Gabby, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: One of the good things about being a parent three times over is that I am more focused on life’s ordinary moments as my last child inches her way toward leaving the nest. Recently, I was packing to go away for a rare “girls weekend” when my daughter sat down on the edge of my bed and asked me about the friends with whom I was traveling. Ultimately, our conversation shifted into a philosophical one about her own friends and the importance of friendship.
I will readily admit my many failures as a mother but one of the things I am most proud of is the way I have communicated through action (and words) how much my friends mean to me.
I am inordinately grateful and comforted when I look at my two older children who have already “flown the nest” and see the kinds of friendships they have established. They demonstrate to me that they understand how to be loyal, inclusive, trustworthy, forgiving, and supportive in times of trouble. They accept and celebrate differences. I am wowed by the way that they have chosen their inner circle (with an extended selection of friends beyond this) based on “matters of the heart” and common values.
Mary Dell writes: Teenage girls travel in packs, migrating between friends’ houses. Over time, mothers and daughters from each family get to know one another well. When it is our turn to host a Friday night sleepover I am delighted. On Saturday morning, while serving pancakes, I pull up a chair with my daughter and her friends and join them for a chat. Learning how to be welcomed (momentarily) into my daughter’s group, yet heeding the cue to disappear, are lessons I learned from my mother when she was the one wielding the spatula.
I recently asked my oldest girlfriends about their memories of those long ago school days. Here are some of the things they remember:
Lisa writes: Parenthood is littered with Milestone Moments. Some we see coming, like registering for the draft, buying a bra, beginning high school or shaving. They are all expected, and all powerful. Yet other childhood milestones blindside us like a two by four with the rusty nails still sticking out.
SIbling Playdates. It was a huge childhood milestone the first time my kids actually played together, real interactive sibling-as-a-playdate played together. I looked on bursting with pride and thought they would become a perfect self-contained unit, full of rich imaginary play and support and understanding. And just when I was leaning back to admire my handiwork, feeling pretty good about myself, one son bit the other and was treated with a smack in the face for his efforts. My 30-seconds of fantasy was gone and life as I was really going to know it began.
Drivers License. This one is obvious, but what I didn’t realize was how much getting a driver’s license is akin to learning to walk. The first time my teens drove out of our driveway felt like the moment they stood up and walked away as toddlers. The only difference was that, behind the wheel, I worried far more and when they drove away, they didn’t turn around and come right back. These events may have been separated by 15 years but for me, they held the same power. They were when I realized that I wouldn’t need to carry them or drive them forever.
Cooking. It is a big milestone the first time a child makes himself a meal, when they put together a sandwich, boil some pasta and pour sauce on top or fry an egg. Up until that moment, my children’s very existence depended on my culinary skills, yet once I saw that fried egg, I knew they would not starve.
Mary Dell writes: As the mom of a teenage daughter, I occasionally feel like I am parenting on a separate planet from my friends who have teenage sons. At Lisa’s house, sports are in full swing, and the mountains of standardized tests and specter of finals loom ahead. At my house, we have all of that plus what can only be referred to as high season for the high school prom.
For Lisa, it has been three sons, three trips through 11th grade and barely a word about the prom. Fifteen minutes to rent a tux, a five-minute phone call to order a corsage and yes, the sum total of time boys spent on the prom…twenty minutes.
With the biggest attire decision a boy has to make is peaked lapel or shawl, there is little to talk about except for the invitation. The onus of asking, despite so much about our gender roles changing, still lies with boys so whom to ask and how, are the important questions concerning young men.
But at our house, talk of the high school prom pops up with my daughter’s group of friends with the regularity of a favorite TV show which, at times, the conversation resembles.
Lisa writes: I have survived two decades of parenting by talking to myself. My incantations are my alter ego reminding me to put things in perspective, step back and take a breath and that things will probably be okay. So while the mom voice in my head is shrieking, at myself or my kids, there is a calmer quieter voice, talking to myself, reminding me to count to ten before I speak. I suspect that the calm, ever-so-sensible voice I hear in my head is my husband’s.
Well, at least no one was hurt. My kids have smashed walls (who knew drywall was so easy go through), cars (ah yes, well) and every toy of value they were ever given. Boys seem to have a seek and destroy mechanism that is programmed from birth so this was one of the first parenting phrases I learned to say to myself. I still say it to myself when they call and begin the conversation with, “Mom, there is something I need to tell you….”
He doesn’t mean that, he really doesn’t. The first time one of my kids railed at me with the words, “you don’t understand anything, anything!” I had to repeat these words. My crime? I had scheduled a play date for a fifth grader without asking first. This refrain works in response to a wide variety of invectives from, “You are ruining my life”, to everyone’s favorite, “I hate you” to my polite child’s “I don’t really like you right now.”
I am the parent, he is a child. This one usually requires much repetition because it is rolled out at the moments when we feel most unsure about our parenting. Some parenting decisions can find us sitting on the fence. Curfew stretched to 1 am for a special occasion? Sleepover at a house you are not 100% about? When we remember the first rule of parenting is to trust our instincts and say “no,” this is the reminder that if our kids’ judgements were sound, they would no longer need to live with us.
Lisa writes: I have a parenting confession to make. I have gone to one of my sons’ dorms and done his laundry. I have scraped every dirty sock and jersey off of his bedroom floor, carefully separating his debris from that of his two roommates which was all commingled in one large reeking mass. I then carried these teeming piles, along with every sheet and towel I could lay my hands on, to his basement and ran six loads of laundry.
I did this once on a Parents’ Weekend and, just when I thought I had lost it, taken my overparenting to a new level, his roommate’s mother looked at and me and said, “Too bad the boys don’t have a vacuum” and then proceeded to take a lint roller out of her handbag and roll their entire carpet on her hands and knees. I was stunned. Was I outparented or had I finally discovered the line I would not cross?
Lisa writes: Quitting. We quit jobs, we quit marriages, we walk out on friendships and sometimes we let people down when the going gets tough. Sometimes it is necessary, even the right thing to do. Our kids quit teams and music lessons, art classes and after school programs. Sometimes it’s necessary, but sometimes they are bored or don’t like the coach or would just rather play video games at home. Deciding when to let your child quit something, be it Gymboree, Little League or SAT prep, is a question that never goes away.