Posts Tagged ‘college’

We told Oldest Child back to college today after spending a really nice, but short, summer with him. His first year was wildly successful, he adjusted very well and did a lot of exciting things, like being able to attend a dinner where Bill Clinton was speaking. Early on this summer, he got to spend five weeks in the UK as a kind of class, boosting his credits up and making him a junior after one year of college. I’m proud of him to the point of bursting, so forgive me for bragging just a little.

In many ways, dropping him off today was remarkably similar to how it was last year, except that we brought Middle Child and Youngest Child along. It poured down rain again while we unloaded the cars, but with five of us, it went pretty quickly. The rain cut our planned walk around campus short, although we did all go out to lunch together and visited a wonderful old book shop that Marty Man used to frequent when he was a student there. All around, soggy students and their families were busy unloading, visiting, and saying their goodbyes, just like us.

But when it was time to leave, it was much more casual than it was last year. There were no tears, yet, anyway. Will I miss him as much? Yes, absolutely. I miss him already. We had a really good summer and I enjoy his company immensely. I love seeing this independent person getting himself up and out the door for work in the morning, doing his own laundry, taking charge of his own life. At this point, Marty Man and I are pretty much bystanders who help when we’re needed, but he doesn’t need us to do much for him anymore. He will be just fine.

Anyway, today has made me think of my job as a mother now as opposed to, oh, say, ten to fifteen years ago. Things have definitely changed. As a parent of young children, there is so much physical work that needs to be done: diapers, feedings, baths, carrying, dressing, car seats. Little by little, it gets easier physically, but it gets more difficult in terms of setting limits and guiding them through the process of growing-up. There are difficult ages. I’ve blogged in the past about the age of eleven at our house, but there are hurdles at any stage. Grades, girlfriends, friends, chores, and family relations can all be sticky topics. There are days that any frustrated parent can be tempted to walk out the door, but you don’t because you’re the adult, you’re the parent, and raising these kids is the most important job in the whole world, because you are their whole world. Then, the crisis is over and the tears have stopped, emotions calm down. There’s talking, there’s hugging, there’s love, and you start all over. It’s always a new day with kids and thankfully, they can be more forgiving than we are.

Our job isn’t done once they’re grown-up, of course, we’ll always be parents, but the job description is constantly changing. Someday, they won’t need us to provide for any of their physical needs, even money (please, let them eventually stop needing money.), but hopefully they’ll still want to come around just to talk and to spend some time with their parents. And not just on holidays.

There are things from when they were very small that I miss dreadfully, so much that it hurts: the baby smell (oh, that smell!), the sweet, sloppy, whole-mouth kisses, rocking them in my arms until their long lashes droop closed, kissing boo-boos, squishy little hands and feet, kissable cheeks, talking attempts, and my absolute favorite, the belly laugh. You know, the one that comes right up from their toes? It’s the best thing in the whole world and if you can’t at least grin at one of those laughs, you’re not human. These things are gone forever with my boys.

But there are things that I love about them as big kids/young adults that won’t disappear with time. Things like their sense of humor. All of them. They are just a weird as I am and we laugh at the same things. They can hold all sorts of fabulous conversations on any topic: current events, politics, sports (ugh), introspective, technology, and strange things. They are such interesting people and I love hearing their perspectives. They’re all bigger than I am now and the older ones are protective of their mama. While I think I handle myself pretty well, it’s nice to see that they have my back, just in case. My boys are turning into amazing young men and I love them so much, more than they can ever know.

Are they perfect children? Oy, no. We fight and argue over curfews and appropriate movies; they can say ugly, hurtful, things to each other and sometimes to us, like any other teenagers, but in the end, we still love each other. We’re a family, and we know that no matter what happens, someone will apologize and life will go on because that’s what we do. It’s all a part of them growing up.

We dropped off Oldest Child at college again today. Let the parenting adventure continue.



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It’s that time of year again: graduation season. My FB newsfeed is full of announcements, plans, invitations to graduation parties, and happy pictures. I remember Oldest Child going through this last year and next June, we’ll go through it again with Middle Child. It’s a wonderful, exciting (expensive!), time for the grads and their families and I really can’t wait for my other two boys to experience it, even if my bank account can.

