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.

 

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.

 

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.

10 More Reasons Why I Love College Football

Mary Dell writes: College football is the second most popular spectator sport in the US after the NFL. Each fall, students and alumni pay homage to their colleges and teams by planning their Saturdays around kick off. My affection for the sport runs deep, beginning with childhood, building steam through my college years and becoming a family tradition that my husband and I share with our kids.

10 more reasons why I love college football
I have previously written about my gratitude toward college football during my son’s high school years.  It was our go-to topic where we ventured when all other subjects (homework, SAT prep, curfews, college applications) became toxic. And now, with a daughter who is two weeks into her college life, I see how football can be a perfect way for freshmen to make a deep emotional connection to their new home.

10 more reasons why I love college football:

1. Socialize

Game day is just that – an entire day where college football is the main course in a feast of activities coming before and after. For freshmen who are not yet involved in campus life, grabbing a roommate and a couple of kids down the hall and heading for the stadium can be a singular event helping them integrate into the community and feeling less like outsiders. To quote a recent college grad who offered her advice to freshmen, “when in doubt, go out.”  Making plans to go to the game is a perfect way to do just that.

2. Identify

Freshman committed to a college during senior year in what must feel like a lifetime ago. Though they have since told every single person who asked that they LOVE their school, the first weeks of college can be lonely. A college football game gives kids a chance to identify with the team and experience an us vs them sense of attachment, making their declared affection a reality. Games give students the chance to bond with classmates while sitting shoulder to shoulder on the bleachers. On game day, strangers who would never exchange glances while hurrying to class are all brothers and sisters.

10 more reasons to love college football

3. Inspiration

A good college football game is absorbing and a great game, unforgettable. It can also be inspirational as UVA English professor Mark Edmondson writes in his new book, Why Football Matters: My Education in the Game:

There are a number of ways to wake up and learn to aim your spiritedness. But I believe that football is one of the best. It’s a game in which you get knocked down over and over and have to get up and start again. It’s a game that awakens your passion and then can help you direct it at a worthwhile object: getting better at the game and maybe helping your team to win. When you have that model for how to deploy the spirit, you can use it for other aims in life.

Though he is referring specifically to playing the game, the heroics and perseverance of the players inspire the fans.

10 more reasons to love college football

4. Multi-sensory

Turning on the flat screen at home and easing back into a comfy couch for the afternoon is the way millions of fans watch college football. It is an easy stroll to the kitchen and the bathroom, televised camera angles get up close to the action, and the WiFi doesn’t fail. But the experience of walking into a football stadium on game day is visceral. Adrenaline begins to pump and each sense remains on overdrive. These things do not happen while sitting in a lazy-boy: hearing the roar of the crowd, jumping up to watch a receiver sprint down the field to score a touchdown. Cheering, high-fiving! Sweat trickling down foreheads during boiling-hot September games and wrapping up in blankets to keep out a chilly October night.

10 more reasons to love college football

5. Students First

Football fields are typically walkable from dorms with no complicated or time-consuming logistics required to go to a game. Both our kids have gone to schools where only their student IDs were required for admission. Some colleges are making even greater efforts to make sure students attend games in the face of a drop in attendance: “Average student attendance at college football games is down 7.1% since 2009,” according to an analysis by The Wall Street Journal. This is an ideal time to take advantage of any student incentives offered for attendance.

6. College Traditions

Freshmen are just beginning to figure out the hand signals. They are building their team color wardrobe of t-shirts and sweaters. They might not be sure when to clap, or understand the differences between the fight song and school song. One game into the season, they’re experts.

7. Family Traditions

College fight songs are filled with clapping and spirited, shouting lyrics. If you attended a big state school like I did, perhaps you sung your school song to your kids as lively lullabies. My sister and I learned to sing the Aggie War Hymn (Texas A&M) from our dad and I taught our kids The Eyes of Texas, Texas Fight and when to get your horns up (University of Texas) when they were little. Our daughter is attending my husband’s alma mater and we have made plans to join her for a game later this month. The chance for the two of them to lock arms, swaying and singing The Good Old Song (UVA) will be a priceless moment in our family life.

10 more reasons why I love college football

8. Alumni Connection

College football games are the perfect excuses for alumni to return to campus. Students see older grads in attendance and take note. Games on campus help build connections across generations of students, binding them in loyalty to their school. Since football is a sport with roots dating to 1876, read about the history of the football program helps to gain an additional layer of understanding about the school itself.

9. Ice Breaker

Conversation in the early school weeks revolves around the same few questions – where are you from, what are you majoring in, where are you living….over and over. Going to the game and having a shared experience with classmates makes it easy to talk about the team, the game, the schedule, big plays…. topics open to everyone, paving the way for friendship.

10 more reasons to love college football

10. Moms Back Home

It has only been two weeks since we dropped off our daughter at her freshman dorm. To say that I miss her does not begin to describe my longing to see my youngest child. Watching the game last weekend on TV was exciting and the best part for me? Hoping against hope that the camera would catch her cheering in the crowd. I don’t plan to miss a game.

