How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

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9 months have come and gone – and it’s time to move my B out of his freshman dorm. I wish you could see me now, typing and shaking my head in total disbelief! I just don’t know where the time went?

If you followed my journey through his senior year in high school, you know I wrote and wrote and wrote some more. Honestly – I wrote so much I felt like I wasn’t just wearing my heart on my sleeve – but vomiting my every thought and feeling out into the world.  I may have gone to the other extreme this year, by writing very little about B’s freshman year.  But here we are, 9 months later – and I’m happy to announce that I SURVIVED!

If you read no further – I can leave you with the fact that this life changing transition IS survivable.  It’s not an overnight thing.  It’s a long, slow transition.  And while I can’t say I’ve gotten used to B not being home, I think I’ve learned to accept it.  Looking back, there were a few key things that helped me survive this past year…

How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

 

Establish communication boundaries & expectations

About a week before B left for school I asked him to have a conversation with me about communicating while he was away at school. Then I burst into tears. Not an uncommon reaction for me at that time! I wanted to hear his thoughts on how often he thought he’d like to be in communication with me, and I of course needed to share with him what my expectations were.

I was beyond grateful when he volunteered the idea of talking on the phone once a week, since that completely matched my desire. When it came to texting, he only asked that I not blow him up (aka – text constantly, repeatedly and non stop). That was probably a smart request on his part, since I could have easily worn the skin on my thumb pads from over texting those first few days (weeks and months!).

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I told B that texting him would be a way for me to reach out when I was thinking of him (aka – missing him desperately!), and that it would actually help me move on in the moment, versus dwelling in my sadness.   So we came to the agreement that if my text contained a question, I would expect a response. But if I was just touching base, sharing a thought or letting him know I was thinking of him, he wasn’t required to reply (although he usually did anyway – because he’s just that kind of guy!).

Every family is different. Our plan may not fit you and your family. But I guarantee that having the conversation ahead of time, setting rules, boundaries and expectations that work for your relationship, will ease so much of the transition.

Be patient and listen

The first few weeks (and months) of B’s freshman year I felt like an addict in need of my drug.  Our planned talk day was Monday.  So on Saturdays, I was counting the hours until we spoke again. By the time I heard his deep voice say “Hi Mom”, my need for feeling connected had turned into this unbearable sense of urgency.  I would bombard him with questions, but never really give him enough time to answer fully, before I threw the next question at him.  My excitement (and need) for information caused me to break all the relationship rules I had previously lived by.

The conversations felt awkward at times. Probably because we needed to transition from a face to face relationship to a long distance phone relationship.  Without the visual cues we’ve come to rely on, we have to relearn how to have a conversation by phone.  Moments of silence go unnoticed when you are face to face. But on the phone, those quiet gaps are so loud!

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I’ve learned to be quiet and patient through those gaps. In fact – I’ve discovered that the magic happens on the other side of that silence.  As I stopped talking (duct tape helps), I found that B began to open up and share more, which in turn resulted in the ebb and flow of a real conversation versus the question and answer sessions of those first few calls.

With patience, comes the ability to really listen. When I say “listen”, I don’t mean to use your ears to hear their voice, nor do I mean to simply not talk.  What I mean is, LISTEN to the depth of what they are really saying, the emotions they are feeling and the meaning behind their words.

I didn’t just survive B’s freshman year this way – I think the two of us thrived in our communication skills and our relationship as a whole.

Learn how to parent – an adult child

There was a 48 hour time frame in August between when we arrived in Boulder as a family and when we departed as a 3-some, leaving B to his new life. It was during this time that I first began to experience this phenomena of needing to relearn how to parent…an adult child.  My mothering instincts wanted to take over; to plan, schedule, organize and control all the details of this physical transition. But I pulled back, not wanting to embarrass him.

However, each time I’ve been with B this year, I find myself parenting him like he was a child. I reminded him daily to take his antibiotic when he had strep throat over the holidays. I reviewed his packing list for our ski trip, making sure he had all the necessities. I even found myself sharing details of his shell fish allergy with a waitress, while he sat right next to me. When she left the table, he actually turned to me and said  (with a smile on his face)“I can order for myself Mom”.

Uugghh – stab me in the heart!

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Parenting an adult child is an art, and I feel like I’m coloring outside the lines with chunky crayons. We will always be our children’s parents. But the job of parenting transitions over time. We don’t communicate with a 2 year old the same way we do with a 9 year old.   An 11 year old needs different boundaries and conversations than a 16 year old. While our adult-child grows and develops, so must we, in our parenting. I know I’m right in the middle of this long transition.  I don’t think I will ever stop parenting – but perhaps I need to learn to stop mothering, at least unsolicited mothering.

