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.

Happy Birthday, 20

I see his lips moving, but I don’t hear a word he’s saying. Instead, my attention is drawn to the stubble of a day-old beard that sprinkles his cheeks and chin.

Caught by surprise yet again at this man who still inhabits my heart as a baby.

My son just turned 20. And it’s cliche and ridiculous and so dramatic, but at these moments when I notice… really notice… that he truly is grown up now, I ache for the years that have melted away.

For the years when his chin was a place I wiped dribbles of mac and cheese from, not a place he needed to shave. For the years when I was drawn into his little face by those intense blue eyes and adorable cleft in his chin. I could stare at him for hours back then… while he slept, while he ate, while we just cuddled.

Not so cool to stare at him now.

So we coexist as adults for the most part, chatting about school or work or the latest scientific discovery. He’s full of ideas and theories, and loves to share them or debate them. His jokes make me laugh and I can still share a funny YouTube video now and then that cracks him up. Life moves forward and it’s easy to forget that he was my baby.

Is my baby, still.

There was a turning point somewhere, the tipping point where my parenting of him had reached maximum capacity, where advice and comments and mandates stopped being processed by his young adult brain.

And inside, I know that was the plan all along. To parent, to guide, to counsel and to adore. To build his confidence and his character, to help him survive heartbreak and disappointment and move forward with grace.

And even now, as I watch him talk and laugh I am awed by the simple fact that I am his mom. That I was given these 20 years with him unconditionally, even though I had no experience and there were no guarantees that I would be a good mother.

I just made it up as we went along.

No do-overs now. No second chances to go back and try a different path.

I wouldn’t really change a thing.

Because my boy, this young man who sits in front of me (and is apparently still talking) has given me the incredible gift of just being his mom.

And he will always be the baby in my heart.

baby boy

Tell Me a Story

His voice surprises me every Sunday evening.

Sundays are for phone calls home. Time to talk about midterms and dorm food; to tease his sister a bit and catch us up on his life away from home.

It’s the only time each week I hear his voice now. It’s strong and deep.

The voice of a young man.

That very same voice that I remember hearing incessantly, ever since he found the usefulness of language and started to babble.

He told vivid stories, long and detailed…about dinosaurs or Bionicle characters or knights in shining armor. And in that long part of the afternoon, when dinner is looming too far away and naps are finished, he would tell his tales.

On car rides to grandparent’s houses, or just a trip to the neighborhood store. The stories, they flowed.

Once his sister was born, he had a new audience. She listened and watched and smiled.

And he went on and on.

I know I tuned out quite a bit; continued to shake my head and nod, throwing in a few “uh-huhs” for good mom points.

He was creating worlds that made him happy, that made even the worst day at school seem easy to handle.

I just couldn’t imagine a time when the stories would end.

Or turn into grown up stories.

Of paying bills and managing laundry; scheduling classes and planning for his degree.

These once-a-week stories from a young man’s voice have nothing to do with pirates or knights; and yet they are magical.

He’s building his own world, one independent step at a time. Chasing a dream, following a passion, developing a future for himself. Something to call his own.

And crafting his tale one Sunday night phone call at a time.

And just maybe, those stories he told for hours on end helped him get where he is today.

I’m glad I listened.

At least half the time.

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.

A Look Back…and Forward

Today is the day our family has been anticipating for months now. Maybe even years, it seems.

My son is leaving for college.

He’s psyched.

His mother, however, sways dramatically between giddiness that he’s made it this far and sadness at how quickly it all happened.

But I’m mostly giddy.

In the back of my mind is a post I wrote one year ago yesterday, when he was just starting to fill out college applications, take SATs, and dream about where he might be heading this fall.

This particular post is one of my favorites and I wanted to share it here again today for some of my new followers.

It pretty much sums up what I’ve been doing for the past 17 years.

 

Exit Interview

I sit waiting in the small room, my portfolio lying on the desk in front of me. It seems decent enough, filled with pictures and art work, certificates and ribbons. I wonder if there was anything else I should have included that would make a difference. I guess it’s too late now.

Maybe some sort of bribe would help. I wonder if there’s an ATM nearby.

I feel awkward in my fancy skirt, blouse, and pumps; they look like a Catholic school uniform all grown up. I should have worn the same clothes I’ve worn on the job site all these years. There was never a complaint, unless you count that unfortunate clogs-with-skinny jeans incident. At least nobody took pictures.

The door swings open and the interviewer glides into the room, taking the seat across from me. She wears beautiful clothes, flashy jewelry, and not a hair is out of place. Her nails are impeccably manicured without a chip in sight. Her shoes match, she looks rested, and she has no spit/mud/coffee/rice cereal/zit cream stains on her clothes. Why did I have to get the one interviewer who can’t possibly relate to my job?

“Good morning, my name is Miss Dopportunity, and I will be interviewing you today.” She looks down at the stack of papers she has taken out of my file.

