Thursday, June 25, 2015

The Confident College-Bound Kid And The Worried Parent

In just a day and a half, I will be getting on a plane with my son to drop him off at college some 1300 miles away, for a six-week summer program he must complete in order to attend the university in the fall. While I had every faith that I had prepared him for the world outside his comfortable bubble, some things have popped up making me think otherwise.

I have always prided myself on not being an overly suffocating parent. I have allowed my kids to dabble in danger in order to learn. For example, when they were little, I let them run on the concrete and get boo-boos so they would know to move it to the grass next time. I allowed them to experience a slight sunburn (because they rarely listen to me when I nag and nag about putting on sunscreen) so they would remember that it hurts when they don't apply sunscreen, and I have let them eat junk food all day knowing they would  pay the consequences later when their stomach began to turn on them. I would never allow them to be severely harmed, that would be child abuse. But I do allow just enough leeway for them to be warned from their own poor decisions. It's the way we learn best; trial and error. Just like the day I told my son (when he was around five or six), not to touch the cactus because, even though it looks like soft hairs, it will hurt you. Well, of course, he just had to touch it and, of course, he had about twenty tiny needles stuck in his fingers. Did he ever touch another cactus again? Nope! He learned!

There are other things I have tried to let my children learn the hard way, because, sometimes, no amount of explaining or nagging will change a child's behavior. Sometimes, kids have to experience failure in order to learn how the world works, like letting them fail a test because they thought it was more important to play video games than to study, or missing an important event because they didn't complete homework assignments. As much as I dislike watching my children struggle or fail, there really is no better teacher.

So, now I bring you back to my son, who is leaving for college. I have taught him how to cook basic meals and wash his laundry (although I have given up on him folding it!) along with a list of other life survival skills. Ha! I thought - he's going to be sooo ready when he moves away.

But then, while he was filling out his graduation thank you cards (his handwriting looks worse than a second graders - so for those who receive them, I'm sorry!), he asked me this: "Mom, do I need to put a postage stamp on the cards I mail inside California?" WHAT?! Did he really just ask me that question? How could it be, at 18, he doesn't know if he needs a postage stamp? And then, I wondered... what the hell else doesn't he know?

I did a little research. I googled the question: what your child should know before going to college, and there were multiple pages of advice. I was really more curious about life skills, but there were also practical tips that kids should follow while they are at school as well. I have taken down some of the important findings just in case you are floating in the same boat as me.

1. Know how to do laundry: wash, dry and iron.

2. Know how to make at least basic meals. Make sure they know how to turn on a stove/oven and that it's important to clean up after themselves - seriously, some kids just don't know this!

3. Know how to manage money. Have them create a spending budget and show them how to balance a checkbook or keep track of their debit card online. Have them refrain from getting a credit card until they fully understand how to manage their money.

4. If they are taking their car, know how to do general maintenance and what the warning lights mean. They should also know how to change a tire and who to contact in case of an accident or a breakdown.

5. Know how to use public transportation. Make sure they are aware of what is available at school.

6. Know how to keep their room tidy. No one wants a messy roommate and keeping items put away makes finding them easier.

7. Know how to address professors and how to be courteous to all school employees.

8. Know how to take care of themselves if they are sick and know when it's time to seek medical attention.

9. Understand how college loans will affect them and if they are lucky to have a scholarship, have them take the scholarship seriously. It would suck if they lost it due to not knowing what is expected of them.

10. Know that their professors are not their parents.

11. Get up when the alarm goes off.

12. ALWAYS go to class.

13. Know how to manage stress.

14. Know how to balance school work with their social life. Without us nagging at them, they may struggle with this. It's easy to get caught up in the social aspect of college and neglect their studies.

15. Know how to keep themselves and their valuables safe.

16. Try new things, make new friends.

17. Go to as many networking events as possible - make connections.

18. Invest in your professors: get to know them on a personal level by dropping by during office hours for help or advice. This relationship can help when in need of recommendation letters.

19. Get an internship.

20. Learn how to write. Not just write, but write well.

21. Develop skills that are hard to get outside the university.

22. Learn more than just your major - expand your knowledge beyond your degree.

23. Stand strong in your morals and values.

24. Don't put anything on the internet that could harm your employment or social life. If you don't want your mom, significant other or employer to see it, then don't post it!

25. Put your napkin in your lap and, if it's a cloth napkin, don't blow your nose in it! (My husband did that at a fancy restaurant when we were dating and, at that point, I was wondering if he was raised by a pack of wolves!)

26. And not one of the lists I read said anything about how to use postage stamps! So, even though most correspondence is done via the internet these days, make sure they know how snail mail works!

