He’s Off

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Or, as my neighbor said, gone. We dropped Geeky Boy off at college this morning.  Because it’s nearby, it was kind of anticlimactic. We knew the place well (I worked there 12 years ago) so we weren’t as dazed and confused as we might have been or in awe or whatever.  In line, someone helpfully told us that lots of kids from our state go to school here. To which we thought, “Duh, we live here, we know.”  But we were polite, of course. And we heard, “She just fell in love with it right away. Was it like that for you?” Geeky Boy just smiled and said, “For me, it’s about the city.” He might have been thinking, “It’s where I got in.”

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Geeky Girl waits with Geeky Boy’s stuff

We got him unpacked, made the bed, put up a few mementos Mr. Geeky snuck into his box, and then headed to lunch and to buy the handful of things we needed but didn’t bring.  We forgot a pillow and turns out we needed a trash can, some hooks, and an extension cord. We were early for moving in so Geeky Boy will have a day or two without a roommate (mixup about what floor we were on).  So it will be quiet, though we hope not too lonely.  A couple of his close friends also left today for college. Several others leave in the next couple of days.  They have plans to connect with each other in the next few weeks (all being only a few hours apart).  We’ll see how long that lasts. Travel costs money and takes time, the first of which will be in short supply for sure.

It will be an adventure, and I think it’s definitely a good thing for all of us to be apart, which sounds weird, but it was time. He’s ready, we’re ready.  He’ll still need us occasionally, I’m sure, but he’s going to start figuring some things on his own, getting himself out of bed on time being key among them.  I think he’s going to be okay. He’s looking forward to a fresh start and to being around different people and learning new things.  And I know he’s looking forward to not having as many rules or getting up at 6 a.m. (his first class is at 1 p.m.)  I’m looking forward to seeing what he grows into.

Mr. Geeky and I were talking about our own first weeks of college.  I remember my parents being around for maybe an hour at best and then it was just me and my roommate and floor full of girls suddenly without parental supervision.  We had some planned activities but mostly, we were looking forward to being out on our own.  Mr. Geeky called his first weeks the time of girls. Enough said.  Things are different now, but not that different. We saw more parents sticking around, but I think the kids look forward to the same things we did.  In a word, freedom.

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Siblings being goofy
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Refusing to smile
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Cheesecake

Things I’ve Learned from my Dad

I’m not sure I’ve ever devoted significant space to my dad here.  I’ve written about my mom, mostly about our many conflicts, but my dad hovers in the background.  He’s been a source of strength for me throughout my life, and has been a significant help to Geeky Boy.  He calls or texts him on a regular basis, basically to remind him that there are people that love him.  I’m not sure too many dads would do that.  So here are some things he’s taught me.

  1. I can be anything I want to be.  Way back when I was a kid, I said something about not being able to be a football player because I was a girl. My dad insisted that I could.  And while I definitely could not be a football player because I’m a tiny person, but I took the lesson that I shouldn’t let other people’s arbitrary ideas of what girls could be get in my way.  
  2. Keep the lines of communication open, even if you have to go to extremes to do so.  When my parents separated, I was really pissed off at my dad (he initiated the separation), so I quit talking to him.  After a few months of my refusing to answer his phone calls, he showed up on my doorstep, having flown from across the state to see me.  I couldn’t not talk to him, and he patched up the relationship.
  3. You can recover from horrible things, and come out not just okay, but better.  My dad lost his daughter, got divorced, and then lost his second wife.  He’s seen a lot of tragedy and pain.  And yet, he focuses on the good.  He remarried, knowing that having a companion in life was important to him.  Through many of these tragedies, he’s learned something about himself and taken those lessons to heart.
  4. Change is not just okay; sometimes it’s necessary.  My parents are polar opposites in this regard. My mother hates change of all kinds, even small ones.  She doesn’t redecorate her house.  She doesn’t like visiting new places or restaurants.  My dad, on the other hand, has made changes big and small.  Getting divorced was a big one, but he’s lived in several different places, changing houses many times over the last ten years. He’s been on many interesting vacations: to Russia, to New Zealand, to Alaska.  He relishes new experiences.  I’ve either inherited or learned that from him though I also appreciate (somewhat like my mother) things remaining the same.  Tradition can be a good thing.
  5. Relationships with family are the most important ones you have.  When I was younger, we rarely saw my dad’s family.  That was because my dad didn’t really value those relationships and because my mother didn’t get along with them.  He now makes a point of talking to his sisters regularly, and arranged a kind of mini reunion for them and all the cousins.  He values his new family relationships as well.  Even when he may not understand the family, he still feels these relationships are important.  Family the foundation we all stand on. They’re our safety net. In the best case, they accept us for who we are.
  6. Life is short; don’t waste your time. My dad doesn’t spend much time getting his panties in a wad about stupid stuff.
  7. How to be a grown up.  I find myself using my dad as a model whenever I need to do something difficult.  My dad always behaved like a grownup, someone who took things seriously, respected others’ opinions, and wasn’t afraid to say difficult things.