“So, I see here that you are nearing the end of your current position as Mother to a High Schooler. My paperwork states that you were on the fast-track, climbing rather quickly through the ranks of Mother of an Infant to Preschool Mother and PTA Mom.”

“Well…,” I stammer, “if you can correct that in the paperwork please, I never requested to be on the fast-track. I really wanted to master each position before being promoted to the next.”

She chuckles quietly, glancing up at me for a moment before regaining her perfect composure.

“There really is no “other” track for this career. True, some of those early days may have actually seemed longer than 24 hours, but in reality the whole career path moves at lightning speed.”

She rifles through the papers a bit more and makes a few notes on them, then fixes her gaze on my portfolio.

“Let’s have a look at what you’ve brought here today.”

I quickly open the large folder, anxious to show her the fruits of my labor (and delivery).

There are baby footprints inked at the hospital, a lock of newborn hair too fragile to handle. Lost teeth, certificates for library summer programs, report cards, and class pictures. Paintings, crayon drawings, necklaces made of dried pasta. Letters from grandparents loved and lost, newspaper clippings, baseball team pictures, autographs of famous people, and movie ticket stubs.

Random reminders of a childhood that slipped through my fingers.

Junk, really. To any other human being who isn’t a mother.

I wonder what she’ll think of the job I did as she sifts through the things with efficiency and tact. I want her to be careful with them, but I hesitate to say anything for fear of sounding rude. Then again, with those fancy fingernails, she might damage something.

Or break a nail.

She stops thumbing through my things and pulls out her notes.

“Now then, I have a few questions to ask you. These are standard questions at this point in your career, but your answers might determine your exit strategy so please think carefully before you answer.”

A tiny sound somewhere between a gasp and a squeak leaves my lips. I hope she didn’t hear it.

“Did you let him play in the rain? Catch tadpoles at the creek? Did he see museums and movies, plays and magic shows? Was he allowed to get dirty, taste the snow, wade into the freezing cold surf, bury his sister in the sand?”

“Was he taught to be kind, to think of others?  Does he have a pet? Did you make his home a soft place for him to land when he falls? To read? To relax? Chase a dream, develop a passion?”

“Were there scraped knees, bloody noses, toothless grins in Christmas card pictures? Did you tell him about the Great Turkey, the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus, and the Easter Bunny, only to have to come clean later? Did you help him dig to China in the sandbox? Make a dinosaur skeleton out of chicken bones? Finger-paint in the house?”

“Did you ever just sit and watch a field of cows graze, hang out in the backyard hoping to see a shooting star, look for owls, go fishing at dusk, or hike an incredible hike? Was he ever allowed to spend the day in his jammies, eat ice cream for dinner, or just sleep until noon?”

“Did you enforce the rules, dole out punishments, make him apologize, send him to his room? Did he have to make amends, write thank-you notes, remember to say “please”, and be nice to teachers?”

“Can he tie his own shoes, pack a suitcase, use a payphone, schedule an appointment, brush his teeth, make his bed, keep track of his own money, build a campfire, open a small carton of milk, mow the lawn, pump himself on the swing, ride a bike?”

She pauses here, giving me a chance to take it all in. I am so nervous, feeling that there must have been something that I overlooked, one or two major steps along the way that I neglected to take. I nod my head, maybe a bit too tentatively, and wait for her to pepper me with more questions.

“Well then, it seems that everything is in order. You still have some time remaining in your current position, but I am recommending that you be considered a candidate for the next level, Mother to a Young Adult. I will forward the paperwork sometime in the next few months.”

I am stunned. Shouldn’t there be more questions to ask? Maybe a lie-detector test?

“That’s it, that’s all you need from me? Are you sure? How can you really know that I’ve done my job well enough to move on? How will I really ever know? Is there a salary increase with this new level? What about vacation pay? Does this skirt make my butt look big? How do we really know that Humpty Dumpty was an egg?”

She stands up and smoothes out her skirt, pushing her chair back in as she heads for the door. As she reaches the door she stops, turns, and looks me in the eye.

“This career is what you make of it. There are no right and no wrong answers. What you do with it is your choice. Once you are promoted to the next level, there is no going back. The hours can be pretty crappy, the pay is lousy, and your insubordinates can be, well, insubordinate. But don’t get me wrong; this is a lifetime career. The positions may change along the way, but you will always be employed.”

She walks out the door, shutting it quietly behind her.

I slowly gather my treasures and put them back into the file folders, ready to return them to the drawer at home. No ribbons or certificates for me here today, not even a candy bar or a pat on the back.

But I do a little happy-dance, just because I can.

The rewards of motherhood are immeasurable, and can’t be compensated with cash, prizes, or chocolate.

I will never know for sure if I did a good job, but I do know that I did my best.

And I’m pretty sure I’ve earned that promotion.

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.