’m not getting a tattoo, not hanging up  my parenting cape just yet.

But I am glad I bought the ice cream.

How to Survive Your Teen’s Journey to College

It’s official: My daughter is on the journey to college! Those of you who have followed my blog since the beginning know I’ve been down this road once before. In fact, I started my blog in 2010 as a cheaper-than-therapy option to help myself make it through my son’s senior year of high school — and beyond. While I am so proud of my daughter and wish her all the best in her college journey, I have to admit that these 16 years have gone by too quickly.

 

smiling college students

College prep? Crazy!

I won’t sugar-coat the whole college-planning process for you. It can be crazy and overwhelming if you don’t have some direction or guidance — especially your first time through. Between test prep, test taking, essay writing and campus visits guiding your college-bound teen can feel like a part-time job. And even though I’ve been through this all with the Class of 2011, I’m looking for a little help with my Class of 2016 kid.

Ready to tag along on my ride? I’ve got a road map for my daughter’s college prep. I’m using the KapMap from Kaplan Test Prep — part of their #JourneytoCollege program — this time around. I promise, it is possible to make it to the finish line without losing your hair.

What’s the KapMap?

A month-by-month map for college prep? I had no idea such a great college-planning tool existed, so when I was offered the chance to check it out I was totally on board. My daughter is just about to start her junior year in high school, and it’s time for the big leagues now. KapMap is a great way to track your teen’s journey towards college. KapMap includes a monthly list of what your teen should be doing for each year in their high school career. How great is that? All moms know how incredibly fast those months fly by — and how easy it is to miss an important deadline. With KapMap I don’t have to worry about my daughter missing an important test or deadline that might jeopardize her chances of being accepted at one of her favorite campuses.

Overwhelmed?

If it seems like there’s a lot to this whole process, you’re right. It’s a whole new ballgame for this generation. Colleges in California are reducing admissions of residents in favor of higher-paying, out-of-state candidates, making it even more difficult to get into the in-state college of your choice. And the applicants of this generation aren’t just great students, essay writers and test takers — they also have amazing extracurricular activities and volunteer gigs that really make them stand out. KapMap has reminders and suggestions along the way to help your teen make their application stand out from the rest.

What my daughter is doing right now

Summer is winding down at our house, and my daughter is ready to start her junior year of high school. Here are a few things we’ve focused on this summer on her journey to college.

  • We have spent time talking about different careers, trying to help her develop a bit of direction towards what she might want to study, which also determines where she would like to apply.
  • She has spent time searching college websites and learning about academic programs they offer, campus statistics (such as number of students, safety ratings and acceptance rates) and what unique qualities each campus has.
  • She has toured a few campuses and is making a list of those she would like to visit during winter or spring break.
  • Registering for AP classes is a great way to show admissions officers that you can take a challenge, and my daughter is taking two AP classes during junior year — which means summer homework! (ugh)
  • Deciding about whether she will take the PSAT a second time as a junior. In our town, a local educational foundation made a generous contribution that paid for all sophomores to take the PSAT. Pretty cool, right?
My tips

Since I have been through the journey to college with my older son, I have a few tips for moms and teens just heading down this road.

  1. Only apply to colleges that your child truly has an interest in attending — and can afford. Each application has a fee attached to it, and even though it might be fun to tell people your child was accepted at Harvard, if he has no intention of attending that’s just wasted time and money.
  2. However, if your teen has a dream school she would love to attend, go ahead and apply! You never know how the application process will pan out, and your teen may have exactly what the school of their dreams is looking for.
  3. Have one or two backup majors in mind at each school your teen applies to. Even if they go in undeclared, it helps to have a focus. Changing schools down the road is always an option, but many students would rather stay at one campus until they finish their degree. This saves time and money in the long run, because all undergrad classes won’t necessarily transfer directly to a new campus.
  4. Try to remember that this is THEIR journey, not yours. Your alma mater may not appeal to your teen, or she may not share your dreams of an Ivy League education. Step back and really listen to what your teen wants, because in the end this is a stepping stone to your teen’s adult life — which they will be living, not you.
  5. Stay calm as acceptance letters, emails and texts start pouring in. Spring of senior year is crazy enough, and with modern technology many students are at school when they find out they’ve been accepted or denied. Hearing that your BFF was accepted at YOUR dream school when you haven’t heard from them yet can be devastating to a teen. Stay calm and keep your focus on your own teen’s journey — and avoid being pulled into the “Mommy Competition” scene.
Ready to go?