As anyone who has graduated from anything knows, it can be daunting and overwhelming. It seems like everyone has such high expectations of you, but you might not know what comes next. Now, Oldest Child knows exactly what he wants to do and he’s set about it with admirable tenacity. Middle Child is thinking about it, but he’s undecided at the moment and that’s okay. There’s time to figure it out. Youngest Child bounces from being an FBI agent to working with animals in some capacity, but he has quite a while yet. We don’t put pressure on them to be one thing or another, but we do make it clear that they are expected to be able to support themselves after college, not as easy of a prospect today as it was fifty years ago. I want their college years to be good, to be well-spent, to help them into a fulfilling career, but most of all, to do something that they love.

It’s tough, though, this growing up business. College or work? What to study? How to pay for it? Community college or university? Commute or live on campus? Drink or don’t drink? Do what your parents want you to do or follow your heart? Focus and study, or party? High school graduates have so many options and possibilities, including ones that they haven’t opened themselves up to yet. I look at all of the happy pictures and wonder what’s ahead for these kids, these young adults who have their whole lives to live. This is the time that they can make adult decisions, sometimes affecting a single evening, sometimes affecting their whole lives. Good choices and bad, they will all contribute to the adult that they will become.

Me? I really didn’t know what I wanted to do when I graduated from high school. I was overwhelmed in my first year of college and didn’t do very well, except for my theatre classes, which I loved. I had skated through the high school honors program with no problem, but my first year of college was a wake-up call. I didn’t know how to do anything for myself. A couple of years later, I started back to community college part-time, class by class, honestly applying myself this time, using up my savings bonds and acquiring (many, many, many) student loans. I decided on teaching because that’s what everyone told me I should do. Even though it turned out to not be the right decision for me, I was proud that I graduated from college even though it took me 15 years. Would I do it all over again that way? Not in a million years, which is why I’m trying to make sure that my boys are prepared.

In the end, though, each graduate has to decide what they’re going to do. They’re going to make mistakes. They’re going to screw up royally sometimes, some more than others. At this age, they’re very smart and savvy about certain things, but they really don’t understand what’s ahead. They don’t know how fast circumstances can change, how even though they think they have life figured out, they don’t. When that reality hits, it hurts, not only them, but their parents as well. We can’t just kiss the boo-boo anymore, they have to live with their decisions.

I remember, as I’m sure many of you do, those feelings of insecurity, but also of invincibility. It’s that feeling that contributes to the risky behavior that teens are famous for, although to different degrees for each individual. Some teenagers are just more mature than others. Brain studies show that the decision-making part of the brain isn’t finished growing until around twenty-one years of age and with some kids, that’s easy to see. I am definitely worried about the group of boys I saw in Kroger yesterday. Obnoxious in the store, reckless in the parking lot, their actions put other people at risk but they didn’t see that. They were only concerned with having a good time. I’m sure that if they would have hit someone with their cart or while fooling around in the parking lot, they would have felt terrible, but that regard for others was obviously not in their heads. I feel for these kids, although that kind of behavior is exactly why I did not want to teach high school and why I walk the other way from a group of teenagers unless I know them personally. Part of what makes me cringe is that I remember acting like a teenager and, as an adult, it embarrasses me. That’s one thing I would wish for our graduates: Try and understand how your actions affect others. If someone had told me that back then, though, I don’t know if it would have sunk in.

There are other kids, though, that seem to be light years ahead of the others in maturity and I feel for them, too. It’s tough to see what your peers are doing and make the choice to take the high road. I commend those kids, but I’d also like them to know that it’s okay to screw up once in a while, that even adults screw up a lot. That’s how we learn and as long as we know enough to not make those mistakes again, we’re doing all right..

Graduating high school is an achievement. Becoming an adult is really hard. I would love to tell our grads, my own included, that life, real life, for them is just beginning. This is one of the most exciting times of their lives, but they might not realize it until later on. Don’t waste it, don’t study something you hate or are ambivalent to because people tell you that you should. Don’t spend these years in a haze of intoxication or laziness. DO something to make your mark on the world in a good way. Be a force of light in the world. You are the next generation. What will you do to make life better?

A presto.