10 more reasons to love college football

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

 

How to Find Success in College: 9 Things the Research Shows

Lisa writes: For years college feels like an endpoint, the focus of so much of our kids’ energies. But it turns out to be just a beginning. We have looked at the view of one experienced professor  regarding successful students and we have asked graduates for their input as well. Now we have reviewed what experts have found through years of research and present nine findings on how freshmen can find success in college.

How to Succeed in College

Stick to Your Own Definition of Success in College

Students who did best in college were not motivated by outside factors like jobs, or grades, but rather a genuine desire to learn.

“Intrinsically motivated by their own sense of purpose, they were not demoralized by failure nor overly impressed with conventional notions of success.” “These movers and shakers didn’t achieve success by making success their goal. For them, it was a byproduct of following their intellectual curiosity, solving useful problems, and taking risks in order to learn and grow.”

Take One Small Class, Every Semester

Students who took one small class, defined as less than 16 students, had a higher level of engagement and actually worked harder, according to Professor Richard Light of the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Another study showed that students who took a small freshman seminar (thus had an early experience in a small class setting) were less likely to drop out of school.

“Students who choose at least one small course each semester have, on the average, a significantly better overall experience than those who do not. [They] are noticeably more engaged, by their own rating, than students who take only larger classes. …Either small classes demand more time or students choose to invest more.”

Engage With Faculty, Early and Often

Every study seemed to confirm that students who engaged with faculty, in venues outside of the classroom, had better educational outcomes. The studies concluded that for most students, more contact with faculty was always better.

“Informal student-faculty interaction activities—being a guest in a professor’s home, working on a research project with a faculty member, talking with instructors outside of class, and serving on committees with faculty—are positively correlated with student learning and development.”

How to succeed in college

Don’t Just Look to Get Requirements Completed

It is tempting freshman year to look at the list of graduation requirements and to try to knock off a substantial portion of them freshman year. Professor Light suggests being careful with this strategy, because when sophomore year begins, these students have little idea of what subject matter genuinely interests them.

“When talking with freshmen, I stress this point especially heavily. I urge them not to just choose a series of large, introductory courses during freshmen year. “

This is Not High School, Work in Groups

In many high schools, individual work is stressed, but this is not high school. Students who seek out study groups and connect with their peers over academic content have greater academic success and satisfaction during their four years.

“Not only do students who work in small study groups outside of class commit more time to their coursework, feel more challenged by their work, and express a much higher level of personal interest in it—they are also much less likely to hesitate to seek help. The critical point is that the relationships are not merely social. They are organized to accomplish some work—a substantive exploration that students describe as “stretching” themselves. And almost without exception, students who feel they have not yet found themselves, or fully hit their stride, report that they have not developed such relationships. “

If it is an Option, Live on Campus Freshman Year

Every school is different and not all students are offered on-campus housing their first year or any year. But multiple studies showed that living in freshman housing increased social engagement. Students living on campus were more likely to be members of study groups and get involved in extracurricular activities, both markers for success.

“…living on campus had a direct, positive effect on learning outcomes, and educational aspirations had the greatest indirect effects on learning and intellectual development. In fact, living on campus had the greatest total effect (i.e., the combination of direct and indirect effects) on learning outcomes of any institutional characteristic. “

Pick the Right Friends

Students should think carefully in choosing their friends because no influence seems to be as forceful as peer group pressure. A student’s peer group, according to one study was, “’the single most potent source of influence,’ affecting virtually every aspect of development—cognitive, affective, psychological, and behavioral.”

“Peer interactions are particularly important with regard to social integration because students are more likely to stay in school when they feel comfortable and connected to other students with similar interests and aspirations. … In addition, institutions with higher levels of student social interaction also have higher levels of student educational aspirations.”

Parents Still Matter and Our Kids Need Our Encouragement

Even as our kids move on with their lives, it appears our influence is still very relevant. College can be a daunting and far more challenging experience that high school, requiring a great deal more self-direction. Some kids stumble their first year and can become demoralized. Research shows they are aided by a reminder that their parents’ confidence in them is undimmed and support unreserved.

“Aspirations and family support foreshadow student success. … On balance, it appears that students perform better and are more likely to succeed when their families affirm their students’ choices and encourage them to stay the course; this is especially important for underserved populations.”

The Effects of Success in College Linger Long After Graduation

A 2014 Gallup-Purdue University study of college graduates showed that it is a few simple things that increase the odds of turning a successful college experience into satisfying work life. Every freshman should know that the positive effects of constructive relationships with professors, meaningful work experience and extracurricular activities and in-depth academic work, can last a lifetime.

“ if graduates recalled having a professor who cared about them as a person, made them excited about learning, and encouraged them to pursue their dreams, their odds of being engaged at work more than doubled, as did their odds of thriving in all aspects of their well-being. And if graduates had an internship or job in college where they were able to apply what they were learning in the classroom, were actively involved in extracurricular activities and organizations, and worked on projects that took a semester or more to complete, their odds of being engaged at work doubled as well.”

 

And Then They Were Gone: Leaving Home for College

Lisa writes: It all happens in the next few days. After two and a half years of pondering the empty nest here at Grown and Flown, and eighteen years of dreading it, Mary Dell and I will bid our youngest children farewell next week as they are both leaving home for college. Mary Dell is threatening to bring home a new puppy and I am just now realizing that I should have had a fourth child.

