Early Decision, Regular Decision, No Decision

Guest blogger, Darryle Pollack, writes: I finished college in 1971, a member of the first class of women to graduate from Yale. I would not describe myself as overly ambitious–still, I like to be first, and I like to be best. Of course I want the same for my children. And I have to confess, by this stage of my life, I feel as if my kids have become one of the standards by which I am judged. Pack them off to the Ivy League, early decision if possible, and you get an A-plus.

College graduate - "better late than never."

So when people ask where my 21-year-old daughter is going to college, I wish I could answer that she’s following in my footsteps. But Alli’s not at Yale. She’s not in the Ivy League. She’s not at UCLA, or USC, or even CSU. My daughter took her 4.0 average from a top California prep school, and she went to UPS–United Parcel Service.

At her high school graduation, I had to congratulate all those other parents who had brilliantly aced the child-rearing final I had so clearly failed. That summer, while my friends were attending parent orientations on college campuses, my daughter was moving into a shabby apartment and shipping boxes for other people’s children heading off to start their adult lives.

I came to dread running into the mothers of Alli’s former classmates. With Kathy, Alli’s status came up in the third question, right after “How are you doing?” (busy) and “How’s your husband?” (traveling a lot).

“Alli’s great,” I deflected. “How’s Lauren?”

I received a rundown on her relationship (over), her major (economics), her summer internship (amazing experience!) and her plans for grad school (Hopefully NYU or UCLA). Then she circled back…

“So, what’s Alli up to?”

I sighed inside.

“Working really hard.” (It’s the truth.)

“Did she ever go to college?”

Perky as possible. “Not yet.”

Kathy gave me the look to which I have become accustomed–concern mixed with pity.

That first year, I’d mumble something about Alli taking a year off–which seemed acceptable, even trendy. Three years later, the story’s tougher to spin.

Some parents feel burdened by the college application process. I actually looked forward to it. For years I had interviewed prospective students for my alma mater, and I always welcomed any contact with academia. I daydreamed about visiting beautiful campuses with Alli, and allowed myself to imagine what could be the end result. Providence? New Haven? Princeton?

Then one afternoon during Alli’s sophomore year, as I was driving her home from field hockey practice, I suggested we visit the University of Pennsylvania during our annual Thanksgiving trip East to my family in Washington, D.C.

“You promised I could visit Jen.”

“Jen lives right outside Philadelphia. We could stop first at Penn.”

She pouted. “But then I lose time with Jen.”

“Aren’t you curious? Just to see it?”

My real agenda remained unspoken. We can start with Penn, and soon I’ll take you to New Haven.

It was a textbook mother-daughter moment. She had studied her subject for a lifetime and knew the course material inside out.

“It’s a waste of time. And you can forget about me going to Yale.”


“There is no way I’m going to college on the East Coast.”

“How do you know if you haven’t even seen these places?” I tried to keep my eyes on the road.

“I just know. You always think I’ll want to go, but I don’t. I told you I wanted to go to UCLA.”

Yes, she did–back when she was six and thought she’d want to live with me forever.

But she had a point. The East Coast idea had begun with me and remained there. It had never taken root in her heart. She loves California, and she hates to fly. Okay, so now I knew. I would not push her to apply.

By junior year, Alli was announcing her intention to take a year off before beginning college. I was calm. Teenagers are fickle, I thought. Maybe she’ll change her mind.

But senior year came, and Alli had not abandoned her idea of taking time off. Still, the college process continued. She had the grades,the scores, the resume–and dutifully got her applications in by Thanksgiving.

That spring, as each fat envelope arrived, I allowed myself to hope. I remember handing her the UCLA envelope, with a big smile. I don’t remember her smiling back.

“What did she say about UCLA? ” her father wanted to know when he called me that night. We had remained cordial after our divorce eight years earlier. I had remarried and moved with the kids 300 miles away. We usually spoke a few times a week; during this time we were speaking several times a day. Neither of us was sleeping.

