Distance Parenting and Curve Balls

parenting worryWaking to a text from my college Freshman declaring “I’m scared,” was enough to give me a mini heart attack. Her physical safety had been inadvertently threatened by the thoughtless act of a misguided roommate. A week’s worth of distance-parenting ensued as my daughter found herself involved in an intense process that resulted in removal of said roommate.

Supporting Principessa from afar was a frustrating experience. I wanted desperately to rescue her, coddle her, speak for her… As mothers do, I wanted to kiss the boo-boo and make it better. Not unfortunately, the miles between us prevented any such nonsense, which gave Principessa the opportunity to rise up and shine through adversity.

Principessa had the wherewithal to handle herself with maturity and sensibility. Witnessing her instant evolution from child to young adult was gratifying to say the least. I felt as if I had arrived in a place I had dreamt about for years. It was a place that validated my (and Husband’s) work as parents.

Husband and I shook our heads in disbelief at the insanity of it all. As parents, we send a child off with hopes that we’ve prepared them for life. But we can never prepare for every conceivable situation. We can only hope that the skills they learned will serve them when life throws a curve ball.

When all was said and done, I felt relieved, of course, but also a bit damaged – strung out from sleepless nights of worry and days filled with phone calls. A week’s worth of uncertainty had taken its toll.

Friend asked why I hadn’t ‘freaked out’ about this violation to my first-born. I could thank yoga, meditation, prayer, denial, level-headedness, or any number of tools in my toolbox. I’m not really sure what held me together, but there was the underlying belief that Clarity works better than Chaos. I can’t allow Chaos to run the show, especially when my kid’s safety is on the line. Besides, I’d like to save ‘Freaked Out’ for an unidentified special occasion – one that can’t be solved with sanity. One that hopefully will never arrive.

Launching A Child

Woman-saying-goodbye-FarewellMy sister-in-law questioned my sincerity when I texted that I was having fun moving my eldest daughter into college for the first time. All bets were on me coming apart at the seams.

I had given ample indication of emotional fragility in preparation for this momentous occasion. In the weeks following high school graduation, a song on the radio, a memory jogged while driving past a playground…anything, or nothing, could turn me to mush instantaneously. The world conspired against me, it seemed. How else to explain the untimely (or timely) arrival of an email from a photo-sharing site titled, ‘Your life 7 years ago’ which showed images of my college Freshman in elementary school. Cruelty, I say.

The fact that college move-in day landed on my birthday heightened my self-pity. ‘Worst birthday present ever,’ I grumbled. But my conscience was having none of it. Just days before, I was informed of a local high school graduate who had died in an accident. His mother, I realized, wouldn’t be able to transition her son to the next phase of life. In solidarity with this mother, I vowed to enjoy the privilege before me.

Kahlil Gibran says that children never belong to us. They only come through us. I’ve had to remind myself of this countless times in my parenting history. The urge to hold onto the greatest thing that’s ever happened to me is, at times, intense. But as the wise Dory says in Finding Nemo, “If you don’t let anything happen to ‘em, nothing will ever happen. No fun for Nemo.”

I have sent away a girl of eighteen years who, in my heart, might as well be four again; for the way I felt in separating from her was no less shocking. Dear ones have been asking how I’m doing. Impossible to answer. I’m ‘doing’ every emotion known to humanity, and have yet to land on a description that encapsulates the sensation of launching a beloved child.

My heart reaches out to every parent I crossed paths with on campus – the mother struggling to hold herself together, the parents at the pub drowning their stress, and the fathers – more than one – who were victimized by a phenomenon that Husband dubbed, ‘Dad-Shaming.’ Students, succumbing to the frenzy of the occasion, would periodically scream at their well-meaning fathers in public. “Dad! I know that! Let me do it! Leave me alone!!!!!”

In the next several years, these college students will morph into young adults. When they return, we will have to get acquainted with them all over again, leaving space for the child-cum-stranger whose tastes and manners may be grossly unfamiliar.