College move in day, University of Denver

As we measure the time of departure in hours, rather than days, a montage of my youngest son’s life plays before my eyes. I am carrying him into school to pick up his older brothers and his sweaty sleeping body is nestled against mine. He is scoring his first goal and, as the ball dribbles into the net, he will trip over his own feet, face plant on the field and bounce back up grinning. We are in the ER and as I offer him my finger to bite as the doctor stitches his foot, he grasps my arm tightly but does not shed a tear. I drop him off at the high school for a summer orientation and he strides into the building without hesitation or even a backward glance at me. And then today, as we fill duffel bags with sheets and towels, I am both grateful and sad at how eager he is to leave.

One of the wonderful things about exploring the path to the Empty Nest is the way so many moms have shared their families’ stories with us. We asked a few moms to tell you what it was like when their kids left home and we urge you to share your story in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or give us a link to your story and we will include it below. As you read through the thoughts of these wonderful women, think of us because we are on our way!

Mindy Klapper Trotta The dropping off was not the issue, the coming home and looking at an empty room was more of a heartbreaker. Still don’t like to look when my kids visit and then leave. It all just seems so stark.

Kerry Flynn Barrett I will never forget the day I left my eldest daughter in Boston where she was to attend a program for kids with special needs to have a full college experience. It was 100 times worse leaving a young lady with special needs In a big city than sending off my second daughter in North Carolina which is about three times the distance. I literally felt paralyzed on the Massachusetts Turnpike as I apparently drove the car home. I don’t recall an exit I passed or a special sightseeing spot. I felt so empty, yet I knew it was the best thing for her as we all rationalize our thoughts are fears do. The memory that stayed in my mind and still does today is that I left her with the biggest smile on her face. As I look back, this was a crowning moment in both of our lives that I will never forget. She now happily resides in Cambridge.

Sharon Hodor Greenthal It was heartbreaking, even though I was so excited for my oldest to start. It was much easier with the second child.

Claire Dansby Our first to go to college had to be up at school for most of July for football conditioning….I guess a trial run so to speak. I am full of mixed emotions…sadness, joy, panic, excited for him to start the best four years of his life and sad that the best 20 years of my life are closing in.

Wendy Walker Cushing I was so full of excitement for her I could just squeal! Loved the whole experience of it last year! It’s been awesome!

Laura Fehl I have been preparing for this day all year. I know it will be hard as it has been my daughter and I for the past ten years! I am very appreciative of reading all of the feedback from this group! I know that my daughter will be fine and so will I, but not without tears! Stay tuned for my first thoughts. I am sure it won’t be much different from most of the other posts. It is just helpful to know that you are not going through it alone!

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn Funny enough, I felt pretty good when we drove off. I liked his roommate, I liked the dorm, I thought the college ran a great drop-off day program for parents and students, and I felt my son was in a very good place. It wasn’t until we got home that things became harder. Setting the dinner table without a place for him was the hardest thing of all!

Heidi Kachline Hanley The drop off of #1 seven years ago was hard. My other two kids teased me about how I would fall apart as we left. Although on the ride back it was my husband who had a tear roll down his cheek as he was driving us all home. He just said. “I wasn’t ready for that.” Dropping #3 on August 16 and as someone here said, proud and excited. I’ll miss him like crazy, but know it is as it should be!

College move in day, UWGB

Risa Nye My husband dropped off the first two, since I’d done the college tours with them and he hadn’t been on their campuses yet. But we both went with our “baby” when the time came. I don’t know, I guess we were all really prepared and excited, so when we did actually part ways (him to a student thing and us to the parking lot) it was a moment that signified a new beginning for all three of us. I just knew he would be happier at college than he ever was in high school, and that we were starting a new chapter too. I agree with Mindy that coming home was different–we took the leaf out of the kitchen table…really back to two after so many years.

Linda Snyder Long I drop my baby on August 19th, we live in Chicago, she’s going to AZ. I know she’ll do great and she’s so excited to go, it’s selfishly me! I will miss her so very much, she’s been pure joy to raise and the sunshine of our lives!

Camille Montesi Schaeffer It’s heartbreaking. I cried. Your family is never the same and the house is too quiet.

Holly McFaul up to the day a combination of abject fear and extreme pride for her. The day of nothing but pure joy and pride for her to reach her dream.

Cyndi Cervera Whitten Never try to talk and give last-minute instructions etc. while hugging them for the last time before driving away….

Jane Shrewsbury Hillis It was 1994 when we took our oldest to college. That morning before we left, I went in his room to wake him up and found the usual lump in the bed with head covered, yellow blanket on his pillow and Pooh bear under his arm…I know it sounds childish but it was what I loved about that boy. He slowly held Pooh Bear up in the air and announced, “Pooh, its time for you to find you a woman. I’m leaving & you have to stay.” Leaving the parking lot with him waving was just about the hardest moment of my life. Neither his Dad, nor two sisters, or I could say a word for the next two hours. For fear of losing it. We did and guess what? four years later he graduated and got married the same weekend. Two years later we had our first grandchild ( now a total of four.) So we think the trade-off was worth some of the tears!

