The Eldest Son Has Returned

Sue Robins, a guest blogger, writes: My eldest son has returned home from a five-week band tour of 26 cities and 30 shows. He zigged across America to New York City in his black van crammed with band members, zagged back to LA, and then zoomed up the west coast to Canada. In the pictures I saw on Facebook, he grew a fuzzy beard and appeared to wear the same slowly deteriorating sleeveless t-shirt for several weeks at a time.

eldest son

He is now 21 years old, and is supposed to be in his third year of college. He is supposed to be living in a decent walk-up apartment near campus, climbing on a bus every day and dutifully attending his classes. Then he is supposed to graduate with a general degree that leads him to practical, but soulless jobs through his 20’s, before settling into a career. He is supposed to do that because that’s exactly what I did. He has decent high school grades, a scholarship, and parents who diligently saved for his tuition. Instead, he has chosen the life of a drummer, complete with grit, adventure and bonus life experience. This boy has ventured very far from his mother’s comfort zone.

He’s an alien to my friends, whose adult children are doing what they are supposed to do. I’ve lost count of the blank looks and the abrupt changes in conversation that I’ve endured when they discover he’s not in college. I’m wondering, though: aren’t I a member of an underground group of parents, whose children are taking a different, non-college path in life? Aren’t there kids out there who don’t have the grades, financial support, or will to go to post-secondary? And isn’t that ok too?

My son has never done what he’s supposed to do. He was a willful child, right from birth, and always had a very clear sense of who he is. He is a punk rock musician, not a college student, and these two things are mutually exclusive.

He’s currently in between tours, so he’s living in the back of his van, sleeping on a futon mattress shoved between the seats. He’s parked in a friend’s alley, and uses their kitchen and bathroom for a weekly fee. I’ve have pleaded with him to move back home. But he firmly shakes his head, steadfast and resolute.

When he was 14 and had a dyed red faux-hawk, he used to tease me and say that when he grew up he wanted to live in a van by the side of the river.

I realize now that he wasn’t kidding.

I pick him up for our lunch date at a prescribed street corner. I’m happy to see you, I say, as he folds himself into the car. He turns to me and a wide grin spreads across his face, I’m happy to see you too, Mom, he says. He’s relaxed, tanned, and in wiry shape. His little brother Aaron is with us, and he’s greeted with a rousing ‘Hey Goose’ and a high-five. There’s some friendly razzing, arm punching and an impromptu burping contest.

“Let’s do Indian food,”  my eldest suggests and we are off to an all-you-can-eat buffet, where we happily tuck in plates of garlic naan, vegetable pakora, dal and chickpea curry. He and Aaron slurp mango juice and wrestle in the restaurant booth.

“How was your tour?” I ask, not able to fathom a road trip of such epic proportions. He’s 25 years my junior and has travelled to more American cities that I can ever hope to see in my lifetime. His eyes are brightly shining – “It was pretty consistently exciting,” he says.

Most of us live our lives small, and in fear – all in the name of being comfortable and stable. My son has not taken that route. He lives life large and out loud. He’s worked steadily at a job since he was 15, saving money to buy drum sticks, a dilapidated van and gas money to go on tour. He works to tour. He’s the most ambitious and resourceful person I know. He is unapologetic about doing what he loves, and he lives free from fear of judgment. I’m beginning to realize that fear of judgment is what keeps the rest of us small.

After our lunch, I drop the two brothers at a movie. My eldest, 6’2″, ambles beside tiny Aaron. They have a pocketful of change to play video games. My musician son has his arm draped casually across his youngest brother’s shoulder. My tears well up seeing this tender gesture, and afterwards, I sit in the car for a long time. I have one adult son – wild, unencumbered and resistant to authority. My youngest son, born with an extra chromosome, is persistent and full of life.

Here I am, a suburban mom, closing in on fifty, and I’m learning life lessons from my young, diverse sons. Here’s what they’ve taught me – they nudge me subtly and gently towards this question, as they ask: Mom, what would you do if you weren’t afraid?

Sue Robins is a writer, speaker and mother of three. She’s passionate about motherhood, kids with differences, storytelling and nurturing kindness & compassion in the health care & education systems. She blogs at: www.suerobins.com.

Sue Robins

Photo credits: Sue Robins

18th Birthday Ideas for Your College Kid

Mary Dell writes: Name. address. click, click. I type the info into each box, working my way down the page. Yes, three dozen freshly baked chocolate chip cookies and cold milk to be delivered to my daughter’s freshman dorm for her birthday. Yes, her cell number for the delivery person. Credit card. click. click. The order is 99% complete. But the final question – completely innocuous in every other context – Do you agree to the terms and conditions? My heart sank. No, no. I do not agree. I do not want to be 400 miles away on our daughter’s birthday. That is not a term or condition I want to agree to, ever. But then, long sigh, of course I agree. click.

chocolate chip cookies

Our daughter will wake up this morning, on her birthday, will reach for her phone next to the elevated twin bed and see dozens of texts from her high school friends and one from me, “Happy Birthday, love, Mom.” This will be a poor substitute for the big hug I desperately wish to give her.

There will be no party waiting for her after school like every one that came before – magician petting zoo-bowling-swimming-discoball in the garage – sweet 16golden birthday. No giggling girls for me to watch growing up by her side, delighting in the lit candles, the balloons, the goodie bags, the dj, and, most importantly, the friendships.

Do you have a college kid celebrating a birthday? Since misery loves company, we asked other moms for 18th birthday ideas when the party is far from home. Here is their sage, and very creative, advice:

1. Spring for dinner

“One of the things we did for my son was to give him money to treat his friends to dinner since we couldn’t be with him,” said Mindy Wells Hoffbauer. Think about calling a local restaurant or campus pizza place to see if they have a private room and book it for your son or daughter and a group of new friends.

Don’t forget this tip  “We called while she was at dinner and sang happy birthday to her,” said Diana Resnick Musslewhite. Why FaceTime was invented, in my opinion!

2. Roommates to the rescue

“I knew my daughter said she was ‘just going to watch a movie with her closest friend on her birthday.’  I secretly got in touch with that friend and arranged a ‘party in a box’ for her. In the boxes, that I sent to her friend, I included decorations, a few gifts to unwrap, the fixings for her favorite meal, lots of movie-type candy, and a few silly party favors. Her friend took it all from there, and even sent me pics of the room (complete with candy and gifts arranged) before Cait arrived,” wrote Mary Bird Lanzavecchia.

3. Birthday experience

Send tickets for a concert or a sporting event for your kid and a few others. Having a chance to venture off campus for a shared experience with new friends could be one of the best, and most memorable, gifts you could ever give him.

4. Import memories

“My son turned 18 while away at college and seemed ‘busy’ to the point where I wondered if I would get to chat with him! I did a silly ’18 Years of Birthdays’ in a box and he seemed to really like the gesture,” said Sherri Kuhn. Another way to remind your child of his love from home is to take a lifetime of photos and upload into IMovie, complete with a few favorite songs for the soundtrack.

birthday cake

5. Dining hall celebration

Does your son’s dining hall offer to serve a birthday cake during dinner? If so, best to coordinate with a roommate or a friend to make sure that he will show up to blow out the candles. If the college doesn’t provide this service, look what Lisa Carpenter found, “The college my two youngest went to had a group of mothers who took orders for cakes, baked them and delivered on the kiddo’s birthday.” Failing that, consider ordering cookies and, if  your child is fortunate to live in one of 50 locations where Insomnia Cookies will deliver warm cookies and milk, give them a try.

6. Old friends

Would your daughter love nothing more than a chance to spend a weekend with her best friend in the whole wide world? Consider sending an airline or train ticket for her to visit that BFF’s at her college campus.

7. New tradition

“Flowers. The kind of peanut butter she likes. A barrette for her hair because she always loses hers. A mom gift” are Dr. Margaret Rutherford ideas who added,  “Not to sound overly ‘psychotherapist’ on you… just knowing that you are okay will do her a world of good. So, (for the moms,) plan a way of celebrating your giving birth!”

macaroons

8. Cupcakes to share

“I once baked a bunch of cupcakes and sent them, along with all the toppings (and store-bought frosting, couldn’t get around that one) in little containers, plus candles, etc. It was a ‘make your own celebration’ kit.” Whether the cupcakes are homemade, like expert baker Mindy Klapper Trotta’s were, or ordered on-line, spring for a few dozen! What better way for the birthday girl to get to know more people on her floor than to walk around sharing her birthday treats?

cupcakes

9. Retail therapy

Gather a fist full of gift certificates from local clothing and sporting goods stores, yogurt and pizza places, the campus bookstore, and if you have a daughter, don’t forget a nail salon, suggests Lisa Lichtenberg. Be generous with the amount so that your son or daughter has enough money to take along a few friends.