“She didn’t say anything.”

“Well, what should we do?”

I had no answer for him. I had no answer for myself. I had been to college, however, and I knew basic child psychology: Whatever her parents wanted, she would do the opposite.

“Don’t pressure her.”

“Okay”, he agreed. “Just remember she only has until May 1.”

Actually, we only had until May 1. Alli had all the time in the world.

One morning Alli appeared downstairs with a fistful of letters.

“What’s that?” I asked, in the most casual way I could possibly make myself sound.

“Just the letters to the schools, telling them I’m not going.”

Gulp. “All of them?”

“Uh-huh.” A quick wave and she escaped out the door.

What had I done wrong? She was my first child, and I had been an overprotective mother. Had I crippled her, was she afraid to venture out into the world alone?

She had attended the best playgroups, classes, schools, lessons. if one program didn’t meet my expectations, I switched her into a better one. Had I created a perfectionist who would never be satisfied?

She had always been self-motivated and intellectually precocious: from age two, when she taught herself to read, through high school, when she studied three languages. Had I allowed her to burn out?

I had put parenting ahead of my television journalism career. Now it seemed I had failed at the most important job I’d ever held.

Family and friends tried to comprehend and covered their shock with love and logic: “Colleges like kids who take a year off before entering.” “It’s just typical teenage rebellion. She’ll be bored with UPS in two weeks.”

I wanted to believe them.

Once she was living in the real world, I thought, Alli would learn her lesson. Surely she would enter college by February.

So much for mother’s radar. College is still waiting, and so am I. And yet, life goes on–hers, and mine.

How many times do we say to our children: “Don’t do something just because the other kids do it…think for yourself.” At 18, Alli was doing just that. She had learned the lesson, and now it was my turn.

During the past three years I’ve watched in awe as my daughter developed life skills that I did not grasp until I was twice her age.

Making just over minimum wage, she has managed to live on her own, paying all her expenses, even buying a car. She knows all about insurance, credit ratings, interest rates. Before her friends left for college, Alli passed an exam, which she says was harder than the AP tests, and became a notary public (her first advanced degree, I tell friends). She has no assigned books anymore, but she reads things that most of us don’t–such as the full text of every candidate’s statement and proposition on the California ballot. She hasn’t taken a math class in three years, but she does her own taxes.

Alli will never get a bid from a sorority, but she got a promotion to manager of a UPS store, running a business by age 20. She understands a lot about real life and about who she is.

Most important of all, she is infinitely happier, more confident, and more comfortable with herself than she was in high school–in fact, more than she has ever been.

Okay, it’s not New Haven. But I have learned to be proud of my daughter. I’ve discovered that parenting is far more difficult than anything I ever had to learn at Yale. It’s a tutorial that never ends, but I’m hoping to speed up the learning curve with my other child, Daniel, a high school junior. (I’m almost hesitant to write that he’s eagerly looking forward to college–I don’t want to jinx anything.)

Alli says that she will go to college when she decides what she wants to be–and she plans to pay for her own education. With her characteristic independence, determination and maturity, I know she will do what she says. Ultimately she will choose a career that is meaningful, challenging and right for her–and a school where she can get the education to make it happen.

Meanwhile, I still feel a stab of pain when I hear about someone else’s child who has just graduated from Yale, passed the bar, entered medical school or gotten an incredible job. I have invested as much as any other mother has in her child. But now I know I need to be invested less in her success on my terms, than in her happiness and well-being on her terms. I owe her that. And in return, she’s given me a precious gift: knowing she will always be able to take care of herself.

College graduate

Editor’s note: After attending five colleges over seven years,  Alli graduated in May, 2011, from California State University at Fullerton.

Darrlye Pollack

Darryle Pollack is a writer, inspirational speaker, and role model for resilience, with her TED talk, blog and upcoming book all titled I Never Signed up For This…. An early adopter of social media and blogging, Darryle is also a leading voice for women online, with her writing featured on websites including the Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Purple Clover, and as BlogHer Voice of the Year.

