The Common App, Angst, and The Freshman

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The collection of shoes arranged across the front of our living room is gone. It has been relocated to a for-real shoe rack, courtesy of IKEA, behind the front door. But, the sentiment remains. This image always makes me think of my children and their coming and going and coming and—Sigh!— going, again.

My favorite part is the coming home.  

Even now, I tend to linger over the shoes on the rack. I alternate between exasperation that there are perhaps too many there—we should take the ones we don’t wear every day back to our rooms, put them in a closet or slide them under the bed—and measured comfort in the understanding that they are still here. My children are home with me. 

Last week, a Facebook friend very kindly reminded me and all of her friends with a post that the Common Application had become available. If you’re not there yet, that means it is open season on college applications. It means that your last year’s junior/this year’s senior is about to ramp up the angst. It means you’re going to be writing some checks. It means that you are going to be filling out some FAFSA. It means that you are going to be going on more tours, reading some personal statements, checking deadlines, and seeking a calming force. It means you’re going to be wringing teachable moments, tidbits of advice, and how-to-do-laundry-read-a-train-schedule-boil-water lessons out of every apt moment. You’re going to be watching her and asking yourself, “When did this happen?”

I’ll tell you. It happened in plain sight, right under your nose. While you’ve been hustling her out the door in the morning, running the gauntlet of back-to-school nights, catching up on friend-group drama, and pick-ups and drop-offs; in the midst of budding teen romance, prom, Driver’s Ed, and figuring out (again) what’s for dinner. While you weren’t too sure about that bold, red lipstick she wears (but you have to admit she rocks.) While you were watching, but then blinked-- it happened. 

Then, if you’re like me, there’s the other one. Headed off to his freshman year in high school and you start devising plans to keep him safe at home in your little nest and you’ve almost figured out how to convince him it will all be for the best, but you know that will make you a bad mom so, you give up. He’s leaving, too.

If you’re wondering when that happened, it was sometime between soccer or basketball practice and the time you realized you could no longer see the top of his head. Between reminding him to brush his teeth before bed and that time the new sound of his voice made you think there was a stranger in the house. And after the child you thought might never leave because he’s an introvert and a homebody and (gotta face it) a bit of a mama’s boy, but he takes a chance and goes away on a weeklong tournament with his coach and his team. And you realize that he has survived all that time without you. 

And here you are, again, mama. Letting go, letting go, letting go a little bit more. You’ve understood that this was part of the bargain from the beginning, but you thought there was more time. Then if you’re anything like me, again, you are counting down the years, months, and days that you have left to just not screw it up. They’re pretty decent kids so far, but you still pray.

I have resolved to focus on the short term. 

Let’s just work on today, I’ll say to the kid that doesn’t like change and is a bundle of anxiety. Let’s just focus on today. My high school freshman will have day-to-day challenges adjusting to the new school, making friends, learning which cafeteria fare is dicey and which turns out to be pretty good, remembering the combination to his gym locker. Then, “What can I do to support you in the upcoming week?” I’ll ask my Common App kid. Honestly, I prefer to keep my distance, referring her back to her very able college counselor at the very hint of a question. But, in a pinch? I’m there! Whatever it is, we’ll make it happen. 

Hectic. 

That’s the word that comes to me when I think of this upcoming year. How can I be there for all of it? Please, let me cross all of my t’s and dot all of my i’s because she’s relying on me to get it right. Please, let me recognize if he needs a little more support because that school is really big and he’s so quiet. Let me be there to do my part for the applications, school conferences, tennis matches, school plays, carpools, open houses, parent meetings, family gatherings, friend dates… the listening, the hugs, the loud and crazy moments, the quiet moments, the ordinary moments. Being there in themoment because they are going to be fewer and farther between. Maybe I can manage to be two, or three places at once. You think? Maybe we’ll have less take out and more home cooked meals like when they were small. Maybe we can have more movie nights with popcorn and warm cookies, all cuddled on the couch. Maybe they won’t mind too much if I sometimes linger in their bedroom doorway and shake my head at the disorganized mess that they insist is neither, or to make sure they’re doing homework, or to just say goodnight. 