10. Cheers for your older student

Is there a micro-brewery or wine bar near campus where your 21 or 22-year-old would love to gather with friends to celebrate his birthday? If there is nothing quite this charming, consider paying the bar tab for an hour at a favorite sports bar.

11. Take a drive

Drive down and have brunch on Sunday,”  suggests Sharon Greenthal. If the distance is not too great, why not?

Finally, I took comfort with these words:

There is a part of you that never lets go of the “child” of  your children. The child who needs a hug, or a kiss on the forehead. The child who smiles at you no matter what…the one who runs to you after kindergarten, the one who cries just for you…I want Mommy! But if there is that part in us, there is that part in them. They only have one mother…and that is you. And that will never change. Donna Beckman Tagliaferri.

Photo credits: Chocolate chip cookies: aaron; Birthday cake: Will Clayton; Macaroons: Omar Chatriwala

Confessions of a Stalker Mom

Marjorie Rosenblatt, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: I am a physician, and a writer, but first and foremost, I am a mother. While having our children grow up and move on is a natural progression, it somehow is not feeling so natural to me.

Stalker mom

I was never one of the “powers-that-be” mothers, able to ensure my child’s role in the school play or acceptance on a team as a result of personal contacts or social status. Nor was I ever a helicopter parent, preoccupied with the minutiae of the everyday lives of my offspring. I attended as many parent-related meetings and school performances as I was able. If I missed something, it was not lack of interest or desire for involvement but rather my rigorous work schedule that kept me away.

As a result, we ate dinner as a family every night, during which my children were subjected to painstaking interrogation regarding the details of their day’s occurrences. The fact is, however, that I was the primary breadwinner and therefore, my employment had to be a priority, leaving my husband to serve as the Friday “pizza mom,” the parent organizing “learning from our differences” and the yearbook photographer at the elementary school.

Thank you social media!! Now, with the ever-growing number of communication-oriented applications, as my children get older, I have discovered myriad ways to spy on them – to make up for lost time, if you will. I have become an obsessive electronic stalker. I wake up and check Snapchat to see if my son, now a college freshman, has posted any of his numerous drunken snaps to his story.

I proceed to see how many of his new snarky tweets can be found on Twitter. Instagram is the next stop on my surveillance train, where I view photographs posted by my ninth-grader, and then on to Yik Yak, where my two college student’s universities are readily accessible under the heading of “my peeks.” There I have the opportunity to learn what is “hot” at their schools, while silently playing the always-fun game – “guess which yaks were posted by my own children.” (For those unfamiliar, Yik Yak is an anonymous posting site, designed for college communities.)

Facebook is next, where I view the walls of all of my children; I note new friends (whose walls I may then also peruse), recent posts and, of course, photographs. Not surprisingly, I am not infrequently met with a look of disgust when my older daughter mentions her friend Jim, for example, and although I have never actually met either, I ask “Jim Smith or Jim Jones?,” oddly familiar with both from having previously surveyed their Facebook pages.

I may also review the Facebook pages of my daughter’s a cappella group, or my son’s fraternity, just incase a minor detail of their lives has escaped me. Finally, before I retire for the night, I examine Find My iPhone, intended to help trace a lost phone, but employed by yours truly to find comfort in the fact that my children have made it home safely yet another night.

Stalker Mom

Why, one may ask, do my children consent to what they refer to as my “creeper” behavior? The choice is not theirs. It is our house rule that when one gets Facebook, he/she must accept his/her parents as “friends.” Similarly, as we pay for the iPhones, we must be allowed to track them if lost. Neither my husband nor I ever comment on what we learn from our voyeuristic activity; it is our hope that as long as we stay in the shadows, the multitudinous modes used to follow my children remain in their unconscious…out of sight, out of mind. Alternatively and, I suppose, preferably, as they become adults, they simply may not feel they need to maintain secrets, as they did when they were younger.

I (and others) often question why I participate in such obsessive behavior. An easy answer would be that I feel as if I have missed significant pieces of my children’s youth, for which I am now over-compensating. It is also possible that I am overseeing, trying to make sure that they are employing good judgment and avoiding trouble. More accurately, I believe, is a need to remain connected with my children as each day they inch toward independence. Perhaps I am trying to diminish the sadness and loss that I feel, as they become more self-sufficient and create their own autonomous worlds. There are evenings when I crave having their once tiny bodies snuggled up against me in search of comfort. I am no longer the first face they see in the morning, or the last at night; in exchange, I have made them my first and last association of the day.

And so I stalk. Snapchat. Twitter. Facebook. Instagram. Yik Yak. Find my iPhone. These sites are enablers, supporting my pathology, and providing me a pseudo-sense of continued involvement in the daily lives of my children. The tiny bits of information I glean serve as few stitches in the gaping hole in my heart.

Time to go…social media awaits…

Marjorie Rosenblatt

 

 

 

 

 

 

Marjorie Rosenblatt is a physician, wife and mother of three. She enjoys writing about her experiences and passions, including (but not limited to) her family, medicine and karate.

Photo credits: Baron Squirrel, David Goehring, Marjorie Rosenblatt

 

 

11 Reasons Why College Admissions is HARDER Than You Expected

Lisa writes: You thought college admissions would be challenging, you knew it would be difficult, you had no idea.

College Admissions

1. Prepare for heartbreak

You are filled with confusion as you watch your kid prepare to leave. The frustration and sadness you feel is not about college admissions but about the inevitable change that is coming to your relationship and your family. You worry that this next stage in life may not be good, for you.

2. Rejection is coming

Your kid is going to be rejected by some universities and, if history is any guide, as a parent, that is going to sting. You know you have raised a great kid, but not every university in America knows it. When the inevitable thin envelopes appear, it is going to hurt her, and perhaps you, even more. We take our kids disappointments to heart, that is what makes us parents.

3. 18 is not adulthood

Eighteenth birthday looming or not, despite what the calendar might say, you are looking at a half-baked adult. The law says that on that one day he will be an adult, that his decisions and responsibilities are his own. But what the law doesn’t know is that your kid is still a kid, and that he still asks you what you think of his clothes or what to eat for a snack, that he may look like a grown up but he is not ready for the big time yet.

4. Give her space?

Your kid is about to make the single biggest decision of her young life and you are supposed to back off. Step away, give her space. You are supposed to keep your mouth shut at college admissions information sessions, read her essays noting only typos and grammar mistakes and let her take control of the “process.” Well, the people doling out this advice do not know how naive your kid can be, or that she could compete, nationally, in any procrastination competition. They do not know that she is confused, overwhelmed, overtired and, despite standing at the crossroads of her life, just wants to crawl in bed and take a nap. You are scared to enter into the process and equally scared to back away.

5. College admissions is costly

Every single step of the college admissions process is more expensive than you could have imagined and you have not yet written your first tuition check. It adds up quickly: Road trips, application fees ($41 on average), SAT sittings ($52.20), SAT sittings (again), Subject SATs ($26.00 each), and APs ($89.00) and sending out all those scores comes at a steep price. Oh, and by the way, why don’t we try the ACT ($54.50) too? Hell, why not?

6. And the costs keep going up

And the corollary…you can throw any amount, almost any amount at the college admissions process. SAT tutoring can cost upwards of $500 an hour. Visits to five, ten, twenty schools can eat up thousands more. The litany of decisions on how to rein in these costs, even before your kid begins to write her first application, is not something you expected.

college admissions

7. College is worth it, right?

You keep reading research that says college may not be worth the expense. Though you know the research is largely aimed at for-profit universities and kids who start, but do not complete a degree, while going heavily in debt, the questions remains. Is there any chance you are shelling out over $100,000 for your teen to party for four years? It is a scary thought and not true.

8. Try hard not to be That Parent

You are pretty sure that your wonderful kid is not getting the attention that he needs from the guidance office at school. They seem to be overwhelmed with the number of kids they need to help and the typical, well-adjusted, middle of the pack kids don’t seem to be getting the attention. You want them to sit up and take note of your kid, but you don’t want to be That Parent.

