Good From Far

I find it amusing when parents preface a complaint about their child with, “I mean, I love my kid but…” I find this disclaimer unnecessary because I believe it is implied by virtue of birth (or adoption) that a parent loves their child. Let’s be real though – sometimes it’s hard to love them to the moon and back.

There are so many articles or “list-acles” about how to raise perfect children and be perfect parents and perfect families. I confess that my eyes glaze over when I see an article that tells me the ten things I need to do to raise respectful, moral, interesting, hardworking, non-entitled, you name it kids. While I value expertise and seek it out when needed, I wonder what happened to good old common sense and listening to your gut? Sure, my gut may not have a huge social media presence but it’s gotten me pretty far.

The oldest of my four children is almost 21 and a junior in college. We happily made the transition from being his supervisor to his consultant. However, I find it a bit stressful when he comes home for breaks. Suddenly I have to see his comings and goings, notice his grooming habits, worry when he is out at night. I appreciate that he tries to spend time with our family but I know that he prefers to be with his friends. I understand too that he doesn’t appreciate me asking too many questions or giving unsolicited advice. I try to keep my thoughts to myself but am not always successful.

He recently went abroad for the semester. We are thrilled he has this opportunity and he is excited about being in a foreign country and meeting new people. Truth be told, I am happy he is away. I have noticed that the distance between us allows me to see the best in him. He calls when he wants to talk so we have interesting conversations, as opposed to me trying to drag information out of him. I admire and appreciate his independence and adventurous spirit. I am reminded that he is a kind, sweet, curious and outgoing person. I hope the distance allows him to see more of my virtues instead of a nagging, intrusive mother.

I realize I will not want my children to be far away forever. When they get married and have children I can only imagine it would be nice to have them nearby so we can be a part of each other’s lives. But I am learning to appreciate each stage of parenting, from both sides. My widowed 81 year old father, who lived nearby for most of my adult life, moved to Israel three years ago to begin a new life for himself. He remarried and has an active, rich life. I am delighted that he has interests and a life separate from mine. We can enjoy each other during visits and in phone calls and not be irritated as frequently by our quirks.

I don’t mean to say that I prefer to avoid the underbelly of life. It is part of what makes life real and interesting. Instead, I appreciate the breaks and find sometimes that distance truly makes the heart grow fonder.

Four Beautiful Words


I just passed through another of life’s parenting milestones. My eldest child went to college, to the University of Maryland. It’s only 30 minutes away but once you’re on campus, you could be 30 hours away. I have no expectation that he will come home on weekends and told him I don’t really expect him to come home until Thanksgiving. We walked around the campus a bit after he was settled in his room, but I could tell he was ready for us to leave.

So we did.

It was strange to come home without him but we’re used to him not being around. He’s been away from home a lot and he has an active social life. He’s been slowly drifting away from us, which, as all the parenting manuals tells us, is what they are supposed to do. We are keenly aware of this being a rite of passage – both for our son and for ourselves. Are we really old enough to have a kid in college? We’re a little sad that this phase of being a parent to this child is over. But as a friend pointed out to us, we still have a deep bench at home with three other tweens and teens around to supervise.

Mostly we feel excited for him. Walking around campus reminded us of how awesome and fun college is. How could we feel anything but excitement? On the flip side, we’re reminded of how awesome and fun college is. How could we feel anything but terrified? It feels a little like tossing him out into the world, with a pat on the rear end, a wave of the hand, and a jolly “good luck to you son.” I know he’s smart enough to fend for himself and I trust the universe will be kind to him, or at least kind enough.

He was a little wistful when his high school friends started leaving to go out of state, thinking they would have a much more geographically diverse population of friends to pick from and more exotic college towns. I assured him that he would meet people from all over the country who come to Maryland, as well as people from places in Maryland that he’s never been to or even heard of.

When he called home after a few days, he said, “You were right Mom.”

Whoa, hold up. Did he just say I was right? I wasn’t prepared. I couldn’t ask him to say it again more slowly, could I? Where’s ESPN when you need it? She shoots she scores!!!

Certainly I will be wrong about lots of things I am asked to consult on in the future. It was such a gift to be right, at least about something, as he ventures out into the adult world. It was a little validation that some of the wisdom I tried to drop on him throughout his life may have occasionally penetrated his consciousness.

