We are Merely Freshmen
On a hot sand dune overlooking Lake Michigan, an older woman, newly transplanted from Philadelphia greeted us on our hike with a friendly hello when she noticed my husband was wearing a baseball cap from the University of Pennsylvania.
We struck up a conversation. Yes, we were transplants too from back east. Yes, my husband did go to school there. And soon, our daughter would be starting her freshman year in Philadelphia.
“She is going to love it! So much has changed there since you went to school. Some people call it the sixth borough of New York City.”
……Now, I do not know if a true Philadelphian would appreciate that comment – Philadelphia truly can stand on its own with its own identity as a full-fledged city. Perhaps she was just trying to reassure us. That Philadelphia was great and getting better by the day. That the City of Brotherly Love would be kind to my daughter, a freshman. And kind to her parents, who are freshmen again in some ways, trying to start over another chapter with one kid out the door and on her way to adulthood.
She’s starting her first semester of classes there. The rest of her family, we are making the adjustments.
- I have inherited a whole bunch of T-shirts, hoodie sweatshirts and athletic clothing she deemed “too high school” to be worn on a college campus.
- We have moved her place setting and her chair away. All the more pasta at dinner time for the boys.
- Without her to keep it closed and shout “out!” the second any of her brothers would dare to enter, my oldest son has architectural renderings of how to turn his sister’s room into a soundproof recording studio. Not really. But he wishes he could.
- My youngest son just pines away and wonders when big sister will ever be home for a long time again.
Now, readers, I know I am not the first parent with a kid going away to college. But I never expected to transplant our family so far from our east-coast roots, only to have a kid return to the east coast. From here on in, life changes. It is not certain if she will ever live home full-time again. It is not even certain if she will return in the summers. Two years ago, we were all freshmen in Michigan. Two years ago, I really thought she was going to be a college freshman. At Michigan.
Just hours before, the three of us – my daughter husband and I woke in a hotel room. My daughter opened the curtain and took some time to stare out at the campus sixteen stories below her. The next four years of her life could be seen from a bird’s-eye view.
At 7:30, Philadelphia was waking up as workers grabbed their coffee to go and headed out on the hot sidewalk. The city was also gearing up to welcome back all the students.
Streets were blocked off around the dorms:
We pulled up to a loading spot where an army of kids wearing bright yellow T-shirts were there to help us. What took us about a half hour to load, they unloaded in about five minutes.
They then whisked my daughter away through the heavily secured gateway to her dorm quad
Her quad is peaceful and serene, lined with Ivy-clad dormitories, benches, gardens, statues and graced with an old dorm room beset with a marble and concrete facade in a quadrangle of other old buildings graced with Ivy and a centuries-old Elm tree providing shade for studying, or just a good nap,
Within a few hours, we had all her stuff moved up her third floor dorm room, complete with a “basement.”
Yes, her dorm room has its own basement. If you are packing up your kids for college, I highly recommend getting those squishable zip-lock bags that can vacuum seal your kid’s winter coats to the thickness of a crepe:
See? With five of these bags I was able to squish several coats and a winter’s worth of sweaters into her “basement” – really a trunk that is stored under the bed.
After we settled her in, it was time to explore.
I had many emotions coursing through me. Pride. Happiness. Awe. Sadness. But they couldn’t match what my husband was feeling that day. See, this was his college. His memories. His old haunts and stomping grounds. He even took us into his old dorm, in the same ancient quad just a few buildings down from my daughter’s:
I admit I have a bit of resentment. The two of them as close as they are will share these years at Penn, something I will never share. As a men’s chorus sang The Red and the Blue, I could not help feel a sense of envy, and strained in my own memory to hear verses of “On the Banks of the Old Raritan” from Rutgers. She will never go there. None of my kids will.
Still, like going to a school even older than Rutgers – Penn was founded in 1740 – you cannot help feel a sense the heritage of this place.
Even within with Penn Library exists some of our country’s most significant historical artifacts, including amazing one of only 48 printed copies of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by President Lincoln himself, which we had the rare opportunity to see.
