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The End of Parenting As I Know It

So, it happened. My youngest son just graduated from high school. I didn’t think this would be a hard day for me. I mean, my older son graduated three years ago. I’ve been there, done that. Or so I thought.

Noah graduating on June 4 2017

Noah received his diploma from Mr. Marcus, his elementary school principal and now assistant principal at Sharon High School.

I didn’t expect to tear up upon seeing so many familiar faces that I haven’t seen in 12 years: All those parents and students that I’ve known since Noah started kindergarten. Some of the parents I barely recognized as the hair color has changed or the hair is no longer. Wrinkles have set in. Time has taken its toll. The students, on the other hand, are mini-adults, about to start their new journeys. Yet, beneath the wide smiles and bright eyes, I sensed a bit of fear as leaving a tight-knit community and making your own way in the world is well, scary.

As I sat through the graduation, I realized that I too was feeling fearful of the unknown. Noah’s graduation didn’t just mark an end of an era for him.

It is the end for me. It is the end of parenting as I know it. And that scares the crap out of me.

Where Have My 40s Gone?

Ethan and NoahLast week I asked my husband in all sincerity: “Where have my 40s gone?” As my 50th birthday fast-approaches, it occurred to me that this decade has flown by at light speed. It seems like just yesterday that I turned 40 and dropped Noah off for his first day of 3rd grade. He answered without missing a beat: “You were raising your boys, driving to dance classes, on the road with Noah, going to improv shows. You were being a mom.”

Yes, I was. I mean, I am. Right? But wait. Yesterday, as I sat there watching the graduation ceremony, the past 21 years of collective parenting for my boys sort of flew by me at warped speed. At times I teared up and couldn’t even pay attention. And then, at the end of the ceremony, as I hugged my son and congratulated his friends and the other parents, it hit me square across the face: I just graduated too. I’ve done my job. It’s time to move on. Huh?

I get it, you never really move on from being a mom. But yet, you do. Your parenting role

Me and my two boys

21 years in the making right here

changes the second your youngest child graduates from high school. You might think it changes when your oldest graduates and you creep closer to the empty-nest stage. But that’s not the case. It really changes when you recognize that the curtain has closed on the last two decades of your life. You’ve done the best you can do to raise your children and lead by example. Now it’s their turn to make their mark on the world. Sure, you may be there to offer guidance, pay tuition bills and even let them move back into your basement when they can’t afford to live on their own (or can’t get a job). Yet, it’s not the same.

What Happens Now?

When your youngest child graduates high school, not only is it his turn to craft a new life. It’s your turn, too.

Yup, all those speeches delivered yesterday drilled home the importance of living an authentic life and following your own path. But what happens when your path as a mom just ends and so abruptly at that? Why didn’t anyone make a speech about this? Oh yeah, graduation is not about the parents, it’s about the kids. Or so I thought. Until it became about me too. And then I thought, “I’m being selfish.”

Noah's high school graduation

Noah about to graduate Sharon High, June 4, 2017

Then this occurred to me: I’ve spent the past 21 years of my life wrapped up in my boys’ lives, intertwined so tightly in their daily activities that there was no time to be selfish. So, now I’m feeling guilty as nothing is ever supposed to be about me. At least that’s what I thought.

But what about NOW? Is it finally ok to be a bit selfish? Isn’t the graduation of your youngest child as much about you as it is about him? I know this is turning the whole graduation life cycle event upside-down and inside-out. But, I have to be honest: I am deeply pondering where I go from here. And this can’t be much different from what’s running through my son’s head right now.

Graduating and Moving On

Moving on for me isn’t just a matter of downsizing and moving closer to the city (I did this last year). It’s a matter of emotionally figuring out how to live life on my own two feet, without my children. Huh? Just like they need to learn how to live outside the nest, I need to navigate life in an empty-nest. At the outset, this is exciting and I can’t wait to travel more, work on projects around the house, hang out with friends, go to museums, and navigate a new professional path.

