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

 

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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.

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.

The not-so-last supper with my college bound son

IMG_0460Dinner wasn’t how I imagined it. What ever is?

I’d planned multiple not-so-last suppers. These dinners would give us memories to sustain us until Thanksgiving, when the Dude would return, all collegiate and wise, asking for wine with dinner while discussing the Greek debt crisis.

If only he’d show up, they’d be great.

It was the day before the day before he’d head off to Indiana, but he had plans, maybe, or maybe not, or yes, but not sure when, or if they included dinner, and he’d let me know when it was settled. It wasn’t a surprise. We’d been dancing this tango all summer long.

By the time he’d figured out he needed dinner, it was too late to cook something and have it done in time for him to eat it. Shrugging off his overwhelming disappointment, he told us he was going to get carryout. My husband and I offered to take him somewhere, but that would risk us being seen together, so my husband offered to bring in dinner for all of us. The Dude liked it because it meant he didn’t have to pay for it. I liked it because it meant I didn’t have to cook. My husband said it would give the Dude more time to avoid packing.

“Why rush things,” said the Dude.

Despite heading off to college, the Dude has the eating habits of a toddler. One steak and cheese, no onions, no mushrooms, no peppers, no sauce. Only meat, cheese and bread.

Something this simple should not be hard to accomplish, yet when the Dude unwrapped his sandwich it was clear that the order was all wrong.

“I’m out of here. See you later.” We heard the rev of the engine, the thump of the base line, and with the opening and closing of the garage door, he was gone.

Beyond opening the wrapper, the Dude never touched his dinner. No amount of scraping or removal of the offending items could salvage the culinary travesty. The sandwich stared back at my husband and I, wondering what it had done wrong.

I took a deep inhale. My husband closed his eyes and snapped his plastic fork in two.

“May he fall in love with a vegan foodie,” I said. Nothing cuts the tension like a good joke. This one wasn’t good enough.

“He’s tone deaf to everyone else’s feelings.” My husband found a new fork. “He could have at least said thank you.”  He continued to vent. He took time he didn’t have to get take out he didn’t really want so he could share dinner with his son who couldn’t be bothered to stay and eat. “It’s a slap in the face.”

I have little sympathy for my husband. This happens to me almost every week with food that I actually prepare. But I didn’t bring that up because I know it wasn’t the real issue.

Knowing goodbye is coming is almost as hard as the actual goodbye. The Dude is pulling away because he is as afraid of missing us as we are of missing him, only we’re allowed to acknowledge it. He’s heading off to the best time of his life. Just because he’s ready to leave, however, doesn’t mean he has the emotional lexicon to do so gracefully.

We are dealing with the omnipresent “last”.  Our scuttled dinner was only the second to last, meaning we still had more, but only one more. We could pretend one more time that it’s just another dinner in a thousand dinners we’ve shared around our table, but this was the last time we could.

“I’ll talk to him tonight.” It was our own ritual of “last”;The Dude and I, both night owls, would stay up and watch television and talk, sharing foot space on the ottoman. Sometimes I made popcorn, sometimes he made pancakes.

“Dinner was uncool,” I said to the Dude as we both reached for the last few kernels in the bowl. He knew. He has a tell–a particular expression he wears when he’s already composed a response to the question he knows is coming.

His reasons sound so much like the ones his father dishes up. The workday was long, He had too much to do, and too little time. The weather was too hot, and the kids uncooperative. His friends can’t seem to make up their minds about plans, and change their minds too easily. He never asked for his Dad to get dinner, and then it was the wrong sandwich. It was all too much.

Goodbye is so hard.

“I’ll apologize to him tomorrow.”

The next day, while I was preparing dinner, the real, last dinner, my husband came home. He poured himself a scotch, and I told him I’d talked to the Dude about the prior evening.

“I have a few things I’d like to say.” I hoped my husband could find the emotional lexicon to get his point across while preserving our last “last”.

The Dude sidled up and shoulder checked him, and said, “Hey.”

My husband put him in a headlock.

All was forgiven. I went back to cooking dinner.

I guess he had all of the emotional lexicon he required, although it wasn’t the conversation I’d imagined.

What ever is.

Because I said so, that’s why.


I sat on the back porch swing and watched fireflies chit chat while the bluetooth case of my IPhone occasionally flashed hello in return. At least I’m hoping it was a hello. I’d hate to think I’d confused them.

My Kindle screen had gone dark several minutes ago. The Dude played basketball in the driveway, and I searched for subtext in each thump. My husband said the child hadn’t left the dinner table angry. That made one of us.

It was a stupid argument. His room is a yawning pit of entropy. I’m expecting those British ladies with swabs to show up any minute now to detail how many types of bacteria are festering in his carpet.

I asked him to clean it. He could have said “Sure,” ending the conversation. He wouldn’t have even had to mean it. I’m smart enough to know that an affirmative response only means he heard words coming out of my mouth. As far was listening to them and heeding them, I know there is no guarantee.

He said, “I’m busy.” I suppose it’s true at some level. He hasn’t been up before noon all week, and he disappears every afternoon to play basketball, then hangs out with his friends. That doesn’t leave a lot of time for housework.

Informing me that he was too busy to clean his room, however, felt like a kick of sand in the face. The Dude has been extremely resistant of late. Not that he ever does as I ask. He’s usually not so hostile about it.  I’m usually not so hostile in return, either. He gets around to things eventually. Today was not one of those more reasonable days.

“Maybe I’m too busy to give you the keys to my car until your room is clean.” Take that, you little shit.

With my response, dinner was over and he was gone.

I told my husband that it was about respect. I was not his slave. He’s not above cleaning his room, and he can’t just expect me to do everything for him. What a load of hooey.