I am still learning from my dad.  Thanks, Dad, for just being you.

One down, one to go

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Geeky Boy in line–3rd from the back

Last night, Geeky Boy graduated. Shew.  We literally were not sure he would. High school was rocky for us, to say the least.  We think, but don’t know for sure, it was rocky for him.  At some Thanksgiving dinner years from now, we may find out.  My sense was that he didn’t like school, starting in middle school, either because he was bored or because the social structures bothered him.  We’ve hung out with many of his friends over the last week at various senior and birthday events.  They’re good kids.  Not perfect, but good.  I wish I’d spent more time with them, but like typical teenagers, they preferred to be away from adults.  Geeky Boy had only 10 or so kids at his graduation party.  One commented, “This is nice. We can actually talk to each other.”  His friends are few, but loyal.

The next chapter of his life begins.  We are all looking forward to it.  Though it’s going to be hard to let him go, I feel that he needs his time away from us.  I would never accuse myself of being a helicopter parent.  If anything, there have been times when I’ve felt I didn’t do enough, especially when I myself was going through some mental health issues myself. But it is true that we’ve not always let him make his own mistakes.  We’ve been his alarm clock. We’ve helped him keep up with deadlines.  We’ve shut off the internet so that he’d go to bed on time.  This morning was the first time he’s gotten up on his own, and he got up late, was late to his first job. So it begins, and it probably should have begun long ago.

Unlike his friends, Geeky Boy is going off to school on his own.  Three of his close friends are rooming together at school. His roommate is a stranger.  He knows a few people attending the same school, but I think he’s prepared to make new friends while still keeping up with the old ones. He says he’s excited.  It’s hard to really know.  I think he’s going to fine.  But that’s one of the things that’s hard for me.  I have no idea.  I thought things were fine when the depression hit.  Now, I’m filled with constant worry.  And that’s really what I, as a parent, have to let go of over the summer.  We will be here for him, of course, but he mostly has to make his own way now. He will have to come to us if he needs something. It’s not us seeing things that make us worry.  At his core, I think there are many things that will carry him through.  He makes good friends. He is a good friend. He’s smart, compassionate, and a little stubborn.  Put to good use, those things can take him far.  Now it’s time to see how far.

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On Being a Mom

I still think it’s funny that I put “Mom” in my blog title.  I started it before the mommy blogger craze was even on the horizon.  It’s not that I don’t identify as a mom, but it wasn’t my main reason for starting the blog–as it was for many mommy bloggers.  Like mommy bloggers, I relied on the Internet plenty to help with the early days of parenting.  It was pre-blogging, though, so I spent time on email lists, chat, IRC, even rolled my own parenting site.  So I guess I could credit being a mom, and need an outlet, for my early interest in technology.  It was during Geeky Boy’s naps that I learned HTML and CSS.

Being a mom is a complicated thing.  It’s gotten harder as the kids have gotten older.  It’s hard to recognize how little control I have over my kids.  The best I can do is hope they listen.  Last night, Geeky Boy went to his Senior Prom.  I’ve worried every time he goes out that he’s not going to come back.  Most of that worry is unfounded.  Last night, he went to the Prom followed by the school-sponsored after party, where he won $75 in gift cards plus a t-shirt.  Today he’s off with friends for the rest of the weekend.  It makes me feel like I’ve mostly done my job.  I’m here to support him, but I’ve done most of the mothering I can do for a while.

Geeky Girl is still in need of parenting, though she’s doing just fine.  She’s very open with me, and we mostly have a good relationship.  It’s not without its quibbles, but they’re generally minor.  These next few years will be a process of letting go, something I feel like will be easier than it was for me and Geeky Boy for a wide variety of reasons.  I’ve learned some things as a parent.  I’m just in a different place than I was with Geeky Boy 4 or 5 years ago.

I’m sort of looking forward to the “mom” part of my life being definitively not the main thing.  I think I always thought of myself as just a person, who also happened to be a mom.  But life and society often thrust the mom part of my life on me as my main identity.  Had they not done that, I might have embraced it more.  I might not have the ambivalent relationship with my blog title that I do.  I’m still proud of what I’ve accomplished as a mom.  And I really think that what comes next is a different kind of mothering, something that supports my children but recognizes they have their own lives, their own goals, and other support.  That can be a difficult shift.  We’ll see how it goes.

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Blood is Thicker than Water

This is not a statement most teenagers believe. It’s a classic struggle. The teen separates him or herself from the family by finding a group of friends to spend time with and pushing away from the family. Not every teen does this. Mr. Geeky says he didn’t really do that too much, but he says his sister was “raised by her peers.” I felt that to be true about myself, and I felt that my parents could have done things to prevent that. Looking back now, I know my parents were going through their own stuff and that just a year after I graduated high school, they were in the process of separating.

