a son not going to prom brings back icky high school memories

Prom is this weekend, but my son isn’t going. prom

He’ll be the first of my four kids to not go to the annual senior dance that is somewhat of a rite of passage. He’s never been to a high school dance either, so it’s not like he’s had his fill of them, and I think he wants to go, but none of his friends is going and thinks it would be awkward if he went. His not going is bringing up feelings I had thirtysomething years ago when I too didn’t go to prom. And it’s unsettling.

I had wanted to go to prom. I grew up back East and moved out West with my family before the start of my junior year. It took me quite some time to get accustomed to the differences on the left coast, but by the end of senior year, I had made some friends, not many, but a few, including two guys I hung out with in Honors English. I was hoping at least one of them would ask me to the senior prom. But no, the invitation never came. In those days, only couples could go to the prom, no singles and no groups of friends. It was a male and a female couple. I’m guessing the rules do not hold up today, nor should they.

My other kids all went. My first daughter was asked by a handsome, popular young man. My second daughter went with a male friend who was actually a grade behind but was taking extra classes to finish out his senior year as a junior. My older son, the athlete, went with the cute cheerleading captain, and they then started dating. But my youngest, whom I’d always pictured as going, being that he’s well-liked and, having sisters, is pretty comfortable aroundthe opposite sex, is not. My husband and I as well as his brother and sisters have encouraged him to go, but here it is, four days away, and it’s become pretty evident that he’s not going.

I hope it’s not something he regrets, as I do. Difference is, as a senior, going was out of my control. I had to be asked. He, however, could have asked a girl or just gone with friends, but I guess it doesn’t mean that much to him. Fortunately, my kids aren’t ones to need to be with a member of the opposite sex to feel validated. Of the four kids, three of whom are adults,, only one is dating someone right now.

Come next week, I’m sure seniors will be buzzing and Ben will hear stories of how great prom was. I would guess he’ll feel a little let down that he didn’t go. And I know I will be. In fact, I started talking about prom to him and my friend’s daughter way back when they were in the second grade, joking that they would be going together one day. Trouble is, by senior year she had had a boyfriend, and it wasn’t my Ben. But he is OK with the way things are. He will find something fun to do, and I will reward him with some sort of treat, considering the great amount of money he’s saved me by not going. For a seventeen-year-old, he’s pretty mature. I wish I could say the same for myself.

parenting: two steps forward, only one step back today

lunch bag.jpgMy son reached a milestone, and it only took thirteen years in public school to do so: He made his own lunch. Well, it wasn’t the first  time, but it was the first time this school year, and he will be doing it for the rest of the term, he says. Trouble is, he left the lunch home before driving off to school.

I discovered it sitting there on the counter where he’d prepared it and phoned him. I drove up to where he had just parked the twenty-one-year-old Camry in the pouring rain and handed it off. Sure, I could have left it at home, not phoned him, and let him learn lesson number two, number one being making his own lunch and number two, taking it with him. But I felt he’d done so well to pack the turkey and Havarti cheese on a croissant, baked potato chips, rose-red apple slices, and Goldfish crackers, plus half of his breakfast muffin, that I didn’t have the heart to have him go hungry.

So I drove it up to him. The parenting dance: two steps forward, one step back. But sometimes you’ve got to take whatever progress you can get.

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This week’s three gratitudes:

  1. Rain, precious rain, to fill our low reservoirs and to nourish our parched earth.
  2. A dry place to live and a roof over my head that hopefully won’t let the precious rain in. (It’s twenty-five years old.)
  3. A family to care for and to be cared for in return.

 

 

 

taking a walk down memory lane can trip you up

pic-of-letters-in-mailI have been trying to discard some of my old things I have no use for. While looking through a box of old letters (I used to be a prolific letter-writer, and hung on to those written to me in return by family and friends), I was taken way back in time. Funny how we call them “the good ol’ days,” but in actuality they weren’t so good at all.

Although I had a college degree and had started (just barely) working in my career, I married young, especially by today’s standards. When my husband decided his history degree wouldn’t put bread on the table, we moved a year and a half after getting married so he could go to graduate school. By then, however, we already had had our first child. A second was born when we were away in a new city, with no friends or family and no one to help with the kids. We went an entire year, when our firstborn was a baby, without any income. We lived off of student loans and the savings we had accumulated, which of course wasn’t much. We had no help from our parents–nor should we have, really. After all, we were adults, making big-boy and big-girl decisions.

