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.

Send Selfies

Lisa writes: Today is the day I have dreaded since that second little stripe turned a very pale pink and my heart leapt into my throat. Today is the day without a rushed breakfast, the day in which I did not scream or worse curse, the day I made no threats and took no first day of school photos. Today is the day where the first name I called was the dog’s.

Shadow in doorway

But even as I find missing my kids was every bit as bad as I thought it would be, I have been given the gift of wisdom by two extraordinary women.

I am missing the day-to-day bustle of family life that already seems like a dream. I find it all but impossible to admit to myself that the decades of living wrapped in a cocoon of family intimacy, a world unto ourselves that once stretched out long in front of me, are over. Late this afternoon when none of my boys come bursting through the front door, our house will feel far too still, like a shell that has been cast aside, having fulfilled its purpose. A small part of me will feel like that shell.

Nature.ButterflySeashells.IMG_9840

I did not parent alone. Along with my husband, my sons’ father, I had female friends and acquaintances at every step of the way sharing their thoughts, broadening my insight and now, once again, easing this transition. This morning my phone rang off the hook, two friends dropped by. Everyone was checking in on me, wanting to see if I was okay. And while each of these calls was heartwarming and I am of course okay, if a little heartsick, it was the wisdom of two women, deep profound wisdom, that will see me through.

Liane Kupferberg Carter published a piece in the Chicago Tribune last week. In it she examines the notion that her nest may never be empty. Her younger son, who has autism, may live with her and her husband for many years. In a truly must-read article she explains:

My husband, Marc, and I inhabit a peculiar no man’s land. Our children are grown, but we are not empty nesters. The realization that we will in all likelihood never be empty nesters is a sadness all its own.

…I’ve been a member of an invitation-only Facebook group of middle-aged female writers. …They lament their empty nests, but mostly they write with excitement and joy about rediscovering themselves. They celebrate their newfound freedom to travel, return to the workplace, new hobbies or new passions.

I’m embarrassed to admit how much I envy these women. I’m not scaling Machu Picchu, sailing the Galapagos or climbing Kilimanjaro. I’m not “finding” myself. I’m right here. Where I have always been.

In her beautiful writing I think Liane is not asking her reader to feel sorry for her, nor is she arguing that having an empty nest is not a real feeling of loss. She knows the heart tug of our kid’s moving on as she experienced it when her eldest son left home. But the wisdom she shared with me was to step back, to zoom the telephoto lens of life out and take a far broader view of existence than that offered by the confines of our own experience. As always, Liane brings warmth and humor to everything she writes, but in reminding her reader to see beyond their own narrow slice of life, even if they cannot fully understand it, she has done me a great favor.

Another wise friends reached out to me the night before I took my youngest to school. She asked me to remember that the thing which pains us is that which gave us such joy. And that like everything in life, we only fully appreciate things that are not forever. I wanted to argue with her, tell her that I appreciated things that were forever, that if my children had stayed small forever, lived with me forever, I would have remained grateful.

Vistas.BeachandSand.IMG_2033

But I know that to be a lie. I may have loved my sons’ childhood because my love for them is the purest emotion I have ever known. The marvel of their very existence never lost its novelty, but it would be untrue to suggest that in the grind that is daily life when our days together still seemed limitless, this remained uppermost in my mind.

I heard the sound of time whooshing by in their very first weeks of life. In the days and months as their infant selves grew and changed rapidly I could feel an undertow so powerful that I knew it would lead us to this day.

This morning I sent my sons a group text and said, “First September morning since 1994 that I am not taking your first day of school photos. Send Selfies.” I am still waiting for those selfies.

Photo credit (black and white): Cathrine White
Photo credit (color): TBKilman

 

11 Ways to Reclaim a Relaxing Summer

Lisa and Jennifer Breheny Wallace, together, write: Summers start with the best intentions. We fantasize about long, peaceful days at the beach building sand castles with our toddlers or playing tennis with our teens. Casting off a busy school year, we’re excited to finally relax the rules. Yes to the ice cream cones with insanely sugary toppings just before bedtime (heck, what bedtime?). Yes to the car keys (so what if it’s three late nights in a row?). Breakfast brownies? Why not? Another TV show? Sure, go ahead. It’s summer vacation, right?

beach vacation, little girl playing at the beach

Then, in Week Three, reality sets in: the bedtime routine now takes twice as long, everything has become a negotiation, and those idyllic days at the beach — well, they’ve become the setting of the sunscreen wars. How did these relaxing summer days get so… stressful?

Whether your kids are having a throwback 1970s summer, a Free-Range or a Hovering Helicopter summer, beware of the ever-tempting “summer slide.” The summer slide is the parenting equivalent of the “summer brain drain,” where what we know as parents slides, well, down the drain. In an effort to keep our summer fantasy alive, we sometimes bend our rules just a little too much and then suddenly… SNAP.

