The Right Turns At The Right Time?

I sent you a screenshot last night. You never responded, which in itself wasn’t that surprising. It’s Friday night, you’re cheering at a soccer game under the lights…I’m sure the boys were around, feeling the weekend and you certainly weren’t thinking about four years ago when you decided to move away – and were you making the right turns at the right time.

right turns
2013, first day at Sugar Bowl Ski Academy

You look so young here, and at the time I felt so sure you were old enough for this. I remember sobbing in the back seat of the Highlander right after we left you – big, heaving, snotty sobs that felt so alone and empty, even though your dad and sister were in the front seats pretending to not hear me. I remember thinking if this was the “safe” track for you, or if I should listen to Gretchen Rubin when she said in her book Happier at Home, “I know many people who started out on a “safe”, parent-approved track, only to leave it – voluntarily or involuntarily-after they’d spent a lot of time, effort, and money to pursue a course that had never attracted them…it’s painful to see your children risk failure or disappointment, or pursue activities that seem like a waste of time, effort and money. But we parents don’t really know what’s safe, or a waste of time.”

Four years later, I’m still thinking about that.

I caught a bit of your conversation the other night, in the kitchen while you were building tacos with your dad. He loves it when you ask questions and talk about times you used to spend together. To say that those are moments he’d like to repeat is just a mild way of us wondering if we’ve made the right choices – if you’ve turned the corners you’re supposed to turn if we’ve gotten in your way enough or stepped aside at the right or wrong times.

right turn
2017 with his dad.

Persistence. When that post popped up today, three years after my questioning why I write, I felt proud that I’ve kept going. My life is good now, truly. You’re on a much different path than the one we imagined for you as you stood outside that ski academy, hair freshly shaved short and your chest proudly pushed out as if you’d won – you made it, you convinced us, you got the scholarship and you were there.

I wonder now how nervous you actually were – how much your fourteen-year-old self wouldn’t actually admit to mom and dad about your decision.

But you were persistent. You never stopped pushing until you got where you wanted to be. Somewhere inside you there has always been a voice telling you what to do, when to pull back and when to turn.

I wonder what that voice is telling you now, in the middle of your final year of childhood –  a year of firsts and lasts and decisions you want to make all by yourself.

As you walked out the door with the boys last night, I reminded you (and your friends) to make good choices. “I’m 18, mom,” you quipped, and almost in unison, they said “17” right behind you.

“My parents always use that one on me – I’m 17, I’m not old enough,” the lanky kid replied. “I know when I’m 18 they’re just going to say that it doesn’t matter, you’re living in my house, blah-blah-blah.”

I closed the door, his words ringing in my ears. Of course! my mind echoed…you’re still learning, you don’t know how one wrong move tonight could change the course of next year. All that you’ve worked for, your whole childhood, gone POOF in one wrong move. Of course, your parents are struggling – watching you walk out the door with just a tendril of childhood left is terrifying in its finality, and bittersweet in its reality.

These boys…do they get this interlude between here and there? That these moments of senior portraits and soccer games, Winter Balls and college applications, semester GPAs and next steps – these moments transition both of us into places we’re sure and unsure of, tight-roping the season of being here and going there?

right turns
2014, right turns.

And just one year after we left you in that dorm, full of focus and your future I was watching you balance in a different way, unsteady on your broken leg yet persistent in your dreams. Then, as now, you were unphased by the new direction, sure and steady in your gaze forward.

You were testing, pushing, dreaming, feeling it – just like now. And just like then, a quiet understanding floods over me, a flicker of letting go and breathing in, out…and smiling as you whirl away.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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turning 18

He’s Turning 18

The thick envelope arrived in the mail yesterday, blue lettering screaming “OPEN IMMEDIATELY” and “YOU”VE MADE IT”!

It might have just as well said “REMINDER: THE END OF CHILDHOOD IS HERE”.

It wasn’t the college admissions response – we have another month or so for that one.

