"We're all just fragile threads, but what a tapestry we make." – Jerry Ellis

Archive for the ‘kids going to college’ Category

The Shes In Me

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Taking Emily to college a few weeks ago, I couldn’t help but mentally check off all of the life lessons I was sure I’d taught her in her eighteen years of living with us at home.  Did she know not to put a grease fire out with water?  Had I shown her how serious I was about safeguarding your drink at a party?  What about identity theft scams?  Did she know not to mix ammonia and bleach cleaning products?  I couldn’t be certain that we’d covered all the basics of everyday life and I knew that I didn’t have time in our remaining car ride to cover them all, even if I could remember what they all were.

I wasn’t overly worried about not telling her everything—her generation grew up with Google and YouTube, after all.  But it wasn’t until last weekend that it dawned on me that a lot of things I have learned in life didn’t necessarily come from my own mom.  Not to minimize my mom’s influence on my life, but I realized that over the years, many women (and men) have served as teachers in my life.  By absorbing their life lessons, intentionally taught or not, they have all helped develop and shape my outlook on life.  The person I am today is a product of all those “shes” in me.

I’m really hoping that Emily’s life is full of people who step up for some of those practical lessons in a role that parents can’t always fill.  There are times that I think I’ve neglected to teach her some of the most basic of things—like in her first few days at school she asked me where to buy postage stamps.  (Apparently, we never covered that lesson.)  If I skipped the postage stamp lesson, I have most certainly glossed over topics like refilling your windshield washer fluid and choosing produce at the grocery store, so I hope that she is never afraid to reach out and ask others.  I remember several years ago I felt really stupid asking my mother-in-law about hospital corners when making a bed, but I asked her anyway.  Growing up, as long as the bed covers were pulled up and not rumpled, my bed was considered “made”.  But my mother-in-law had been in nursing school, and “official hospital corner bed-making” was part of her curriculum, so I asked her about it, and she patiently showed me.  Now, just about every time I make the bed I think of that lesson, and the non-judgmental kindness of the woman who didn’t mind taking the time to teach me.

Lessons that go above and beyond have stayed with me a lot longer than others could possibly imagine, too.  When I was about six years old, my mom demonstrated to me a tooth brushing lesson that I’ll never forget.  I was the kid that would wet her toothbrush so it looked like I brushed my teeth because I was too lazy to actually brush.  And I had the cavities to show it, too.  I don’t know if Mom was just tired of having to take me to the dentist or listening to me complain about Novocain shots, but one day she took me into their master bathroom and got out an old comb and toothbrush.  She demonstrated in dramatic fashion the best way to brush.  I don’t remember the specifics, but I remember thinking that my teeth brushing habits must really be important to her.   I remember how it made me feel important to her, too.

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Some of the best kind of mentoring can take place when someone lives in such a way people emulate their ways.  People who walk the walk, and don’t just talk the talk.  I know of many women who have been a blessing to me and probably don’t even realize it.  Women who have lived their lives modeling graciousness, reaching out to those in need with a heart for helping others.  Women who aren’t afraid to admit they’ve made mistakes, but use the lessons they learned in making those mistakes as a way to guide others into self-reflective decision making instead of wallowing in self-pity and regret.

Speaking of role models, I need to mention I’ve picked up on some “what not to do” teachings, too.  Generally unintentional, not necessarily pleasant, these lessons in life are passed on by the person who embodies character traits that make others want to turn 180 degrees away from them.   As distasteful as some of those encounters can be, I long for my children to see them for what they are—a valuable lesson on how not to conduct themselves, which can be as powerful of life lesson as a deliberate teaching.  Instead of feeling wronged, I hope they turn those experiences into becoming strong, resilient people who gain the ability to persevere through adversity.

When I think back over my years being around young people as a parent, Girl Scout leader and coach, I have had the opportunity to be someone else’s child’s “she”.  In those roles over the years, I became extremely self-aware of how my attitude and the way I’ve handled situations and people is perceived by the casual and not-so-casual observer.  I’ve always hoped that, even if they don’t remember my name, something I’ve said or done in our time together in some small way will draw up to the surface of who they become in a positive way.  The food coloring in the water to someone’s carnation.  I am forever grateful for those who have been that to my children—their friends’ parents, coaches, youth leaders, and teachers who took the time to be a role model and mentor to them.

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I will always appreciate those in my life who, whether they knew it or not, shared moments and insight with me that helped to shape who I am today.  To the women who shared cookie-baking secrets, demonstrated grace during crisis and lived lives that showed others they truly cared, thank you. I hope to be able to pay your kindness forward to someone else.  And to those whose lessons were not in kindness, I owe you thanks as well.  Without the negative interactions we’ve had, I may not be able to see the balance in life and work through it.

