“Dear Freshman Parent,” You Need to Know THIS About Your Student

As winter break comes to a close and second semester opens, we wish you safe travels, engaging classes, healthy choices and rewarding friendships. 

This is how we started winter break five short weeks ago:

A form letter came today from the Dean for Freshman at the university where my son just completed his first semester, and I have to admit that although, at first glance, the letter appeared to be written in my native tongue, it took several readings for me to get to the bottom of what they were trying to tell me (and all the other parents).

The opening salvo:

Reading between the lines in a dean's holiday letter to freshman parents

The end of the semester is almost here and your students will be returning home for the semester break shortly. It is natural for you to want to know what grades to expect for the courses taken this semester. Although overall grades may be fine, do not be surprised to learn, that despite much effort, some grades may be lower than those received in high school.

Translation-We know that you think your child is a genius and should be earning all A’s but not so fast, because as it turns out, the world is an enormously competitive place and when you’re running with greyhounds, you may no longer be the fastest dog in the pack. So, if your child got B’s and C’s instead of A’s don’t sweat it.

Moreover, initial academic and or career choices may be changing due to newly discovered interests and a better understanding of your students’ strengths. This semester has been a time of growth, change and learning for your student.

Translation-It has come to your freshman’s attention that partying, carousing and staying up till the wee hours of the morning turn out to be much more engaging and entertaining than actually going to the library and studying. Also, it’s hard to get up for classes when you’re out all night. Your child’s freshman year dream of becoming a doctor-well it may be time to rethink that whole situation. Shockingly, it turns out that chemistry is actually really, really hard.

Your students may appear to be different people from the ones you sent off to college. You may notice them questioning and even challenging many traditional values, cherished family beliefs, parental expectations and rules once easily accepted.

Translation-Your child is probably going to be a class-A jerk when he gets home. He thinks that because he is “independent” at school he no longer needs to follow house rules. Do not expect “traditional values” such as thoughtfulness, obedience or respect to have a major impact on your freshman’s behavior.

The closing salutation:

I would like to wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season and a happy new year.

Translation-Oh my God these kids are insane. Thank goodness a million times that they are YOUR problem for the next month. I seriously need this break.

There is an addendum I would make to the Dean’s letter, if I may, and this is directed to the students who are soon to be homeward bound:

Dear College Freshman:

The home you are returning to is not the home you left three months ago and the parents and siblings who wept as they hugged you goodbye are not the same family you left behind. In your absence, they too have had a period of growth and change and they may chafe at your presence a bit because when you gained your independence, it turns out they did as well. For three months, there has been a certain peacefulness in their homes and from that blessed hush emerged quiet voices, those of your younger siblings who used this opening to declare themselves.

Translation-It may astonish you that even parents can evolve. You may not be the child we sent away, but neither are we the parents who sent you away. Although, he rarely had an opportunity to demonstrate it before you left, it turns out that your little brother is a delightful child with a strong, smart and interesting voice and it’s a pleasure to hear and see him blossom.

If we respect each other’s evolution we will all get along just fine.

We love you and can’t wait to see you.

“This originally appeared on Grown and Flown” http://grownandflown.com  

They also have a Facebook page you can follow.

 

The Next Chapter

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This weekend we dropped number two son off at college. This is not my first rodeo so I was somewhat prepared for the flood of emotion that comes with this process. Despite the fact that I’ve been feeling weepy for the last week or two, the actual separation went surprisingly well, even though I did feel that familiar lump rise in my throat as we watched him walk away.

If we moms had to explain to our kids why we get misty-eyed, we’d say, or as I can only speak for myself, I’d say:

My heart is so full of love for you that it aches like a physical pain and it’s that almost unbearable fullness that brings tears to my eyes.

I will miss you and almost everything about you, your sense of humor, your long, rambling convoluted diatribes, even your closed bedroom door. But it’s not just you I’ll miss, it’s the light and life you brought into this home and your friends who also became dear to me over the years.

I will miss the way we were. Things will change between us now. We will always be mother and son but I will become an increasingly less important person to you, as it should be.

I will worry about you because I desperately don’t want you to ever feel lost or alone but I am certain that you will experience those “lost and alone” days. Everyone has them. Thinking about the times that you will not be okay and the fact that I can’t make you okay makes me terribly sad.

I am not worried that you will not succeed. In fact, it’s just the opposite. I have no doubt that you will succeed and that success will lead you further from me. Again, it is as it should be, but sad, nonetheless.

That moment when you walked away from us, we went one way and you went the other. You walked into a bright new chapter of your life where the possibilities are almost endless. I was walking away from a piece of my heart and the poignancy of that moment is not lost on me.

I know that we will all soon adjust and I will be able to see this more clearly as a beginning for both of us and not as an end and, as we drive away I look back and hope that I’ve done most things right or right enough, that you make wise choices and that fortune goes your way more often than not.

