In this most momentous time of your imminent high school graduation, I want to point out some little things because hidden within their nooks and crannies are my love and admiration for you.
For starters, here’s a very odd little thing, I have been counting down your last days of school in sandwich crusts. I can’t pinpoint which morning I started cutting them off of your sandwiches for your school lunches, but it was way after I needed to hold a firm line to teach that tantrums over personal particularities are exhausting for everyone, including you. While I was never a fan of the martyrdom message lurking in “you get what you get and you don’t get upset,” I tried to instill that a certain amount of flexibility makes for a more enjoyable life; I mean, just don’t eat the crusts if you don’t want them. But sometime after bedtime snuggles ended, and right as the truly big issues of teendom loomed, I started taking the three seconds to slice those toasty brown edges off. This little task that felt like the last straw for the drudgery of parenting when you were seven years old, became a moment to show how much I loved you as you mastered more and more on your own. I continued making your school lunches way after you were capable to show you that even proficient people deserve support, and I guillotined those crusts precisely because you no longer expected it.
Speaking of morning rituals, what is up with the cat? How can she so casually and randomly refuse to jump up on the bench next to you for the time-honored breakfast nuzzles and bits of bacon? It’s all I can do not to yell, “You fool! Your entire life is going to change and you don’t even know it! Enjoy these last days!” I have been bound and determined to be in the present and not waste one moment of your senior year fretting about you leaving in August—and to not burden you with my parental emotions—but the cat’s ignorance about your scheduled departure date has me feeling some feelings. They say ignorance is bliss, but I don’t think that is the case as the ending of this era looms. High school graduation is the big kahuna of childhood “lasts,” but it is built upon a foundation of final acts I didn’t even know were coming: the last time I wrapped you in a towel after your bath, the last time you ran into my arms off of the bus, the last time you grabbed for my hand. The last, the last, the last. I don’t think my heart could have withstood the anticipation of the passing of every landmark, but I’m glad I’ve had the perspective to not take the milestones of senior year for granted.
And finally, I speak about little things because you blow me away with your grand swipes at life that create jet streams to pull me out of my comfort zone, too. You had me in Washington DC for the March for Our Lives rally even though I shun large crowds and often don’t stand up for my beliefs in favor of keeping the peace. Because of your convictions, I got to discover a little piece of myself again. And mentioning a jet stream is more than a metaphor because you actually had me flying through the air over the edge of a skyscraper on a mechanical swing because of your sense of adventure. I most definitely was not clamoring to flap above the earth, but if you could be plucky, so could I.
But while the big things germinate personal growth, it’s in the little things where our relationship grows: the Netflix bingeing, the sharing of novels, the Snapchatting about the dog. It’s the daily quiet times where we can just be, and that is what I am going to miss most of all.
I believe in you more than you can ever know, and I thank you for taking me on this parenting ride.
The first time your college student comes home for break is a time for celebration. All of your chicks are home under one roof! The world as you’ve known it for so many years is back as it should be. Or is it? While you have been home adjusting to familiar routines and spaces without your child, they have been cultivating a whole new life! They have enjoyed freedom! Choices! A lack of supervision!
While you have remained the same, they have simmered in a pressure cooker of decisions and responsibilities that sends them back expanded and changed. Conflict can spring up if you expect their new wingspan to squeeze back into your nest in the same old way. This conflict can be further intensified if your child cherry-picks exactly what “an adult” is.
As with most things, honest communication of expectations can make the transition smoother for everyone. I started off the conversation over the phone with my freshman daughter before she came home for her first break . . . before we butted heads over differing assumptions of what our relationship as parent and child was now. I think starting it over the phone made it go smoother because she was on her own turf and able to control the length and intensity of the conversation. It was a preemptive move before we were in the heat of the moment. However, no time is a bad time for an honest, respectful conversation. If Junior is on his way home as we speak, carve out some time to talk, just not as he walks through the door.
So how did I kick off this conversation? I started by complimenting her responsible handling of her school work and job, and then I just asked her how she thought she had changed. I asked her what she thought being an adult meant. We discussed how being in the rarefied university environment meant she is not facing all of the challenges that might be upon her once she is really out on her own—everything from meal prep to mortgages.
I had heard nightmare tales of kids bursting through the door thinking rules about curfew, respect, and drinking no longer applied to them. I made sure to discuss what I like to call “The Realities of Adulthood,” the version of grown-up beyond what a child imagines. Being a real adult is not about getting to do whatever you want to do, it’s about being responsible enough to complete all that you need to do.
For example, it’s not about getting to stay up as late as you want, it’s maintaining a schedule that allows you to get your stuff done. And REAL adulthood is being denied sleep and forging on anyway. Furthermore, it’s not about controlling your time and doing what you want when you want, but losing control of your time to your responsibilities. And most importantly, drinking doesn’t make you an adult, but being responsible about it does (and remembering the legal drinking age is 21).
