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

Like Moses, My Arms Got Tired

Exodus 17 11-13

As long as Moses held up his hands, Israel prevailed; but when he lowered them, Amalek prevailed.  When Moses’ hands grew heavy, they took a stone and put it under him, and he sat on it. Then Aaron and Hur held his hands up, one on each side, so that his hands remained steady until the sun went down.  So Joshua overwhelmed Amalek and his army with the sword.… 

Just like Moses, I was in the battle. Moses wasn’t on the battlefield, but he was having a profound effect on the outcome. I wasn’t in the high school, the hospital or the locker rooms, but my loved ones were and I was on a prayer mission.

Moses’ hands were in the air praying to ensure Joshua’s victory; and whether my hands were in the air praying in the car, or I was on my knees, or at church, or at the kitchen table, I had determined throughout my parenting years that I would be a prayer-warrior. And, I was. But my urgency and the amount of time spent in prayer really revved up during my kids’ later teen years. It wasn’t all about them, it was the onslaught of circumstances on top of parenting teens…

During the battle, I studied my Bible in a new way, went down on my knees more, read and prayed fervently. I spent countless minutes on the floor of my son’s room…aside my daughter’s bed while they were at school… One day kneeling on my son’s floor, completely perplexed as to why God was not answering my prayers how I wanted them answered, I lifted a photo frame off my son’s bed stand and whipped that sucker clear across the room. There is still a sharp, deep cut in the body of the NHL fathead on his wall. On that particular day, I was really angry which is rare for me. Looking back, I was just hurt that God was either saying “no” or “not yet” but either way, the more time passed, the less chance there would be for what I was praying about.

To make up for less-than childhoods of our own, my husband and I were doing way more than normal parents. We set out parenting with more enthusiasm than Dory and Olaf combined. And, we never lost steam. He is a man in non-stop motion. You will not see him reading the paper nor does he leave projects unfinished. I am just as productive on the home front, endlessly working on something to make the nest more comfortable while working outside the home part time. I invested time in my own friendships, invested in my kids and all the other kids they brought into the nest over many years, I handled group gatherings and hosted every holiday at my house.

Then, things started breaking down at a rapid-fire pace. I had small appliances given to me at my bridal shower that lasted 20 years. In the last five years, the replacements I purchased have broke down every other year. Then the oven stopped working. The fridge wasn’t cold anymore. And on it went. Between expensive kids sports and household nonsense, we were bleeding money.

Finances were tight on top of practices, games (traveling overnight for those games), driving, shopping, holidays, cooking, cleaning, talking, teaching, instructing, negotiating with teenagers in the kitchen and adults on committees, appointments, friends with diseases, extended family insanity, being lied to…

I felt like Moses. My arms were growing weak and the battles were still raging around me. My friend of 18-years was dying of cancer before my eyes and it was ripping my heart out. I was helping with her treatment visits, rotating time at her house and trying to support her daughter. My parents were embroiled in a disturbing family situation that had just come to light by a close relative. It was all-consuming and truly gut-wrenching. Despite the mountain of unpleasant circumstances, I was still mentally and physically operating at 110% as Mom, wife, worker, homemaker, holiday-maker, volunteer… just as I always had. Remaining silently overwhelmed by profound sadness and drama, I expended even more energy keeping the majority of my struggles from my children. Even though they were in their late teens, I still functioned as if they were ten. The details my extended family produced were simply not something I wanted in my kids’ heads. But, I could have exposed them more to the realities of death and dying.

One day I just got tired. All the prayer in the world didn’t seem to be making any difference at all and I eventually crashed.