Maybe they'll cut me some slack because they can tell that I'm all about the angst.

 

 

Almost 17 Things To Tell My Almost 17 Year-Old

You really are only young once. Take advantage of your seemingly endless energy, optimism, and curiosity about the world around you.

Uber is cool, but you still need your driver’s license.

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If you ever feel like you’ve lost your direction in life, just be still. You’ll be amazed at what opens up to you when you are still.

If you’ve tried the above and it doesn’t work, come home.

If you ever have to choose, choose warmth over cute every time—in people and in fashion.

Don’t ever drive under the influence or get into a vehicle with someone you think might be under the influence. (In that case, Uber is extremely cool.)

Whatever you call it—your gut, instinct, intuition—trust it.

Don’t hesitate to ask for what you want.

The Imposter Syndrome is a real thing—particularly among girls and women. Be assured, though, that you, my darling, are the real deal.

No is a perfectly good word. Use it whenever you want.

Spend more time at home over the next year because you’ll be up and out before you (and your brother and I) know it.

Subscribe to your local newspaper and The New York Times.

Make saving for a rainy day a priority.

Remember all of the big and small things that bring you joy and find a way to make them part of your daily life.

Love is love is love is love is love...

 

Your 2018 To Do List

 Image courtesy of createherstock.com

Image courtesy of createherstock.com

I’m still recovering from the holidays. Leftover candy canes and green and red foiled Hershey’s Kisses stare me down every day. And, I think we officially have until January 31 to wish people a Happy New Year! upon greeting them. Right? So, I know you’ll cut me some slack as I write about getting all brand new in 2018.

I’m not talking New Year’s resolutions, but go for what you know if it works. Instead, might I suggest a simple To Do List that’s all about you and fun and joy?

Okay?

Here it is (in no particular order.)

YOUR 2018 TO DO LIST

Get out. Leave all of your electronic devices on the kitchen table, go for a walk, visit a museum, or explore your home city and discover hidden treasures.

Binge a bit. Get cozy in front of a screen with some ice cream, popcorn, coffee, or wine. Might be a perfect time to try that Red Wine Hot Chocolate recipe you’ve been ooh-ing and aah-ing over. (Or, is that just me?) It’s not too late to get up to speed with This Is Us. In the mood for a period drama? Poldark never disappoints and neither does The Crown. In the mood for a good western with badass female characters? Godless.

Take a nap. Naps are awesome in so many ways. Need convincing? http://mentalfloss.com/article/502902/8-scientific-benefits-napping

Try a new hobby. I’ve tried knitting many times over the years— its quiet, meditative quality appeals to me, but I’m all thumbs. I’m not giving up, though. 2018 just might be my year. Whatever you choose, make it something that’s just challenging enough to get your synapses firing, but not so challenging that you’re not having fun.

Throw a fancy dinner party. By fancy, I mean put on a pot of chili with a bunch of fun toppings (or make waffles, or order pizza) and call your friends over. 

Read more. Spend the day at the local library, or your favorite bookstore and discover your new favorite author.

Laugh more. Here's a little source material because laughter really is good for you. http://www.berkeleywellness.com/healthy-mind/mood/article/laughter-best-medicine

Indulge in a guilty pleasure. When you find yourself out and about in the middle of the day because you’re running another thankless errand and it’s lunchtime, stop at Baskin Robbins for a hot fudge sundae. Trust me.

Learn to code. Just kidding, unless that’s really your thing.

Find joy. Get a hold of that thing that brings you joy and do it. Lots.

There you have it: our extremely doable 2018 To Do List. You're welcome!

And Happy New Year from the MMWW Fam!!

 

I Miss The Girl

 Images by Archer Abroad: Cambodia 2017

Images by Archer Abroad: Cambodia 2017

Thirteen has been away from home a lot. Two weeks in Hattiesburg once to visit her grandma, out of state golf tournaments, two whole summers working outside of Chicago, two week-long wilderness excursions, and a trip to Atlanta for a youth conference. Now, she's in Cambodia. Freakin' Cambodia! She's been gone for a week already and won't be back until Thanksgiving. And no cell phones; that means no daily/hourly/minute by minute texts. No asking what's for dinner, or lamenting her bad hair day, or sharing an observation from AP English. Only a blog post every other day or so from Thirteen and her classmates to document their trip. 

