How I Survived My Son’s Freshman Year in College

And just like that….

IMG_8404

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!).

IMG_1914

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!

survive

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!

IMG_3823

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.

survive3

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!

IMG_4985

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

I just want to STOP time!

Just 3 weeks.  That’s all I have left…

That thought doesn’t turn me into a sobbing mess, as you’d probably expect.  NO – it just makes my heart race, my palms sweat and my head spin.  I feel like I’m having a panic attack.  Like there is an impending doom that I can’t escape.  Like a huge black cloud hanging over my head and no matter which way I turn, it follows me.

I try to get lost in the busyness of preparing for my first born’s departure for college.  I try to get lost in living in the here and now, the present moment.  I try to get lost!  But no matter what I do, the 24 hours in each day seems to be speeding up.  The faster they go, the more constricted my throat feels, like I can’t breath and I’m going to vomit all at the same time.

There is so much in my life that I CAN control, influence, or manage…..

But when it comes to the ticking of time, I am at its mercy.

This is it.  Just 3 weeks until D-day (drop off day).  I’ve tried to prepare myself for this day.  But how can one prepare themselves for a total and complete life change unlike anything they’ve ever experienced.  I often wonder if the “thinking about it” part is worse than just doing it, and getting it over with?

I don’t need my children to define who I am.  And yet…..for 18 years I have been Ben’s mom.  His cheerleader, voice of reason and life teacher all in one.  I’ve been his Mommy, Mom, and Ma.  I’ve been there when he needed me, when he wanted me and when he wished I lived in a different house (or state).  In 3 weeks I will wake up and while my title will not have changed, my role will.  I don’t know how to parent from a distance.  I don’t know how to do this and I’m terrified that I will fail miserably!

A dear friend gave me a piece of advice a few weeks ago.  I didn’t like what she said.  But I trust her and I will follow it because deep in my heart I know it is right.  She told me once I leave Ben in his new home, I should not email, text, facebook, call or write him…..not until he reaches out first.

But what if he’s alone and afraid and doesn’t want to appear weak.  Worse yet, what if everything is great, he’s meeting awesome people, he’s involved and loving his new life…..and he forgets about me.  What if he doesn’t communicate with me for a few days or weeks……or ever again.  What if the role I thought I played in his life wasn’t all that I believed it was.  What if we’ve been living 2 different realities.

Some people are afraid of snakes, heights, or the dark.  Me?  I’m afraid of not having an awesome relationship with my children.  That realization is almost shocking enough to make me gasp.  But then I have flashbacks of my relationship (or lack thereof) with my mom, and I suddenly understand…..it’s not shocking at all.

I KNOW it will all be ok!  I KNOW this is exactly what is supposed to be happening, for him and for me!  I KNOW there is awesomeness on the other side of this transition.

I KNOW….no matter how much my head knows, my heart still hurts.

Twenty-one more days and this angel that changed my life the moment I held him in my arms will be starting the next chapter of his life.

For now, I’m finding comfort in my memories….

INQUISITIVE

scan0011

HANDSOME

scan0040

KIND

scan0101

FREE SPIRIT

scan0064

ATHLETIC

scan0152

HAPPIEST IN THE MOUNTAINS

Sierra Exif JPEG

With joy, gratitude & love

An Awesome Mommy Moment

I recently had one of those awesome mommy moments.  It wasn’t about a goal my children had achieved, nor was it about my ability to gently persuade them to see life from my perspective.  Although both of those could fall under the category of awesome.

my-aha-moment

No, this was much different.  This was a light bulb moment, an “Ah-ha” moment, a moment of clarity that 18 years of motherhood can bring.  It was a moment of dueling emotions, each one vying for my attention.  A moment filled with joy, at the realization of the depth of wisdom gained through parenting.  A moment also mixed with sadness, wishing this nugget of knowledge had struck earlier in the parenting journey.

To all the moms out there with young children – I remember!

frazzled-mom1

I remember wishing my kids would get out from under my feet and let me cook dinner.  I remember praying for a few minutes of peace and quiet, with no Barney blaring in the background.  I remember feeling annoyed when the boys would interrupt my house cleaning duties, seeking my attention and approval.  I remember hoping I could find some time alone, for myself, to be just me….and not mom.

Sadly, somewhere along the line, without me even realizing it, all that I previously wished for became my new normal.  From toddler to teenager, in what now feels like a blink of an eye, I no longer have kids under my feet, no background noises, no interruptions.

IMG_3901

Sometimes I sink into the silence and solitude with a sense of peace.  But mostly, I wish my boys were around more, and I don’t just mean at home, but in my physical space, interacting with me.

