The Best Laid Plans

Well, someone once said that if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. I don’t really see God as laughing, but rather, sighing like the caring parent he is, knowing that things aren’t going to be the way we think, and having pity and compassion for us.

When we sent Petunia off to the Southwest for her freshman year of college, we knew she had issues. There were the petit-mal seizures, the headaches, the sleep problems, and the difficulty making friends.

But we had tried everything. She had been on multiple medications, none of which helped and many of which hindered. She had been to multiple counselors, all of whom either said she was fine, or said she wouldn’t give them any information to go on… and that she SEEMED fine.

The only thing we knew for sure was that she was always happier when the sun was shining, and that the weather systems in New England seemed to worsen her headaches. So we sent her 3000 miles away – to the school her brother is attending. We knew he would keep an eye on her.

As the semester progressed, she seemed ok. She was doing well in her classes and going to salsa dancing lessons in the evenings. She didn’t seem to be making friends locally, but she was keeping in touch with her friends online, and she was always on Facebook. Her brother thought she seemed fine. Alone a lot, but fine.

At one point, she told me she’d gone to the school health center to see a psychiatrist about her headaches and sleep issues. She’d thought for quite some time that she was bipolar, and after several visits, the psychiatrist confirmed her amateur diagnosis. They started her on medication (I was surprised she agreed to meds) and seemed glad to have a direction in which to go. I was very happy she was finally beginning to own her own health care. A huge step for her.

From 3000 miles away, I started keeping closer tabs on her, and she even went to visit my mom for Thanksgiving (she lives a couple hundred miles away) and ALL SEEMED WELL. SEEMED.

And then last week, the first day of finals week, I got a call from her psychiatrist. This is when I realized that things are not always as they seem. Petunia signed a release for full disclosure. It turns out she is severely depressed, terribly lonely, and very much on the edge. She is also failing all her classes. Every single one.

They suggested she come home, as she was already scheduled to do in a few days, and take a medical leave of absence. They also told us she needed to get into treatment immediately once she gets here; preferably daily therapy. There is much more, but that’s the gist of it.

So we are trying to digest all this and act accordingly. Petunia arrived home about 36 hours ago, and she’s spent most of it sleeping, but when she’s awake, she SEEMS happy.

Our plan is to get through Christmas, while watching her closely. Then we’ll go from there.

Among other things, my biggest personal problem right now is that I’m angry. I spent nearly a decade living with a depressed child and in spite of all my efforts and pleas and interaction with the medical community all over New England, nobody could figure out what was wrong with her. She slipped through the cracks right before my eyes. And somehow, she seemed – SEEMED – like she was relatively ok, which is why we sent her all the way out west. It was a last ditch effort to help her feel better.

It didn’t work. And I’m angry. Very angry. I’m angry with the doctors here, with the professors there (who didn’t notify anyone when she stopped going to class), with my husband for not making everything all better (yes, unfair, but there it is), and last of all, I am angry with Petunia. Angry that she never said anything to us and that we were so much in the dark.

Maybe I need to take up kick-boxing. After we get through Christmas, that is.

Why is Applying for College so Painful?

I’m drowning in college applications, college essays, SAT and ACT scores, and a completely drained checkbook. GOING to college is supposed to drain the financial life from a family, but applying to college?

I realize that part of my challenge this year is that I have TWO high school seniors applying to colleges. That means that the costs, the time, the headaches, the campus visits are all doubled. I can’t begin to describe how burnt out on writing essays I am and I haven’t personally written any! I’ve just proofread, edited, and helped trim-to-fit-the-length-restrictions on so.many.essays, I feel like I COULD write them in my sleep.

Every school has its own deadline. Some have early application; some have early decision. Some early decision applications are binding and some are not. Some schools have deadlines for applications and then EARLIER deadlines for scholarship consideration. Some schools will flex on the deadlines and some are absolutely rigid.

Some schools collaborate to restrict students to ONE early-decision application. Some schools don’t care. Some schools take the Common App and consider it done. Some require the Common App PLUS several more school-specific essays. Some have their own proprietary application.

Some applications can be completed in 20 minutes. Some take 20 hours. Some schools require paper transcripts, to be mailed through the USPS. Some require electronically mailed transcripts.

Being a home educator complicates things for me. EVERY school requires something different from me. One school asked me to list every single text used for every high school class on the transcript. (“Son, please take School X off of your list!”) Some schools ask for letters of reference; some do not. Some schools allow me to function as the high school guidance counselor; some require that I find someone else to provide the information that a guidance counselor would normally provide.

Keeping track of who is who and who needs what requires a spreadsheet! Writing the checks for the application fees for each school just about requires a second mortgage!

Yesterday, Baby A and I were busy wrapping up his application at one of his top college choices. He read some fine print for the first time and realized that in order to meet the deadline for Application-with-consideration-for-scholarship-eligibility, we needed to have a notarized paper copy of his transcript in their office by 5 PM yesterday. Impossible.

Baby A got on the phone to the admissions office and asked if there was any flexibility. He is, after all, very interested in their school. Nope. No flexibility at all. The admissions lady told him primly that they take great pride in the fact that they make no exceptions for their deadlines. Ever.

He hung up the phone and said, “Well, I can still apply for admission but I won’t be eligible for any scholarships. At all. No exception.”

Well, that’s their call. They missed out on a good student in my Baby A.

I was just relieved to cross that school off the list altogether. It doesn’t seem like it should BE this hard!

Rude People, Be Gone!

This morning I went for a walk with a friend, like I sometimes do on Mondays. As we were walking out my front door, we were talking and I inadvertently locked the door, although I didn’t have a key on me. I realized it just as the door shut tight.

Thankfully it was a clear, fall morning, so we started off on our walk anyway, and I sent Daisy a quick text at the high school, to see if there was any way she could be dismissed long enough to come let me in with her key. I knew Jed was in meetings all morning, or I’d have phoned him. Daisy’s school is only a couple of miles away, so at most she’d be out of school 20 minutes.

She texted back a few “hahahas” and then said it was no problem. So I phoned the school and somehow ended up being connected to the office of the school guidance counselors. I quickly (and a little breathlessly) explained my situation, and asked if Daisy, a senior, could be dismissed for a half hour at most. My request was met with silence.