Having freedom doesn’t mean disrespecting others in the household. Because of our open conversation, she acknowledged appreciation for her safety nets instead of slashing them out of resentment. She does have pressures and obligations, but not to the degree she will have later on and she is grateful for that.
We came to the conclusion that she is an adult with training wheels . . . and she was just fine with it. Heaven knows she is pedaling faster and steadier every day.
What’s the one reason you should let your kids watch 13 Reasons Why—the story of why Hannah Baker committed suicide?
It’s because they’ve already watched it.
By the time the school emails and letters were spawned from the reports on CNN, NPR, The New York Times, and the like, that barn door had been opened and cued up for a month.
It doesn’t matter that you have controls on your Netflix account, or that your child doesn’t have a smartphone, or that you have drawn your line in the sand over what is appropriate viewing. Your child has gained access even if they had to watch it in ten minute increments on Billy’s iPhone before batting practice. This show is that much of a phenomenon.
Think I’m wrong? Just ask your kid, “Hey, what does ‘here’s your tape’ mean?”
And believe me, I know the issues with 13 Reasons Why. I already visited this fun house seven years ago when the novel was assigned to my daughter for a book report in seventh grade. She was twelve and her teacher RECOMMENDED this book. Yeah. I spent two days skimming it and gathering age appropriate information on sexual assault and suicide so I could have discussions with my daughter to give her some context for the book’s themes.
I was not pleased . . . but I am grateful. This was my wake-up call: I was no longer my daughter’s filter for the world. My control had been evaporating since the moment she stepped foot on the bus for kindergarten, but I had been too busy to notice just how gossamer it was. Fast forward to when I found out my other daughter had binge-watched “American Horror Story” at a sleepover, and I was primed to accept that forbidding books and shows was like the Little Dutch Boy trying to plug the holes in the dyke. Just when you think you have it covered, another one springs up.
There is a real danger in forbidding certain shows, books, and movies, too. If your child has to sneak behind your back to be part of the pop culture tsunami, you’ve closed off the possibility of discussion. Worse yet—in the case of “13 Reasons Why”—maybe they’ve only had time to sneak the brutal rape and suicide scenes without any of the context of the rest of the series.
I am not campaigning for or against kids watching “13 Reasons Why.” That is already being covered in the news outlets by experts and playing out in PTA meetings across the country. I am acknowledging that it simply is, and it has to be dealt with.
I urge you as a parent to watch it, invite your kids to watch it again with you, or at the very least watch the documentary at the end, “Behind the Reasons,” together. This documentary was filmed as a tool to help parents and teens frame the mindset of the artistic choices made by the creators, and to encourage those at risk to speak up and seek help. This show needs that explanation and discussion. There are some very useful talking points available from the JED Foundation, a teen suicide prevention group, and there is crisis help information on the 13 Reasons Why website.
This is arguably a dangerous series for at-risk youth, but it is not going away. Many summaries of the series claim that the story ends with Hannah’s suicide, but it actually doesn’t. It ends with one of the students reaching out to reconnect with a girl who was once his friend.
This series provoked tears, anger, frustration, outrage, and indignation in my own daughter. However, when asked what she got out of it, she replied, “Well, we all need to be nicer to one another.”
Why are we starting college tours for our second daughter during her sophomore year?
It’s not to freak out my friends or make them feel like they’re behind.
It’s not to draw the scorn of those who are silently screaming: “WHY WOULDN’T YOU START EARLIER?!” (I will go on record saying to chill with the tours starting in grade school.)
It’s because this IS my second rodeo. The April of my first rodeo—also known as my oldest daughter’s senior year—had us zipping up and down the East Coast with her college decision coming down to the May 1st wire. My brain wants to shutdown and take a nap just remembering it.
See, I was so intent on avoiding the competitive college stress spiral that I may have underestimated how little time there really was. I realized that maybe, just maybe, the parents who I thought were zealous were just good planners. I was also lulled by my daughter’s methodical selection of schools based on the major she wanted to pursue. She was so focused on what each college offered that it almost seemed beside the point to visit them.
But most importantly, we didn’t start touring before junior year because of good ol’ run-of-the-mill naiveté. IT WAS MY FIRST TIME! IT FELT LIKE WE WERE GROPING AROUND IN THE DARK!