Before things get totally out of control, let’s get back to the basics, kindergarten-style — and start digging our way out of this sand pit to avoid getting buried alive. It’s worth reminding ourselves that summer is a break from routine, after all, not a break from parenting. Here are 11 things you can do now to reclaim your relaxing summer:

1. Stop with all the choices.

Teachers offer “choice” in small doses. They don’t offer a range of snacks and they don’t ask kids if they’d rather go to art class or gym class. Giving too many choices gives up too much control, and teachers know to do that sparingly.

2. Go ahead, disappoint.

You-Get-What-You-Get-And-You-Don’t-Get-Upset. Don’t be afraid to disappoint. Resilience, learning how to bounce back, is a skill that can be taught, but not if we’re smoothing over every conflict just to avoid a momentary tantrum or mommy guilt. We need to learn to live with the short-term discomfort and concentrate on the long-term gain.

3. Sloooow down.

Seeds grow slowly; chicks hatch when they are ready; important things take time. Children and teens don’t understand time — they want what they want when they want it. We too often react by jumping on their timeline. When we contort ourselves to suit their whims, we not only upend our lives, we give away the opportunity to teach them about patience.

4. Stop asking permission, OK?

“Mommy just has to run this quick errand, OK?” Teachers don’t ask permission. Ending declarative sentences with question marks is giving power to a little person who doesn’t actually want it. What children want is the security of limits and parents who know when to say no, even in the summer.

5. Let them clean up.

Overscheduled children don’t have time to clean their rooms or do their chores. Teens with summer jobs and SAT prep are just too busy to pick up their clothes off the floor. In school, if you haven’t cleaned up your mess, then you cannot move on to your next activity. By failing to insist upon this at home, we let our kids control the disorder in our houses and in our lives.

6. Revisit Oz.

The single most exciting thing that happens in kindergarten is that children take their first steps on the way to reading — starting on a yellow brick road that leads to a vast magical world they can now visit on their own. And then we and our kids get busy and forget about the Emerald City because life is too rushed and there is already too much reading assigned at school. Take back Oz; remember how lucky our kids felt when they first decoded the printed page.

7. Circle time.

It’s important to ask our kids about their day, every day. Create your own version of “circle time” at home. Tell the kids about your day, your challenges and triumphs, and ask them about theirs. This becomes even more important with teens, who will know that sharing what they are up to with their parents is just part of the deal.

8. Teachers, not friends or fairy godmothers.

When we try to be our child’s friend, we not only cede authority, we actually cheat them out of a more important relationship. We are there to teach and love and guide, not to grant their every wish.

9. Rest time.

Teachers know the importance of rest. Regular and adequate sleep is essential for kids at every age. Even tweens and teens should have a regular bedtime right up through high school. The end of summer should not be like a bad bout of jet lag, with no one able to get to sleep at night or up in the morning.

dunes, beach, ocean

10. Mind their manners.

Manners never stop mattering. As parents, we all too often rush, cut corners, forget to be as polite as we could and let our kids get away with the glib manners of the 21st century. Nothing has changed; manners are still magical and it is within our power to teach them.

11. Summer doesn’t equal spoiling.

At every age, kids think getting everything they want will make them happy, and it will be a very long time before they learn this isn’t true. We know the truth, and if we don’t teach this lesson early and often, the unbridled greed inspired by media can soon overwhelm our family’s true values. Days at the beach are a treat. A family vacation is something special. Summer doesn’t have to equal spoiling. Summer is just a different season, not a different childhood. It can be so easy to confuse the two.

Jennifer Breheny Wallace is a freelance writer with three small children living in New York City. We are grateful for her collaboration.

Photo Credit: TB Kilman

 

Twelve Hours and Counting: Diary of a Dreaded Graduation

A Guest Post by Barbara Solomon Josselsohn: 10pm. I’m certain that the hardest part is going to be the graduation ceremony itself, so I’m unprepared the night before when I walk into Rachel’s bedroom to say goodnight, and she’s curled in a ball on her bed, her nose red and her eyes swollen, sobbing, “I don’t want to graduate. I don’t want to leave home. I don’t want to leave my friends. I don’t want to go to college!”

graduation

I know I should tell her that it’s normal to be scared, and everything will turn out fine. But then I see the blue fabric bulletin board hanging above her bed. Pinned to the bulletin board is a photo of her on her third birthday, the tickets from the rock concert she saw two summers ago and her boarding pass from a trip to Ireland with the school chorus. Right next to that is her bookshelf with the entire Rick Riordin fantasy series that she read three times over. And suddenly I realize that she’s been growing away from me ever since she was born, which makes me start to sob right alongside her.