This is Adolescence: 18

Lisa writes: 18 is a year overflowing with contradictions. Eighteen wants to be a child forever and yet he cannot wait to grow up. He loves his house and cannot wait to leave it. Eighteen is our teen living in our home and in the same momentous year, an adult residing in another state. On the eve of his 18th birthday it seems almost as if nothing has changed and then one morning in August everything is different.

18 is a year of contradictions, of being our child at home and an adult living in another state.

18 is the year I have dreaded since the day he was born. It is the year that I will begin to know him a little less, the year when more of his life happens away from our family than within it. But 18 is also the year I am most grateful for, that as his childhood ends it has been filled with joy and he has thrived wrapped in our love and that of his brothers.

Eighteen cannot believe he is 18. When I tell him that he must register for the selective service and to vote, that I can no longer deal with his doctor, the health insurance company or his college housing office, he is taken aback. Eighteen wants to be an adult, but not if it means a lot of paperwork.

Eighteen wants to spend every spare minute with his friends. He dreads the day when one by one they will leave for college and he tells me how much he will miss them, how much their closeness has meant to him and that he hopes they will stay that way forever. While I am indebted to these wonderful boys who have taught my son so much about friendship, I ignore the tightness in my throat and do not say that I feel the same way about him.

Eighteen is a writer. He hears words and their lyrical cadence in a way that leaves me in awe. He seems to know the natural crescendo of a good story and holds the reader in his grasp. He does not believe my praise, parents are biased, what do we know? His English teacher offers him wonderful encouragement suggesting he write more. I whisper a private prayer of thanks to the gods of high school education.

Eighteen is an athlete and, as a senior, a team captain. He has always been the youngest but finds himself suddenly a role model for younger boys. I watch him learn to lead. In the heat of a game he grapples with his own emotions, keeping them mostly under control as he attempts to inspire those around him. I whisper more thanks to more gods who have given my child this chance to grow.

Eighteen needs to show me he is a grown up, even at the times when I know that he is not. When he is unhappy with me he reminds me that soon he will be gone and then I will not be able to tell him what to do. Eighteen tells me this both because he wants me to acknowledge his independence and because he wants to hurt me that little bit, because in getting ready to go, some small part of him is hurting too.

When Eighteen defies me, I can see that my arsenal for controlling him is severely depleted.

Eighteen is brimming with confidence. His confidence comes from the physical strength and stamina of youth, from being surrounded by those who have known and loved him most or all of his life and from the fact that we may all be at our most beautiful the summer of our 18th birthdays.

Eighteen loves senior year in high school and life at the top of the social food chain. He loves knowing most of the teachers and coaches in his high school and the way they have begun to treat him and the other seniors like young adults. While I delight in seeing him so at ease in his world, I also know that there is nobody less secure than a college freshman.

Eighteen thinks the drinking age is 18. I am the bearer of bad news.

Eighteen thinks he should not have a curfew. I bear more bad news.

Eighteen’s personal hygiene is impeccable. He has never needed to be reminded to shower or brush his teeth. He rarely leaves a mess in the house and usually cleans any garbage from my car when he borrows it. Yet, Eighteen still leaves every article of dirty clothing on his bedroom floor. He has been told 4,287 that there is a laundry hamper in his room. Fearing that he has forgotten, I remind him again. He wonders why I do this, and so do I. Surely there is a point where I should give up, but how will I know when that is?

Eighteen is changing in his older brothers’ eyes. Getting ready to go off to college he somehow seems to be getting closer to them in age. Siblings loom so large in our lives.  Eighteen has lived a life in awe of them and all that they could do whether it was ride a bike without training wheels, drive a car or just stay up late. But now he has done things that they never did and they are a bit in awe of him.

