The Coming and Going During the College Years

Nearly three months ago, I walked through the brisk November air into the sliding glass doors of the airport, traveled up the escalator and stood outside security, waiting for my youngest to get off the plane. It was two days before Thanksgiving and my hands had not been on my baby girl in 88 days. It was the longest separation ever, me feeling impossibly emotional, despite that we speak, text and facetime every day. It’s just not the same as hugging and being in the same house.

With each new wave of people rounding the corner through the glass hallway, my heart leapt and my eyes grew wet.

I missed her something awful. I see my older two because their universities are within driving distance, but it was too long since I had seen my youngest.

A girl in a ponytail wearing a college backpack turned the corner and my heart leapt again – then fell – when I realized it still wasn’t her.

A little boy ran past the security guard and toward his grandma’s waiting embrace next to me. I silently prayed, Oh Lord, when grandchildren arrive someday, please let my children and their children all live near us…preferably next door ;~).

Washing bedsheets, putting turkey-themed socks on their dressers and cooking family-favorite foods…the days of anticipation finally ended. The second she turned the corner she waved through the glass and hastened her steps toward me. I vowed not to cry but she threw herself into my arms which quickly circled her slim athletic frame, and I couldn’t speak. Tears flooded my face and I squeezed her tightly. I kissed her cheeks and her eyes smiled at me, her words bringing more tears. “I missed you so much Mama…”

Last year my older daughter spent her junior year in a bustling – thankfully also a safe and very nice – area of New York City. For breaks and long weekends, I waited to pick her up at train stations and airports. As I stood watching the various people disembark from their transportation, I reflected on how I have never been on planes as frequently as the kids have been. Much of the going away is very, very good for them. They have been forced to handle situations that without a doubt, my husband or I would have taken care of swiftly for them if they lived at home. Heck, most of the experiences would not have occurred at all had they stayed home and commuted to college (as I did throughout my entire college career). Some of the situations were unpleasant, but life was an excellent teacher. Their greatest lessons and growth occurred outside of the classroom.

During the kids’ breaks, the full nest is a joy (and of course, sometimes annoying), and now that my twins are seniors, the holiday breaks remind me that these are adults, despite my continued reference to them as my “baby ducks”.

At 4am the Sunday after Thanksgiving, the painful alarm rang, announcing the required departure back to the airport.

Thankfully, I only waited 15 days until my youngest was about to again ‘round the corner and I stood outside security, not feeling nearly as emotional as when I waited 88 days. This time, all three of them would be home over a month.

The day before, I had cleaned their bathroom and put up the Christmas shower curtain. As the rag hung in my hand and the smell of cleanser filled the air, I reminded myself that secure, confident kids grow up and start doing their own thing. I’ve been told we are supposed to feel accomplished and proud of ourselves when we reach this point. I am proud of them and they are accomplished, but I have never felt more un-accomplished.

While raising children, there are a million little accomplishments…interesting middles with satisfactory endings. Planning birthday parties or end of season sports gatherings…watching them eat meals together and sharing stories at the table…going to the rinks and fields…weekend outings. Completing a book together when they are young or watching them deliver a speech when they are older (that you sat through 20 times before they gave it)…each gave me tremendous joy and satisfaction. I felt accomplished.

In between their physical coming and going in and out of the nest, I have increased volunteering, have plenty of girlfriend time, bible studies and winter walks with my husband. We now have “TV shows” and I’m actually finishing books cover to cover ;).  I’ll admit that quieter hasn’t been terrible. It’s all truly blessed and I am thankful. But adding more new things or extra time spent on old things do not replace an entire lifestyle.

An acquaintance of mine looks at me with a mix of complete confusion and sympathy as I reference the heart-upset of the coming and going during the college years. Two years ago, she told me she was counting the days – literally had a countdown like you do at Christmas – counting the days until her youngest would join the oldest at college and get out of the house. I thought she would feel differently when the house was actually empty, but she does not.

Those of my friends who prioritized their careers while raising their children are faring much better with their emptying nests. Although I’ve always been an adjunct professor, it’s vastly smaller than the 50-hour work weeks while climbing to VP, where the bulk of their life’s energy built an entire existence outside of their households.

It’s only been a little over a year with all three away at universities so I keep saying I’m running a little late to the party of parents who are celebrating their emptying nests. Perhaps I’ll revisit this topic again in June after my twins move home after graduation. I may not be feeling nearly as nostalgic (wink).

The truth is, throughout the “coming and going” over four years, they’ve grown and changed, and so have we. Parents must learn to navigate the “babies” we raised who are now almost full “grown-ups”. Even when they move back home, for however long that will last, “family life” will not be as it was. Just as the school years were different from the toddler years, and high school different from middle school, the dynamic will change yet again. Not worse or better, just a new chapter in this ever-updating book of life.

While I stand in the airport this afternoon to pick up the baby duck for spring break, I’ll be thinking about these comings and goings. Reminding myself that it does get easier, and as they evolve, so must I.