“Hello? Are you there?” I asked. Back came the very unfriendly voice of one of the guidance secretaries.

“Is it an emergency?” To which I responded that yes, I was locked out without key, purse, or anything besides my cell phone. I then went on to say that I had texted Daisy in class to make sure she wasn’t taking a test or something.

More silence. Then, “They are not supposed to be texting in class.”

REALLY? THAT is your response? I was a bit dumbfounded, so I just sort of mumbled that yes, I knew that, but, well, hmmm.

She then transferred me to the Attendance Office, where I again explained my situation, to which the kind lady chuckled and then promised to send Daisy home right away to rescue me.

Now I ask you, why did the first lady have to be so mean? When Daisy got home about 10 minutes later, I told her the story of the mean guidance secretary and told her I hoped I hadn’t gotten her into trouble. Her response? “My teachers don’t care, as long as I’m doing my work. Don’t let it bother you, Mom, you should have told her off!”

Understand that I work at that school quite often as a substitute teacher. I have had two children go to that school, one who graduated last year, and one who will graduate this spring. Daisy is very involved and I’d be shocked if the secretary in question doesn’t know her personally; she probably knows who I am, too.

I understand rules, but legalism has no place in my life or the lives of my children. As much as I’ve appreciated so many things about this school, especially the many wonderful teachers, I will be so relieved next summer NOT to have to deal with ridiculousness like this any longer.

Is College the Best Option?

I was raised to go to college. In fact, when I was still very young, one of my mom’s friends, with whom I was very close (I still think of her like an aunt) told me that one day she just KNEW she’d see me in the White House.

Well, I did live in a white house for seven months while my husband was stationed in Rhode Island, but I’m pretty sure that’s not what she meant.  Whatever the case, my parents AND their friends told me I would get educated and become some kind of a success.

Bottom line, college was never an option or a hope – it was just assumed that both my brother and I would go. I did, and my brother did not. He could have, but he chose not to. Long story, I won’t go there, he’s fine, working hard, and enjoying life.

I’ve raised my own children to go to college. I never considered whether or not they could or should, it was just the thing that was going to happen. We homeschooled them with the classical model, because we thought it was the best one to teach them how to think, how to reason, how to be logical, and of course, how to study hard. When they went on to public high school, they were more than prepared and they all excelled.

Now Rocky is finishing up his Master’s degree, but he is very disillusioned with academia and has decided not to go on to pursue his PhD, which was the original plan. Petunia is in her freshman year of college, with several thousand dollars worth of loans helping to cushion what scholarships won’t cover.

And now it is time for Daisy to go to college. Of my three children, she has been the best student – that’s not to say she’s any smarter than the other two, but she’s jumped through all the proverbial hoops that colleges like. She’s taken AP classes, participated in varsity sports three years running, joined multiple clubs, is active in NHS, and she’s had the same part time job for two years. Even her SAT scores are competitive. She’s also a talented writer, so she’ll probably have a competitive essay for her college applications.

BUT – this seems to be the generation of kids who get big time degrees but who can’t find jobs to match them.

I know several families whose SMART kids have returned home – yes HOME – after graduating college, forced to move back in with mom and dad so they can work three minimum wage jobs only to pay off their student loans. They can’t find jobs in their field, and they can’t earn enough to live on their own and pay off those loans.

Yet – there sit the community colleges offering two-year degrees for a cost that will require no loans at all. And the two-year degree will produce a person who has a marketable skill, such as dental hygienist, mechanic, or what have you. There are ALWAYS jobs in those fields.

So that begs the question – what are we telling our kids? Daisy is part of the “crowd” at the public school which is college bound. They are all athletes with good grades and the right high school “pedigree” if you will. She is looking at colleges all out of state, which are far out of our price range (let’s face it, all but the community college are out of our price range) and she just assumes she’ll have scholarships and let loans cover the rest… to a point, of course.

But is this what’s best? And even if I’m not sure it is, has the dye been cast in Daisy’s mind so much that she wouldn’t even consider options other than the 4-year college?

I have far more questions than answers and usually I just feel like I’m being swept along by a current over which I have no control.  So, as with most things in this stage of life, I’ll keep hanging on for the ride.

on Choosing Well

Janette died last week. I learned this on Facebook.

Janette has always been someone who has challenged me to think about choices. Mostly it’s been Janette’s CHOICES that have challenged me.

Janette and I were in high school marching band together, in the woodwinds section. We weren’t close friends, but we were friendly and hung around together in the band section during football games. When she found me on FB, I didn’t think twice about accepting her friend request. We exchanged a few catch-up messages that were really more me telling my story more than actually asking about her life. Then, as so often happens on Facebook, the conversation dwindled out. And I didn’t think much about Janette again.

Janette’s life always followed a different track than mine. Shortly after she finished college, Janette chose a role that most women in their early 20’s don’t take on. Janette’s brother, Todd, was abandoned by his wife. Todd had a baby boy to care for and two jobs to juggle. Janette put her career plans on hold and stepped in to help her brother. She was caring for her nephew when tragedy struck and that little boy was diagnosed with leukemia.

At our 10-year high school reunion, most of us showed up with husbands in tow and pictures of our babies and toddlers. A few women were pregnant. A few had older children. A few were still single and Janette was one of those. Janette, however, had her own pictures of “her boy.” She was fulltime caregiver for her nephew and she adored him. She showed off his picture just as proudly as if he were her own. The little guy was fighting the good fight against that leukemia.

At our 20-year high school reunion, many of us were dealing with adolescent kids. Some classmates were on their second or third spouse. Janette still had pictures of her nephew.

Just weeks earlier, Janette’s nephew had finally lost the leukemia fight as a young teenager. Janette wanted desperately to talk about how consuming the fight had been. She wanted to talk about her nephew’s last days. We listened, but not with a lot of comprehension or empathy. We really didn’t understand the road she’d been walking. All we saw was a 38-year-old woman who had devoted her entire life to a little boy who had just died. It looked like she had put her entire life on hold to care for her nephew. I secretly wondered what on earth she would do next. Had she missed the window of opportunity for her OWN happiness?

