I just hung up from a phone conversation with with my daughter, the college co-ed. She needed a little pep talk. She’s upset because we are poor. Well, WE aren’t actually poor. My husband and I do just fine. SHE’s the one that’s poor.
The poor struggling college student. It’s a rite of passage and a tad cliche, but to some extent we orchestrated it and we kind of like it.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. We are mean, heartless and cruel parents. And by today’s standards, I guess maybe we are. But lest you judge us too harshly, let me explain…
Our daughter has absolutely everything and even more than she needs. We are paying her tuition, her rent is covered by us and she has a vehicle (albeit nothing flashy) that starts right up when she turns the key.
The problem, as I see it, is entirely relative. Like most people, our daughter’s plumb-line for normal is derived from her peers. Through no real fault of their own, some of her peers are the uber-indulged offspring of my generation; the generation that was hell-bent-for-leather to give our children more than our parents gave us.
I’m not sure why one-upping our parents was the calling card for so many of us as we waltzed into our own parenting roles, but it often was.
And, my how we succeeded.
By and large, we’ve raised a new generation that is accustomed to fine dining, has traveled the world over, swipes credit cards with reckless abandon, drives luxury cars and views many privileges, such as higher education, as absolute entitlements.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard a peer of mine sigh and lament, “I just want my kids to have more than I had growing up…” I could’ve spoiled my kids even more than I already did.
And there’s no doubt I would’ve indulged mine way more, but my rather determined husband got in my way. From the very first sonogram, he was a man on a mission, “We aren’t going to spoil these kids, they need to grow up feeling-the-yearn, like we did. It creates motivation, and builds character and self-sufficiency.”
Despite our eventual joint resolve, we still managed to spoil the little buggers more than we intended. But, not as thoroughly as we might have if we hadn’t committed to a ongoing system of checks and balances.
So what do I say to my kids when I dust off my “I’m So Sorry I’m Not Sorry You’re Poor” speech? I tell them how glad I am that we’ve left so much for them to anticipate and savor in their adult years. I say I’m happy the best is yet to come and they have so much to look forward to in life. I tell them I’m delighted that they haven’t already experienced, “the best years of their lives” courtesy of their Mom and Dad.
Granted, there’s always so much to thank one’s parents for. Mine gave me life, my faith, my value system, my education. We had fabulous birthday parties, glorious Christmas mornings, many awesome memories on our boat and long lazy weekends camping at the lake. It was grand.
But, the first time I ever clambered onto a ski lift and witnessed the panorama of majestic mountain peaks, I was already an adult. I was married and with my husband the first time I ever stepped foot on a beach in Hawaii or boarded a cruise ship. We bought our very first brand new car together and then sat in it all afternoon getting high on that intoxicating new car smell mingled with self-satisfaction and pride.
Don’t get me wrong here — I’m not saying you’ll ruin your kids’ lives inexorably if you take them snow skiing or, God forbid on a Disney Cruise. I’m merely suggesting that, moving forward, future generations might be wise to re-examine a few of our #Parenting Goals and rein it in a bit. There’s nothing inherently wrong with wanting more for our kids; let’s just trust and inspire them to go get some of it for themselves.
Productive, happy and well-adjusted young adults are working towards their own established goals and ambitions. The common denominator seems to be that they have something to strive for.
As that Great American Philosopher, Jane Fonda, taught us in the 1980s, you’ve got to “Feel the yearn!” Never mind, that was, “Feel the burn!” Oh well – you get the gist.
Maybe I’ll drive over to College Town, take my girl out to a chic restaurant and tell her just how lucky she is.
My treat, of course.
Remember when your babies started tentatively trying to walk on their own, and you let them toddle 2 or 3 steps from one parent into the outstretched and waiting arms of the other parent? (Or at the very least, another caring family member.) Gradually, you lengthened the distance your little one had to travel until they were walking independently.
We accomplished the driving version of that this weekend. With our baby. We lengthened the distance between us and the outstretched, loving arms of waiting responsible family members, but only because we sort’ve had to…
The story: We were in possession of 2 highly coveted tickets to Saturday’s football game in College Town, USA, about 45 minutes down the highway. A last minute family emergency changed the plan from a Father/Son excursion to our son inviting a friend to accompany him to the game. Transportation immediately became the major issue. We mentally ran through a short list of unsuitable options, when dad suggested we simply let the 16 year old boys drive themselves.