I could not pray my way out of the haze draping over me. Like Moses, my arms that had held it all up for so many years were exhausted. So, I reached out just a little, looking for an Aaron and Hur. I was quickly reminded that many others had it much worse and, at minimum, they all have their own challenges. This knowledge does not deter everyone from asking for help anyway, but my type A, first-born self could not impose on anyone other than my closest friend. My dearest sister-in-Christ was the one who listened to a few of my sad tales (absent the gory details) and she agreed to be my Aaron. We still pray for each other regularly. But, I simply could not tell her all of the extended family depravity, nor could I tell anyone else about it. My own husband shrunk back, cutting me off as I shared only a sliver of what I had learned.

Everyone knows about Moses – even people who do not read the Bible or attend church or temple. They can talk about him floating in a basket, the plagues and the parting of the Red Sea. Not many can name his parents Amram and Jocabed. His parents no doubt, went through some stuff. His poor Mom had to eventually surrender him to Pharoah’s daughter. When they could no longer control their own situation, they reached out for help, even to the extent of having the enemy of their people raise their precious boy.

Moses’ parents’ life was not easy and neither was his. Life is life. There is good and bad and if I merely accept what is, and cease searching for reasons “why” that do not exist, I’ll fare much better. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon suggests eating, drinking and enjoying your work while you can. I had to start “enjoying” and stop thinking and analyzing and trying to figure out people because I discovered “nothing new under the sun”. There were painfully few real answers for all the sadness and stupidity. I was making myself crazy trying to understand circumstances, human behaviors and how God could bear to continue watching it all.

I had set out as a young wife and mama with the wrong mindset that if I worked diligently, life would be fairly close to perfect (try not to laugh). But the outside creeps into the nest, even when you’re really diligent. People get sick. Others make horrible choices. I internalized others’ decisions and heartache as if they were my own. I took on responsibilities that were not mine to take on. People were happy to pile their stuff on to me. It was unhealthy.

As I eventually emerged from that difficult time, I tried to see the lessons in the madness, where God may have been in the midst of some really unfortunate happenings. I refused to stay in defeat but it was not easy to overcome.

It’s hard to let go of being the go-to person because you feel you’re letting them down. And, it’s really hard to speak up to – and stand back from – crazy people, even those you may share bloodlines with. In my case, I thought I was being a good Christian by supporting others without boundaries. When you begin to draw necessary boundaries for the toxic folks, they do not like the new person distancing themselves. They want the “yes” “nice” girl back immediately. But distance and creating borders are required in order to preserve your own sanity and to have any personal semblance of happiness on this side of heaven. It also frees up mental space and physical time for enjoying the humans who truly care about you and yours.

My fellow Moses whose arms are tired, find yourself an Aaron and Hur to walk this nutty life alongside you, and enjoy yourself as long as you can.

Mama Duck 

Mom, Were You EVER a Kid?!

Whenever I don’t laugh at something my 16-year old son thinks is funny, he asks me if I was EVER a kid.  Just last week he told a friend that he believes Grandma delivered me as a “grown up”.

The truth is, somewhere along the parenting-teens years, I have admittedly grown more serious.

Why my son doesn’t think I was ever a kid:

1.)  I am too much of a deep thinker, and not enough of a laugh-er.

2.)  I am humor-challenged.  This is the residual of my ever-running, analytical mind.

Example: Last December, my daughters and I were at a Christmas craft fair. They told me a joke.  I didn’t get it.  They laughed even harder watching my eyebrows furrow, my head tilt, and my blank stare prevail.  I asked them deep, thoughtful questions, attempting to understand.  They rolled their eyes.  25 minutes later, I burst out laughing in front of several cashiers.  I finally “got it”, and because it took me so long, I laughed even harder, until my daughters were both mortified at how I was carrying on.

3.)  I don’t play like they do.  When my kids were little, I was out the door every summer day by 9am, rollerblading behind a triplet stroller, and days were packed with play time.  For years, I played all sports with them, swam, acted out pretend shows and participated in hours of hide-and-seek.  They don’t remember much of it.  Now that they are older, my kids think my idea of play time is reading a good book or visiting a museum.

4.)  I believe my children should be somewhat-versed in American history and current politics.  I argue that knowledge makes us better citizens, and me a wiser teacher and parent.  History and politics in teen language: BORING.