A few years ago, our 30-year high school reunion came and went. I didn’t attend because I lived across the country. I avidly pored over the photos that my classmates posted. Janette didn’t attend that reunion either and I don’t think anyone even wondered why. She had always been a pretty quiet person, so she probably wasn’t even missed.

Then Janette found me on Facebook two years ago. We exchanged those few messages. She really didn’t tell me much about her life and it never occurred to me to wonder much….until last week.

There in my Facebook feed was a status referring to Janette’s death. I did a huge double-take and scrambled to find out what happened. This is what I learned. After years and years of fighting breast cancer herself, Janette had finally died. I did some mental math. By my calculations, Janette received her cancer diagnosis only two years after her nephew slipped away. Years of photos show pictures of Janette, bald from chemo and looking really rough…for YEARS.

I realized that now I knew the answer to what came next for my high school friend after her nephew died. She faced her own mortality. The funeral home’s guestbook entries reflected a woman who was deeply loved, who deeply cared for others, who constantly “did” for others, who lived her life serving the people around her. Even though she never had the time or opportunity to marry and have her own family, her life was far from empty.

And then she died, three days after her 50th birthday.

Janette’s community mourns her loss deeply.

And I’ve been thinking about choices. About the paths our lives take, sometimes paths we knowingly choose, sometimes path we don’t consciously choose. Janette’s path was so very different from my own, but clearly right and good. Part of me feels a little sorry for the things that Janette never got to experience, but I’m not sure that’s the RIGHT thing to feel. I think that probably, at the end of the day, Janette knew she’d made the right choices all along. In fact, I know that she knew this.

You see, the last message Janette sent me on Facebook said, “I hope all continues to go well for you. God certainly is good. He takes us down paths that we don’t expect, doesn’t He and things always seem to work out.”

Rest in Peace, dear Janette.

I STILL get in Trouble with other Moms

I got in trouble yesterday.

For the last several weeks I’ve been playing matchmaker between an elderly relative on the other side of the country who needs a companion and a young lady in our community who is floundering around trying to figure out what comes next in life for her. Leah is a lovely young woman who has grown up in the local homeschool community. She is talented, smart and very beautiful. Leah doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life and isn’t willing to put in any more semesters at the university until she figures that out.

When Aunt Sadie called to tell me that she really does, finally, need help driving (thank you, Jesus!) and just managing the mechanics of life and would I please keep my eye out for a young woman who might be a suitable companion…well, Leah was the first to come to mind.

Aunt Sadie came to visit and met Leah. They both enjoyed each other and are willing to start a dialog about what a companion job might look like.

Then yesterday, Leah’s mom confronted me at Bible study. She needed to talk to me about what I had been doing behind her back (!) with her daughter.


Leah is 21. I didn’t MEAN to go behind anyone’s back! Leah doesn’t live at home anymore. It honestly never occurred to me to ask her parents if it was okay to share a job opportunity with their daughter.

I was discussing the situation with Mountain Man and he pointed out that if some other family was trying to convince my 17-year-old that he needed to take a job 3000 miles from home, I would probably want to be part of the conversation. And while Leah is 21, she is a girl…and I don’t really know how differently protective I might feel about a daughter.

What this little dust-up has illustrated for me is that even when our kids get big, different parenting styles and choices can still cause tension. I wouldn’t think twice about someone persuading my 21-year-old son to travel across the country for a job, but some other mom might.

Our differences no longer center around what curriculum we use or whether or not we believe in spanking or junk food or dating. The issues may well be BIGGER!

I listen to another one of my friends talk about her expectations on her married daughter and grandchildren. Yikes. SO not how I would approach things, but evidently it’s how things run in THAT family.

The challenges of navigating different parenting approaches haven’t gone away. I still have the ability to get into trouble with other moms. I STILL need to live graciously with differences.



Basketball Woes

Daisy plays basketball on the varsity team at her high school. She made varsity her sophomore year and played extensively in the first few games of the season, but then was benched after that. The coach put her in sometimes for the last couple of minutes of each game, but that was all. She went to the coach multiple times and spoke with her about it, but the coach only told her she needed to play better, like she did at the beginning of the season. She was never given any specifics.

And when she was put in for those couple of minutes, or sometimes just 30 seconds, not only was she playing cold after sitting the bench all evening, she was paranoid about playing well, and consequently made all kinds of mistakes. After playing (and loving) the game since 2nd grade, suffice it to say, Daisy’s sophomore year of basketball really did a number on her.

Junior year, she nearly didn’t go out for basketball, but her friends on the team urged her to play, and she ended up starting each and every game. But sadly, the coaching was still just as lousy. The girls were constantly told how terrible they were, but they were never told WHY. The coaching style was like boot camp, with the only feedback being put downs and insults. Positive reinforcement was an unknown, except for the occasional, “Yes, now THAT is what you should have been doing all along, and you’d BETTER keep that up,” always said with a scowl. In spite of being a primary starting player, Daisy hated her basketball season and couldn’t wait for it to be over.

One might ask why we, as parents, didn’t say or do anything about this nonsense. Believe me, we considered it. It was a constant topic of discussion between Jed and me. But the bottom line is that in our small town school, the athletic director thinks this coach hangs the moon. The administration is 100% supportive of the athletic director, and the school board is 100% supportive of the administration. We had nowhere to go. What’s more, we had seen girls in the past whose parents had intervened, and they were black-balled by the coaching staff.

Our only choice was to grin and bear it or find Daisy another school or another program. There are no other basketball programs offered in our area during the school year, we couldn’t afford private school, and sending her to another public school in another town had the same price tag as a private school. If she wanted to play basketball, it was this program or nothing.

So for the past many months, Daisy has been on the fence about whether or not she’ll play this year, her senior year – the year she will be captain of the team. For the past several weeks, she has played in a non-competitive league with the goal of having fun and getting warmed up for the season. She plays with all the girls on her varsity team. Although the varsity coach has a daughter on the team, she is not allowed to “coach” her team off season, so she sits in the stands with the other parents, scowling most of the time.

Yet the coach of this off season team is a former high school player who clearly takes all her cues from the real coach. Everyone knows it’s a sham, but no one says anything.