I wasn’t one bit in love with that plan. I couldn’t care less about football and failed to realize the overall import and significance of this particular game. But, apparently this game was
While I may not give a rat’s arse about pigskin, college rankings and conference pride, I do have a soft spot for my boy, plus I understood we couldn’t waste these precious tickets. They came with complimentary passes into an elite tailgate party, where fabulous fare was being catered by some of our area’s finest restaurants and caterers. If I appreciate anything in life, it’s the privilege of hobnobbing around delicious food.
Additional points of persuasion:
1. No one travels over 35 miles per hour on the interstate on College Game Day. In fact, that’s why they named this stretch of road “I 35.”
2. Both boys have responsible on-campus older brothers that would be waiting for them with open arms right there in college town. Metaphorically ready and able to catch them should they fall.
3. If I don’t let them drive, Option B was that I myself would drive them and hang out around the stadium waiting to drive them home. A 7-8 hour Saturday evening proposition.
Thus, I set them free following a stern lecture on responsibility and sound adult decision-making.
The next morning, we really didn’t care to hear all that much about the game, as we’d caught the highlights on the telly, but we clamored for every detail about the tailgate party, foodies that we are.
“Not much to tell!” The Boy-Ginger responded in mono-syllabic grunts, deflecting our queries with general teenaged annoyance.
He then went on, much to our disappointment and dismay, to inform us that the only food vendor he sought out at the tailgate was an all-you-can-eat buffet in our area aptly named, The Golden Corral. In fact, he went back, not once, not twice, but thrice for additional helpings of their chicken wings.
And then, worst fears confirmed, the boys proceeded to drink. Wantonly and recklessly. From a chocolate fountain. Provided by, none other than, you guessed it – The Goldenest of Corrals.
Honestly, I’d heard enough. The next thing you know, he’d be telling me they dipped the wings in the chocolate sauce.
For the first time in weeks I found myself actually cheered by the fact that our other offspring are up and out of the house, so we can focus what’s left of our joint parenting energies undistracted on this last remaining child, who obviously still needs so much from us before he’s ready to fly off.
I no longer suffer from the malaise of “Almost-Empty Nest Syndrome!” Wings or no wings, I’ve still got plenty of work to do around here.
I knew we should’ve signed him up for Cotillion when we had the chance.
“There Must Be 50 Ways To Leave Your Mother” (3 Last Minute Things I Need To Teach My Son Before He Leaves For College This Week)
We are packing to take our 18 year old son off to college at the end of this week. A small pile of sundry ‘Do Not Forget!’ items accumulating by the door serves as a startling reminder that I have less than a week to tie up a few loose parenting ends before I send him out into that wide blue yonder we call the Real World...
1. After We Pay Your Tuition, You Will Have More Money Than We Do
I’m so glad we had the “money talk” today. When you asked me how you would be obtaining cash flow while you were away at school and I explained, you seemed somewhat taken aback.
Son, we are providing for your tuition, books, lodging and we generously upgraded your meal plan to include more caloric energy per day than the rest of our family consumes in an entire month. I can’t imagine what else you think you’re going to need, but I saw all those graduation checks that came rolling in last May. I happen to know you have more money in your bank account than I do. Use it.
When you complained that you didn’t want to use your “precious money” to buy “things like shampoo,” I saw the likes of your Dad in you. He feels the same way. That’s why he takes all those business trips. It’s solely to obtain those tiny little bottles of free hotel shampoo.
Got any business trips on your calandar? I didn’t think so. Just buy yourself some shampoo, okay?
And, look at it this way – when your Grandmothers ask you what you spent all your graduation money on, and you answer, “Suds,” you won’t really be lying.
2. Any Moron Can Do Laundry
People have been telling me forever that I was doing you a genuine disservice by doing your laundry all these years. But, I didn’t mind doing your laundry while you played sports and made those stellar grades. When my concerned friends worried aloud in my presence that you “wouldn’t know how to do laundry when you left for college,” I assured them I could “teach any Moron to do laundry in 5 minutes!” and “planned to do so right before we left for College Town, USA!” And, no, I did not just call you a moron. I’m your mother, I love you.