Cindy Redd For my first son, I felt a huge separation from “our” world. It now seemed like HIS and then the life at home. I ALWAYS jumped at the chance to be a part of whatever I was invited to! And blessing the guys at college with food is ALWAYS a WIN/WIN!!! With my second son, I was shocked that I actually left him at his dorm room door after dinner, in the dark, in a BIG city before his roommate even moved in! I still remember the horrible feeling driving away! But they both settled in, called, texted, brought some friends home. And then the football games began!!!!!!!!!! Yes!!!!

Janet Runkle Wall I dropped my first son off five years ago – I kept lingering trying to “fluff his dorm room, but boys don’t like much “fluffing”! I felt proud of and excited for him, but very empty inside; tearful and sad. I drop off my 2nd son and youngest in three weeks. I have a feeling it will be very similar, except emptiness x 100! Not ready… #emptynest : (

College move in day, UWGB

Wendy Roever Nelson It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. My first thought was how was I going to make it until the next time I saw her. I think I was more worried about me than about how she would do. I was pretty sure she would be fine!

Andrea Viets My eyes have been threatening to spill over with hot tears for months (and frequently do). My son is so ready. I feel proud, happy and excited for him, and heartbroken for me. This is the end of his childhood. We will find a new way of being mother and son, I know – but oh how I shall miss these days and years of mothering him up close…

Suzanne Croce McGonigal I felt victorious, like we had achieved a goal as a family. We had delivered a child with many challenges finally to the point of starting college. When I returned him to college after Christmas break I felt that overwhelming emotional separation that most (moms especially) feel in the fall. I sobbed my way out of town on the trip home!

Jean Manos Andreacci With the first, I felt like I wanted to go to college again; with the second, he looked so forlorn, I was worried; with the third, I was concerned that he wasn’t ready; with the fourth, I knew she would be fine but I was lonely!

Lauren O’Donnell Weinstein To avoid the empty nest ..I got pregnant ..had 18 years between…so I got to start all over !

Annette Scolini Chastain When I took my daughter to University of Washington Seattle she was certain that is where she wanted to be. We are from Northern California. The night before I left to come home after we had gotten her all set up in her dorm she had a melt down. I knew I needed to stay strong but seriously considered packing her up and taking her back home. We decided she would stick it out one-quarter and then if it wasn’t working out we would come get her. I left with a lump in my stomach that didn’t go away for at least three days. Long story short she will be starting her senior year soon and we couldn’t be prouder of all of her accomplishments. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Stay strong

College  Move in Day, Lafayette College

Vilma Sicilia-Sceusa As The Nest Empties  is a blog post I wrote about sending my daughter off to college. Love your blog!

Annemarie Favatella Enoch I made myself sick for a year knowing I would be dropping my son off at college, which was only 1.25 hours away. Now he is going to London to pursue his Masters and PhD. Who knows when he will come home.

Cheryl Nicholl I wanted to cry, and feel the loss, but we got a call from our daughter-at home (w/ her grandmother) who had just been caught giving a HUGE party while her grandmother was out. It was on Fox news. I. Kid. you. Not. So… instead I was screaming.

Julie Silverman Burton How To Say Goodbye: A Lesson From My Daughter ”

And finally like so much else about parenting, we don’t really know what it will be like until we are there.

Julie Warwick I drop my only child off  – four hours away! – on August 21st. I just keep trying not to think about it……I am excited for her but am going to miss her sooooo much.

Crista Cornwell McCormick Will let you know in twenty days

Linda Faucher-Swallow Will let you know in less than a month

Judy Lanoue Dudley 17 days away from dropping off my first at WVU. Will let u know

Becky Stone I will be dropping off my one and only child, my daughter, at ASU and then I’m moving to Utah! The kids are supposed to leave NOT the Mom! Who does that? Feel guilty but I guess I have to get on with my life like she’s getting on with hers. I will miss her soo very much!

So grateful for these heartfelt comments left below.

Becky Blades  I am trying to keep it light, because I’m in a house full of comedians. But the sense of immanent loss feels heavy today.

Patti just dropped off my first child yesterday and my heart is still very heavy. Honestly, it was the hardest thing I have ever done. I have enjoyed mothering him up close and now need to figure out how to navigate from a distance. He is ready to be on his own and I need to figure out to let him go.

Michelle I feel like I left a piece of my heart at my daughter’s college! I have the level headed mom on one shoulder and the emotional mom on the other. Emotional mom is winning. I am allowing myself to feel every bit of sadness I feel. I can say I was not prepared the overwhelming since of heartache that I feel.

Kathy Radigan I have three years before my first heads off to college and reading these accounts is breaking my heart! I know that it is wonderful for our children to be at the stage of life to start spreading their wings. This is what moms work for right? The whole point of our job is to get our babies ready to live on their own. But I want more time!!!

Alison at the Gracious Posse  I surprised our family with a puppy on Christmas Eve, and for the last few months my son has been calling the dog his “replacement.” I will have to shrink our breakfast table and find ways to keep from dwelling on the memories. At least the puppy will get me out of the house.