Most college advice found on the internet was too intense, and while the guidance office was fantastic at meeting deadlines, it was a little light on the guidance. Even friends were not much help. It seems like the college application process is a lot like childbirth: people forget the hours of labor and only remember the outcome. I mean seriously, my daughter ended up at the perfect school for her so I could be spouting “all’s well that ends well” and calling it a day. Luckily for you, I am cursed with a mind for remembering hardships, blessed with an ability to learn from experience, and overflowing with a passion to share what I know. Apparently, I also have a wee flair for the dramatic.
Why I Now Think Touring in 10th Grade is Swell
It all comes down finding free days on the calendar.
You need to tour when students are there. We learned the hard way that a campus can have a drastically different feel when it’s devoid of life and bustle. It’s really the difference between looking at buildings and truly experiencing the campus vibe. So. This strikes holidays, most of December and January, the school’s spring break, and summer from available tour dates. Remember too that spring session often ends at the beginning of May. Now if you’re driving past a school on your summer vacation and want to take a peek, don’t let me stop you, just think twice before making any costly special trips. Even summer session is not the same.
Shifting your child’s focus.If your kid hasn’t already experienced the college process with a sibling or friend, it may seem very unreal to them. Touring some beautiful campuses can be just the ticket to make your literature-loving child realize that chemistry does indeed matter as a means to an end.
Tip: If the times for tours seem to be full for your desired date when you check online, call the admissions department. More times than not, they are very accommodating.
Junior year is crazy crammed . . . andstressful. There’s SATs and ACTs, regular sports and clubs, travel teams, AP exam prep, proms, driver’s ed, and driving tests . . . to name just a sampling. Couple this with the hardest course load your child is likely to face in high school, and your sweetie might not have a day to spare for college tours. On my junior’s few scheduled days off that coordinated with the college calendars, she just wanted to catch up on her work and sleep.
The stakes are lower. Yep, this also has to do with the calendar; hear me out. When you tour a school as a junior, and especially as a senior, the pressure of getting in can loom heavy. We did not tour some of my daughter’s “reach” schools because she thought it would be too disappointing if she didn’t get in. This left us with at least three schools she needed to see after she got accepted in March. They weren’t close to each other—or us— and it was a struggle to see them before commitment day: May 1st. We all agreed that if we had toured some of them in sophomore year, the pressure would have been reduced.
Location matters. If my daughter had visited Boston University in February of her sophomore year, I doubt she would have applied to any school north of the Mason-Dixon line because the cold stunned her. Instead, we were trying to book hotel rooms during the Boston Marathon because that was the only open weekend for us in her senior year. See? Still about the calendar.
Just look at her middle school room redo. How did we not know she was destined to fly south?
One disadvantage of touring in 10th grade: your child might not be focused enough to know their desired major. Tours of specific departments really are invaluable in the selection making process. But even so, the general tour will help your child decide if the school makes their list. Also, school doesn’t necessarily need to be in session for department tours to be informative. Those sessions are more about the facilities, professors, curriculum, and advisers.
College tours are essential for deciding where your kid’s home away from home is going to be for the next four (or more) years. It’s a big deal! In fact the gravity of the situation may have you obsessively making lists of questions to pepper the tour guide with once you get them in your sights.
But . . .
Remember college is all about your child stepping out on their own. If you take over the tour group time, you’re essentially creating a filter between your kid and their experience of the campus. A wise compromise is to discuss using the tour group time effectively BEFORE you slap on that name tag. This list of questions will help. In fact, why not just forward the entire article to your child now?
3 General Tips
1. Only tour when students are present. It makes all the difference in the world. Without the students, you’re just looking at a bunch of buildings. We already made this mistake, learn from it. The first school we toured was on winter break, and my daughter got a very negative impression of it: cold, too expansive, and boring. We went back later and she discovered a whole new perspective when the student union was hopping and the quad was filled with students. Luckily this campus was only a couple of hours from our house, but who has time to tour all the colleges on their list twice?
2. Understand what questions NOT to ask the tour guide. If it’s a question that can be answered from the website, skip it. Enough with obsessing over the average SAT scores already. Also, realize what is beyond their scope. Your guide will generally be a student—a well-trained student—but still, they have no admissions authority. On every. single. tour. someone asked about financial aid. Just no. That’s what an appointment with a financial aid counselor is for.
3. If you have to choose between a tour and sitting in on a class, take the tour. While it may be exciting for your student to get a taste of college, they’re getting a very narrow experience just sitting in on one class. We got much more decision-making information from thoughtfully using a tour. By our third visit, even if we had time for our daughter to sample a class, she was passing on that option. Sitting in on a class was more helpful on accepted student days.
Questions to Ask
First consider your tour guide to be your window into what it’s really like to attend that school! Just remember, this is their job, a job they picked because they love their school, but still a job. They’re trained on how to deflect negative questions. I’m definitely NOT saying they are disingenuous, but let’s just acknowledge that questions like “how’s the party scene?” have certain scripted answers.
