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