Guest Post: Karen Jones on Sending Her Son to University

Three weeks before the university drop-off date, I bumped into a girlfriend, Sue, whose son went off to an out-of-town school last September. She asked me how I was feeling….”Are you ready for drop-off?”

I quickly dove into a confident explanation about how I had my “breakdown” during the university tour process in March. My 18 year old son, Chris, would be completely creeped-out to learn that I would go into his room at night, stand over him, and stare at him until dime-sized teardrops fell onto his face, causing him to stir. Never before in my life had I cried such massive, heavy teardrops. After confidential disclosure to other parents, I discovered that I am not the only mother who has done the creepy-nighttime-bawl-over-your-kid’s-face thing. Chris is an amazing young man and we have always been close, even through the challenging but typical ups and downs of the mid-teen years, because we have always respected one another’s needs. Chris has been a significant source of my personal happiness. I pointed out to Sue that of late, Chris has been very pumped about going off to Queen’s to study his passion, engineering. I also explained how I have taken on a healthy, positive, and upbeat attitude as my feelings of sadness have been completely overshadowed by sheer excitement for Chris. Sue looked back at me, expressionless. After an uncomfortable five seconds of silence and solid eye contact, she leaned over and whispered into my ear, “You’re going to be a disaster”.

Two weeks before drop-off I was sufficiently distracted with “the list”. A pile including bed linens, toiletries and organizer bins was slowly growing in our hallway, looking more and more, as each day passed, like a mountain of disaster relief supplies. I was definitely becoming obsessive about “the list” and panicked at the thought of overlooking something. It was like Chris was heading off to a remote land far away for an entire year, with no money and where there were no stores. I also seemed to be imagining that Chris would be living in a room the size of a gymnasium with ample space to store “necessary” extras such as emergency medical supplies (the Kingston General Hospital is literally steps away from his residence), cold temperature survival gear, a full selection of dried-good food inventory, and of course, the spare, extra-padded desk chair. I was also collecting lists from other moms for comparison. My work paid off as I discovered I had forgotten about zip-lock baggies. (Yes, this is how crazy a peri-menopausal, over-protective, control-freak mom can get when her first is leaving the nest). One day, I found myself in the grocery store, excitedly texting Chris, “I found 3-ply tissues for you…3 ply is the best you can buy…and I searched for ones that come in non-flowery boxes”, to which he replied with the all too-familiar words, “Oh gaaawwwwd, Mom…STOP! ” Yes, I was sufficiently distracted by the list.

One week before drop-off, I began collecting advice from “experienced” university parents. The resounding opinion about drop-off day was, “Have your breakdown in the car…not in front of your child.” I also learned, for whatever reason, that all “newbie” university moms were obsessed with the whole bedding situation (I mean linens…not “bedding” as in the verb…to which I could dedicate an entire separate article covering moms’ concerns). Early Saturday morning, I announced to my husband that our goal for the weekend was to find a good mattress topper for Chris’s bed. “A WHAT?”, he replied, “Are you serious?…I went to university with a duffle bag full of clothes and a blanket…he’s going to get laughed out of the residence” (Fast forward to drop-off day…the garbage bin was full of mattress topper wrappings.) Yes, things had changed in the world of mom-preps-child-for-uni. Chris was nicely set-up with a vinyl-free, non-dust-permeable mattress pad, two sets of organic cotton sheets (500 thread count, no less), a 3” memory-foam mattress topper, down pillows, down comforter (extra-warm), and a duvet cover set. I still don’t quite understand why it was so important for his bed at university to be significantly more comfortable and exquisite than his bed at home…it just had to be. In my mind, this was somehow going to be the substitute for my comfort and care.

Two days before drop-off, I felt remarkably calm and content. Chris gave us our instructions…“Mom, please don’t make a scene. And when we get to my room, just leave everything…I will set it up myself”, to which I replied, “I won’t make a scene, but there is no way I am leaving without making your bed…no negotiation on this, Christopher”. We had a deal.

One day before drop-off, I started to unravel. At precisely 4:00pm, while setting the table for dinner the tears started. I hid from Chris most of that evening and got extra hugs from his younger brother and sister.