As I stood on line to glimpse at this bit of history – hastily retrieved from the archives by a librarian who did not know that the University president suggested all incoming freshmen and their parents to visit the library to see it before they parted campus – my husband beckoned me over to another treasure trove of an exhibit.
There, in a quiet corner gallery in the library’s sixth floor, was a collection on display of some original artwork and some rare original printings of Ludwig Bemelmans, most famously known for his Madeline children’s books.
A book read to my girl as she sat on my lap night after night, A book that was one of the first she had learned to read herself ….now this young woman starting college,
As the afternoon wore on, it was time for us to say goodbye and for her to start her life.
As we walked her back to her dorm room one last time, I wondered what it would feel like for her, waking up for the first time pretty much by herself. She had no breakfasts in her meal plan. Who would she hang out with? What would she eat? Would she make a healthy choice at the nearest Wawa (you don’t know what Wawa is?) or would she consume complete crap? Who was going to tell her to drink the milk? To whom would she roll her eyes in response?
As I gave her my final embrace until October, I noticed a closed yet filled Nalgene water bottle laying on its side on her brand new comforter set from Bed Bath and Beyond.
An avid runner, she has left filled water bottles astray on many surfaces in my house: on the floor of the family room, on the floor of her bedroom, on her bed.
For probably the first time, I didn’t nag her about leaving things lying around. For eighteen plus years, I have done all the nagging a mother can do that is in within the limits of legality. After all, this was her bed. In her dorm. In her new life at college.
So as I learn to let her go, I let that water bottle go.
I just wonder if she knows what setting to put the dryer on if indeed there was a leak.
Good luck, to all the freshmen out there and to all the families out there with one less being underfoot!
The Incredible Weekend Getaway of the Six Invisibilia Women
Before summer completely slips away and before I have to hop in my car again to take my kid to his second cross-country practice of the day, I must linger in the slow pace of summer and tell you about the incredible weekend getaway of the Six Invisibilia Women.
Maybe, if you also were lucky enough, you found some time to spend on friendship this summer. Not on your job or your marriage, or your kids, but pure, unadulterated time for kindling friendship.
Somewhere between your college graduation, your first job, your first marriage and your first diaper change, your identify as a girlfriend or a Best Friend Forever starts to slip away.
By the time you find yourself in mid-life, you become something of an egg white folded into a chocolate soufflé. Sure, the chocolate souffle is delicious and satisfying. You add body and texture to the family you created: your spouse, your children. You are the glue. You are the one who finally finds the watch the husband has been searching for in a pants pocket at the bottom of the laundry hamper. You are the one who is around to schedule and chauffeur the children to every last pediatrician, dentist and emergency orthodontist appointment.
But in those efforts, you sacrifice some of the stuff that made you you, and you start to become invisible.
If you are reading this and you are a man and the breadwinner of the house, I don’t know if this feeling of losing yourself applies to you. If I am wrong, please explain why in the comment box below.
Perhaps I am waxing post-feminism here, but guys, you pretty much shape the life, and where that life happens, for your family. From my experience, if a family relocates, they are relocating for the husband’s job and not for the wife’s career. You rarely look back compared to your trailing spouse. Outside your home, you have defined yourself and your path through your work, the reputation you have built around your career and the colleagues who know you near and far.
For the trailing spouse, however, (that would be me) you have to keep reinventing yourself with each move. You must chart a new course for yourself and you are pretty much on your own in your own reincarnation. Friendships from different chapters of your life fall away because of time, distance and family obligations. The more moves, the stronger the trailing spouse realizes their own sense of invisibility because making friends is that much harder.
Why is it that the deeper one moves into marriage and motherhood, the less time they have for friends? The long, uninterrupted conversations with college friends and the friends of the urban tribe pre-marriage get truncated into 30 minute coffee chats here and there at best. It is no secret that making friends in mid-life is tough. A 2012 New York Times piece says that, unlike when you are in your teens and 20’s, life is no longer wide open to new experiences or explorations.