9. This is not familiar, at all

You feel completely out of your depth, this is not college admissions as you knew it. You applied to one state school and got in. Or you applied to three private schools and went to the one that accepted you. You didn’t even study for the SAT. Schools that were not on your radar are now impossible to get into. Schools you thought might be great for your kid, elicited a chuckle from his guidance counselor. You had never heard of “a hook,” “a safety,” or “EA vs. ED”. You have entered a parallel universe and you cannot wait to get out.

10. Too much information

There is too much information. Life was easy just a few short years ago when a handful of viewbooks came through the mailbox and leafing through the pages of leafy college quads was a relaxing and largely uninformative process. Now there are websites with thousands of pages, emails and texts sent to your high school senior, rankings, blogs …. You know that it is important to make an informed decisions, life has taught you that. But you suspect that the torrent of college admissions information may be beyond the capacity of the human mind.

11. Were you a good parent?

You had no idea that the college admissions process could make you, not your kid, feel so insecure. You are not a pushy parent, but should you have pushed more? The SAT prep class seemed great, but should you have hired a tutor? His main essay topic seems a bit weak, but it’s his, should you leave it? Should you have urged more AP classes or made her try out for varsity basketball? Those overseas trips seemed like a scam, but what if they weren’t? Did you actually spend all the hours you meant to with your child? Were you even a good parent?  College admissions does not seem like a healthy process for a parent’s ego.

Finally, back to number one. The pain, frustration and even anger that the college admissions process engenders may have little to do with the process. One of the people you love most in your life, have loved beyond what you ever could have ever imagined, is getting ready to walk out your door. And if that isn’t’ hard, I don’t know what is.

When Joining a Sorority is Part of the College Decision

Mary Dell writes: Sorority. Rush. Pledging. Do these words bring back memories from your own college days or has the sum total of your familiarity with Greek Life come from repeated viewings of Legally Blonde?

If your high school daughter is now in the college hunt, determining “fit” with a school’s social life will be a crucial part of her decision and one that is difficult to ascertain from afar. Though clubs and social traditions at colleges have infinitely more iterations than simply Greek or not-Greek, researching the presence, and dominance, of Greek Life on campus could become an important part of her college due diligence. Further, understanding the financial costs and time commitment of sorority membership, reported yesterday in the “Education Life” section of The New York Times, makes this a relevant family discussion.

Joining a sorority may or may not feel like the right choice for college students who discover camaraderie through other campus extracurriculars or with their own close friend group. But for women who decide to pledge and stay involved, sorority membership can be one of the very happiest, and most memorable, aspects of their college lives.

Where to Begin

The terminology and organization of Greek letter clubs are a confusing Tower of collegiate Babel. Each college has a unique roster of sororities and the timing, cost and rules of recruitment (aka rush) vary from school-to-school. Further, old school sororities, with roots dating from the late 19th century, exist side-by-side with historically African-American sororities, multi-cultural Greek groups and others clubs that all emphasize commitment to service. They are all known by names that combine two or three letters of the Greek alphabet, from Alpha to Zeta.

University of Nebraska Sorority Pledges

One starting point is with the National Panhellenic Conference (NPC). Founded in 1902, the NPC operates as an umbrella organization for 26 Greek-letter sororities on North American campuses. These specific clubs were started by collegiate women who desired the same social opportunities offered to men in fraternities, from which they were excluded. From feminist beginnings, the NPC has grown to represent more than 4 million women on campus and in alumnae groups, becoming one of the oldest and largest women’s organizations in the US. We recently posed a few questions to the NPC Chair, Jean Mrasek.

Interview with NPC Chair, Jean Mrasek

G&F: Can you give us some statistics of number of sororities, numbers of college campuses that have sororities, and number of women who are active collegiate members?

Mrasek: Our 26 member organizations have chapters at over 670 campuses across North America. During the 2013-14 academic year there were more than 350,000 undergraduate members.

G&F:How have those numbers changed over time, especially compared with the 1970’s-80’s, when their moms were in college?

Mrasek: By all indicators, sorority membership is thriving. Evidence shows that college women value what we have to offer and what we encourage—friendship, teamwork, leadership opportunities, networking, scholastic achievement, community engagement and outreach.
We are seeing large numbers of registrants in sorority recruitment as well as expansion requests to add more NPC organizations to College Panhellenic communities on campuses. Reports from 2012-2013 indicate a 10 percent increase in recruitment numbers this year over the previous year. These significant increases have continued for several years and correspond with the current high levels of female student enrollment at colleges and universities.

G&F: What, in your opinion, are the strongest arguments in favor of sorority membership?

Mrasek: Sorority life provides great opportunities for young women — leadership, scholastic support, community engagement and friendship.

Sorority upperclassmen and chapter officers often serve as mentors and help other members to campus resources and encourage members to get involved in campus activities. There are alumnae advisors who provide emotional support and help teach the value of lifelong commitment.

Texas A&M Sorority Members

G&F: The recent Gallup-Purdue University Index study queried over 30,000 college graduates to “research and measure whether they have ‘great jobs and great lives.’” What did the data show about sorority membership?

Mrasek: The Gallup-Purdue Index revealed 43 percent of sorority members who are employed full-time for an employer are engaged in the workplace compared to 38 percent of all other college graduates who are employed full-time. Even more specifically, other findings from the research determined sorority women scored higher in all elements of well-being – purpose, social, financial, community and physical; workplace engagement; emotional support from their college, experiential learning experience as a student; and alumni attachment compared to non-sorority women.

G&F: How do you answer critics of sororities? 

Mrasek: It is impossible to counter all the negative stereotypes and negative portrayals of sorority women and sorority recruitment. The good news and positive benefits of sorority membership does not always get covered. The NPC is encouraging our women to be brand ambassadors and to advocate for the sorority experience. We all play a role in shaping our positive message.

Sororities have evolved in recent years to meet the needs of students with a variety of special interests, religious beliefs and ethnic backgrounds and the entire sorority system continues to work to provide positive changes.

Other Sources of Information

College Admissions Book

Christine VanDeVelde, Co-author of the excellent college guidebook, College Admission: From Application to Acceptance, Step by Step, offers this advice about researching a college’s social life:

When visiting campus, talk to current students and ask questions in the information session about the culture of a campus and its social climate. Is it dominated by a Greek system? Populated by artsy students? Is it known as a party school? What do students do on the weekend? What do people do outside the classroom? Is the library busy on Friday night? What type of people do you encounter on the quad? Do most students live on or off campus? Whether or not Greek Life is a priority for you, this is important information.

There’s no shortage of information — YouTube, websites, guidebooks. But the challenge is to sort through it all and extract meaningful information. Some of the subjective guidebooks or websites, including College Prowler,  have very good information for students and parents on a college’s culture and social life. These resources “review” schools, offering both fact and opinion and use feedback from students, faculty and alumni. So they can convey the personality of a school, the vibe of the student body and a sense of the campus’ values. Also, kids really relate to their anecdotal nature. They also honestly can give you the scoop on aspects of campus life that you won’t hear about from the admission office.

Fiske Guide To Colleges

Fiske Guide to Colleges 2015 by  former Education Editor of The New York Times, reviews more than 300 of the country’s “best and most interesting colleges and universities.” Each college profile includes an overall assessment of social life, indicated by a number of telephone icons (on a scale of one to five.) A discussion of Greek life and percentages of men and women who are members of sororities and fraternities in each college is included in every profile.

College Websites

Every college website will proudly catalogue the numerous social options available to students. If your daughter is curious about Greek Life, she will want to take a close look at how a college depicts sororities as part of the culture. Once she has finally decided on a school, she should research any requirements for registering for recruitment, especially if rush happens before school begins in the fall.

US News And World Report

Poking around the rankings and features stories of the US News and World Report Best Colleges 2015 can provide data-driven insight into a school’s social fabric. For instance, I found this article ranking schools with the greatest percentage of sororities to be an eye opener. From UT-Pan American at 100% down to Willamette at 28%, the list includes liberal arts colleges, big state schools, Ivys and more, coast to coast.