My work is done, for now. Yeah, right, until he needs cash. Then I’ll be right on the money.

Soiling the Nest

Soiling the Nest

My son’s departure date is fast approaching. He just graduated from high school and is going on a three-month learning experience in Israel and Eastern Europe. I vacillate between being irritated by him/looking forward to his leaving and adoring him/being excited for his adventure/feeling a smidge sad that he’s going. Just the other day he came back from a four-day youth group convention out of town. It was just starting to snow and I was cooking delicious treats, looking forward to being snowed in with my family.

“I’m going to spend the night at my friend’s house,” he announced, “I haven’t seen my buddies in five days.”

“Okaaay, but you’re going to spend three months with them,” I reminded him. I had hoped he would want to spend some time with us, and then felt a little pathetic, like a dog waiting for scraps of attention. I had a brief pity party and then I remembered being seventeen. I preferred my friends’ company to my family’s for a long time. My son has clearly crossed the line of wanting to be with his friends more than with his family. I know it’s normal and appropriate, but sometimes it bugs me. How could he not want to be with us? Aren’t we as awesome as we think we are? I also find annoying his occasional intolerance of my benign inquiries, like “what are your plans for the day?” I’m an awful, intrusive mother – obviously.

I was venting to my sister about my mixed emotions. “Sounds like he’s soiling the nest,” she said.

Precisely. I have heard about this phenomenon and am now experiencing it firsthand. Obviously, he is not literally soiling our home. Psychologists say graduating seniors may struggle with vulnerability and self-doubt about being equipped to fling themselves into the daunting unknowns of the next stage of life.  They cannot directly confront their sadness about saying good-bye to the familiar “knowns” of childhood. How could they take flight, so weighed down by such emotional burdens? Better to fling off all that drag and fixate only on enhancing the “good riddance” of their good-byes. Better yet, why not soil the nest on the way out, “gifting” US with an easier “good-riddance to you too”  good-bye ?!  The more toxic and messy they are, the easier transitioning to the next phase will be, for them, and for us.  I know we’ve got a fairly mild case of nest soiling. My son is not toxic or even particularly messy. He is generally sweet and thoughtful. But I gotta say – I’ll be kind of glad when he goes. This waiting period is hard. Ripping the band-aid off seems the better way to go.

The parties are over, the important talks have been had, with emphasis on “Don’t do anything to embarrass yourself, your family or your school.” Let’s face it – it’s about him, but it’s also about us – the parents. No big to-do or send-off as we cross the line of this next milestone in the life of our family.

There have already been inquiries from his siblings about the use of his empty bedroom. Looks like some nest-reorganizing is in our future. At least until what’s-his-name comes back.


Look Away


My eldest is leaving the house this month. Seniors at his school graduate in February and go on a three-month trip to Israel with a side-tour to Eastern Europe. He’ll leave a vacant bedroom and the family “hot-seat.” When you have several children, a parent’s attention shifts from child to child depending on who’s the neediest at the time. Our family configuration will change with the oldest gone. I have mixed emotions but mostly I’m happy for him as he sets off for the next phase of his life. Full disclosure – I’m also sad to lose the extra driver in my family. He’s been driving his 13-year-old brother to school for the past year, a job which I now get to resume. I enjoyed the hiatus but am intrigued by the opportunities this presents. I was driving my two youngest to school recently and asked my son if he and his brother talked much when they drove to school together.

“Some,” he said, “but usually we’re pretty tired.”

“Well, now you and I will get lots of time to talk,” I enthusiastically said.

In my rear view mirror, this prompted an excellent, textbook eye-roll from my daughter. I knew I was on to something.

With the eldest leaving the nest, I can turn my attention to the other children in the house. We’re done with driving lessons, college entrance exams, the college search, etc with the first-born. Sure, there will be other things we need to teach him but from a different vantage point. It won’t be that daily, up-close-in-your-face kind of parenting.

