Tag Archives: Kids in College

Hello, my name is…

He stepped into my kitchen and extended his hand. I smiled and greeted him. While shaking his hand I glanced around the room.

My son was surrounded by his friends. Some he hadn’t seen since they all scattered for college nearly a year ago. They resembled the boys he hung out with in the past, only taller, with deeper voices, and facial hair. But this one I had never met. So he introduced himself.

“I’m John,” he said.

“I’m Miss Lisha,” I replied. But the sound of that name felt strange.

I realize that naming traditions and salutations vary in different places, so let me explain how we do it here. In the South, most adults are referred to as “Mister” or “Miss” followed by their first name. “Miss Lisha” has been the name my sons’ friends have called me for their entire lives. It always seemed right.

ImageDuring our years in the military, my husband and I were referred to by our surname, his salutation preceded by his rank, mine my “Mrs.” In those circles, it seemed right.

But this felt strange. What do I call myself to my grown sons’ friends?

This is new territory for me, and I’m not really sure how to handle it.

If I were meeting this young man in the workplace I would have introduced myself as “Lisha” without hesitation. But he was part of my son’s posse, and that made it feel different. In this setting, it almost felt a bit creepy, a bit too familiar for a personal introduction.

Now, I’ve never had any hang-ups about titles or formalities. To be honest, the whole “Mrs. Fink” thing makes me feel either antiquated or pretentious. I accepted it as part of our military lifestyle, but I much prefer “Miss Lisha.” It’s my “mom title.” Which is, after all, how I’ve defined myself for over two decades.

But now, with grown kids, who am I?

Miss Lisha? Lisha? I don’t know. Perhaps it’s time for a cool nickname so I can avoid the whole thing.

I want my boys to continue to use these “courtesy titles” with the adults they have known since childhood. Neighbors, mothers and fathers of their friends, even teachers with whom they still keep in touch. It’s a sign of respect – for them and for our traditions. But what about new introductions?

I guess I’m going to have to give this some time. I should probably take the lead from the kids young adults themselves. It’s new territory for them, too.

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Good riddance.

The morning started like every other school day. Except this one was different. This was the day he was leaving.

As I went through the motions of getting my youngest son ready for his school day, I was preparing myself for my middle son to leave for college.

Amid the hustle of making breakfast and double-checking backpacks, I was trying to think of the little things he still needed to pack, and all the things I wanted to tell him. Time did not permit, however, and we hustled out the door.

But there was still so much I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him to keep breakfast food in his room, because he likes to sleep til the absolute last minute. But there was no time.

We drove little brother to school in C’s car, with dad following in my packed SUV. Mr. Wonderful let me ride with my boy, allowing me to squeeze in the last few precious hours. After dropping his brother off, we rendezvoused for breakfast.

Once we settled in at a table my husband asked, “What Shakespeare play had that dad who gave the good advice to his son? ‘Neither a borrower nor a lender be…’”

“Hamlet,” C replied.

Then he looked across the table with a smirk and said, “Dad, don’t be a Polonius.”

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans. (Source: theoldglobe.org)

The moment looked a little like this, only at a Subway in New Orleans.
(Source: theoldglobe.org)

His father smiled back in silent agreement.

But there was still so much more I wanted to say.

I wanted to remind him that I’d packed all the medicine he’d need if he got sick, and that his insurance card was in his wallet. And that if he needed anything, he had my credit card.

Instead we chatted about the campus, and its proximity to the beach. Then we got back in the cars and headed east.

For the next few hours, Slick and I chatted about many things. Some profound, some mundane. Some practical, some superfluous.

But there was still much more I wanted to say.

And before I knew it, we arrived at campus. We unloaded the car and unpacked his things. We discussed the importance of organization when mom wasn’t there to find things. We talked about the dynamics of living with a roommate. Not ready to separate, we went shopping for snacks and drinks and breakfast foods, and notebooks and pens and extension cords. We had lunch and laughed when he spilled ketchup on his shorts – and I wished I’d bought that stain remover thing I’d seen in Target. Then I remembered doing laundry with Mr. Wonderful in college, and smiled. He’d figure it out. And he’ll have the time of his life doing so.

We returned to the dorm and I felt a quiet satisfaction, knowing he was ready.

It was time for me to go.

Quickly, before he had a chance to see me cry.

I told him again how much I loved him, and how proud I was of the man he had become. And even though there was so much more I wanted to say, I simply said goodbye.