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Oldest Child leaves for college tomorrow. It’s sort of surreal at this point. We’ve been preparing for this well over a year now: college campus visits, approximately 10,000 pounds of college mail, discussions, decisions, scholarship applications, letters of recommendation, buying room supplies, money discussions, rule discussions (no burning couches!), the list goes on. The boy himself is just about ready. He’s been packing up his room all week long and will vacate today to allow Middle Child to move in so that tomorrow, we’ll only have to load the second car in the morning, the first car being loaded up tonight. It just doesn’t quite seem real, yet.

When a child is born, most parents, us included, immediately decide that the tiny little newborn will be going to college one day in the distant future. It won’t even be a discussion, since in this world, a college degree will soon be required to work at McDonald’s. (Not really. I made that up. But, it does seem like it.) And not even just a bachelor’s degree, for more and more jobs these days, it seems like a master’s degree is “preferred” and since I’ll be paying off my student loans until I retire (at 83), scholarships are not only a good idea, they’re necessary. Oldest Child has acquired a few of those, enough to make his debt load significantly lighter than mine with some really cool research opportunities to boot. Did I mention he gets to go to London for five weeks next summer for school? My favorite city in the whole entire world? Where there is amazing architecture and history and the TUBE… but I digress… The point is that college is expensive and I am so proud of him for taking the initiative so that he could follow his dream without sinking into deep debt.

I really haven’t processed this yet. I don’t know if I will tomorrow when I bring up the second car load or when I get home and it’s all over with or the first time I forget that he’s not home anymore. He has left to go on trips and to Band Camp every year, but this is new territory. I know he’ll be home, but really, it’s just to visit. This marks the beginning of his true independence, the chance for him to put everything he’s learned about life to the test: how to behave, how to make choices, how to get along with new people when he has to. In truth, I wouldn’t care if he got a degree in underwater basket weaving as long as he stays a good person and can support himself. Have you ever watched those What Would You Do? episodes where John Quinones watches to see if anyone will say something when a drink is spiked or a girl is harassed? It’s kind of like that. I hope he’s the kind of man who steps in and does the right thing, even when no one is watching, through college and beyond. I hope he doesn’t make stupid choices. I hope he misses me.

This is an amazing opportunity for him. I didn’t get to go away to college. My college career happened in spurts over several years until I finally got my bachelor’s degree and I feel like I missed out on the whole college experience. It was so difficult to do it that way, but I really didn’t have a lot of choices and although I have the satisfaction of finally accomplishing it, I didn’t want my kids to go through the same thing. So far, we’re 33% successful.

The cars are mostly loaded now. Oldest Child is out with friends, saying goodbye. We already had our family pizza dinner with a trip out for ice cream together. He’s not going very far, I can be there in less than two hours, but it will feel a million miles away. His brothers profess relief that he’s going, but I suspect that’s just bravado talking. They will have their own rooms for the first time since Youngest Child was two and Middle Child was, well, he’s never had his own room, so that part is genuine happiness. Still, Oldest Child has always been there, throughout their whole lives, so this will be new territory for them, too. They’ll only have each other to fight with. Hours-long games of Monopoly will be few and far between because it’s not as much fun with only two.

It’s hard to say goodbye, but it’s not a sad goodbye. I’m eager to see him fly, to make his own way in the big world. I will rejoice in his triumphs, cringe at his mistakes, (We all make them, especially when we’re young.), comfort during his heartbreaks. I’ll try not to ask too many questions, try to refrain from giving my opinion unless I’m asked, but let him know that I’m always there for him and his friends. It’s good practice for the rest of his life, with the safety net of Marty Man and me to support him. Even as he leaves the nest, however, I still remember that sweet baby from long ago. They grow up, you know, and it really is a beautiful thing.

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I took Oldest Child to a college open house today, an event made more fun because it’s the college where I went my first year out of high school, Wayne State University. Wayne State is located in downtown Detroit and is in the middle of the New Center area, which encompasses the theatre and museum district. made up of buildings both old and new. Old Main, the oldest surviving building with it’s Hogwarts-like hallways, is where I spent some of my happiest hours taking theatre classes while the Student Center, the hub of student life, is currently getting a well-deserved makeover. It’s a wonderfully spread-out campus full of people, skyline, and general busyness that accompanies a big city. I absolutely loved it when I was there and really wish I hadn’t screwed it up, but I don’t want this to be about me today. This is about the journey that he is taking and where he’ll be a year from now.