When my husband was away at class all day (he took a train into San Francisco, while I stayed in our apartment on the Peninsula) or working at the school library to make a few bucks during his second and third years, I was raising two babies by myself basically. That included taking the girls and myself to doctor’s visits (since I had no one at all to watch them, they came with me everywhere I went); handling all the feedings; doing all the housework, the grocery shopping, the cooking, the cleaning, the bill paying, the banking, the car repair visits;  and working at a job from home, at which I called subscribers of the two big daily newspapers to ask about their service. A lot of that job was performed while feeding, rocking, and holding my infant or during her naptime (no, I never could take the wise advice given to new moms about resting when the baby naps–and that may be why I cannot, for the love of God, force myself to nap to this day). I was beaten down, exhausted, stressed out, and, above all, lonely. Good ol’ days? Hah!

We were stone-cold broke and I recorded each and every expense so as not to go over our budget. We had only so much in student loans to live on until the next year’s allotment. So every month’s rent, every power bill, every newspaper we purchased, and every McDonald’s cheeseburger we bought on the handful of days we treated ourselves to a meal out over the three years was written down in a notebook. I never was able to afford cute little clothes or toys for the girls or anything I wished I could give them. My older daughter’s favorite item of clothing was a skirt I’d found for two dollars on the clearance rack at Target (it was a splurge, believe me). But it was too chilly where we lived and she was back to her KMart pull-on corduroy pants until she outgrew them, reserving the skirt for our drives back home to Southern California.

We made weekly trips to the public library, and I’d stock up on books for them and for me. This was a big part of our lives. I taught the older one her letters, numbers, and colors and eventually how to read. We had the most basic cable service imaginable because we couldn’t pick up TV reception from San Francisco. We were, however, able to get two fuzzy San Jose stations that were almost impossible to watch when the fog rolled in. The basic cable only allowed us the local stations, including PBS, and a few cable stations, like CNN, MTV, and VH-1. Nickelodeon and other children’s programming networks were additional, so the only show my daughter could watch was Sesame Street, first on an old color TV that had been a wedding gift from my brother and then a 12-inch black-and-white when the color one gave out.

We didn’t socialize at all, being that most of my husband’s classmates were single city dwellers and we were a married couple with kids living on the tightest budget possible. And we resided outside the city in a more affordable suburb. Our entertainment, if you can call it that, was watching the occasional NFL game on TV or direct-to-TV movies and series, and reading all those library books. I felt really cut off from the rest of the world–the world I had barely gotten a foot into before having kids. Since we couldn’t afford long-distance phone calls, our friends and family would call us, and only between certain hours on Sundays, when rates were lower. So getting a letter from a friend of mine or maybe my mom or sister was a big deal to me. A letter was often my only connection to that other world and it made me feel as though people cared.

Finding and reading those letters today didn’t quite give me the morale boost I would get when I opened them for the first time. Instead, I became melancholy and sad for the young woman I was and the woman I never got to become. I don’t know if I felt trapped, because it was a life I willingly walked into. Maybe enmeshed is a better word. I was enmeshed in a world I had wanted but was too naïve to understand all the ramifications of. I was mature enough to realize, though, that it was a temporary life and it would improve.

And yes, my life has changed for the better since then, but some things remain the same. I still work from home and I’ve been a stay-at-home mom my entire thirty-plus years of parenting (now with four kids, the youngest of whom is in high school). Life has gotten so much better, though. To all the struggling young moms out there, I am living proof it turns out OK, but it was rough in the eighties and nineties. At least the moms of today have online forums in which to share feelings and Facebook pages and Instagram accounts to keep them in touch with long-distance friends. I didn’t have that, but I did have all those letters to keep me sane. They represent a tough time in my life, but also, they were my lifeline. I think I’ll hang on to them.

 

 

post-graduation dreams: to never leave home?

Used to be when kids went off to college they never returned home again because waiting for them on the other side of the commencement dais was a good-paying job,  one that would sustain them until they got married (soon after graduating), had a family, and raised their own kids until they too went off to college, got married, etc., etc.boomerang-kids

But with 55 percent of college students now living at home as opposed to 43 percent in 2010, a lot of those kids don’t leave home to attend school in the first place and then they stay on at home even after getting their diploma. Jobs for college grads are not nearly as plentiful these days, and getting on in the world is too expensive. These kids are no dummies. Why live on a shoestring when you can live in the lap of luxury for little to nothing?

And so it is in our house. My third born, a son, graduated in May but has yet to move out. He’s still working the same hourly job he had throughout college, and even though I send him job postings from the websites I see online (is that the  whirring of helicopter blades I hear?), he’s still not applying in earnest for work in his major. Why? I think he’s got it too good. And I’m partially to blame.

Kids have it harder today in a lot of ways. For one, competition for jobs is fierce. The kid with the decent grade point average who worked throughout school to make some money is going up against the kid who excelled in college, took internships, and went into debt to get a leg up on the competition. Those kids are the ones getting hired after graduating while Mediocre Manny is struggling to keep his head above water in the vast resume pools forming in employers’ inboxes.