Unless you move. When you pick up and move in your mid forties or later, however, you most likely no longer have babies or preschoolers to provide that cute entry path to new friendships. With teens and tweens, you plop down into a suburban setting where the mommy playgroups have all been played out, where all the coffee dates and walking groups have already been gelled. Your kid and your kid’s friends all have cell phones, so there is no need for the kid or the parent to call you to make social arrangements.
Everyone already has more than enough friends and connections in town. You can tell by the way they barely notice you at curriculum night or at the orthodontist or at the track meets. They’ve most likely had these same B.F.F’s since high school or college, making you feel all the more invisible. Sorry, mom of the teen and tween – all carpools and all the PTO committees have been pre-ordained since preschool. You can be sure of that.
If you are lucky enough, like me, the invisible trailing spouse, through forces of invisibilia, finds her path to friendship.
So what’s the deal with this word invisibilia? Invisibilia is a Latin word for all the invisible things, the invisible forces that control human behavior – ideas, beliefs, assumptions and emotions.
Invisibilia is also the name of a new N.P.R. podcast I was introduced to by a friend, a new friend who generously included me in her circle of friends – who also sometimes feel invisible amongst the ladies of the PTO – on this getaway weekend Up North. (If you are unfamiliar with the term Up North, you do not live in Michigan.)
As much as I would like to talk about the podcasts – and the books – we read and talked about – this is not a post about books and podcasts. It is about friendship.
So what happens when six women who all meet much later in life find themselves a free weekend in August with no obligations to anything else but friendship? They pack up some suitcases, lots of food and drink and share the four-hour ride Up North in a very spacious minivan. Let’s just say that by the time we got to our destination – our host’s parent’s lake house – our voices were all sore from talking.
After all, when you meet friends in your forties and up, you have a lifetime of stories to catch up on. The conversations were endless. There were no husbands, children or wifi. Cell phone reception was spotty. Therefore, old-fashioned and unfettered conversations flowed freely from topic to topic: our hometowns, how our husbands proposed, sagas on labor and parenting, and now challenges and struggles in our careers.
While we talked, we walked, cooked and ate. Some of us spent too much time cooking and were reminded by others to sit down and read their book for God’s sake! That is a friend, I tell you!
Some of us hung out in the hot tub. Some of us tried our skills in a canoe. We called out to the loons. When did we feel it was okay to show we were loony enough to call out to a loon? Some of us even braved the uninterrupted darkness at night to find a constellation or catch a glimpse of a shooting star. We tried to contain our shrieks of joy but it is kind of hard to do when a shooting star lasts for about five seconds leaving a trail across the dark unsuburban sky.
The only thing that interrupted our conversations was the sight of a flitting fleet of hummingbirds that visited the feeder attached to the large back window. Or the call of the loons in the lake. Or times at night when there was a seemingly silent pact that we would all sit around and read.
I have not felt as close a bond to other women since college. Even though I was surrounded by all these new friends, flickers of memories of old friendships darted in and out of my mind.
I thought of one of them when she asked us once, walking along a beach at the New Jersey Shore: “When did we come to a point of trusting one another with our secrets? How did we know we were at a point in our friendship where we could be silly with each other? At what point did we know how to make each other laugh?”
Back to the present… I realize that even though I have not seen some of my college friends in years, they have not left me. There still remains this invisible tie between us. Ties built on trust and shared confidences. They have only enriched my life by coaxing me out of invisibility to take chances on new friendships.
My kids’ schools have no nurse, does yours?
Who wants to pay less taxes?
Who wants the government and regulation off our backs?
Government and school payrolls are much too big, let’s stop using our taxes to pay big government salaries!
Careful what you ask for.
Do you remember the good old days when there were school nurses? In the sixth grade, my throat burned and my head ached. I was sent to the school nurse where she took my temperature, gave me some water and a throat lozenge that tasted like cherry. The cold nurses cot lined with that crinkly white medical paper was somehow a comforting place to rest as I waited for my mom to come pick me up.