Washington and Lee Sorority Houses

 Personal Note

I was a member of a sorority, Kappa Alpha Theta, at the University of Texas, in the 70’s. Like others who have written on the subject, I found pluses and a few minuses during my four years. The drawbacks for me were the time demands during pledgeship and the uncomfortable process of exclusion required to not exceed the new member cap of 50/per year. In that era, diversity was bringing in one girl from Oklahoma, 49 from Texas. I know that has changed.

Kappa Alpha Theta

The positives were far more numerous. Tuition at a state school was a bargain so the added dues for Greek membership were not onerous. Being in a sorority on a mega-campus of 50,000 gave me a social anchor and I met more people freshman year than I have ever again in life. My pledge sister and roommate for two years in the Theta house remains one of my dearest friends in life. My mother was a Theta at SMU and I love that we share this bond, as well.

Having never attended a single sex school or gone to a girl’s sleep away camp, being part of a sorority was a very different experience for me. I was happy to be a member of a sisterhood with clout while at college and I felt that membership was a source of strength, afterwards, when I encountered various “boys’ clubs” later on in life. Finally, the opportunities among sorority alumnae for networking when moving to a new city or wanting advice with a career change have been real and helpful.

Kappa Alpha Theta

Finally, let me circle back to Legally Blonde. Like Elle Woods, I was president of my sorority and wrote about that leadership experience as the basis of my application to Harvard Business School. There were no video clips of me floating in a pool wearing a bikini and my resume was printed on unscented white paper. I admit that pink remains my favorite color.

Photo Credits: Charles Roberts, vintage University of Nebraska sorority sisters

Texas A&M, sorority sisters

Tauber Andrew Bain: Washington and Lee sorority houses

 

 

 

 

 

 

Do Your Kids Vote?

Lisa writes: I take voting very seriously and, other than a decade living overseas, never miss an opportunity to jump into a voting booth. Throughout my three kid’s lives I took them into the booth with me. The four of us would squish in together and each of them would get a chance to punch the card registering my vote.

We would take turns deciding who got to vote for President and Senator and who was left with the more minor offices. As the booth was merely a curtain, I could hear the nice old ladies who checked my name laughing at the inevitable sibling battle going on about who got to vote for what. But I thought the fights were worth it. Modeling is the best form of parenting and I believed I was modeling my civic duty. I was pretty sure I was doing this right.

Why Young Adults Don't Vote

Fast forward. My three sons, now young adults, don’t vote and are not even registered. This does not make me happy and I have not given up hope or nagging. My kids are emblematic of a generation that does not value the voting booth. As the chart shows above, less than half of their demographic votes and when the numbers are further dissected, the voting rates for the youngest voters, 18-24 year olds, are even lower.

Why Don’t Young Adults Vote and What Can We Do About It?

1. Young Adults Move Over and Over

Young adults move, a lot. This means that they may lose their registration or even be unaware that they are not registered to vote in their new abode. It also means that they are hard to locate for political mail and get out the vote campaigns. Their lack of landlines makes them a real challenge for political parties to locate.

2. Voting is Old Fashioned

Voting is so 20th century. I don’t know about your kids but mine rarely hold a pencil or touch paper. If it isn’t online they don’t want to know. Voting has changed very little in the digital age and can seem hopelessly outdated to our kids.

3. Young Adults are Disaffected

They are disaffected. Unlike the highly politicised world we grew up in, with anti-war demonstrations and civil rights marches, their lives have been dominated by political gridlock, widespread distrust for politicians and the overwhelming belief that those who serve our country are really trying to serve themselves. These things may or may not be true, but studies show that these beliefs are widely held among young voters and nonvoters. Last year a Harvard Study found that 58% of young adults agreed with the statement, “elected officials do not have the same priorities that I do” and 62% believe that “elected officials seem to be motivated by selfish reasons.”

4. Young Adults Have Shallow Roots

The overwhelming reason that young people vote in smaller numbers is that they are not working, not married and not in possession of a mortgage to the same extent as their parents. Without an economic stake in today, in mortgage rates, tax rates, IRAs and employment rates, they simply do not have the same focus on economic policy as they will one day.

So while my kids, and maybe yours, are passing up on their civic responsibility, the hard-won right to vote, I have not given up hope. Each step they take further into their adult lives, be it marriage, job or home ownership will take them one step closer to the polling booth.

Dear Mom of High School Junior

Dear Mom of High School Junior,

Okay, no more putting it off, it is time to talk about college. If you have kept the subject under wraps until now during Freshman and Sophomore years, you and your kid are about to go on a voyage of discovery during his junior year.  He or she will discover what interest them, excites them, and motivates them. You will discover an adult emerging, and the emphasis here is on emerging, on what will soon be the memories of childhood.

junior year

Let’s dispense with the practical for your high school Junior:

Map out the tests

Make a detailed plan of where and when your child will take all of the standardized tests that occur this year. They could potentially face any combination of PSAT, SAT, Subject SATs (SAT IIs), APs, ACT, PLAN. Be careful with this planning. Use the results of the PSAT or PLAN to recalibrate their studying. Make sure the Subject SATs are planned late enough in the year (and this is probably June for a regular course or May for an AP) that all of the relevant coursework has been completed. There are a myriad of options to study for this standardized exams, plan ahead for what fits into your schedule and budget. Careful study of the exam prep books will go a long way towards getting your student ready.

Time for introspection

Once the planning is over, the scheduling of tests and activities is complete, it is time to look within. While you junior will learn much about college from counselors, other students and visits at the outset, it can be helpful to gain some self-knowledge. Some of the questions a junior can ask themselves: How do I like to learn? Do I like/need interaction with faculty and teachers? Do I thrive socially in a large environment or am I happier when I know a sizable proportion of the people around me? Do I like the rambunctious atmosphere of a big sports school or is that social scene uninviting? How much can my family afford to pay and what other means might I have for gaining scholarships and loans? How far from home do I want to go? Do I want to be able to easily drive to my college from home or would it be okay to take a plane or train each time? Do I like big city life, suburban Idyll or a rural setting? What interests do I have now, or might have over the next four years and which schools will best suit these?

A student who can answer some of these questions (recognizing that both the answers and the student may change over time) will find that time spent with counselors is far more productive.

Clear the spring-time decks

There is a crunch that comes at the end of junior year and, unless you child is very forward thinking, they may not realize it until they are there. You know it now, so if there are things that can be moved out of spring of junior year – perhaps a spring sport or play that they don’t care that much about or driving lessons – move those things or dispense with them altogether. I promise you,  when the pileup of year-end exams and standardized tests descends, your student will be glad these things are gone.

Road trip

Once your junior has met with a counselor, it is time for the road show.  This can be a wonderful or utterly dreadful time in your life but it is certainly the only time you will travel this path together. I have heard stories of kids and parents who barely spoke a word on the entire journey, such is the way of a sullen teen. Yet other parents speak fondly using this time as a way to grow closer to a teen who might be drifting away and to talk about some of the very important things that they are finally grown up enough to discuss.

Essay

Summer between junior and senior year is the time to start college essays and there is no better person to help than a high school English teacher, preferably one who has taught your child. A teacher will ask all the right questions and help move the process along (“Is that what you mean to say here, it is not clear to the reader? Do you have more details you can add to bring your story to life?”) but will not write the essay for your child. Find this English teacher during 11th grade so that teacher and student can work together the summer before 12th grade commences.

Recommendations

Before the school year ends for summer, your junior should ask two teachers to write college recommendations These need to be written by teachers who students have in junior or senior year. With the early college application deadlines in November, this, realistically, means it needs to be a junior year teacher. Teachers are inundated with requests and students should ask early, politely, and give the teacher the entire summer to address the request.

Dating, driving, drinking

Much of what we think of as high school, staying out late, dating, prom, driving and, unfortunately drinking and drug use, begins in junior year. For many kids there is a fairly sharp demarcation between the first two and the last two years in high school with the new-found freedom that the car brings. It is tempting to see how hard they are working and feel that they deserve some fun. And they do. But new drivers are dangerous drivers with car crashes the leading cause of death of teens in the US. The CDC reports that the adoption of graduated drivers licensing has been successful in lowering these sad statistics:

Driving is a complex skill, one that must be practiced to be learned well. Teenagers’ lack of driving experience, together with risk-taking behavior, puts them at heightened risk for crashes. The need for skill-building and driving supervision for new drivers is the basis for graduated driver licensing systems, which exist in all US states and Washington, DC. Graduated driver licensing puts restrictions on new drivers; these are systematically lifted as the driver gains experience. Research suggests that the most comprehensive graduated drivers licensing (GDL) programs are associated with reductions of 38% and 40% in fatal and injury crashes, respectively, among 16-year-old drivers. When parents know their state’s GDL laws, they can help enforce the laws and, in effect, help keep their teen drivers safe.