And I tell her I don’t want her to go away to college either — it was hard enough when her brother graduated two years ago — and I tell her I would start all over again with her as a newborn if I could, and suddenly I’m the child and she’s comforting me, which makes me feel even worse, because it’s all about me when it should be all about her.

So I tell myself I have to do better, and suddenly my husband walks into the room and sees the two of us sobbing and says, “What the hell…” and I want to laugh but I can’t laugh because what but I truly, truly want is for her to be three years old again…
…and it isn’t even graduation day yet.

4am. I can’t sleep, which never happens, I’m the best sleeper I know, so when it’s the middle of the night and I’ve been awake for hours and I finally give in and sit up in bed, I know I’m in for a bad time.

I hope my husband will hear me and get up too, and discover some unrelated problem like the roof just caved in, which will at least be a welcome distraction. But of course he just keeps sleeping and even my loud sighs don’t wake him, so I realize that I’m in this alone, and I leave the bedroom.

I walk downstairs and even in the dark I think can see the faded areas of the wood floors in the front hallway, which reminds me that I really should get around to re-staining the floors, which reminds me that I’ve been putting it off because it’s expensive and it’s not like we’ll be in the house for another 20 years or anything.

That’s when I realize that lately when my husband and I talk about things that need to be done around the house, we justify the cost more for how it will help the resale value rather than how much we’ll use it. Like the upstairs bathroom with the chipped vanity and stained grout that really should be redone except that in the fall, only our tenth grader, Alyssa, will be using it, and the way time is flying these days, she’ll be heading for college in about two minutes anyway. And as I walk around in the dark, I can’t help feeling sorry for the house because it’s emptying out and maybe would prefer a young family to make it feel useful again.

Yes, it’s four-fifteen in the morning and I’m feeling sorry for my house. I roll my eyes at how pathetic I am and decide that since I’m up, I will force myself to do something constructive. So I go to my computer and start to write a letter to Rachel explaining how much I love her and how much I’ll miss her when she leaves for college, and I plan to give it to her in, like, ten years or so when today will all be a pleasant memory. But I know I can never give her such a letter — why burden her like that? — so I walk back to the bedroom, and when I crawl into bed, my husband finally gets up. But it’s not my moving that woke him, it’s my loud, miserable sobs that I really tried to stifle, because I know what he’ll say, and sure enough he says it.

“What the hell’s going on?”

“I just don’t know if I can deal with this,” I say as I put my hands over my face, and he says, “Can’t deal with what?” I know he thinks I’m crazy, but now it’s time to get up for real, I can hear Rachel’s alarm going off, and the only thing that makes me think I’m not crazy is that I know my friends are feeling the same way I do, and were probably up all night too, thinking about their depressed houses.

9am. The girls are fighting for the millionth time this week, this morning because Rachel plans to wear her orange Forever 21 dress under her graduation gown and Alyssa plans to wear the black version of the same Forever 21 dress, and Rachel screams, “Ma! Tell her she CAN’T WEAR IT! It’s MY graduation!”

And Alyssa says, “But she’s wearing a gown over it!”
And Rachel shouts, “But I’m going to take my gown off for pictures with my friends!”
“But nobody will see us together!”
“I don’t want you wearing it!”
“You can’t tell me what to wear!”
“Mom!”
“Mom!”
“MOM!”

And I can’t believe they still call me when they’re fighting, and it makes me sort of happy to be needed, but the problem resolves not when I step in, but when Alyssa finds out that most kids her age are wearing T-shirts and jean shorts anyway, so I feel useless all over again, and that’s what I’m feeling as we drive to the school and park the car.

We walk to the school field, and to the moms I know just in passing, I say, “Congratulations!” and “Isn’t this exciting!” and “What a great day!” and to the moms who are my friends, I say, “Doesn’t this suck?” and” I cried all night,” and they nod because they also think it sucks and they also cried, and truth be told, the moms I know in passing probably cried all night too.

And I make my way with Alyssa to the bleachers, where my husband and our older son planted themselves three hours ago so we’d all have a good view, and I thank them for coming early, although no doubt they’re extraordinarily grateful they were able to sit in the cool morning shade and peacefully read the newspaper on their iPads instead of dealing with me and listening to the girls fight about a couple of cheap dresses.

And the band starts “Pomp and Circumstance,” as the pre-teen in the row behind us whispers to her mother, “You’re crying already? You are such a LOSER!” and I’m determined not to be a loser too, so I put on my sunglasses and restrain myself from wiping a tear that is dripping past my lower lashes, so I am, after all, a loser too, but at least nobody is publicly scolding me.

