Thursday, August 4, 2016

Riding Shotgun

Perhaps because I'm an avid fan of historical fiction, I've begun referring to my sons as "the Heir" and "the Spare".  Their recent antics consisted of the Spare taking baby octopus for lunch to camp one day so he could freak out the other kids. He'd hoped the fried anchovies would be an even bigger hit, but instead, the other campers banned him from the table because of the fishy smell. Live and learn.

Monday, the Heir passed his road test the first time out. He can now drive, unsupervised, until 9pm. Legally. But that doesn't mean I'm ready to let him take my car. I've been sitting shotgun while he drives himself to work, picks up the Spare from camp, gets milk, etc.

Until today.

This morning I asked him if he felt ready to take the Spare to camp. Alone. He nonchalantly said, "sure," even though he's been clearly frustrated at my need to tag along lately. And so, short on sleep and prior to coffee, I gave him the keys and watched them leave.

That's right. I put MY ENTIRE TEENAGE BROOD IN A BOX ON WHEELS, AND LET THEM DRIVE OFF WITHOUT ME.

Once the coffee kicked in, I started wondering what was taking him so long to get back. Then the customized "Heir" ringtone chimed on my phone. Oh my god, he's driving and texting did I teach him NOTHING I can't believe I ever..." 

*looks at phone

"I'm parked at the community center. Do you want me to go get gas?"

"....

Sure, if you're comfortable with that."

"OK, see you soon."

I never wanted to be a helicopter parent, and I think I've done a pretty good job so far (big kudos to my husband for keeping me grounded in that regard). I also look forward to becoming a couple again when the kids are off on their own. The Heir will leave next summer, and the Spare will be three years behind him. It's like a light at the long parenting tunnel. As in, "yay, no more noisy, stinky housemates!"

But with all the recent college visits and driving lessons, I find my grip tightening instead of loosening. The Heir and I are fighting a lot. I expect more from him and he resists with more vehemence. Gotta admit, I kinda hate it.

Apparently, this is part of the process of letting go. Hold tight, and he will push harder to get away. He won't be afraid to leave. On the contrary, he'll look forward to it. He'll fight back so much, I'll *wish* he would go. He wants to be independent as much as I want him to be. And yet. Though I know it'll be good for everyone, and we're both looking forward to it, we haven't lost sight of the fact that it'll be a huge change. Even when we're fighting, we still understand, deep down, what it will really mean: he won't need me anymore.

I think back to the Heir's toddlerhood, of showing him how to do something and then having him take the toy from my hand and say, "I do it." It's happening again. Only this time, he's taking the car.

I'll get through it, I always do. And I feel just as proud as I did when he was little and learning and doing on his own.

Wasn't that just, like, last month?

Live and learn.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Delegating Nest Duties

This is the first summer in five years that my oldest has not been a day camp counselor-in-training from Monday through Friday, 9-5. Did I worry that his paying, part-time job that has him working only five hours a week would upset my writing schedule? Heck yeah. Did it? Heck yeah. So there was no way I was going to let that happen without some kind of upside. 

Welcome to the first summer that's been about my kid making progress instead of me.

Jacob is entering his senior year of high school in September. ***Pardon me while I pause here to hyperventilate a moment. *** What this means is that, in addition to doing summer reading, and researching and visiting colleges, he's also working toward his Eagle Scout award, the highest rank you can earn in Boy Scouts. There are certain requirements for each merit badge as well as a certain number of merit badges that need to be earned to reach this goal. Beyond that, he also needs to find, plan, gain approval for and then complete a large community service project. This all has to be done before he turns 18. Being at camp forty hours a week would not have been conducive to making the kind of progress he needs to make over summer break (i.e. when there's no homework). So we ditched camp in order to give him time to do as much as he could on scout stuff.

Like most parents of teens, my biggest worry was that without a daily routine, Jacob would fall into a pattern that looked something like this:

-sleep late
-eat
-watch videos on his phone
-play video games with his friends online
-eat more
-nap
-shower
-watch more videos
-ask what's for dinner

Luckily for me, three of his merit badges require daily chores, a fitness workout and weekly personal financial tracking. He's also aiming to get his driver's license in August, and leaves for sleepaway camp in less than a week. What does all this mean? A lot.

He's been getting up early every day to eat breakfast before driving his brother to day camp (with me in the passenger seat). Then he drives around town as we run errands. When we get home, he does his fitness work out and marks it on his tracking sheet. Then he showers and does chores around the house (laundry, vacuum, empty the dishwasher, collect and take out the garbage/recycling, etc.) and records them for his other merit badge. Eventually he stops and makes lunch for us both. In between all that, he's packing for camp. And we've got a list of possible Eagle Scout projects for him to research so he can draw up some draft proposals and seek out early approval for at least one.

Suffice it to say that getting up and being productive first thing in the morning has given him momentum. Sure, he still pauses to watch inane videos from time to time (thankfully, not while he's driving). But the bottom line is, stuff is getting done. Productivity is occurring. And my not having to drive or cook or do laundry for a fourth person just adds to the list of great things. But the most important revelation of all occurred to me at Jacob's senior photo session this morning.

As he donned a cap and gown over his suit and tie, I realized that when he goes off to college, things are going to change. I'd been looking forward to it because it will mean no more smelly sneakers, loud singing at all hours, art supplies all over my living room or battles over homework.

Sure, I'm going to miss him. But today I realized I'm also going to miss his doing things around the house that help me out so much. I'll  have to start vacuuming, cleaning the boys' bathroom and doing all the cooking and driving again. Sure, hindsight is 20/20. I realize now that I should have had him doing all this stuff years ago.

Need more proof that I'm slow on the uptake? Today I finally got why the whole "empty nest" thing makes parents sad.

Friday, June 3, 2016

A Shift in the Animal Kingdom


Today we had to say goodbye to our sweet Bailey boy, who made it to the ripe old age of 15 just two days ago. It's never easy to say goodbye to a beloved pet, and even harder to know when and how to tell the rest of the pack (i.e. kids). What is inevitable are the conversations that ensue about love and family and pets and death, and the different way each child handles it all.

One child fought it. He asked if the decision could be delayed or changed, if there were things we could do to treat all of Bailey's multiple symptoms in order to keep him with us longer. This child is the problem solver, the so-loyal-to-the-end-that-I-never-want-the-end-to-come guy.

The other child accepted it, but fought to assimilate the information into his knowledge about life. What it would mean to us as a family? How he would cope? Could he talk about it with his friends? Where would Bailey go after he was gone? Heaven, reincarnation and the power of love were a big part of the conversation.

Regardless of our faith, we all need a way to understand how loving, vibrant souls cease to be just because their physical bodies have worn out. Many (including me) believe the souls go on living. Maybe they go to Heaven to be reunited with others who have gone before, and enjoy an eternity of joy and painless existence. Or maybe they come back to the world in another form, perhaps to cross paths with those who loved them before, in order to teach or learn new lessons. No one knows. But exploring the possibilities, and finding the one that brings us the most peace and comfort, and the ability to live with the hurt, is part of how we grieve and let go. For this pack anyway.