A final thought:

Savor every day

One day in junior year it just might become clear how close they are to leaving. It could be on a college tour or when they get behind the wheel of a car. It might be when they get dressed up or when they get a summer job all on their own with no nagging. But one day the stark reality of their departure seems utterly too real. This is a warning signal from the parenting gods reminding us to savor every day, to get to know, even better, our changing child, and to prepare ourselves to send them on their way.

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore

Dear Mom of High School Sophomore,

If Freshman year was for finding their feet, Sophomore year is for finding themselves.

There is something so nice about going back to high school Sophomore year. Our students are no longer the new kids on the block trying to figure out both the academic and social landscape.

Sophomore year

 

Advice for High School Sophomore Year:

No college talk

Top of the list is still DO NOT TALK ABOUT COLLEGE. The one exception would be if your child is in an athletic recruiting process. But otherwise the mantra is grades, activities, friends and enjoy high school. High school is a seminal moment in life, it is a crime to turn it into one long application process. The minute we start talking about college the focus shifts away from high school and onto one of the most stressful parts of our child’s youth. Don’t rush it!

Real first year

In many ways, Sophomore year feels like the first real year. The experimentation with clubs and activities may have given way to genuine interests. Our kids might have new friends. For the first time in their lives we may not know some of these friends. Small changes like this give us the feeling that our life with our kid is truly changing.

New world of worry

Welcome to a whole new world of worry. The light sockets, stair gates and bicycle helmets were all just preparation for driving, the biggest safety challenge that teens and parents face.

Driver’s ed

If your teen’s birthday allows for it, start driver’s training in Sophomore year. Many things get rushed junior year and proper driving instruction, with adequate time, is all important. It is worth taking the time to do some careful research into driving instruction and providing additional lessons if necessary. Driving will be one of the biggest emotional hurdles of 10th grade. Driving is a confluence of very real worry and huge leap in our kid’s independence. It is, I believe the first step on the road to the empty nest and it may very well feel that way.

Time management

Watch your child closely, see how their time management is progressing. Junior year is, for many, the most difficult year in high school. This is a good moment to help teach any of those planning skills that a younger, more immature student was unable to master. On top of the academic load many juniors take on more demanding activities, a varsity sport, a leading role or a leadership position. Good time management can be the difference between a happy teen and one struggling with stress next year.

Sleep is key

Like every year, focus on teaching them about sleep. For many boys, 15 is a big year for physical growth making sleep even more important. It becomes harder to impose a bedtime on a high school kid, but do it anyway. Sleep is what fuels a young body, aiding them emotionally, intellectually and physically so make sure they know its value long before setting off to college. Tell them how crucial sleep is to every aspect of their lives. When they ignore you, show them the scientific evidence. If they ignore that, turn off the wi-fi at 10:00pm.

Coming of age

For girls, the question of a Sweet 16 party may begin with the first day of school. MTV’s show, My Super Sweet 16 debuted in 2005 and has, along with its various spinoffs, taken viewers “on a wild ride behind the scenes for all the drama, surprises and over-the-top fun as teens prepare for their most important coming-of-age celebrations.”  It has been part of the media landscape since current high school Sophomores were six. Whether your family traditions call for a Quinceanera at 15, a big party at 16, or a quiet dinner with grandparents and cake, 16 is a significant milestone for girls and one that shouldn’t pass without special acknowledgement.

Sweet 16, sophomore year

PSAT/SAT

The question of taking the PSAT or PLAN may come up this year. Every school is different. Unless your child has some extreme test anxiety (and frankly these kids might benefit from the opportunity to try the test with no consequences), consider scheduling them for one of these tests. Although the tests do not count for anything regarding college admission during sophomore year, they serve as a barometer and offer practice. (Please note, when taken during junior year, the PSAT is a gateway to potential scholarships.) Standardized tests that last for many hours and are administered in a highly structured weekend setting might be new to your son or daughter so here is a chance at a trial run.

Though it must seem like a long way off, plan the summer with SAT study in mind. It is a free and clear block of time and most kids take the test for the first time in 11th grade. If your child is going to do some sort of structured test prep, a class or a tutor, this is the time for you to schedule it.

Talk schoolwork

Toward the end of the year, or just before course selection is due for Junior year, have a long serious talk with your Sophomore. How did they manage their course load? Could they handle a greater challenge, or should they dial back a bit for next year? What courses interested them the most and how can they best pursue this interest? Are there courses they have never tried like economics or psychology that they would like to take? Are they going to add AP and advanced work and how much? High school counselors are often overworked and might not have the time for a reflective talk and this is a great opportunity for your teen to tell you things you may not already know about their growing and changing interests.

Go Ahead, Call Your College Freshman

Mary Dell writes: Whew, congratulations, we survived month one! Since that memorable hug goodbye, we have spent the last few weeks trying to adjust to the absence of our college freshman. We miss them like crazy, long for their phone calls and are thrilled when they text! We follow the rules about not hovering and abide by the sacred parenting principle that states that NOW is the time to let our kids take the lead. But after we dropped them off at their dorms, does that mean we should drop off the face of the earth?

College freshman

 

Parenting college freshman, especially during this first semester, is a hybrid activity. No question that we must respect the fact that our kids are living independent lives. But fully acclimating to college takes time and, while that process unfolds, parents should look for signs that either their child has adjusted and is thriving and or is truly struggling.

In her article, Parents of College Freshmen: Don’t Let Go Too Fast, psychotherapist, teacher and author, F. Diane Barth, identifies red flags: “Eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, failing grades and other difficulties don’t happen overnight and aren’t a sign that a young man or woman is inadequate or bad. They are, however, signs of trouble and require adult intervention…Do not be put off by the advice to ‘let go.’”

She writes that parents who are concerned about their college student:

hear from friends, books, and the internet (telling) them to let their adult youngsters figure things out for themselves….But surprisingly, there are other professional voices telling parents not to let go so fast. In 2007 George D. Kuh, an Indiana University professor, found that students whose parents were more involved were actually more successful at college than their “liberated” peers.

If you are, like us, trying to find the sweet spot in parenting your college kid, here are:

Nine Reasons Why You Should Call Your College Freshman

1. Schedule the Call

Make a plan to talk to your child weekly. Ask about his teachers, his roommate and other kids in the dorm. Ask about his weekend plans. If he bristles at what seems like an intrusion into his new-found independence, let him know that you want to stay in contact regularly, especially early on. As Barth writes:

Staying in touch is not by definition neurotic. It does not mean a parent cannot let go. It is an act of responsibility, a communication that you are letting go, but standing by to provide support and balance. And, as one colleague put it, “by listening to their voice on a weekly basis, you can tell how they’re doing – just as you could tell when you looked at their eyes when they were younger.”

2. Phone on the Weekend

Our kids learned how to drive only once they got behind the wheel. They will learn to drink with a cold one in their hand. Some kids already may have had painful lessons of being over-served while in high school; others will learn in college personally and/or by observing the behavior of other students. Schools try their hardest to get kids to understand about the downside of alcohol by mandating online awareness programs during the summer or at orientation. But painful learning can come with shots, kegs, or grain alcohol.

The results of this study,  Protective Effects of Parent-College Student Communication During the First Semester of College found that  “Encouraging parents to communicate with their college students, particularly on weekend days (Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays) could be a relatively simple, easily implemented protective process to reduce dangerous drinking behaviors.”

Researchers theorized that “First, there could be a direct effect such that when parents express their concern about excessive drinking and suggest strategies for reducing harm, the students consume less alcohol. There could also be an indirect effect whereby interaction with parents may remind the student of shared values, internalized norms, or the importance of longer-term goals.”

3. Share Contacts

If there is a problem and you are unable to reach your son and daughter who would you call? There is a number for the Dean of Students but that may feel like calling the president of a company if your office computer is broken. Ask your child for his roommate’s number and ask that he give him yours, in return. Assure your son that exchanging numbers does not mean you will be sending texts with smiley-face emojis to his new friend.