Photo: first2board.com

When Your Kids Near Marrying Age


I don’t recall where I picked up the idea, but for several years I’ve been drying the petals of flowers my girls (or myself) have received so they can be used on their wedding day. It was a fun activity with a “someday” thought attached to it. Now, it’s a closer reality as my baby just turned 20. These are the years they will likely meet their future spouses (or perhaps know them already).

Like all the thoughts plaguing my mind in an increasingly quieting nest, the thought of them marrying is both exciting and nerve-wracking. I’ve always told my kids that you can easily change your wardrobe, food, house, location, job…but when you marry, it’s serious business. Follow God. Fall in love first, not lust. Be friends. Be sure. Really observe their parents, their friendships. Watch how your boyfriend/girlfriend handles a crisis, disappointment… how they treat others.We hope all of our investment in our children’s lives leads them to God’s best. One of my investments has been considerable prayer. I was praying about their “future spouses” long before they were dating. What I don’t know is who they will each choose. Free will is real and many pained parents have watched their beloved children suffer through horrible marriages. It’s not only the free will to choose poorly, but it’s the “big reveal” that sometimes happens to the poor souls who gave their heart to one person who turned out to be an entirely different human being once they married and lived together. Heartbreaking.

Marriage is unpredictable. The early years with young children can be tough. What we need at 25 isn’t always what we need at 45. It takes effort to evolve together. Marriage can be difficult.We want to save them from all the hardship. We want to talk and talk and talk in preparation to protect them from the miserable stuff. But, we know the reality. They will walk their own walk.

As my kids live out their early 20’s, I’m still doing a lot of talking 😉 even when they say, “I know, Mom. You’ve told us a thousand times.”  I’m still praying. Our society is increasingly hurtful and as they marry and create their own nests, I pray those nests are safe places…warm, accepting-of-faults places. The place where they can escape from the cold, judging, desensitized world and rest and play and laugh.

I pray they marry into unconditional love.

And, I pray they give it in return.

Remembering to Play When the Kids Are Away

“It is a happy talent to know how to play.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I read this quote recently and thought of my kids who are all really good at “play”, even though they are now in their early 20’s. They are all playing college sports. The girls still play Just Dance together when they are home and dance until sweat drips down their beautiful faces. My son (gently) swings a golf club in the house and wanders around with a hockey stick in his hand! He is always trying to get guys together to throw a ball or play ice hockey when he’s home.

Over the holidays, when I was with my own kids, other 20-somethings and little ones, I played. I’m good at play when my kids are home on breaks. I sing (really poorly-pretending I’m an opera singer!), play cards, board games, play in the snow, visit the indoor golf range, dance with them and engage in other fun activities.

When my kids are away, I do not play. (Nice rhyme, huh? :)) It’s been hard to play the same when they are not around.

Why? Well, the first thing I could come up with is that we tend to be utterly ourselves in the presence of those we live with. We goof off with our bed-head hair and laugh without the ever-present self-consciousness we possess outside of the house. I am most comfortable with them. They are also fun people, so it’s easier to have fun when people are fun.

I had invited a few women over for an evening visit recently and I suggested we play a game. To my joy, they agreed and we ended up laughing and having a good time. After that, I had over some friends and we did a girls movie night. I realized that I need to start generating some “play” on my own since these kids of mine are spending less and less time in the nest.

Some adults are great at play, while others not so much. Many set aside time for weekly game night, poker night, couples night out or whatever. I just haven’t figured out my space yet. I’m better with the empty nest in recent months, but I’m still figuring out a few things, including my play time :).

One lesson I’ve learned is that half of “play” is getting it right in my mind. If “this” isn’t done, then I have no business playing. Wrong mindset. The chores, to-do lists, obligations…they never end. I have also learned to relax more with others, permitting myself to have real fun – absent kids. Play must be prioritized and not thought of as a luxury.

Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, reminds us that play “takes us out of a sense of time and place”. Source. As an adult, I tend to watch “time” more than necessary.

How often do we see kids jump out of the pool, run up to the house and ask, “Is it time to finish my chores? Should I get out of the pool to vacuum? Organize the basement?”

Kids are often unaware of time because they are enjoying themselves. Part of restructuring my life as a Mama whose nest is a little quieter these days includes giving myself permission to lose track of time… See the source image

 

 

Ordinary? Nope, it’s Extraordinary – And, it’s National Popcorn Poppin’ Month!

God has given us some really cool things to enjoy. Even though I usually pass right by them because they appear ordinary, I’m trying to pay attention to how they are really quite extraordinary!

Today, it’s popcorn. Or, should I say, the kernel. Who thought to pull that tiny thing off the cob, let it dry, cook it and flavor it? It’s extraordinary.

When my youngest was an infant, she had this habit of waking up every night around 11pm screaming. She was about a year old and the pediatrician said it was normal, and that we should settle her down and let her fall back to sleep.

My baby went to sleep nightly at 7pm, but for a few months, it was literally every night she awoke at 11pm with a piercing cry that demanded our attention (lest we allow her to wake her twin toddler siblings in the next room).