5.)  I like order.  Labels.  Symmetry.  Clean counters.  This makes my kids crazy.

How I’m becoming a little “lighter” this year, and getting in tune with my “teenage-self”:

1.)  Instead of reaching for a book because “I should” read (when I’m in the mood to watch something mindless on television), I turn on the TV.

2.)  I’m on the lookout for funny:) things and, I purposely began my year in January by going with my family to see Tim Hawkins.  If you have not heard of him, you must follow him on Twitter, look him up on YouTube, and see his comic show asap!

3.) My son dressed up in his street goalie pads the other day and I took shots on net.  We played basketball for an hour (limping around on my bad ankle).  I’ve been playing games and swimming (even after rain cools down the water!).

4.)  I’m watching less national news (I’m an admitted news junkie).  I’m still informed, but I’ve (almost) completely ceased spouting remarks at the screen.

5.)  I close my son’s bedroom door when company is coming.  I tell myself the floor is a great place to keep freshly washed clothes.  Who needs drawers?

Throwback Thursday from 7/29/2013

Does Violence Really Make Games More “Fun”?

A significant number of my 19-28 year old male college students would give a resounding “yes!” to that question. I asked an informal research question in one of my classes, asking the guys if their Xbox violent games were more “fun” when they contain more violence, more killing and more blood. They laughed out loud, nodding manly at one another and yelled, “heck yeah!”

Many NFL and NHL season ticket holders would say the same. I wonder: is there a fun-level difference between participating in the act of violence and simply watching the violence?  I agree with those who argue that people who play violent video games and watch violence in sports are participants, particularly the gamers. But, my question centers on the issue of “fun”.

Driving my son to school after a doctor appointment, the radio news confirmed that a 16 year old boy in a neighboring area died after a head on collision during his Varsity football game. Friday night, his school and community were cheering on their team. Today, their schools are closed, all sports are cancelled, and a community mourns.

I’ve never found myself an advocate for safety in sports. Honestly, I don’t believe much will change no matter how many millions the NFL has to pay out. But, will the Dad of the young man who died from a high school hit, ever again jump to his feet on a Sunday afternoon, throwing fist-punches into the air, cheering at the hit he just saw in a Dallas Cowboys game? Will he ever again view a “great hit” as fun?

A Dad on the sidelines of my daughter’s soccer team last season mentioned the need for some sort of helmet in soccer. Since my son is in a highly competitive ice hockey league, and has had a concussion, I somewhat shrugged off the Dad’s comment. Ice hockey is brutal for me to watch. Seeing my daughter in soccer all these years was far less stressful.

This season, where my daughter is at a higher soccer level and my son just started playing, my view changed. Watching kids jump 3’ in the air and hit heads instead of the ball, is intense. In sports such as soccer, girls’ lacrosse, and field hockey, perhaps the question should be, “will the sport be less fun if we institute helmets?” As Mom, I say “protection keeps the “fun” in sports!”

There is the ongoing helmet debate, but the bigger issue simply lies in contact sports. Fans won’t pay if hitting is taken out of hockey and football. Players don’t feel as competitive without the physical violence. And parents promote the fierceness. I’m one of the quieter hockey Moms, but wow, have I sat next to the crazy ones, who literally scream to their boys, demanding hits on their opponent. Better yet, I had a Grandma who set me straight on the importance of hitting in hockey:

When my son was 13 and just began body-checking in hockey, he took a wicked hit when playing in Canada one afternoon. I winced and said to my daughter next to me,  “jeeze, he needs to get used to this now that they are checking. That hit was horrible!”

No kidding, a Canadian Grandma turned to me and snarkily quipped, “Maybe you Americans should get your boys hitting as Peewees like we do. Then they would be better players by now.”  Hmmm. Better players? Or better hitters? FYI: Canada recently banned U13 body-checking. PS: I love Canada <3.

