an open letter to college girls with love, from a mom

an open letter to college girls with love, from a mom

Note: this originally appeared on my Facebook page, and at the urging of friends, I am putting it on my blog too.

College girls: you gotta step up. You have to take care of yourselves. You have to take care of one another. Your mothers would love to be there and come to college with you and keep you safe, but we know that we need to let you go out into the World on your own. Since we can’t be there, you are going to have to be each other’s mother some of the time. Please be each other’s mothers. And please…

1. Don’t walk alone at night, even if it is just a walk home from the library. Just because you feel safe doesn’t mean you are safe.

2. Don’t go to or leave a party alone. Use a buddy system. Better yet, have a designated sober friend who watches out for your group. And if a friend doesn’t want to leave, it’s going to be tough but you are going to have to make her come with you.

3. Take texts or calls seriously. If your friend says she is lost or hurt or scared or in trouble, when you read that text, go find her. Pick up the phone and call her. Don’t wait. Do it the second you read it.

4. Get your own drink at a party. And if you put it down, forget about that one and go get another one. Always get your own drink!

5. Look out for one another. Make sure you all get home safely. And once you are home, lock your doors.

6. Don’t let your cell phone give you a false sense of security. Your cell phone does not make you safe.   You may drop it, it may not work, etc.  However, there are some apps out there such as “Live Safe”  that can alert you to what is going on on your campus, help you find safe walk home, and give you a direct line to first responders.

7. And don’t be afraid to call your parents when you are scared or need help. We love you. Whatever it is, we will do everything we can to help you. But if for some reason, you feel you can’t call home, your school has a lot of resources to help you. Find them and use them.

And I’m adding this guy advice, by a guy for the guys, so it doesn’t get lost in the comments:
“Guys, you should step up too. Be aware of the dangers the ladies face. Help them when they ask, without hassles or expectations. Be wary of suspicious dudes on your turf. Investigate every scream you hear in the night. And above all, don’t be the guy that the ladies cannot trust when they need help.”

Bring Hannah home. Love, peace and prayers to the Grahams, Loves, and Harringtons.

thank you, lucky chair

thank you, lucky chair

lucky chairToday is my son’s last exam. He’s finished high school.

He worked so hard and achieved the one goal he set for himself, never losing his focus. I once told him that I was worried that he had set the bar too high. He replied, “don’t worry Mom. If it doesn’t happen, that’s okay. It was a good goal to have because it made me a better student. And win or lose, that alone made it a goal worth having.”

My son was born an old soul.

He ate breakfast in his “lucky chair” today. All through high school he claimed that chair gave him the luck he needed to get good grades or do well in sporting events or get through whatever lay ahead on any given day.  He wrote his college essay about that chair. The topic was: describe a place where you feel content.  

I hope they have lots of lucky chairs at college. 

Wash. Rinse. Spin. College. Or not. Why I have no plans to teach my son how to do Laundry

Wash. Rinse. Spin. College. Or not. Why I have no plans to teach my son how to do Laundry

I am friends on Facebook with two sisters, Anne and Beth (names have been changed to protect their identity).  Anne posted a link on the wall of Beth entitled something like “13 Things a Mother Should Teach her Son Before he Goes to College”.  Anne wrote “be sure to focus on number 3.”  I’m about to send a son to college.  Of course, I had to look at the list.  Most of it was about good manners, throwing footballs, being kind, teaching him to respect women, reading to him, all good stuff. Things I felt like my husband and I have done.  All except for number three.  Number three was “Teach Him How to do Laundry”.

I have also been to a couple of social gatherings recently and when I mention my son will be going to college, someone invariably asks, “have you taught him how to do laundry yet?”

When my son’s birthday was approaching,  he told us that he really couldn’t think of anything he wanted, so getting him things he could use at college would be great.  I mentioned this to my friend and she lit up, “I have the best idea.  Get him a laundry basket and a roll of quarters.  He will definitely use that!”  All I could think was, “do college laundry machines still take quarters? It seems like technology would have come farther than that.”  And I didn’t want to hurt her feelings, but what boy wants a laundry basket and a roll of quarters?

Everyone is very concerned about whether or not my son can do laundry.  Except me.

I’ve got news for y’all. I have absolutely no plans whatsoever to teach my son how to do laundry.

I hear you going into the spin cycle: “how could she?”, “who does that?”, “oh, the humanity!”

