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?

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.

Why Teens Terrorize Us

Lisa writes: I have a teen in my house who is leaving in a few short weeks. Despite the fact that I know that it is only a matter of days until I will bemoan his departure, I am still surprisingly adept at flying into a rage at him. His need to assert his newly adult self and my need to control what happens in my home are too often on a collision course. Despite our deep and abiding love for them, teens continue to terrorize us, creating the type of stress that scientists have now begun to measure.

teenager, teen boy

One day your young person borrows your car, drives to a summer job and spends the day as an income-earning citizen fully capable of responsible employment. That very afternoon, your kitchen is trashed, there are dirty clothes carpeting the floor, and a well-established curfew has been dispensed with like it wasn’t even there. Your authority has been trampled. Your gas tank and refrigerator are empty, every inch of your car teems with discarded Gatorade bottles, beef jerky wrappers and trash that is simply beyond identification.

You remind yourself that this is what teens are like, alternately capable young adults and selfish self-involved children. You recall that it is the age, that they do not stay like this. If there are older children you throw your mind back to their transformation and then you turn around, willing yourself to be calm, and shriek, “WTF, that is the last time you borrow my car.”

I am alternately trying to figure out how to say goodbye to a child I love beyond reason and so apoplectic I cannot even speak to him. The seesaw that is raising a teen is a source of much stress. Some of it is undoubtedly my fault (or any parent’s fault) as we lurch around and grapple for steady ground as our children travel the rocky road to adulthood.

It is not me, it is the facts.

For any parent who thought the teen years were stressful, research has recently arrived to say just how right you were. A poll released this week by the Harvard School of Public Health, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and National Public Radio found that fully one-third of those adults living with one or more teens had experienced a great deal of stress in the previous month.

In the NPR broadcast highlighting this study and the trouble of living with teens, one mother explained, “I love this child more than I love myself, and I know what’s around the corner and I’m trying to tell him and he’s just ignoring me, and I really can’t say or do anything about it. I just have to let him experience it and hope and pray that it’s not a life-changing mistake.”

She continued,”Everything I demanded, he fought back. Advice? He didn’t need it. Conversation? He didn’t want it. It was hands down the toughest journey of my life so far….”

Dealing with Terrible Teens

In order to deal with their stress, Clinical psychologist David Palmiter suggests parents seek support from other parents, that they share concerns and decisions. Parents, dealing with their own teens can provide us with camaraderie, encouragement and constructive solutions. Sites like Grown and Flown can be a forum for just that kind of conversation about the Trouble with Teens!

It’s tough to retain your equanimity when teens lash out but University of Virginia Professor of Education and psychologist Peter Sheras urges parents to do otherwise. “What all this research really says to parents is, ‘Don’t freak out,’” Sheras says. “What you are experiencing, lots of other parents experience, too, so don’t take it personally when your child says, ‘I really hate you, Mom.’”

Teens terrorize us because:

They are neither one thing nor another. They are capable of being sane mature adults and petulant children, in the very same conversation. They have the bodies of grown ups and the emotional range of toddlers.

They are risk seeking missiles whose favorite phrase is “I got this” when it is patently clear that they’ve got nothing. Our protective urge is undiminished but our ability to assure their safety is vastly reduced. This alone can result in sky-high stress.

They routinely overestimate their competence in dealing with adult matters. Even in the face of bad outcomes teens can struggle to see either their fault or how they could have done things differently. As parents with a lifetime of experience, this is painful to watch.

They inhabit a world of very real consequences. Their missteps can have profound effects on their future (and on others) yet they struggle to understand the gravity of their attitudes and actions.

They live on an emotional rollercoaster and as Lisa Belkin pointed out, they want us to ride it with them. She so aptly explains that we do not need to climb aboard with them (although it takes parents a while to learn this) but this still means that there is a fairground ride operating in our homes.

It all happens so quickly and we can barely catch our breath. At age 14 only 13% of teens had used alcohol in the previous month by age 18 that number is 41%. Similarly before age 15, 16% of teens have had sex and four years later that number is 71%. By the time the leave for college 54% of kids have been sexting.  Much is changing in their lives, experiences and perspectives and as parents we can struggle to keep up.

It is just hard dealing with anyone, at any age, who already knows everything. This impenetrable fortress of knowledge is just one more battle ground in the fight between experience and the hubris of youth.

Adolescents confuse understanding with agreement.They think saying so, makes it so, according to Sheras, “They think if they explain something to you adequately, you will agree with them. So when parents say, ‘I’m not going to let you do that,’ adolescents almost universally say, ‘You don’t understand.’”