Each time she goes away, the sending off is easier.  No tears this time which is weird because it was the first time dropping her off at the international terminal. (The very first time I ever dropped her off somewhere was the summer after sixth grade. A two week summer program at Stanford. I bawled all the way to the car.) I even made her brother come to the airport this time. In the past, every time I've asked him if he wanted to ride to the airport with us, he offered a disinterested, "Nah," and went back to his Xbox, or back to sleep. This time, I said, "You're coming to the airport. Your sister is going halfway around the world and won't be back for a while. You need to come see her off."

I got no argument.

Life goes on.

Last summer, for the first time, I caught myself putting things off until she came back. We missed our annual outing to Independent Shakespeare at Griffith Park, didn't go hiking, or to the beach. Pre-empty nest and pre-what are we gonna do without her? The three of us are a team, I thought. You don't go to Shakespeare, or climb mountains (okay, a rugged hill in the middle of the city) with only part of your team. 

I caught myself, again, yesterday when I had this Facebook chat with an old friend.

Him: How are you?

Me: Aargh! I have cake, so it's all good. I haven't been writing. 

Him: Why not?

Me: I think I've been nesting. Shorter days, a new sofa, and trying to fix up the place a little. Waiting for my chick to return to the nest.

Him: Understand.

Me: I have to stop putting things on hold when Madison is away. Soon, she'll be away away! I'll be sitting here trying to figure out what to do.

Him: You've got The PhD.

Me: Ha! As much as he's a mama's boy, he's also a teenager. When I'm in the living room, he's in his room. When I'm in my room, or out running errands, he's in the living room. He only needs me for meals and a ride to GameStop.

Him: That's your purpose in life. LOL... That's why they keep you on life support. 

I laughed out loud. For real. Even sent the laughing-with-tears emoji.

Birds gotta fly. But why?!

As much as I am gratified by watching them grow and flourish and do their thing, I want to hold them close, too.

According to the blog, they've left Phnom Penh, are now in Siem Reap, and the Night Market there was awesome. Night life with neon lights, bustling crowds, exotic aromas, colorful wares. They post some pictures, but only one or two where I can see her. My heart skips a beat. 

She'll be home in five days, but before I know it, she'll be off again. It's a given. 

The PhD will be off, eventually, too. He'll need a little nudge, though.

I've got a nest and two little birds. And you know what? They never hesitate to remind me that it's my job to keep it cozy-- food in the fridge, dinner at a reasonable hour, clean clothes, warm cookies, a shoulder at the ready. I can do that. I accept that it's my job. Just like it's their job to fly.

Not too soon, though. Not too far, please.

But, I know. All of that. Eventually.

 

All That Makes Us Whole

May is National Mental Health Awareness Month and ever since I decided to write here about being a mom, I knew I would have to write about my family and depression.

It’s simple really: I have suffered from anxiety and depression my whole life, finally addressing it with therapy and medication in my mid-twenties when I realized I couldn’t go on as I had been. I accepted that something was very wrong, but I somehow had faith that whatever it was could also be made right.

My son, Isaiah, suffers from anxiety and depression, too.

I cried in his therapist’s office one afternoon because I read too much, so I know that there is a hereditary component here. I gave this burden to him, I said.

“Yeah. There’s a lot that you can blame yourself for as a parent,” Scott offered. “Why not save the guilt for something you actually did.”

So, the guilt is out of the way. Mostly.  

And, I’ve been struggling with how I should write about this. First, with my son’s permission—got it. Second, with honesty. But third… should I do some research so that I can educate my readers about the issue? Or should I detail the difficult episodes of his acting out, the devastating and painful crying spells where I just held him because it was all I could do? The times he yelled, “You don’t love me!” and “I hate my life!” The time when he was in third grade and I called his bluff on running away from home on a cold night in February? (I encouraged him to dress warmly and offered money which he turned down, then said goodbye and went back to ironing. He walked out of the door. His big sister dashed out from their bedroom when she heard the screen door rattle shut, jammed on her shoes, and ran outside to get him. She found him sitting at the bottom of the steps leading to our apartment.)