So I tried as a parent to provide reasons to believe the statement: having more family activities, spending more time with extended family, having more open lines of communication. To some extent we’ve succeeded, but not entirely. But I think I’ve done the best I can, because honestly, teens do need to have a peer group and they will be going out and making their own lives and their own families, and it is healthy to have connections outside the family. I know people whose primary, and sometimes only, peer connections are family. And that’s not good either.

I have only one or two friends from high school and/or college, people I connect with when I’m home or visiting their cities. One thing my kids don’t realize is that that might be the case for them as well. Family will always be there and can often provide a better safety net than friends. It’s also true that sometimes friends are more supportive than family. I know people whose families are unhealthy. But I also know that people with healthy families just seem more stable, and that it’s harder to launch into the world without the foundation of the family. But I see teens, both my own and some of my students, who sometimes think they’re just going to go it alone. And I see parents who are too involved.

So it’s a balancing act. And it’s a difficult one as a parent. You want to follow your child’s lead, but you also have the benefit of having been there and learned these lessons before. You don’t want your kids to learn them the hard way, but you can’t always prevent that from happening. Which is not fun to watch. But that’s what parents are for, to pick kids up and help them learn those lessons. And that role, I’m realizing, is going to last a long time.

So many hats

I wear a lot of hats. I teach computer science and technology. I’m a home room teacher. I’m kind of a department chair (for a department of one). I work with faculty to integrate technology. I am a club advisor for three clubs. And I’m a parent to a student in our school. Sometimes I feel pulled in too many directions by all these hats, but mostly, I like having the varied perspective. I like seeing things through different lenses.

I have never really been a one-track mind kind of person. I am at my best when I have just enough going on. My senior year in college, I took an off campus job and I was leading a club, as well as preparing to graduate and go on to grad school. That was my best year ever. I always felt like I was in the flow. I haven’t quite achieved that in my current job. It takes a certain amount of experience and some good organization to make that happen. But I think I’m almost there. I especially think focusing on the positive side of having so much going on makes it easier to keep up. When I can bring my experience in one area to another area, that’s always great. It’s when different areas conflict, either time wise or philosophy wise, that things can go awry. It’s hard to wear more than one hat at a time!

The hunt for college

Geeky Boy is entering his senior year, which means that he’ll be applying to college in fall/winter. He has not been particularly proactive about it. Last year, he was struggling with depression so clearly had more pressing issues. Still, he managed to take SATs and visit two schools. Only one of those schools was one he proactively said anything about. I find it frustrating, but I’m trying to be patient. We visited a state school this week and he wants to visit some schools in the Boston area. So, I think he will have a nice list of schools to apply to. Still, the whole process is anxiety producing. For me, I worry about his not so good grades and where those will hurt him. They’re offset by good SAT scores. But will that be enough? Will some school see his potential? Is there a place that will be better for his success? It’s hard to know.

I’ve watched and am watching friends go through this too. They have the same anxieties even when their kids have a much “cleaner” record than mine. They see 18% percent acceptance rates and know that their kid doesn’t have any better shot than any other kid, necessarily, with a similar record.

And then there’s the money. Many of my friends, mostly academics, have little to no money saved up. So the school their kids ultimately will go to might depend on an aid package. We talk about loans, against our houses, for our kids. And we worry, about paying the loan off or paying our kids’ loans off. We worry about whether it’s worth it. We worry about whether they know what they want to major in or whether they don’t and whether that will net them a job. Geeky Boy isn’t thinking about any of this, really, some of it, maybe. Certainly more than I did. I just thought about having “the college experience”.

To some extent, it’s all a crap shoot, which is exactly what many of my colleagues said of the academic job market years ago. Look how that’s worked out. While I try to remain practical and know that there’s always community college as a truly viable and affordable option, I can’t help but feel like the deck is stacked against us, and by us, I mean most of us.

Thirteen

Geeky Girl has hit the teenage years! And, yes, if you’re keeping track, that’s two birthdays in the span of three days. Today was also commencement, which meant a very busy day indeed. Geeky Girl is living up to the geeky in her name, but she’s still in denial. She likes Star Wars and playing minecraft. She participated in robotics this year and was quite good at it, but she says she’s not going to do it next year. That makes me a little sad, both because I enjoyed the time with her and the shared experience and because I feel she’s missing out on an opportunity. But she’s her own person, and I have to respect that.

She’s also cultivating the girl side. She enjoys painting her nails, getting dressed up for parties, and watching girly tv shows. But she’s not obsessed with hair and makeup the way I’ve seen some girls her age get, in a desperate attempt to just grow up already. She’s still a kid, and still enjoys some kid-like things. She’s gotten herself a piñata for her birthday party and likes to play games.