It’s been a little over a month since Emily stepped out from the comforts of living at home with Mom and Dad into college life.  She’s not encountered any grease fires or had cleaning catastrophes that I’ve been told about, so I’m hoping those skipped lessons have been averted or do not become Mission Critical any time soon.  I’m not positive on how she goes about making her bed on the top bunk, but my guess is hospital corners are not a major concern that she has.  Thankfully, it sounds like she’s settling into college with some great shes to help her out.  But now that I think about it, she’s not mailed a letter to dear old Mom and Dad yet, so about those postage stamps…

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A Nature-Made Mental Health Day

 

IMAG0761My friend and I had gone to Springfield to spend the day with our college-aged kids, but no definitive plan had been decided. Icy drizzle limited us to an indoor activity for our visit, so we crossed off an outing to the World’s Largest Fork. (Yes, this is an actual attraction in Springfield, and yes, I would love to see what it looks like).  After weighing our options for the Saturday afternoon before us, we decided to visit the Wonders of Wildlife Aquarium at Bass Pro Shops.

The Wildlife Aquarium at the museum has a 1.5-million-gallon aquarium that features 35,000 live fish, but there are also quite a few reptiles and birds sprinkled into the galleries.  Coming out of the swamp exhibit, I saw the above quote displayed on a sign.  The words are attributed to John Muir, known as a Scottish naturalist and preservationist who lived during the late 1800s.  As I wandered with our group throughout the exhibits, this quote stood out to me.  I loved the visual of how all of nature is knitted together, as if connecting everything with a single thread.  Just a little tug, a little awareness, and all things come together into focus.

Who knew puffer fish had such cute little teeth to smile with?

I’d had my phone out the entire visit, and even though it was being used as a camera, it made me realize how even the simple joy of witnessing nature was connected to some kind of technology for me.   There are times I am trying so hard to document an experience that I forget to actually live the experience as it’s happening.  I continued to take pictures for the rest of the galleries, but I made it a point to try to make the photography secondary to what I was seeing and who I was with at the moment.

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IMAG0731It was nice to not have a packed schedule for the day, just a late breakfast with the kids, an aquarium visit done at a leisurely pace and plenty of good conversation.  The weather wasn’t getting any better, and we didn’t want to get back home too late, so after a coffee stop we called it a day, gave the kids hugs and headed home.

I like to believe that the “single tug at nature” process had begun.  I suppose that once Mother Nature decided she had my attention with her beauty, she decided it was time to show me her power.  That Saturday, Nature was the one that had the power to make me quit rushing through things and stop to take a breath.

The freezing drizzle continued for the first part of the trip, but the roads were drivable.  As we continued down I-44, the windshield wipers were having a hard time keeping up with the precipitation.  Even with the temperature and the defroster blower on high, layers of ice began creeping across the windshield.  Then there were a couple of patches on the road that were sketchy.  Tractor trailer trucks either blew past us at normal highway speed or crept slowly along on the hills as the daylight started to fade.

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Any Missourian will tell you that snow is something a driver can reason with; ice is not. With this in mind,  we decided to listen to nature and stopped to spend the night at hotel rather than risk the ice.

Sometimes the To Do List needs to balance with the To Live list.  Instead of a white-knuckled drive home, I was able to spend time with a friend, enjoying a meal and relaxing with a bottle of wine, talking and laughing over YouTube videos and even getting a little work done, too.  (Yes, technology manages to be a part of my nature-scape.)

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This was one of my favorite exhibits of the day.  The jellyfish looked like floating creatures in a lava lamp.  So mesmerizing to watch.

I’m not sure John Muir envisioned the world as a place where getting a glimpse at nature takes as much effort as it does, but surely he saw how appreciating it needed to be intentional.   I doubt he would have guessed how much competition would be out there in our modern-day lives.  On most days I must admit I am guilty of being more dependent on my phone to get me through my day than a spectacular view of mysterious-looking jellyfish.

Thank goodness there are some fantastic nature screen savers out there.

The Story of Merle, From Barn Kitty to King of the Castle In His Own Mind

Merlin sleeping

Late last summer, Tyler asked “Can I get a barn kitty from Katie’s Grandma’s house?”  Being the practical Mom that I am, I answered a resounding, no, absolutely not.  In a few short weeks, the girls would be back in school, Tyler away at college, and all animal maintenance on my shoulders.  Where would it sleep? We already had a cat, albeit one that rarely made an appearance amongst humans, but a cat and two dogs were enough.  Why would I want another critter to care for?