This past week, the games were scheduled for Sunday afternoon. Daisy had been fighting a cold, so we skipped church and let her sleep in as long as she wanted. Finally at 11:30, I woke her, and her cold was much worse. She told me she couldn’t go to the game. This was the first time I could remember her ever being sick enough to decide for herself that she wasn’t going to play basketball. I had made her stay home before, but she had never initiated it herself. She contacted the young coach and told her the situation. In response, the coach rudely told her that she shouldn’t have given such late notice. Daisy was taken aback, but shrugged it off.

The next day, still sick, Daisy dragged herself to school, only to be met by one of her teammates who told her that the young coach, as well as the varsity coach were very angry with her for letting them know so late that she couldn’t make the game.

I was furious when I heard this. It’s bad enough that the coach has such a negative impact on these girls during the season, but I was not going to stand by and watch it happen off-season. I emailed both the young coach and the varsity coach. I was drippingly sweet, but I basically told them both that discussing their anger at an absent player in front of the team was completely inappropriate.  And by the way, SHE WAS SICK.

I received a very quick response back from the varsity coach telling me that she couldn’t be expected not to behave as a parent, and that as a parent, she was disappointed for HER daughter that her teammate let her down. Gimme a break. She also talked about leadership, the fact that Daisy is a senior, etc. Whatever. Later that evening, I got a response back from the young coach that clearly had been written by the varsity coach. No apologies, no owning their wrong behavior, just more finger pointing at Daisy for handling it poorly. Yes, really.

Daisy is still talking about not playing this year. Tryouts are in two weeks. On one hand, I want to see her play. It’s her senior year, the year she’s been working toward since she was seven-years-old. She will start once again, she’ll be captain, and she’ll have seniority. Plus, she’ll have senior night, where she (and we) will be honored for her basketball career. In a sense, this is what we’ve all been waiting for.

Yet… on the other hand, I’d love to see her quit, I’d love to see the coach’s face when she tells her, I’d love to go to the coach, the athletic director, the principal, and the entire TOWN and tell them WHY she quit. I’d also love to see her have a relaxing winter of skiing and enjoying herself, rather than constantly being stressed and in tears over that stupid coach

So there you have it. Stay tuned.  Oh, and by the way, Daisy is still sick.

Something new to mourn; a.k.a. “Get a Grip!”

I find I’m mourning something I never imagined even caring about: my college experience.

I went to school in the South for a year and didn’t fit there. Then I went to a local community college for nearly a year while I was pregnant, and I finished up at the local university. I’ve always been very thankful I was able to finish and that my parents helped me do that.

I never felt I missed out on the whole college scene, the parties, the friends, the connections, the reunions, etc. I was there on a mission to get through it – not to live it up. And I’ve always been OK with that. (A side note – I did live it up while at that southern university AND in high school – so, yeah).

Over the last few years, while helping Rocky and Petunia find schools, I didn’t give it a second thought.

But now, suddenly, I feel so sad about what I missed. It hit me yesterday while Daisy and I were visiting one of the local New England colleges. I think it’s a combination of feeling at a loss about what I want to do with the rest of my life (work wise), the impending empty nest, looking at so many schools, and going to Jed’s college reunion recently.

I realize not only that I missed out on some things (mostly meeting people – since I didn’t live on campus), but also that I had so little guidance before and during college. I don’t know where my guidance counselors were, or if there were any at all, but I figured it all out on my own. My parents didn’t advise me. I took the classes that seemed right and somehow managed to get a fairly useless liberal arts degree.

But career plans? Ha. And I was a single mom. Where was the advice? I’ve advised my kids from the get-go, finding that each child has different needs in that regard. But I’ve been very hands-on, and because of that, they’ve thrived. I’m pretty sure one of them wouldn’t have made it through high school had I not “helped.”

Don’t get me wrong – I’m glad my life turned out the way it did – of course that I have Rocky, that I married Jed, that I have my girls, that I homeschooled, etc. I can’t imagine life any other way. So then why do I NOW feel so sad about how it could have been?

Mid-life crisis, anyone?

Public Notice

to whom it may concern:

Until further notice,

I am no longer available

to handle any personal crises that are not my own.

If you have an early morning crisis, please do not wake me.

If you have a mid-day crisis, please do not call and ask me to drop everything and join you in crisis mode.

If you have an evening crisis, please remember that no brain activity occurs after 8 PM. Even if I were available for crisis management, my contribution would be of minimal value.

I have worked hard to avoid constant crisis in my life and I expect you to do the same. 



Re-Learning how to Cook

When Jed and I first got married, I could cook scrambled eggs, terrible dried-out stir-fry chicken, and my specialty was carry-out. Also known as take-out. Or fast-food.

Over the years, I learned how to cook, but it was an uphill battle; one that I fought every step of the way. I find it a little sad that only now am I finally beginning to enjoy cooking. Don’t get me wrong – I can’t imagine that I’ll ever love it, and I’d rather die than watch a cooking show, but I like putting yummy things together that my family enjoys.

Yet, it seems that just as I was getting the hang of it, Rocky left for college. Sure, that only took us from 5 to 4 people, but he usually ate more than the rest of us. Suddenly we had way more leftovers than we’d ever had before.

I adjusted. We ate less, but food prices went up, so the grocery bill didn’t change.

Go figure.

Then Petunia left for college a month ago. At about the same time, Daisy started taking on more hours at work. She works evenings at a local pizza place, so when she works, she just eats dinner there. And even when she’s not working, she’s often out with friends or at school activities.

Now most nights I cook for 2, which I find harder than cooking for 4 or 5. And I’m tempted not to make anything special, when it’s just the two of us. French toast, scrambled eggs, mac-n-cheese. And sometimes leftovers. Or sometimes I experiment, which usually isn’t a good idea.

But the really neat thing is that regardless of what we have for dinner, it’s become a very special time for me and Jed. We recently put away our huge, farm-style kitchen table, and now we’re just using a little café table that suits two or three of us just fine. Especially JUST the two of us. We’ve been putting on various types of music, depending on our mood, dimming the lights, lighting a candle, having wine, and sitting very close while we dine, as if we’re in a café in Paris or Madrid.

And then little Daisy breezes in from work and the mood is lost.