27. (An add from a reader!) "Know when and how to ask for help." This applies to everything from school work, to physical and mental health, to financial situations. Kind of goes along with being willing to admit you don't necessarily know everything, which is probably difficult for invincible 18 year olds...

I was really hoping someone would give me a list of all the life skills kids should know that I take for granted as common knowledge, but in my search, I didn't find that magical list. I suppose, many of the things will be learned as he goes along, the way many of us did. And, there's always Google!

For all of those sending a child off to college this fall, I wish for you, a sense of peace among the chaos of doubt in your head. Did I do enough? Are they ready to go it alone? Can I let go? If you have gotten this far, then the answer is "yes". Confidence breeds confidence, and by showing them that you feel they are ready will help them feel they can take this next step toward independence. It's a tough world out there, but it's meant to be discovered. Allowing your child the freedom to discover is one of the biggest gifts you can give him/her. And, if they find they are not quite ready once they get there, they can always come home (although I have big plans for my son's room when he leaves - so that may not work out - just kidding!).

If you have additional advice, please share it! I, as well as the readers, could use it!

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Good Intentions

I vaguely remember hearing the quote: "The path to Hell is paved with good intentions". Damn, I hope that's not true. I am filled with good intentions and exciting ideas, and grandiose visions of what I will accomplish. I usually start out strong, but invariably, life gets in the way and by the time I have a minute to get to my list, I am too fucking tired, it's ten P.M., and I am "just going to lie down for five minutes to rest my eyes". The next think I know the alarm is blaring. Yet, I really do have great expectations of myself, and even greater intentions. I will get the thank you cards out the week after the party. I will remember to call on all the birthdays, I will have empty hampers and full closets, I will do art projects and flashcards and engage in creative play and turn the electronics off.And the hardest one lately: I will keep up with my blog and write at least two posts a week.

It's not that I don't want to do those things (okay, I have never been intrinsically motivated to do laundry). Take this blog for example, while I am writing about writing. I love to write. I would say it feeds my soul if I said saccharine shit like that. I have been working on my first novel since my two and half year old was a newborn and I am maybe halfway through. I haven't written a word in weeks, although the ideas are going through my head. The same is true for this blog. I have started dozens of posts and I have dozens more in my head that I would love to just sit down and write, and I have every intention of doing so. I have great expectations but life gets in the way. Now before you cringe and close you laptop or put down your iPhone (unless your Julia and reading this in English class, in which case you should put down your iPhone young lady) I assure you my point is not to bemoan my busy life. Sure, I am as busy as the next person and my last few weeks have been a hamster wheel of birthday party planning and Vacation Bible School volunteering and setting up new cable services. While I am sometimes just too busy to get everything done, that's really not the problem. The problem is I often lack the focus to sit down and complete a task. I am the person who leaves the dryer open and half loaded with wet clothes and then remembers that I have to return a phone call. When I am making the phone call I will notice the dishes in the sink and start on those. Then the kids will start fighting so I will take them outside to get a change of scenery. When I am going to bed that night I will notice the laundry mildewing halfway into the dryer. By that time I am tired, so I will just rewash the whole load. Sorry, environmentalists.

I started this blog post six days ago. I am not exaggerating. But then my six year old wanted to show me the city he had build out of blocks and he wanted me to play with him.Then his brother started "wreaking the setup" so I had to break up a wrestling match and conduct a lecture on how we don't use our hands to express our feelings. By that time they wanted dinner, and Mom, is it ready yet? Yes, Sweetie, Mommy's clone cooked dinner while I was pushing plastic cars through a wooden city. Well, then the weekend came and my two year old who ironically had spent Friday afternoon in a children's gym (the only type of gym I frequent, incidentally) jumping and climbing,managed to fracture a bone in his foot by tripping on the kitchen floor. More on that story later, but the last few days have been spent largely in doctor's offices, and by the way, they don't move very urgently at urgent care.

Add all of this "excitement" to the fact that school is out and my writing time is as abundant as sleep for a new mom. And yet, I need to find a way to carve out time for it because it's my thing and we all need something that is ours, mom or not. I also need to make more time to do other things that I really want to do like calling friends. It's not because your not important, I promise. So what am I to do? Lower my expectations so I can meet them? Have myself tested for ADD? Get organized (ha!)? Stop putting off the things that are really important and fulfilling? The problem is that something is always being neglected. If I am writing then I am not engaging with my kids. If I am playing with my kids dinner is not getting cooked. Hence, my unrealistic attempts to do everything at once, which ends with nothing getting completed. This isn't my problem, it's everyone's problem. Yet I suspect I may struggle a bit more with focus and finding a balance, not to mention letting things go. I really do have the best of intentions, but unfortunately there are no effort grades. Now if you'll excuse me, I have a mountain of birthday gifts on my dining room table from my six year old's birthday party last week. I need to help him write out thank you cards. Now where'd I put that list of who gave what? Maybe I'll look for it after I dewrinkle the clothes that have been in the dryer for the past two days...