In the summer before he leaves, Eighteen wants to push his father and me away and hold onto us at the same time. I am told that as the reality of their leaving begins to confront some kids, they “soil the nest,” at times giving parents some of their very worst behavior. I try to remember that this is temporary and that if I have learned anything about parenting it is that a markedly changed adolescent will be returned to me come the winter holidays.

Eighteen lies on the floor petting his dog. I am in the next room, but I can hear him telling her that he will miss her. He does not remember life before this dog and is old enough to fully understand that this means that in the coming years he will experience the loss of her. He feels love and he feels fear. He has heard that kids get “the call” at school about their dogs and he does not want that call.

I can tell Eighteen what to do and what not to do, until he leaves for college. But that would be foolish. We are on a trial run for adulthood, so I let him make most of the decisions and step in only when I cannot help myself. I try not to treat him like the child he no longer is, he tries not to act like the obnoxious teenager he no longer is. Most of the time we are successful, sometimes we fail.

Eighteen is no longer simply living in time, but is now truly reflecting upon it. He feels his own childhood slipping away and, while there is much to look forward to, he understands that for the first time there is now much to look back upon as well. Eighteen experiences that sharp pain we feel as adults when we know that a time in our lives that we have loved has passed and that we can never really return to it. As he lets go of his child self and readies to leave, he is fully conscious of the fact that life has painted a bright red line and he is crossing over it.

Eighteen leaves little gashes on my heart, like stinging paper cuts, as time winds down and we no longer have months or years but rather weeks and days. I miss him before he is even gone and I grieve once he has left. Eighteen drifts slowly away the summer after graduation and then one morning I load up the car and he is really gone, and I can do nothing more than help him on his way.

This is Adolescence

This is the final essay in the This Is Adolescence series which began with 11, and covered 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, and  17.  If you are looking forward to adolescence, living it or reflecting upon it, each of these beautifully written essays will make you think.  Conceived by Lindsey Mead and Allison Slater Tate, the entire series will be published in full in Brain, Child’s Special Issue for Parents of T(w)eens, coming in Spring 2015.

Clean is Sexy and Other Advice for Sons: Home for the Holidays Edition

Lisa writes: Earlier this year we shared Clean is Sexy and other bits of motherly wisdom for teen and young adult sons.* As our kids come home for the holidays the impulse to shower them with even more parental guidance seemed irresistible. So along with the gifts and good cheer here is our two-cents worth of advice for sons during the holidays, or anytime.

Home for the holidays - Clean is sexy and other motherly advice for sons home for the holidays.

1. For years, your parents showered you with holiday gifts, even beating back other overzealous parents in Toys “R” Us to get you the last Talking Elmo. Now you are thinking of showing up at home for the holidays empty-handed? Who raised you? Buy something small but thoughtful that lets them know how much you appreciated your Beanie Babies, Pokemon cards and their love.

2. And while you are at it, siblings do not grow on trees. These are the only brothers and sisters you will ever have and, God willing, you will have them forever. They are the only people who will accompany you on almost your entire life’s journey. Show them some appreciation at the holidays, too.

3. If it is going to be a long night, make beer, drunk slowly, a big part of it.

4. When you were a child, holiday meals seemed to appear by magic. Now that you know the truth get off your behind and help your parents in the kitchen.

5. When you come home for the holidays you may realize how much you have missed your friends, want to spend every minute of your short stay with them and come away hoping that you will be close forever. Do not forget your parents feel the same way about you.

6. Some women love men’s hands. I am not sure why, but you might want to remember this when biting your nails.

7. Your dorm room or apartment floor may be covered in dirty clothing, indistinguishable from your laundry basket. That is your business. When you are home for the holidays things are done differently.

8. When you are driving never think, “WHAT’S the worst that could happen?” rather “What is THE worst that could happen?” and then drive accordingly.

9. Office holiday parties have long been an excuse for bad behavior. It is almost a cliché. Don’t become a cliché. The party is short and your career will be as well if you cannot remember to behave yourself.