Yet, I’d be kidding myself if I didn’t admit the fact that I just don’t know what to do next.  

For the past 20 years I have run my own small businesses: First a freelance writing business, then a yoga studio, and now Pretzel Kids along with The Write Move content marketing business. I do it all from the mother ship, aka my house. This was a great way to balance working while raising my boys. But now the mother ship is empty and lonely. I’m not sure whether I want to continue working solo without anyone home to interrupt me or ask for a ride. I also don’t know what else to do. I could get a job, but I’m not sure I want to give up my work flexibility and ability to travel at the drop of a hat. Secretly (and now the cat’s out of the bag), I also want to be available at a moment’s notice to help out my boys – even if it’s only once a month. I’ve toyed with starting yet another business. I have several ideas that have been floating around in my head for the past few years and I’ve had no time to execute on them. But, then I think better of this as I’m busy enough with my other two businesses. On another note, maybe I’ll use this empty space to get in kick-ass physical shape, meditate an hour a day. Or, maybe not.

Then it struck me: Parents have to forge a new path, just like their kids. And, it’s not selfish to think graduation marks our own personal milestones. We too have to figure out where we’re headed and follow our own internal compass – that is if we can figure out how it works. 

 

 

Categories: being a mother, challenges, College, get real, growing up, letting go, mother, musings, parenting, Philosophy, raising boys, raising sons, That's Life!, Truth | 10 Comments

When Your Child Decides He May Not Go to College

This is the time of year when kids go back to school and parents post fabulous Facebook photos of their children in front of the house or at the bus stop. I’ve posted these photos before as well. But this year I didn’t.

Ethan, my oldest son, started his junior year of college and moved into his first apartment off campus. I opted to let him mark the transition without a lot of fanfare. And, Noah, a high school senior, is choosing not to complete 12th grade in the traditional way.

He’s not going back to high school.

Angel2

Noah at age 12

This wasn’t an easy decision but it’s what he wanted to do. I didn’t feel a photo was appropriate for him either. For Noah, this year is a big deal – photo or no photo – and besides not joining his friends at high school, he may not apply to college. Noah is a trainee at Boston Ballet. It’s a two-year program, although many of the dancers leave at the end of this year to join professional ballet companies around the world. It’s a huge stepping stone for Noah and he was confronted with an important choice: College or a ballet career? He is leaning toward ballet.

While Noah makes his decision, I sit here day after day tossing away college application invitations from the likes of UCLA and USC on the West Coast to Northeast powerhouses like Harvard, Brown, Dartmouth and Princeton. Each time an application invitation arrives, I show it to Noah. With a knowing look, I toss them in the trash (a few I save just for the memories). It’s a look of:

“You’ve worked hard, achieved academic success and now it’s time to follow your passion.”

Face to Face with Parent Choices

Once upon a time I was a young mother and made the choice to move to a town with a high-ranked public school system – the same choice countless parents make all over the nation. Would I do it all over again? Maybe. But if I knew then what I know now, I may have stayed where I was as my children both had passion and drive. They would have excelled ANYWHERE. Instead, the academic environment in our high school is intense. You’re probably familiar with this story in many high schools: Kids study hours upon hours to get the best grades, take as many AP courses as possible and even cheat their way to the top – all to get into the best colleges so they can basically repeat this cycle all over again. I get it: It’s a dog eat dog world out there. But through my own children, I know this isn’t necessary, nor is it the only way to succeed in your career or life. There are other choices, albeit not as conventional.

Noah, you see, chose to stay in high school for his junior year and excelled in all of his honors and AP courses. And now that he’s top-ranked in his top-ranked high school, he may be setting aside a college degree to pursue his passion: Ballet. Some would say he worked hard in high school for nothing. But I say: He worked hard for the right reasons and not because his parents pushed him. Or because he felt peer pressure. Or because he had to get these grades so he could get into the best college.