You might have a fear – but it’s not reality

Fear can be paralyzing!  The more we think about the thing that scares us, the bigger the fear grows and the more power it has.  When B was a toddler, I was afraid he might choke on small toys, so I baby proofed the house. When he was 8, I was afraid he might get hurt riding his bike, so I made him wear a helmet and limited where he could ride. When he was 13, I was afraid he might get mixed up in the wrong crowd and make bad choices, so as his circle of friends grew, I made a point to meet each of them, as well as their parents. When he was 16, I was afraid of all that could go wrong with him being a new driver on the road.  So I set non-negotiable driving rules regarding texting, speeding, curfew and more.

The reality is that I can no longer control the situation in an effort to both protect him and ease my fears. There have been times during these past 9 months when the fear has risen like spit-up in my throat.  I hope and pray that I have done everything possible to raise him to make the right choices in his life. But I was a 19 year old college student once…that did a lot of things that would scare many parents.

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I survived my moments of fear this past year by acknowledging that I HAD my fear, but that it wasn’t a reality – and as simple as it sounds, just accepting that I had absolutely no control in the matter.  That instantly took me to a place of peace.  The most challenging part has been trying not to act on or make decisions from a place of fear.

So here I sit, 9 months later…

His dorm room has been packed and put into storage.  His freshman year has come to a close.  I might have just survived it – but thankfully B thrived in it!  Now, I am just hours from boarding a plane home…without him!

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While I fly back to Virginia, he will be heading to Argentina for 3 weeks of education, adventure and fun!  The fear is choking me.  My head knows how freaking amazing this opportunity is, but the mama bear in me (my heart) wants him to stay here, safe on U.S. soil.  I had to make the choice to not allow my fears to impede him living his most awesome life.

I survived his freshman year of college – I can survive 3 weeks of travel abroad.  It may not be a pretty 3 weeks – but I’m going to take all that I learned this year and put it into practice.

with Gratitude, Joy & Love

BitterSweet…..

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I’m sitting in Starbucks trying desperately to write what I had planned for today’s post, but I’m struggling!  It’s NOT that I have writer’s block.  Quite the opposite – my mind is swirling with thoughts, feelings, realizations, ideas and concepts – they just have nothing to do with my intended post.

Instead of doing battle with my brain (I probably wouldn’t win anyway!), I will surrender, trust and just write!

In retrospect, writing The First of the Last, about sending Ben off to his first day of his senior year in high school, was very therapeutic.  Unfortunately, I have 2 kids experiencing major milestones at the same time, which leaves me feeling pulled in different directions.  I know I fully and completely recognized and honored the meaning of the first day of school as I kissed my senior goodbye.  But I’m afraid I failed to do the same for my freshman.

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I imagine that’s typically the way it goes for the 2nd born (and 3rd, 4th & 5th!).  They get the clothing hand me downs, the out grown bike, the slightly used binders and back packs, they get the left overs from the first born.  What they shouldn’t get is the left over love and attention.  So I’ll be sure to make up for it by smothering him with extra mommy-love when he walks through the door from his first day of high school.  I’m sure in all his cool freshman-ness that he’ll appreciate that (LOL!).

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Living right in the thick of the first day of school experience feels bittersweet.  Bittersweet is defined as “sweet with a bitter after taste“, but I’m feeling the flip side of that – bitter with a sweet after taste!

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BITTER

It’s only been 4 hours since they boys left for school, and I feel like I’m walking in a cloud of melancholy.  Purposefully, I filled up my day so I wouldn’t have to experience the quiet, lonely, emptiness at home.  Grocery store, CrossFit, Starbucks – I’m surrounding myself with people, noise, energy – everything my house is missing right now.  Unfortunately my tears don’t know the difference between being in a private versus public domain.  But thanks to my sunglasses, I was able to camouflage my tears at the grocery store checkout line this morning.

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SWEET

Suddenly, and quite unexpectedly, I notice a smile on my face, and a feeling of excitement welling up from the inside out.  It doesn’t last long, but it is strong enough to stop me in my tracks.  I realize this first day of school starts a new chapter for me as well.  For the first time in 17 years I will be childless starting at 6:45 am each day, and lasting till at least 2:30 pm, depending on the boy’s after school activities.  I will have hours to write, plan for my next business move, grab a workout and maybe even a spontaneous lunch with my guy or walk on the beach with a friend?

BITTERSWEET may not be so bad after all!  In fact – I’m anticipating over the next few days it will hopefully transition to just SWEET!

As a student, I encountered 17 first days of school.  As a parent, this is my 14th first day of school.  Over half my life has been marked by this annual milestone.  Yet each and every time is a slightly different experience.