Also, kids have it harder today because they have had it easier their whole lives. How so? Their parents, we, did much more for these kids than our parents ever did for us. Their whole lives they heard such things as, “You want to play a sport? Sure, I’ll put my career on hold and drive you to games and pay for all the accoutrements that go with that sport even though I haven’t had a pair of new shoes in six years. Hungry? Here’s a burger and a Coke coming to you through this magical drive-through window. Or better yet, sit down and I’ll whip up your favorite dinner, leaving out the greens that you don’t like. Have nothing to wear? No problem, I’ll throw a load of wash in for you right now and not only that, I’ll fold it and put it in your room. Or if those clothes won’t do because they’re not the latest trend, I’ll run to the Macy’s and get something that will. Oh, Macy’s is not cool enough? Just name the store. You want your license? Well, sure. You don’t have as much as a part-time job flipping burgers to pay for gas, but I’ll not only pay for that gas, I’ll throw in the car and the insurance too.” And so it went. No wonder kids can’t get on on their own.

Now our kids are coming out of college and not knowing where to start to get their lives going because Mom isn’t doing all the stuff she used to do to make it all happen. Call ours the enabling generation. According to a recent Forbes report, close to 60 percent of parents provide financial support of some kind to their adult children. That’s six out of ten of us. What’s wrong with us and, more importantly, what do we do now that Jay and Robin won’t leave the nest?

Parents’ motives are noble: they just want to help out their kids. The same motives people have to provide food, shelter, and clothing for their babies and young children are in play when they allow adult children to live at home. It’s a loving gesture, not maliciousness,  but it can go too far and the new graduate can turn into the adult kid who keeps hanging on and never grows up. I mean, who wouldn’t want a life that’s easy as opposed to one that’s not?

But experts say people need to set boundaries and make those boundaries clear as day, especially if the adult child isn’t contributing enough and the parents prolong retirement or put aside their own needs and wants because they are helping out the kids (and helping out can include paying all the utilities, providing an automobile, buying all the groceries, cooking them, and cleaning up afterward).

I plan to set out a manifesto of sorts and make it not so easy for my son to rely on his parents for help. Hopefully, that will motivate him to move on in life the way his two sisters did. Sure it’s been just a month and a half since college graduation, but I want to set the tone now before I’m driving him around to geriatric appointments and senior day care.

 

 

 

 

 

missing my friend on her fiftieth birthday

I should be out to lunch, raising a glass, giving a toast, and celebrating one of my dearest friends’ fiftieth birthdays today, but she is no longer here. She passed away one year and nine months ago, leaving behind a husband and two darling teenaged daughters.

I miss Anna so much at times that my heart hurts. I’ve lost parents (both of them) and parents-in-law (both of them too), but nothing has wrenched my heart as much as losing my dear, dear friend. Not only do I lament the days I personally didn’t get to spend with her (and her fiftieth birthday would have been a big one, at that), I am saddened for the stuff she is missing, like seeing her daughters ace the SATs or watching them drive off for the first time on their own, brand-new driver’s licenses in their wallets. She’ll never get to see them collect their diplomas or their degrees, or walk them down the aisle for the last time as single ladies. She’ll never meet her grandchildren, call them by name, or see what color their eyes are or who they favor in appearance, their beautiful daughter or the putz she married. She’ll never get to spend her husband’s retirement traveling or doing the things one just can’t do when there’s a full-time worker in the household and he has a schedule to keep to. She’ll never get to age gracefully or die naturally.

I, of course, am especially sad for the girls. They’ll never get to do spa days with their mom or listen to lectures about boys and fast cars and what to not do on grad night. From October 2014 on they’ve been without the one woman they should have been able to rely on for advice, support, and love for the rest of their lives.

And I’m sad for her husband, my friend, who wakes up to an empty bed in the morning and sees the same image when laying down his head every night. He turns fifty tomorrow too, but since that fateful day in 2014, there has not been any celebrating on these two days in June that used to be so joyous.

I know if there is a heaven and if God lets in those good folks who are not card-carrying members, which I hope is the case, Anna’s up there watching her family and friends carrying on. She’s whipping up her magnificent eggrolls for the lord above and planning the day when we can all again sit around the table as she blows out candles.

I miss you and I love you, Anna.

 

with one more birdy in the driver’s seat, this mom’s feeling empty-nest doom

empty nestIt’s 2:00 p.m. Usually at this time on a weekday in the spring, no matter what I’d be in the middle of, I’d be lacing up my tennies, gathering up my purse, my phone, and a good book and rushing out to my car to drive to my kids’ school. There I’d park for the twenty minutes or half hour or so before one or more child climbed into the backseat or the passenger seat and we’d either head off to another school or straight home.