10. Popular press will tell you to follow your dreams, but just remember you will need to afford them.

11. Being smarter or richer than someone else doesn’t make you a better person. It just makes you fortunate.

12. People who do not share their good fortune and their good cheer, especially during the holidays, but, truly, all year, are not a credit to their parents, or themselves.

13. If you want to be a better person give generously of your of your time, your wisdom and your wealth.  

14. Your dorm room looks a little bleak? Apartment just doesn’t look like home? Take the time, and it really is only a little time, to put up a few decorations for the season. It will make you feel better for weeks.

15. Eggnog only seems like a good idea at the time.

16. There is a certain level of untidiness and disorder that your parents may have learned to tolerate from you at one time. They love you so much and are so happy to have you home for the holidays that they may tolerate it from you again. Don’t make them.

17. Travel will only open your world, if you open your eyes. Just being in a new place does not mean you have experienced it.

18. WiFi is not on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Human Needs, but love is. Put down the laptop and look at the world around you, and into the eyes of those whose love matters most.

19. Never lose more at a casino than you are willing to pay for an evening’s entertainment.

20. Always keep a decent untouched bottle of wine at the ready. You never know when you will receive a last-minute invitation to dinner.

21. If you get picked for secret Santa, go with food and you will never go wrong.

22. You will overeat when you are home for the holidays, do not try to fool yourself into believing otherwise or feel guilty for a moment. Plan for it. Just add a bit more exercise and some days of sensible eating to your pre-holiday routine.

23. When you are home for the holidays and your parents have not fully acknowledged your adulthood, don’t push them. If they are not happy with sleepover guests, or hangovers or having you walking around the house, in front of guests, dressed only in boxers, try to remember it is only for a couple of days.

24. In the end it will matter less how good an athlete you were and more how good a teammate you were. Talent fades, camaraderie and memories endure.

25. Never buy the large size of popcorn. It is overpriced, oversized and only seemed like a good idea.

26. If you have a girlfriend, boyfriend or partner and you wait until the day before and cannot find the right gift, the right size, or the right color or you can, but it cannot be delivered in time, it is not the store’s fault, it is yours. Blame no one but yourself.

27. A working knowledge of 1970s and 80s rock will make you happy and a stand-out in trivia contests.

28. Eating too much turkey once a year is not overindulgence, it is your birthright as an American. Go ahead, enjoy.

29. The first days of any experience are recorded in our minds in bright living color with routine dulling the memories of later days. Take it all in during those early days.

30. Manners are more important in the digital age when we are lacking the subtleties of facial expressions. Forget yours at your peril.

31. You are not a little kid anymore. If you are going to do something that might not thrill your parents, don’t just try to get away with it, talk to them first. They are proud that you are grown up and make your own decisions. They have no interest in seeing your inner 14-year-old.

32. Learn to cook at least one truly great meal. Underwhelming people with your cooking will never lead to good things.

33. Who you are working for can be every bit as important as what you are doing. Interview prospective bosses as they interview you, politely.

34. Holding doors open, paying for a check or swinging by and picking someone up may be old-fashioned, but that does not mean that those kindnesses will not engender gratitude.

35. Read great books, even if you read them slowly and infrequently. They will keep you in touch with human history.

36. Keep your mind open to other people’s life choices, and be happy for them.

37. Envy serves no useful purpose and is often misplaced. All too often we are mistaken about others’ lives so mind your own knitting.

38. Benjamin Franklin only had it two-thirds right. To the list of death and taxes, add your parent’s love.

39. Your parents cheered you on when you took your first step, rode your first bike and started your first summer job. Listen for that cheering sound when you most need it, I promise it will always be there for you.

* In the earlier post we remind our kids that, “Clean is sexy. Thoughtful is sexy. Being blindingly drunk is pathetic.”