On the day of drop-off, the excitement on campus was palpable. Chris’s room was cozy and everything was organized in an hour although he left the zip-lock baggies in the trunk of the car when I wasn’t looking. It was a quick goodbye. I was so excited for what lay ahead of him and gave him a tight squeeze. He pulled my sunglasses down from the top of my head to cover my eyes, for fear of a scene.   As I got in the car, the tears flowed. My sister called during our drive home to check on me (an experienced mom who knew the exact moment to offer support), but I couldn’t speak to her. That first night was utterly dreary and depressing. I texted with other newbie moms and they were all upset.   I realized that for the first time in 18 years, I would no longer have any idea about what he was doing, when he would make it back to his room to sleep at night, and I no longer had the right to text him as frequently, to ask. It was the strangest feeling – a complete loss of control. I was feeling very sorry for myself, and I already missed him. My husband was very quiet. He asked me not to talk about Chris being gone because he didn’t want to think about it. I’m pretty sure I saw him wipe a tear from his eye before turning over in bed to go to sleep that night. The next day came and went exactly the way experienced moms said it would. I was upset when I woke up, and then I was fine for a bit, and then I would spontaneously cry, and then I was fine. There was simply no pattern or trigger; instead, it was random sobbing and sadness. The only thing I came to expect was that I could burst into tears at any moment.

My world brightened after Chris called for the first time…on day two (I know…it was frosh week and we were lucky). After I heard his voice, full of excitement, and his rambling words highlighted by “amazing”, “unbelievable”, “so much fun”, “party”, “so dope”, “party”…and the clincher “absolutely everyone is so incredibly warm and friendly”, I felt a wave of joy wash over me. My son was happy. I could trade not seeing him for a month or so for that happy, happy voice. And before he hung up, he exclaimed, “oh ya mom…my bed…it’s SO comfortable!”. I knew then, that “drop-off” had gone incredibly well and I would join the ranks of “experienced” moms who survived.

Karen and Andrew Jones with their son, Chris, after high school graduation last spring.

Karen and Andrew Jones with their son, Chris, after high school graduation last spring.

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Defining Motherhood

Brandie Weikle, a long-time parenting editor and writer created The New Family to speak to a new generation of parents. The blog is a resource for today’s modern family and the 1,000 Families Project was born from Brandie’s own modern family and is an inspiring collection of stories highlighting the many ways we can be a family.

Today my story is featured on The New Family and I am grateful for the opportunity. Writing this essay allowed me to reflect on my experiences as a mother and how I define motherhood for myself.   Thank you Brandie!

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I always knew that I wanted to have children, but I didn’t know that I wanted to be a mother until my first son was 5 months old.

I was a child of the eighties and early nineties. Latchkey kids were commonplace; I can’t remember a single mother who wasn’t juggling work with raising a family. A frozen pizza pocket and a reminder note to take the dog for a walk is what greeted most of us after school. The few moms who were not bringing home the bacon were buried deep in text books studying for a Masters degree in nursing, social work or education.

When I learned that I was pregnant for the first time, I was heady, simply thrilled that I was growing a life, a little boy half me and half my husband. While I debated the merits of cloth diapers versus disposable, and formula feeding over breastmilk, I never once doubted my plan to return to teaching the fifth grade just ten months after my son was born.

I had gulped down the Kool-Aid, just as many of my key-wearing friends had done. I consumed every ounce, licked every drip.

To continue reading, click here.

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Beth-Anne with her son, age 5 months.

That’s Mrs. Manners to you!

imgres-2You might as well call me Mrs. Manners – not that mine are perfect (close) but I am the self-appointed manners prefect of the family.  When did kids stop using Mrs., anyway? Like Nathalie, I am not always polite about reminding my boys to use their manners but remind them, I do.

Some (cough, cough the boys) may call it nagging but I call it “constructive guidance”.  It sounds better.

Sit up straight.  Elbows off the table.   Use your utensils.

I also excel at something that I’ve coined “verbal coaching”.  Before leaving the house, going to someone’s house, entering a store, straying more than an arm’s length from me, I like to prompt the boys:

How do we greet people?  What do you say when you arrive?  How do you shake a hand?  What do you say when you leave?  Remember to look at the person when they are speaking to you.  Use your voice, don’t mumble.  Be polite.  Say please, thank you.

Sometimes my gentle reminders are met with an eyeball roll.  I am quick to point out that’s quite rude.

It’s exhausting work being Mrs. Manners in addition to my regular gig as Super Martyr Mom but no one said raising three young boys to be kind, respectful, thoughtful men was easy.

Receiving accolades as a parent is as rare as experiencing a day free from whining.  Spoiler alert: it never happens.  Yet when report cards are sent home, no amount of A’s will make me as proud as when I read how my boys are polite, considerate and courteous.

It’s like I have been graded, and I have passed.  For now.

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imgres-1Cookie: Bite-Sized Life Lessons by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and Have You Filled A Bucket Today?
by Carol Mccloud have been read many times over in our home and serve as fantastic tools for teaching manners and kindness to my boys.