Last week I was cooking dinner and being kept company by Dr. Phil, when my 15 year old bounced into the kitchen and asked if he could work on a project at the kitchen table.  While this may be a typical occurrence for mom’s with younger children, those with teenagers know that most of their kid’s work is completed in the teen-cave (aka – bedroom).

craft

Without a moments hesitation I exclaimed “Of course, the table is all yours”, with the level of enthusiasm I would express had I been asked if I’d like to get a massage, or go on a week’s vacation to a tropical island.  My kitchen table was instantly turned into an arts and crafts work station, complete with paint, yarn, scissors, styrofoam balls, glue and the like.  Dr. Phil was replaced with Mumford & Sons and Imagine Dragons.  What 10 years earlier felt like an interruption, now felt like an honor and a privilege.  Yes, my 15 year old wanted not only my attention and approval, but also my advice.

OMalley_LoveIsEverywhere

The energy in the room that evening was different, in all the right ways.  When I could no longer contain the joy and gratitude I was feeling, I blurted out  “I love having you down here with me”, to which my son simply flashed his big brown eyes and smiled at me with a knowing, a wisdom that a 15 year old shouldn’t have, but he does.

My heart was exploding with love!

Love – that I had the ability to recognize the magic of this moment.  Love – that I could be grateful for this time together, regardless of how short it might be.  Love – that as my kids grow up, so do I, in so many ways.  Love – for the honor it is to be a mother, to be the mother of the two boys I get to live this life with.  Love – pure and simple!

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

The Gift of Time

 time1

My aunt Barb and I have an extraordinary relationship.  She was just 16 years old when I was born, but she immediately began to cultivate our bond.

As a toddler, she would take me to the park, and when strangers would comment on “her child”, she would respond as though she was my mom and I her daughter.

Although we lived states apart, my aunt’s words and actions showed me how much she cared for me.  She always made me feel special and adored.  Best of all, her love was unconditional.

aunt

Our relationship evolved over the years.  What I am most grateful for is that my aunt allowed our adult – child relationship to completely transition into a peer based friendship.  We frequently refer to each other as a “sister – friend – mother – daughter”, because our relationship fulfills so many roles for both of us.

As Barb began having children of her own, her commitment to parenthood took priority, as it should.  Our love for each other never faltered.  But our ability to finish a conversation, let alone spend quality time together, had diminished greatly!  Once I gave birth to my first child, and we were both moms raising children, our inability to complete a sentence at times became almost comical.

time3

With our birthdays being just 12 days apart, every fall we would both pose the annual question “What do you want for your birthday?”.  But in 1996 my answer to her birthday inquiry was unexpected and definitely life changing.

I didn’t need or want any material items.  My house was filled with more sweaters, jewelry, books and trinkets than I could possibly use or fully appreciate.  This time, when she asked me what I wanted for my birthday, my response was TIME.  All I wanted was uninterrupted time with her.  Time to finish a conversation, time to eat a meal together, time to laugh, time to put each other first, time away from our responsibilities of mommy-hood.

I wanted to give her the gift of my time….and I wanted to receive the gift of her time!

time5

She left her 8 and 11 year old daughters with her husband, and I left my 6 month old son with my guy, and off we went for 24 hours of uninterrupted bliss!

We talked incessantly.  We ate excessive amounts of chocolate.  We laughed until we snorted, and tears rolled down our legs.  We shared secrets.  We drank mimosas, because we could.  We skipped down the street holding hands.  We stayed up way past sunset, and slept well after the sun rose.  We lived those 24 hours to their fullest.  When we parted, with tears in both our eyes, we vowed to do it again next year.

Every fall since then, we have stayed loyal to our commitment to share the gift of time with each other.

time

We’ve met at the beach, in the city, and on the mountains.  We’ve celebrated in the beating sun, the pouring rain and the whipping wind.  We’ve spent time shopping, laying on the beach, getting pedicures and massages, and hiking through the woods.  We’ve eaten home cooked concoctions and dined out at 5-star restaurants.  We’ve napped in the middle of the day, and watched movies well past the middle of the night.  We’ve talked about the frivolous as well as how to solve world peace.  We’ve smiled until our faces hurt and laughed until our belly’s ached.

No matter where we go, or what we do, our birthday celebration is always perfect, because we are together!

aunt4

Today begins the 18th year of this most amazing tradition.  There are no surprises.  We both know what this weekend will hold – 48 hours of joy, laughter, soul searching, gratitude, story telling, connecting and massive amounts of unconditional love.