In the ninth grade I passed out in hygiene class and had to be wheeled through the hallway – of course during the change of classes – to the nurse’s office. There the nurse checked my vitals, my blood pressure and my temperature, etc. and sent me on my way back to classes after she determined my cause of fainting was due to me being grossed out by the day’s lesson.
As a mother, my children made several trips to the nurse’s office in the years they were students in New York State:
- There were routine eye and hearing exams
- Lice checks when there was the monthly…. emmm, occasional outbreak in one of their classes
- When my daughter’s 2nd grade head collided with another 2nd grade head, it was the nurse’s office who called me saying I would need to take my daughter to an ENT specialist to rule out a broken nose
- My oldest son broke several body parts at school. It was a nurse who was trained to triage him and fix him up enough to make him comfortable until i could get him to the doctor’s office.
- My youngest son had an asthma plan in his old school in New York where he went to the nurse’s office each day before recess or gym to take his inhaler.
- The nurse in my youngest son’s school also extracted a tick from my son’s neck, contained it in a plastic jar for me to take to my doctor to test it for Lyme’s disease. She was my hero!
The beginning of the school year I called up to speak to the school nurse at my son’s middle school about my son’s inhaler.
This is a school where we got a note home the first day of school saying that NO child could bring in any products containing nuts because several children in the school contained a life-threatening THAT’S LIFE THREATENING peanut allergy.
Philadelphia Child Dies, No School Nurse Available
“We don’t have a nurse,” the secretary said in matter-of-fact tone.
“Excuse me?” I stammered in disbelief.
She calmly said that the school has a clinic where moms volunteer their time. Or, she, the secretary, plays the role of the nurse, distributing medication and other nursing functions. I’m sure she has time to care for our children, especially during cold and flu season, plus get all her other work done.
Really. So very comforting that is, never knew a school administrator knew how to take a kids vitals or how to treat a wound, a bone break or properly give out meds in addition to paperwork and calendar scheduling.
I shared my dismay with another school administrator, this time at my daughter’s high school.
“Oh yeah, our district hasn’t had nurses in a very long time. It’s an enormous liability.”
Yeah, do you think?
In New York, our property taxes were pretty high. In Michigan, our taxes are quite low. Our suburban streets are quite pock-marked with potholes and our schools have no nurses. And that’s the way people like it here, I guess.
Weekly Photo Challenge: Mine
The word mine. After mama and dada, it is probably one the first word a child learns.
Especially if he has other siblings.
This is a photo of my son way before he grew to the almost 14-year-old guitar-playin’, fedora wearin’ teen boy he is now.
Back then, a little over two years old, he was the boy who did not want to give up his crib. And would only do so unless it was absolutely guaranteed that he could sleep in his new big boy bed with ALL his friends.
So there he is, and there he was.
Mine is a very important word to a toddler. But if you ever parented a toddler, you already knew that.
Talkin’ ‘Bout the Birds and The Bees at the Bus Stop
These are the last days of school. I’m trying to make the most of them with my youngest by having our morning one-on-one time while waiting for his bus. We did just that today, just talking and waiting as the rain fell.
All I was trying to do was play a little math problem solving game with him, and lo and behold, it turned into the beginnings of THE talk.
I was not going to write about this funny conversation with my youngest child, my eight-year-old boy who is a bit worldly thanks to big brother and sister.
However, Blogher and Venus Embrace are putting bloggers up to the challenge of writing about tips of how to have a talk about sexuality with your kids for a $50 Visa Card giveaway, I would take them up on their opportunity.
So, there we were waiting for the bus when my son asks how old his grandparents, my parents, were when they got married, and how old they were when I was born.
Perfect. Time for a little math while waiting for the bus.
Me: Grandpa was born in 1940 and he got married in 1965.
Son: So… he was 25.
Me: Right. Okay, Grandma was born in 1943-
Son: So Grandma was 22.
Me: That’s right. And I was born in 1968.
Son: Didn’t grandma and grandpa want to have kids right away?
Me: Ummm….maybe, but it takes some time to have a baby.