Photo credit: SalzerE

Love and Rivalry: A Holiday Story

Mary Dell writes: My dad and I were father-daughter close on 364 days of the year. But on Thanksgiving Day, collegiate loyalty trumped family ties as we watched the game together but cheered for the rival football teams of our alma maters. For 96 years, the Texas A&M Aggies (Dad) and University of Texas Longhorns (me) played a hotly contested holiday matchup. It was “our game” and our tradition, a reminder of college and family, love and rivalry. During the Thanksgiving holiday, like every other one that came before and those that will stretch into the future, I thought of my father with nothing but gratitude.
Grandfather and granddaughter
We did not always sit on opposing sides of the proverbial stadium, and I grew up eagerly listening to stories of his college days. As children, my sister and I would alternate playing with Barbies and a herd of plastic horses with swinging on the jungle gym in the back yard. After he came home from work, Dad joined us, still in his suit and tie, sitting cross-legged on the pink and white checked rug in our shared bedroom. He told us about the real horses he had ridden growing up in West Texas. He taught us the lyrics to the Aggie War Hymn while we clapped and sang together.
Good-bye to Texas University, So long to the orange and the white…
Dad’s loyalty to his college was fierce. He and my mother were 21 and 19 when they married and she joined him at College Station while he completed his engineering degree, paid for by the GI Bill. My mother’s older brother, also an Aggie, left college to fight in WWII. She was an enthusiastic member of the A&M fan club and, had it not been an all-male school (changing to co-ed in 1963), she would have enrolled to complete her degree, too.
As I grew from a little girl to a teenager, I swapped out sweetness for surliness, a fact my father gleefully reminded me of when my eldest hit his teen years. When it was my turn for college, my parents consented to my choice of UT. Freshman year, as I stepped out of the car from the three-hour drive from Austin for the Thanksgiving holiday, Dad greeted me with a hello bear hug wearing his favorite A&M maroon cardigan sweater. Love and rivalry served in equal parts!
For decades I have lived in New York and knew my father would place the first call on Thanksgiving Day. He and I gloated or groaned, depending on the latest score or blunder. Though we were no longer sitting side-by-side watching together, I saw him clearly in my mind’s eye, on the edge of his saddle-colored leather chair, clapping for his beloved Aggies. I knew that on his right hand, brown-speckled with age, would be his well-worn, class of ‘47 A&M ring.


My parents excelled in their roles as “Granny and Pa,” and our kids grew up in their loving embrace. Adult hands grasping little ones, they strolled through the zoo and walked to the playground. They sat together, drinking lemonade from tiny teacups and nibbling on freshly baked sugar cookies. During our annual Christmas holiday visit to Texas, we gathered in the den and watched countless college football bowl games, regardless of the opponents.

In 2005, a month after he turned 80, my dad died. Our two children were 15 and 10, old enough to have rich and enduring memories of their grandfather. The legacy he leaves them, and me, is his example as an honorable man, a great parent and a wonderful grandfather. I miss him most keenly on Thanksgiving Day. I hope that his love and life lessons are ones that I so completely absorbed during my own childhood that I am able to follow in his parenting footsteps. It is my most heartfelt desire that my children will do the same.

How about you? What are your family’s holiday traditions? New York Life, the sponsor of this post, invites you to share your “Celebrating Good” moments of good in life. Please visit their website to share a photograph that shows how you Keep Good Going in your life.  Also, for every tweet that includes #KeepGoodGoing and #FeedingAMillion, New York Life will donate 25 meals to Feeding America, through 1/9/15.* Although this is a sponsored post by New York Life, the words are my own.

*Through 1/9/15, New York Life will donate $2.50 for each approved post, with a minimum of $25K & a maximum of $100K. 
See full terms and conditions at NewYorkLife.com/CelebratingGood. Find info about Feeding America at feedingamerica.org.


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Football and family - the story of a daughter and her dad and the legacy he left.

The Eldest Son Has Returned

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

eldest son

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

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

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

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

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

I realize now that he wasn’t kidding.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sue Robins

Photo credits: Sue Robins