To get information not found anywhere else, it helps to get your guides talking about themselves—everyone’s favorite subject.
With that in mind, a good place for your student to start is . . .
1. Why did you choose this school? Ask this of as many people as you can to get as clear a picture as you can. It’s better than the anonymous info on College Niche.
2. What is this school known for? If you keep hearing “sports,” you need to decide if that’s an important thing to you or not. When the social scene revolves around going to games, you may be lonely if you don’t join in.
3. What do you think the “big” majors are at this school? If all you hear is “engineering” and you’re a dance major, you may want to assess how much funding goes to the arts.
4. Have you switched your major? How hard is it to switch your major? MANY students switch their majors. One school dropped off of my daughter’s list when she discovered she had to pick between applying to the School of Communication and the School of Journalism. If she wanted to switch between the two after she started attending, it was a whole new application process, not just a transfer form.
5. What year are you? How easy was it for you to get the classes you wanted? How about when you were a freshman? Most students readily spill aboutthe pain and annoyance of being shut out of classes. This is very telling.
6. How were you assigned your adviser and do you use them? Be very concerned about finishing in four years at a school where people claim not to use advising. It of course can be done, but it takes a high level of diligence.
7. How did you communicate with your adviser before you signed up for classes as a freshman and how helpful were they? We did not ask this once and it should have been one of the deciding factors for picking a school. We lucked out that the advisement program at my daughter’s university is superb. Her adviser spent a couple of hours with her on the phone over multiple calls helping her map out her classes for freshman year and beyond. Be aware that the quality of advisement can vary by major even at the same school.
8. What year do people start to get internships? Be a little worried if the answer is senior year because from internships come jobs.
9. Is studying abroad a big deal here? What year do people do it? Also be aware that some schools encourage it during winter breaks and summers meaning extra cost on top of tuition. Some schools have programs where a semester abroad is covered by tuition plus travel costs.
10. What are the best dorms? Did you get that one as a freshman? Good to get the inside scoop.
11. How did you get your roommate? At my daughter’s school there was an official questionnaire and matching service, but my daughter found hers on the unofficial Facebook page. Also good to note, especially if it is a local college, do people seem to room with friends from high school?
12. Are there “quiet” dorm or floor options? Another question we did not think to ask. This is good for the introvert and the extrovert. The quiet person can get what she wants and the socialite can avoid being shushed (or worse) all of the time.
13. Do you still live on campus? When do students generally move off-campus? Another question we should have asked. I thought my girl would have at least three years in the dorms, but alas, many of the students at her school move off-campus after freshman year (the only year they are required to live in the dorms).
14. Have you been here during a campus lockdown? Are alerts sent out often? These questions delve deeper than “is the campus safe?”
15. Does the campus clear out on the weekends? If you are hundreds of miles away from home, you don’t want to end up at what is essentially a commuter school.
16.Describe your typical Saturday here to me. Gets at the above question from a different angle.
17. What are you involved with on campus? This is a more open-ended way to see what clubs, endeavors, and activism your tour guide is involved with.
18. What kinds of off-campus things do you do? This canbe very telling about the surrounding art culture, jobs, and club scene . . . or it can drive home that you are looking at a school in the middle of a cow pasture.
19. What do the locals say about this school? Also very telling.
20. How necessary is it to have a car? If freshman are not allowed cars, how do people work around that? This will clue you into how prevalent the use of Uber is or whether there is a sweet garage where students keep their cars off-campus.
Okay, now breathe. These questions only serve as a guideline for information you may not have thought to gather, not as permission to monopolize the group. Let others talk. You may just learn something neither you nor I realized we needed to know. And by all means, if you think of a good question, please add it in the comments. I have college tours looming on my horizon AGAIN.
I’ll leave you with one last piece of advice: if your child is very interested in a school and has narrowed their major down, please consider calling that department to arrange for a specialized tour. They may even offer for you to meet with a dean or an adviser before you even have to ask. We found this VERY helpful if we were visiting from far away and “popping over” for another look was not possible.
Oooo, one last LAST piece of advice. Talk finances with your child before you tour. If you can’t swing a school without significant aid/scholarship, let them know that caveat before they fall in love. It’s an easier conversation before they have stars in their eyes.
Happy touring and take plenty of pictures! This may be the start of your child’s new path!
People are generous with their kind words immediately after you have lost a loved one. Despite death being a inevitable part of everyone’s life, people often feel awkward about what to say; but at least the time and space provided by social norms are there to encourage them.
Unfortunately that window for condolences closes up fairly quickly, and the awkwardness morphs into the fear that they will upset you if they mention your loved one. You are now left with your own awkwardness surrounding how to talk about your grief, how to bring it up. Maybe a prescribed period for wearing black back in the day wasn’t such a bad idea. Black arm bands or those silicone bracelets could work nowadays. It just seems like we could use something to indicate “handle with care.”