Nancy My mother passed away of Alzheimer’s several years ago, but was living with us when my oldest went off to college. She had moments of clarity at that point, and I will never forget what she said when we took him to school…”He will come home again, but it will never be the same.”

Debbie None of my daughters went close by and as I look back on it that was a very good move. Not only did they become independent and self-assured but they trained me to start a life of my own as well. And that I did. I work part time and went back to college and now am looking forward to attaining the long lost Bachelor’s Degree.

Melissa Lamke Beyond thrilled for both of our daughters as they begin their journey of becoming who they will become, heartsick as I feel like it is almost a death of my motherhood. I also have this overwhelming drive to recreate/nest our new, childless space- maybe it’s to lessen the feeling of the missing family members. I feel a need to make changes so that I don’t miss the old and familiar as much.

Annette Officially me and hubby aren’t empty-nesters as the older brother is back home after graduating and the oldest of our 3 sons bought a house, a mile down the road from us. So, not officially empty-nesters but still missing the youngest like crazy today and for weeks to come, I’m sure!!!

Normaleverydaylifeblog I will drop my oldest off in three days. There is a constant lump in my throat and I could cry at any minute. I know she’s ready, but it’s still hard. The best 18 1/2 years of my life and it’s hard to see that change!

Tanya  I want to redecorate/repaint my home. And that’s how I will distract myself for the first few months of this new chapter. After that, I can’t see where the road ahead leads. Honestly feeling a bit lost. But you put one foot in front of the other – what else is there to do?

Patti/KnowsyMoms Just said goodbye to our younger son. Of course, it’s not a final goodbye but today marks the end of 23 years with kids at home. That’s a big chunk of life and a big chunk of my heart. When I wrote about our older son going to college four years ago, I could not have anticipated what is now, truly, the end of an era.

Marisa Davis We noted a couple of engaging young men trying to find common ground with our son, so it was time to leave. Our son was ensconced and the cramped dorm room a comfortable mess. Husband and I drove to Martha’s Vineyard afterward and celebrated our success and the wealth of opportunities ahead for our son, for the people he would meet and those random late night conversations and events that would shape his life.

Laura Over the past couple of days, I keep remembering the look I saw in our son’s eyes as he hugged us goodbye; he was unafraid, proud to be there and ready to get on with it. Thus, maybe we do, indeed, deserve to take that victory walk. :-)

Janet We go tomorrow morning to take my first and only daughter. I can barely read the blogs without crying. I am so excited for her and so sad at the same time to be having her leave me. There I go again. I am sure eventually my eyes will stop leaking tears.

NKP And then there is the guilt…guilt that moving on is so hard, guilt that this is so silly to be sad about, guilt that this hit me so hard. Move on, I hear myself saying, take classes, hike, walk, meet friends, do projects, and sometimes I do. It’s just …different…hard…words don’t describe it adequately.

Janet  I cried over cheese yesterday – yes, CHEESE! I was making a grocery list and put the kind of cheese I use to make my son’s breakfast sandwiches in the morning before school and realized I won’t be doing that anymore!

Anonymous Our first just left last week. He has been a joy to raise. He has been a mentor to his younger sister, a calming influence to his brother with autism, and quite frankly… he has been co-parenting for a while with us. This has been the biggest adjustment of our lives, and its awful.

Melissa Wells  I wrote this last year when we dropped off our younger son and officially became empty nesters. It’s not so bad.

Mary Beth Dropping my only children off 4 hours away tjis weekend. I have identical twin sons who I adore. I’ve been preparing myself that its going to be hectic and busy moving them in. Im hoping to break down in car on ride home. We shall see.

 

Brian Rutter  Kept repeating The Circle Game in my head with each goodbye. Offered dumb platitudes/advice while the years crumbled away.

Nancy Wolf  Missing her already; younger bro in backseat, now solo kid, unhappy too!

Kate Boucher  the first time I was sick to my stomach. This one will be so much easier. Almost looking forward to it!

We would love for you to share your story about your child leaving home in the comments below, on our Facebook page, or give us a link to a story you’ve written. Thanks!

Photo Credits: University of Denver, UWGB (2), Lafayette College

How Long Does it Take to Hear 30 Million Words?

Many parents do it thoughtlessly. We prattle on, speaking words first to babies and then later to toddlers that they have no way of understanding. We do it to keep them engaged, to fill the silence of hours spent with our children who are not yet verbal. Later as they learn to speak, we chatter to illicit their imitation, to model patterns of speech. Often we just speak a stream of consciousness, a narration of our actions, thinking that the sing-song of our voices and the animation of our expressions that will entertain our tiny child.

No one told us to chatter like this, but maybe our mothers did the same to us. Now scientists and doctors tell us that our endless speaking, the stream of thousands, and eventually millions, of words that we rain down on our children, is the best possible preparation for their later education.

Neighbors Link, child in school,

While formal education for children in the United States begins at age three, four or as late as five, researchers have shown that there is a word gap that has already opened up between 18 month olds from poorer and wealthier families. By age three, children from wealthier homes have heard an astounding 30 million more words than those from poorer homes. That gap only widens and the effects are felt in the classroom, according to the New York Times, “Since oral language and vocabulary are so connected to reading comprehension, the most disadvantaged children face increased challenges once they enter school and start learning to read.”