4. Discuss the Game Plan

There is no returning to high school days with curfews but ask about the weekend plans. Is your daughter going to a fraternity party or the football game and, most importantly, is there a buddy with whom she will walk back home? Ask her to text you or send an email once she is back in her dorm. When you get up at 7AM on a Saturday morning and see the email at 2AM, you will feel great relief. (Note: I am, admittedly, more on edge about campus safety issues in the wake of a disappearance of a classmate of my daughter’s. We asked our daughter to text us and, as long as we make no comments about the time the texts come in, she is willing.)

5. Provide Warmth

Kids have emerged from the group hug that defined their high school years but they have not yet had the shared experiences that create deep friendships. They are on a campus of strangers and the gulf in closeness will be felt most keenly right now. Until they have developed the new friendships, you can try to fill in the gap with regular phone calls, a shipment of homemade cookies or periodically texting video clips of the family dog back home, this last one guaranteed to garner a response.

6. Support School Work

College and high school are like night and day in terms of work demanded. Your child may be completely overwhelmed by the volume of reading, the length and number of papers, the complexity of tests. Help him avoid an academic train wreck by making academics part of the conversation. If there is a problem, discuss the options the school makes available – tutoring, advisors, study sessions.

7. Check the Calendar

The fall is filled with campus meetings and deadlines. Foreign study, Greek rush, second year housing and course selection. Check out the academic calendar online and put these on your list of things to discuss. Do not begin a sentence with “You should…” but instead try “Have you given any thought to…” Be aware of dates and deadlines in case there is something looming that your daughter might have overlooked.

8. Look for Signs of Poor Health

There is a bounty of food at your child’s fingertips and comfort eating risks unhealthy weight gain. Does he need some new athletic gear in a care package for extra motivation to schedule working out into his week?

9. Plan a Visit

Whether it is a formally organized Parents Weekend, a home football game, or a random weekend after midterms, try to visit your child in college this fall. There is nothing like seeing first hand how your son is faring with his roommate, whether he is stressed by his classes or if he has gained or lost weight. Plus, taking your child out to dinner – with or without a group of new friends – and inviting her to spend the night in a hotel room with you will be a welcome break from dorm life. It will also give you a chance to do a little on site, and not merely long-distance, mothering. At this time of family transition, there is not much that can top a real life hug!

Dear Mom of High School Freshman

Dear Mom of High School Freshman,

It is hard not to feel, in those weeks leading up to the first day of freshman year, that you and your child have finally hit the big leagues. Because you have. High school is, in many ways, a break with everything that has gone before. Suddenly your child, and let’s be honest he may look like a young adult but is still very much a child, is in a world where sex, drugs, alcohol, along with high academic demands, competitive sports, and college are all part of the vernacular. It can seem overwhelming, almost too much.

High School Freshman

Deep breath. Don’t worry. Adolescence is almost like a rerun of the earliest years of childhood, with both physical and intellectual change occurring at a startling pace, new dangers appearing all the time and an unending need for sleep and food. High school takes four years because that is the minimum it takes for both kids and parents to transition from the final days of childhood to the first moments of adulthood. She will have enough time and so will you.

Here are some of the pointers for your high school Freshman:

Do not talk about college

DO NOT. College admissions is a dark grey fog that will at some point descend upon your home. Put this off for as long as possible, reminding yourself and your kid that high school should be about high school. Tell your teen that ninth grade is about 1. Exploring new activities and making new friends 2. Taking whatever activity you already love to the next level and 3. Getting good grades and acclimatizing to the rigors of high school. That is it. Everything else comes later.

The single caveat would be that parents can mention college to expel the notion (an urban myth) that freshman grades do not count for college admissions. All grades count.

Stick close

You child is in uncharted territory, for her. And while you may not be a hovering parent it would not hurt to stick close for the first few months. A close eye on who she is making friends with, how and when she is getting her work done and her general health , would not go amiss. Some kids stumble with their time management as they enter high school and find themselves up late, sleeping inadequately and getting on a vicious cycle. Parents can help with this, establishing routines, limits on social media and strict bedtime. Sleep for teens is like water for plants, it is not pretty when they don’t get enough.

Count back for curfews

A wise headmaster once suggested to ninth grade parents that they think long and hard about curfews. He explained it this way, “Think about what time is okay for a high school senior to come in a night. Realize that every year you will want to move their curfew back a little bit in acknowledgment of their growing maturity and freedom. Then work backwards four years. If you start ninth grade at midnight, you will soon find yourself in trouble.” Couldn’t have said it better.

Talk about the hard stuff

If you have not been talking about the hard stuff, drugs, birth control, sex, consent….this is the time to start. If you have been talking, double down. Your child is now in world where these issues arise, if not for them (hopefully!) for schoolmates, and the time to talk is early and often. Every family has its own mores and values and every ninth grader should know them. Over time, they may discard some of what we say, ignore our warnings or our rules. They may choose to defy us, but they should never for one moment be unclear of both the rules and the values our families espouse.

Find the one thing

Ninth grade is the year to start (or for some kids, continue) one thing that will carry your student through high school (the newspaper, a drama group, a sport or art activity) and to try other things along the way. Academics may seem a bit challenging, but for most freshman, there is still time to experiment with different extracurricular interests. The most important things a freshman learns are about herself. This is a year to discover interest you never knew you had or that an activity undertaken since childhood is better left behind.

Friendships change

Ninth grade is the time and chance for new friendships to grow. For most school districts, ninth grade provides an opportunity for teenagers to expand and/or completely change their social group. As multiple middle schools feed into one high school, it can be immensely liberating for 8th grade students who crave different peer groups. It can also shake up an existing social order, bringing in a breath of fresh air to stratified social status.

Freshmen should stick with Freshmen

Freshman year is high school, but not all high schoolers are the same. The social order of high school means that kids largely stay in their grade groups. But in clubs, sports and other activities the grades mix fluidly. For Freshmen, and to a lesser extent sophomores, this is not always a great thing. Sure, older students have much to teach younger students about leadership and excelling at extracurricular activities, but it doesn’t end there. The world of a 14/15-year-old is very different from that of a 17/18-year-old. While some socializing is nice, end of season parties, cast parties, younger high school students are best encouraged to stay amongst their own.

A bit of parental input

In ninth grade, teachers will not mind a bit of input from parents if there are hiccups along the way. Emphasis on a bit. Students, by now, should be able to speak up for themselves, but sometimes teachers or counselors need a bit of background and helping a 14-year old. Again, a bit, is not out of line.

Course Selection

Many high school classes have prerequisites and freshman need to be aware of these and the order in which classes should be taken. In an ideal world, each student would have a counselor who guides them through the process of course selection and planning their four years. In the real world sometimes parents need to help. Freshman need to imagine where they would like to end up academically senior year and draw a path of classes that will get them there. Plans change but it helps to set goals from the start.

Finding feet as high schoolers and parents of high schoolers

Finally, freshman year is a year of our kids finding their feet as a high schooler and us finding our feet as the parents of one. It seems almost inconceivable that we could have a child this old, as our own high school days seem not so far removed. Looking at your new high school child, who by now may be looking at you eye-to-eye, it is hard not to feel as though time has begun to accelerate and the road to the empty nest become clear.

PS. Great Additions from Debbie Schwartz, Road 2 College:

1) It’s even more important than before to stay connected to other mothers (parents). My network of mothers gives me insight into the high school party scene, dating, driving concerns (a big one), drinking, drugs, and which parents monitored all these things at their houses and which do not!

2) Don’t talk to your child about college, but as a parent, start learning about the process, costs, and financing. It’s just too late to start understanding the process if you wait till junior year, especially from a cost standpoint. FAFSA forms are based on tax information from January of a student’s junior year. So learning about costs and how financial and merit aid is granted is something parents really need to START understanding in freshman year. And as you mentioned, the GPA colleges look at include grades from 9th to 11th grade – and each grade counts equally.

