Thursday, January 31, 2013

Daughters and Sons

Yesterday, as I was walking Rooney (cue obligatory cute dog photo):

I was listening to music and the song Daughters by John Mayer came on. The playlist I generally listen to when I'm walking the dog is long and varied so I hadn't heard this song come up in awhile.

There's something very sweet and plaintive about this song. This poor lovestruck guy who is apparently suffering the effects of being in love with a girl who had an absentee father and therefore has trust and commitment issues, is making a musical plea for fathers everywhere to love their daughters well.

I'm with you there, John. 

In addition to his advocating for all future grown-up girls who might one day date someone like him who'd rather not have a girlfriend with "issues",  John apparently would also like a time machine in which he could reverse the time-space continuum (probably something that resembles a DeLorean) and somehow convince his beloved's father to stop being such a schmuck.

It's really all very noble and romantic (and a teeny bit self-serving, but I'm willing to forgive him that).

Where John loses me is with this throwaway stanza in the middle of the song that pretty much says you can dump on your sons all you want, but you better be gosh darn sure to take care of those girls.

Boys, you can break. 
You'll find out how much they can take.
Boys will be strong
And boys soldier on
But boys would be gone without the warmth from
A woman's good, good heart

Never mind that there is again a bit of a self-serving message here. Basically, that he would like the benefit of a woman's good, good heart and never mind that he's a broken mess himself because he's a boy and he'll just pull up his boot straps and soldier on. But as a mother of two sons I can tell you (and I'd tell John, too, but he hasn't been taking my calls) that it's just so completely and utterly false.

I have two pretty soldier-like boys myself. They keep their tougher emotions close to the vest and eschew any big discussions of "feelings". Ask a teenage boy to "use their words" to describe what's going on with them and mine would come up with words like, nothing, fine, I don't care, and whatever. We have tried giving them a Thesaurus and Word-a-Day calendars as birthday gifts but it hasn't seemed to help (nor have those gifts been particularly popular-go figure?)

That said though, I don't imagine for a minute that they don't wrestle with tough emotions all the time. And if you learn to watch carefully, as a mom, you can always see the signs.

It's in the eyes. It's in the way they suddenly get snappish and grouchy over things that would normally never bother them. They can't focus and procrastination reaches even greater pinnacles than you ever thought possible. Their words start carrying an air of futility or ambivalence; things like, What does it matter?, I didn't really care anyway, It's stupid, or even better they will string them all together in one big long statement of angst, Who cares? It's all just stupid and doesn't matter and I didn't care anyway. That pretty much sums it up, huh?

All of the snarls, the closed bedroom doors, the half-done homework, it's all their masculine way of saying:

I'm disappointed.

I'm worried.

I'm scared.

I'm not sure of what to do next.

And while so far my boys have been able to bounce back from all of the setbacks they've faced, I don't think for a minute that they couldn't be broken, that they aren't vulnerable, that nothing life throws at them could ever take them down. Just because they're boys?

Boys fill our prisons.

Boys commit the overwhelming majority of the violent crimes in this country.

Boys commit the majority of the non-violent crimes in this country.

Applications for college is lower for boys than girls.

Girls outnumber boys in successful completion of college.

Sorry, John, we are going to have to agree to disagree on this one (and I might have a few bones to pick with you on some of your other songs. I'll let you know after I walk Rooney today and have a chance to mull over Say and Your Body is a Wonderland. I'm feeling like there is some subtext there that I'm not getting...)

How about we all agree, Fathers and Mothers, to be good to both our daughters and our sons? 

Let's try not to break anybody and find out how much they can take. Life will usually do enough of that all on its own.

I'm done over-analyzing the lyrics to pop songs for today. I can't promise what might spring up in my brain tomorrow though. I've got a lot of time to think when I'm walking my youthful, energetic, fluffy buddy. One of these days, I'll come up with the answers to all of the world's problems. 

I'll keep you posted.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

R U there yet

Jack's acceptance to college and our recent "field trip" to see the campus have all been undeniable clues that as insane as it seems right now, our eldest child will be leaving home sometime later this year.

"Impossible!" my heart says.

But my mind keeps annoyingly interjecting, "Yup, it's happening, Lady, so you better just get on board."

The problem is that at this point there isn't a lot a parent can do to "get on board". We don't officially know yet which school he will be attending in the fall (other yes/no letters will be arriving mid-March) so there are still a multitude of unknowns. Start date. Location. Will we be driving or flying him to school? Will his northwest wardrobe suffice, or is he headed to sunnier skies and will be needing a bigger repertoire of shorts and flip flops?

(Actually, Jack never wears flip flops and I highly doubt any geographic location would change that. He wears some version of tennis shoes or boat shoes everywhere. School, pool, beach, casual dining, fancy restaurant, reception for the Queen...wherever...)

The thing is, I'm not a big fan of ambiguity. Or uncertainty. Or the unknown. This might explain why we have lived in the same house for 20+ years and have no plans to change that anytime soon. Adventurers and trailblazers we are not.

So, what I like to do to give myself the illusion of some semblance of control or certainty, when there is nothing that I really can control or be certain of, is to seek, gather and acquire as much knowledge as possible about any piece of the puzzle that I can put my finger on.