As usual, I was right. We knocked that task out today in no time flat. All in all, you did well. I’m sorry your clothes came out wrinkled and you’re concerned about having to iron them. When I told you the solution was simply to do “smaller loads,” so your clothes could fluff out more freely, and you responded that “would take too long” and you, “didn’t want to spend all your free time doing laundry,” I was kind’ve stung. Did you realize when you spoke those words, that you were taking a personal swipe at my entire existence? I do laundry for a living, so ouch.
One more thing: as you get older, you’ll realize there is no such thing as “free time.” Any moron knows that. Okay, I think now I just called you a moron.
3. I Am Always Going To Parent You
By no means should you ever feel that I’m done parenting you. Last night you hung out at your friend’s house awfully late. I texted you when I was ready to go to bed to see what your plans were and you came across a wee bit CAVALIER. I know that this time next week you will be on your own and I won’t have “the luxury” of knowing right where you are, but I plan to parent you right up to the very last possible second – Up the dormitory staircase, down the dormitory hallway, right into the dorm room.
And, Spoiler Alert – when you come home for Christmas and Thanksgiving, I’m going to pick up right where I left off. If you don’t like the sound of that, you should plan some type of a business trip for those weeks. You can pick up some shampoo while you’re there. That’s just a suggestion. It’s whatever you think. I’m not going to tell you what to do.
Wait- scratch that last part- actually, I am.
Admittedly, this is a bit of a rough estimate and I took the liberty of rounding the number off, but I am trying to figure out how many times I have driven my 5 kids places over the past 30 years, since my oldest child was born.
From the day after we brought Emilie home, when I strapped her into her car seat for her first Baby Well-Check, until I ran Tommy to soccer practice a few nights ago, I arrived at roughly 87,600 car rides – give or take the 7 or 8 times their dad actually shuttled them anywhere.
Which might explain the rather unorthodox reaction I am having to Tommy getting his driver’s license.
I am letting him drive.
Yesterday, when two of my daughters happened to be home, chatting in the kitchen, one of them looked up and asked,
When I answered, “He’s at soccer practice!” they kindly offered to pick him up later, on their way back home from running an errand. This left me no option but to ‘fess up-
“He drove himself there!”
“He drove?” They exclaimed, in unison and surprise. Apparently, according to the girls, getting one’s license around here was certainly a laudable milestone, but it didn’t translate into the level of personal freedom and autonomy their younger brothers enjoy.
Okay, I admit I might’ve put some rather stringent restrictions on my daughters when they were new drivers, freshly sprung from the loins of the DMV, with their little plastic cards in their little plastic hands, but things were different then.
We had more rules and standards. In fact, we may have had so many standards there appears to be a double-standard.
–No listening to the radio while driving….No Backstreet Boys, No N’Sync, No Brittany Spears or Destiny’s Child. The boys, however, managed to convince us that they would drive better with the steady thrum of a savage rap beat.
–No interstate driving. I mapped out elaborately circuitous routes for the girls in order to keep them off the interstate. This, apparently, took them through some sketchy parts of town. At one point, Mollie complained that she thinks a stray bullet grazed her car. So, we allowed the boys to take more direct routes via the highways and byways of this great land.
–No leopard print plushy steering wheel cover or pink rabbit’s foot rearview-mirror decor. Sorry, I know teenaged girls love to prettify their rides, but this is all just too distracting. I needed their hands on the actual steering wheel at 10 and 2, with nothing dangling and obstructing their view. Fortunately, the boys never wanted to trick out their vehicles with crap from Claire’s or Limited Too. Fast-food bags clutter the floorboards posing no safety threat.
The older kids can criticize me all they want. They can call it a double-standard if they must, but I prefer to think of it as ‘evolving as a parent.’
Don’t get me wrong, I still worry up a blue streak. It’s not as though utter lawlessness abounds; we still have a few rules. Tommy is required to text me when he arrives at his destination and when he leaves to return home, etc. We haven’t gone so far as to embed a chip in him, but we do track his movements…
That’s how I came to notice, that as the 5th child of burned-out parents, he’s kind’ve like your Visa Card – he’s everywhere he wants to be.
(metaphorically, Mom points her camera down at the ground in despair…)
There are 34 equally lovely contestants backstage. The Emcee is about to call the names of the lucky 20 girls who made the NBA dance team my daughter is trying out for.
She made it all the way to the final leg of this journey. We could not be prouder, even though my heart is visibly thumping out of my chest and my hands are shaking my program so badly it looks like I’m fanning myself, but I’m not.