I did that for 25 years in a row. Until today.

Today, my youngest took the keys to our 20-year-old secondhand car with him–along with the car, of course–and drove himself to school. This is the first time in a quarter century that I haven’t had to ferry one or more child to school or pick him up. That’s a long, long time, people. And with that one demotion, I feel my life as a full-on parent slipping away.

Some moms and dads would be delighting in the fact that they didn’t have to retrieve their kids from school ever again. They’d be thrilled to be able to stay at work or continue that book or not have a project interrupted. I, on the other hand, am feeling saddened. Twenty-five years feels like a long time, for certain, and I’ll admit that at times running out of the house at 2 on the dot was a pain in the backside, but a part of me enjoyed it. I liked seeing my kids for the first time in hours and going over their days.  Those close quarters inside the vehicle would be where I learned about so-and-so’s getting called into the principal’s office or a friend’s not making the soccer team because of grades. I got to hear about the accomplishments of a good mark on an exam or an impending award or the heartaches of someone’s name-calling or someone else’s mean-girl moment. Sure, there were times I wanted nothing more than to continue what I had been doing uninterrupted at 2 p.m., but for the most part, I enjoyed the routine. I enjoyed, I suppose, being needed.

This having all four kids as drivers is a plus, for sure, but allow me to wallow for a while more, won’t you, in the fact that this job I’ve been doing for just under half my lifetime is coming to an end. Yes, I know one day all little chicks must fly from the nest, but this mama bird will not be giving them a big push.

 

will watching weight work ?

So I never thought in a million years I’d join a weight-loss and -maintenance program, but I have. Since one can do it from the privacy of his or her own home, I gave it a shot. I signed up for the three-month initial program and will track my progress on these pages.

I don’t know what to expect. Will it be difficult (I assume it will be) and will it impose on my lifestyle (I would guess it would)? I still cook for a family of four, so I can’t eat what I want when I want for dinner without having to prepare two separate meals, so the program I’m following allows participants to eat real food as we count points for food totals and exercise. It sounds like a reasonable plan, I don’t have to attend meetings (there’s online support), and I don’t have to buy prepackaged meals, which I’m sure would taste like cardboard and the portion sizes would suit no one bigger than Barbie.

My niece (and Oprah) signed on to this program recently and my niece has already shown improvement after just a couple months. Of course she’s in her early thirties and has yet to have a baby, so her body can’t be compared to mine apples to apples, but it’s nice to see her results. Like me, she loves to play board games and this is a game of sorts. Participants go onto their personal web dashboard and type in what they’ve eaten for the day and what type of exercise they’ve gotten. The dashboard will tally the points, letting participants know how much more exercise they may need for the week or how much less food they should sock away. More exercise equals more food and vice versa.

It might be fun to see if I can meet the end-of-week totals and reach my goal weight. My goal is to lose fifteen pounds–those nasty fifteen that, honest to God, seemed to materialize overnight once I hit fifty. I also want to stop looking like a dark-haired female Michelin Man. As I uploaded photos from the past year to my computer today, I was shocked to see–on a 22-inch HD computer screen no less–just how big around the middle I’ve gotten. We don’t carry weight well in my family at all. It all settles around the middle and under the neck. (Why couldn’t we have gotten saddlebags and big thighs instead?) The estrogen from menopause sends fat to the midsection already, so I didn’t need my family’s apple-shaped physique to add insult to injury, but what are ya gonna do? It is what it is. And hopefully, it won’t be there for long.

I never thought these “diets” worked. I was a busy young woman who had trouble finding time to eat and therefore had no trouble keeping off the pounds, but I would watch other coeds and coworkers struggle through these programs. The weight would be lost, then come right back on, and the women would be miserable while trying to stay on course and not cheat. They would talk about the weigh-ins as if they were comparable to being sent to the guillotine. I was happy I was able to regulate my weight by eating well or not eating enough in college, with two or three part-time jobs at a time along with a full course load to deal with. That was followed by multiple jobs after graduating and then by running around after the babies and being too poor to buy goodies in my mid to late twenties. When my thirties hit, the weight began settling in, but I still could fit into a size small or medium. By baby number 4, I was in my late thirties and it was harder to lose the pregnancy weight and then keep the pounds off.

Throughout my forties, I and a couple friends would do a weekly three-hour hike up and down mountains and I was able to maintain my weight sufficiently. But by my fifties, menopause made weight loss much harder and my friends became too busy to go on a weekly hike. Now we’re lucky to get two in a year, while we used to go every Wednesday morning, come rain or come shine, for years on end.

I’m still a bit cynical that this program will work, but I will try my hardest to stick with it. Once in a while it’s good to be proven wrong.