Hold the detergent, Soak on this:

1.  He wants to be an engineer.  He can figure it out. Isn’t that what being an engineer is all about?  Discovery?  It’s not rocket science. It’s okay to have to figure some things out on your own.

2.  If he can’t figure it out, he can just ask someone.   Asking someone may be the way he makes a new friend or even the way he meets to girl of his dreams.  He can also text or call me, I am pretty sure I can explain it over the phone.  Again, it’s not rocket science.  And aren’t I doing the universe a favor by teaching a man to ask for directions? (Guys, to be fair, that is a totally sexist stereotype)

3.  If he screws it up and his white shirts turn pink because there was a red sock in the wash, he’ll live.  And he’ll be mad. And then he’ll laugh.  And he’ll never do it again. Lesson learned.

4.  The Facebook post list claims that if I teach him to do laundry,  “his wife will thank me.” Wife?  Wait, he is going to get MARRIED? Isn’t that getting ahead of the whole “going to college” thing?

5. I’ll confess, I’m throwing in the towel (yuk!yuk!) partly because, let’s be honest here…does this look like the room of a boy who will do a lot of laundry?

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I have a limited amount of time to teach him all the stuff I am supposed to teach him.  And it seems to me that there are some things that never make these lists that are actually way more important than whether someone knows how laundry.

I’m going to teach him some of the things that were not on that Facebook list.  That list was great, but it left out a couple of things:

Managing money.  I used to work in a bank near a college campus and we saw so many students who could not manage their own money.  You think it is a joke, but we would get students who would say things like, “but I still have checks, how can there be NO money in my account?” or  “I lost my credit card three months ago, what do you mean someone has been using it?”  Schools, for the most part, do not teach personal financial management.  So, this Spring we are focusing on banking.  I’m getting him a checkbook and a credit card and we are going to start learning what they do, when to use them and how they work.  How to write a check and balance a checkbook.  How to use the ATM.  Why a credit card is different than a debit card.  Why you don’t want to run up more debt than you can handle.

Alcohol awareness.  Alcohol is part of living on a college campus. We are having discussions on things like binge drinking, drugs, and personal safety.  I plan to discuss different types of alcohol and why 12 ounces of beer is not the same as 12 ounces of vodka.  And why he needs to get his own drink at a party and keep track of it.  And why you don’t take someone else’s prescription drugs.  And what to do if someone becomes so inebriated that they pass out.  And when to call the rescue squad.

Safety.  I want him to walk a girl home from a party or the library or a party instead of letting her walk home alone.  I don’t want him to walk by himself late at night.  I want him to not let his friends drive drunk and not drive drunk himself and not let his friends get into cars with people who have been drinking. I want him to call a cab–that’s a good use of money!

Health, both mental and physical.  We have been over his health insurance card and now I let him check in when we go to the doctor’s office so he gets a sense of how that works.  And we talk about when you should go to the doctor and when it is okay to call.  Our school system did a great job of discussing mental health, but we have also discussed mental illness at home.  And we have discussed our family medical history too.  Of course, he can call and get that information, but it is still good to discuss health openly.

Exercise.  If it’s a stressful time and you have a choice between doing laundry and getting outside and playing ultimate frisbee or basketball or football or whatever, go outside.  It’s a no brainer.  Exercise enhances our mental abilities, it reduces stress, it encourages social interaction.  Laundry can wait.

If he asks, I will teach him how to do laundry, but if not, laundry is something he can figure out on his own and he will be just fine.  And,  for his birthday, I got him some LL Bean boots because if it’s rainy and cold, you still have to walk to class. And:

dry socks = less laundry.

And he loved the boots.

Just to be on the safe side though, I might buy him 50 pairs of underwear and 50 pairs of socks.  That should hold him until he comes home for Thanksgiving.  And Thanksgiving will probably be the exact moment I curse myself for, you guessed it… not teaching him to do laundry.

The Evolution of Pre-Snowstorm Grocery Shopping

The Evolution of Pre-Snowstorm Grocery Shopping

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First Storm

You make a detailed grocery list list, get to the store two days early and beat the crowd.  You have everything you could possibly need on hand including bottled water, flashlights, and batteries. You even bake cupcakes to make the storm more “fun”.

Your children watch every single “Local on the 8s” forecast for 36 hours straight and constantly check their Twitter feeds to see if school is closed.