So, are you ready to start your teen’s journey to college? Start by downloading the KapMap and you won’t miss a thing. You can also follow Kaplan on Facebook and Twitter.

Special offer! Save $100 when you enroll in Kaplan’s SAT and ACT course through 8/28.Promocode: SHESPEAKS100.

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/Kaplan Test Prep. I received compensation to write this post, and any opinions expressed are my own, and reflect my actual experience.

New Chapters

It’s happening in my house again.

Another kid is moving on.

And while this time it’s only promoting to high school, in my bones I can feel a shift.

My babies are growing up. And I am so very proud.

My daughter will stand proud this evening in her promotion robe, along with her bestest friend since they were babies.

And then they will  move on.

I will write about it, once the dust settles. Once I catch my breath at the quickness of those nine years of school.

But for today I share again what it was like last year at this time…when Pomp and Circumstance filled my heart.

 

Pomp and Circumstance

I almost don’t recognize him as he walks down the hallway from his bedroom.

Long black gown adorned with honor cords; black cap and 2011 tassel in his man-sized hands.

He’s ready to go.

His graduation is the end-result of spelling tests and learning cursive; of sitting criss-cross-applesauce on the rug and using his listening ears.

Of years of group projects, PowerPoint presentations, and cramming for finals; of early-morning alarm clocks and the pounds of heavy books he carried on his back.

And while somewhere deep inside me I can feel the tears, as he stands before me now I just feel pride.

The tears can wait for now.

Truth be told, there were tears earlier in the day. Pre-emptive tears, shed while dusting the family pictures and feeling mournful of the little boy smiling back at me from the frames.

I offer him a ride to the school, so we won’t have too many cars there when the ceremony is over.

Always logical, this mom.

The first time I left him in this parking lot, I watched him walk in with his backpack loaded and new shoes, ready to take whatever high school was ready to throw his way.

I can’t help but watch him as he walks in for the last time.

Walking tall and proud, in his gown.

Now he’s ready to go.

An hour later I sit in the football stadium, the dull roar of family and friends surrounding me. People have made banners and signs; hold bouquets of flowers and balloons for their graduates.

I hold nothing but my breath.

The band cues up the traditional Pomp and Circumstance song and far across the field I see the line of graduates begin filing in.

Gold gown, then black; girl, then boy.

Over five hundred of them, but there’s only one I’m looking for in the crowd.

At least one hundred students march towards their seats until I see him enter the stadium.

I bite my lip to catch myself from crying as I stare at this young man who used to hold my hand to cross the street; who wore footie jammies and loved mac and cheese.

Confident and proud, he carries himself around the corner and down the row to his seat.

The obligatory speeches follow, a medley of songs sung, the national anthem applauded.

And then, the names.

Over five hundred names. Air horns blow, cowbells clang, family and friends scream.

His row stands and begins their walk towards the podium.

More cheers, more cowbell.

And finally, they call it.

The name I wrote on that card in the hospital seventeen years ago.

There he is, my baby boy.

And he’s ready to go now.

Gift Horse

Gifts.

Whether for a birthday, anniversary, graduation, Father’s Day, bar mitzvah, parole hearing, promotion, or just because we choose gifts for special people in our lives to represent our feelings about them on their special occasion.

Brides are given gifts that are useful in setting up a new home. College graduates might receive a professional-looking black leather briefcase or maybe a fancy pen.

And don’t forget the oohs and aahs associated with baby shower gifts of onesies and cuddly blankets.