Meanwhile, we will be learning a new parenting style, conducted from afar and constructed on a whole new set of rules. We will love from a distance, always hoping, but never quite knowing, if it will be enough. We will worry and encourage and pray our way through it. And at the end of the college experience, we will wonder, as we do now, how did it go so fast?

On Children

 

Letter to University from Mom

collegeBoundDear University,

You are about to receive a gift. We call her Principessa and she is my daughter. To you, she is just a statistic – one set of criteria that met with approval for acceptance into your esteemed institution.

Principessa will be leaving all that she knows to join you several hundred miles from home. She will be on her own for the first time. I don’t expect you to parent her or to take over for me in my absence. But I do expect you to provide her with what she needs to survive and to thrive over the next several years.

I hope you fulfill the promises you made when you wooed her into your fold – a solid education that will lead to job prospects, a safe environment, and ample diversity and opportunities to stimulate her personal growth.

This seems like the least I can ask for my financial investment. Which, by the way, is significantly higher than many of her fellow classmates. For instance, the athlete with the coveted ‘full boat.’ Apparently his physical skills are more highly valued than my daughter’s passion and talent for nurturing children and her long-standing desire to become a teacher.

My husband and I will pay an inflated sticker price for the reward of our daughter’s college education. To say that I’m not bitter or worried about the ability to afford this would be a lie. But I’m willing to bury my negativity in exchange for her ultimate success and happiness.

University, you have no idea how special my daughter is to me. And I get the feeling that you probably don’t care – except for caring that she reflects well on your reputation. Don’t worry, she’ll do you proud, just as she has done for us all these years.

Principessa is one in 17,000 to you, but she is one of a kind to us, her family. Please be good to her. She deserves the best you have to offer.

Sincerely,

Mom of the college Freshman

The New You

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image credit purefunfit.com

Dearest Daughter,

I love that you so clearly wrote your feelings in response to my spontaneous comment about not liking the New You.  I am equally unhappy that your email was written at 1:00 a.m.!  Why? Because that is very late and I worry, as mothers do.

I try hard not to share my worries because I want to project confidence for you.  Deep down, I believe that you’ll be fine, even when you make poor choices or even good choices that I don’t like.  I believe in fate and God and the goodness of Life.  But my human-ness and my mom-ness continue to plague me with what-if scenarios.

When you were a clumsy toddler, I watched with fear as you climbed a playground structure.  My hands were never far from your body, waiting – expecting – to have to catch you.  My mothering instinct is to protect.  Over the years, I’ve learned to subdue the urge to rescue you, even when you begged me.  Case in point: making you call the orthodontist to let him know that, again, you need to replace your retainer.  And that you will be paying for it.

While punishing me as a child, my mother told me, “This hurts me more than it hurts you.”  I didn’t believe her.  I do now.  It hurts me to see you struggle, even when I know it will result in your favor.

As the first-born you bear the task of paving roads.  All along the way, my parental inexperience has been your guide.  You are my first child to leave the nest and I am learning how to reconcile my heartbreak with my pride.  Both emotions are strong and are battling for victory.

Last night, you captured a heartfelt but selfish comment from me.  When I said that I don’t like the new you, I misspoke.  I love all versions of you.  What I dislike is the feeling that my world is changing so drastically and so quickly.  You are living life your way, not my way, as it should be.  I envision myself grasping for the rope that tethers your boat to the dock.  But your ship is ready to sail.

You are branching out toward unfamiliar experiences, taking advantage of the bounty of youth, and it’s difficult for me to watch.  But my skepticism is not an indication of the rightness or wrongness of your choices.  As you pointed out in defense, you are consciously taking risks and risks are essential to growth.

Principessa, I trust in your core values.  I believe your intentions are pure.  You don’t disappoint me.  And I could never think less of you.