 

Second Storm

You shop the day before and wait forever in line. While you are waiting,  you end up buying four tabloids (because you just need to see more stars without makeup) and a copy of Real Simple that promises to finally get you organized. You get home to discover you forgot something, but oh well!

Your children watch a couple of “Local on the 8s” forecasts and constantly check their Twitter feeds to see if school is closed.

 

Third Storm

You don’t make a list. You stop off at the store just as the flakes start to fall and they are out of the milk you normally buy so you spend $9 on a gallon of organic milk only to get home and discover that you already had an unopened gallon of milk in the fridge. Who is going to drink all of this milk?

Your children watch one “Local on the 8s” forecast, but continue to constantly check their Twitter feeds because they are teenagers and that’s what teenagers do.  Oh, and that is how they find out that school is closed.

 

Fourth Storm

Screw the storm! Your kids can fight it out cage match style for the last slice of bread. The power goes out. No one knows what happened to the flashlights and batteries from Storm #1.  Mom has officially had enough! The dog has had enough! The kids are sick of Twitter.  Everyone has had more than enough of the “Local on the 8s” and those pesky Weather Channel storm nicknames.

 

Fifth Storm

UGH…seriously?  We have to do this again? Your form of protest: you don’t even go to the store. Good for you, you really showed them!  Ramen noodles for everyone!

When is Spring going to come?!

Later that spring, you recycle that Real Simple from Storm Two. You never even opened it. So much for finally getting organized!

Pursuing Perfect: Body Image, Grades, Poltergeists and Love

Pursuing Perfect: Body Image, Grades, Poltergeists and Love

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When I was about thirteen, I thought that if I could be perfect, all of my problems would disappear.  I would look great and feel great, I would be confident, I would have tons of friends, and my parents would get back together.  I’m not sure why I thought my parents should get back together, but I thought that was what perfect was–a mom and a dad together.  Oh, and to be perfect, I needed to look like my best friend.  She had boobs, she was thin, she was always tan, she wore bikinis to the pool while I was still in my awkward one piece swim team issued suit. Boys loved her. Did I mention she had boobs?

Now I have kids and I realize how silly all of that thinking really was. No one is perfect.  You can’t be perfect. And I want to make sure my kids learn that earlier than I did.  Okay, the rational side of me knows that they have figure that our for themselves. A friend recently told me that her elementary school aged children had been talking about the “f” word.  But it wasn’t that “f” word, it was the other “f” word. As in “fat”. And suddenly I realized that that particular “f” word hasn’t really come up in my house and my kids are much older than hers. I’m not sure that I have ever addressed the issue of weight with my teenaged daughter.  Sure, we have talked about how loving someone has nothing to do with looks and everything to do with personality and feeling. And about how the number on the scale isn’t always an indicator of how healthy or fit you are.

I think I haven’t addressed it because I am afraid of going overboard.  I don’t want to create a problem.  Many parents struggle with the issue of talking to their kids about body image and the other “f” word.  And it doesn’t help that it comes along at a time when we are coming to the realization that our own bodies don’t look like they used to –wrinkles, belly fat, cellulite, saggy boobs. As with everything, finding the balance is the challenge. And I don’t know what “the balance” is. I keep hoping it’s like a looking for a four leaf clover and all of a sudden it will appear in the mass of green and I’ll will see it and be able to pick it out. And it will be perfect. It’s such a cliche, but parenting is so hard!

And the other “f” word isn’t the only thing out there. So much of what our kids hear is about perfection: “she has perfect grades”, “he has perfect SAT scores.”, “that was the perfect triple axel”, “that soccer/lacrosse/field hockey goal was a perfect shot”, “that’s the perfect prom dress”, etc. I have read that we should not focus on looks, but instead emphasize things like intelligence. But what if telling your child that they are smart rings hollow? What if being smart isn’t his or her “thing” and he or she know that?  As adults who have been out in the real world, we all know that grades are no indication of smarts. And of course our kids have talents we can encourage.  But we can’t escape that kids see grades as their indicator of how smart they are. Except for that one person who is ranked first in the class, everyone else is not number one. And the person who is #1 seems perfect. The truth is that no person on this Earth is perfect, not even the person who is #1. But, still the search for perfection marches on. And somewhere in there, for some of us, pursuing perfection can become unhealthy and destructive. It’s like that closet in the movie “Poltergeist”.  The door opens and there’s a vortex that sucks you into another dimension. Lets put a deadbolt on that door, right?