Wayne State is one of the colleges that Oldest Child is seriously considering. He loves that it’s in an urban area and that the program he’s applying to has a heavy concentration on community service and social programs. He wants to give back to the community, social justice being a special interest of his. Detroit is a good place to exercise that. We don’t go downtown often. The cost of parking is a deterrent and I don’t like big events like sporting events or concerts, but we have been to the DIA, the Renaissance Cen, and other odd occasions, not to mention my penchant for attracting jury duty notices. Still, he feels a pull toward a big city, like me. We went on the official tour last spring. A bouncy little coed took us all around campus, including the new dorms. Wayne has transformed from a commuter college into a residential one and judging from their enrollment numbers, it’s been a successful transition. As I said, he is considering other places, too, but Wayne seems to be a heavy contender.

As we walked around, I had some deja vu moments that were quite unexpected and lovely. Is it possible to get excited about the card machine that used to be in the parking garage more than twenty years ago, or the small stone stairway down to the Studio Theatre? It was all new to him, though, and I enjoyed seeing it through his eyes. On the spring tour, I could see his mind putting himself on campus, in the dorm that we toured and the buildings we passed through. I could see him getting excited about the opportunities open to him and, yes, the prospect of being on his own, free from parental rule

A senior in high school is a wonderful thing, if one is academically sound and well-rounded. Oldest Child is both of those and so we expect some good things to open up. We want that for him, this chance to learn at a respected college and to fly free. His brothers just want his room. Unlike me, he put his nose to the grindstone in high school. He got a B+ once and was teased mercilessly. It never happened again. The cool part is that we never pushed him to this, only to do his best. He has always known what he wants to do in life and he knows that the way to get there is to work hard. This apparently does not extend to putting his laundry away or taking his junk off of the living room chair, but in school, he’s a rock star. He’s had this drive since he was small and it’s now beginning to reward him.

I know that most parents are proud of their kids. Marty and I are no exception. Like all parents, we want better for our children than what we had, but at the same time, we want them to learn how to succeed on their own, without coddling him or fighting his battles. We have never bailed him out of anything, but tried to let his consequences teach him the lesson. Oldest Child is doing a good job of handling things so far, researching not only colleges and their programs, but financial aid packages and scholarships.

Now I know that college is a different world. I’ll begin preparing him for that this year. He’ll begin doing his own laundry and keeping his room neater, as he will most likely have a roommate, and he already pays for his extras himself with his part-time job. Some kids, bright kids, fall instead of fly during that first year, giving in to the temptations that will surround them in a residential hall. I hope he doesn’t fall. I hope that we’ve given him enough of a good foundation from which he can make good choices, but ultimately that’s just it: they’re his choices now. Eighteen is just around the corner and we won’t have a say anymore. He will be able to work any job he wants, live wherever he wants, smoke cigarettes (please, God, no), get a tattoo, even get married. (Again, please, God, no.) He’ll be a, gulp, adult in the eyes of the law and we’ll just be there for emotional support.

It doesn’t seem possible. When the nurse hands that squalling baby to you in the delivery room, she doesn’t tell you how fast it will go by, how fast he’ll turn from helpless, snuggly, baby to defiant toddler to independent student to defiant teenager and then they walk away. Not forever, I know he’ll be back no matter where he goes, but this will be his time to grow and to shine, to become the person he was meant to be. He’ll never be ours again. From college on, it will be different.

Sometimes, I want that little boy back. You know, the one who squealed with excitement over making friends with a bug on the sidewalk or danced around the living room in his kilt and tam from Scotland. Tight hugs and sticky, but wonderful, kisses, boo boos, and bedtime stories are replaced by a young man with stubble on his chin and a deep voice whose shoes are bigger than yours. The hugs are still wonderful, but those chubby arms have grown into muscular ones.

But then, there’s that light in his eyes that shines as he explores his potential new home. That light that tells you that even though the two of you may still fight over keeping his phone and ipod downstairs at night (a family rule), he’s almost ready to fly, to begin his own life. And somehow, even though you still don’t want to let him go, you’re okay with that.

For him, you have to be.

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Oldest Son has been getting a ton of college mail for the past three years or so. I may not be exaggerating. All together, it may actually total a ton by the time it’s all said and done. He’s saved every single piece of it and once he reaches a decision, plans to celebrate with a bonfire composed of all of the aforementioned college mail. The way it’s going, that fire will last all night. The Eternal Flame will have some competition.