“Well, look at him,” he said, flashing me a picture of Katie with a tiny runt of a kitty sitting on her shoulder like a bedraggled parrot.  It was not a handsome kitty.

Merlin the parrot

I rolled my eyes.  “The answer is still no,” I said, shaking my head at the homely kitten, although I had to admit it was a charming pose.  My mind moved onto other things.

That night as I tried to sleep, I couldn’t stop thinking about that kitten.  In that single pic, the posture of that scruffy little face stuck in my head.  My logical self told me I was crazy for even entertaining the notion of having another animal living here, even if it was just until Tyler lived somewhere that would allow him to have a cat.  Probably just a year, I reasoned.  And what if we saved the little runt of a kitten from the barn kitty life, and gave him a loving home…

Have I mentioned I watched a lot of animal cartoons growing up?

The next morning, I texted Tyler from work.  “When do you need an answer about the cat?” And so it began.  I’ll spare you the details of the text conversations between the kids, my husband and me.  To sum, there was a tiny bit of resistance, lots of debate and all kinds of mushy words of how a deprived little kitty needed a home.  I should mention there was not a shred of logic.

In the hours that followed, you would have thought we’d been expecting a newborn baby.  We batted around names, with Tyler having the final say, and decided he’d be called Merlin.  We went to the pet store for new toys and treats, more kitty litter and a separate litter box, kitten food and the much-needed kitty door for Tyler’s room.  As they rang up the purchases, I couldn’t help but feel like I’d somehow been bamboozled.  I have always been too big a softie when it comes to furry creatures with big, round eyes. Sucker.

We spent the evening waiting for Katie to come back from her Grandma’s with the new kitty.  As we have other pets, and he had been mostly living outside and had yet to be examined by a vet, we met him outside in the garage.  He was so skinny and tiny!

 

Despite his puny appearance, he had an obvious curiosity about everything going on, and was so trusting and friendly.

Until I put him in the sink.

He had some jumpy little fleas on him, and we had an aged bottle of flea shampoo upstairs, so I figured why not?  This pitiable little kitten went from curious to a terrified lump of fur in a matter of seconds.  I thought I’d killed the poor thing from the shock as he went completely limp.  There was no fight in him, but as soon as we got him in the towel he had completely forgiven me. Little did I know at the time that dog flea shampoo can be toxic to cats, or I really would have thought I had killed him.

Not surprisingly, he ended up spending the night in Tyler’s room, not the garage.  After a trip to the vet first thing in the morning, it was determined he had quite a few health issues besides just fleas.  We ended up with anti-worm medication, eye drops for his runny eye and, of course, they did a flea treatment.  He wasn’t healthy enough for his first round of vaccinations.

Velma, our other cat, did not have much use for him, which ended up being a good thing since he had his health woes to overcome before we wanted them to meet.  Chester and Grendel were their nosy selves, but took to him better than I thought they would.  Of course, he was usually in someone’s arms or lap, so he was gradually introduced.  Early on, he showed those two he wasn’t afraid of them by leaping down right in the middle of the two of them while they had been looking at him like a pack of hungry hyenas.  It may have been in that very moment that he decided he was one of the boys, an honorary dog in his own right.

Tyler was like a new father to his pet.  It was only a week before he had to head back to school, and he spent as much time with him as he could.  My favorite memory from that week, though, was when Tyler told me, “All he wants to do is play in the middle of the night, and all I want to do is sleep”.  He also had a hard time leaving him, even if it was to go out with friends.  I told him welcome to Parenthood Lite.

Summer wound down, the kids all went back to school, and I found myself with a kitten who thought he was a dog, following me from room to room, bringing me his toys and looking for me in the morning for his daily spoon of soft food.  In fact, the daily spoon is the one thing he and Velma can agree on, and I often wake in the morning to find two cats roaming around looking for me to get up and get them their treat.

It’s been about six months since he’s wormed (literally) his way into our household, and I can’t believe it had ever been a question of “Mom, can we keep him?”  While he still battles with his runny eye, an issue I imagine he’ll deal with most of the time, he’s grown to be a spunky, curious, and affectionate cat.

Always curious, but after hearing the old saying about curiosity killing cats, Merlin stays back a safe distance.

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Despite my best efforts to not get too attached to him (he’s Tyler’s cat after all) I find myself completely in love with this mangy little guy.  He still hasn’t mastered the ability to actually meow, instead making a sort of chirping sound.  (Hmm, a cat that thinks he’s a dog and sounds like a bird.  Perhaps he really does have an identity crisis.) He greets me when I get home from work, is always looking for a snuggle, and constantly finds ways to endear himself to me. I hate to admit it, but most of the recent photos on my phone are of Merlin and I can’t go to the store without bringing him some sort of toy or treat home.  At some point I became Crazy Cat Lady and the notion is unsettling.  I thought that only happened to empty nesters.