Haha. But NEXT year…

I DO still miss them when they’re gone

I have one friend who is overtly in crisis over her empty nest. She cries. She mourns. She feels lost. She feels LOSS. Last summer when my two youngest sons were working out of state of summer camps, I worked hard to model how Excellent and Cool it can be to have an empty nest. What comes next is a Good Thing. Life is full of exciting possibilities and nothing more so than what lies ahead. This really is consistent with how I’ve tried to approach all the seasons of change with my kids. (My friend didn’t really appreciate my excellent modeling.)

The thing that has saved me thus far is that each new stage that my boys have grown into has been filled with new delights. I have told countless friends that I DON’T miss those baby years because the toddler years are so fun. I don’t miss the toddler years because I adore my little boys. I don’t miss the little boys because I delight in my adolescents. The teen years have been a trip and so much fun. The young adult years are turning into true joy.

I thought I was safe, you see. I thought that as long as I could keep finding cool things about the next age and stage, I wouldn’t ever have to mourn the passing of the last age and stage. No loss, always gain. Sounds like a winning plan to me!

What I didn’t count on was running out of stages.

There comes a time when the next stop isn’t on my road any more.  Of course, for the rest of their lives, for the rest of MY life, there are new things. New stages, new seasons, new growth. But we’ve reached a point where the new growth isn’t happening on my watch anymore. I’m no longer safe from loss.

The truth is that last summer when my house was empty of boys, in spite of my brisk, cheery words about empty nests and enjoying couple time again with Mountain Man, I really MISSED my kids. I missed them being kids. I missed them as adults. When we traveled north to the family cabin for a week, I missed having a cabin full of laughter, energy, good ideas, napping, coffee-drinking, baking, conversation. I missed that.

In spite of my brave talk, I don’t think there’s any way around it. I’m going to have to go THROUGH this missing.

Grown-up Friendships

I just realized something that’s taken me 4 or 5 years to see clearly. I know a lady here in my town I thought was my friend, but she clearly is not. She is an acquaintance with a daughter who plays the same sports as my youngest, so we’ve always ended up sitting together and talking.

At some point a few years ago, we rode together to a sporting event in a distant town. Not long after that, we met for breakfast.  Then lunch. This evolved to our taking our kids to the beach together in the summers, and we developed fairly regular communication over email.

While I like this lady well enough, I realize it isn’t because of anything she brings to the relationship but rather, she’s infinitely more pleasant than most of the other parents in our sports circle.

You see, in all our years together, she’s never shared anything remotely personal about herself. I’m not talking private issues, but even just dreams and goals and big ideas. She doesn’t share about books she’s read or anything creative she’s done or would like to do. She only wants to talk about her kids’ dreams and goals. And… she likes to gossip about other kids at the high school, and their parents.

I didn’t see it clearly for what it was at first, because her comments about others are often couched as concern or dismay. But now I realize she just likes to talk trash about others. Of course, I only realized this after she treated ME badly.

This summer, she blew me off completely. Not that we were ever exceptionally close, but at the very least, we responded to one another’s emails. This past summer, I never heard from her and she never returned my few emails or phone calls. It didn’t take me long to take the hint and just leave her alone. Not a huge loss, really.

But then once school started, I got a gushing email about how she’d missed me, how she HAD read my emails, but hadn’t responded because she wanted to spend every possible moment with her kids.

Really? Not even enough time for a “sorry it’s a busy summer – I’ll see you in the fall”?


Then she asked me to do a volunteer thing with her. When I said I couldn’t, she got very cool and the friendliness went away as quickly as it had come.

How did I not see this sooner?

I know a lot of people. A lot of nice people. I know half our town. But friendships are hard to come by. They take energy, investment, and most of all, time. Lots and lots of time. And if people don’t even have time for a one-line email to let me know what’s going on, then where does that leave us?

On Serving as a Cautionary Tale

Four years ago, I agreed to be a MOPS mentor. MOPS is a ministry to Mothers of Pre-Schoolers that meets twice a month. I started out thinking that I could be an example. Hooray, it’s possible to survive 4 babies in five years. Hooray, after the intensity of parenting preschoolers, it’s possible to emerge with at least 3 brain cells left. Hooray, someday, you too can tell young moms that “this too shall pass.” I haven’t actually thought that way for awhile now.

Well, okay, I’m still an example, but really more of a cautionary tale. This week I was on the calendar to give the Mentor Moment at our MOPS meeting. I was kind of dreading it but I did prepare. It was the responsible thing to do. I’m weary with the young-adult parenting I’ve been doing and not really feeling all that inspired or inspiring.

I went to bed on Monday night, feeling not quite prepared but determined to do the responsible thing. I also reminded Baby A that he needed to be ready to leave on time to be at MOPS for the 8:45 AM set-up. Since he’s working childcare again this year, he could help with the early arrivals.

On Tuesday, at 8:59 AM, I opened my eyes after a night of broken, restless sleep. And swore. I cussed. I was due at the church 14 minutes before I even started my day! I swore some more. Only 19 minutes later, I raced into the all-purpose room that our MOPS group meets in.

Without my Bible.

Without my notes for my Mentor Moment.

Without my coffee.

Without the food I was supposed to bring to contribute to the weekly brunch.

Without my MOPS T-shirt. Hey, at least I was WEARING a shirt.

I was also out of breath. And sweating. Darn hot flashes. And a migraine….oh, it was pulsating in my head.

When it was my turn to share the Mentor Moment, this was all I had to say:

I need grace.

I was going to come this morning, all put together, to remind you that if you endure the preschool years, you too can be all put together again someday. But I’m here to serve as a cautionary tale. I am NOT all put-together.

Parenting isn’t any easier now than when the kids were preschoolers. It might be harder. (I didn’t have the heart to tell the young moms HOW MUCH harder.)

I needed grace when my kids were tiny. I need grace now.

I failed massively when my kids were preschoolers and I continue to fail pretty much every day. I need grace desperately. I did back then and I do now. Many things change as your kids grow up, but not that…not the need for grace.

I overslept, I forgot my Bible, I forgot my notes, I forgot my food, I forgot my shirt (but at least I have one on!) My head hurts and my house is a mess. I didn’t make my bed this morning and I don’t plan to make it this afternoon. I swore too. SEVERAL bad words. Some of them REALLY bad words.