The influence of their peers outweighs ours. It is excruciating when you child values the insight of a peer (a mere child) whom he may have known for weeks or days, over the person who loves him the most and has his interest at heart (and BTW is an adult). It is hard not to wonder where their critical thinking has gone.

The balance has shifted. When our kids were small and we were unhappy with them or disciplined them, they got angry or contrite but they were not indifferent. If, in doing our jobs as parents of teens we make them unhappy, they may now withdraw. Punishing our kids always felt bad, but the silent treatment or their physical retreat makes it even worse.

I have long subscribed the U shape theory of parenting which suggests that the most challenging days are at the beginning and the end and that the sweet spot of parenting lies in the middle. I once told my brother that I would do a deal with the devil if my then 6, 9 and 10 year olds could stay little forever. The devil wasn’t buying and my kids became teens.

Top Twelve Dorm Shopping Mistakes

Mary Dell writes: With high school graduation behind us, Lisa and I are turning our focus to the day we will drop our youngest kids off at their freshmen dorms. Though we prefer to stick our heads in the sand and ignore the inevitable, it is time to get them ready for the tiny new living spaces that will be their homes away from home. Five years ago, we were rookie moms and made our share of rookie mistakes. Frankly, we bought a lot of crap. This time, with experience on our side, we hope to give you some thoughts on how to approach what might be your last back-to-school shopping trip….in life. trash cans

1. NOT a School Supply List

My daughter’s college mailed a “What to Bring” list with seven categories and 82 separate items. Do not treat this like the school supply lists from your child’s elementary school where, scavenger hunt-style, we dutifully checked off each item while wheeling a cart through Staples. Instead, concentrate on basic needs. Anything and everything else can be ordered later online.

2. Dorms are Miniscule

Keep this mantra in mind…..Less is More, Less is More. Dorm rooms are tiny and spaces, shared. There is minimal room for the necessities and no room for extras. Forget oversize.

3. Kids are Pigs

Ever seen a photo of a lived-in college room? Appalled? We are, too. The dorm room you help your kid set up will begin to deteriorate the moment you wave your tearful goodbye. In the next nine months, your son or daughter will welcome friends into that room where every surface will be treated as a chair. Some of the “dorm room essentials” you eagerly purchased in July will be stuffed in corners, unopened and collecting dust until they are rediscovered in May. College Dorm

4. The Container Store Savings

Everything about college is expensive, and that includes dorm shopping so look for some great shopping deals. If you live near one of 50 Container Stores staging a College Savings Event, July 13-27, your son or daughter can attend with a 20% off coupon in hand. Click on The Container Store Facebook events page for more info about each location and a downloadable coupon. Some stores will be having special evenings exclusively for collegiate shoppers with tote bags for early arrivers, prizes, music and water and snacks from Whole Foods. There will be a set up for “selfies” and in-store specialists waiting to help.

5. Underbed Space? You Have No Clue

This is the single biggest question mark that your kid may not know the answer to until move in day. So those bed risers you were convinced would be perfect? They don’t work with bunk beds and are unnecessary with many elevated beds. Resist the urge to plan for this space until you know the dimensions.

6. Be Careful with Meds

This is one area where over buying is dangerous. Whenever our teenagers were sick, we knew which analgesic, decongestant, or antihistamine to dole out. We have decades of experience in understanding how over the-counter medicines should be taken. Our kids do not and, if we send them off to college with all the meds and none of the wisdom, it is very easy for them to over medicate as they battle their first cold while trying to finish a paper and study for a test. So prescription meds, band aids, a thermometer, and Neosporin – yes. But leave out multiple meds that have the same active ingredients. This is on the advice of none other than Dr. Travis Stork of the The Doctors so take it from him if not from us! (BTW, Target will give send you a free first aid kit bag if you purchase three items like band aids or headache remedies.) Dr. Travis Stork, The Doctors

7. Don’t Buy Crap

Even the most careful kid will be hard pressed to keep their college possessions in good shape as they move in and out of dorm rooms and college apartments for the next four years. Fragile and dainty will become ripped up and broken. Whatever goes in your shopping cart must be judged for durability. Put it back on the shelf if it doesn’t pass muster.

8. Flying or Driving?

There is a fork in the road here and you already know which path you will take with your freshman kid. If you are flying, it will be impossible to bring much more than your child’s clothes, electronics, x-long sheets/comforter and prescription meds. Seek out the “click and pick up” services from The Container Store, Bed, Bath and Beyond and Target. If you are driving your kid, you may still want to use this service and have a far more comfortable ride.