 

Books for Fall

Lisa writes: I love getting book recommendations from friends and we thought you might enjoy a few of ours. Now that fall has arrived, what can be better than curling up with a great new read, forgetting about the chilly weather to come?

reading, books

 

Books for Fall

People I Want to Punch in the Throat: Competitive Crafters, Drop-Off Despots, and Other Suburban Scourges

By Jen Mann. I need to start by saying that this is not my kind of book. But sometimes when an author is this good and the subject is this near and dear to my heart, well, life is about leaving your comfort zone. This book is for every suburban mom who has ever thought WTF. You know that day you received the third email on the color of the cupcake frosting for next week’s class party. Or the time that the team manager gave every parent a condescending lecture on healthy snacks. Or, perhaps, you had your moment when you looked at Pinterest and looked at your life and realized this Venn Diagram never had and never would have any overlap. If you want to laugh at parenting gone amuck there is no better satirist than Jen Mann to take you there. Be forewarned, you need to love sarcasm, biting humor and a touch of profanity to enjoy this riotous book. Here is the clip:

You Should Have Known

You Should Have KnownBy Jean Hanff Korelitz. I thought, by now, I would be getting sick of books where there is shock from a spouse who, by all accounts, lives an unremarkable life. After Gone Girl and The Silent Wife, I might have had enough, but l clearly not. When psychologist Grace Reinhart Sachs writes a book entitled “You Should Have Known: Why Women Fail to Hear What the Men in Their Lives Are Telling Them,” suggesting to others that the unendurable flaws of their spouses were all there from the beginning if they had only chosen to look, it is not hard to guess where this is going. Despite the fact that her husband is a pediatric oncologist, embodying all that is good about humanity, the book is a smorgasbord of surprises. Yet I did not find anything about this book predictable and, although there were times when the main character is a bit cold for my taste, the books stayed compelling until the last page. If Gone Girl is successful in the theatres, expect You Should Have Known to follow close behind.

 

My Other Ex: Women’s True Stories of Losing and Leaving Friends

My Other Ex

Edited by Stephanie Springer with Author, Jessica Smock. My Other Ex is an anthology of essays about a painful topic so few of us want to talk about, the end of our relationship with a close female friend. Each essay touches on a painful break up, a moment when two women who shared so much, were no longer in each others’ lives. The reasons are myriad, and many of the stories harken back to childhood or tell of losses from adolescence that still haunt adult women. In each story, no matter how many years have passed, the pain is still startlingly real. If you have ever loved and lost a friendship that still tugs at your soul, you may well find your story here.

 

We Are Not Ourselves: A Novel

We are Not Ourselves

By Matthew Thomas. Usually when a review tells me that a book is a saga or will take me through the American Century or American experience…I am pretty much done reading. I don’t read fiction to be educated about history and more important books that make this claim, seems to me, to reduce their characters into clichés that represent the clichés we believe about our own past. Matthew Thomas does not fall prey to that trap. Ellen and Ed Leary live through the 20th century but they are never reduced to caricatures as the story of their very real marriage and lives unfolds. While this book did not have the page-turning pleasure of some of the others, this couple will stay with me for far longer than most things I have read. Anna Quindlen described it as, “A deeply felt and uncommonly insightful novel about the span of a woman’s life, from her early years in a hardscrabble household, to her ever changing marriage, to the maturity of her own only child. One of the best books of this year.” And I am pretty sure I cannot improve upon that.

Early Decision: A Novel

Early Decision

By Lacy Crawford. Early Decision: A Novel provided me with a personal challenge last year. I bought a copy just at the moment one of my sons was pushing the button on his early admission application. Terrified to open the book and, frankly, afraid to find a frightening portrait of some horrible mom who looked and sounded a whole lot like me, I waited until decision day had passed. I had an overnight flight and proceeded to read every word in this cannot-put-it-down book finding only traces of my very worst pushy mom self among the pages. If you ever applied to college, ever think you will have a kid applying to college or just want to know what all of the madness is about, then this is the book. Lacy has an insiders knowledge of the fight to the death college admissions process that make parents and their kids lose their minds yet her book is funny, enthralling and kept me turning the pages all the way to London. Now in paperback!

One Plus One: A Novel

One Plus One

By Jojo Moyes. If you fell in love with Jojo Moyes’ bestseller, Me Before You, her great follow-up, One Plus One, is for you. Jess Thomas is a struggling mom of two caring for her daughter, math prodigy Tanzie and her husband’s teenage son, the sullen Nick. Holding her blended family together without benefit of the children’s father (or his financial support) tests Jess’ optimism and resiliency daily. While cleaning houses during one of her two jobs, she meets Ed Nicholls, a sullen single man whose wealth and isolation are visible yet indecipherable. How Jess, Tanzie, Nicky and Norman, their big smelly black dog, find themselves on an extended road trip is a story that the always-great storyteller Moyes spins with great originality and heart.

 

Lila by Marilynne Robinson

Lila: A Novel

By Marilynne Robinson. She is the author of Home: A NovelGilead: A Novel and Housekeeping: A NovelLila looks at the some of the same characters as Home and Gilead (winner of the Pulitzer Prize) two of the greatest treats ever put between two covers.

Other books worth considering:

I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You: A Novel by Courtney Maum

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (though What Alice Forgot remains my favorite)

The Rosie Effect: A Novel by Graeme Simsion author of The Rosie Project: A Novel (Dec, 2014 available for pre-ordering)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Empty Nest Rant: Come, Chat, Share, Rant, Brag, Complain

Lisa writes: If you were bringing home a new baby there would be blogs, online conversations and shared advice, galore. But your kid is moving out, or moving towards the day she will move out, and suddenly the internet has left you on your own. Here you are facing the second biggest transition in parenting and there seems to be no community for support. Not so.

Come join us, tell us your thoughts, begin a conversation and meet other moms who are very much sharing your experiences, or different ones. Tell us what you really think, why you love this stage or why it hurts and what you hope for the future.

Kids never call, feel free to rant. Kids won’t move out, we want to hear that too. You miss them until they actually show up with all their crap and decamp in your living room? Yeah we get that. And if you have found that nearly perfect balance with your young adult child, please share your secrets!! Come, chat, share, rant, brag, complain, make a new friend, respond to a post…in the comments section below.

 

Runaway Mom

Lisa writes: One evening right before my youngest son left for college, he ganged up with his oldest brother and gave me a talking to. They told me that it was time for me to do things differently. My life had revolved around theirs for decades and thus, they implored, “You should have adventure now, Mom. You should do what you really want to do.”

z camino 9

I restrained myself from pointing out the obvious, that having them was an adventure like none other and it was exactly what I had wanted to do. I just hope that one day my grandchildren will make these points clear to them.

But I did hear their message. And while I think the clarion call of the empty nest is not to run off and have some big midlife adventure (which is pretty much what I am about to do), the point I think they hit upon, inadvertently, is that it is a moment to reassess. Our children’s moving out is a turning point of extraordinary proportions, one that warrants reexamining life as we know it. While it would be great if we could imagine life without our kids while they were still home, sometimes an experience speaks to us only once we are in it.

The biggest failing of in-the-moment parenting is, perhaps, that we are so steeped in daily life that trying to take an outsider’s look at our own lives can be all but impossible. Our kids very present needs easily drown out our more existential ones.

Yet, the best decisions I have made about my life involved stepping away from it and examining it from the outside. Sometimes I have done this literally. I decided to go to graduate school while living in Freetown, Sierra Leone, and sometimes it has been metaphorically, by getting rid of all the givens and realizing that there are often more options than there once seemed.

But my kids were right about one thing, their departure marked a turning point and the one thing I should not do is carry on as if only my grocery bill had changed. I am watching parents at midlife change houses and careers, start new businesses, pick up new and extreme activities (I stand in awe of anyone who can run 26 miles) and throw themselves into social and philanthropic causes. For me, the empty nest felt very much like an ending, but all around me I see people for whom it is just a beginning.

Returning to that quiet house, the home that had known so many years of chaos and love, gave me more than a moment of pause.

So I am running away from home, temporarily, and setting off to walk across Spain with one of my oldest girlfriends. I will be traversing the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, a thousand-year old pilgrimage that I only heard about a month ago.

I don’t like the outdoors, hate exercise and despise routine of any sort. So a long walk through slowly changing scenery that requires regular discipline about setting off early and sticking to a path, just might not be my thing. And for that reason alone, I am going.

Runaway Mom in Burgos

Camino De Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Camino de Santiago

 

CAmino de Santiago

 

Camino De Santiago

Camino de Santiago

Interested in learning about the Camino de Santiago?  Here is a great website with fabulous photography.