He did it for himself. And it makes the whole high school experience that much better.

Now, some parents have said to me:

“Really, he may not go to college? What about all he achieved in high school? Are you sure that’s a wise move?” My answers: #1: “Yup, he may not go to college.” #2: “He worked hard to learn.” #3: “Following your passion and pouring that same academic drive into your dream career is the wisest thing any high school teen can possibly do.”

That doesn’t mean I don’t sometimes think:

“Should he just fill out a few college applications and see what happens?”

But I know that this is parental peer pressure kicking in. This is what kids usually do at this age. It’s also what raising children in a highly competitive academic environment does. It points kids and parents in one direction: This way to college.

 

Encourage Passion

I would perhaps feel differently about my son if he had no other plans for the foreseeable future. But this isn’t the case. And this leads me to consider how stressful the high school environment is for teenagers today. In fact, kids are so busy jockeying to get into the best colleges that many don’t have time to pursue a passion. I realize this is just my opinion, but based on what I saw happening with my kids’ friends, many teenagers cram in as many activities as they can as this makes them seem well-rounded (and of course there are about 10 spots on the Common Application to list activities and who wants to leave blanks?) In many cases, going straight to college is the right answer. But not always. What would happen if every one of these kids decided to follow ONE passion wholeheartedly while in high school? I don’t know the answer to this but it might make the high school years less stressful and more enjoyable. It might also create new pathways and opportunities.

This is the Time

So, as this back-to-school season kicks into high gear, I invite you all to consider the potential your children have and help them discover their passions. This might change their course entirely. It might not. But, leaving the door wide open will allow your teenager to cross the threshold on his own and discover what’s on the other side.

About the author: Robyn Parets is a personal finance and business writer based in Boston. A former writer for Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) and NerdWallet, Robyn is also the founder and owner of Pretzel Kids®, a children’s fitness brand and online training course. You can find her on Twitter @RobynParets, follow her musings at Away From Om, or reach her via email at robynparets@gmail.com

Categories: being a mother, challenges, College, growing up, letting go, mother, musings, parenting, Philosophy, raising boys, raising sons, That's Life!, Truth, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 17 Comments

And One Day It Happened……

About a month ago, I was talking to my oldest son, Ethan, on the phone. He was nearing the end of his freshman year at Northeastern University as a journalism and film studies major. Usually our conversations consisted of something like this:

Me: How are you?

Ethan: Fine

Me: What’s going on?

Ethan: Not much. Same old: school, improv

Me: Do you think we can get together soon for dinner? I’ll be in town next Wednesday.

Ethan: Maybe. I’m pretty busy. Can I let you know next week?

Me: Sure. Well, just called to say ‘hello’. Talk soon?

Ethan: Sure. Bye mom.

But this particular conversation was different. Ethan was working on a particularly challenging story assignment. We spent about half an hour discussing the story, his angle, his interviews, how difficult it was to find the right people to talk to, and how he came up with his idea to begin with. THEN, wait for it……he actually listened to my advice. Now, granted, I am a journalist and sometimes actually know what I’m talking about. But still, this was MONUMENTAL. And, then….we had a two-way conversation about a common interest.

Flash forward to two weeks ago: Ethan was about to leave for a five-week journalism semester in Spain. I was leaving the house before he would be picked up for the airport, so we went through his check-list to make sure he had everything for the trip. As this happened, my young adult college journalism life flashed before me. I was in Spain this exact time my freshman year in college and I did a similar journalism semester in London as well (albeit with typewriters and no cell phones). I said goodbye to Ethan and saw his eyes welling up with tears. He gave me a big hug and then, a second hug. I told him how proud I was of him and he promised we’d talk via Face Time and chat via instant messenger (which we’ve done several times). I said goodbye as I left the house, holding back my own tears of pride.