While there is much demand from the public for expanded early childhood education, the deficit starts so early that even children lucky enough to be in a preschool program at three have already fallen behind. “That gap just gets bigger and bigger,” said Kris Perry, executive director of the First Five Years Fund, an advocate of early education for low-income children. “That gap is very real and very hard to undo.”

Neighbors Link, child and teacher

The answer begins in the home with parents acting as their children’s first teachers. I have been inspired by the work of a program in Mt. Kisco, New York, called Neighbors Link Northern Westchester which works with immigrant families showing parents how early language and verbal interaction, in either Spanish or English, is essential to their children’s educational development. Similar programs exist throughout the country but do not come close to meeting the need.

At Neighbors Link, parents work with their birth-to-four year olds and trained parent educators, to find ways to help their children be successful in thriving in a bicultural family and preparing them for transition to school. This is not flash card learning or drilling kids on their colors or body parts. Rather parents are shown how to incorporate, questions, conversation, and importantly reading and probing dialogue into their family’s daily lives. It is a parent centered, child focused program that uses evidence informed programs to teach parents about early childhood learning and how it can best be practiced.

Neighbors Link, child in school

Earlier this month the American Academy of Pediatrics announced a policy whereby their members would recommend that parents read to their children from infancy. “If we can get that first 1,000 days of life right,” said Dr. Dipesh Navsaria, an assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health told The New York Times, “we’re really going to save a lot of trouble later on and have to do far less remediation.”

The families who come to Neighbors Link are inspiring. They have left their communities and their homes to find opportunity for their families. Often they have faced the obstacles of poverty, language and culture to help their children successfully navigate a new home. By coming to a well staffed community center, welcoming home visits from parent educators and participating in programs like “Parents as Teachers” and “Parent Child Together” they are taking steps from their child’s very first days to overcome these obstacles, to close the language gap for their children.  Learn more about the work of Neighbors Link in Parent Education. 

Neighbors Link, child and mother

As the school year begins, too many children are already falling behind. We are 1 of 30 bloggers helping #FindtheWords with @SavetheChildren to raise awareness of the need for early childhood education for all kids.

Save the Children provides kids in need with access to books, essential learning support and a literacy-rich environment. Learn more about Save the Children’s work in the US and around the world. We participating in this social media campaign to highlight 30 words in 30 days — to symbolize the 30 million fewer words that children from low-income homes hear by age three.

 

#FindtheWords #Inspire

 

#FindtheWord #Inspire

Advice to College Freshmen from Recent Grads

Lisa writes: I would love to send my soon-to-be freshman son off to college with a fist full of good advice from me. But let’s be honest, it has been a little while since I was in college and there are those far younger and more knowledge than I who can help him on his way. Luckily I was able to corral some recent college grads (and current seniors) and here they share some very wise and relevant advice for college freshmen. college, campus

Very Wise Words

Find a Constant

There is an extraordinary amount of change you will encounter as you transition to college – find something to hold on to, something you can carry with you throughout college as you encounter a new living environment, schedule, friend group and set of academic expectations. Your constant might be an activity you’ve done your whole life, a new hobby, a book series you re-read for comfort right before bed, a TV show, a “splurge” you indulge in once a week at the local (overpriced) coffee shop, or something else entirely. Regardless of what your constant is, you should practice making it as routine as brushing your teeth.

For me, it was running outdoors and exploring my new environment. It was a different kind of hard work that allowed me to set goals for myself, but was not something to be graded or judged by teachers or peers. Finding a constant is a gift that keeps on giving; even after you graduate – or whenever you encounter intimidating transitions as you move forward in your career – you’ve got it in your back pocket to keep you grounded.

Now, the Nitty Gritty

Freshman Fall

Put yourself out there in the beginning of freshman year and meet as many fellow freshmen as you can. It is such a unique time where EVERYONE is in the same boat – no one knows each other and everyone wants to make friends.

The early days can be tough…if you think you hate your school and want to transfer, at least give it your all until after Christmas break. It gets better once you’re settled and find a good crew of friends.

If you are feeling lonely or homesick, you are not alone. We think about college for years and yet when we arrive it is a huge adjustment. All of the freshman around you are making the same adjustment, even if they are not showing it.

My recommendation to college freshmen would be to push yourself outside your core group of friends from time to time and try and meet lots of new people. Your core friends will always be your friends, but you may be glad you met a wide circle of people if you end up in a new city or country one day. Then a peripheral friend may become your new best friend!

Find a group to join early. Even if it doesn’t last, even if it isn’t something you are passionate about, join a club or a team because it will give you an activity and friends right from the beginning. The earlier you meet people and find a place to belong the sooner you will enjoy school.

The days of high school gym class and healthy home cooked meals are over and the Freshman 15 loom as a very real challenge. Less time in the cafeteria line and more time at the gym is the only answer. Find a workout buddy and keep each other on track.

When in doubt, go out.

Academic Advice

Take advantage of all the amazing professors you have at your disposal as a college student. Go to office hours, contact professors in a field you’re interested in and ask if you can get coffee and chat about the field and their work… get to know them! They’re there for you.