And the sun is bright overhead and the breeze is cool and gentle, and the graduates are in their maroon caps and gowns, marching out of the school building in alphabetical order…

…and there she is. There’s Rachel, marching as determinedly as the first day she started preschool. Her smile is enormous, her pride contagious, and she is absolutely the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. And suddenly I’m not crying at all, I’m just so excited for her and all that lies ahead for her, and so very proud.

So I squeeze Alyssa’s shoulder, take my husband’s arm, puff out my chest and lift my chin, ready to accept the universe’s thanks for giving it this amazing person who is now accepting her diploma and shaking hands with the principal.

It is a great day, after all.

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn is a freelance writer whose essays and articles appear in a range of publications, including Consumers Digest, The New York Times, Parents, American Baby, and Westchester Magazine. Her essay on the trials and tribulations of shopping for dorm furnishings, “College Makeover: The Dorm Edition,” is in the current (Summer 2014) issue of Westchester Home. She is the proud mother of three almost-grown children, and is happy that her children’s increasing independence is helping her find the time to finish her first novel.

Want to Help Your Kid in High School? One Teacher Shows How

A Guest Post from Emily Genser: It’s September. You are sitting, legs crossed, foot shaking, in one of the neatly aligned rows of high school desks. You look around the room at the other parents, some deflecting nerves into their phones, others lining up pens and notebooks to take notes and in walks the teacher. You wonder, how could she be in charge? She’s tiny and looks 12. And then she begins:

Hello! My name is Emily Genser and I have been teaching English for 14 years. I have taught every grade, 6-12 for at least one year, so I like to say I know where your child is coming from and I know where he’s going. I have taught every level from remedial to Advanced Placement. I promise this: I will make your child laugh. I will make your child work. I will introduce him to ideas that make him stretch and that challenge him. I will teach him.

Classroom

Middle School is No Man’s Land

As high school teachers, we understand that your kids are coming from the no man’s land of middle school. In middle school, emotions rule, grades mean nothing, and the only thing that truly matters is persistence. Kids learn to balance their wants with their needs. They are beginning to see the world for what it can be (sometimes cruel, sometimes wonderful) and to figure out where they will stand. They will go through personality changes like clothing trends, and may find that each new attitude is more constricting than the last. As parents, we just try to survive this time, looking for glimpses of the child we knew and hoping that the personality they choose allows space for us.  Sometimes parents look at school as a place where they can still be in control, and they will try to foist that control on the teacher. So let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.

Freshman Year and The Brave New World

9th Grade: At the beginning of this year, you will get a chance to meet the teachers. TRUST THEM. You will be nervous, you will be worried about how big the classes are and you will worry that you child will get lost in the fray. You will think about your daughter’s anxiety, or your son’s reticence. You will worry about your 14-year-old being unfocused or lost and not asking for help. All of these worries are normal, and the teacher in front of you has seen everything and more before your son or daughter walks into her room. Remember that the teacher is a professional. Most states require that teachers have a Master’s Degree in teaching their subject. Every teacher wants your child to succeed and most will do whatever it takes to help them do just that. If you keep that in mind, you and the teacher will start off just fine.

MY SUGGESTION: Email the teacher. They might ask you to fill out a parent information form at the open house. Email them anyway. Most of those forms sit in a desk until they notice a problem. Don’t send a long email, but introduce yourself and your child. Include major concerns to look out for and provide any and all phone numbers. If your information is easy to access, the teacher will be more likely to get in touch. Stay up to date with your kid’s grades. Most schools use automated-web based grading programs now. Because of this, a lot of schools are not sending home progress reports and teachers will not update you until things are dire. If you see a trend in dropping grades across subjects, it is up to you to get in touch. We don’t know how your son/daughter is doing in other subjects, so what you see as an issue, we might not catch. Send an email. Check in at the midpoint of the year and again toward the end. These emails don’t go unnoticed. They keep your child on the radar. However, don’t over-email. Squeaky wheels get annoying, but don’t necessarily get results. No one wants to be hovered over.

DO NOT DO THEIR HOMEWORK. Check out Judith Newman’s column in the New York Times about helping with homework. It may come from a place of goodness in you, but it doesn’t ensure any sort of success for your child. If anything, when your child’s teacher notices it, and she will, it will upset her. It will make things harder for your child, not easier. When in doubt, email the teacher. Ask questions about how long an assignment is taking. Sometimes, one question could clear up the whole thing, and your child will be able to do the work. If he sees you asking questions and getting answers, perhaps he will model this behavior at school as well. Especially if he sees it working.