Son: Why? I mean, why didn’t they, right after the wedding, drive up to a hospital and say “We want a baby, please?”
Me: It doesn’t work like that….
Now, I have to say, I had these conversations a little earlier with my oldest two, who watched my belly grow when I was pregnant with my middle and youngest children.
My youngest, however, never had the opportunity to be around a pregnant woman on a daily basis, so these questions had yet to come up.
The conversation continued:
Son: So just HOW does it work? Does a mommy one day look down at her belly and say, “C’mon, belly, give me all you’ve got!” and then the belly grows and then POP! A baby comes out?
Me: No, um. It takes longer than that. It takes nine months for a baby to be born. You see, a mom and a dad have to lay very close…..
Son: Oh, they have S-E-X??
Me: Yes. (Just what does he know? I wondered. But I didn’t prod.)
Me: You see, a woman has an egg inside of her and a man has a seed, and if the seed goes into the egg, in nine months a baby is born.
Son: AN EGG? Like a Chicken?
Me: No, not like a chicken.
Son: Was I Born this way?
Me: Everyone was born this way. And every thing.
Son: Were trees born this way?
Me: No, but most mammals are born this same way.
….. and so on.
After having three kids, my best advice about THE talk is:
- Be calm. Be matter-of-fact. Don’t brush off any questions.
- You don’t have to have THE talk all at once, but take it up gradually
- Only give them just the right amount of information they need and don’t expand. I didn’t get into the complications of birth control, sex before marriage, having babies between same-sex couples, in-vitro-fertilization. WHY? An eight year old just needs the basic facts.
- When they stop asking, it means they’ve had enough information for now.
One thing’s for sure: I will take out a few books for him on the topic at the library. One good source I found was a blog post by Story Pockets, a blog written by the Children’s Department of the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh, Pa.
My Mother’s Day Presents
Every day, my kids leave me things. Things that are not exactly presents, but that are always present in my presence that I need to take care of while they are in school and expanding their minds.
My dear children,
Must you leave your socks on your bedroom floor?
Can’t you throw away your rinsing cup after you brush your teeth and not leave it for me to throw away?
Kids, I really appreciate that you make your own lunch, but must you leave me your crumbs on the cutting board, the opened peanut butter and jelly jars lingering on the counter?
Must you leave me at my wit’s end and make me say things that I SWORE I would never say when I became a mother???!
At approximately 7:30 this morning, I had received no less than three text and voice mail messages both on my cell phone and land line from my daughter whilst I was in the shower and getting my youngest ready for school.
“Mom, I left my lunch home and I have no money and I have track practice and I’m going to be hungry so can you pleeeeaaase bring my lunch to school?”
One more present left behind for me, the mom.
Okay, I bring the lunch to my high schooler, because that’s what moms are for.
But then, for all the world to see in the high school’s main display case.. what’s this?
My daughter, my sloppy, beautiful brilliant, talented daughter, is featured artist of the week in her high school: I shot the following on my iTouch through the display glass so forgive me for the amateurish glare:
Today, the hallways of high school, tomorrow… SoHo?
Thank you, daughter, for being my present. I can almost excuse the dirty socks, and the pencil shavings, on your bedroom floor.
I’m routing for this Science Mom: Vote for her today!
Every now and again, I get a story idea in my inbox that just cannot wait a week until it is published in my column. In our age of overtesting our children to the point of desparation where they even cheat on college entrance examinations, here is a story of Melissa Gertner.
Melissa is a mom who was inspired by her son’s curiosity to solve problems by tinkering with old machine parts in his basement to start an after school club called FIRST LEGO® League that lights the spark of science and technology in tween and teen-aged kids in Victor, NY.
She is competing for a scholarship to win $10,000 for the Victor school district to continue and grow the LEGO program for years to come in Victor.