The firmament my son and I stand on is dividing, like one of those cartoons where the earthquake splits the earth in two sides with a deep crevasse between them. He is going away to college and I don’t get to come along for the ride. I don’t even want to. That doesn’t make the change in the power structure of our family any easier to navigate.

I remember the summer before I went away to school was much the same. My mother and I argued. She complained I was never home, there was so much to do to get ready for school, and I was being snotty and disrespectful. I thought she was being controlling, stressing over details that I didn’t care about (I mean really, do you really need to comparison shop a shower caddy), and overreacting to my supposed overreactions.

I hate it when lessons I learn as a parent result in an apology for my own adolescent behavior. I’ll add this one to the ever-growing list.

Come fall, I will be a mother without a child to mother, but for now dammit, I’m still in charge. Who told him he was his own master?

Oh wait. That would be me.

I find it ironic that after years of warning that he’d have to take responsibility for his own stuff without my supervision and now that he’s doing it, I don’t like it. It makes me feel…. irrelevant.

It doesn’t bother my husband so much. I guess there’s a reason they call them apron strings and not suspenders. He is more prepared to let go. He is also not the one that will have to don the bunny suit and clean the boy’s bedroom and bathroom after he leaves for college. Just because I’m realize the argument isn’t about the Dude’s armpit of a domicile doesn’t suddenly make it clean.

As the day faded away, so did my anger–enough to let it go and move on. When I came in, the Dude was busy watching television. I could have cleaned my own bedroom. Instead, I sat down and watched along with him.

These next few weeks will be difficult, but I’ll make it a little easier by giving up the idea that I have control over anything, least of all my son. When the time comes for him to leave, we can fall into the crevasse, or we can use the time we have to build a bridge. As long as his bedroom stays on his side we’re good.

Hats off to the Class of 2015

IMG_0748The grads all took a bus from school, and we, the parents, would meet with them after the ceremony. If we wanted pre-graduation photos, the Dude would need to be up and dressed at 7:00.

Right.

I tried to get the Dude to dress for pictures the day before, but like every other day that week, he was at a graduation party. Clearly, we’d be taking photographs afterwards. Thank goodness he didn’t have to turn in his cap and gown.

“Hey Dude,” I said. “If you really have to throw your cap, make sure you come back with one afterwards.”

“Why would I want to throw my cap?” He got into his friend’s car and they disappeared.

On graduation morning the Dude woke up with barely enough time to take a shower and get the ends of his tie to match up before running out the door.

The Dude’s Dad and I were a little more prepared. In fact, we had a plan. The Dude’s Dad is really good at plans. We had to leave late enough to minimize the amount of time standing on the sidewalk outside the auditorium in 95 degree weather. On the flip side, we had to leave early enough that I-66 was still HOV, so we could bypass the long line of single occupant cars pulled over by the police at 8:45. We’d secured a prepaid parking spot a few blocks from the auditorium and I’d even worn flats.

For once, events followed plan and The Dude’s Dad and I took our seats to watch 500 kids march across the stage and receive a blank folder.

The room was full of celebratory energy, yet held an undertone of sadness. I’d been getting information emails in the weeks leading up to the big day, each one bemoaning the arrival of another “last”.  I’m pretty attached to The Dude, but I was anything but melancholy.

I’ll admit, I teared up a little hearing the orchestra play “Pomp and Circumstance,” but it was partly due to the fact many of them were better players than I am, and I’m petty that way. As the graduates filed in, we scanned heads to see if we could spot the Dude. At 6-foot-4, he’s pretty easy to spot, even if everyone is dressed alike. The Dude scanned the crowd, but couldn’t see us, so I waved, along with 500 other mothers. He’d have to trust we were watching.

The speeches covered the usual territory; assertions that despite high school sucking like an Electrolux, these were the best days of their lives, along with assurances that things would get even better than that. They spoke of hard work, dedication and perseverance, but mostly, a lot about partying, with thinly veiled references to activities they think the parents aren’t aware of. (Every generation of teens think they discovered sex, despite the evidence to the contrary. After all, they exist.)

Given the Dude’s last name starts with “E”, we didn’t have to wait long to see him cross the stage. They’d hired a photographer, which was good, since even with a zoom, the Dude looked like a green ant. He exited, and the Dude’s Dad and I turned towards each other for a high five.

Raising the Dude was a joy. Turning him into an adult was more like a bad Monty Python skit. Equal parts painful than funny, impossible to understand much of the time, and about twice as long as it needed to be. My husband pulled out his IPhone to answer emails, while I pondered my ambivalence with watching my son graduate high school.

Then I got it.

Graduating high school is his right of passage. It isn’t mine. He got himself through high school. Yes, his Dad and I nagged helped, but the work was all his. The memories are his. The triumphs and the tumbles, all his. So I don’t feel sad. I’m happy for him.

And I’m happy for me.

My right of passage will come in August, when I wake up in the morning, on my own schedule, then work through my own agenda until 3:00 when it dawns on me that he won’t be popping through the door to flop on my floor and pretend he isn’t dying to talk about his day. I will miss him terribly, while I’m having the best time of my life. I guess I have more in common with a high school senior than I thought.

After the ceremony was complete, we wove through the crowd looking for the Dude. Or more accurately, I wove through the crowd, while the Dude’s Dad scanned over the top of the crowd to find the only person in the room taller than he is. When the Dude walked over, he was twirling the tassel around his finger, no cap in sight.

“You said you wouldn’t throw your cap.”

He leaned his elbow against my shoulder, accentuating the difference in our height. “I never said that.”

Of course he did. I knew he would. It’s what a graduate does.

And as I feigned annoyance by scowling, just to be sure we had at least one, my husband snapped a picture.