Since Ethan has been in Spain, he has started his own blog, written his first article for the NU Journalism Abroad news site, (a brilliant story on the controversy surrounding an abandoned bullfighting ring — you should all read it!) and is now en route from Barcelona to Madrid where he will work on more stories and blog posts. Since he’s been gone, we’ve talked about his stories and blog posts as if we were peers.

And then it hit me: My son is an adult.

Not a young teenager who has some mature thoughts and seems like an adult sometimes. He’s a real, bona-fide adult. How the hell did that happen? Yes, he’s 19 years old and at some point I knew he’d be a grownup. But, like most parents, there comes a time when it hits us smack in face. That time has arrived.

As parents, we try to raise our children in the best way possible. In our family that meant, above all else, teaching our kids how to make wise choices, pursue their passions, be kind to others, and engage with the world. I understood that my kids may grow up to be like their parents, or turn out to be nothing like us.

But when you see yourself in your adult children, even a little bit, it’s both eerie and enlightening.

Ethan, you see, did his best to defy everything that I was about. Yoga and health food topped the list. Although there were likely other reasons for his aversion to yoga and vegetables, I think he wanted nothing to do with my choices because he didn’t want to be like his mother. I’m sure you can all relate. I mean who wants to be just like their mother, especially teenage boys?

Up until Ethan was about nine years old, I was a full-time freelance journalist. He was young so I doubt he remembers much about what I was doing locked in my office writing. What hits more close to home for him is my second “career”: a yoga studio owner. This consumed most nights and weekends of his childhood. So, reflecting back on this (and the fact that he probably thought it was a little strange that his mom also practiced and taught yoga while his friends’ moms were lawyers, bankers, and doctors), it seems well, a bit normal, that he would steer clear of my career and interests.

This, my friends, makes it all the most fascinating to me that my son is choosing my other passion as a possible career: writing. He didn’t witness me working in a newsroom or burning the midnight oil writing stories on deadline (I did most of this before he was born). I never pressured him to go this route. Yet here he is. And here’s the uncanny coincidence: As I watched Ethan make choices for himself, I started making new career choices as well. Our discussions about writing caused me to pause and realize that I truly missed writing. So, as Ethan discovers his path, I am creating a new chapter for myself.

Could it be that I am following in my son’s footsteps?

Categories: being a mother, College, Etcetera, get real, growing up, journalism, letting go, mother, musings, On the Road, parenting, Philosophy, raising boys, raising sons, That's Life!, Travel, Truth, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Joining “The Club”

The initiation process began in May 2014.

There were events left and right: Senior prom, spring musical, last Improv show, parties, graduation and more. I attended Ethan and I graduation dayevery single one – apparently prerequisites for gaining entry into this “Club.” Then the initiation phase was over and I moved into the quiet phase. Those in the Club know all about this: The summer after graduation when reality sets in. I barely saw him. I was away with his little brother; he was working at a summer camp. I was in bed by 10 pm; he got home long after I was sleeping. We were like ships passing in the night but I still knew where he was.

Next week, I become a member of the Club, like it or not. I didn’t ask to join but my membership is not an option. I never understood this Club before or even knew it existed. Until now. I know members who have already been admitted but never understood what made them so different from the rest of us. I never understood how they felt or why. Until now.

My welcoming party will consist of a bunch of strangers moving their kids into a college dorm. They are joining the club, too. All of us will likely be feeling the same way and albeit from different walks of life, we likely had similar initiations.

I will officially become inducted into the “Where Have the Last 18 years Gone” Club on August 31, when I give Ethan a hug

Ethan's 6-year old soccer photo.

Ethan’s 6-year old soccer photo.

good-bye and drive home without him. I’ll be part of a Club I never knew was out there. Other members might feel the same way as I do: Sort of lost, like a ship without an anchor. But yet, haven’t I been the anchor? To make it more confusing, Ethan is my first to go to college so I still have Noah at home. So, I’m not an empty-nester – yet. What gives? Why am I feeling so sad, so lost at sea? It doesn’t make logical sense, but yet fellow members of the club understand.