I’m still not sure exactly what I want other parents to know about kids and depression except that just like you take your kid to the doctor when he has a recurring fever, or a stomachache, or when your gut tells you to get an x-ray after he twisted his ankle at soccer because it might be worse than a sprain… know that you might be on to something when you sense that your kid is experiencing something more than bad behavior, or growing pains, or teen angst. He might not be acting up, but acting out. And we shouldn’t hesitate to seek therapy for our children if that’s what they need to be healthy.

Isaiah has been in therapy for several years now, ever since he was about eight years old. In the beginning, he had weekly appointments, but after a while I started extending the intervals between visits. Now, he goes every four to six weeks. I must confess that during middle school—and he’ll soon be in high school—I look at his therapy as parenting backup. Just in case the teen years get a little more hectic than I can anticipate.

And then, there is this.

In all of this time, the only disagreement I have had with his therapist regarding his treatment has been that he doesn’t want to explain to Isaiah that he suffers from depression. He feels that it would place a burden on him, and perhaps create more anxiety where it’s unnecessary. But, I offered, my son also has food allergies-- in particular, a nut allergy that could be fatal. He was about three years old when he was diagnosed and the doctor said, “I don’t even want him to know what a nut looks like. And you will have to always, always check the ingredients.”

I explained all of this to Isaiah. I didn’t agonize over my choice of words. You could die, I told him. We have to check the ingredients. Always.

So, whenever we purchased food, or I presented something to him, he would say, “Did you check the ‘gredients, Mama?” I still hear that in his pre-school voice: “Did you check the ‘gredients, Mama?”

“Yes,” I’d say. “I checked the ‘gredients.”

That came back to me as I thought about my journey through depression. And, I think of it often as I watch my son mature. Because we’re all made up of a bunch of ingredients, some more difficult than others to identify and sort out. None that can, or should be discarded.

I used to get on my knees and pray for God to take the pain of depression away from me. I don’t do that anymore because I see my experience as a blessing. If I hadn’t experienced depression myself, perhaps I wouldn’t have recognized it when it really mattered for my son. I see the blessing all over it—through my depression and anxiety, I’ve learned to be more compassionate, more transparent about my feelings and what’s happening in my life, and more accepting of what makes us each unique, even when that quirk makes me uncomfortable. My depression has made me a better mother and sister and friend and daughter. It’s a part of me that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I was made this way for a reason.

And, even though I disagree, I haven’t gone against Scott’s advice. I don’t talk about his depression to him. (Shh… I do talk about my depression to him. Just so that he might see himself in me and see that it’s okay.)

Now, I look at my thirteen-year-old son and I check the ‘gredients.

Just today I noticed new changes in his body. He’s taller and his jaw is square. He’s lean, with taut muscles, and his veins pop from his arms even when he’s relaxed. And today, for the first time, he got a haircut without putting up a fight and without it ending in tears. He’s smart as a whip, funny and clever, kind, athletic, an old soul with a streak of nonconformity. A classic introvert and the proverbial glass half empty kind of guy. He has a keen aversion to noise and risk (which from a mother’s perspective is a wonderful trait for a teen to possess.) He hates even fun surprises and has to know what time we’re leaving to go someplace to the minute (and suggests that if we’re leaving at 3:00, we should actually be in the car at 3:00 so maybe leave the apartment at 2:57. Aarrgh!) He likes to flip language on its head which sometimes tickles me and sometimes annoys the crap out of me. He loves Star Wars and anime. He adores his sister. He still sits close to me for a bit of a cuddle before he gets his day started. His smile is slightly crooked and charming as all get out. He’s growing strong and resilient.

Somewhere in the middle of all that makes up his whole self is a bundle of anxiety and depression that he is learning-- with love, faith, and a good therapist-- to manage.

I guess that’s what I wanted you to know.