9. No Room for Luggage

As adults, we are accustomed to traveling with luggage but we also have closets wherever we land. College kids have minimal storage space, so consider the collapsible duffel bag that is hanging around in your basement as the perfect piece of luggage. When our son began to drive himself back and forth to school, he used garbage bags for luggage which meant he had a starter pack for the trash can when he arrived. college move-in day

10. One Pillow is Not Enough

Your kid’s dorm bed will function as bedroom/living room/study and the pillow he sleeps on will not be enough to lean back onto as he studies. Bring a second bed pillow, a large square pillow in a sham, or a backrest pillow to cushion the hard wood or wall.

11. Power Struggle

Your kid will travel to college with a phone, maybe an iPod, a computer, possibly a printer or a lamp, and, if the dorm is not air-conditioned, a fan. Girls will also throw into their bags a blow dryer and hair straightener. All of this translates into a serious need for extra plugs. Do not forget a power strip with surge protection on a long cord. Some of these come with built-in USB port chargers, which can be very handy.

12. Eating not Cooking

A mini-fridge is a real necessity and the single piece of equipment that roommates need to discuss before move-in day. There is space for only one so rent or buy, decide to share the cost or someone can own outright. Plan on helping your son or daughter get this in-house before you turn off on the highway back home. The summer before my eldest went to college, I had a powerful nesting urge, much like I did 18 years before when I prepared for his nursery. I poured over every dorm room essential, checklist and must haves at every store with a dorm display. This time my approach is completely different. I will buy two sets of x-long sheets, my daughter will pick out a comforter in a color that she loves. We have an egg crate mattress topper to add to the slim pad that is supplied by the school. She will pack her clothes, shoes and electronics. Fortunately, she knows the dimensions of the under bed space in her dorm room so we will buy heavy plastic storage drawers to fit. They will double as luggage for our drive. She will bring a poster for the wall with photos of friends, family and her dog. We know where the closest CVS is for stocking up on the generic supplies. The stores all have college lists, but view them with a discriminating eye. Step stools? Paper towel holders? Lots of extra plastic boxes? Think twice.

Here is what will NOT make the cut:

  • Alarm clock – there is an app for that.
  • Furniture – there is no space for a futon or side table or anything decorative.
  • Kitchen – no toasters or blenders, no dishes, cups or silverware that must be washed after use.
  • Media storage – no need for CDs or DVDs, all media comes through her laptop.
  • Pictures in frames – ditto, just flip open the laptop.
  • Plants – guaranteed to die.
  • Cleaning supplies – in our dreams, sadly, college kids don’t clean, so no vacuum, no mop
  • Desk Lamp – worth checking first if it is needed. Many rooms have adequate overhead light and computers are backlit.
  • Composition books, binders, dividers – some of these have gone the way of the dinosaur. Let your kid start class and figure out his own study methods. Many kids prefer to take notes online and have far fewer paper needs than they did in high school. Don’t rush to waste money on a bunch of dead trees.
  • Desk chair – be very careful here, most college provide a chair and you will just end up driving it back home.
  • Printer – might also be an enormous waste of money. Many schools have networked printers available to students and assignment are often turned in online. Desks do not have much room and the floor is a filthy place for an expensive piece of electronic equipment.

Well worth considering:

  • Shoe racks for the closet floor or hanging over the closet door. Shoe space is very limited and this creates a bit more.
  • Closet storage maximizers that hang from the closet bar provide a great place to put sweaters, sweatshirts or any bulky items.
  • Fan if the weather/air conditioning suggest the need for it. Compact fans can do a big job in steamy dorm rooms, no need to buy a big one.
  • Hooks that tape to the wall are handy for jackets, towels or jewelry to keep thing (wishful) off the floor.
  • Small rugs are worth considering but be wary this may not get vacuumed all year. Small throw rugs that can go into the washing machine might work best.
  • Shower caddy – first check what the bathroom situation is. If your child is using a large communal bathroom at the end of the hall, this might be a necessity. If the bathroom is close at hand and shared by few, a waste of money.
  • Mattress pad and bed bug protector, money well spent!
  • Trash can? Some rooms come equipped, others do not, worth checking first.
  • Is your child a coffee/tea drinker? A small electric kettle or the mini Keurig might be a big money saver if they are used to a couple of daily cups of caffeine.
  • Towels – consider monograming or a distinctive color.  Basic white are too easy to mistake for anther’s towels.