Instead, as I slit open the “TIME SENSITIVE” stamp reminding me to ‘celebrate these moments’, out tumbled direct, glaring evidence that he’s turning 18, an adult, and the 12 years of education-under-my-roof is about to end.

I’d actually have been more prepared for the college response – that’s one I’ve predicted, played over and over in my mind. I know next year he’ll be living somewhere east of the Mississippi, far away from mountains and the Pacific Ocean just a hill-hop from our house. There was no box checked on his Common App shouting, “Yes, you should stay within driving distance from your mother” – only ambitious dreams of east coast living beacon to his 18-year-old self.

And that’s ok. This is my second time around for college birthing; it’s not a huge shock.

But as the four rectangular glossies shouting ‘Graduate 2018’ tumbled from the envelope, a different kind of jolt hit me. My boy, my baby, my 6-foot-something little guy smiled back at me in sixteen different poses, tuxedo-clad and cap and gown gleaming. His gleaming white teeth, no longer hidden with silver and turquoise appendages blared a smile so bright and proud I did a double take. That’s my Cam, smiling with glee and excitement to celebrate his accomplishment. He’s turning 18, he’s graduating, and it’s time sensitive.

on turning 18
18th birthday celebration!

When Cam was little, he would talk to anyone. His spirit was contagious – no plumber, stranger waiting in line, or colleague at work was immune to his charm. He always had some sort of quip or question and if that didn’t work, he’d shimmy up the nearest pole/wall/tree branch to get their attention. But it in the quietest way possible. Cam has never been a loud type of ‘look at me’ kid, instead choosing a stealth-like approach to scare the crap out of parents who had no idea what he was capable of, while his dad and I took deep breaths and accepted who he was.

Turning 18 has changed nothing, in some respects.

At the beginning of last summer, he talked his way into an internship at a venture-capital firm. Three times a week he’d throw a crisp dress shirt over his sinewy frame, lace up his one pair of non-athletic shoes and take the bus over the river to downtown, take the elevator up to the 26th floor and join a group of entrepreneurs decades older than him for a day of research, listening to start up companies pitch their ideas and business lunches with the CEO.

And he got a promotion.

All fall he huddled in his room, balancing school work and an after-school job with writing and rewriting college admissions essays, focused on what he deemed ‘the reason he went to high school’. This kid is ready for his next step. Only occasionally would he peek into the kitchen as I chopped chicken for enchiladas or sat down next to me in the study, interrupting my grading or writing or laundry folding – all of which I gladly abandoned for the chance to get a glimpse into what’s going on in his world.

Shortly after turning 18, he announced he’s moving into a new phase in life and would appreciate only ‘on-demand’ parenting from this point forward. “What exactly is on-demand parenting?” I asked, to which he responded, “You know – when I need parenting, I’ll ask for it.”

Ha. The fact that he doesn’t think he’ll ever see a time when I might have something to add BEFORE he needs it is so typically Cam, so typically 18.

On turning 18
On a recent trip to Big Sur, CA.

We’ve debated curfews and weekends away with ‘the boys’, tracking his whereabouts on his phone and exactly what he should be required to do on his own now that he is suddenly an ‘adult’. He’s smart enough to remember what I was like when his sister left for college and says he’s preparing me for his departure early so it ‘doesn’t hit me so hard’. Somehow I think that’s not possible.

Twenty days from now his first college decisions should start rolling in, more envelopes with not only answers but evidence of the passage of time, the passing of childhood. And just like this week, I’m sure I’ll watch with an eagerness only the mom of an eighteen-year-old knows as he slides deftly open the envelope to reveal his future. I’ll be prepared to hug him tight, either way, to remind him of how proud I am of the adult he’s become, and no matter what, this is only the beginning of the next plot twist of his life.

And as soon as he leaves the room, I’ll likely shed some tears and head back to my writing to start the next part of his story. I hope you’ll ride this one out with me – I’m going to need you.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Does Your Child Have These 4 Skills Before Starting Middle School?