Good riddance, son. I hope you have the time of your life.

(Click the link, it all makes sense when you do.)


The New Normal

For everything there is a season.

And every season ends.

Giving us a new beginning.

All this philosophizing is my way of revealing something kind of big. Big to me, at least.

I’ve gone back to work. Five days a week. In shoes and business attire. (Cue sad music.)

For the last twenty years I’ve had the luxury of working part-time, pursuing entrepreneurial endeavors, and frankly, having time to myself. Now before you get an image of me eating bon bons and watching Oprah, let me backtrack. In that time I’ve had three kids, cared for ailing parents, managed our rental properties, run a business from home and kept up with my military husband, including a deployment. (There are no bon bons in my home and I’m not a fan of the Big O.)

But it was all done on our terms, and shoes were largely optional for most of it. It was a luxury we allowed ourselves, and our children and lifestyle were the beneficiaries.

Now, as we enter the next season – having two kids in college – that season is coming to an end.

So I find myself embarking on a new adventure. Trying to figure out how to continue doing all of the things that filled my days while managing a five-day-a-week commitment to an employer. Our tenants aren’t going away, and our elder care responsibilities have only changed a little. With two boys in college my laundry load should be lighter, and I won’t need as big a pot on the stove most days, but I’m wondering how that’s going to free up enough time for a job.

Are you ready to call the wh-ambulance for me yet?

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

Thank you for the royalty-free image, Microsoft.

I’m not really here to whine. (Well, maybe just a little.) But I am feeling the need to express just how terrified I am about the whole idea. The idea of failing.

Will I fail at the new job? There are technical aspects that I’ll have to learn. I’m starting to think of myself in the “old dog” category.  I don’t really want to learn how to use the new Tivo remote. So learning a new job where making a mistake costs people time and money is scaring the crap out of me.

Will I fail my kids? Will I have energy to help the Caboose with his homework? Will I have time to visit Slick at his new college out of state? Will I be able to help the Trailblazer settle in to his new house this fall?

Will I fail as a wife? Will I have time to fulfill my “wifely” duties? (Cooking Italian food, not the other thing.)

Perhaps I’ll just have to practice what I preach, and let myself off the hook for all of that, and remember why I’m going back to work. So my kids can have the futures we want for them.

The new normal will mean the house won’t be as tidy. But I already have a philosophy about that. I’ll just need to employ it. My garden won’t be as green. Not a tragedy. My youngest son, who’ll be the only kid left at home come August will have to become more responsible and independent. But it’s time for that anyway.

So it turns out it’s not really a big deal after all. Just a new season of my life.

He really was listening.

Evidently he heard the real words. Not just these.

All those years, when I was yelling sharing my wisdom with the children, it seems The Trailblazer really was listening.

This week I called him at school to discuss a change that’s going to be happening to our family soon. (The details of which are a story for another day.) I tell him about it, expecting a reaction of surprise, probably objection, definitely questions. Since he spends nine months of the year away at school, it affects him the least, but it’s still a big change.

After a brief discussion, he pauses and says, “I’m sure you and dad thought it through, so if that’s what you decided, then I’m sure that’s what’s best.”

There was a lifetime of reward crammed in that one sentence.

He actually said “I’m sure you and dad have thought it through…”

Did he really acknowledge that his parents are capable of intelligent thought? I wasn’t expecting that paradigm shift until he was about 30.

Did he really understand that we had considered the impact on everyone, and deemed it the right thing? I think he did.

Now, maybe he was just trying to get me off the phone so he could resume his game of beer pong studying. Or maybe he’s trying to figure out how to stay in Baton Rouge this summer to avoid it altogether.

Or maybe he meant what he said. Yeah, I’m going with that.

I’m giving myself a gold star for raising that boy. I hope the other ones have been listening, too.

Saying Goodbye to Small, Medium, and Large

I used to have three little kids.  One was Small, one was Medium, one was Large.  Their clothing, their shoes, the servings on their plates all reflected their birth order appropriately.  We had no trouble determining whose clothes belonged to whom, which bicycle was the right size for which kid. They were spaced out by enough years that there  were clear markers of birth order by the size of everything.

You may not know this yet, we’re smaller than the average family.  Dad’s a towering 5’6”, and mom a proud 5’2”, so our offspring are destined to be of short stature.  By other people’s standards, we’re all small.  But within our home we’ve always had a distinct – albeit relative – range of sizes.