Take classes you’re actually interested in!! If you’re interested in that 8:30am Friday class –  take it! Get your butt up, go to class, and then you can sleep the rest of the day (another beautiful thing about college). You’ll regret it later on when you’re not looking at “Intro to Fairy Tales” on your transcript instead of something more useful and productive.

Just because you don’t need to keep up your grades to get into a good college now doesn’t mean stop working hard. Even three years of hard work after freshman year can’t erase a year of not trying at all.

Don’t be shy about getting academic help even if you have never had it before. College is a big step up. Struggling academically will ruin your first year and a tutor can get you on the right track. Many schools have academic support easily available. If you need it, get it.

Group work, study sessions and other academic collaborations are the norm in college. This is a change from high school. In college it is expected that you will work together academically and it is a great way to meet new people. Get into study groups early in the year, before the midterm rush.

Finally, for the Planners

If you are a planner, and always have been, get ready for some bumps in the road. After graduation nothing will go as planned – which might just be the best thing that ever happened to you. The job you expect to have for years will change, your friends and where they live will change, you will get married sooner or later than you had anticipated, and everything you had once dreamed your life would be after college will be different. Life is full of surprises and the best ones are still to come!

campus, freshmen advice, college students

 

 

Back-to-School Shopping With College Tech Needs in Mind

This is a sponsored post* Mary Dell writes: The page on the family calendar may be labeled August but, whenever I see that word, my mind reads back-to-school shopping. The countdown is now merely days, no longer months, until my husband and I drop off our youngest at college. Shopping for freshman year  has been unlike any other that has gone before and, although we are now fairly organized, one final line on the dorm to-do list remains. I want to sit down with our daughter and review the technology she is taking with her and upgrade or adjust where needed.

camus, back-to-school shopping

If you have a teenager at home, you already know how dependent he is on tech devices for both his social and academic life. Our kids going off to college will take their handhelds and their habits onto campus and will immediately plug into the college’s network. (BTW, one bit of advice is to have the phone number and email address of the IT department handy in case the process is not exactly seamless.)

I envision my daughter on move-in day carrying a box up the stairs to her dorm room with as much care as if she was holding a beating heart for an organ transplant. Inside will be a laptop, chargers, surge protector, printer, USB drive, a portable external drive, a tablet with bluetooth enabled keyboard, ear buds and noise-cancelling headphones. Her smart phone will be in her back pocket.

She will set up her desk while my husband and I struggle to make up the twin bed in the crowded space. college, freshman year

Though her collection of electronic gadgets may sound excessive, on this subject, she is a typical college student: According to The Chronicle of Higher Education:

In a survey conducted this year by the education-technology organization Educause, 76 percent of undergraduates reported owning a smart phone, an increase of 14 percentage points compared with the previous year. Fifty-eight percent said they owned at least three Internet-capable devices.

As a result, this has led to explosive growth in the demand on Internet at schools:

Campus-technology officials say they struggle to maintain and expand wireless-network capacity in heavily taxed locations, such as lecture halls, common areas, and sports venues. They are excited about integrating wireless technology into classroom learning, but worry about safeguarding personal and research data increasingly viewed on mobile devices. Underscoring their concerns are budget realities and an obligation to transparency and collaboration.

Until my daughter is settled at school, and connected to her college’s network, I’ll wait to see what the quality of the WiFi is for her. If it seems lacking, I already know one tech solution. At BlogHer14, a recent blogging and social media conference, NETGEAR gave Grown and Flown a mobile hotspot, the  AT&T Unite Pro by NETGEAR.   Since I needed to use a laptop and smart phone during the three-day event and had a long flight from New York to California  to get there, the device became a life saver. Here’s why:

  • 16 hours of battery life
  • Battery Boost that can charge a phone
  • Mobile WiFi wherever wanted and needed
  • Capacity for up to 15 devices
  • Secure network with password protection

There were no WiFi black holes, no expensive hotel WiFi up charges, no need to find a Starbucks to get online, no frantic searching for outlets to charge my phone. I was hooked and I began to imagine all the applications for my college daughter:

  • She would have the ability to access WiFi regardless of where on (or off) campus she might be, even on football game days when tens of thousands of additional fans converge on campus and compete to get online.
  • As long as she had the WiFi hotspot device with her, there would never be a time when she would be unable to power up her phone, so important for her safety.
  • She could share her WiFi with her roommate or study group.
  • In the future, if she lives in an off-campus apartment and/or studies abroad, her connection could travel with her.
  • Finally, she would always be able to Skype or FaceTime with me!

So when move-in day arrives, I will be taking the AT&T Unite Pro with me since I have become spoiled using it while on the road. If she discovers that she needs enhanced WiFi for college, I will send it to her, overnight. If that’s the case, I know exactly what will be at the top of my Christmas list this year. *Disclosure: This is a sponsored post and I received an AT&T Unite Pro mobile hotspot as part of my sponsorship. My words are my own.

Moving Day

Aline Weiller writes:“Should I throw these out?” I said, sitting pony-tailed in black yoga pants, amid piles of clutter from my son’s now empty desk.

“Yes,” Danielle said, referring to a batch of dusty birthday cards given to my teenager, Grant, on his 3rd birthday.