What about someone going off to college for the very first time, learning to take care of themselves for the very first time with no parental involvement? No reminders of when-to-d0-what?

What would the perfect gift be for them?

Maybe an alarm clock, a bottle of multi-vitamins, laundry soap, an umbrella, an endless supply of clean underwear, or maybe a bottle of aspirin and a box of band-aids?

Nope.

Frogs.

Amphibious frogs that live in a tiny tank and spend their whole lives imitating fish with legs.

Apparently when you are just learning to be responsible for yourself, remembering to eat on a regular basis and do your own laundry, the next logical step is to give you two more lives to be responsible for.

My son came home from a good friend’s house with two frogs, given to him by the friend’s mother as a going away gift.

He thought they were pretty cool, but it was a total surprise to him.

And me.

I’m pretty sure this breaks section 5, article 23 of The Mom Code, which stipulates “under no circumstances are you to gift anything that breathes or poops to the child of another mother.”

But off to college the frogs went, sloshing around in their plastic prison tank and most likely getting carsick on the way.

I’m so skeptical they’ll survive life in the dorms that I’ve actually wagered money on them.

But at least I know what to buy a certain friend when he goes off to college in two years.

Dreams

It’s been one whole week since my son left for college.

You’d have thought I would have posted several tissues-required posts about it all by now.

That’s usually how I roll.

But the words didn’t come this week. They stayed trapped in my head or lurking beneath my fingertips, struggling to come together on the keyboard and form more than two complete sentences.

Or at least a Facebook status.

*********************************************

He asked me to make sure he woke up on time the day he left. His alarm clock was already packed away; iPod set aside in one box or another.

When enough time had passed that morning and he hadn’t been seen, I went to his door and waited outside just a bit. I waited remembering how many times I had lingered outside that very door, listening for a horrible cough or maybe just waiting to tuck a little boy into bed.

We keep the door closed all of the time now. I like to say it’s to keep the still puppy-ish dog from stealing socks and school papers but it’s really because teenage boys are quite messy.

If you have one, you know.

I opened the door quietly, not wanting to startle him awake.

And there he was, in his big boy bed, peacefully sleeping.

Quite the big boy now, complete with two-day beard stubble on his face and size eleven feet hanging over the end of the bed.

I couldn’t remember the last time I had seen him sleeping, actually.

I have always been one to linger by the side of cribs and big kid beds, watching my children sleeping and wondering where their dreams were taking them. It mesmerizes me to watch them like that; so innocent and fragile, so full of hope and promise and dreams.

So for a few moments that morning, I lingered. I stood by his bed and took in the absolute breathtaking wonder that it is to gaze at your very own child. Fragile yet strong; small yet mighty; so young yet somehow so old.

We’ve raised him to this point and now it’s his turn.

And I knew exactly where his dreams were taking him that morning.

5 Things Your Son Needs for College (Not)

My son is leaving for his freshman year of college in four just a few days (who’s counting?).

I may have blogged about it a few times here and there (and maybe here too).

Some of you are overly concerned for my well-being after he leaves. I’ve been finding business cards from mental health professionals left under my front door mat.

I’m pretty sure that was Dr. Phil tailing me in his BMW as I drove to Starbucks yesterday morning to drown my sorrows.

But seriously, this is an exciting time for all of us.

For him because he gets to realize his dreams, get started on his future, move away from his oppressive parents, leave home just as his little sister hits her teens, stay up as late as he wants, and drink as much Dr. Pepper as his stomach can handle.

And for me because I can finally dig through that room, find the carpeting I’m pretty sure we installed twelve years ago, and open the windows to let the fresh air waft away the smell of boy.

I may even find that cat I think we used to have.

In the final days of preparing him to live on his own, we went on a bit of a shopping spree the other day.

His list was long and detailed and (luckily) we already had most of what he needed.

Cha-ching cha-ching.

But apparently there are certain items that a college-bound boy finds no need for, and should a mother mention them? Eyes will roll.