It amazes me how these colleges find him. There are probably letters from at least one college in every state, including Alaska. Well, maybe not Hawaii. I would have remembered that one because I would want to go with him. I offered to go to Oxford or Cambridge with him, but was flat-out denied in a sort of horrified way. All of his test scores have been sent out, therefore encouraging well-respected and EXPENSIVE colleges to recruit him, which is all well and good, except for the expensive part. We are not rich people. We’re not even on our way to being rich people. We do, however, want Oldest Son to have the experience of going away to college and to be able to choose a school that’s not within driving distance. His brothers also want his bedroom.

There are a few ways to accomplish this. The most obvious way is through scholarships, which he, being a good student, is likely to get. His test scores are all fabulous, which is not inherited from me, and will soon find out if he is a National Merit Scholar, which pretty much guarantees some financial help. He does not want loans, does not want us to take out loans, and wants to graduate with no debt.

He’s also explored another way of paying for school which does not involve loans. The military. In particular, the Marines.

Now, I have no problem with our military. I respect, honor it, and am so very grateful for it, actually. Each branch is composed of amazing men and women who have pledged their lives to defend and protect our country. We would not have the freedoms that we do without our armed forces. It is a calling that countless members of my family have followed and I could not be more proud of them. Three of my grandparents, a few cousins, a brother/cousin (I’ll save that for another post, it’s not what it sounds like), and generations of my ancestors extending back through the Middle Ages have all served in the military, from knights for King Richard II through President Obama. That being said, it’s hard to imagine my baby boy, as big and hairy as he is now, facing down Iraqi insurgents in the desert when I still have to remind him to pick up his dirty clothes and clean his room.

Several months ago, he sent a postcard to the Marines for a “free” T-shirt. At the time, I warned him that they would call, recruiting. Imagine his surprise when the call came a couple of weeks ago from a local Marine recruiter with the offer of paying for college in exchange for four years of service after graduation. Oldest Son spoke with the gentleman on the phone for a while and then scheduled a meeting. Immediately, every scene of every disturbing military movie began going through my head, Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, you get the idea. My (not so) little boy was going to do that??? I texted my brother/cousin, who was a Marine, and set up a phone call between the two of them so that Oldest Son could hear what it was really like. I was worried that he would take the offer and run without any thought to the realities of military life, not that I’ve lived it, but giving four to six years of your life to something isn’t a snap decision. I would be so very proud of him, but also terrified at what he may potentially go through, as I’m sure every mother whose child has expressed an interest in the military has felt. The phone call went well, but I was still concerned.

The meeting with the recruiter took place the following week after Oldest Son got out of work. It went for almost three hours. Yes, indeed. According to him, he got all of the information that he wanted and made sure to bring me a lovely booklet entitled, “A Parent’s Guide to the Marine Corps”, which really doesn’t help a whole lot. However, I needn’t have worried too much. The military isn’t his first choice, he told me, but it is a viable backup, in case he doesn’t get the scholarships he needs to go to the schools that he wants. The hardest part for me is learning to let go and let him make his own decision about it. In less than a year, I won’t have a say. He can march right down to the office, sign his name, and we can’t do a thing about it. He’s coming in to the time of his life where we must let him decide what is best for him. We can guide him, offer advice, and make our feelings known, but I want him to choose the path that’s right. I wasn’t given a lot of help or choices when I was in this stage of my life and I don’t want that to be his experience. We’ve raised him to be an independent thinker (to my detriment, sometimes, especially on curfew issues) and he’s got a pretty good head on his shoulders.

This, I think, is the scariest part of being a parent. When they’re little, you, the parent, have complete control. You make all of the big decisions for them: wearing a coat when it’s cold, bedtime, eating healthy food, going to school every day even when you don’t feel like it, sharing, cleaning up your own mess, admitting when you’ve done something wrong and taking steps to fix it. All of these things, hopefully, shape them into good people who will contribute to society in good and even awesome ways. The frightening part comes when they have to do it alone, with no help from you. We’re almost at that point and while I’m not ready to let go of his hand just yet, I think he will be okay. And if he does choose to join the Marines to get the education that he wants, well, Semper Fi.

Stay tuned.

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