I recognize I am part of a community of moms missing their children at school. Many of my son's friends parents and I journeyed together and shared our woes. Still, my sorrow isn't rooted as much in the fact that my son is away at college, but rather how quickly his moments with me have become memories. I want that little boy back in my arms for just a few more days. Our precious moments together, some he was too young to remember, that I relish are those of simply playing in our home, digging in the sandbox outside, taking neighborhood strolls... and snuggling. I'm so lucky to have captured some of our times together on camera to revisit since I was sleep deprived and have foggy recall of those first few years. Looking over the photos/videos has sustained me during some of these tough teenage years. And although I don't remember all the everyday details, I feel all the Mother's Love a woman is capable of whenever I reflect on our time together--as my boys are my heart and soul.
Yes, the journey has flown by as my older son is already18 years old. Even sadder is it seems as if I truly was the "apple of his eye" for only those baby years-when "Daddy" wasn't in his vocabulary yet, and the world didn't interrupt with nursery school, sports and tons of activities-- along with trying to squeeze bits and pieces of my career into the schedule. One of the best family decisions I made after my second son was born was to leave my full-time career. In order to secure my position at work and to help with finances, I had to return to my job when my first son was 10 months old--and I still feel guilty about the lost time with him. I was overwhelmed and scattered, feeling incompetent at work and at home.
So when I discovered I was pregnant again soon after, I decided my priority is my children, and they needed me full time. I have since "reinvented" myself many times over, juggling different part-time and freelance work-- and continue to do so as I come to many cross roads and deal with various "identity crisis." Although any business person would concur, my net worth has deflated, and now it's not so easy to reenter certain professions as a woman--I would retort that any monetary value I have lost, has been replaced with an infinite amount of purpose, self worth, joy and love. My boys inspire me to pursue my passion--writing-- and I genuinely feel I made a lifelong investment in my children who will one day change the world for the better. This became a priority, and it continues to be a major intention in my life.
These are thoughts I reflect upon when my son continues to question my parenting:
"Why are you so much stricter than all my other friend's moms," started at an early age, as did, "Why are you the only mom who wants to talk to the parents to see if they are going to be home during the party."
The most embarrassing parental offense I committed occurred when, in sixth-grade, my son was invited to a sleep over at a boy's home. I never met the boy nor his family. When I called the mom, I jokingly said, "I'm sure you have a carbon monoxide detector," to which she responded, "No, I should , but I don't." So I purchased one and packed it in my son's overnight bag. I called the mom and graciously asked if she would plug it in. My son was mortified! I still hear about how "crazy" what I did was. But some of the other moms whose sons also attended thanked me later. But even if they hadn't, I don't care! What if something happened, and I hadn't sent it? I never would have been able to forgive myself.
As his college departure neared, the protests intensified when he wanted to stay out later than his curfew, when he felt he didn't need to check in with us if he was staying overnight at a friend's house, or when he went to his room for what I termed "leave me alone" time. Although I chastised my son and his friends for saying the phrase, "This sucks," I often found myself thinking just that in dealing with his teenage tirades and the snippy comments:
"Well, once I got to college, you won't have any control of what time I come home." "Very true," I concurred. "But I do have a say about your fate if your grades suffer because of your outings."
I recognize these rants are typical teenage behavior and are coping mechanisms for most teenagers to, in some way, cut the proverbial umbilical cord and gain the confidence to move out on their own. Still, it's challenging at times to avoid taking comments personally and without responding. Needless to say, I often fail and arguments ensue.
One blessing I discovered during their growing years is to find common ground with each of my kids. In addition to being involved in all their educational endeavors, I have also supported, as their 'Number One Fan," all their athletic activities. Even more, I've nurtured a few individual interests with each. The one mainstay with my older son has been has been our passion for food. The kitchen often serves as our "playing field," a place where I can score some points, talk with him about his life -- and--savor some moments to reflect upon on the "sidelines" of life. In a selfish way, I feel that every time he makes a meal or dessert we cooked together, he will think of me.
From the time my kids were babies, they were introduced to a varied array of foods, and were marveled at by ogling patrons when my toddlers devoured adult size portions of all foods, including Mexican, Indian, and Asian, loving foods from black beans to dishes such as Tikka Masala. We have shopped, cooked, explored varied restaurants and even participated in some cooking demos/lessons.
In elementary school, for instance, one of my older son's friends had his birthday party at Charlie Browns. Afterwards, the parent's walked our son to the door touting, "We had a great time. Most of the kids had chicken nuggets, while your son ordered filet mignon." Then my son proudly added, "Plus, I ordered key lime pie for dessert." Of course, my husband and I thought it was funny, but I was slightly embarrassed and offered to pay the parents for his dinner. They graciously refused.
Since then, our eldest son's passion for food has expanded as he often dabbles in the kitchen, explores new recipes and unique restaurants, as well as educates himself about nutritional foods to support his sports activities and healthy lifestyle He has food outings with his friends who he often invites over to proudly showcase some of his favorite meals/desserts, which I cook for him.
This past summer, he shared some of his own culinary skills with friends. They cooked at both our home and at theirs where the parents were thrilled to be served what they rated a "4 star meal."
As the summer continued, so did the tug for power war as the college departure came closer. I loosened my grip while still holding my ground on certain issues, including adherence to a few nonnegotiable rules. I found it quite ironic this so called quest for "independence" mainly applied to our son scheduling his social outings; occasionally, he even offered to pay for his fun with the money he earned at his job, a position we are very proud of him for working hard at and for being praised by employers and patrons alike.
Meanwhile, with regard to financial, medical and academic matters, our son is quite agreeable to be a "dependent" and has been much less zealous to organize these commitments as he is in filling his social calendar. This past summer, I reminded him for weeks about ordering his books for summer coursework, completing financial applications, submitting his health forms--and keeping some free time open for dental and health check-ups.
When I went with him for his annual physical (which I, of course, scheduled), the nurse called him into the adjoining room where she explained (and I eavesdropped) he was now independent, at age 18, to restrict me from seeing or discussing his medical information. My son gazed across the pass-through at me with a wide grin and pen in hand. I wryly smiled back and simply said, "Go ahead-- restrict me-- as long as you pay your OWN medical bills."
"NO, NO, my Mom can have complete access," he assured the nurse.
It's obvious teenagers have an ambivalence about self-reliance and their desire for independence is selective in nature. As parents it's a rocky road in choosing which battles are worth fighting, while also teaching our children the necessary skills to navigate on their own. Most importantly I believe they need to know they are loved!
It's my hope, as a mom, that my son and I will always have a sacred bond, and that he will one day realize how challenging it is setting guidelines and enforcing rules--probably not until he's a parent himself! In fact, it would be much easier to acquiesce to his requests. Yet, it's my job to teach some life lessons while recognizing there are others he will have to learn on his own.
A high school friend recently told me his dad often said, "If only I could put my brain into your body" so you wouldn't make so many mistakes." Unfortunately, as parents, we can't. And it's very challenging since common sense, as documented by the "experts," typically comes much later in life, especially for boys regardless of how intelligent they are.
We are still in the adjustment period since our son left for college. One major change we noticed is there are too many leftover in the fridge, so now I have to adjust the amount of food I cook. One of my son's first phone calls home was requesting we change his food plan to include "unlimited" meals, which we did. He LOVES his college, including all the varied foods and has made many friends already, friends who are amazed by how much he eats. He has repeatedly told us what a great time he's having. I am thrilled he's happy, but I often remind him of the important academic purposes of college, especially since he has several exams in the following weeks.
We've already sent a few "care" packages he was thrilled to get; one even included a collage of family/friend photos which took me several days to piece together. I'm hoping it will remind him of us, especially when making some of those challenging college choices, when one misstep can change the course of your life.
A few days ago, he came home for his first weekend visit, "Mom, can you make me some of my favorites?" Needless to say, I was cooking for many hours. I also was exhausted from running to about seven stores for everything from sheets to sneakers to toiletries to snacks. And yes, we had a few squabbles, along with a bigger argument about the importance of flossing his teeth properly.
Surprisingly, I couldn't find the huge load of laundry my son said he had to do the day before his visit home. I asked him where it was, "Mom, I did it myself last night at school because I didn't want to drag all that home to you." I was impressed-and as ridiculous as it sounds--a little sad because he is maturing in so many ways.
Once he returned to school, I received a text, followed by a phone call to share he earned a 96% on his Economics exam. I'm hoping this will help him have a new appreciation of financial matter! I am very proud of my son and want him to continue on a path, challenging his strengths and conquering some fears--always knowing he is loved and treasured beyond measure by those at home. Who knows, maybe he'll try that floss I packed in his duffel bag, even though he told me he would never use it!
Until then, I am relishing time with his younger brother who will be leaving for college next year--and already, I just shed a tear.