It’s the lucky children who remain in the house who are the recipients of our wisdom and attention, whether they want it or not. Next in the birth order in our family is our son with special needs. He gets a lot of attention for his health issues – he has a feeding tube and a medication schedule, but truthfully – as long as he is relatively healthy and happy our attention stops there. It’s the third child who is next in line for our scrutiny. I’m sure he has no idea what’s in store for him. I’m looking forward to getting to know this creature again, now that he’s smack in the middle of the teenage morphing years. Maybe now that I’ve practiced my parenting skills on my eldest, I can perfect them with this child. Or maybe I’ve learned what’s important and I just won’t care about the same stuff. It’s kind of like a weird science experiment – so many variables and hypotheses.

Strangely, I find myself thinking of the swimming pool of all places. For a few years, I volunteered as a “stroke and turn” judge for our neighborhood summer swim team. I had to scan three of the six lanes of the pool to make sure the swimmers were swimming “legally.” If there happened to be only one swimmer and two empty lanes, we were taught to keep scanning as if there were three swimmers so the one swimmer didn’t have a disadvantage of being watched every moment. Each swimmer should benefit from the judge’s gaze being averted.

This struck me as a great metaphor for parenting. I don’t think it serves my children well to have my attention every minute, all the time. I am constantly scanning their lives while deliberately looking away occasionally. Nobody wants to be watched all the time.

By looking away, I may miss the occasional “illegal” strokes or turns in my kids’ lives. Let’s hope my parental scanner will pick up the stuff that really counts.

Preschool Cred

shutterstock_203431999Last month I went to pick up my ten-year-old daughter who was swimming with friends at a local pool and came across a preschool “graduation” party.  They looked so little to me – it was hard to believe they would be kindergartners in September.  The teacher recognized my daughter’s friends as former students at her school.  I confirmed that yes, they had gone to that preschool but my daughter had not.

“She did go to preschool though; she is a preschool graduate,” I quickly assured her. The absurdity of my response struck me, as if my daughter’s pedigree was in question.

Now I’m at another transitional education point – my eldest child will apply to college in the fall.  This time there are three adults (I know – it’s generous to call a 17-year-old an adult) involved in this decision, not two. We hope we have instilled in our son the ability to allow his life to unfold organically. I guess we’re about to find out if he will apply similar criteria to the college search that we did for the preschool search:

1) Is it a place where my child will be safe and happy?

2) Will he have a variety of learning opportunities, both academic and social?

Beyond that, I am not sweating the small stuff and fortunately neither is he, at least so far.  I am confident that he will get into one of the 3,500 colleges and universities in this country.  He is a great kid with a “resume” that reflects his interests, capabilities and growth. He has an idea of the kind of place he’d like to attend, and we support him wholeheartedly.

“Remember the crib,” my husband and I remind each other.

When we were shopping for a crib before our first child was born, we looked at many cribs in an enormous baby store until our eyes glazed over.  They were all nice and would all do the job. Do we buy the super expensive most beautiful crib or the functional, practical one?  We settled on the latter.  We realized once we got it home that we didn’t remember what any of those other cribs looked like.  What made our crib adorable was the baby in it.

We apply the crib theory to most decisions in our lives: don’t agonize, go with your gut feeling, and trust your inner voice.  We’ve found you don’t need to treat every decision as if it’s a high-stakes, win-lose situation.  Generally, things turn out the way they are supposed to.

My children are all preschool graduates, from a few different “schools.”  They don’t remember their preschool years, but I do.  As long as they were in a place where they were safe and happy, that was fine with me.  The fanciest, most prestigious, most expensive schools were not the criteria we used to pick preschools.  Location and a good vibe was what we were looking for.

“I thought you sent me to school to learn,” I told my mother when I sent my first child to preschool, “but it’s the best child-care ever!”

It was an epiphany for me. I was not the mother weeping when her two-year-old went off to class for three hours, twice a week. I was the one skipping happily out of the building to savor a few hours of freedom.

College will be a different experience, but maybe not so different.  Yes, he will study and learn. And he will put into practice the lessons he learned in preschool like how to use his words, how to share, and how to keep his hands to himself (hopefully.)  He will start out in a dorm with people looking out for him.  Something tells me I won’t be skipping away when we drop him off.  What a difference a few years makes.

I try to keep it all in perspective – a happy and independent adult is the goal, however he gets there.