I was in the throes of packing up a home we’d lived in for a dozen years with our two boys.

moving van

Our new house is in the same town, only 7.2 minutes away according to the stopwatch on my younger son, Cameron’s, iPhone. Even so, the mere thought of packing or purging our wealth of belongings was overwhelming. I had to enlist Danielle, our former babysitter and organization enthusiast, for much-needed assistance. She’d babysat my boys since they were toddlers and knew their allergies, sports schedules and favorite shows. She’d been my right hand for years and was akin to a younger sister; I trusted her.

We started with the closets, eight of them to be exact. Danielle and I emptied the contents and rifled through remnants of my sons’ childhoods. How do you decide which infant sailor suit to keep? Or which little league trophy or goody bag gadget to toss? Or whether or not to hermetically seal outfits worn for milestone occasions? Where is the What to Expect book for that sort of thing? I was ill-prepared for the multitude of split-decisions necessary for this tedious undertaking.

Danielle was my Switzerland, a neutral party who could make such choices when I got caught up in nostalgia. She created three piles – Keep, Good Will and Garbage. My job was to stay focused and on task, which was harder than it sounds. A tiny hand print from my children’s preschool days would leave me in a 20-minute proud mommy stupor.

The kids couldn’t be around for the downsizing process; they were not equipped for the heartache. My boys questioned our piles and fought to keep tangled yo-yos and toys surviving on corroded batteries. I caved when they pleaded to hold fast to their Star Wars light sabers — though now 13 and 16, they want to keep their Jedi options open. And then there were the costumes — a mummy, Batman and a little ninja number. Some were stained, others still sealed in their orignal packaging. Cameron was notorious for changing his mind after seeing a more enticing superhero body suit. They no longer dress up, but kept costumes they argued still fit.

Danielle and I diligently added to the piles, but each choice left me feeling guilty, as if I were abandoning a piece of family history for the garbage man or a Good Will patron to scoop up. It was akin to a stage of grief — bargaining, perhaps, with a running internal debate clouding my judgement. The moving process was an extreme exercise in letting go of what had been.

After two weeks, the closets were complete. Next, we tackled the basement, full of more kid stuff as well as random items accumulated during twenty-two years of marriage. It was a bear. We began with stacked containers of baby, toddler and maternity clothes I didn’t realize I still had. Perhaps I’d held on to them with hopes of a third child.

Next up was memorabilia, a tough category for sappy me; it was my turn to part with the past. I simply couldn’t toss my middle school scrapbook — Switzerland or not, Danielle could not penetrate my force field of resistance. Nor could I bid good-bye to my weathered concert programs, fuzzy varsity letters or silky graduation tassels. They were an extension of me, a reflection of where I’d been. My forty-something years lay before me, having been hidden from view for some time.

Abandoning those belongings, seemed like erasing my youth; like I, too, would vanish if they were discarded. I saved more than I should have, but rationalized those items evidenced my very existence.

Danielle and I kept a steady pace, until I stumbled upon my late father’s yearbook. We shared both a college and a face. My mother gave me the yearbook slightly after his sudden heart attack and death fifteen years back. I had stored it safely so as not to relive his passing. I stopped packing and paged through it with newfound vigor. A slight musty smell emerged as I perused the black and white heirloom from 1960. Tears blurred my father’s senior picture as I read about his activities and honors. His yearbook transcended the typical keepsake, it was part of my father, a piece of his legacy. This time, it would be kept within reach at our new home, sustaining our connection. I needed my father to live on through that yearbook for me, for my children.

Moving Day arrived and I stayed at our old house, while my husband directed traffic at the new abode. I thought packing had been a challenge. The movers arrived at 7:00 am, but I wasn’t prepared to say good-bye to our life on that quiet, wooded cul-de-sac. My boys had arrived in diapers and left in boxers. My husband had changed jobs three times. I had morphed from stay-at-home mom to business owner. And our four-bedroom colonial beared witness to it all.

I asked the movers to leave a brown leather couch until the bitter end, so I’d have a place to rest amid the last-minute packing. It was worn and oversized, situated in our family room, where our boys had stretched out for movies and naps. It was the room’s lone survivor, but for gold chenille curtains hanging half-closed behind me. I ate leftovers on a Spiderman paper plate I’d scavenged from the far end of a kitchen cabinet, while scenes from our days there washed over me. I saw card tables pieced together in our den for pizza after laser tag birthday parties, I saw my boys’ faces in our living room the

Christmas they got the sought-after, XBox 360. I saw myself among young mothers and toddlers in our playroom, and my husband chopping garlic in the kitchen. In rooms void of belongings, I saw in techno-color the very details our family’s journey.

The following day, I returned to the old house to leave the key for the family who would inhabit the space I still called home. I felt tethered to the place we had painted and renovated, where we had lived and loved. I opened the mail box and retrieved a stack of mail, only to find it was addressed to the new owners. Then smiled, nodded silently and drove 7.2 minutes into our future.

Aline Weiller is a journalist and essayists who has been published in print and online to include Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers, Great Moments in Parenting, Scary Mommy and Books, Ink, among others. She is also the CEO of Wordsmith, LLC, a public relations firmed based in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and two sons.