A few have told us, “It’s in the bag!” and “She’s got this!” But as parents we can’t help but let our thoughts drift to a potentially long car ride home and the ensuing months of “parent therapy” (the only kind we can afford) if things don’t go our way. If she doesn’t make it, it will take “all the Kings horses and all the Kings men,” to put our little egg back together again.
One of the most difficult decisions you’ll ever face as a parent is just how much to “put your kid out there.” ie: what, if anything, should you encourage them to try out for.
These decisions seem fairly benign when your children are young, but the effects on our children’s long term psyche and overall sense of well-being magnify as our kids mature and develop. Simply put, the stakes get higher. As a protective parent, there are times you can’t help but think – if they don’t try, they can’t fail…
When my kids were small, they’d jump in the car with hand-outs about Brownie Troops, Boy Scouts, basketball and soccer teams; perhaps even band. It was standard to allow/encourage their participation, as participation simply meant signing up.
The process didn’t get tricky until down the road a bit, when our kids started wanting to join teams that involved try-outs, judges, coaches and the dreaded C-word “cuts!”
This is a whole different ballgame. Now you’re competing against other wannabes and their impressive entourage of parental backing. Everyone is saying the right thing, touting the party line, “We don’t care about the outcome either way, we’re just excited that ‘Junior’ likes this activity and does his best and has fun trying!”
Okay, true, but when you’re not looking, they are hiring private shooting coaches, private batting coaches and buying protein bars that cost $5 a bite. They are hiring personal trainers, purchasing world class equipment, while renting private studio space for their daughter to pirouette in.
Don’t believe them when they say their daughter is a “Tom-Boy Natural Beauty!” Just like your girl, she’s been in your city’s finest salon all morning getting coiffed, spray tannned, her lashes extended, every stray hair plucked.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with any of this, per se. You just have to be realistic, eyes wide open about what you’re getting yourselves and your kids into. The other parents and you (yes, You) probably care more than you think.
If your child makes the team or squad, it’s a high like no other. I’ve never done drugs, but I imagine that’s what they must feel like. Conversely, if your child doesn’t make the cut, it will be the worst few days or weeks of your tenure as a parent and part-time Therapist. (The length of the recovery is a complicated formula involving the age of your child, multiplied by how long they prepared for this try-out, divided by your clever ability to distract them by dangling a new dream in front of them…)
If your kid is cut, you may very well ask yourself why y’all even bothered taking the risk. You may even find yourself wishing you did do drugs, but don’t, because you’re about to need all of your wits about you, to get your child through this.
As the young ladies names were called, we held our collective breath and listened to name after name, doing the quick math calculation to see how many spots were still left for our girl to fill. Her number was 3; twice the announcer called 33 and 13 and my heart leapt hopefully.
When they called the final squad member it wasn’t our beautiful girl. Our hearts sank into our stomachs. Several caring strangers seated around us reached over to clamp our shoulders in disbelief and astonishment. “She was amazing! “We thought she had it!”
Like all good mothers, I immediately blamed myself. Maybe when you believe in your kid too much and encourage them to “go for their dreams,” you also subconsciously set them up to endure this type of enormous let down. Secretly, I’m wishing we had just skipped all this “reaching for the stars” and enjoyed the rest of the summer just lying back and gazing at them instead.
It was going to be a long drive home for sure. Good thing I packed necessary provisions:
-tissues (for me, my girl isn’t much for crying)
-a few verses (Jeremiah 29-11, “For I know the plans I have for you declared The Lord)
-my therapist schtick
-the tiny cheerleader that lives inside me, always
-an ice cream sundae (I didn’t pack it because I knew it would melt, but there’s plenty of places we can stop along the way and get one)
We are going to take the long way home…
What a great experience it was to be a Guest/Co-Host on the video podcast “Start a Lemonade Stand – Getting Your Kids To Work.”
This show takes a break from the discussion of bullying to tackle the subject of your kids and employment. It was an hour long, so watch it only if this is a point where you find yourself as a parent. It’s specifically geared toward those of us with kids and teens who want to hear a discussion of why our kids should work (benefits such as gratitude, independence, work ethic) as well as some specific suggestions of jobs kids can work at appropriate ages.
The best moment of the show might’ve been when I talked my way to the realization that the most effective way to avoid working throughout one’s lifetime is to try to be a writer…
Here is the link!