Sophomore Year and a Chance to Screw Up

10th Grade: Okay, year one is through and with each new year, we raise the bar for your child and lower it for you. Take a step back and breathe through it. It’s now time for your child to learn to advocate for himself. Go to open house. Meet the teachers. Feel free to email the teachers your information and some notes about your son or daughter. But only once, at the beginning of the year. Stay up to date with his grades, and ask him what projects are upcoming, but stand back and let him learn to plan his work, and to balance the load. He will hit potholes and sometimes fall in. Let him climb out. Let him fix what breaks. This is the year to screw up and work it out. This is the year to let him grow into himself. Only step in when there is no other choice.

Junior Year and Nine Tortuous Months

11th Grade: AAAAAH Junior year!!!!  This is the year. There is so much stress on your child in his junior year that you will go gray, go without sleep and you will not understand how he seems able to sleep comfortably at night. Teenagers have an amazing ability to hide their anxiety. Whether or not he shows it, he will be feeling frantic this year. He may be taking A.P. courses, is probably involved with extracurriculars of some sort, and he’s getting lots of homework. His classes are all harder now, and he’s hearing almost daily from counselors about how his future depends on what he is doing right now. Let home be a refuge from this. Keep things much the same as they have always been and try not to apply more pressure. He needs a place to breathe and this year, it is not at school. If he can wait another year to get a job, that might be a good idea. If he can’t, then make sure he doesn’t work too many hours. School comes first and always this year. It is that important.

ONE BIG SUGGESTION: Talk to your child about his teachers. Help him to figure out to whom he can go for a strong, personal recommendation. I have the most difficulties writing rec’s for the quiet students. If I don’t know your child well, my recommendation will be bland and generic. Also, make sure your child asks the teacher IN PERSON for a recommendation. He is asking us to do something extra, that is not required and for which we can barely find the time. It is a favor. Act accordingly.

Senior Year and the Victory Lap

12th grade: Home stretch. Once applications are in, the whole family can breathe more easily. There will be less pressure in school this year, overall, so just make sure that you are on top of the application process. Go to guidance meeting, if your school has them and make sure your child is meeting deadlines. Other than that, give him a bit of room to enjoy his last year of high school. He will have less homework and more long-term projects. Check on grades periodically, but start treating him like an adult. He’ll need to feel responsible for himself if he is leaving the house in a year. You’ll both be better for it, if you start the process of letting go now. Most of all, through everything, remember that we all want the same things.

Teachers and parents want to create leaders. We want to feel that we are helping individuals to find themselves and to become good, strong-minded adults who can take on the world in an informed way. If we work together, and give them a supportive foundation, then they will be ready for anything.
Emily GenserEmily Genser is the mother of Abigail (4 1/2) and Josh (2) and a high school English teacher in West Hartford, Connecticut. She is passionate about both jobs and spends most of her time laughing. You can find her blogging away her few free moments of the day at Exhausted but Smiling.

“The Biggest Mistake”

Lisa writes: We remember the big moments. Cameras out, we record, first steps, nursery school graduation, a big game and college drop off. But there are so many other moments, seemingly small points in time that somehow slip away. A wise friend said to me that she could barely remember the sensation of leaning over a crib and scooping a sleepy baby into her arms, though she has four grown sons and must have lifted them up hundreds of times.

children at beach, beach vacation Looking back, I wonder if those weren’t the big moments, after all. I wish I had recorded in my mind or my camera those unnoticed minutes and hours that slipped by, the ones that I only now realize are what truly mattered. Like so many things about parenting, Anna Quindlen said it best:

But the biggest mistake I made is the one that most of us make while doing this. I did not live in the moment enough. This is particularly clear now that the moment is gone, captured only in photographs. There is one picture of the three of them sitting in the grass on a quilt in the shadow of the swing set on a summer day, ages six, four, and one. And I wish I could remember what we ate, and what we talked about, and how they sounded, and how they looked when they slept that night. I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.

Moments I wish I could remember:

The first time you have a coffee with your kid and enjoy this very adult ritual together. The quiet morning, the milky coffee, the two of you beginning another day together.

The first time your child is lost in a book. They cannot see or hear because a wonderful author (to whom you will always be grateful) has swept them away.

Leaving our kids at their new dorm room door is an emotional moment, but the real milestone is sometime in that first semester when they realize that, despite how ready they were to leave, how they hated us all summer and counted the days until move-in, some part of them misses home and their very own bed.

The day they show you something technological that you didn’t know. This happens at a disarmingly early age and at the same time you are overwhelmed by both pride and mild embarrassment. It is a tough to look like an idiot in front of an eight year old.

The whole process of learning and communicating is a revelation in children, but the first time your child understands an abstract concept is nothing short of miraculous. Ditto the first time she reads a word.

The first time we bathe our child and the last time.