The New Normal

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My son forwarded an email to me the other day. It read,

“Dear Andrew and Roommate,

Congratulations, your applications for rental have been approved.  Thank you for choosing XXX for your new home!”

Your new home address is….”

Could the email be any clearer, putting into words what we already understood to be true? Our eldest son, soon to be a college graduate is moving on, not in a temporary, “I’ll be home for the summer” kind of way but in an “I no longer live in your house, and if all goes well, never will again,” kind of way. He’s moving to a new city in a new state to do exciting things with his life and this development, while joyful and thrilling is also a bit heart-stopping for me.

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It is not startling because our son is not ready to make his world debut. He is. He is as prepared for this transition as any young man his age can be. More prepared than many, I would even say. Often the most responsible person in the room, he is THAT kid, the one who at sixteen made copies of his teen tour itinerary for his group of friends before they set out on their journey. We moms laughingly reminisce that his friends had no worries as they fully expected Andrew to have copies available for everyone on the trip.

There is much written about the angst of sending your children off to college and indeed college is a huge step in a young adults first foray into independence but truth be told, when kids go off to college their home address is still your home address. Family vacations are planned around school breaks. Certainly college affords parents a break from daily hands-on parenting but in reality even though your children may be physically away from you they continue to be “all yours.” When someone asks a college student where he/she lives most will still give their parents’ address.

This post graduation move feels palpably different. It is different. This strikes me as a “Wonder Years” moment: a moment beyond which the new normal lies. The problem with all of these “milestone” moments is that while they happen bit by bit, they come upon you suddenly and leave you not knowing quite what to make of them.

When my son was barely bigger than a babe in arms we had a bedtime routine. I would place him in his crib and then I would sit in his rocking chair and I would prompt him, “Let’s talk about your day.” He would begin with, “I woke up this morning…” and often would get no further than that before he would digress and eventually chatter himself to sleep as I slipped away. As he got a little older, in a classic bedtime stalling tactic, he would beg, “Don’t go yet. Talk about my day.” He knew that I was a sucker for developing “communication skills” and his plea would always get me to stay at his bedside for just a little while longer.

I’m glad I stayed those extra moments. Perhaps he and I have always known that the hardest part of our relationship would be the letting go.

If I Had To Do It Over Again I’d Be Less of A Jerk

get-attachment-8.aspxIf I had to parent my oldest son over again I’d be less of a jerk.

We were working on the all important photo montage for my youngest son’s bar mitzvah and in the process we looked at hundreds of baby pictures and in still life we look like the model family. There is so much cuteness there that it’s hard to winnow the pile of photos down to the requisite hundred images needed for the montage. And then another thought occurs to us; perhaps we should include a few minutes of video footage in the montage. So we decide to watch some video footage of my youngest son’s circumcision ceremony/party.

At the very end of the footage there is what appears to be a very short addendum in which the venue has changed, the party has ended and we are home. The infant child is cradled in my arms feeding and my nine-year old son is in his Hannah Anderson cotton matching PJs. If we had a still picture of this, I would have melted, smiled knowingly and pronounced it to be, “precious.” But, unfortunately this is the age of video. My husband’s disembodied voice can be heard in the background asking, “Andrew what did you think of your brother’s “bris?”  “I don’t know” the child replies in a whiny, reedy voice. My husband can be heard groaning disappointedly on the sound track while I launch into a diatribe on the order of, “Answer daddy, speak up, ‘I don’t know’ is your answer to everything, tell us what you thought of the bris,” blah, blah, blah. I silently implore my video image to stop haranguing that poor, clearly exhausted child.

And then it strikes me; we were such jerks. What did we want from this child who with the clarity of thirteen years of hindsight and several years’ worth of sleep filled nights looks almost as much like a baby as his eight-day old brother. But at the time with a three-year old and an infant we looked to the nine-year old as if he would shortly be donning a business suit and going off to work.

I’m actually surprised we didn’t ask him to write a dissertation about his brother’s “bris.” So, MARK MY WORDS younger parents and mark them well, when your infant arrives that does not make your older child older than he actually is. Don’t fall into that trap because someday you might just watch some video footage of yourself and wish for a do over.

And to my oldest son, please accept my sincere apology. If we screwed you up, it was wholly unintentional. In my defense, birth order is destiny. Now get over it. By the way what do you think of David’s bar mitzvah speech? And, let me just put it out there, “I don’t know” is not an acceptable answer. I’ll be expecting some lucid, non-whiny commentary by this evening.

The College Conundrum

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When my oldest son was applying to college my mother in law used to repeatedly ask where “A” was going to go to college. As I grew weary of the question I would flippantly reply, “Wherever they’ll take him.” Why wouldn’t X school take him?” she would ask incredulously “He’s such a nice boy.”

Now, I am launching a second son (a junior) into the college search process but since it’s not the first time I’ve done this, my vision is a bit clearer.