Other than the first day of kindergarten, the first day of middle school may be one of the most anxiety-producing days for students and parents alike. The good news is that you and your child CAN and WILL survive this transition – especially if you help.  Just ask yourself: can your child do these 4 Skills Before Starting Middle School?

  1. Teach your child to pack their own lunch – and a good snack. When my kids were little, I always figured if they weren’t hungry or tired I had a chance of surviving the day. This didn’t change as they grew up; the basic needs just get a little more difficult to enforce. Middle school students expend a LOT of energy, and they are hungry all the time. I’m not kidding. If you can teach your child to pack their own lunch – or at least a healthy, energy sustaining snack, not only will your child’s teacher be happy, but you also have a good chance of having a stable child at the end of the day! Reusable water bottles, fruit, protein bars and whole grain crackers are great snacks that help keep students alert and on top of their game. And be sure they pack it themselves- teaching simple self-care techniques prepares them for taking control of their health and wellness and will reduce stress.4 skills before starting middle school
  2. Practice self-awareness. This skill tags along with self-care, and also helps develop an awareness of their emotions and feelings. Middle school students have rapidly changing views and experiences; teaching your child to reflect on life milestones, accomplishments, and successes and challenges from the previous school year helps them to learn about themselves as a learner, as a friend and develops a growth mindset. When school gets challenging, having self-awareness skills to fall back on helps develop confidence and a calm approach.
  3. Teach your child to write an email. Thanks to technology, today’s educators are much more accessible. If your school uses a management system, make sure you and your children understand how to log on and how to contact teachers. But parents – resist the urge to be the first point of contact with teachers. Have your child reach out with a simple, direct email that states their question and asks for help. I also advise middle school students to set up a professional email address that is used for college contacts; Gmail is an excellent service. Developing self-advocacy skills will ease the communication anxiety and provide valuable training for high school and college.
  4. Help create an organization system with specific weekly goals. To develop strong study skills and create a peaceful after school environment, your student should create an organization system that works for them. Binders, color coded and labeled folders, digital systems, and traditional paper calendars are all ways middle school students can stay organized. Setting measurable weekly goals, and reflecting on progress, are ways to teach your child about self-monitoring and problem-solving. Not every system works for every child, so it’s important to listen to your child’s ideas and give things a try, even if it isn’t YOUR way. Setting up a reward and logical consequence system alongside to weekly goals will offer a tangible reason for your child to work hardto meet their expectations.

Helping your child develop these 4 skills your child needs before starting middle school should ease the transition for everyone. Remember, your child is likely nervous and anxious about all the ‘newness’ they are experiencing, and while it may seem as if the last thing they want is your advice, just knowing you’re there and paying attention can open the door for supporting them through this exciting time.

Can Your Child Do These 4 Skills Before Starting Middle School?

*This post first appeared on The Educator’s Room – please visit The Educator’s Room website here for more about teaching and parenting.

 

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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When Your Child Leaves For College

What To Say When Your Child Leaves For College

Three years ago, on this day in 2014, I was wondering what to say when I dropped my daughter off at college. It should have been simple, right? I write voraciously. I’m an educator. I’ve hundreds of kids leave the comfort of home and be absolutely fine. I’ve had good friends to mentor me through what to expect, just like during pregnancy. When your child leaves for college was most certainly a topic on the tip of my consciousness.

But on that day, when it was my 18-year-old baby girl launching off to another state, I was stuck.

I drafted and erased and revised and published getting ready for graduation essays, college tour recaps and leaving home for spending the summers at Mt. Hood. I’d survived a year with my 8th-grade son unexpectedly moving to the mountains to train for the Junior Olympics, yet I was a wreck figuring out how to handle his accident 10 days before her college move in day, a flooded kitchen and my own over-the-top anxiety. This definitely was not going according to plan.