Dear Mom

Dear Mom,

You made it look so easy – mothering young children. Between balancing the needs of two small kids, the operations involved in running a household, being an attentive wife and excelling at your career; you made it seem as though there were never any sacrifices or heartache, loneliness or times of unease.  Like a director behind the camera, you orchestrated our lives without ever taking the spotlight.

Six years ago I learned one of the guarded secrets of motherhood, one that won’t be found in any book or on any blog, but revealed itself the instant my newborn was placed in my arms. With motherhood came a realization that I will never again think just of myself. Every thought from the most mundane to the dreamiest fantasies that occupy my mind will always carry with it the needs of three little people.

I thought you did this mothering job effortlessly. But I was wrong. You worked. You worked tirelessly, selflessly and endlessly to give us a solid foundation of values upon which to build our independence. You did this while reading stories, walking us to school, building forts, snuggling in on movie nights and never ceasing to cheer us on.  You gave us a childhood that storybook tales are based on.

I know now that you silently struggled too. You were not a deity that immaculately bore her children, but just a regular girl who had babies. You struggled to find your self, your voice and balance, just like me.  Just like most moms.

The bar is set high. There are days when I feel so selfish for wanting more, wanting it all and yet I am humbled by what you did for us without ever acknowledging that some of the choices you made mustn’t have been easy.  But that’s what a good mother does.  A good mother doesn’t push the weight of their world onto their children.  Like an illusionist, she allows her children to see only what she wants them to.

I wish that I had your patience, your calm and your perspective. I admit that I often feel as though I am losing my way and not only myself but the kind of mother I strive to be. Still when I feel like I am faltering I turn to you for support, guidance, and reassurance. Instead of looking up at you for answers and love like I once did, I look to you. And you have yet to let me down.

Once I became a mother you told me that the hardest part about mothering was learning how to not be a mother.  It took me years to understand what you meant by that and although my boys still cling to my skirt, I am terrified for the day when I will have to loosen my grip and eventually let go.

It is true, mom, that I do not need you anymore. You have given me direction, your strength and a ground on which to stand.  You have nourished my mind, body and soul for years and given me the fundamentals to raise my boys with the same unconditional love and immeasurable encouragement that you gave me.

You’re right, mom.  I do not need you anymore.  But I will always want you.

A Tissue-Wrap Mom

Lenora Skenazy describes Free Range Kids as “a commonsense approach to parenting in these overprotective times” with the ultimate goal of raising “self-reliant” children.

The fault I see with her definition is that “common sense is the most widely shared commodity in the world, for every man is convinced that he is well supplied with it.” (Rene Descartes).

And so we do what we do best.  We sit high on our thrones, judge others based on and freely dispense our common sense.

I admit it.  I have rolled my eyes more than a few times at parents.  At parents wiping bums of kids who can spell diarrhea, at parents who don’t allow their kids to do simple chores like sorting the cutlery for fear their six year old will impale their wrist with a butter knife or when parents baby proof their home to the extent even they are not able to open drawers, go freely down the stairs or plug in the toaster.

But those cases deserve eye-rolling (because c’mon, that’s just common sense!)

For the most part parents whom I know are not depicted in Skenazy’s show Bubble Wrap Kids, which has a tendency to focus on the polar extreme and just plain absurd.

I let my 5 year old take out the garbage without my watchful eye lording over his every move from the front door.  He is more than capable to walk to the end of our drive (which I could easily spit to) and I am happy to download this chore onto someone else.

The boys open the front door to visitors when I am home, they run ahead of me on the street.  They do not use public washrooms without being accompanied by an adult they know.  We will not let them drive in cars with most other adults.

I don’t feel by doing these things that I am raising particularly bubble wrap or free-range kids.  I feel like I am just being a mom, making decisions that feel right to me.

My common sense tells me that a child needs to learn to be independent and resourceful.  My common sense tells me that some times those lessons are learned best through experience.

A bubble-wrap mom, I am not.  A free-range mom, I am not.

A tissue-wrap mom, I am.

I want to wrap them in tissue, just like the precious gifts they are, to preserve their innocence and fragility for as long as possible.  After a delicate gift is unwrapped, the tissue can never be re-folded to its original virtue and the lid of the box never completely closes as it did before.

How I Know That I Am Getting Older

A few weeks ago we went out for a fancy schmancy dinner to celebrate a friend’s birthday.  It became clear to me that regardless of how young we feel that we have all stopped checking the 25-29 box.