If you have a high school junior or senior you’re probably getting mail by the bucket load from colleges, some of which you’ve heard of and some of which are new to you.  The first time out, I was secretly awed by this flood of mail.  I tried to be cool about it but inside I was bursting. Wow, I thought, they really want HIM.  I wasn’t sure how they knew what a fabulous kid son number one was but I just figured someone had let them in on the secret.

Now I know that four years of college is a commodity and this detritus from the colleges is just a massive marketing blitz.  Colleges are trying to sell their schools.  What exactly are they trying to sell and, more importantly, what are we looking to buy? As I look at the brochures on my kitchen island certain phrases jump out at me. One college says they are, “Leading the way.”  Where exactly are we going?  Another college, Morris Catholic, tells my sixteen-year old son who has attended Jewish Day School for the last twelve years, “You are the future.”  I hope he’s someone’s future but I’m just not sure he’s their future.  Other schools are more creative: “Where leaders learn.” or “Arrive Realize Thrive” It’s a morass of pithy, pointless sayings which clarify nothing.

It’s seductive to believe that all these schools know and want your child but let me assure you that what the college actually wants is your child’s application. Think application fees and selectivity. Selectivity is a factor used to raise a school’s ranking so the more applicants, the more rejections, the more selective a school becomes and the school’s ranking rises.  It’s not personal. They don’t know your child and admissions is, after all, just a numbers game.

A friend who’s been down this road before likes to remind me of the course catalog as thick as two phone books that her son got from a top ten school along with many other pieces of mail from that school, only to later be rejected by said school. The rejection caused her son tremendous angst but at the end of the day he wound up at the right college for him and later at a terrific law school.  After all of the agita, ninety seven percent of my older son’s friends ended up at schools where they have flourished academically and socially.

So, what am I looking to buy for my number two son aside from the pithiest of sayings on the coolest brochure? First, these  are the things I know to be true; there is not only one right college for my child, there are many colleges that would serve him well. Second, it’s very hard to screw this up because most kids do really well at the schools where they end up.

The framework of what I’m looking for is a safe, nurturing place for my son to develop from an immature eighteen year old into a mature twenty-two year old, while he learns, decides what the next step will be and makes friends.  The details: big/small, sports/no sports, urban/rural, greek life/no greek life…that’s for him to flesh out.

Oh, and where is the line on the application where we tell them what a nice boy he is?

School Daze

Ready, Set…Not So Fast

 

Moments ago my twelve-year old announced that he has not yet done the “optional” summer math packet. He was throwing around the term “optional” cavalierly, as if it absolves him of all responsibility toward the aforementioned math packet. I think he and I have different interpretations of “optional.” Not only has he not completed the packet; in fact, he has not even started it.  And, the first day of school is tomorrow.  The bad news is that since the school website has been updated he can no longer print out the packet so it will remain exactly as it was on the day school let out last year: untouched, unseen, undone. The really fantastic news is that not doing his math freed number three son up to watch all two hundred fifty episodes of Dr. Who this summer.

I feel the familiar stress of uncompleted schoolwork begin to seep into my weary fifty-year old bones. The usual platitudes start to roll around in my head. It’s his work.  A child has to learn to fail to succeed. But, those thoughts are quickly supplanted by nagging tentacles of guilt and doubt. Should I start calling around, try to get the packet from someone, spend the day tormenting both of us? But, whose work is this anyway and where does my responsibility end and his begin? And, what am I teaching him if I don’t? If I do?

In the scheme of things this is not something to lose sleep over. I’ve been around for a while now and I know what to lose sleep over.  This is more like the proverbial fly buzzing in my ear, irritating beyond measure.  It’s like the college essay that hasn’t been written, the common application that hasn’t yet been filled out, the summer reading books that lie on the table half read.  Why can’t they JUST. DO. IT.  And, how much of this undone work is a parent’s burden?

When I was a kid my parents had their work and I had mine and the twain never met.  I don’t think that my parents felt responsible for my work. EVER.  But, things were just different back then.  When I was a kid first grade art projects looked like something created by a first grader, not like Rembrandt’s early works. When I was a kid my second grade diorama was a hundred popsicle sticks askew covered with hardening knots of glue and not a flawless early rendering of the Taj Mahal. When I was a kid you wrote an essay, you asked your parents to read it and they said, “Why would I read your essay?”

Over the years when it comes to homework I’ve tried to be more like my own parents were, more of a helper than a doer and truth be told I’ve been more hands off with each subsequent child not because of them but because of me. This will be my fourth go round at seventh grade and let’s just put it out there, seventh grade was just borderline okay the first time around and maybe even the second time around but I really don’t know many people who could stay engaged for the fourth hit of seventh grade.

So today we’re going to enjoy the last day of summer and tomorrow my youngest son is going to tackle seventh grade.

And, both of us are going to survive.

Probably