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

3 Ways to Mark the Milestone of your Child’s Senior Year

My oldest son’s senior year in high school feels like a lifetime ago – and yet, he’s only been a college student for 6 months now.  Living through his last year of high school was a whirlwind , a roller coaster ride of emotions, and that’s putting it lightly.  It was a year that I always knew would come, and yet once it arrived, I was in shock.  It was a year that brought me both immense joy and deep sadness.  It was a year where I  often prayed that I could stop time.  While I was never granted that magical power, I did get to practice being so present in the moment, that it sometimes felt like time stopped.

Now – 6 months later, I feel like the fog is lifting and I can look back with clarity.  I can honestly say that I am grateful for how the year unfolded.  In retrospect – a few things happened that proved to be medicine for my aching heart.  Things that were so powerful, I will intentionally repeat them when I get to relive this  experience with Pete, who is now a high school sophomore.  Here are 3 ways to mark the milestone of your child’s senior year.

SKIP THE SENIOR PORTRAIT

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I’m sure things are different for girls.  They probably can’t wait to do their Senior Portrait (you know – those professionally posed photos involving various outfit changes).  When I first brought up the subject, my son was emphatic that “Senior Pictures” would NOT be happening.  I tried bribing him.  I tried compromising.  I tried begging.  I even pulled the mommy guilt trip on him.  It went something like this; “After all I’ve done for you, for 18 years, you can’t give me just 30 minutes (one outfit / one location) with a photographer so I can have a few darn photos of your senior year?”  Add a pitifully pleading voice to that statement, maybe a tear or two – and it still didn’t work.  No way, no how – he was NOT bending!

I backed off and let it go.

But a few months later I had a brainstorm.  My guy would be celebrating his 50th birthday the same year that our first born was celebrating his senior year in high school.  This was a big year, a milestone year – one that deserved to be captured in photos.  So I purchased a photo session gift certificate from a family friend and photographer as a 50th birthday gift for my guy,  knowing that I would at least get some pictures of B at this milestone point in his life.  He couldn’t argue with my spin on it – and I didn’t disclose my ulterior motives.

I thought this was a viable alternative, but never in my wildest dreams did I think this compromise would exceed my  “Senior Portrait” expectations.  The bonus was two-fold.  First – our family had a fun (and funny) evening together.  We spent an hour at the beach, partly posing for the camera, but mostly giggling and being silly – all of which the photographer captured.  Not only did I get some solo photos of my high school senior, but we photographed every possible combination of the four of us.

I thought I was giving something up by backing off and not forcing the senior pictures – but in turn, I got way more than I could have ever imagined.  There will be NO senior pictures for my Peter!  It’s a family photo shoot repeat in 2 1/2 years!

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MEMORIALIZE THE YEAR

Being a blogger, writing about my experience as the mother of a high school senior last year was kind of a no brainer.  But what began as a form of therapy for me, turned into a year long documentation of  the ups and downs, the realizations and revelations of both myself, as a mom, and my B, as an evolving young man.

Just before his graduation, I intentionally shifted from writing for myself (and you), to writing for him.  I had a vision of giving him a letter filled with my words of wisdom when I left him at his dorm in August.  But the thought of fitting ALL my thoughts and feelings into the confines of a  letter felt constrictive.  So instead I started a journal – dating each entry from early June through mid August.  Sometimes I wrote daily, other times – just once a week.  This letter turned journal, evolved into a 27 page book of sorts, filled with memories of both my childhood and his, lessons I learned as well as lessons I wish I had emphasized more while raising him.  It was both funny and sad, light hearted and deep, but more than anything – it was authentic.

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The end result is that I memorialized both the year, and our relationship, through my words.  But you don’t have to write a letter (or journal).  You could create a scrap book, or a collage.  Make a quilt or paint a mural.  Fill a photo album, or design a slide show.  Write a poem or a manuscript.  Compile all of your senior’s favorite recipes into a cookbook, with mom messages.  Choose whatever form of documentation you are called to.  Let it be personal, therapeutic and fun!  But find a way to both document and memorialize the year.  The outcome is priceless!

KIDNAP YOUR SENIOR

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The pace of the summer following B’s senior year was exceptionally hectic.  He was working full time, preparing for his departure to college and capitalizing on every free minute he could grab to be with friends.  Meanwhile, I was a chauffeur extraordinaire for my 15 year old, who packed his summer with a part time job, community service, pitching and hitting lessons and travel baseball tournaments almost every weekend.  It was obvious early on that it would be close to impossible to schedule our traditional family get away to the Outer Banks.  The only natural alternative was to head out to Colorado a few days early, in order to steal some much needed family time before our family unit as we knew it would be forever changed.

What started as a fall back option, proved to be an exceptional family experience.  One of the unexpected benefits of this plan became clear even before we left town.  Since we knew we’d have B 100% to ourselves for 4 days prior to D-day (dorm move in day), it was easy to let him spend his last week at home, basically not home at all.  His friends took priority, and there was no battle for his time.  This allowed us to freely honor his relationships with his friends – and that felt awesome!

When it was our turn, we were all 100% in!  It didn’t hurt that we were up in the mountains with little to no cell service or wi-fi.  It was 4 full days of family fun; endless card games, adventures white water rafting and ATV’ing, media free days and nights, pick up basketball games, bear sightings and more.  It was beyond perfect!

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I have no idea where my “baby” will end up going to college.  But I do know, regardless of location – we’ll be planning a family escape just prior to his D-day.  There’s just something sacred about that time, and I’m grateful I didn’t have to share B those last few days before he officially became a college student.

Perhaps these aren’t the perfect ways for you to capture, commemorate or create memories for you and your high school senior.  But hopefully they will inspire you to find a way to honor and mark the milestones of your child’s last year of high school (and at home).

with Joy, Gratitude & Love,

Take Nothing for Granted!

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Pete – 3 years old

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Pete – 8 1/2 years old

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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,

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,