I need grace. I need Jesus. Today. Right now.

And that’s all I’m here to tell you today. That, and there IS grace for this. For you. For me.


And I sat down.

Dr. Seuss Knows What’s What

I heard a good quote today:

“Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.” – Dr. Seuss

You see, for me – it happened. When my kids were little and I decided I wanted to homeschool them (much to my husband’s chagrin at the time) I knew what I was taking on. I mean, I didn’t know how hard it would be, but I knew I was going to be with them and be there for everything. All of it.

I remember when my girls were about 4 or 5 and Rocky was 10 and Frank said he was sad that they were growing up so quickly. He had spent two of their toddler years doing extensive traveling with his job and he did miss a lot. He bemoaned what he’d missed and wished out loud that we could have those years back again. At the time, I was weary and didn’t want to repeat even one day with my kids.

Not that I didn’t love them and love spending my days with them. I did! But I felt full. I was enjoying every minute and I felt then that when it was time for them to grow up and go away, I’d be ready. I wasn’t going to be one of those parents who say, “Gee, I wish I’d spent more time with them.” I SPENT THE TIME. Sometimes the time with them made me crazy, but I SPENT THE TIME.

And now, here I am with two already out of the nest and one who will be gone this time next year. Amusingly, one of my only regrets (ok, one of my only Homeschooling regrets) is that I didn’t put them in school sooner. Yes, really. They were ready and I was burnt out and the last two years were simply abrasive for us all. I remember saying that I’d be a better mom to them if they were in school. And I was right. (I should add here that as much as my husband did not want me to homeschool them back in the day, he was equally adamant about NOT putting them in school when I did). He lost out both times. Not that I didn’t seriously consider his opinion. I considered it for two years. Two abrasive years. And then I threw them to the dogs. I mean, put them in public school.

And I still spent tons of time with them. I had the luxury of just working part time, so I got to spend time with them in the evenings, helping with homework, listening to stories… and making sure I debunked much of the stuff the public school was telling them – both in the classroom and out. I savored those times and I’m so grateful for them.

People keep asking me how I’m going to react and what’s going to become of me when little Daisy leaves the nest next year. Even little Daisy tenderly asked me last week, “Mama, do you think you’ll be ok when I go away to college?” She’s a sweetheart and it brought a tear to my eye. BUT. Yes, I will be ok. I will miss her, but this is what we’ve been working toward since she first came to be.

I will cry when she goes because I’m a mom and I’m emotional and let’s face it – I WILL miss her. But I won’t be crying because it’s over, I’ll be smiling through my tears because it happened. And because it’s also just beginning… for us all.

Credit for finding the Dr. Seuss quote goes to!/gypsynester.

Allowing the Little Bird to Test Her Wings

A few years ago, we sat by while our son Rocky dated a sweet young gal he’d known for years. Like him, she was homeschooled, and like him, she went on to the local university. She was an impressive young girl whom any parents would want their son to date – and marry. But throughout her senior year in high school, her parents gave her mixed signals. Signals that ended up having troubling consequences.

The girlfriend’s parents gave her a car, a cell phone and a laptop, and they allowed her to get a job and take classes at the local high school. In other words, they gave her many freedoms. Yet, they put very tight (and in my opinion, unreasonable) parameters on all her comings and goings. She was not allowed to spend time at our house at all, because of the risk that she might be alone with our son (being alone with a boy was never, ever allowed). In fact, she couldn’t even be alone with him in a public place. If they went to a movie or out to dinner, they had to bring other friends or a chaperone along.

These rules were imposed upon her even after she moved into the dorm for college. It was confusing how the parents intended to enforce the rules, but they made it very clear that those were the rules they expected her to follow.  It was as if they put her in a cage, but left the door wide open, daring her to fly out.

Her method of dealing with this nonsense? She lied. She was a good girl and set very high standards for herself. She worked hard, did everything expected of her, and was very chaste with her boyfriend – our son – but she DID sometimes spend time with him alone.

We watched on the sidelines while this girl’s relationship with her parents deteriorated because they would not allow her to grow up nor did they trust her. Or one might observe, they did not trust the young women they had raised her to be.

In the end, she lost her head a little bit in college and during their last year there, she cheated on Rocky and lied about it. She had developed into a very good liar, and he believed her conflicting stories, until one day he came upon some painful irrefutable evidence. That was the end of the relationship, and needless to say, it’s taken him a long time to get over it.

My point in bringing this up? We are now walking the same path the parents of the girlfriend were walking not so long ago. We have a daughter who is a senior in high school. Little Daisy. She has a cell phone, a car, a laptop, a job, and she goes to the public high school. She is involved in sports, other activities, and has a very active social life. She currently does not have a boyfriend (Hallelujah, anyone?) but has dated some in the past and will surely do so again.

It is a scary thing to allow your young, beautiful daughter to go out into the world, a world fraught with alcohol, drugs, car accidents, and of course countless young men who are surely thinking about none other than having sex with YOUR daughter. But out into that world, she must go. Hopefully, a few cautious steps at a time.

We know for a fact that some of Daisy’s friends in high school drink alcohol. We know for a fact that some of them do drugs regularly. We know that several couples are having sex. We know several kids who aren’t part of a couple, but who are still having sex. Thankfully (oh God, how thankful we are) Daisy tells us these things. She’s quite open about who does what, and surprisingly, she tells us what she’s interested in doing and what tempts her most. I know she doesn’t tell us everything, but it’s enough, and I’m thankful for it.

I hope she’ll choose not to do these things, because let’s face it, at nearly 18 years of age, it’s her choice. Sure, we could lock her up and police her constantly, but I’m here to tell you that if she wants to do it, she’ll do it anyway. I was locked up and policed by my parents – I was even put into an all-girls school in 9th grade, but guess what? I partied with the best of them and lied and sneaked my way through my high school years.

We think we raised Daisy right, but that’s no guarantee. I know she has a good head on her shoulders, but at 17, her brain isn’t even close to being fully mature. At this point, we’ve done nearly all we can do. We’ll stay alert and continue to parent as we slowly pull back and she slowly pulls away. And we’ll do much of it on our knees, praying that she’ll stay on the right path. Because at this stage, it’s all in God’s hands.