Kids Lemonade Stand Fundraiser for Cancer Research to generate a giving and entrepreneurial spirit in your kids:
There’s really nothing quite so illuminating as trying to share a small, tight, confined space with your own daughter. Honestly, I should know; I just spent Spring Break traveling with my 20 year-old daughter, Gracie. I know you’re thinking our hotel room was probably too small, and you are correct. It certainly was. But, by “small, tight, confined space,” I really meant that all of Manhattan wasn’t big enough for both of us.
Spending 4 days together on that crowded little island off the coast of New York, prompted Gracie to shed some light on a few personality flaws I could really stand to work on, if I want to be a better person – and who among us doesn’t strive every day to be a better person?
Mom has a Selfish Streak:
Apparently, I should try to be more willing to share my blessings with others, particularly my children, and most specifically Gracie. This was revealed to me on the very first morning of our trip. I finished my coffee, applied a smattering of make-up and decided to brush my teeth. I noticed a toothbrush that resembled mine was on the counter sopping wet. I asked her, “Did you use my toothbrush?” She promptly answered, “No!” Since all toothbrushes look alike to me, I believed her and launched a search for MY toothbrush. Taking pity on me, or more likely – in the interest of time – she confessed, “Okayyyyyy I used your toothbrush!” That wasn’t the only thing I shared with her on the trip. In addition to forgetting her toothbrush and her phone charger, she obviously forgot all her money, too. If she brought money with her, she kept it well out of sight…
Mom has Boundary Issues:
The only thing worse than a selfish mother, is one who doesn’t want to share her things, but wantonly helps herself to your things, without your express permission, as though she paid for them herself. You know – a Mother like me.
We had gone to a fabulous restaurant for dinner, but had been told by several native New Yorkers that we simply must swing by Magnolia Bakery for some Banana Pudding. The place is famous for it. We purchased a pint container to take back to our hotel room, but failed to get a fork or spoon. Nonplussed and satiated from dinner, Gracie promptly fell asleep. I stared despondently at that pudding for way too long. A combination of creativity and desperation inspired me to create an eating utensil out of Gracie’s criminally expensive makeup brush I bought her at MAC (Picture chopsticks). It worked like a charm! All up until the following morning, when Gracie started applying makeup. I deftly explained my dilemma from the night before, fully expecting her to be as impressed with me and the resultant solution as I was. It was a stroke of genius, a brush-stroke of genius…
Mom Sucks at Photography:
Millennials take a jarring amount of pictures. Not of landmark historical buildings, fountains or statues, mind you. They take pictures of themselves. Lots and lots of them. When Gracie’s arm wasn’t long enough to include both herself AND a particular background she liked, she reluctantly enlisted my services to take the photo with her cell phone.
That’s when I was confronted by this ugly truth: I am a TOTAL FAIL at picture taking. My hands shake, I don’t hold the camera at a flattering angle and I don’t know when to use the flash. Try as she may, Gracie could not help but express disappointment in my ineptitude. At one point, entirely exasperated by a candid I took of her, she remonstrated, “When you look through the lens, the trick is just to ask yourself: “Is this how I would want to look in a photo?” Too bad her “tip” wasn’t particularly helpful. It’s not going to help me to be a better photographer, because the way she looked was, in fact, exactly how I wish I looked in a photo. Not to mention, at my age, we love a little blur to our pictures. We pay extra for that…
And, that is by no means an exhaustive list. There’s an entire category of general garden-variety annoyances:
– When Gracie told me I looked cute in hats, I bought 7 more. Clogged up our suitcase. Moms who over-do things are annoying.
-When I tried to adopt the vernacular of the millennials, it was as irritating as listening to a person who learned English-as-a-second-language attempt to curse. Apparently, I used the word, “LIT” totally out of context. I just couldn’t pull it off.
-When I talked indiscriminately to strangers on the subway, I was informed that I, “had plenty of friends back home and didn’t really need any more friends, especially in NYC.” (I happen to know for a fact that my new friend from the Subway does not agree, because I talked to her this morning on Facebook.)
On a positive note, it’s downright invigorating to know there’s so much growth potential and room for improvement in my personality! I’m not the least bit daunted; I’ve got nothing but time on my hands to enroll in Charm School and maybe even take a Cell Phone Photography Course.
I guess the only thing I’m still a little baffled by, in light of all this recent self-insight, is how in the world do I actually have “enough friends?” You’d think they’d be pretty sparse.
It just doesn’t seem like I’m all that “LIT.