Raising a teenager, there is this hollow echo in the back of my mind: “please don’t get an eating disorder”.  I hear it.  Personally, I have never had an eating disorder and I consider myself lucky. But, I fear it.  I had three friends with various eating disorders that ruined parts of their lives. Two got help and struggled through treatment and finally came out the other end in a great place. One left college and we never heard from her again. I have often thought about why that didn’t happen to me. I have OCD and in college it hit new heights. Wasn’t I ripe for developing an eating disorder? What was so different about my upbringing over theirs? There must have been some secret reason and if I can figure that out, I will be able to protect my kids from it. Was it that I had never had a full length mirror in my room? Was it because my father, who was quite “rotund”, skinny dipped every morning and every night in our pool and therefore thought nothing of being naked? Was it because I was an athlete and I saw lots and lots of different body types? My mother was a public figure and there were constant comments about her weight and rumors floating around that she was pregnant when she wasn’t. It was painful for her. How did that fit in? I don’t know. I’m still confused.

On the surface, it seems like it should be easy.  We can stave off this eating disorder thing by teaching them how to eat right. Teach them to eat healthy stuff and this will never happen. We can do that and everything will be “perfect” for our kids! That is so simple! Wait… no, it turns out that it really isn’t that simple. I recently read about a new eating disorder called orthorexia, where people become so obsessed with healthy eating that it becomes destructive. And it is just as dangerous and unhealthy as other eating disorders. And the cases are growing in number. There is such a push to make sure our kids eat well, how do we keep from setting our them up for that?

How do we strike the balance of teaching them not to obsess over something? There is a delicate pendulum swinging there and I want so badly to keep it from swaying too far either way. I don’t know how to do that. I would love to say I can do it, but I know better. They are hardwired already, in ways yet to be discovered. I can’t protect them from everything, right? When my kids were little, I once jokingly said that I wanted them to put them in a padded room so that nothing would hurt them and my brother, who is a crazy smart statistician and analyzes whether or not product is statistically hazardous for a leading consumer safety group, told me that the padding may not be safe. There is off-gassing and chemical leaching and possible lead! There is whole boatload of stuff out there that is potentially dangerous and out of my control.  I have educated myself on what to look for, but that may not be enough.  At some point I have to let go and let them make their way on their own…yikes!

Here is the best I feel like I can do: I have a son leaving for college in the fall and my daughter will be gone before I know it. I am at once indescribably excited and scared to death about what the World with a capital “W” has in store for them. I really only wanted one thing for my kids and it wasn’t smarts or money. I wanted them to know love. So, I try to make sure every day all the time that they know how much I LOVE them -every them, all of the time no matter my mood or theirs–happy, angry, sad, or just feeling regular.  Some days I do a good job of letting them know, other days not so much.  But when they leave my house, I hope they take this with them:

I love the well mannered him and the naughty him,

I love the her that encourages me and the her that rolls her eyes at me,

the him that loves junk food and the him that learned to like salads,

the her who shined so brightly in her homecoming dress and the her in pajamas who really needs to take a shower (she got that look from me, it’s my signature look),

the zitty him and the clean complexioned him,

the her that likes me to come in and sit on her bed and talk to her about her day and the her that shuts the door because she needs to be alone,

the him that still comes in my room every night to say he’s home and tells me to sleep well and the him who doesn’t answer my repeated texts to tell me where he is,

the her that baked cupcakes and the her that left the kitchen covered in confectioner’s sugar,

the him who admitted he tried a beer last night and the him who stayed sober last weekend and drove his friends home from the party and made sure they were okay,

the her who feels both love and pain so deeply,

the him who liked a girl and was on top of the moon and the him who had his heart shattered into a bazillion pieces and spent a weekend in bed.

the them who set a big goal and achieved it and the them who fell short of their dreams,

and the her that loves her brother and the him that loves his sister.

The truth is that most of the time they won’t feel perfect. Hopefully they will still feel loved. And if one of them ever get sucked down deep into the vortex, there will be a little light there and maybe they will know enough to seek it out without embarrassment or feeling of judgement and say, “I need your help”. And, I don’t know, maybe I will be strong enough to walk them through it. I know that it might not make things perfect, hopefully it will be enough.