“Time heals all wounds” is not so much a falsehood, as it is too simplistic. Yes, the hurt scabs over, and the pain dulls, but the loss is healed with a scar. A scar that tugs and throbs predictably, yet can grab you unexpectedly .
The holidays and anniversaries with their brightness and intensity serve to highlight the voids . . . voids you can often avoid staring into on a day-to-day basis once your grief scar has formed.
“My mom should be here baking cookies with my kids. She always had the patience to make cut-outs.”
“This is where my son’s stocking should be hanging.”
“My father always lit the candles.”
And while you can predict the holidays are going to be tinged with blue, it’s often the little things that surprisingly leave you with the most intensely hollow longing. To prepare for my college freshman daughter’s homecoming for winter break, I was changing her sheets, even though she had only slept in her bed a couple of nights over Thanksgiving and changing sheets is one of the household chores I inexplicably hate the most. I mean, there are so many tasks that are so much worse. Scrubbing toilets anyone?
But as I was grumbling at myself for performing this largely unnecessary task at 11:30 PM, I was overcome. I sank right down on the floor among the pillows and stuffed animals as tears slid down my cheeks. Changing sheets was my mother’s love language of comfort. Sick with a fever? Clean sheets. Home from college, just had a baby, recovering from surgery? Clean sheets. Facing my fourth Christmas without her, I was unconsciously following her script for loving, and grieving anew that she would never give this “love letter” to me again.
Rest assured, you are not the only one “still” grieving. You are not the only one who knows how grief and joy can snuggle side by side, neither diminishing the impact of the other. You certainly aren’t the only one who understands the bitter truth about how time actually heal wounds.
Since I know I’m not alone, this holiday season I am going to reach out to others to give them a space to share. The internet isn’t only about political rants and cat videos. It’s for connecting. I encourage you to try a post as simple as “I miss the way my mother descended on my house a couple of days before Christmas with a cooler bursting with pure deliciousness and a trunk brimming with presents. I miss the way Aunt Ruth delighted us with the latest musical holiday toy from Hallmark each year. What do you miss about your loved ones?” My friend Meredith of The Mom of the Year did this sort of thing in a Facebook group we share, and the resulting comments were uplifting. She is my inspiration.
Follow Meredith’s lead and don’t be afraid to create the space you need for your grief. You never know who you will help as you help yourself.
Volunteers make the world go round. Whether you work with your kids’ school, your church, the local Boy Scout Troop, the animal shelter, or even with an international organization like [email protected], your time and efforts makes all of the things possible.
Buuuuuuuutttttttt . . .
We all know—especially those of us who have been chairpersons—that not all volunteers are cut from the same cloth. There are the fakes, flakes, and troublemakers who make volunteering as painful as a Brazilian bikini wax administered on a fire ant hill. Volunteers need to work as a hive and if too many bees go rogue, the honey is just not getting made.
Don’t worry, we’re going to stop with the insect analogies there. Shifting gears, to completely illustrate our commandments for proper volunteer etiquette, we have created this entirely FICTIONAL school event—The Annual Penguin Craft Party. Once again, this event is entirely made-up, but if something strikes a chord, perhaps it is time for a little reflection. We’re going to be honest, failure to follow these simple rules will rightfully earn you the title “Monarch of the PITAs“.
Without further ado, we bring this meeting for The Annual Penguin Craft Party to order.
1.Respect the planning period! If while setting up for an event that has been planned for months, you try to push in another direction because of the idea that just popped into your head . . . DON’T!
Count to ten. Think of something completely relaxing and indulgent . . . you, know, like sitting down after the penguin party is over. DO NOT utter your brilliant thought NOW. That ship has sailed. Here’s a little example to illustrate our point. Say, you are in the gym hanging streamers for the Annual Penguin Craft Party. Now is not the time to rally support for the idea that this shindig could be so much MORE if it just had an actual dogsled race and the kids worked together to carve a true-to-scale igloo.
2. But don’t be an idea killer DURING the planning period! Nothing breaks hearts and quashes spirits more than the simple phrase:
“But we’ve always done it this way.”
DO NOT let these words leave your lips during a PLANNING meeting. This is the time to let the creative juices fly! It really might be fun for the kids to toss live mackerel into the penguin’s mouth! Builds hand-eye coordination and deadens olfactory sensitivity! Give every dreamer her (brief) moment. Every golden idea was a dusty little nugget at some point.
