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

 

 

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.

Why Good Parenting Calls For Cheap Scare Tactics

Becky Blades, a Grown and Flown friend, writes: “Dirty clothes shouldn’t be scary,” said a person who has not opened the door to a 17-year-old’s bedroom room or shared a car with an open gym bag. Or a person who has not sent a laundry-challenged 18-year-old out into the world.

Becky Blades, Laundry or Die

Releasing my daughter into society without being sure she would actually do her laundry was a terrifying moment in my empty nesting transition, and I met it the way I meet most scary parenting encounters – with frantic, jerking shrieks of foreboding and emotional threats: “Your life will be out of control! No one will live with you! No one will love you!…Did I not make myself clear? No wire hangars!”

Being afraid my daughter did not know how to take care of herself and her things turned me into Mommy Dearest; I displaced aggression and spent way too much time passing judgment on her closet. But in the end, though it wasn’t pretty, sending her to college was therapeutic for me. It was the crescendo of a decade and a half of using fear as a parenting tool, and it was the leg of my mom journey that sent me into serious self-analysis.

One morning sitting at my journal, I wondered to myself if my two daughters, then 17 and 15, knew the difference between a mother’s warnings and real risk. Like generations of mothers before me, I had used predictions and exaggerations to make points, I had inflated and fabricated scenarios and lorded threats just to make sure I was heard. I always felt these tactics were cop-outs, that a better mom than I would not need to resort to such things.

As I journaled for days, through years of memories, I realized that stirring up a little fear was a big part of my job description. I remembered, for example, that my children had grown up in a much safer neighborhood than I had. They didn’t need to be afraid to walk to school, or to hang out at the neighborhood shopping center. But living in that safe, shiny “bubble” we had worked so hard to create for them had created its own risks. They were dangerously trusting, and truth be told, they didn’t know what door locks were actually for.

“Don’t talk to strangers” were not serious words in suburban la la land.  In fact, the phrase “stranger danger” would set our humor-seeking household doubling over in laughter when properly placed in a conversation.

That’s the funny thing about fear. It’s funny. Until it’s not.

And it’s a parent’s job to clarify the difference. It was my job to make sure my eight-year-old got to enjoy life with enough security to laugh at paranoid clichés like “stranger danger” and also to assure those same words will send a chill down her spine at age 18 when a middle-aged man gets a little too friendly on a deserted subway platform.

That’s why my daughter’s last year at home was so frightful for me. I scrutinized my work and wondered if I’d covered the right material. She was terrified of making a low SAT score but undaunted by the prospect of running out of clean underwear. She did not know that having a laundry routine would save her from the free-floating overwhelm that would endanger her very peace of mind and turn already busy days into frantic clothing searches.

After a year of self-inflicted note making, I bid adieu to my daughter with an e-mail. Subject line: Do your laundry or you’ll die alone. Attached were 200+ tidbits of laundry advice, financial lectures and life lessons that I was afraid she might not know.

It got her attention. She read it all. Not because she was afraid of dying alone, but because she was afraid of the parental financial repercussions if she ignored me. (Those threats have not been veiled in the least.)

Come to find out, the things I’m afraid of for my daughter are things she is afraid of, too. As she got to know other young women at college, she reported that I am by no means the most dramatic or fear-wielding mom alive. Other moms fret and stalk and agonize and warn their daughters with much more flair than I.

I should have remembered this comforting fact from my own coming of age: as we step out on our own, women parent one another with the lessons they learned at home. The ones that make it through the noise are the lessons that are most repeated in mom’s most intense voice.

So . . . sorry, not sorry.

If my two daughters aren’t a little bit afraid of the sound of my ring tone between the ages of 15 and 18, shame on me. If my 18-year-old isn’t wary walking through campus after dark, I didn’t do my job. If my 21-year-old isn’t a little freaked out when a guy on a second date won’t take her home when she asks, I’ve missed a conversation.

Parents of sons likely have an entirely different list of fears and parenting imperatives. I hope that in addition to worrying about their sons’ safety, they are terrified of their sons being cavalier with girls’ hearts and bodies. I can think of no stronger deterrent for a well-raised young man than the look on his mother’s face when she learns of her son’s shoddy behavior.

The only thing we have to fear is NOT fear itself – it is losing fear as a parenting tool. But I’m not afraid. I’m betting that just like the laundry, creatively applied scare tactics will always be part of the job that never ends.

Do Your Laundry, Becky Blades

About Becky Blades

Becky Blades is author and illustrator of Do Your Laundry or You’ll Die Alone: Advice Your Mom Would Give if She Thought You Were Listening, a wise, witty collection of counsel for women of all ages.

She lives in Kansas City with her husband of 30 years and her Maytag front load washing machine.

Check out Becky’s web site, LaundryorDie, and her blog, startistry. Follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest at: LaundryorDie.com

 

“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. 

 

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…