Does violence really make games more “fun”?  While I personally say no, (as I cringe in the stands), America yells, “heck yeah!” to the tune of ONE BILLION DOLLARS – that was in two weeks from one game, not arena sports.

Violence in games has been a form of entertainment since before the gladiator games in Ancient Rome. We can squawk about having evolved as parents and grown more educated and sophisticated as humans, and less barbaric in our entertainment, but the truth lies in America’s family living rooms: Black Ops II day one sales made $500million, reaching $1billion in sales 15 days after its launch. This week, Grand Theft Auto V made $800million in 24 hours. Kids 5-20 years old didn’t fund that entire $800million, but they’re playing. Mom and Dad are buying.

Grand Theft Auto III gave the player ability to hire a prostitute, have sex with her, kill her, then steal her money. What must Grand Theft Auto V give the player the ability to do?

Heck, if that’s how we Americans are defining “fun”, hockey body-checking and football collisions must seem downright boring.

You’re More Than Your Looks, My Daughter, Friend, Sister…

(Photo:aliexpress.com)

One of my daughters is a major fashionista. From the moment we said “yes” to makeup at 13, she wore it daily. Now 19, her wardrobe far surpasses anyone else in the house. I’m fine with it except for the now and then when she begins focusing too much on the “outside”. This leads me on a rant about the true value of a woman – just as I do after seeing someone as revolting as Beyonce be recognized as a role model for young women – I throw up, and then I give my girls yet another lesson in what it means to be a beautiful woman.

Important disclaimer: I’m a highlighted blonde, wear makeup, and enjoy cute clothes as much as the next girl. I enjoy all things “girl”. I offer this disclaimer because people tend to believe that only women who are makeup-less or attend parties in sweats truly believe that “you are more than your looks”.

Us girls in my house like clothes, makeup and shopping. But, genuine beauty comes from within. Period. Regardless of how old we are, we want to – and should – take care of the outside. But, our society has lost its mind telling us and our daughters that we really are only the sum of our sultry, sexy, skinny and sassy.

What about being fun? Interesting? Interested? Confident? Well-read? A person with hobbies and passion and curiosity about the world? Silly and sweet and thoughtful? These and other qualities make people truly attractive.

This societal lie transcends generations. I know a grandmother who actually suggested her granddaughter buy a shorter skirt, despite the fact that the girl felt like a princess in a flowing skirt below her knees. The grandmother would also prefer trendier clothes on the teenager. Well into her 70s, the woman remains focused upon appearances. She will leave a legacy of superficiality instead of accepting, loving and caring for others. 

Do we love? Do we hold the tongue when appropriate and tongue-lash someone when that is appropriate? Yes, taking a stand when needed is strength and that’s beautiful.

Here is what I have above my daughters’ bedroom doorway: Does a gal’s new outfit or new mascara put a spring in her step and lift her posture? Of course! Heck, we all know that when we feel like our skin and hair are a mess, we would rather hide behind the sales rack then run into someone we know. When the outside is looking good, we walk taller and hope we’ll run into someone we haven’t seen in years!

Nothing wrong with that. What’s wrong is a society, celebrities, and endless trails of filth telling our girls they are only their appearance. Women who any one of us would identify as “stunning” are just as susceptible to believing they are unattractive. And, there are women who are initially stunning in our eyes who eventually become the ugliest humans we have ever met. The beauty of kindness – or not – shows up in a woman’s face.

I’m on this topic because I have two daughters. Because I am a woman living in this society – in the world though not of it – and there is pressure. While I can bemoan this as an adult, nothing matches the pressure of the American high school.

So, how do we convey this to our precious daughters bombarded by middle school and high school hallways full of rebellious, scantily-clad, hair-tossing peers?

Tell them. That their bodies are sacred. That happy girls really are so pretty in any room…at any party.

Tell them they are beautiful. The sisters, friends and daughters. Over and over and over…because they ARE.