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Here are some resources:

http://youth.gov/feature-article/may-national-mental-health-month

http://www.teenhealthandwellness.com/static/hotlines

https://www.helpguide.org/articles/depression/teen-depression-signs-help.htm

 

Are You Doing Too Much?

When I was teaching ninth and tenth graders, the students had a couple of choice phrases to throw at me whenever I asked something of them. I might have asked them to do something that exceeded expectations, but more likely, I would have asked them to meet an everyday expectation--  adhere to the dress code, bring their own pencil to class, take notes, or-- whoa!-- clean up after themselves. Invariably they would say, "Miss, you're being extra," or, "Miss, you're doing too much!"

According to the Urban Dictionary-- my source for clarifying all things teen slang-- doing too much is defined as "the act of overachieving without any results or purpose."

I've had that phrase hurled at me by teenagers hundreds of times during my work day. At home? No so much.

But why not? It's so fitting as it seems I do all of this stuff, day in and day out, without any measurable or lasting results.

As evidence, I offer up my Sunday morning routine: I'm up at 5:30 am to be the first in the laundromat when it opens at 6:00. Clothes are churning in the washer by 6:15, in the dryer before 7:00, back home (which is in walking distance, but I drive) for coffee along with the paper and CBS Sunday Morning or I Love Lucy, back to the laundromat before the dryer stops, load the clothes in the car, lug them up the stairs, warm socks from the dryer on and feet up for the Sunday morning pundits.

Another cup of coffee, fold the laundry, clean up from what looks like a party the night before to which I was not invited, dishes, clean out the fridge, clean the bathroom, carry out the trash. All while Thirteen and The PhD are still hugging the sheets.

No lasting results, you see, because I do it again the next Sunday.

I used to fool myself into thinking it was better to get all of it done with them out of the way. When they were smaller, that might have been true. I said might. But now, they are bigger and their stuff is everywhere. Everywhere. Even when they, themselves, are nowhere in sight.

Recently, as I readied to go out for the week's groceries, I looked at my children who had finally made their way into the living room to attach themselves to the sofa and their electronic devices, through a new lens. And for the first time ever, I thought, "I'm doing too much." 

We Know This, Right?

In a 2015 article, the Wall Street Journal reported that in a survey of over 1,000 adults 82% reported having done chores as kids, but only 28% required that their own kids do chores. What's up with that?

We don't need experts to tell us that chores are good for kids. Nevertheless, articles abound on the internet extolling the virtues of chores. Google and skim any one: chores improve self-esteem and coping skills, teach the value of delayed gratification, and contribute to success in school. On a related note, some have found that kids doing chores results in less yelling to come get your socks!, fewer trips up and down the stairs, and chronic smiling and sighs of relief when one comes home and finds the dishes washed and put away and the trash taken out.  (Or, is that just me?)

I Must Confess

I was one of those kids that did chores when I was growing up, but have asked very little of my kids. The result? I spend unnecessary energy grumbling and complaining about doing everything and find that, after working all day, I have little time for myself, or for fun. Even worse, because chores aren't a given, I get shocked disbelief in response when I ask them to chip in. "What? Do the dishes?! But, I'm busy!" 

I try not to resort to profanity in those rare instances. Really. I try.

More importantly, though, I know that I'm shortchanging my kids. Thirteen (who will be sixteen in July) will be off to college in two years. (Yikes, by the way.) The PhD will be right behind her. I've fallen down on the job when it comes to getting them ready to function as basic adults. Separate your colors from your whites unless you want pink undershirts, wipe out the sink because those globs of toothpaste are yucky, and be familiar with the business end of a dust rag because dust is just unattractive. And while Thirteen can actually cook a healthy meal and has become a smoothie expert, The PhD has become a self-proclaimed expert on toast. Plain toast. No butter.

I feel a cooking and all-things-domestic boot camp coming on this summer. If you'd like to send your kid, or register for the online version, check back on these pages. We'll be washing, cleaning, cooking, and generally learning how to not be a mooch when you leave home and, likely, have roommates. Bonus: I get to stop doing it all.