Unable to calm her down by merely holding, rocking or walking, I did what all smart Moms do when they are so tired they can barely see straight: I turned on the television. Back in 1999, there was a popular unit called the VHS player and I inserted a Little People video that showed a farmer harvesting corn on the cob. But, the weather at the farm was so incredibly hot, the farmer watched in amusement as the corn fields began popping kernels by the thousands.My baby would suddenly catch her breath from the sobs, and stared at the popcorn video until it ended. She watched that same Little People popcorn video over and over and over for three months.

As the kids grew up, popcorn was a staple for my girls and me. My husband and son aren’t big fans, but us gals have multiple flavorings, tried a few air poppers over the years and also completely enjoy regular ‘ol butter and salt shaken in a bag – always cooked in a pot, not in a microwave.

Recently, I’ve been missing Saturday nights with my girls, the Hallmark channel and popcorn. Them being at college has ruined my interest in popping corn just for myself (sigh). But, recently I did pull out the kernels and oil to make a batch and stared at one little kernel for a long while. I mean, really, the popping process is extraordinary.I thought of all the popcorn we’ve stuffed ourselves with at the movies…I reminisced about the elementary years when popcorn was part of the Thanksgiving pilgrim skits, harvest season and Christmas decorations.

Ahhhh, but those days are long gone, as are the baby years (double-sigh).

October is National Popcorn Poppin’ Month so here a few fun popcorn facts (courtesy of popcorn.org):

  • Americans consume some 13 billion quarts of popcorn annually!
  • There are 4 main types, but only one “pops”!
  • One kernel can pop up to 3 feet in the air! (That’s higher than our pet bunny leaps!)
  • There is no such thing as “hull-less” popcorn. All popcorn needs a hull in order to pop. (I was glad to learn this because I was considering purchasing the latest greatest “hull-less” popcorn options for sale out there.)
  • 2 Tablespoons of kernels = 1 quart popped.

Popcorn.org is a great site for additional information and neat things like free download popcorn coloring sheets!

Unlike Most People, I’m Glad It’s Monday

It’s seven weeks into the semester and I’m profoundly feeling the effects of the empty-nest. The weekends are the worst, especially Sunday evenings. Some Moms get through this easier than others, but I’m struggling.

Saturdays were always slow mornings, since we went to church on Sundays. Breakfast, hanging out in PJs and then usually a soccer game in the crisp, fall air surrounded by the changing leaves. We would stop at the local cider mill afterward, picking up donuts and cider slushies. I stopped in on my own recently and wow, it just wasn’t fun.Sundays, I go to church alone. Sometimes I run a few errands and write a bit. I always cooked on Sundays and that heightens the sadness.

No, I don’t miss being in the kitchen for two hours chopping, preparing, cleaning and cooking…I do miss the end result of everyone around the table, eating and talking and bonding. I miss hanging out in the living room on Sunday nights deciding on a movie everyone would like. My older daughter made popcorn. I would yell at my son to put away his phone and just watch the movie :).

It sounds simple, but the little things like sports games, church, meals, their friends coming over and just the constant activity brought our home to life. It feels strangely lifeless.

Make no mistake, with all of that activity came frayed nerves and craziness that wore me out. My son annoyed me. My older daughter sometimes prioritized friends over family. Funny how when they are at college, I tend to forget these things. A little peace and quiet should be welcome.

My work is isolated. I have a home office and in the last year (ironic timing with the baby leaving for college), I decided to teach exclusively in our online program. It pays more and I live in the country. I don’t miss the drive into the city campus, but now I have even less communication with other humans. So, I’m looking for a different job. Not to mention, higher education is nothing like it once was and I’m eager to move forward.

Last month, I started volunteering more, began a couple projects I’m really enjoying and made sure to book some girlfriend outings on the calendar. Still, I’m a Mama. It’s not only how I largely defined myself but I actually enjoyed it. They still need me but it’s sooooooo not the same.

My kids all face time me, call and text every day. We also have a family snapchat and family group text. I hear all of this communication is unusual so I’m really grateful. They are cool kids who tell me all about their experiences (good and bad!), and I am truly thankful.

Like starting the first day at a new high school, groups have already been established and I’m wandering from place to place, looking forward to landing in two or three new things that will slowly build this new, peculiar life. Other parents move on and I will too, but it’s a struggle. I also recognize that I must because my kids need to see their Mom happy and secure.

My twins are a few hours away so I was able to see my son a couple weeks ago and we got a hotel room to extend the time we could visit. Quite joyfully, my daughter recently called to say her roommates are leaving this coming weekend and she wants me to come and stay at her apartment just the two of us! She’s making all sorts of plans and I’m stupid-excited. I’ll be cooking on Friday, jumping in the car with the birds on Saturday, stopping at my son’s apartment to drop food and treats to him en route to my daughter’s university an hour past his.

Mondays are welcome mornings for me. After feeling sad on Sunday nights, Mondays feel fresh, like anything is possible, I just need to keep working toward the new goals.

“For everything there is a season…” Ecclesiastes 3:1