The gift of time is priceless!  Whether it’s a 30 minute phone call, a 2 hour lunch, a 6 hour evening out, or a weekend together….giving the gift of your time to someone that matters to you, is the best gift you can give, both them and yourself!

Happy Birthday Barb!  xoxo

IMG_3039

with Joy & Gratitude,

Take Nothing for Granted!

granted10

I used to be a not right nowin a minutesoonmaybe later, kind of mom.

Being a mom is hard work.

Laundry, bills, grocery shopping, extra curricular activities, cleaning, cooking….

Blah, blah, blah!!!

It IS hard work.  But none of the stuff we do is more important than the time we can spend with our children.  Every time I said not right now or maybe later (which was a lot!), the message I was sending my boys was “you are not as important as the things I am doing”.

Soon was a regular response I relied on, because it was non-committal.  It always bought me time.  One day my son wised up and asked me “Mom, when is soon?”  Wise words from a 6 year old, but unfortunately they did not startle me out of my mommy zombie land!

Putting my children to bed was when I failed most as a mother.

granted3

Every night I was given the gift of bedtime; a time to cuddle, talk about the day, gently tickle their back, sing a soft lullaby, or just lay quietly together holding hands.  It’s that special time of day when your presence reassures them that you love them, they matter, they are special, and you’d want to be no where else but right there beside them.

I knew in my heart what was the right thing to do.  But by the end of a long day of parenting, my mind and body were tired, and all I wanted was for them to fall asleep so I could be NOT mommy for a few minutes.  As I tucked them in each night, they asked the million dollar question….”Will you cuddle Mom?”.  It was a risky question, because they never knew which answer they’d get.  Sometimes I would crawl onto their bed with great JOY in my heart….but equally as often I would tell them I was simply too tired to cuddle, when the truth was I was just done being a mom for the day!

There are no do-overs.  We can’t turn back the clock and replay the past.  But life has a way of offering us opportunities to learn big lessons, if we are willing to be students!

My life changed in late February, 2008.

granted5

My younger son was just 2 weeks away from his 9th birthday when he suddenly and unexpectedly began experiencing episodes of labored breathing.  He was in and out of the emergency room on four separate occasions in three days, each time being treated for the symptoms, and released.  Finally, at 9:00 pm on a Saturday night, the emergency room doctor recommended we go to the local children’s hospital.

While being admitted at the Children’s Hospital of the Kings Daughters, Peter began having one of these mysterious episodes.  His breathing became labored and his complexion went ghostly white.  The worst part was watching the change in his eyes.  They remained opened, but became glazed over.  There was no life in his eyes.  He would look right at you but not respond to any directions or interaction.  He appeared to be awake, yet he wasn’t there.

This was the first and only time any doctor actually witnessed the physical changes we had been describing, and they didn’t like what they were seeing.  The hospital staff rushed him into an ER room, leaving me standing alone in the hallway.  It seemed like an eternity, but within a minute or two the doctor approached me and calmly but urgently recommended immediate intubation to ensure they could assist my little guy with his breathing if the episodes progressed.

granted6

They allowed me in the ER room where I stood at his head, softly whispering in his ear that everything would be all right.  I gently caressed his face and hair while they administered medication to put him to sleep before continuing with the procedure.  Once his eyes closed, they escorted me (because I wouldn’t leave on my own accord) out to the waiting room.  Since my guy was home with our older son, I sat alone trying desperately to keep the fear and the tears under control.

granted7

The next time I laid eyes on my little guy will be emblazoned in my memory forever.  My 85 pound, almost 9 year old, football playing son, was laying in nothing but a diaper on an ICU bed with a tube sticking out of his throat.  His body was there, but the Peter-Pie I knew, was no where to be found.

For over 24 hours he lay like that.  All I wanted to do was crawl into bed with him and hold him.  Sadly, that was not allowed in the ICU.  So I scooted my chair right up to the edge of his bed and leaned my upper body as close to him as I possibly could.

granted9

Time passed so slowly.  I retreated to the safety of my cave and became withdrawn, having little to no contact with family or friends during this time.  It was just me, my thoughts, and my conversations with God.  I prayed, actually I begged and pleaded, for him to give me back my charismatic, joyous, energetic, fun loving, inspirational and wise little boy.  I promised him that if he gave him back to me, I would never ever again take him for granted.  I would never deny him my time, my attention, my love!  I would never again say NO when he asked me to climb into bed with him and cuddle.

After administering every test possible, they couldn’t figure out what had caused the episodes.  The doctors discharged our little guy with a diagnosis of reflux.  It didn’t make sense, but it doesn’t much matter any more.  That was five and a half years ago.  Since leaving the hospital four days after he was admitted, Peter has remained healthy.