But then, that’s where it was all along.

One of these things is not like the other…

Rocky is 24-years-old, handsome, popular with his friends, successful in grad school, and I can see him maturing into a wonderful man right before my eyes. Well, right before my eyes from far, far away.

You see, Rocky calls home to talk to me every single day. He did this all the way through undergrad. He did it the four years he had a girlfriend. He does it now. There are days every so often when he doesn’t call, but those are few and far between.

He doesn’t call because he’s homesick or lonely. We’ve just always been very close. We’re confidantes. He’s always told me pretty much everything. I mean, I’m no fool – I know he doesn’t tell me EVERYTHING, but you’d be surprised at the things he DOES share. Sometimes I’m a bit horrified. But thankful. So thankful.

Daisy, our senior in high school, will probably be much the same. I don’t envision her calling every single day, but she likes to keep in touch. We are close and she breaks all the rules, chatting with me on Skype during class at the public high school, picking on me over Facebook, leaving ridiculous comments on my photos. She always makes me laugh. She will call her mama when she’s gone.

Petunia, however, is now far, far away like her brother, and she does not call. At. All. When I call her, she answers me in one-to-two word sentences and she is always the one who decides when it’s time to end the call. If I text her, she usually replies, but not always. If I try to chat with her on Skype, she may or may not respond. She keeps me guessing, so guess which child I worry about?

The really funny thing is that Rocky can’t, for the life of him, figure out why Petunia isn’t calling home every day.

That makes me smile big.

I Don’t Know When to Stop Worrying

I don’t know when to quit worrying.  Decades of reading murder mysteries and watching current events give me far too much visual fodder for imagining the worst and I always do. Will my boys ever be old enough that I blithely hear of their exploits and DON’T feel a twinge of worry?

Last week, Middle ManCub was home from his high-stress job in Haiti for a week of rest and relaxation. We spent that quiet week at Grandma’s cabin with him, catching up on sleep, conversation, and good food.  He brought us nice Haitian rum….oh my! The good stuff! We drank a lot of coffee and listened a lot.

Early in the week, he told us he wanted to walk up the coast to the next larger town. He’d been dying to walk on the beach all by himself for miles and miles. Most mornings, however, the pull of his warm bed kept him tucked in until noon. The tiny twitch of relief each time that happened was an early warning sign that I had some irrational worry simmering. I mostly ignored it.

Two days before he needed to board a plane back to Haiti, Middle ManCub rolled out of bed at noon. He lounged about drinking coffee and eating bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches. It had rained heavily the night before and looked like it might rain again. We all puttered around the cabin, reading, writing, cooking, and in general doing nothing.

At 3:15, Middle ManCub leaped to his feet and announced, “I’m going to walk up the coast to Small Coastal Tourist Trap now. I’ll give you a call if I need a ride.”  He shoved a water bottle and some sandals into his backpack and loped down the steps to the beach.

What? Didn’t he know it was 15 miles? Didn’t he know that the storms were still circling, spitting out torrents of rain and bolts of lightning periodically? Did he even take his phone? Did he know when sunset was? Had he put on sunscreen?

Question after question raced through my mind.

And sure enough, I spent the rest of the afternoon fretting. I imagined calling the Coast Guard at midnight and finding his lightning-struck body on the beach at 3 AM. I imagined a gang of bad guys (bad guys? Really? On the beach?) attacking him, beating him, leaving him dead on the beach. I imagined him dying of thirst (in one afternoon) or shivering  from exposure during the long night hours before finally perishing just before dawn.

And phones…bah! There’s no cell coverage along the coast! He wouldn’t be able to call for help. He would barely be able to call for a ride home because that small coastal town has such spotty cell coverage. Furthermore, I hadn’t seen the boy’s cell phone being charged and I knew firsthand how quickly a battery charge runs out when the phone is constantly seeking a signal. If he set out with a low battery, he’d NEVER reach us!

And then can we talk about shoes? He didn’t actually grab sandals. He grabbed an old pair of Crocs that he’s  been wearing for years. Would he even be ambulatory by the time he reached that little town?

Worst of all, I was pretty sure that no food had gone into that back pack. With no calories, how would he keep warm if he ended up being rained on and out in the elements overnight?

And then there are those bad guys…waiting behind a sand dune to jump him….

I spent the remainder of the afternoon trying to keep from hyperventilating, aware that my heart was racing faster than it should.

There was a tiny part of my brain that KNEW that I was worrying needlessly and inappropriately. There was a tiny RATIONAL part of me that was very aware that

  1. Middle ManCub is a MAN, not a boy. Yes, a gang of bad guys could certainly overpower him, but a GANG of bad guys is unlikely be to hanging out on a remote piece of beach, waiting for a scruffy college kid with no money.
  2. Middle ManCub has backpacked enough to have a little bit of sense about trekking for any distance.
  3. He had water.
  4. He DID have shoes.
  5. He was only going 15 miles and that along a very defined route.
  6. He DID have a cell phone.
  7. It was only August so death by exposure and cold were not likely.
  8. He’s actually walked this stretch of coastline before.
  9. Mountain Man and I both went on more dangerous adventures when we were his age. In fact, this probably didn’t even qualify as a dangerous adventure…not REALLY.
  10. This young man walks in GREAT faith in his God Who he trusts implicitly.
  11. He spends a great deal of time in a WHOLE LOT MORE DANGER every single day that he is in Haiti.

And that last might really be the crux of the biscuit for me. I don’t worry every single day, day in and day out, about Middle ManCub in Haiti because I don’t even KNOW to be worried. I don’t know WHAT to be worried about. And it’s probably just as well. I am forced to leave him in God’s hands and actually LIVE out my belief that nothing can touch him but that it comes through those Great Hands.

So there we were, in the United States, in a rural, coastal area. And I was free to go all out on the worrying. Which I did. Which was stupid. Surely God’s hands are big enough to reach the U.S. too. Surely He doesn’t need the extra horsepower of a mother’s worry to keep His eye glued to that particular sparrow.

I don’t, in fact, want to keep my kids from doing big adventures, dangerous things, high callings. I want them to RUN into their calling with their arms wide open. My mind knows that. My heart even knows it most of the time. My gut? Nope, it worries and worries and worries.