Here is her story. Vote for her at this link
A Mom and a STEM Advocate
I never liked science. Or math. Technology scares me. So, you must wonder, how could I have helped connect others to science, technology, engineering and math? I am not a teacher. Or an engineer. I can barely balance my checkbook. Still you wonder…
The answer is simple. I am a mom and an advocate. My son is endlessly curious and creative. He is always inventing things in the basement, taking machines apart to see how they work, reading about the way our world works, drawing his plans, bringing them to life, making a mess, starting all over again. Every day. All day. And he inspires me. To provide opportunities for him and others like him to find their very special and immensely valuable place our world.
So, two and a half years ago, with the guidance of the Victor Intermediate School, another devoted mom and I started the Victor Intermediate School FIRST LEGO League (VIS FLL) Club, a 3 year after-school pilot program designed to capture students’ interest in science, technology and engineering. The program offers hands-on real–world learning experiences that reach beyond the traditional classroom.
In our first year, we served 26 4th graders in a non-competitive format. In 2010, we took six teams of 43 4th and 5th graders to qualifiers. Three of those teams advanced to the Regional Championship. This year we will serve 80 students, including six teams of 5th and 6th graders attending the qualifiers in November and six teams of 4th and 5th graders participating in a non-competitive season starting in January 2012.
How did I find my way to this program you ask. Well, three years ago, I had the privilege of coaching my son’s Jr. FIRST LEGO® League team. Little did I know, I had embarked upon the journey of a lifetime. Somewhere along the way, perhaps when I saw the pride in the faces of my son and his teammates at their show and share event or the incredible ideas they generated or the solutions these 8 year olds developed, I was hooked and committed to providing a continuum of science and engineering opportunities to as many students as I could possibly embrace.
Since that time, I have coached his FLL team for two more consecutive years, been a co-coordinator for the club in the off-season and am currently the coordinator of the VIS FLL Club. I have also actively helped other teams get started in our region by sharing information, resources and encouragement.
I continue to be inspired by the imagination, ideas, teamwork and passion these kids generate. Not only do our students participate in community events and competitions, they also mentor local students and others throughout our region, and spread the word about how exciting science and engineering can be. As much as I am helping to connect all these kids with science, technology and engineering experiences, they are the true connectors, connecting me with the best of myself and the best of themselves with our world.
Post-a-Day Challenge: a story in six words
Post a day came up with a challenge to come up with a story in six words. I don’t think I’ve used so few words since I wrote a haiku in grammar school. Here goes:
The Last Seconds of the Second Grade
Council Rock Primary School in Brighton is shaped like a hug. It has one main hallway flanked on each side by two other hallways that stretch out like two arms. These arms hold about 800 happy kids from Kindergarten through second grade. These arms are adorned with the colors and words that these children write, draw and sculpt. You’ve never seen happier hallways.
This school has hugged my kids – and well, me – for eight years. Now it’s over. Cradling a folder full of Crayola art and essays about butterflies and tadpoles, I walked out of this little school for the last time today.
My youngest, the second grade graduate, was born on the first day of school in 2003. My husband left the hospital for home a few hours after he was born, showered, and then woke up our two big kids for the school bus.
The first time Toby went Council Rock Primary School, he was under 20 days old. We carried him in the infant car seat for my daughter’s first grade curriculum night. As the school year progressed, Toby visited the school with me about twice a week while big brother got occupational and physical therapy. Sometimes he would be in his car seat, other times I would hold him in the rocking chairs that are in the lobby. The school aides would ask me how old my baby was and I would proudly proclaim, “He is as old as the school year!”
And in a flash, he is nearly eight years old. He will still kiss me and let me hug him in front of his friends, but not really. My baby is growing up.
How dare he!
He already has the wisdom to know that time flies when you are having fun. He already senses how fast a school year can go.
Tomorrow, I’ll go through all the worksheets about math. I’ll look over how many ways my youngest got to 100 and the worksheets on how to write his ABCS. Then these will go in the recycling bin.
But what I’ll treasure most is his journal on his day-to-day life. His poetry on what it would be like to be an inanimate object such as a tape dispenser. And his self-portrait. And if I only look at them on rainy days when I am looking to clean out my closets, to make room for the stuff from school years to come, it will be just enough.
Third grade, (and, for my daughter, High School) here we come!