The first time they are sick in the night and do not call for us. I learned that my parent medical license had been revoked one morning with one of my high school sons said he had been sick all night, “but didn’t want to bother me by waking me up.” This was a child who woke me up every single night for the first four years of his life. I should have marked this turn of events with applause but instead I felt a little wistful.

It is a disheartening day when your tween decides that you no longer know or understand anything. It is an equally welcome day when your twenty-something realizes that you do. I wish I had remember the day the contempt began and had the wherewithal to remind myself that it would end.

Mark Twain’s dictum may be the best thing ever written about the evolution of teens:

When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around. But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.

It is a big moment in every parent’s life the first time their child sleeps through the night. But even when this blessed day comes, they still seem to rise well before dawn. And then one day they don’t. One morning I are stood in my strangely quiet kitchen and realized that my children were still asleep in bed. It is a morning worth recalling.

The first time they go to the movies with you and sit through a full length film. It is that moment when the curtains peel back and the big screen appears, when you see your child’s eye widen in amazement. A little afraid of the dark, my kids crawled into my lap to snuggle, during a showing of Babe. It was a bigger moment for me than any show I have seen on Broadway.

The first time your child is in real trouble. It may be at school, or a ticket for speeding, or a car crash they never saw coming. In an instant their swagger is gone as the full enormity of their action bears down upon them.

The first time they keep a secret. Their first secret often entails a surprise gift for mom or dad crafted in the classroom. Prior to this they have been unable to contain themselves, spilling their every thought, and then one day they keep a secret from you. It is a seminal moment.

Each family has their own moments and for each parent they are so different. It is so easy to have them slip by, so easy to think that the big moments will be obvious when, in fact, they are not. The milestones of childhood are deceptively quiet and sometimes get lost in the noise of far more traditional celebrations or simply everyday life. Anna Quindlen says the problem is not living in the moment, failing to treasure the now over the later, and, of course, she is right. But an equally big challenge is even recognizing childhood’s important moments as they are happening.

With great thanks to our friend and photographer, TBKilman, whose beautiful images provide the illustrations for so many of our posts.  The photo above, a family “moment” is one of our favorites. 

 

The 30-Second Guide to The World Cup

Lisa writes: In English they call it “The Beautiful Game,” in Portuguese “La Joga Bonito” and, for the rest of the world, it is simply known as “Football.” This week in Brazil, the quadrennial global madness known as The World Cup, begins again. It is a sporting event so large that it is estimated that half the world’s populations will watch it. Here is what you and your 21st century kid need to know about this truly worldwide event.

US Men's Soccer Team

10 Seconds of History and Facts

The World Cup lasts for four weeks, is held every four years with 32 nations playing in 64 games.

The competition has been held 19 times but only Brazil, Italy, West Germany, Uruguay, Argentina, England, France and Spain have been victors. The United States has qualified 10 times, including this year, but has not progressed beyond the quarterfinals since 1930. In 1994, the US hosted the tournament.

More than 3.2 billion people watched some part of the 2010 World Cup on television (with over a billion viewing the final), and ESPN plans on airing 290 hours of programming around this year’s tournament. If it seems like The World Cup is always on, it is.

The tournament is organized into a group stage where four countries play each other and two teams from each group progress to the next (knockout) round. The US has three games in its group stage, vs. Ghana (6/16), vs. Portugal (6/22) and vs. Germany (6/26).

FIFA, the football governing body, has more member nations than the UN.

20 Seconds of Q&A

Who is favored to win?

Not us. Experts favor the home team Brazil and other highly rated countries include Argentina, Germany and Spain. Looking for a long-shot? Try Belgium.

Messi, Neymar

Who are the stars of this tournament?

Soon you will hear names bandied about like Ronaldo (Portugal), Messi (Argentina) and Neymar (Brazil). These players have been hoisted onto the national stage because of their fabulous wealth (Ronaldo was said to earn $42 million last year), their prodigious talent on the field, and their fashion sense.

Neymar

US players who will be in the limelight include striker Jozy Altidore, goalkeeper Tim Howard, midfielder Michael Bradley and striker/Captain Clint Dempsey.

Why does the press say that the US is in the “Group of Death”?

The US was placed in one of the most difficult of all the groupings. If we play well enough to progress beyond the group, to the next stage, expect utter pandemonium to ensue.

Why are soccer players always injured and lying on the ground?

Soccer has no replays and it all happens terribly fast. Players seem to believe that clutching an “injury” and rolling around on the floor will influence the referees. Minutes later they are up running around. You would punish your kid for this, but in professional soccer it is widely accepted.

How does fashion figure into The World Cup?