3. Execute your own ideas! If you throw an idea out there, be ready to catch it, and run with that ball. DO NOT expect your vision to magically happen. If your brilliant idea is going to take 50 million woman hours to pull off, you should think about putting in a lot of those hours yourself, not just patting yourself on the back for how creative you are. Start Googling how to make that igloo! Look up dry ice dealers! Be ready to drag that dogsled yourself.
4. Just worry about yourself! Everybody is a volunteer. Nobody is getting paid, and everyone has someplace else to be. You’re hanging with the heroes. If you spend more time complaining about all the people who never volunteer than you do making those papier mâché penguins, you are bringing us all unpleasantly down. Stop griping! Get pasting!
5. Follow the 10 second rule! If you have called your event chair four times in the past hour, take a deep breath and put your cellphone down. Perhaps you can solve this problem yourself!
We believe in you!
Think for 10 seconds! Remember you are competent and bright. Acknowledge that your chairperson, though in charge, is still just a volunteer. Envision your sweet little cherub’s face and remember why you’re volunteering in the first place. Use the time you just saved NOT making that phone call to cut out some more penguin bills.
6. Keep any urge to cat fight to yourself! If you start a spat worthy of a middle school cafeteria (even if you ARE standing in a middle school cafeteria) in the midst of the snow cone booth, you are a PITA. Period. It is NOT proper etiquette to squirt blueberry syrup down your fellow comrade’s shirt no matter how many eye rolls she gave you or how satisfying it may feel.
7. In fact, bring a great attitude. Chances are that inspirational posters promoting just this very thing are lining the school halls.If it applies to the kids, it applies to the adults. You don’t have to whistle while you work, but don’t swear, moan, or gossip. The penguins don’t like that. Makes ‘em cranky.
8. Do what you say you are going to do! There is no credit for great intentions. We’ve heard there’s a pathway to hell paved with these. The only thing that matters is results. Nobody cares if your uncle is the Chief Penguin Wrangler at the local zoo unless you get him there. If you volunteer him to show up and talk to the kids, he better be there with some of his feathered friends even if you have to drive him to the event yourself. In a dogsled. It’s all about the follow through.
9. Clean up after yourself. We all have kids. That’s what got us into this mess. When our kids leave a path of destruction in their wake, we feel like kicking a kitten. When you do it, we just feel like kicking you. You’re not royalty. Don’t act like it.
Nothing tarnishes your “Volunteer of the Year” crown awarded for cutting out 200 snowflakes like leaving your confetti scraps on the floor for someone else to sweep up.
10. Keep it up. Don’t be a One Note Nelly. Consider doing a little something to make EVERY event a success. Every time you put down that glue gun, another volunteer has to pick it up with the third set of hands she doesn’t have.
But, seriously, every hour you donate makes your kids’ schools, churches, youth groups, teams, and world better. Thank you and keep up the good work!
Fall is in the air! In the past that just meant trips to the corn maze, hot apple cider, and pumpkin spice everything. And while it’s still all about these niceties, if you’re the parents of a college freshman, it now means you get to see your baby during Family Weekend!
Family Weekend is the lifeline many of us hang onto after we drop our kids off at the dorms, especially if they are our oldest, and ESPECIALLY if they are far away. “Just two weeks, seven days, and fifteen hours until I get to see/hug/smooch my girl!” I would market the heck out of a countdown clock if I didn’t think the added hype would break some poor momma’s heart even more.
What am I talking about? Hear that faint noise whistling below the rustle of leaves and the honking of geese? Like air leaking out of a balloon? Well, if you’re within earshot of said parents of a brand spanking new freshman, that’s the sound of high expectations for Family Weekend deflating. Or maybe it’s coming from you as you stand in the middle of that pricey campus with nothing to do and no idea where your offspring even is.
See, not all Family Weekends are created equal. Some are extensively orchestrated affairs that would make cruise directors weep with pride. Others are steeped in vague suggestions like “check out the soccer game, have lunch in the dining hall, then enjoy the city.” Neither one guarantees a great weekend. While it sounds good to have a full dance card, it could dupe you into touring the third floor of the research library instead of hanging with your kid on her break between classes. But on the other hand, “enjoy the city” translates roughly into “better spend tons of time on the internet finding something to do besides eating cafeteria tator tots.”
But by asking your student one question, you can transcend events, schedules, and the particularities of their college to ensure that everyone gets a needed boost from the visit. For you: time with your child you have been missing so much. For your kid: moments of unconditional love where they can bask and relax.
Are you ready for the magic words? Drum roll please . . .
When and how can you spend time with us during this weekend?
Simple, right? It’s so simple, it’s often overlooked. Here is why this question is the key to everything.
Your kid has a whole new life. While there continues to be space in your home life for them, their college life has been created without you. There is no place for you to pick up where you left off. The time and space for your visit has to be crafted.