Thank you for pointing out that it’s also hard for you to see yourself changing.  We know that change is essential and beneficial but it’s often scary.  Now that we’ve exposed our mutual fear and shined a light on it, it looks less daunting.  Let’s agree that we won’t let fear get the best of us.

You worry that you’ll become someone you don’t recognize.  It’s true that you’ll stray from the person you’ve been, but you can’t lose yourself.  There is a part in each of us that is connected to our source. It cannot be severed. You are, and always will be, uniquely you by divine design.

If you forget who you are, how special and precious, just ask me.  I will pour my love into your heart and remind you of your value. As always, I will be here, with arms outstretched, ready to catch you if you fall.

Loving you more than you can imagine,

Mom

dr seuss you

Mother’s Day-cation

I am alone at the lake on Mother’s Day weekend. It’s supposed to feel good to be away, rejuvenating. And it does – sort of. I’ve escaped the mayhem of a spring weekend full of sports events, social obligations and chores. Who could complain?

Peach felt personally wounded that her mother would want to be away from her on Mother’s Day. I assured her that I did want to be with her – for the part when I come home to a clean house and a cooked dinner. But that it was also important for me to remove myself from motherhood for a moment so I could get a good look at it.

So here I sit, at a house that once upon a time, bubbled with the activity of a young family. Little voices squealed at the break of dawn, begging to go swimming. Bigger voices chased them around, lit campfires, and made nature bracelets to pass the time. They would roast smores together and give sticky hugs and kisses. They would kayak and count stars, play cards and hike mountains.

Those days are gone. My babies are growing up and our time as a family is coming to an end. It sounds melodramatic but it’s true. Five in one room is a thing of the past. I’m trying to pretend I’m not sad; trying to avoid that cliche about it going so fast. But hot damn, it flew by and I’m gutted that it’s almost over.

I know I won’t stop being a mother when the kids leave the house. And yes, I’m grateful that they’re reaching their expected milestones. So I try my hardest to avoid silly tears. But when I stumble upon a forgotten baby monitor while Spring cleaning our lonely vacation house, I bust open. I couldn’t bring myself to move the toys that I found under the bed. I remember buying them for my 2 year old.

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When I was a stay-at-home mother, I made a promise to myself to maintain an identity. I feared the thought of becoming one of ‘those’ mothers whose lives were so entwined in their children’s lives that they fell apart when they were no longer needed. Unachieved goal, that one. No matter how much I’ve accomplished outside of mothering, nothing matters more to me than loving and caring for my little people.

Sometimes, I actually wish I didn’t love them so much. Because it hurts to let go. This is the dichotomy I’m stuck in.

Celebrating the milestones while mourning the foregone moments.
Dreading the work yet embracing the job.
Wanting my children close to me but craving peace and quiet.

It’s tearing me apart, this motherhood thing. And yet, it’s the very thing that makes me whole.
I can’t know if I’ve made the most of mothering. But mothering has definitely made the most of me.

The Trouble With Teens

dishesSome days I want to be done parenting. I want to clock out – not just for the night, but forever. Deep down, beyond the drudgery, I know I don’t mean this. But when the well is dry like it is tonight, I can’t fathom where I will scrape up the energy to do it again tomorrow.

Husband saw that my mothering light was extinguished sometime between a power struggle over chores and a monotonous round of shuttling thankless teens to their activities. He took over with a threat, “No ride to the gym unless those dishes are washed!” Beagle didn’t budge.

“Did you hear me?” Husband said with a more aggressive tone, trying to penetrate the Beats headphones.

With a much-too-casual attitude Beagle replied, “You weren’t serious.”

This lit Husband’s fire and he exploded on a teen who very brazenly called his bluff. I wisely left the scene in anticipation of escalating emotion – I didn’t need to be in the vicinity to hear the fallout. And I thought it best to avoid bearing witness to a potential crime.

After a dramatic round of shouting and banging of pots and pans, Husband emerged victorious with his chest puffed up a bit, patting himself on the back for showing teen son who’s boss.