Kleenex tissues He has informed me that these are unnecessary, since he is taking a roll of paper towels.

Shower caddy Apparently no self-respecting dude would be seen with one of these handy totes for carrying your shampoo/shaving cream/toothpaste and brush/etc… to and from the communal bathroom. Who knew?

 Face towel If you’d seen the look of disbelief he shot me when I asked how many face towels he needed you’d have thought I asked him to pick his favorite shade of nail-polish. I suspect this has more to do with how many times he’ll have to do laundry than it does the actual usefulness of the face towel, because he does use one at home.

Ironing board/iron I still remember the cute table-top ironing board my mom bought me when we did our pre-college shopping trip. Come to think of it, I remember ironing things for several of my guy friends, which is probably why they don’t need their own.

Any items in any color other than black This kid’s got a black thing going on…not in a goth way, but just in a I-wear-black-all-the-time way. The only items he’s packing that aren’t black are white bath towels and a white laundry basket. Only because the laundry basket didn’t come in any other colors black.

Of course, this whole experience will not be of any help the next time I send a kid to college.

My 13 year-old daughter has already started listing all of the incredibly cute and colorful dorm room items she is going to get when she goes away in five years.

And I’m pretty sure she won’t want that white laundry basket.

Family Tree

The tree might have been the real reason we bought this house.

A massive Chinese Elm spreading long, graceful branches over the grass and the gravel area beneath it.

To anyone else, the yard might have seemed plain or ordinary. There were no stone retaining walls or peaceful waterfalls; no fancy covered deck with seating areas or fire-pits; and even the plants were non-descript.

But to the mother of a two year-old boy, this yard was a magical place just waiting to be discovered. Somewhere to run or to drive a Cozy Coupe; to be a superhero, pirate, or knight; to splash in kiddie pools and eat popsicles in the heat of the summer.

The tree held this magical place in a massive hug of shade during the hottest parts of a summer’s day.

Sold.

When you take a little boy who has lived in a small condominium with no yard and unleash him onto a quarter-acre lot his world suddenly becomes quite a bit bigger.

Over the course of the next fifteen years, the tree shaded several kiddie pools, playhouses, and teeter-totters; a sandbox and a fort; countless backyard birthday parties and endless rounds of summer popsicles; two crazy puppies and a little girl reading her treasured books. It has supported pinatas and a rope swing; bird nests and squirrels running amongst the branches.

Two little kids have grown before my eyes in the shade of that tree.

Yesterday my son was outside doing some yard work when he first noticed it.

A huge vertical crack down the trunk of our tree, almost breaking the trunk in half. It was so deep, I could have put my whole hand inside.

This huge branch, such a critical part of our tree, had been trying to split away for some time now without us noticing.

And now, suddenly? This branch was ready to go, the massive tree no longer able to hold on.

Like my son, who had already been busy that morning.

Hey, I thought I might start packing up some things in my room. You know, get a head start for September when I leave for college…

And I was powerless to stop it.

If I didn’t act quickly and the trunk let go too soon, the branch would hit the house and cause a lot of damage.

My eyes were teary. I felt sick inside and certain that we couldn’t save the tree; that this part of our home I had loved so much would be cut down and turned to mulch. Nothing but a memory from here on forward.

Nothing but the memories.

I made a pile of things to get rid of before I leave; you know, stuff I’ve outgrown or don’t want anymore…you can look through it if you want.

The arborist came and carefully examined the split, making notes and giving advice.

It would take all afternoon and a crew of seven men, but he felt that they could save the tree.

Finally I could catch my breath. I hadn’t realized just how much this particular element of our home meant to me.

Where the huge branch once grew now there is a raw scar, glaring at me out the kitchen window. A reminder of what once was, which will heal over in time.

And without it, the tree will still thrive.

I’m taking this duffel bag with me, so I can pack enough clothes for my visits home…

And go on to the next round of adventures beneath it’s shade.