Your kid probably doesn’t know the event schedule. More often than not, YOU’VE been getting the Family Weekend emails, not them. They are just trying to navigate their classes, and maybe a social event or twenty.
Family Weekend is not a national holiday. While you have these dates blocked off in Sharpie on your calendar, your kids’ professors and bosses do not. Class deadlines and work schedules do not break for this weekend.
Your child is hosting you, but they may not realize it. Just like you had to teach your little darling to say please and thank you, you need to teach him how to manage visitors. More than likely, they are use to following your plans, and it’s really not self-explanatory how to take over the reins.
So how do you teach them to host you? Most importantly, start a couple of weeks in advance, or at least allow time for more than one discussion. Don’t put them on the spot. No perfect weekend ever came out of that. Just like everything in parenting, take baby steps.
Forget the word “perfect” and adjust your mindset. I’ve throw it around a couple of times here, but now it’s time to throw that expectation out. Ahhh. Doesn’t that feel better? Also, throw out the notion of spending every minute together (or that you have to attend the scheduled events). It bears repeating that you have to honor their schedules, commitments, and new life. And while we’re tossing things to the curb, also school yourself to not assume anything. Your mantra should be “Clarify Everything.” Ohmmmm.
Ask your kid if she has seen the schedule for Family Weekend. She probably has not. Offer to forward it to her so you can decide together how to make it work.
Follow-up that email. Text your kid and ask him to call you when he can talk about Family Weekend. This conversation is when you ask, “When and how can you spend time with us during this weekend?” Do not expect finalized plans. This is why you started this ball rolling early.
Follow-up until you have a plan. Ask for realism, honesty, and consideration in your discussions. Always remember that this is a learning experience for you all. Ask your kid if they want to stay with you in the hotel or in the dorms. They may want a break from the bunk beds or they may want to go back to the action. Decide if you want to take any of their friends out for a meal and be very clear about what time is purely family time. Also, ask if you can see their dorm room if that is on your list of “must dos;” don’t just assume entry without warning. It seriously may not cross their minds that you would want to see it again and you WANT to give them time to clean up. You need to respect that it is also their roommate’s space.
The best plans are flexible. All of that planning is the key to success, but don’t be a slave to it. There are no gold stars to be had, only good memories. Scheduled events aren’t really fun? Scrap them. You just saw a banner for an apple festival and you all are dying for some pie? Make time for it.
I present this advice to you because it worked for my family. We made our first night in town strictly for family, then took a group of her friends out to brunch and shoe shopping (which turned out to be my favorite). On Saturday we didn’t even see her because it was her first big rivalry football game and she wanted to be a part of all of the festivities, including sitting in the student section. We went to the game (I LOVE college football), but watched from the parents’ section.
She slept in her dorm, but hung out with us at our hotel on Sunday enjoying the food and the privacy of the luxurious bathroom (“I don’t have to wear shower shoes!”). We visited her dorm room during the middle of the day when her roommate was out.
While it was not a perfect weekend, everyone’s expectations were perfectly met because we assumed nothing, respected our daughter’s new life, and discussed how we were going to fit into it. I still can’t wipe the smile off of my face.
When your kids go to college, it leaves a hole in your heart, in your home, in your everyday. Yes, they are not gone forever, and this is the natural progression of life, buuuuttttt, there is an undeniable void left behind. Or at least there are less shoes to trip over by the door. You can fill this space with a new job, more volunteering, a trip to the shoe store, or maybe even with another heartbeat. Relax! We’re not suggesting a visit from the stork, but a visit to your local animal shelter just might be the ticket. Apparently when your kid goes to college, it’s not uncommon to add to your furry brood. Our story is more than a tale of two pound puppies, it’s about the lengths two moms will go to cope with their kids flying the coop to college.
Erin’s Story: Our dog adventure began as a parenting cautionary tale. My kids were jonesing hard for a dog long before my oldest began filling out college applications, but my youngest son, in the way of wiley family bookends, set the putsch in motion. He asked if he won the Citizenship Award at school if we could get a dog. Now, the first thing you need to know is that my youngest, while sweet, dear, and loved, is not always model student material. The second thing is that I’m not the girl you want to take to Vegas with you, because I thought we were a couple of frozen layers of hell away from my son getting this particular honor. So I took the parenting sucker bet and said, “Absolutely.” Well, ole sonny boy straightened up real good, real quick; so much so his halo was veritably shining.