She’s very different from Geeky Boy. She takes school very seriously, for example, but doesn’t yet take politics as seriously, she does share many of his traits. She’s kind like he is, and makes friends easily. She’s open to being friends with anyone, and doesn’t really think about who is popular or not. She will likely be quite different in some ways four years from now, but you can see the seeds of what she is likely to become. It’s a long road ahead. I hope it’s mostly smooth.

Seventeen

Geeky Boy is 17! I can hardly believe I’m old enough to have a 17 year old. How did this happen? It’s been a challenging year for him, dealing with depression. It’s definitely gotten better, though we’ve had some backslides. He’s had some friends really rally around him, and we’ve gotten good support.

Looking forward, he has a relaxing summer ahead, with family trips, college visits, and sitting by the pool. He’s chosen not to get a driver’s license for now, and instead walks, takes the train, or rides with friends. He’s hoping to do some babysitting this summer. He’s great with kids and even took a child development class last year. I hope he does get a few gigs, so he can maybe continue in the fall.

He’s thinking some about college, but we are certainly thinking about it more. I am trying to keep in mind that everything will work out without trying to feel anxious about whether he can get in anywhere and whether we can pay for it. And then I worry whether he’ll be okay out there on his own. And we all worry about whether there will be a job for him on the other side of college. That’s 2017. We’ll be long past the next president and into the one after. Who knows what that will bring.

I’m really proud of him in so many ways. He frequently pops his head into our room and starts off with, “I was watching this documentary on . . . “. Yesterday it was microcosms. Today it was dark matter. The first thing he said this morning was, “Are you going to watch the venus transit?” He’s always thinking. He lives our values better than we do. He’s a vegetarian, a borderline Buddhist, and worries about global warming. He is kind and thoughtful, and a generally good person. Whatever happens in the future, I feel confident in who he will become.

Let’s just say I had no idea what I was getting into 17 years ago.

Helicopter parenting, parenting mistakes

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Image by lorda via Flickr

Recently, I saw a couple of articles lamenting the helicopter parents.  I am anything but a helicopter parent, though sometimes I wish I had been at times.  There are things I look back on now, like the beginnings of Geeky Boy’s struggle with homework.  Work for both Mr. Geeky and I was too overwhelming for us to intervene much, except to ask whether it was done or not.  Perhaps I should have insisted someone be home when he got home.  Instead we checked in via home, and came home as early as possible.  I didn’t call teachers, though I did touch base with a counselor at one point to try to help Geeky Boy with organization.  I feel, rightly or wrongly, that the habits we’re trying to break now were a result of our lack of intervening–either with Geeky Boy himself or with the school.

Some people have said to me, “just crack the whip, force him to buckle down.” Or some such severe discipline.  I sigh.  Been there. Doesn’t work.  Instead, we get a kid with an even bigger ball of stress to deal with.  And, frankly, he’s his own person.  There are some things that can’t be forced.  But we’re talking about it now.  I just wish we’d started sooner.

I don’t remember ever having to be told how to deal with school.  My parents were really laid back about everything to do with grades, etc.  When boys and alcohol caused my grades to plummet, they just assumed things were getting harder, especially math.  I lived the kind of life Samantha Bee writes about in the WSJ.  I came home, did my homework (which often only took about an hour), and then vegged in front of the tv.  Sometimes I read or wrote or called people on the phone (a landline even!).  But it was very leisurely.  And summer, aside from a two-week vacation, I spent most of it at the pool.  I did no academic camps or music camps or sports camps, though I did have a few friends who did.  I just wasted that good at sports, and music wasn’t my thing.  And yes, I was college bound and smart, but my parents didn’t try to groom me to be a NASA scientist.  I consider myself a late bloomer when it comes to figuring out what to do with my life, to finding something that I really like doing and that pays the bills to boot.  I keep that in mind when I see where Geeky Boy is.

Yes, some parents around here send their kids to academic camps at UPenn or Johns Hopkins or they’re in soccer camp or lacrosse camp or tennis camp.  Some kids are booked the whole summer.  We just don’t have the resources for that.  Yes, it’s been difficult keeping the kids busy.  We’ve gone to the pool.  I’ve encouraged reading and writing.  I’ve assigned chores.  But summer days are long, and there’s only so much structured activity anyone can do.  And while I may have my regrets, I’m not so sure my “cracking down” or scheduling more for the kids would have made them any better off.  I think all of us would have been a bit less happy (and certainly poorer).  And I think the payoff for some of those things is short term–it gets you into the. best. college.  Except when it doesn’t.  Only time will tell how things will turn out.  Which is kind of the sucky thing about parenting.  Feedback comes really slowly.

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