When Your Child Leaves For College

And on this day, three years later, Facebook reminds me of our beautiful, bittersweet drive across the Utah Salt Flats, 10 hours of me and you and wondering how I would manage to say everything that I wanted/needed/should say in the next 24 hours.

I’m a Gen X parent. I grew up with a kind of free-range parenting, knowing I should be home before dark and feeling invincible. We hadn’t heard of HIV, or date-rape, or helicopter parenting. And here I am, the first generation of parents raising the i-kid, happily doling out dollars for the tech that would keep me connected – a part of my baby’s world 650 miles away.

Now I needed to figure out how to employ a kind of ‘stealth-parenting’ – finding the walk to back up my talk, if I could even figure out what that ‘talk’ was. After listening to her college president speak at the convocation, I scribbled out a letter to my college bound daughter. It’s been my most viewed post of all time – I guess I’m not alone in wondering what to say when your child leaves for college after all.

When Your Child Leaves For College

When Your Child Leaves For College

Two years ago – on this day – I became a shuttle driver, watching both my babies paddle out into a Utah river, scramble up a waterfall, and leaving me alone in a hotel room as they chose a campsite over room service. Thank you, Facebook, for reminding me that she could survive her first year of college, and so could I. Nervously relaxing in that hotel room, I struggled with my monkey-mind – what do I say when your child leaves for college the second time? What words does she need to hear – or do I? No longer was I dishing out advice about dorm rooms and ‘firsts’ – suddenly, adulting was more real than ever. My cyber-stealthing had helped somewhat; Instagram and Snapchat offered glimpses into the life I was sure she didn’t really want me to know much about, yet I was desperate to see.

The second year she was on her own, shopping at Costco and stocking up her apartment. She was cooking meals and going to classes and occasionally sharing a bit with me. Driving back, watching the sun rise over her city, the tears came. This time felt different, lonely, hopeful. I comforted myself by writing a letter to parents leaving their kids at college and didn’t look back-most of the time.

When Your Child Leaves For College

One year ago, summer started with her first study abroad, words only shared through sparse wifi connections along the Camino de Santiago. Adventuring is in her blood, and for the first time, I sank into the trust that things will be well, that she will be well, that I will be well. The power of prayer and hope and the knowledge that she would have to figure things out without my advice allowed for us to grow – mostly, for me, I admit. I couldn’t wait to see her, to hug her and note the changes that exploration had inked into her spirit. The third year leaving her at college was more about my transformation into wholeness; I was turning 50 and felt the crack widening. I learned to look at life as it is, to embrace change and hopefully anticipate the changes of motherhood in front of me.

When Your Child Leaves For College

This year I didn’t have to worry about what to say as I dropped her off because it didn’t actually happen. She’s officially adulting now, and never really came home. I traded my tech for travel and bought a ticket to visit her instead. I spent seven glorious days immersing myself in her life, discovering her city and the places she likes to buy her coffee and have special dinners out. I met her friends and bought her wine. We adulted together, no words needed, and then she dropped me off at the airport with a hug and a smile and a glint of a tear in her eye.

Now, her fourth year, I realize this: it’s not the words you say when you’re leaving your child at college, it’s the words you say when you’re not there. It’s how you find a way to be that safe place to fall back to, the warm demander from a distance. It’s the words you say when they fight with their roommate or fall in-or out-of love. It’s the words when you wish you were there to wrap yourself around her, to hold her close and smell the coconut shampoo in her hair and help her through.

It turns out, leaving her at college isn’t the hardest part; having her not come home is worse. This year, leaving her at college is more about leaving her childhood and welcoming her adulthood.

These are my words to help me through this one. Feel free to let me know if you have any advice.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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adulting

You’re Adulting Now: Thoughts On Love For My 21-Year-Old Daughter

I don’t want to go, but I know I can’t stay either. You see, you’re adulting now. You don’t need me in the way I thought you did, or that you used to.