For years it didn’t. Then along came the photogenic David Beckham and his pop star/fashion designer wife Victoria, and soccer was never the same again. World famous soccer players now take part in advertising the world over. Ronaldo recently appeared sans clothing, discreetly covered by his girlfriend on the cover of Vogue. The relationship between the world of glamour and sport has become so cosy that The New York Times explained, “The fashion world treats the soccer field like a runway. “

Ronaldo

Soccer fashion extends right down to the players’ feet. The once lowly black cleat has had a total makeover by Nike, Adidas and the like. Look for bright and bold footwear, enhanced by technology, to be the fashion side-show of the month-long tournament.

Why should I watch the World Cup with my kid?

The World Cup is a global moment. Like the Olympics, it grabs the world’s attention, unites us around a positive force and generally provides a great example to our kids, the global citizens of tomorrow.

Katie Couric Joins Us in the Empty Nest

Lisa writes: Katie Couric is taking her youngest daughter to college this fall and I joined her show yesterday to talk about the empty nest along with our friend, Sharon Greenthal who blogs at Empty House, Full Mind. Here are two clips from the show (begin the first one at 1:50):


The episode was short and I was so glad that my family had a chance to jump in and share their ideas.  Here are a few thoughts, just personal opinions, that there just was not enough time to include:

The two biggest milestones in parenting are when our kids arrive and then, decades later, as they leave.  Each transition creates an earthquake in our lives, and hopefully, with each we adapt and thrive.

The “empty nest” is not a syndrome, but a sometimes painful, sometimes joyous stage in life.  Kids are supposed to leave, parents are supposed to care, this is life as it should be.  As the leave we will know them a little less, so is it any wonder that the change is bittersweet?

The journey to the empty nest is a very long process that starts when our eldest get their driver’s license and ends when our youngest have another place to call home.  For families with more than one child, this can be a decade or more.  The day we drop our kids off at college is but one step along the way.

During this long period we forge new relationships with our kids.  It is a bit scary and a bit exciting as we transition to being the parents of adults.  Technology and its gift of communication is transformative to parenting but negotiating the new terrain with our kids is truly journeying in uncharted territory.  I feel insanely grateful for the ways that we can stay, but not intrude, in each others lives.

Siblings will be experiencing the change too.  There were lots of kids book that helped us prepare our older children for their younger sibling’s birth.  Younger siblings may feel the departure of older brothers and sisters acutely as well.

As our kids leave, our youngest may for some time become an only, a moment to be cherished.

Sometimes it is hard to not think that our job is unfinished, that there was more we needed to teach our kids, more that we needed to share.  The good news is that our kids will look to us for many things for many years and that parenting never ends…

Wishing Away Mother’s Day

Mary Dell writes: Nine years ago my father died shortly before Father’s Day. That first year I wanted to close my eyes and pretend there was no special day honoring dads as my grief was fresh and overwhelming. As Mother’s Day nears, I am grateful to have had my 87-year old mom in my life for so long. But in thinking about my good fortune, I am saddened for those who are not so lucky. In particular, my thoughts are with a 17-year old boy who may be wishing away Mother’s Day as he remembers the mom he lost in February.

Mother's Day, roses

At her funeral, I heard him speak about her with exceptional tenderness and composure. As he talked about what she meant to him, he described her generous love. Here are some of the ways he remembered her:

My Mom opened the world to me and gave me a kid’s perfect life. We read books over and over together. Mom was my playmate and my biggest fan.

We traveled to see God’s beauty in nature.

My mother taught me kindness, honesty, reliability and thrift.

By her example, she showed me to value my family and friends, to eat good food, to exercise, to be energetic and to work hard. She wanted to have fun and laugh, every single day, and to love people and accept love from them. She was always grateful for God’s blessings.

Mom led a peaceful life. She treated everyone she met as her friend, so she had lots of friends. She walked with [our dog] happily greeting neighbors, the 2-legged and the 4-legged ones. Each day, she spent time in spiritual practice to make herself a better person and be closer to God. She was authentic, always herself, every minute.

She taught me that I am her rare treasure, like no other person. I am her treasure. She will always be with me in my heart and mind.

On this Mother’s Day, I grieve for this wonderful person who was so dedicated to her son. I see that her legacy comes from the reading, the travel, the laughter, the lessons. She leaves behind memories of kindness and love and happiness and caring.

His words are a reminder to me that every day we have a chance to be a loving parent is a good day.