A male friend commented that he was glad he never had a son because he knows that he would butt heads with a boy in a much more destructive way than with his daughter. It would be physical and loud and ugly, he postulated – just like between me and my dad. And I would win, just like my dad did.

Really? Did Dad win? Did you love your father?

No.

Did you respect him?

No. I feared him.

Did you resent him?

Absolutely. And it made me rebel even more.

Case in point. There is no winner in war. Even if both sides agree on a victor of the battle, the silent war wages on. Grudge matches ensue; both sides unwilling to declare ultimate defeat.

The trouble with teens is that they excel in the art of power struggle. One would think that a parent would too. After all, parents are just teens of yore with more experience. But we are worn out and the game is old. Teens, on the other hand, seem to have a bottomless supply of energy for sparring. It emanates from a gland that no longer serves the parent.

I hated to ruin Husband’s victory dance in the kitchen, but he needed to know the truth. Teen son had washed the dishes as commanded to do, yes. But instead of using a sponge, he had washed them with the scrub brush that is used to clean the floor.  Zing.

Accepted, Excited and Panicked

collegebound2I knew by the size of the envelope that it was an acceptance letter, but I still held my breath when Principessa tore into it.  This was her top-choice university and the outcome could make or break her sanity.  She was ecstatic for a solid five minutes until nervousness set in.

I’ve tried reassuring her without being untruthful.  Sort of like telling a toddler that a vaccine shot will hurt – but only for a minute.

To be honest, I’m questioning my success in preparing her for what’s ahead.  My confidence in this regard has been taking hits of late. Like when we were driving at night.  I flipped my rear-view mirror to block the headlight glare from behind.  “Wow!” Principessa exclaimed.  “Does every car have that feature?!”

This is the same honors student who thought that the car made its own windshield washer fluid.  No joke.

I find myself dispersing random facts of life at every opportunity to ensure that I’ve covered all possible topics before releasing my first-born to the world. A crash course in Life, if you will.

  • Expect to feel free.  You are about to grasp that Golden Ring of Freedom that every teen craves.  For the first time, you’ll have no parental supervision.  But let me remind you that even in the absence of authority, actions have consequences.  And the fact that you will make more of your own decisions means that you will assume more of the responsibility for the outcome.  Think before you act.  Or as your grandpa the carpenter would say, “Measure twice.  Cut once.”
  • Expect to feel lonely.  Even if you’ve forged strong bonds with new friends and are having the time of your life, you will, at some point, feel lonely.  You may be standing shoulder to shoulder in a crowd of 10,000 students on the college quad and it will strike you that you are utterly alone.  The good news is that loneliness is a slingshot.  It propels you back in the direction of meaningful connection.  Just as spontaneously as you fell into loneliness, you will reconnect and wonder what your heart was fussing about.
  • Expect to feel amazed.  You probably feel pretty worldly already.  But I assure you, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.  Get ready for jaw-dropping stories and experiences, the likes of which may test your faith in humanity.  You’re leaving a bubble of relative predictability and heading to a melting pot of cultures, customs and values.  This isn’t a bad thing.  If you observe from a reasonable distance like a wildlife researcher, your observations will resemble a really good movie.  Grab some popcorn.
  • Expect to be betrayed.  There’s no sugar-coating this one, darling.  A friend will tell your secret, or a roommate may steal your boyfriend.  But at the end of the day, there will always be more good in the world than bad.  I can’t give you scientific proof of this, but I believe it with all my heart.
  • Expect to be loved.  You know this one.  Love has no boundaries.  Your family will not forget you or wane in our affection while you’re gone.  Your place in our hearts is guaranteed.

What I’m trying to say, my dear, is that yes, college is a big deal for a small-town girl. But it’s just another season of life.  There will be harsh Winters AND glorious Springs.  As long as your heart beats, you will weather the seasons, because that’s what humans do.  They live through all manner of experiences from horrific tragedy to mind-blowing joy.  Some survive and others thrive.  Each decides.

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