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He still has parrot tendencies. And helps me on the computer.

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Here he gives me some writing advice while warming himself on the keyboard

If you were to ask him (and he could talk—I’m not that crazy yet), I believe he would tell you he’s King of the Castle here at the house.  There may be a dog or cat around here that would disagree with his assessment, but I doubt they’d do anything about it.

Velma and Merlin

The kitties eventually called a truce. I wouldn’t say they’re the best of buddies, but a lap is still a lap, so they manage to get along enough to grab a nap on the blanket.

Regardless of who rules the roost, none can argue he’s injected some excitement into the quiet household, whether he’s playing the part of cat, dog or parrot.  Not too shabby for the runt-of-the-litter barn kitty he started off life as in the beginning.

In the Great Battle of Head vs. Heart…

It may be hard for an egg to turn into a bird: it would be a jolly sight harder for it to learn to fly while remaining an egg. We are like eggs at present. And you cannot go on indefinitely being just an ordinary, decent egg. We must be hatched or go bad. –C.S. Lewis

Tyler in his hockey days

This past Friday, we dropped off our first born at college four hours away. I’ve been excited for him ever since we first toured the campus, seeing before him a bright future filled with so much opportunity. We shopped for dorm items, we attended all the events related to the upcoming school year—he even declared (tentatively) a major. But a few weeks back, my body betrayed me. Not my whole body, no, not that. My sly little heart. Because while my head knows that this is a normal and natural part of growing up, my heart wants to hold on to that little boy that snuggled deep inside of it and protect and nurture him forever.

Did I mention my heart is nocturnal?

In the nights just before his scheduled move, I would close my eyes and instead of falling asleep, would see a movie-quality montage of the last 18 years of my (his) life. Those sleepless but joyful nights of babyhood, him in his little soccer uniform at the first game. The time he peed on the tree in our front yard in front of God and everyone, because he was “watering it”. Climbing the steep steps of the school bus when he started kindergarten. When he learned to ride a bike without training wheels because our friend’s daughter could do it, and he didn’t want to be outdone. His hockey games. Then football games. His obsession with golf. Playing Rock Band with his sisters. Driving in his first car. Buying his first suit. Little clips of time swirling behind those closed eyes that couldn’t hold back those pesky tears.

I’ve never been on this side of life before. The letting go part. Sure, you are letting them go a little bit every single day of their life with those milestone moments—as well as the sneakier every day ones that creep in. For eighteen years he’s lived under our roof, leaving a trail of empty glasses and Pop Tart wrappers in his wake. We’ve ensured he had food in his belly and a roof over his head, went to school, kept decent hours, grew his faith and knew our unconditional love. It’s such a strange sensation, this mixture of pride because we’ve raised a young man ready to start his life as a young adult, with the realization that since we’ve done a pretty good job at that, our part is well, kind of finished. And it makes me feel nostalgic and yes, a whole lot of sad.

I am smiling through those tears this morning. Because I am proud of our son. And I know that he is going down a path towards being his most awesome self. It’s all just starting for him—this future so full of promise and opportunity. It’s exciting! My head tells me a new normal will settle in over our home, a normal where our adult child is now also a part of our inner circle of friends. While it is true that it’s the end of an era, it’s also the beginning of a new one.

And my heart likes the sound of that.

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The Search is On

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Our family is in the throes of checking out colleges for next fall. In truth, Darrell and I had wished this whole process would have started a few months ago, but the person at the heart of where to search did not feel it was necessary at that time. Consequently, with early August application timelines just around the corner, we’ve looked at one college so far, with two more scheduled for this week and the next.

We really liked the college we toured a few weeks back. Drury University is a small, private college in Springfield, Missouri. I was surprised that the dorm featured its own bedroom within a four-person suite. The students share the bathroom with just one other person—that’s a better gig than Tyler has at home! Tyler seemed to like the school, but we’re checking out larger schools as well. I don’t think he realizes what a totally different atmosphere there is with a larger, state school. So those are still on our “to do” list in the coming months.

One of the things that’s made this process difficult is the fact that Tyler is just not sure what he wants to pursue for a major. I don’t think that’s so unusual—how many seventeen-year-olds have the life experience to know what they want to do for the next sixty years of their life? Over the past two years we’ve attempted to get across to him that he needs to start thinking about where his skills and interests lie. And while we’re trying to steer him into getting a feel for what classes are really interesting to him and go from there, he seems overwhelmed with the notion that he will be making a decision that will affect him for his entire adult working life.