Tequila shooters, Broken Down Golf Carts and Cement Mixers gave way to a full-bodied chianti and the conversation centered on work, kids, and biological clocks instead of hook-ups, student loans and wedding plans.

Everyone silently cheered that dinner was over before 11 pm so that we could all be home and in bed before the stroke of midnight.  We know there is no magic in being out past the stroke of midnight just brutally long mornings with whiney kids and/or clients.

While walking out of the restaurant we had to pass through the lobby bar.  It was brimming with so many scantily clad 20- somethings that when I looked down at what I was wearing, I felt like I was channeling my inner-Amish.

It wasn’t just the sartorial differences or the gaping abyss between sobriety and inebriation that reminded me that I am older more mature, it was the commentary from my friends:

“Wow, you can smell the desperation in here”.

 

I think that girl forgot to put on her pants.  Oh look, apparently no one wears pants anymore.”

“What’s with the weird facial hair?  That guy needs to trim his side burns.”

Just a few days later, as I was listening to 90’s on 9, XM radio, each song a nostalgic trip down memory lane, it hit me.

I have officially become my parents: I listen to music that is 20 years old, and question the fashion choices of “youth”.

When did it strike you that you are not necessarily as “young as you feel”?

 

photo credit: bookrenter.com

 

The Pursuit of Happiness?

I seem to find advice on how to be happy everywhere I turn.  Magazines have entire monthly columns dedicated to attaining it and numerous blogs tout the pursuit of it.

For me, the pressure to be happy can be crushing and there are times, more than I would care to admit, that “be happy” is just one more line item for supermom to check off.  There it looms on the list: above “nutritious short order cook” and below “sultry sexpot”.

Being a mother has proved to be my life riddle.  One that I am struggling to figure out.

How is it that I feel so utterly lonely but at the same time crave solitude?

Why do I want time apart from my kids but once I am alone, I count the hours to when they return?

At the end of the day, I beat myself up and wonder what is that I accomplished today?  What use did I make of my two university degrees?

At the end of the day, I am amazed by the magnitude of what I have contributed to our society: three small boys, who are learning to be thoughtful, compassionate members of the community.

There are days when I am deliriously happy and days that I feel as though I am clawing my way out of a black hole.

Today I didn’t feel happiness.  I felt claustrophobic, torn apart, pushed beyond the limit of exhaustion.  As I write this, the boys are tucked into bed and not a minute too soon.  My patience now sags like a hyper extended elastic band.

Hard days come with the mothering territory and when I feel less than sure, it’s not to the experts that I turn.  I seek solace from those elbow to elbow with me in the trenches and Glennon Melton’s Don’t Carpe Diem tops my list.

Am I happy every day?  No.  Am I happy most days?  Yes, and that’s good enough for me.

Life’s not a glossy magazine, folks.  If it were, I’d have better hair.

 

photo credit: http://www.symbolset.org

The Playground Is A Classroom

On the third day of school I picked up my newly minted SKer from the dismissal line.  While I was waiting for him to run into my arms, a mother of one of his classmates turned to me and said the kids had been to the playground and with a roll of her eyes said, “I can take her to the slide.  What about learning some letters?”

Crap.  I didn’t know that our 4 and 5 year olds were applying to Ivy League schools tomorrow.  Why am I always the last to know?

My SKer inverts his letters, skips numbers when he counts to thirty and thinks that Terry Fox lives in the forest behind his grandparents’ house.  My pre-schooler would rather pick his nose than pick up a pencil and I am fairly certain I will have a struggle on my hands getting him to read a book, unless of course, he’s on a toilet.

But what my kids do excel at is, being kids.  They have wild imaginations that leave me eavesdropping from behind a wall, wishing that I had the video camera recording every sound that they make.

Sometimes the baby bathtub is a speedboat, and an old belt is the water ski rope.  Other times it is a racecar whizzing around the perimeter of the playroom.  One time it was a bobsled shooting down the stairs (I put a stop to that one).  Their new favourite game is playing dogcatcher.  The toddling baby* is the stray dog and the older two are “dog nappers” who surprise the unwitting mongrel and toss a net (blanket) over their capture.

The comment from the schoolyard mother made me bristle.  Sure anyone can take their own kid to the playground but would any sane person take them with 19 of their peers?  It’s on the playground where kids learn social skills.  They learn how to take turns, wait in line, and show compassion for others.

They create a bond outside of the classroom that can’t be replicated within the confines of four walls.  The way I see it, it’s like a company retreat.  Except the company is school and the employees are students.