God kept up his end of the deal!

So did I!

A few weeks after returning home, while Peter and I were laying in his bed cuddling, I told him how sorry I was for all the times I said “No” when he asked me to cuddle in the past.  I shared with him my conversation with God.  I wanted him to know that I was sorry, and that I learned a BIG lesson.  I made him a double promise….that I would never take his presence in my life for granted, and I would never deny either of us the sweet bedtime ritual of cuddling together.

SCAN0057

Pete – 3 years old

250_5061

Pete – 8 1/2 years old

IMG_1463

Pete – 14 years old

He tested me over the years.  If he saw the slightest bit of hesitation, he was quick to remind me of my promise.  I was always grateful for him holding me accountable, because life sometimes gets in the way of our promises.

My little guy started high school this year.  It seems the days of crawling into his bed at night to cuddle have come and gone.  Instead, now he joins me in my bed.  We talk, read or watch television….and sometimes we even sneak in a little cuddle!

I still fight back the tears as I recall the mental anguish and fear I experienced in late February, 2008.  But I regularly choose to relive it, to take myself back to that time and place, so I never, ever forget the lesson I learned.  It was the silver lining in the scariest time of my life.

It gave me perspective…..

It gave me a second chance….

If you are a maybe later kind of mom (wife, friend, sister, daughter), I hope you’ll consider giving that lifestyle up.  There is nothing more important than that time we have with the ones we love.  Take not a second of it for granted!

with Joy & Gratitude,

The First of the Last

firstIf your school year has already begun, then you’ve experienced the rituals of the first day of school; choosing the perfect outfit, stuffing the backpack with new school supplies, setting the alarm for a time you haven’t seen on the clock all summer long.

Tomorrow is the start of our school year.  For me, tomorrow is the first of the last…..

scan0010

When my Ben comes downstairs tomorrow morning, with his face freshly shaven and his hair still damp, I will wrap my arms around his broad shoulders, rise up on my tippy toes and lean in to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek.

He’ll turn the kitchen TV on, set to ESPN news, so we can both catch up on the football highlights from the weekend.

While I’m scrambling his eggs, we’ll chat about his class schedule, his teachers, and his afternoon plans.  Once I finish making his turkey sandwich, he’ll begin to methodically place his binders, calculator, pencils and lunch into his backpack with the precision of a surgeon.

The last 10 minutes of the morning will speed by in a blur as he dashes upstairs to brush his teeth, grab his watch and sneak a quick peek at Facebook.  Like clockwork, I’ll hear him say  “Mom, I’m heading out now”, and I’ll know that’s my cue.

I won’t just glance up and say “Have a great day”.  I will stop whatever I’m doing, and escort him to his car in my pj’s, where I will once again wrap my arms around his broad shoulders, rise up on my tippy toes and lean in to plant a gentle kiss on his cheek.  With that, I will send him on his way to his first day of his senior year of high school.

Tomorrow will be the last FIRST day of school I get to experience with him.

For me, tomorrow is the first of the last…..

scan0069

I don’t need a lecture reminding me this is exactly the way it is supposed to be.  That our job is to raise our children to be independent, self sufficient, confident young adults.  I won’t need therapy a year from now to help me find my self worth without my first born in the house.

What I DO need is a year’s supply (or more) of tissues, because I can’t and won’t deny the depth and intensity of emotions that are already flooding my existence as we begin experiencing the first of the last.

scan0142

For seventeen and  a half years I have led the way for him.  I have offered guidance, support, encouragement, direction, perspective and more.    Sometimes I’ve been 10 steps ahead as I led him, other times just barely a half step ahead.

Tomorrow, as he begins the last chapter of this stage of his life, I will let him take the lead.  I will follow, sometimes just a half step behind him, other times a good 10 feet back!

DSC06170

My heart knows he is more than ready for the journey he is on.  But my head wonders and questions……

Did we spend enough time together?

Did I expose him to enough of the real world?

Did I make him feel special?

Did I give him enough responsibility?

Did I tell him how much I love him?

Did I teach him everything I could about life?

Did I do enough?

DSC_0153

There are no do-overs.  I will try to not dwell on the past.  I will try to not worry about the future.  Instead, I will practice BEING PRESENT, moment by moment, day in and day out, as we share this last year before college together.

I will acknowledge every milestone we encounter for the last time.   His last homecoming dance.  His last high school football game.  His last Snow Shoe ski trip.  His last Warrior’s lacrosse game.  His last day of high school.  I will notice and embrace them all.  Because before I know it, he’ll be starting a NEW adventure and everything he does will be for the FIRST time!

first7

with Joy & Gratitude,