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When I first walked into my mobile office (Starbucks), I claimed a spot next to 6 gray haired women.  I’m careful not to label them elderly or old, since that’s all relative, and although I feel 29, I’m closer in actual age to them than I am to my fantasy age!  Anyway, as I sat down to write, it hit me that they may not have any idea that this was the first day of school.  That’s when the bitter hit hard, the realization that one day (not too far from now), the first day of school could come and go, and I might not even notice it.

A flood of both bitter and sweet came pouring over me as I heard one of the women mention that her granddaughter was starting kindergarten today.  With a sigh of relief, I realized the first day of school is as much an institution in our lives as Thanksgiving and Memorial day.

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1st Day School – Freshman & Senior Year – 2013

The significance it holds and the emotions we experience vary year to year – but the first day of school will forever be an important day; a day of transition, a day of change, a day of growth, a day of excitement or apprehension….or both!  But hopefully always a day with more sweet than bitter!

with Joy & Gratitude,

Marking a Milestone

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For the past few weeks our family has been counting down the days until June 14th when school ends.  Besides all the typical summer fun, the last day of school brings with it the JOY of  ‘no more’ – no more homework, no more bedtime, no more waking up at the crack of dawn, no more schedules, and no more rushing around!

I’ve been so focused on reaching the date that signifies freedom in our family, that I almost missed the real MILESTONE taking place.  As the school day comes to an end this Friday, my first born will become a senior in high school (gulp) and my ‘baby’ will become a freshman in high school (double gulp).

A milestone is defined as ‘an action or event marking a significant change or stage in development’ or ‘a stone set up beside a road to mark the distance in miles to a particular place’.

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Either way, both the milestone and the mile-stone are used to mark change.  But you must first notice the milestone in order for it to impact you.  A milestone in and of itself is really quite insignificant.  It only becomes powerful when we stop and distinguish it!  Regardless of what type of milestone you are experiencing, there are 3 distinct stages to mark a milestone.

1.  PAUSE & REFLECT – Since a milestone marks change, it’s imperative to stop and notice the differences between where you were and where you are now.  Depending on the specific milestone you are experiencing, pausing and reflecting can last a few minutes, a few days or longer…. and may very likely be associated with a wide range of emotions.

Pause & Reflect

I have been living in ‘pause & reflect’ for almost a week now.  Memories of Ben and Peter’s childhood flood my brain so rapidly it makes me feel slightly sick to my stomach.  There’s a touch of sadness, wishing I had been more present in the moment, more spontaneous and more concerned with playing rather than keeping a clean house.  There’s a little bit of fear, wondering if I taught them all they need to know in order to smoothly transition into this next stage of their lives.  There’s immense pride at the depth of character they both exhibit as they are developing into young men.  There’s anticipation knowing this next year is such a huge transition; the start of something new for Peter and the end of an era for Ben.

2.  BE PRESENT – When you reach the milestone – Be Present!  Live in that moment, right there at the mark, acknowledging whatever emotions best reflect the specific milestone.  The emotions that coincide with my current milestone are joy and celebration.   But if the milestone you are marking revolves around a loss, the emotion more likely would be grief.

Celebration

The remainder of our week is filled with celebration!  The school year consists of structure and rules, so we will commemorate this milestone by breaking some of those rules and hosting a ‘skip day’ (don’t tell on me!) and sleep over (on a school night).  Later in the week we’ll have about twenty 8th graders celebrating together in our back yard – swimming, playing ping pong, corn hole, 4-square and basketball!  One of our favorite rule breaking traditions is to have dessert for dinner, so before the week is over we’ll be visiting our local frozen yogurt shop to indulge in all things sweet and sugary!

 In addition to the celebratory events this week, I will make sure the boys hear the joy in my words.  I will shout out an endless number of ‘woo hoo’s’, ‘yipees’ and ‘hoorays’ as well as some heartfelt and not too long winded recognition of their accomplishments over this past year.

3.  ADAPT TO CHANGE – After the marking of the milestone has passed, we must not give into the desire to keep things the same and be willing to move into the newness of the future.  This begins the journey towards the next milestone .  Assuming we afford ourselves the time to fully experience the first 2 stages, this transition should happen naturally.

Life is a Journey

Next Monday, in the stillness of the morning, when there are no alarm clocks to silence, no lunches to prepare, no permission slips to sign and no sports bags to pack….I will quietly slip out of bed and embrace the opportunity to experience the next phase of the journey with my boys.

When we fail to mark milestones in our life, regardless of how big or little, it is like driving across country and sleeping through the whole road trip!  If we aren’t going to take in and appreciate the scenery, we might as well catch a plane instead.

with Joy & Gratitude,