Sometimes it feels like Romans 12:1 (I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your spiritual act of worship) is my call to walk AWAY from the worry, present my worrying gut as a living sacrifice and live with my back to the worry.

The place I need to start is a resolve to NOT picture Middle ManCub’s body crumpled on a beach, or splayed on the broken pavement of an alley, or broken on a busy Haitian street.  I simply must stop picturing those things. That is my first offering.

Best of all, at 6:45 that night, Middle ManCub called for a ride. Fifteen miles in three and a half hours–he felt pretty good about that. And so did I.

Boys Fighting

“How do I stop my kids from fighting? What did YOU do?”  The earnest young mom of toddlers waited for my answer. And of course I didn’t have one!

I hate it when my kids fight. And yes, that’s present tense. They’re all big, practically grown, but the bickering continues. It provides a constant background of noise as they constantly hash out pack order, differences of opinion, and sometimes invented grievances. It wears me out as much now as when they were tiny. I WANT it to stop! I hate it! I just want everyone to get along!

When Baby A and Baby B returned from their respective out-of-state summer camp jobs last week, I actually saw progress though. It gave me a tiny bit of hope.

The squabble started in the kitchen, paraded through the living room, and landed in the boys’ shared bedroom. At last, the door slammed shut, muffling the angry, raised voices. Those voices continued to rise and fall in contention and strife. Occasionally, the cadence of things dipped below what I could hear. I picked up the occasional, reasoned tone of voice. They were clearly being coached on how to handle things, how to resolve the difference peaceably. I smiled to myself. Good. Let Mountain Man deal with these nearly-grown man-cubs.

When I went back to our bedroom to put away a load of clean clothes, however, there was Mountain Man, puttering on his computer. “Aren’t you in talking to the boys?” I asked in confusion. He looked up at me blankly. Uh, no. He wasn’t even hearing the angry bickering. Hmmmmmmm.

A few minutes later, the music in the kitchen resumed and I heard the clatter of dishes being rinsed and stowed in the dishwasher. I HAD to check this out!

There were Baby A and Baby B, working together, discussing the lyrics of the song blaring into the room. After I turned down the volume, I asked, “So did Dad help you work through your fight a few minutes ago? What were you guys doing in your bedroom?”

In tandem, the boys rolled their eyes just a little and both said, also in unison, “We were working it out ourselves, Mom!”

Part of me wanted to roll my eyes right back at them and say, “Well, it’s about TIME!” I contented myself with a matter-of-fact, “Well good,” and left the kitchen.(And secretly wondered how long it would take before another fight broke out, but I kept that wondering to myself.)

I always thought that growing up meant they’d no longer bicker and squabble. Maybe someday it will mean that, but today, it means that they at least know to go to a private place, shut the door, and reason with each other. Those skills may actually have more application than most of things I’ve thought they should learn.

The bickering isn’t completely over, but today I realized that my responsibility to do something about it…IS!

Young-adult Parenting Tip #42

I feel certain that there are at least 41 others out there, if not 141 others.

Never co-sign anything for your left-the-nest child.

I realize not all parents would agree with me. Several years ago, apparently I would not have agreed with me. But now stampeding horses couldn’t make me.

Imagine I stand face to muzzle with this thundering herd, (photographed by Frank Staub,) with Child 1 whining, “But Mooo-ooom, how can I get to work without a car?” Parents, I say “HOLD YOUR GROUND.” Just say no.

What is the worst that could happen? Child 1 might indeed lose his or her job. They could then come home (honestly a much cheaper and less stressful alternative, whatever you might fear now!) and look for work in walking distance, or chauffeuring distance, or even on a route with mass transportation. In the meantime they eat and sleep under a roof. There is hope of eventually saving for that car. OR Child 1 might elect to live on friends’ sofas and bum rides off of them, or even take to a cardboard box on the street. Admittedly, this is the threatened scenario that led me to the co-signatory regrets I currently endure. But I have come to the conclusion that this is not likely to be a long-term result, seeing as how it is self-imposed. That nasty liver almost sounds appetizing after a couple of days of not eating, and I suspect the old homestead couldn’t be as dreadful as it first seems after Child 1 hits the streets. But the key here is LESSON LEARNED. This co-signing disaster just threatens OUR credit on a semi-regular basis without teaching that child much beyond discouragement and shame.

So my thinking now goes like this: when you were a little whippersnapper, Child 1, I let you take your falls, make mistakes, and experience your own consequences. You sometimes took a while to really absorb those lessons, but they were the only way you truly learned anything significant. Yes, the consequences now may be a lot bigger, but the way you learn hasn’t changed. You need to work out how to live grown-up on your own, and I’ll advise and cheer and console along the way. The only safety net offered is our home. Deal?

Biting my Tongue from Far, Far Away

My little gal, Petunia, has been off at the college far, far away for 2 weeks and hasn’t made any friends. Sure, it’s only 2 weeks, but knowing her, this is how it will be. She spends her Saturdays alone (though she doesn’t complain) and she will probably spend Labor Day alone.

If I asked him, her big brother Rocky would get together with her for meals or whatever – they do so a couple of times/week… but it’s not his job to be her friend. She has GOT to make the effort to find her own friends and not depend on him. He’s been so sweet to her and has gone above and beyond what I expected him to do – he’s made me so happy and proud. And he’s also concerned that she doesn’t seem to be getting out there.

A good thing – she adores her classes and profs. She joined a couple of clubs which start this week. And she gave her name to a campus ministry group, so surely they’ll be calling her to come to Bible study or something. She also signed up to be in a big group that goes to the football games together but last night was the first home game and she didn’t go – because she didn’t have anyone to go with. But she didn’t ASK around. Not even on her dorm floor.

I’m biting my tongue, unsure how much to stick my nose in and advise, and how much to let her do it her own way. I’m erring on the side of caution because she’s apt to shut me off if I bug her too much.

Good grief, this is hard. What’s a mom to do?

I once heard a pastor say that when we pray and give something over to God, are we really giving it to him, or are we just worrying in front of him so he can watch? I am ashamed to say that I often do the latter. I’m GREAT at giving God advice. I’m sure he’s so grateful for that.