I made a party for you last night. I felt like my own mother – hovering a little from the sidelines, content to be in the shadows of you and your friends adulting on the patio. How many times has my mom been there, behind the scenes, while I took the adulting spotlight?

I happily chopped veggies and cooked chicken in the crock pot all afternoon while you were at work. I baked a lemon cake and chatted with your roommate as we frosted it with whipped cream and berries, just like I used to when you were little.

You’re adulting now

adulting

I made blueberry and pineapple fruit ice cubes, but this time they were for sangria not lemonade, sliced oranges and got out the real wine glasses.

Later, I listened to your girlfriends chat about summer adventures abroad, pushing themselves when they were scared on the ski slopes, and what they dreamed their lives would be like.

They’ve got a bet going on who will get married first and who will become a Mom before everyone else.

They wonder how long it would take to create better male birth control and why couldn’t we elect a female president and how scary it must be to be a mom, all while sipping their sangria and laughing together.

You really are adulting now.

adulting

I made too much food. I really am feeling like my mom right about now, too. That’s a good thing. When I’ve been learning about adulting, my mom has been my greatest teacher. Anything I could or couldn’t do, she could do better. Always.

When I turned 21 my dad threw a big party for me in a restaurant. I ordered my first official cocktail – an old-fashioned – and wore a burgundy and black lace dress that matched my jet black hair. You dad was there, too, but just as my boyfriend. It was big and fun and loud and I remember my own dad smiling a lot. Grandparents, too.

I wasn’t sure how to honor you, though, at 21. It didn’t seem like all the “yo bitches” stuff I found online was quite appropriate. I’m a cool mom, but I have my limits. I couldn’t figure out how to get all the family together out in Salt Lake; one of the drawbacks of you living so far away is we can only visit in small groups.

Grandma has to settle with me texting her photos as we go.

Your grin when you saw the candles on your birthday cake wasn’t any different from when you were two or twelve. You smiled to celebrate you.

adulting

I love that every single one of your friends ate a big slice. #stronggirls.

I did the dishes quietly while you laughed outside and took your final photos, hearing your laughter through the screen door. I wasn’t quite sure how long to hang out with you all. We hugged goodbye to your friends with just a bit of sadness from me; I’ve no idea when I’ll see them again.

When the boys showed up I was already reading and ready for bed. I’m glad you fed them the leftovers and sat around the kitchen table. I could hear you teasing each other as I tried to give you some adult space- honestly, I wasn’t up for anymore adulting today.

And while your voices rose and fall through the closed door, I realized how you don’t need me anymore the way I thought you did. It’s not just the number 21 on a cake or the apartment key on your ring. You’re adulting now, like it or not.

You keep your own hours and earn two paychecks. Your friends leave at a reasonable hour to get rested before their “real” job starts on Monday morning. You do your dishes and put a cork on the wine bottle and make sure the front door is locked and the lights are out.

adulting

You plan to meet for happy hours after mountain biking and know the importance of eight hours of sleep before a work day. You offer me your bed instead of the couch, and your eyes smile when I tell you that for now, at least, the couch is fine.

I’ve only got five hours before I get on the plane and go back home. I want you to sleep but want to cuddle up with you and fresh coffee on the couch and soak in every last minute together. I’m pushing away the nagging thoughts about leaving and trying to dismiss the fact that this time, I don’t know when I’ll see you next.

I hate it when I cry goodbye. I know it makes you sad, too. Adulting can be hard.

Thanksgiving seems like a long time away. I’m not sure I’m ready for that kind of adulting yet- the kind where you hug and say it’s been great to see you and safe travels and walk away without knowing how many more days to count down until I wrap my arms around you again.

I’m not sure I’m ready for that- but I’m sure that you are.

That should take the sting out of leaving just a little- at least for me.

You’re adulting now. You’re going to be just fine.

I’ll have to keep my “how-many-days-til-I-see-Lily” countdown secret this time.

I think I need to hang onto my baby girl just a little bit longer.

adulting

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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