As any mom of small kids will tell you, we watch growth carefully.  We celebrate when we make it to the 5th percentile on pediatric growth charts, and then have “the talk” when we fall back off the charts.  Growth ebbs and flows in pre-pubescent boys, and small boys often go through puberty later than their taller friends, exacerbating the physical differences for a while.  But we are what we are, and in this house, we’re okay with that.

Slick was two years old when we first began monitoring his slow growth.  My pediatrician did that little formula that pediatricians do with a child’s two-year-old stats and calculated his estimated adult height.  His came out 1” taller than his older brother’s.  The doctor laughed, being a younger brother himself, and told me to expect Slick to pass The Trailblazer up in height at age 16.

Lo and behold, in the last six months, they got to be the same height.  When The Trailblazer comes home from college for visits, we have the mandatory height check to compare stature.  And it happened.  He passed his brother up.  Only by a half-inch or so, but that was enough to make it official.  The older brother is now the smaller brother.  And both are taller than mom and dad.

It’s strange.  And wonderful.  Because it means they have become men.  And they are comfortable with who they are.  (Except for The Trailblazer.  He’s a bit miffed about the taller little bro.)

Then, last week, another strange thing happened.  The Caboose needed a green t-shirt to wear to school for a Spirit Week event.  I pulled a green T out of the dryer (y’all know I hate folding laundry), and realized it was The Trailblazer’s.  But it looked about the same size as The Caboose’s.  Puzzled, I held it up to the child and, although it was a little big, he could pull it off.  So Small wore Large’s shirt to school

Small, Medium, and Large are gone.  I now have one Medium and two Larges.

Family photos will look different from now on.  When standing in order there will no longer be the familiar downward trend.  It’s strange, and wonderful.

Watching my little boys grow up into smart, compassionate young men has been the greatest reward of motherhood.  When juxtaposed against learning to ride a bike and read a book, the accomplishments big kids are far more fulfilling.  And there’s the added bonus of not having to wipe their butts or cut their food anymore.

So saying goodbye to Small, Medium, and Large isn’t bad at all.  Because Large, Large, and Medium have made me so proud.

Advice from the rear-view mirror

Every day I hear young moms beating themselves up because they have a hard time living up to expectations – both their own and those of others.  I want so badly to hug every one of them, and assure them that it’s going to be alright, that they’re going through the hardest part of motherhood, and that this, too, will pass.

I refrain from offering too much advice in person (usually out of fear of being hit with a sippy cup), but since that part of my life is behind me and I now have the clarity of hindsight, I want to share some hard-earned wisdom with all of you “younger versions” of me.

1.  Cut yourself some slack.  We all yell.  Our houses aren’t as clean as we’d like them to be.  We occasionally send our kids to bed without a bath . The list goes on.  You don’t have to be a perfect mom to raise good kids.  Last week I posted a photo on Facebook about positive parenting, and I was surprised at some of the reactions.  A few readers interpreted it to mean we have to do awesome things every minute of the day.  But that’s not the reality of parenting – every day is not a good day, full of rainbows and glitter.  Try to find moments of joy amid the chaos, but don’t expect to be able to maintain storybook standards all the time.  Work hard for your kids, but don’t expect Utopia.  It doesn’t exist.

2.  Your kids aren’t perfect.  They don’t always clean their rooms when you ask.  They tell lies to get out of trouble.  They hit each other.  Expect them to test their boundaries, because that’s part of growing up.  It isn’t a failure on your part.  It means they’re normal.

3.  Teach them right from wrong.  In our culture of acceptance and political correctness, we’ve gotten away from using terms like right and wrong. But we need to bring them back.  Children need to know that everything is not OK.

4.  Explain why.  I’m not a big fan of the phrase “because I said so.”  While its use is sometimes necessary, it shouldn’t be a standard response.  Take the time to explain the “why.”  You have to teach them the reason behind decisions, because someday they’ll be making them on their own.

5.  Let them fail.  We knew a family from school whose son was “over-praised.”  His baseball skills were fussed over like he was A-Rod, and if he made a bad grade, his mother would march in and demand that the teacher let him re-take the test.  The Trailblazer once said about his friend, “One day he’s going to realize that he’s not the best at everything. And he’s going to freak out.”  The best character-building lessons in life are learned through failure.

6.  Look forward, not back.  When mistakes are made (by you and them), don’t dwell on it.  Extract the lesson, throw out the pain, and move forward.  Nothing is gained by rehashing the sins of the past once the lesson has been learned.  This becomes more important in the teenage years than you can ever imagine.