What’s the point of good grades if a student lacks the social skills to apply them?  Furthermore, creativity and imagination need to be nurtured as they are born organically from childhood and simply cannot be taught by an instructor.

In terms of homework, I balance on the fence.  In the younger grades homework can actually be a communication tool between parent-teacher and parent-child.  Parents can reinforce what was learned in the classroom by engaging in discussions and enhance what is being taught by expanding the classroom walls to include the greater community.

We spent many hours this summer in the garden watching the tomatoes and cucumbers grow.  My son explained to me how root systems work and how tomatoes get their red colour.  We looked up answers to his questions on the Internet about what vegetables grow in Ontario during the summer months.  The seed, pardon the pun, for this learning was a school unit on plants.

I am sure that there will come a time when homework becomes a laborious chore for both of us, but for now and I hope for the future, I continue to look at it as an opportunity to enrich what he is learning.

And here is where I slide to the other side of that fence.  Homework that is rote and has no real application is dull.  Dull for everyone – student, parent and teacher.  Not only is it uninspiring but also it serves no real purpose.  In our face-paced society where parents are struggling to get dinner on the table, fighting with kids to complete tedious assignments does not sound like quality time spent – for anyone.

From my perch on the middle of the fence, I say that homework has it’s place but not at the expense of being a kid and bonding as a family.  There is so much more to life than grades and academics.  And I would say that I am not alone in my thinking.

Click here to read a great article from Science Daily and here for another from The Globe and Mail.

*(My guess is that boy #3 might make through school on a wrestling scholarship.  Just saying).

Love is Better Than Anger

Jack Layton -- 1950-2012

poster by Stuart Thursby at www. cargocollective.com.

Yesterday, we lost Jack Layton, leader of the official opposition and Toronto champion. Though I had met Jack only a small handful of times, as a life-long Toronto resident, I can barely remember a time when he wasn’t a part of the political landscape of this city. I feel as if we’ve lost a favourite neighbour. I feel as if we’ve lost a friend.

Last night, still smarting from his death, I read Layton’s final letter to my boys, explaining to them what a remarkable man he was. In a world where cynicism and anger are commonplace, Layton’s last public words remind us all that we have good reason for optimism. We can be better. We can be better together. And so we will.

 

Regardless of your political views, his final letter to Canadians was inspiring.  To read it in its entirety click here.

A case for simple names

Betheny.  Becky.  Mary Beth.  Mary Anne.  Ruth Anne.

These are just a few of the names that I have repeatedly been called during my thirty years.  Who knew that two simple names hyphenated together, making one, could cause such confusion?

This name-angst has followed me since childhood.  My mother tells me that as a young girl a distant relative thought that my parents had two daughters: Beth and Anne.  They would look at my mom puzzled when she would arrive somewhere with just me in tow, being so bold as to ask, “I thought Beth and Anne were coming.”

Perhaps because my name is not that common, it can be perplexing to some.  Introducing myself to anyone hard of hearing, who has an accent or speaks English as a second language usually leaves them slightly embarrassed, and an exasperated me temporarily answering to a new name.

Or else the conversation usually goes something like this:

“Hi, I am Lauren.”

“Hi, Lauren.  I am Beth-Anne, nice to meet you.”

“Betheny?”

“No, Beth-Anne”

“Sorry, Beth-Anne?”

“Yes.  Beth-Anne.  Like Beth and Anne smooshed together.  Beth-Anne.”

“So, that has a hyphen?”

“Yes.”

“Huh.  Sort of like Mary Beth.”

Not really.

My husband, after years of witnessing this exchange, is now quick to butt-in and just finishes the script for me.  It never ceases to amaze me that my two-syllable name can cause eyebrows to furrow and foreheads to crease.

Years ago, I met someone who had a tattoo that read: Hello, My Name Is Jim on his left breast.  Obnoxiously he made a show of peeling back his plaid flannel button-down shirt when he introduced himself.  After seeing, what I can only imagine as shock on my face, he quickly sidestepped to the next group of party guests to repeat his performance.

Just pointing to my inked chest could make my life easier but ultimately there are many reasons why this wouldn’t be a suitable solution least of which, after having three kids, my “name tag” would be down around my navel.

The only other regular sounding name that I have bared witness to causing such confused looks is a woman whose name is LN.   That’s right.  LN like Ellen.  After meeting her, explaining my hybrid name to strangers seems like a cakewalk.  At least my parents don’t come off as LSD dropping illiterates.

So, when the time came to name our boys the criteria was simple:  one-syllable first names to match their one-syllable last name.

Jack, Sam and Will.

May they never have to resort to name tattoos.