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Mom, How Do Dogs Have Sex?

Yes, that's right - that was the question my eleven year old asked me while at a nice dinner in Maui tonight. Now, I must admit, there was a little giggle in my throat and an "Oh my God, is she really asking me this question," moment in my brain, but it was a reasonable question I wasn't quite sure how to answer.

Just recently she was given "The Talk" at school regarding sex and becoming a woman. Her father and I had to go to an informational meeting where we were told how the talk would go and even some of the parents giggled as though they had never heard this information before. Even at this new age of sexual revolution, talking about sex is, for many, extremely uncomfortable. But, I realized as I tried to deal with this question at the table with my two older children present, (ages 16 & 18) that their dad and I must have done a decent job in discussing such topics since neither of them felt greatly uncomfortable with the question. As a matter of fact, they helped to facilitate the discussion, creating an open and friendly environment for my younger daughter to ask questions.

I was a little shocked at how much my older children knew, but I was also proud they felt comfortable enough around me and their dad to discuss such mature topics. Sex is a difficult topic to address with children. As adults, and as their parents, we would like them to believe that indeed, the stork did deliver them and that no shenanigans played out to create them. But, we all know that did not happen and we know, at some point, they will figure this out by either us (their parents), or by their friends (who probably have no idea how it all works, or way too much of an idea that your child will know vocabulary you don't even know).

I'm not here to lecture you on when to tell your child what, but I can tell you that being open about such questions and answering them honestly will create a relationship between you and your child where they feel safe. Not laughing at them, using correct terms for body parts or actions, and making sure they understand what you have told them all help to secure a positive interaction. Often times, parents make the mistake of pushing off such questions which only encourages a child to seek the answer somewhere else and, often times, the answer may be incorrect. As a parent, it's our duty to make sure our children are educated in every aspect of life, even for things we feel uncomfortable with.

So, do your research. It's never too early to educate yourself of what to tell your children and when. Each child is different, but each child should be equipped with the proper knowledge for their age. They should also be taught at a young age, what is appropriate and what is not. Protecting them at a young age against predators is also greatly important. The earlier we educate our children, the safer they will be.

And yes, I giggled a little when my eleven year old asked how dogs have sex, but I was also honest with her. Of course "that's gross," was the response, but she knows how it really works and I don't have to remember some made up explanation. Knowledge is indeed power - for all involved!

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Best Laid Plans...

I'm not much of a planner. And, if I happen to make plans, I will wait until the very last possible moment to commit. I will drag my feet when planning a vacation, a party, a get-together with a friend or an activity with my children until I teeter on the edge of the commitment ledge. I suppose this is what you would call procrastinating, and yes, I do procrastinate. I jokingly call myself  Last Minute Lucy. Now, why would I do such a thing?! Why would I risk missing a good deal on a well planned vacation? Why would I stress myself out by planning a party a day or two before the event? Why do I often tell my kids "we'll see" when they ask to do something? Because, in my experience, best laid plans can often fall short of their target.

For example, let's take my sister-in-law's (Kat) visit last week. My son was graduating from high school so my mother-in-law, brother-in-law, Kat and two (adorable) nephews came to visit. Before Kat came, we discussed getting away to work on our blog, take some pictures and make future plans while sipping coffee uninterrupted. But...we never got a chance to steal away and carry out what we had planned. We had over a week to do this and yet, never had a chance to find an hour or two to get away and work. The night before they left, we stood around the kitchen island, too much beer in our system to make much sense, and wrote our "plans" on a scrap piece of paper. Not only could I not decipher what I wrote, but I also woke up with a nice hang-over and a sense of keen disappointment over not completing the one thing we planned on doing. Best laid plans...

Here's what the week looked like:

So, to starve off disappointment, I try not to plan. By not planning, I don't set up expectations that will most likely be dashed. I don't consider myself a negative person, however I do consider myself a realist. And, when you have kids, you have to be able to roll with the punches, expect the unexpected and be prepared to cancel plans because your family needs you - that is life. I prefer to be unencumbered by a gazillion planned commitments because sometimes life is just better when you allow it to be organic, to let it be without force. Some of my best memories are from when things didn't go exactly as planned.

I'm not saying that planning ahead should be ditched, I just think sometimes, being spontaneous allows for less disappointment and more unexpected fun. If we let our guard down a little, give up the crazy, over-scheduled life every once in a while, we will find a sense of freedom we need but rarely experience as responsible, committed adults.

And, if you must plan just remember: