Rediscovering my superpower


With the Dude in college, the day-to-day operation of Dude.inc went from being my primary enterprise to not my business way too quickly. They don’t make golden parachutes for mothers. We’re ejected from the plane without remorse or apology, while making it look as graceful as possible. After all, this is how it’s supposed to be.

So after all of these years of thinking “What about me?” in my more frantic and  less generous moments, I had plenty of time to answer the question.

What about me?

I’ve worked as a volunteer and substitute librarian in our school system for years, and every so often I’ve toyed with becoming a librarian.I’d look at master’s degree programs, think about the time and expense required to make it happen, and each time I’ve walked away. It would take too long, I’d be too old, libraries are a dying institution, it doesn’t pay well, and I already have an MBA–haven’t I had enough education? I had a lot of reasons not to move forward.It made no sense.

Then one morning it did. It happened without lead-up. No pondering or fretting, no lists of positives and negatives, no break even analysis or internal debate.

My husband came home from work and I gave him the good news. I was going back to school. It was not unlike when he came home from work and I told him that I’d quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom. He was totally supportive. He knows I’m not impulsive. As much as I might fret and wonder, once I decide upon a course of action, it’s a done deal.

Unfortunately the world does not move in accordance with my plans, so I have to apply to programs and wait to be accepted. For now, I’m taking some prerequisite classes. I’m glad I did, because going back to school is much harder than I thought it would be.

Much of today’s education is available online. It gives one great flexibility, and saves me the discomfort of being a 52-year-old in a sea of 20 somethings, but it’s foreign to me. I started to worry that I’d made a mistake.

My husband reassured me. “Learning is your superpower.”

My superpower? Did I have a superpower?

I’ve always believed that I could do anything with time and instruction, if I wanted it enough. This was different though–the learning environment was different, the technology was different, and I’m pretty sure my prof was on a beach in the Outer Banks. “Even Superman had a transition period,” he said. “Besides, it’s not the notes and tests and papers that make you super. It’s that you actually do what you set out to do.”

My husband is the best. He has my back.

Ninety five percent of the world supports my decision–my husband, my friends, my parents–the people who matter. That five percent though, they throw me for a loop every time. Instead of “Good For You” and “Congratulations” it’s “Why do you want to do that?,” “That’s ambitious,” “You need a degree for that?,”  and my favorite ,”You’re so brave,”  which comes out sounding more like “You’ve got to be crazy.”

It’s totally possible that I’m projecting. It’s also possible that I’m not.

I get it. It’s crazy. Another master’s degree at this point in my life? Starting an entirely new career? Why do it?

Because I want to. Because I have a mission to teach students how to do real research to make informed judgments. Because I can. Because I’m worth the investment.

The Dude finds my scholarly ambitions amusing. He came into my office last night where I have a detailed diagram of a computer network on my whiteboard.

“You did that today?” He admired my use of multicolored pens. It’s an information technology class, I have to amuse myself somehow. “When is it due?”

“Tomorrow.”

Was that admiration I saw in his eyes? “This is hard,” I said. “Not just the classes, but the whole thing. The tests, the application process, the not-knowing how it’s going to turn out.” I didn’t have to say “The risk of failure,” we both knew it was underneath it all.

“I know, right?” I had new-found empathy for the Dude. No wonder he was a wreck last fall. “This is just like KT201.” We spent a lot of late nights texting over that class, using baseball analysis to make database structure less mysterious.

“So when you move into an apartment, I can help you set up your network.”

“And when we both run into issues, we’ll call Dad.”

“Exactly.” Good IT support is hard to find, unless you marry it.

“You’re very brave.” For once, I didn’t hear “crazy” in the undertones. “A lot of people say they are going to do things. You do them.” It was a hug made with words.

“Thanks.” Maybe I wasn’t crazy. After all, learning is my superpower

 

Behavior of an un-becoming parent

frogI sent the Dude a tiny frog. It’s supposed to bring him luck. Luck was the one thing he wanted most for me to send, aside from Pop-tarts and something to stop his typical winter to spring nosebleeds. They have a CVS not too far from campus, but I’m happy for something I can do for him, even if his father does think I spoil him. As far as I’m concerned, I’d be spoiling him if I bought him a car. A pack of NasalCease is not much of an indulgence.

I’m struggling with having him gone. As much as I love the freedom of my days, the lack of detritus in my car, and the ability to cook foods that not only touch each other, but intermingle, some days I still feel the warmth of his toddler-sized body on my shoulder. It’s an ache that goes through to the bone.

I miss his humor–the lightness of his spirit. When winter’s gray reaches in and curls its tentacles around my heart, I have to pry them off by myself. Some days it’s hard to conjure the will to try. He will always be my son, but he is no longer my child.

Which is why I can’t write about him anymore.

It’s not that he’s no longer entertaining, or interesting. Our common love of humor, baseball and Cadbury Robin’s Eggs are bound in our shared DNA, but his story is no longer mine to tell.

People have often asked what the Dude thinks about my writing, and I tell them I’m not writing about him. I’m writing about me. While they think they know him, they only know the Dude that exists within the context of my relationship with him. He was the sun at the center, and I wrote about the view from orbit.

Without his gravitational pull, I became untethered. My day was one big, blank page, and there is nothing a writer dreads more. I stared at the white space, reached for the words and found absolutely nothing.

I hunkered down in my sweats and watched television. I can attest that at any given time, some variant of Law & Order is airing somewhere on cable. Every so often, I’d haul myself out of hermitdom and do something drastic to bring me back to my life. I even dyed my hair pink. If I was looking for some sort of personal anchor, that wasn’t a good way to find it. It only made me feel more foreign to myself.

My only solution is to go back to the beginning, to strip away the habits and practices linked to my old life, and find the ones that serve the new. Like the Dude, I am a student, but in a different classroom.  He is learning how to become  who he will be.I am doing the same, but first I have to do the opposite. I will need to un-become the Dude’s Mom and experience what it means to be me absent of the label.

I need to face the empty page, and fill it with adventures of my own. I’ll need some luck. Maybe I’ll get a frog of my own.

No Dude, there is no dream college


It’s the fairy tale we tell our children from the time they are very young.

…and one day, you’ll meet the college you’ve always dreamed of, with small class sizes, abundant clubs and opportunities to study abroad. You’ll lock eyes across a grassy field crowded with wandering peasants after a brief meeting in a ballroom where, despite knowing very little about you, they will tell you that they are the only one for you and you will believe every word. Choose them and you’ll live happily ever four years with challenging but not too hard classes and weekends full of awesome yet responsible parties.

It seems like a benign fantasy. Who wouldn’t want to meet their perfect match, the one that will lead to their ultimate destiny–a well-paying job and the opportunity to move out of their parents’ scrutiny?

School counselors talk about it, so does the media. How to find your dream school. Break the mold to get into your dream school. Behold the Name-your-source “Review Top 10 Dream Schools until we need to sell another edition”, edition.  The Dude and his classmates swam in the collegiate primordial soup of hyperbole. No wonder he’s flailing.

Not that he’s at college, the Dude is miserable. The work is hard. The food is awful, and if someone is throwing those parties, he hasn’t been invited. Somehow, he managed to choose the only university that has outlawed fun. As much as I explained that this was perfectly normal in the first term of freshman year, he feels he’s been lied to. He questions his decision-making ability, and blames his father and me for unduly influencing his choices. There is a dream college out there where his life would be perfect, and it’s not where he is.

He’s not the only one questioning his decision-making. I’m revisiting every step of the process, wondering where we went wrong. I struggled my freshman year too, but I thought it was just me. I wanted it to be better for him. Maybe he wasn’t the only one viewing the situation through the rosy glass of hope.

College isn’t a fairy tale. Prince Charming didn’t charge Cinderella $40K a year for the privilege of his company, and oh by the way, he’s dating another 10,000 fair damsels and maybe, if she proves herself worthy through a series of increasingly complex challenges, he’ll put a ring on it. It’s an important four years, and charging into it with dewy eyed fantasies of the best years of one’s life is bound to create some post purchase dissonance.

The Dude has a decent head on his shoulders, and even he admits perhaps he romanticized it all too much. He just feels that he had help.  The avalanche of propaganda began the second he signed up for the SAT. “Why don’t they just tell us the truth?”

Good question.

It feels better to say it will be the best time ever, but college is an investment not an all-inclusive resort, and maybe if we talked about it that way with our kids, they’d be happier in the end. I certainly have friends whose kids were happy from the moment they stepped foot on campus. I know more, however, whose kids are wrestling with homesickness and the difficult adjustment from high school to college.

Sorry Dude, but it’s time to wake up. College is hard. It’s supposed to be hard. Companies don’t choose to hire from universities because the students have a great time making friends and joining clubs, but for the skills they possess. A college can’t make you happy. You have to do that for yourself.

And it’s time for me to wake up, too. There may not be some magical moment where my son becomes happy with where he is, and I cannot make him happy with it either, through eloquence or persistence.

The best we can do is deal with reality, one step at a time. And if had it to over again, that’s probably what I’d say There is no dream college. Choose a real one instead.

If Only We Could Lock Down Guns As Easily As We Lock Down College Campuses


At 2 a.m. on Saturday night, my IPad sang from across the room to let me know someone was calling. My husband shook me awake. I’d forgotten to mute the electronic offender, and surely I’d hear about it in the morning. I picked up my IPhone just as it stopped vibrating. I had to wait until the missed call registered so I could find out who it was. Late night calls generally aren’t good ones.

The call originated from the town where my son attends college. A fist clamped around my heart. The phone buzzed in my hand, signalling the message’s arrival at the same time my IPad let out a happy ding, telling me I’d gotten a text. I thought the joy was a little premature.

A robotic female voice filled me in on the news. The cadence in her words was off, which lent a sinister tone to what was meant to be a precautionary message. A convenience store at the edge of campus had been robbed by two armed men. The suspects were headed away from campus, but just to be safe, the University asked the students to take shelter and lock the doors. The text confirmed I’d heard her right.

I checked my Mom-stalker app and saw that the Dude was not at home in his dorm, a safe distance from the scene of the crime, but somewhere unfamiliar, a little too close for comfort. Did I mention it was 2 a.m.?

So I texted him to make sure he was fine, which he was, but he’d been at the convenience store just an hour prior. Buying snacks, I’m sure. He decided to reassure me by bringing up the fact that he still had to walk home, but he had nothing on him but his I.D. so he wasn’t worth the bother. I thanked him for his sensitivity and told him to stay put until the University lifted the lock down.

It took about a fifteen minutes for the all clear to come through, and another hour for my chest to loosen enough for me to breathe. I did not, however, sleep.

I knew the Dude wasn’t in any danger; that wasn’t what kept me awake. It was the thought of the parents of students at Umpqua Community College and how they must have felt. I knew that whatever I imagined would be off on a logarithmic scale. Add to it a certain hopelessness. Nothing will change.

The Onion posted the article “No Way to Prevent This”, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens, only it was a rewrite of their June article about the Charleston shootings, which was a rewrite of their May 2014 column about the UCSB shootings.

I find it ironic that I have to fill out more paperwork to adopt a cat than I do to buy a gun. I also find it ironic that politicians find the idea that rounding up illegal immigrants and sending them on their way is easy, but reducing the prevalence of guns in the U.S. is impossible.

The ever-present “they” say we have a mental health problem (which we do, but their characterization of it scares the shit out of me). We have a hate and a fame problem. We have an education problem, and an economic disparity problem.

But we also have an inertia problem, a campaign funding problem, an unwillingness to compromise problem, and an all-or-nothing-our-side-must-win-at-all-costs problem.

Most of all, we have an it-won’t-happen-to-me problem.

Let’s hope “they” never get a 2 a.m. robo call about their own child. The thought that anyone might get that call keeps me up at night. Doesn’t it keep “them” up too? We could all use a good night’s sleep.

What emoji do you use when your kid hates college?


“Whoever said college was the best time of your life was lying.” — The Dude.

This was followed by the poop emoji.

How quickly things change. Just a few weeks ago, he couldn’t wait to leave. He was ready for college.

He is ready for college. He may have had a few unrealistic expectations, that’s all. Those unrealistic expectations will get you every time.

He has a nasty cold. I’d send him chicken soup if I could. He’d like that too, since he says the food sucks and isn’t very healthy. I’ve suggested vegetables and salads, but he isn’t taking advice at the moment. If there was a stone wall emoji, he’d use it.

Over nineteen years, we’ve made it through colic and croup, new math, buying a jockstrap, “Medieval Day”,The Iliad, Homecoming, driver’s ed, and the first and second transgressions that will not be named. I thought I was old hat at this, but when he’s unhappy, it twists me worse than a telephone cord (I had to use that analogy before it became irrelevant. I think I only had a few minutes left.)

He texts my husband about more mundane matters, like money. My husband says that’s a sign that it’s not so bad. I am parent A, the one that does out cookies and sympathy. Parent B tells the child that this is life, suck it up and soldier on.

So much of his life is going well. He has a terrific roommate, who he likes and gets along with. They were paired at random, so this was not a given. He’s playing intramural sports and has joined a couple of clubs. He’s even learning how to play golf. Classes, however are harder than he anticipated, and the old high school habits aren’t enough to get the grades he’s hoping for. My sage advice draws nothing more than a “maybe.” I have a feeling I know what emoji he’d use if he could find it, but he’s smart enough not to use it. I’m the one with the cookies and sympathy, after all.

His friends at other colleges have it so much better, he says. Life is one big party for them, and he has major FOMO. He doesn’t consider that they might be embellishing. “Why would they do that?” he says. He believes people are inherently truthful. Cute, isn’t it?

I tell him that I begged to transfer halfway through my first term and my counselor told me to hold tight and it would get better. I tell him that it did, and I stayed where I was. I knew it wouldn’t be any better somewhere else. It was not the time of my life, but it set me on the path I wanted to be on. There’s a lot to be said for not peaking too early.

He’s forgotten how long it takes to build friendships and how long it takes to feel at home somewhere new. He’s forgotten that he once said moving to Virginia, the place he so longs for, was the worst thing that ever happened to him. Patience is not his forte. Neither is perspective. After all, he is a nineteen year old. It’s exactly what he needs, though, along with some decongestant and a perhaps a box of pop tarts.

I text to ask how he’s doing and he answers “sick.” I suggest he visit the health center, but he’s “busy.” I won’t even bother suggesting he go to CVS. I tell him to go to Noodle and Co and get some chicken soup, and if he’s running a fever, by all means go to the health center. He texts back “How do I know if I’m running a fever?” I ask if he’s hot and achy. He answers “My dorm has no AC. I’m always hot and achy.”

I know this conversation could go on forever. He has made up his mind to be miserable, and there is nothing I can do to change it. I ask my husband if he’s heard anything from the Dude. My husband just laughs.

Overcome with motherly concern, I break down. I know it’s unhealthy, like a drug addiction. I do it less often than I did in the beginning, just after he left. I’m down to once or twice a day. I open the Find My Phone app to see where he is.

He’s playing golf. I guess that’s why he’s busy.

I send him a blowing kiss emoji and say I’ll check in later, then put together a gift package; decongestant, a thermometer, tissues and a box of pop-tarts. We’ll both make it through another day.

Momaiku – The freshman drop off edition


How can this much stuff

All fit inside the Prius?

“Don’t open the doors”

_______________________

Sure you’ve got it all?

“What could I be missing, Mom?”

I’m sure we’ll find out

___________________________

“When you clean my room

Please don’t look under the bed.”

Wouldn’t dream of it

________________________

And the trunk closes

I can’t believe we did it

“Where am I sitting?”

_______________________

“When will we get there?”

At best, a 12 hour drive

“Just wake me for lunch.”

________________________

So here is your dorm

“It looked better in pictures.”

Most things in life do

_________________________

Don’t be afraid Dude

The RA will not tase you

Unless you earned it

__________________________

“You can hug me Mom.

I’m sure nobody’s watching.

It won’t hurt my cred.”

________________________

I don’t shed a tear

Until we’re all the way out

Of our parking space

________________________

“There are no parties.

This school sucks. I’m transferring.”

It’s been five hours

_________________________

Was today better?

“Yeah! I met a guy who knows a guy.”

LALA  can’t hear you

________________________

“I’m doing laundry!”

Separate your lights and darks.

“Yeah, whatever, Mom.”

________________________

“My tee shirts are pink!”

Washed your red sweatshirt, did you?

“How did you know that?”

__________________________

“The Wifi here sucks.”

Use the ethernet cable

“The whada whada?”

__________________________

“Forgot nail clippers

Can you Amazon Prime some?”

Can you CVS?

—————————————-

“My dorm room’s spotless.”

I’m sure your roommate thanks you

(I give it three weeks)

__________________________

I text, I love you

He texts “Please send me food.”

It means the same thing

_________________________

“Classes start Monday

I hope they don’t cramp my style.”

If they don’t, I will

______________________

“How do you and Dad

Manage without me around.”

We have lots of sex

________________________

“Very funny Mom.”

We cry from morning ’til night

(We have lots of sex)

_______________________

So that’s all I’ve got

Until I get the next text

Two, three hours, tops

Waiting for the sun to come home

IMG_0942I’m fine, but I feel sorry for the cat. That’s what I tell myself. It’s a lie, although I do feel bad for the cat. He misses the Dude, too. It’s okay, I tell him, as if he could understand me. It’s only college, he’ll be back in November.

The cat leaps onto the kitchen table each morning when he hears the bus, ready to watch the boy make his way to the bus stop. He waits, still and silent until the bus pulls away. Old habits are hard to break. When he doesn’t hear thunder from upstairs he gives up and dashes off like he has somewhere to go. I do the same.

The cat knows something has changed. The door to the boy’s room has been open for days. The room is clean. The bed is empty. The scene stops me every time I pass his doorway on the way to my own. I’m not used to seeing the floor.

He whiles the hours, my furry sundial, tracing the patch of sunlight across the living room floor, waiting for the arrival of the brightest light of them all. At the end of his travels, however, he finds my feet. I’m waiting as well. Old habits are hard to break.

He perks to hear the bus again, ears tipped forward to catch the sound of his sneakers. Surely today the boy, his boy will burst through the door and drop his backpack to the floor. He ducks behind my legs, waiting until the shoes fly across the room to run to his side, when the boy would hoist him into the air, just like the Lion King. I know the cat hates the gesture, and misses it at the same time, just like I miss having my son tuck me under his chin to show me how tall he is.

I pat my lap, and the cat takes his time getting there, making a circle from the arm of the sofa, around the back, to my side and finally settles in. I give his head a rub and he purrs.

I share all the advice I’ve gotten, just in case it’s useful. “Travel. Explore,” I tell him. “The house has sunny spots you haven’t even seen yet, and hidey holes for days. Just come out for meals, okay?” He gives me a slow blink. “Work on your relationship with the other cat.” I’m not sure how that will work, since they alternate between curling up, yin/yang style and depositing tufts of angry fur on my newly vacuumed carpet.

Or perhaps we’ll stay here and chase the sun across the map until it comes back home again. November isn’t that far away.