It you want to read more extensively, here are two amazing guidebooks:

Camino de Santiago: Practical Preparation and BackgroundI loved this short (inexpensive) book,  Camino de Santiago – Practical Preparation and Background, because I read every word and felt I got an excellent idea of what the trek is like.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Camino de Santiago: St. Jean • Roncesvalles • Santiago (Camino Guides) is the classic, day-by-day guide with more detail than can be absorbed.

Camino de Santiago

 

 

Daughter at College: What Keeps Me Up at Night

Mary Dell writes: We got a call on Monday night from our daughter at college who began by saying “Mom, I’m ok but…” At that point, my stomach twisted and every nerve in my body began to buzz as I waited for the phrase to follow. Surely something bad had happened.

Daughter at College: What Keeps Me Up at Night

She told me that one of her classmates had gone missing over the weekend. As I write this on Thursday afternoon, Hannah Graham, 18 years old and a second year student at UVA, has still not been found.

Since my daughter’s call, I have immediately opened emails to parents from the University and read the Graham family’s heartbroken appeal. Local and national media report every development and show each grainy surveillance video. I study the photos of Hannah, now missing, and cannot imagine how her mother is enduring the pain. After dinner with friends at 11pm Friday night, Hannah left alone, and has not yet been found. She texted friends saying she was lost at 1:20 AM and then, nothing. As I gaze at each photograph, I agonize for her family and think, that could have been my daughter.

I cannot imagine the terrible state her parents, brother and friends are living in while authorities search for Hannah. The school has made counselors available for students and staff. They have, again, published the phone numbers of the midnight-7am Safe Rides car service, late night buses, and cabs that will take kids home, charging the bill to the student’s account.

I feel an emotional wrestling match between my protective instincts and my daughter’s new-found independence. I want her to fully enjoy her college years, but as her mom, I cannot help but fear for her safety. I have a parenting double standard based on the gender of our children; our daughter is vulnerable to sexual assault (a widely discussed topic this year) in ways that her older brother was not. I know that she is making friends and becoming familiar with the campus. But until she is woven snugly into a friend group and instinctively knows her way around school and it’s environs, my concern for her will keep me up at night.

When our daughter decided on a college in a bucolic town with a picture book campus, I felt she was in a safe place. Charlottesville ranks high on lists of Best College Towns but no school is set inside a fortress, and “almost every college struggles with campus safety issues.” according to Don Tollman, the former assistant director of admissions at Colorado State University.

This summer, before they scattered for college, I sat in the kitchen with our daughter and a few of her girlfriends and asked about how they were feeling and what they would miss the most. They said they wanted to get along with their roommates, do well in school and make friends. Yet, they were concerned about their safety and one friend remarked, ”I will miss how comfortable high school was, having the same routine every day, knowing everyone, knowing what is safe and not. It is scary to go into an environment where you don’t know. “

In 8 Things First-Year Students Fear About College, Mary Kay Shanley and Julia Johnston explain,

There’s this little secret college-bound and first-year college students outwardly deny: They are scared sick about going off to college. In our interviews with 175 college students throughout the United States for Survival Secrets of College Students (Barron’s, 2007) students talked—sometimes painfully—about what they wished they’d known ahead of time and what they would have done differently. In addition to fears about being smart enough, liking roommates, making friends, and missing home, students also worried about handling the party scene, having sex, covering costs, and being safe.

Concerns about safety are real, especially in the “Red Zone,” the early part of the school year. The 2007 Campus Sexual Assault Study discovered that  “more than 50% of college sexual assaults occur in August, September, October, or November. The CSA’s findings also indicate ‘that women who are victimized during college are most likely to be victimized early on in their college tenure.”

In a text from our daughter a few nights ago, she said what had happened to Hannah was “an eye opening experience….I always knew that college can be more dangerous but this makes it more real.”

So as we hope and pray for this young woman’s safe return, I double down on reminders to her to absolutely NOT walk alone at night, to not drink at all or too much, and to please, please be careful. She assures me that she travels to and from her dorm with friends when she goes out at night. She has the campus safety numbers loaded on her phone. I now have her roommate’s number in my cell.

I suggested this additional advice from author Kelci Lyn Lucier from her essay 15 Ways to Stay Safe While in College,

13. Make sure someone knows where you are at all times. Heading to a club downtown? Going out on a date? There’s no need to spill all the intimate details, but do let someone (a friend, a roommate, etc.) know where you’re going and what time you expect to get back.

At the risk of hovering when I should be distancing myself, if our daughter does not yet have a friend to check in with, she knows I will be that person to whom she can send a late night text saying she is back in her dorm.

Meanwhile, I try to not let my anxiety creep into our calls or text messages. I disguise my great relief when I see her phone number pop up on my screen. Trying to keep it light, I send her photos of her dogs back home, a baby goat video and, yesterday, one of a duck snoring. She responds “cute” and my heart melts.

The school urges us to help our kids continue their academic and extracurricular routines. The question remains: how can our daughter and other freshman girls, in particular, best manage legitimate anxiety while embracing an exciting yet still unfamiliar college world? And in the wake of a disappearance of an 18-year old girl, how will the balance between caution and adventure shift?

Update: 10/16/14: Authorities reported that human remains were discovered yesterday outside of Charlottesville. They have been transported to the Virginia chief medical examiner in Richmond and the case is now being referred to as a “death investigation.”

Empty Nest: Would You Do It All Again?

Lisa writes: I recently heard the story of a friend, who turned to his wife as they dropped of their youngest child at her college dorm and said, “…as I was saying.”

The conversation between the spouses that was interrupted nearly two decades earlier could now resume. While this was surely said in jest, there is an element of truth to the fact that active parenthood is a long, loving interruption to our adulthood that, once the kids are gone, can resume in one form or another where we left off.

Empty Nest: Would You Do it All Again?

In that vein, I have noticed a few things about life without kids:

It would be easier to like living in an empty nest, if it had a different name. I would rather not define the next few decades by what is absent from my life.

The journey to the empty nest is an adjustment, every bit as big as the adjustment to having children. It will come in phases, some filled with great pride and joy, others with tears. It mirrors the experience we had 18 years earlier. With a lot more sleep.

The grocery store has more hidden memories and reminders than is possible to imagine. Every aisle seems to contain someone’s favorite food and the tiny bout of nostalgia that goes with it.

In the same way that a world of mom friends opened up to me when my first child was born, there is a world of empty nest moms who are happy to make dinner plans on a school night. And there are no school nights.

The shell shock of having this wondrous stage of your family life abruptly come to an end takes much longer than three weeks to recover.

My kids, God love them, were utter pigs who felt no compulsion to put anything away. While I always suspected this, now the evidence can now be seen in my home and in their dorm rooms.

My husband is neater than I once believed. I think he may have been tarred with the brush of my messy kids.

The low fuel light on my car never lights up, a sight that often greeted me first thing in the morning.

No matter how much focus you promise yourself you will give to your spouse, kids at every age are an incessant distraction. It is truly a gift after the chaos of the last two decades to find him still here.

An empty nest comes with a certain feeling of lightness, of having set down a heavy load. Even on the days when you are physically free of your kids, they are in daycare, school or at a friend’s house, you are not psychologically free of their day-to-day lives until they have left home.

You never realize how loud your kitchen appliances are until your kids leave home.

Activities that once felt like a burden, the carpools, the practices that ran late or the 11pm Saturday night pick up, were actually wonderful moments to share with other parents, moments that it are easy to miss now.

College kids may be homesick, they may miss the comfort of their own beds, but a teen who is ready for college will move onto their new life at a speed that will make your head spin. We may pine for the past 18 years but, if all goes right, they will barely look back.

Kids come with mountains of garbage from the first baby swing to the last discarded backpack and I will miss not one item of their belongings. Purging your home after your kids leave is like finally cleaning out the minivan; you had no idea how bad it was until you started.

The silence that comes with an empty nest is both slightly disquieting and oh so nice, all at the same time.

Only teens mess up a kitchen in the middle of the night. No teens, no mess.

All of the jokes about college kids and laundry turn out to be true. That first panicked phone call or text really will have to do with mixing brights and whites.

After decades in my home my children do not seem to know how often their sheets were washed. This will be the second call.

At some point, visiting your kid on their college campus, seeing the classes they are taking and friends they are making, you will forget how happy you are for them and in a bout of extreme envy, want to be them.

And finally the empty nest is going to be great, this I really do believe. But the truth is, I would do it all over again, in a heartbeat.