That desire has lead me to this book:

I haven't finished it yet but so far I would say that a lot of the information would be equally relevant to parents of children in their junior or senior year in high school. Not only does some of it relate to that age group as well, but I am finding it good timing to start thinking about the issues it raises before our first child leaves the nest.

Essentially, the point of the book is to look at how much technology has changed the way parents and their college-age kids communicate. Not surprisingly, with the advent of cell phones, email, texting, facebook kids and their parents communicate much more frequently and easily than they did even 10-15 years ago when cell phones were not so universally commonplace and instant communication like texting was still in its infancy. 

One of the things I like so far about the book is that the authors do not automatically point to the increased contact between young adults and their parents as being all bad. They demonstrate that their research and data shows that not only is communication greater between college students and their parents these days because it's convenient and simple, but also because the students and parents have genuinely close relationships and want to continue to share in one another's lives. Interestingly too, the contact is not primarily initiated by the parents as you might think, but in fact was found to be initiated almost equally between students and parents.

But as with any new advancement or shift in the cultural landscape, the question always becomes, how much is too much?

I don't really anticipate Jack being the sort of kid that is going to call me in between classes "just to chat" but when Ben got a text from him this evening when we were at a friend's surprise party reporting that his debit card wasn't working, it did make me think about how easily kids can cry out for help these days before having to even attempt to solve the problem on their own.

Reading this book is giving me a chance to think ahead, before we have had that last good-bye hug, about which things are appropriate for us to continue to offer guidance and help and which things we need to turn back to him to try and work out for himself. It's hard not to look back on that time in our own lives and think of all the myriad of troublesome situations we found ourselves in and remember that most of the time we were on our own to figure it out. Beyond the education you receive at a 4-year university, it's also as much about having the time to mature and grow and learn to navigate life a little on your own- while still in a relatively safe place with numerous grown adults you can go to for help (besides your parents).

I'll be the first to admit, I like the technology of today. I like the feeling of security, false or not, you get from being able to get in touch with your kids quickly and knowing they can get in touch with you. I like knowing that when they are driving across the city at night they have that cell phone (tucked away and certainly not in use while driving...ahem)- just in case. 

But reading this book has given me a new awareness of yet another job we have as parents. As our kids get older and approach young-adulthood, we have to be the ones to place limits on that easy access. We might need to make ourselves a little less available in the interests of pushing our kids out of the nest and encouraging them to fly on their own. We need to let them, or if necessary make them, grow up.

But I know...believe me, I know... it's easier said than done.

Holding on is's letting go that takes real muscle.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Walking the tightrope

These days, I've noticed that Superdad and I are fond of finishing any and all conversations centered around our teenage sons with the succinct, reassuring affirmation:

He's a good kid.

We say this in part because we certainly do believe that both of our sons are "good kids", but I suspect there is more lying underneath those simple words. It is a statement of both past behavior and hope for future behavior. It conveys a faith in their growing character even as we know their inner life is mostly hidden to us. It is sometimes more an expression of relief of all that they have not done than an expression of pride over things they have done. It's a reminder to ourselves to be calm in the face of immature choices and actions that are otherwise harmless in the grand scheme of things.

It is hope.

It is faith.

It is a prayer.

Because the reality is that for every parent of a teenage "good kid" there is an ever-present awareness of how tenuous it all is. That in the hands, heads and hearts of these impulsive, impressionable, headstrong individuals standing in that shaky ground between childhood and adulthood...mistakes can and will be made.

Good kids will make bad choices.

Lest anyone should have the impression that I am crossing a line and betraying more about my own two sons than I should- this post has not been prompted by any action taken by my boys. I would never share anything about them without their permission and certainly nothing that would ever cause them any shame.

No, these thoughts are coming out of hearing about two other boys we know. Boys we consider "good kids". Boys we have known for years. Boys who have made a bad choice.

And I am left shaking my head tonight, feeling sad for them and for their parents and hoping that somehow this will be a turning point for them that yields growth in the right direction and not the beginning of a downward spiral. Wondering how you respond when your "good kid" has made that leap outside of the very wide parameters of normal-dumb-teenage-stuff into the arena of oh-dear-God-you-are-in-real-trouble.

And I realize that a big part of what we are feeling when we look at one another and say hopefully...

He's a good kid simply that we are grateful. Grateful that in spite of all of the ways our boys have made us gnash our teeth, wring our hands in worry and bellow in frustration (only Superdad bellows...I'm a model of patience and propriety) they have never given us any real trouble.

(Please excuse me while I pause to knock on wood, spit over my shoulder, avoid stepping on cracks and say ten Hail Mary's)

We are grateful but not naive. Because the truth is that on any given day, in the wrong place or at the wrong time- any "good kid" can be lead astray.

Which, I suppose, is why we pray.

Because most of the time, it's just about all you can do.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

And just like that

With the arrival of the telltale large, white envelope from "The Office of Admissions"...

....and this letter containing the most glorious greeting we could have asked for....
...suddenly we have a child bound for college in the Fall of 2013.
We are still 9 months out from our official launch, but I'm happy to say...I think he'll be ready.

I hope I am.