7. Take care of yourself.  Get enough sleep.  Eat right.   Exercise.  As we all know from airplane safety drills, our own oxygen masks must be fastened securely before we can help them.   But be realistic about it.  (See item #1.)  It’s easy for that to become another place where feel inadequate.

One day, you’ll wake up and your baby will be 11 years old.  You’ll be able to actually enjoy quiet, instead of fearing it.  You’ll be able to go to the grocery store alone.  You’ll know that all the very hard work you put in while they were little is paying off.

When that day comes, go find a young mommy and give her a hug, and tell her everything’s gonna be alright.

The Years are Short

Originally posted October 7, 2010

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My fifth-grader came home this week with instructions for his first research project.  A research project.  My baby.  The youngest of my three kids.  The one who’s never supposed to grow up.  I remember like it was yesterday sitting at the kiddie table in my den with a bucket of crayons, and the lesson of the day was “staying in the lines.”  It really can’t be that long ago…  Now we have to do a research project.

He chose Marco Polo as his subject.  In the coming days we’ll be learning about Marco’s life and adventures, and I’ll be trying to get a 10-yr old boy in modern America to relate to the concept of an “undiscovered” world.  I’m not looking forward to that.  But what I am looking forward to is sitting at the table with him, having his undivided attention, and holding on to him for a moment.

As any mom will tell you (especially one with at least as many kids as I have) is that days are long.  We rise early, ready ourselves, wake the family, make sure everyone’s fed, wearing the right uniforms, delivered to the right schools at the right time, then start our day.  As soon as we get a little momentum, it’s almost time for the school bell to ring — and then the real chaos begins.  Carpool, after-school activities, homework, dinner, showers and bedtime.  Just getting it all done takes drill-sergeant-like qualities, which don’t necessarily bring out the best in a mom.  I know from my frequent chats with other moms that I’m not the only one who collapses as soon as the last kid hits his pillow.  We’re wiped out long before then.

Each day seems like a long journey.  But then they run together, and the time compresses, and before you know it one is in college, one is in high school, and one has to do a research project.

The days are long.  But the years are short.

And know they love you.

Letting Go. Artist: Sue Kafka-Ellis http://www.art-base.org

A self-proclaimed dispenser of wisdom, I recently shared a parenting thought with Louise over at I Choose Happy Now.  She wrote a post about sending her first-born off to Pre-K, and the tug on her heart as he reached this milestone.

I shared with her one of my favorite little pearls of parenting wisdom:  Roots and Wings.

The full quote, from Southern journalist and author Hodding Carter states “There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: One is roots, the other is wings.” 

The roots part is what we usually think of as parenting.  Teaching them right from wrong, good manners, faith.   Giving them roots brings us closer to our kids, because it’s a time when we’re instilling in them values we want them to have, molding them into the people we want them to become.

The wings part is much harder.

There are the small steps.  Sending him off to Pre-K, wondering if he’ll be able to open his Ziploc bag at snack time.  The first day of second grade, wondering who she’ll eat lunch with.  Or the rite of independence The Caboose experienced last night: wandering the stadium with his friends at a football game while we sat vigil over the popcorn.

Then there are the big leaps.  Going on her first date.  Getting his driver’s license.  Going away to college.

My friend Stacy was the first to chant the “Roots and Wings” mantra to me back when The Trailblazer was in high school.  With her first-born a year older than mine, she shared with me her anxiety as her daughter left for college.  Assuring her that her baby girl was ready for the real world made me realize that I had to accept the same.  (I mean, if you can’t take your own advice, you’ve got no business dispensing it, right?)

One of the hardest lessons of parenting is realizing that our REAL job is to prepare them for their time without us.  Whether that time is 9 to 2 at preschool, four years at college, or the independent adult life they will someday live without us.  We’ve got to teach them well, and then let them go.

It’s all about Roots and Wings.


With Apologies to Dr. Maslow

I don’t consider myself an “expert” in any way.  But with 45 years combined experience (19+16+10) parenting 3 boys, I have learned a thing or two.  And by today’s measurable standards I’ve done a decent job.  They make good grades.  They have reasonable standards of hygiene.  None of them has been to juvey.

So (after I pat myself on the back) let me share with you a little of the wisdom I’ve gained.

Teenage boys only give their undivided attention to one thing: video games.