Within the month, he pinned his bright new award to his shirt and marched home victoriously to show us. It turned out to be just what we needed right when we needed it most. His award came when we were in the middle of a deep familial funk over missing our biggest brother. In lieu of some plans to steal big brother back from college, we all cuddled up to the idea of a new four-legged family member. We had a couple of roadblocks ahead of us though. One was the insane adoption process (Ellen will explain about it more below. I can’t even. Really. It almost broke me.) The other was our crazy spring schedule that would end in a big international family trip to my brother’s wedding. As much as we wanted a dog five minutes ago, we decided to postpone the arrival of our new fur-baby until post-Cancun.
Unfortunately, when we arrived at the rescue to meet our perfect, made-just-for-us pup (so perfect he was even named Luke Skywalker!), we were heartbroken to discover that he had been adopted by someone else. Lucky for us, Ellie decided that we were hers and she adopted us on the spot. Bigger than we wanted, younger than we wanted, and a little (read: way more, like a crazy lot more) high energy than we wanted, she also turned out to be just what we needed. And even despite the fact she just ate the baseball glove my husband has had for 33 years, we would adopt her again.
And now there’s just one more face that’s happy to see you when you are home for Fall Break!
Ellen’s Story: It began as a joke between my youngest daughter and I as the oldest of my two was rapidly approaching her high school graduation. Maybe it was because Erin was talking about getting a dog, maybe it was because we could sense the impending sucking void in our household that would yawn wide when Coco blasted off to college, but we started saying, “We need a dog, a replacement Coco, a Re-Coco, if you will.” Well, jokes became discussions, discussions became research, and research set off plans. Well, for my youngest and me that is. Coco just shook her head at us, her attention focused on the distant shores of the University of Miami. And my husband? His battle cry became, “But we have a cat!”
And we do have a cat. An adorable, beautiful, fluffy princess named Pebbles that is just, well, a cat. She gives some love in the morning, but that about taps her out for the rest of the 24 hour cycle. Sparkle, the cat we had before her—that my kids grew up with and thought was the norm—was really more of a dog. She would greet us as we came home by jumping up at the door then flopping on her back, follow us from room to room, and settle down to sleep with my youngest every night, nocturnal rhythms be damned.
See? We had already lost a measure of love three years ago with the passing of Sparkle, we were not willing to have Coco exit the scene without topping off our furry love mug. Plans did not turn into action though until my husband and I went down to the University of Miami family weekend. Seeing Coco in her element and being away from the bustle and grind of daily life brought about the magic words I was waiting to hear from my him, “Coco has this, you all need a dog.” That was all it took. We got back from Miami and I started searching rescues and shelters like it was my job . . . if my job lasted ten hours per day.
Prior to our trip, I had been scouring Petfinder and Adopt-a-Pet sending in one application at a time when I found a dog bio that met our criteria: around twenty-five pounds (Corgi mixes were high on our list), good with kids and cats, and willing to dole out the love. I did this for the month and a half after dropping Coco off at school, either never hearing from the organizations or being told the animal had already been adopted. I was starting to think that catfishing was a given in the adoption game: “Oh you’re inquiring about that adorable little Corgi with the lopsided grin?” He was adopted 5 minutes ago, but could I interest you in a 100 pound mastiff that chews on felines for fun?” We were dragging on a Tinder merry-go-round of find the perfect pet, swipe right, craft application essays, have heart broken, repeat. Coco applied to college in less time than it took me to fill out some of these applications (“what is my doggie parenting philosophy??”), but I dropped everything else and focused on following links and scouring Facebook to find new rescues so I could get applications in as soon as I found suitable dogs.
Then at the end the week, I stumbled upon First State Animal Center and SPCA, a more traditional shelter, and they had just updated their new rescues on Facebook. I saw Pumpkin and was in the car within 5 minutes to see her. Well, Pumpkin was indeed there, but she bared her teeth, growled at me, then cowered in the corner shivering. It was less than a match made in heaven. But there was this one dog, one that never even barked when the rest of the kennel run was rioting. I took her to the meet and greet room without even reading her description, where she jumped up on the bench, lay her head in my lap, and the rest was history. Meet Roxie. The sweetest dog with the worst bio in the shelter: noisy, not good with kids, returned twice, 5 years old, and previously heartworm positive. None of those negative personality attributes on her profile were accurate. At all. The vet even said she looked more like she was 3 than 5. In the end, the words didn’t matter, only the love. Before her, I didn’t even know a pug and beagle mix was a thing, but now I know why puggle rhymes with snuggle. And guess what? She’s not stingy with her love! Within minutes of Coco coming home for fall break, she was cuddling with her! And I’ll let you in on a little secret. The dog didn’t replace Coco, it’s there to cushion the blow when my youngest leaves the nest. It’s good to have plans.
So if sending a kid to a university is in your near future, take note of our “How to Cope When Your Kid Goes to College” plan. It’s cheaper than therapy, healthier than chocolate, and infinitely cuter and snugglier. But you better start applying now.