Ironically, many of his good friends have already graduated from high school and have gone through the process of selecting and attending schools. Some have gone away to colleges, some have gone to the Community College and at least one will be living in a dorm on campus at the local University here. He seems to be waiting to get a great epiphany from how their experiences turn out. Not a bad plan as long as he realizes that he is his own person with unique talents and interests.

My college experience was as close to community college as it gets. I went to the University of Missouri in St. Louis, which, at that time, was only a commuter campus. I went to class full-time and worked part time all four years. I was in a sorority, but other than that, it was pretty much going to class and going home/work. I changed my major from Elementary Education to Communication about halfway through, when I decided I loved kids, but not necessarily their parents. After I graduated, I worked in the student loan industry; a far cry from my major that involved Public Relations, but I did get to use my writing skills on the company newsletter, developing training and commenting on federal regulations and policies. All of the things I did in my first job out of college were not things that I had even really considered as career choices when I was choosing what to major in.

So the search continues and we are learning together how all of this works, from FAFSAs and admission essays to student housing and meal plans. It’s a lot different from Darrell and my college experiences. Mostly, I wish Tyler would realize that he has great potential to do whatever he chooses, and now is the time to see that blank slate stretched out before him—before he has a mortgage. I can only hope that his dad and I can hammer that point home!

Do you remember making these decisions? What motivated you? How did you decide where to go to school and what to study? I’d love to hear your comments!

The End of Ordinary Summer

In truth, life is anything but ordinary while raising kids. There are ordinary seasons in life, of course, (the potty training stages, the pre-school years, the middle school years, etc.) but the seasons string together in such a way that they fool me into believing they are a seamless stretch of time. Sometimes it’s not until something new starts up that I realize that something else has ended, having gone away quietly without a formal goodbye. School is the obvious exception—each year has a definite start and end.

I have school bus-shaped picture frames for Tyler, Emily and Erin that have places for every school year’s photo. In the fall when they return to school and get their yearbook picture taken, I dutifully put in their new photo in their School Years’ frames. Right now as the school year winds down for the kids I’m once again reminded that they are growing up with another grade under their belts.

Except this summer is different. It is the last ordinary summer. Tyler’s picture frame will be full next fall.

One could argue that last summer, the first summer Tyler had his driver’s license and got his first job, was our first non-ordinary summer. After all, it was the first time that we had to consider his employment when we made our annual vacation to the lake. But to me, last summer doesn’t count. His part time job at the golf course didn’t interfere with our family’s plans, and his boss was very accommodating with letting him have time off, so it wasn’t an issue. He was still home sleeping in his bedroom almost every night, like he will be this summer. But he’s a Junior in high school now, so I know that next summer will be different. He will have graduated high school and be preparing to go to college in the fall. Thus, the end of the era and life as we now know it.

For the last fourteen years, every fall began a new school year, whether it be in pre-school, elementary, middle or high school. And while each beginning brought new friends, interests and classes, as expected, there was a continuity with kids being in school in the fall. It’s been our way of life as a family almost as long as we’ve been a family. The kids can’t remember anything else, and life PK (pre-kids) seems so very long ago it’s like it was lived by someone else.

While I don’t mean it to sound so gloomy and melancholy, it does make me stop and think—and appreciate—all this summer as a family will be. I know that I probably am a little overly sentimental about my kids growing up. I thought I’d gotten better than I used to be about it. When they were little I put off going through their closets to weed out outgrown clothing because all I could hear in my head the whole time I did was the song Puff the Magic Dragon. Those too short pants and shirts were a physically tangible sign that my babies were moving on and there wasn’t anything I could do about it. I tortured myself with dwelling on that fact—masochistic, I know.

As a parent, I want my kids to grow up to be healthy and independent, so it’s rather hypocritical of me to be sad when they do exactly that. After all, if Tyler was 30 and still lived at home with us I’d be upset then, too. Ironically, Darrell and I have been encouraging him to go away somewhere for college. I lived at home when I went to college, and although I joined a sorority and enjoyed my college days, I never felt like I had the same type of college experience as my friends who went away to school. I want my son to have the opportunity to be semi-independent in the way that only being a college kid away from home allows. But that requires me to accept that he is growing up and is no longer a little kid. And I will, because I never want to hold him back from being the person he was meant to be.

Time with our kids—these short seasons—shouldn’t be taken for granted anyway, but this summer I plan to especially cherish the time we spend together as a family. It may be the last ordinary summer as we now know it, but it can also be the first summer of a new season and a new chapter in our family’s history. Long live summer!

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