The Good, The Bad and The OMG of College Admissions

Mary Dell writes: As teenagers progress through high school, the warnings to their parents about college admissions become an ever-louder drum beat that is nearly impossible to escape. With my eldest child, I braced myself for his junior year terrified at my ignorance on the subject. But anticipating only what we have been conditioned to fear can keep us from realizing a broader parenting experience. I have been through this process twice and our youngest will begin college in the fall. With the admitted benefit of 20/20 hindsight, here is my list of The Good, The Bad and The OMG of college admissions.

college campus, college admissions

The Good

Road Trips

I loved the college road trips I took with my kids. Though the info sessions and college tours are now a blurry mashup of dozens of schools, I have vivid memories of dinners we shared and decisions each child revealed while on the road. I may never again have a chance for such prolonged one-on-one time with each of my children as I did while they were hunting for colleges. I was happy when we traveled together and I relied on them for navigation and a sharp eye for the closest Starbucks. I am grateful that on this one part of the process, parental involvement is a necessity.

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Change, Ambivalence and the Facts About Stay-at-Home Moms

Stay-at-home motherhood is a highly examined aspect of modern life with a Babylon-level of voices and opinions. Lisa weighed in last summer with her writing, Nine Reasons I Regret Being a Stay at Home Mom, Grown and Flown’s most widely read and debated post to date. When Pew released research this week entitled, After Decades of Decline, A Rise in Stay-at-Home Mothers, we thought it was time to take another look at the facts and stereotypes that surround mothers who do not work outside the home. Regardless of one’s opinion on the “optimal way” for parents to raise their children and provide for them financially, having a grasp on the facts should be the shared starting point.

stay at home mom, Pew

While Pew’s research showed a marked increase in the number of SAHMs, the causes of this increase were manifold: lack of childcare, declining employment opportunities for those without a university degree and a drop in women’s participation in the labor force.

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Ready for Takeoff? Facing the Question with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day and organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week. On Monday  we featured Liane Kupferberg Carter’s writing and today, we are honored that Susan Berger, author of the blog, Berger’s Blather offers this heartfelt post:

young adult, teenager, autism

My 19–year–old son is almost ready to launch.  Well, that’s what I tell myself. “Almost,” as in “You can do it,” “You’re nearly there,” has become my lifelong one-word personal prayer. My son is on the cusp of leaving home, the pivotal step toward the rest of his life–ordinarily an expected and desired move most parents and young adults strive for.

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Loosening the Ties that Bind: Growing Up with Autism

April 2 is the seventh annual World Autism Awareness Day.  Organizations around the globe will raise funds and awareness for the condition that now affects 1 in 68 children and 1 in 42 boys.  This is a cause near to our hearts and Grown and Flown asked two mothers of grown children with autism to share their stories this week.

We have read Liane Kupferberg Carter for years and hope that her writing, below, will touch you, as it has both of us:

Liane Carter, autism, Autism Awareness Day

I don’t know how to do this.

There’s no book for taking the next step. No Fiske Guide to Colleges. No Barron’s. When our son Jonathan was preparing to leave home for college, we had a whole shelf of books to guide our family.

There’s no book for our autistic son Mickey, who is turning twenty. No U.S. News and World Report ranking best vocational opportunities; no handbook rating residential programs for developmentally disabled young adults. We’re making it up as we go.

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Rules: the Fewer the Better

Lisa writes: My kids did not have curfews. We had no rules about where they were supposed to do their homework or even when. There were no real rules about food, dress, chores, or even tidiness. We bought a dog without extracting a single promise from our sons. This was not an oversight as I had grown up in a home with a litany of rules. On the other hand, my kids had strict rules about computer use, bedtime, manners, academic and athletic endeavors and, above all, lying.

rules, street sign

When and how we make rules for our kids is one of the trickiest aspects of parenting. Enforcing and altering them is the other tricky part. Rule making is not something to take lightly or to try and do on the fly. It is important that we have a philosophical underpinning to the constructs we set for our kids.

Yet for me, the number one rule was: make as few rules as possible. It was, I believe, a risky proposition, one about which I received a great deal of criticism, but I believe it has merits.

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When Your Child Wants Off the College Carousel

A Grown and Flown friend, Cathy, writes: The process of deciding where to go to college is the single most significant event in your child’s secondary school experience. For many, the college process begins in 9th grade, with some parents seeding the groundwork before middle school. I wasn’t one of them. My daughter began her college search in earnest in her junior year and by senior year had narrowed her choices to eight schools. She was accepted at seven.

college campus, college kid

She registered at a small New England school with a strong academic pedigree. I left her there on a sunny September morning, and as I held her for our goodbye, I noted she was trembling. Sick with worry, I drove the six hours home, tears blinding my eyes. She called (well, texted) frequently in the ensuing months and seemed to be okay. Her grades were excellent and she seemed to like it there. I exhaled. When she came home at spring break, I noted she looked tired and thin but I attributed it to studying. In May, she was home for summer. By July she was fidgety and one night came downstairs and said “Mom, I want to take a year off.” Here are some of the things I learned in the process figuring out what her next steps should be:

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