When there’s a controller in their hands, they can block out anything.  Parents calling, little brothers screaming, phones ringing.  I pray the house never catches on fire while Slick is playing Call of Duty.  He’d be a goner.  I even saw The Trailblazer’s girlfriend on a Skype screen competing for his attention while he was playing FIFA.  She lost.  They get hypnotized by the pixels on the screen like deer staring into headlights.  (A few days ago I thought about throwing the main breaker and telling them there was a power outage just to get their attention.  But it was too hot to be without the A/C, so I had to shrug off that idea.)

Once you get past video games on the Needs pyramid, everything else comes with an underlying distraction: thinking about girls.  The chart is self-explanatory from that point forward.

The tiny space at the top of the pyramid is what remains of their former dependence on us.  As they rely less on mom and dad for other things, the remaining contact is only for the purposes of bonding (us) and asking for money (them).  They want to spend as little time with their parents as possible, preferably not in public.

So those of you with teenage boys in your life, study this chart carefully, and save yourself a lot of grief.  Don’t get your feelings hurt when they bail on having dinner at home in favor of hanging out with friends.  Don’t think you understand what motivates them.  Don’t speak to them in public.  And make sure the smoke alarms in your house are loud enough to be heard over COD.

I’m sure Dr. Maslow would agree with me.

These are the Good Old Days

There are a lot of changes taking place in my world these days.  Lately I’ve been pondering the differences in life now, and life as I used to know it.  And I’ve been really happy with my findings.  Many things have changed about my boys, and about our lifestyle because these pesky kids are growing up.

Back in the Day -- when we needed a babysitter to leave the house.

I remember when silence in my house meant disaster was brewing. I rarely had to look far for the source of the silence, for there was usually a trail.  Freshly cut hair, water dripping through the downstairs ceiling from an overflowing sink, or the gentle scratching of a kid drawing on the walls.  Silence will freak out a Little Kid Mom.  Now, silence means harmony.  It means Slick is playing X-Box with his noise-cancelling headphones on and The Caboose is listening to his iPod.  Or it means they’re not home, which happens more and more often as they get older.  (There’s always something better going on somewhere else.  Always.)  Which leaves ME with silence.  I don’t feel the need to put the TV on for background noise or listen to music.  I’ve been waiting a long time for this silence.  I’m embracing it.

And hygiene has changed.  My kids think they invented the old run-the-water-and-put-on-Axe-Body-Spray trick.  (They’re so clever.)  Ha!  I was doing that back in the 1960s.  I recognized it as a sign of maturity when my kids realized showering was actually a good thing.  Back then, I couldn’t get them in.  Now I can’t get them out.

There was a time when sending my kids to their rooms to lie down was used as a threat.  It was actually one of my better negotiating tools.  “If you’re going to be cheeky, then it’s nap time.”  Much like showering, I realized my kids had come around to the next phase of life when they no longer saw sleep as punishment.  I grin when The Trailblazer says he’s going to take a nap in the afternoon.  He’s officially a grown-up.

The simple pleasures of being a Big Kid Mom are definitely suiting me.  I smile at the Little Kid Moms in the grocery store juggling toddlers and balancing a baby in a sling and pushing a cart.  I offer to reach things for them and smile at the “cute” things their kids blurt out.  I’m glad I’m no longer one of them.  I like being a Big Kid Mom.

I love eating in restaurants and not fearing the disapproval of my waiter when we get up to leave, and the table looks like a F2 tornado has ripped across it.  We no longer need to haul crayons and books, sneak in chicken nuggets in my purse, or ask for special concoctions from the kitchen for my picky eaters.

I’m happy that there are no longer designated “play areas” downstairs.  Just a couple of dumbbells (the weight-lifting kind, not the kids) sitting next to the TV.

I cherish days that are free from meltdowns over trivial things and drama, drama, drama.  (Well, those aren’t completely gone, but they’re less frequent.)

I have a few friends who are struggling with having Big Kids, starting to fear the days when our nests will be less crowded, and we’ll start re-feathering them with sewing rooms and home offices.  Not me.  I’m picking out the drapes for my woman cave.  The one that will have no sports memorabilia or wipe-clean leather furniture.  Just a pretty table for my laptop, shelves for pictures of my kids, a comfy chair with floral upholstery and a wine fridge.

So to all you Little Kid Moms, take heed and take heart.  It goes by fast.  You need to enjoy every moment of diapers, sticky hands, Nick Jr., and kids’ menus.  For being a Little Kid Mom is short-lived.  Thank God.