One final thought about move in day. It will be crowded, it will be hot, and there will be lousy parking. You child will come face to face with her new roommate for the first time and you will also shake hands with your counterparts. Help her make up her bed and pull the sheets snug. Drive her to the nearest store for shampoo and her favorite body wash. Help her stock the mini fridge.

Finally, slip her a letter  telling her how proud you are of her and how this day is one you  know she worked hard to achieve. Tell her you love her. Hug her tight and know that it is time for her to take it from here.

And from our readers:

From our own Carpool Goddess: Swap out warm weather for cool weather clothes when they come home during the holiday breaks, as space is limited. Linda has some great Get Ready for College Suggestions HERE.

Jill Rutherford Hall:  Dorm rooms have their own special smell.  A few of those odor absorbing jars would not go amiss! Disposable cleaning wipes may the the only thing they use.

Wendy Roever Nelson from My Kids College Choice: A dry erase board is a great to do list mounted on the wall

Theresa DePaepe: A small tool kit is very handy, will be in demand among dorm mates and they now come in nice colors for graduation gifts

Cindy Redd: Look for those pop-up air fresheners to sit on the desk

Sally Neely Nix: 3M strips for mounting pictures on the walls where nails are forbidden.

 

Dorm shopping

That Perfect Letter

Lisa writes: You know those wonderful, heartfelt letters that moms slip into their kid’s camp bags or college duffels, the ones with wisdom and love that make lifetime momentos? Yeah, well, I have never written one of those. Everytime I hear of a wonderful parent who takes the time and care to compose such a missive to their college kid,  I beat myself up for a few moments as a derelict parent. And then promise myself, next time.

Love stamp And as I am fairly certain in the rush to get my third son off to college I will once again fail to write that perfect letter, here is what I might have said, if I could get my act together.

College is a Privilege

Sure, I expected you to go and, in turn, you expected nothing less from yourself. But this in no way takes away from the fact that spending four years learning, growing and focused almost exclusively on yourself is a gift like none other. Before you set foot on campus think through the sweep of human history and try to guess how many people were given this opportunity. Only after you have acknowledged just how rare and special this gift is, will I help move you into your dorm.

Best Four Years of Your Life

You have heard adults say it a hundred times and it may be true, but it is not automatically so. Imbibe deeply of all that a University has to offer. Heap your plate with its academic, athletic, cultural and social offerings. Never again will life mix youth, freedom, opportunity and resources together in quite this heady combination. If these are to be the very best years, you must make them so.

First Weeks of College are a Time like None Other

Everyone will want to meet you and there will be none of the social awkwardness that usually accompanies rushing up and speaking to total strangers. Do not squander this short window of opportunity, it will never come around again.

Drinking Dilemma

You are now in a place where alcohol is both tacitly allowed and legally forbidden. The only thing that stands between you and a very bad experience is your own good judgment. But here is the tricky part. You need to exercise that good judgment at the very moment when it is already impaired by alcohol.

Being Friends in High School was Easy

You sat in the same classes or did the same activities as your high school friends. In college, maintaining friendships is a bit more work. After college it is a lot more work. Investing in friendships now pays dividends forever, truly forever.

Living With Those Who Love You

It is your good fortune to never have lived in a place where no one loved you or frankly cared a whit about you. At the outset, college is that place. Despite everyone’s outward cheer in the first weeks of college you will have no real friends. Sure you will know some kids, but these are not true friends, yet. They are still just acquaintances you really like. It is better to live amongst those you love, but it takes time and only you can make this happen. College gets better after that first Thanksgiving.

Do Not Fool Yourself, I Was 18

When you look at me you probably see “Mom” and “Old.” Do not fool yourself. Not one fiber of my being has forgotten how it feels to be 18. If you have a problem, talk to me. Few things you will say will shock me and there is every chance, though admittedly just a chance, that I might have a good suggestion. And while the law may recognize you as an adult, I promise you that you still have much to learn.

I have loved you every moment of your life. Even as you prepare to move out, I shock myself by loving you even more. This love comes without strings, but life does not. If there are things you want to achieve, knowledge you want to gain, friends you want to make it is now entirely up to you.

Twelve Hours and Counting: Diary of a Dreaded Graduation

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

graduation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What the hell’s going on?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is a great day, after all.

Barbara Solomon Josselsohn

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

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

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

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

Classroom

Middle School is No Man’s Land

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

Freshman Year and The Brave New World

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

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

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

Sophomore Year and a Chance to Screw Up

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

Junior Year and Nine Tortuous Months

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

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

Senior Year and the Victory Lap

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

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