Reminders of my new membership just won’t stop pouring in.

* I stopped writing this just now because Ethan walked in with a packet for me. It is from the Northeastern University Parents Association. An enclosed “Handbook for Parents and Families” welcomes me to the NEU Parents Association. It comes with a membership card valid August 2014-2019. I guess my Club membership comes with an adjunct membership too.

* On August 2, my boys and I went to see the movie “Boyhood.” Besides knowing that it was about a boy’s life filmed over a 12-year span, I knew nothing about the movie. Probably a good thing or I may not have gone to see it. Why? They might as well have filmed Ethan growing up, starting when he was six in 2002 and ending when he was 18 and on his first day of college – next week. Ethan is the same age as the actor in the movie and it was filmed over the course of the exact years of Ethan’s childhood. It was an extraordinary movie about an ordinary life. From both the boy and his mother’s point of view, the 12 years encompassed moves, divorces, marriages, new families, job changes, alcoholism, new schools, lack of money at times, plenty of money at times. Growing up. The years just sort of fly and as parents, we don’t often take a block of time to reflect upon all the changes that have occurred in the life of our child. Instead, it sort of sneaks up on you. Ethan and I walked out of the movie speechless. I am sure there were too many moments that rang true to him. There were certainly many for me. I think nothing hit me more than when the mother was sitting in her new apartment – after selling the house that was too big – and started crying.

* And then there is the flurry of photos all over my social media feed: Some of Ethan’s friends in their dorm rooms and others of MY high school friend’s kids in THEIR dorm rooms.

Maybe joining this Club was easier before social media existed. No matter. I look around this big house and I see memories: Ethan in grade school, running around the yard, his messy room, parties at the house, a couple of girlfriends, his friends since junior high and even kindergarten hanging around…. Come next week, I won’t know where he is, how late he’s up at night, who he’s hanging around with. I won’t be a part of his everyday life.

I know, I know. This is what is SUPPOSED to happen when we join the Club. It’s all part of growing up. I mean, I did it and I Ethan Senior portraitwent way far away to college – 2,600 miles, not 26. So it should be much easier, logically speaking. But when you join the Club, all reason goes out the window. I am now a web of feelings, collective feelings that took 18 years to accumulate. I didn’t realize how much of my life was tied to Ethan’s life. Yeah, I’m his mom. That’s the way it usually goes. Even when I was working ridiculous hours for most of Ethan’s childhood, I was still there for him. Even when we didn’t see eye to eye during his high school years, I was still there for him, always. Last year, I made sure I was there for every event. I saw every choral performance and play at high school (well, except for the concert chorus in the spring which I totally forgot about! Sorry, Ethan). Come fall, I will have no reason to go to the school. It will leave a strange sort of void.

Besides this void, moving Ethan to college is leaving me with this eery sort of “what now” dilemma. My decisions were intricately tied to Ethan and his brother: what’s best for them, what will make them happy. Even big decisions like where we moved to, my work, and the type of house we lived in. And now the house and location seems less necessary (but not totally unnecessary as Noah is still in high school here). I’ve tried to express these feelings to my husband of four years. On some level, he gets it. But not really. He’s not officially a member of the Club. He just knows I’m in a funk. Sad at times. Excited at others. My life keeps spinning around me. That’s because I can’t just watch 18 years skip away without reflection.

In 9 days (but who’s counting), we will pack up the car with all the crap we bought at Bed Bath & Beyond and Target (I saw a couple members of the club in these stores getting ready for their inductions too). I’ll get him set up. And then I’ll leave. Come home. Re-arrange his room.

And then it’s back to business as I continue on my quest to get rid of all the stuff I’ve accumulated for the past 18 years. All you Club members are welcome to come to my emptying out yard sale sometime this fall. None of this stuff seems necessary or wanted anymore.

Not sure why I’m on this feverish kick but I’m thinking it’s in the Club handbook somewhere.

Categories: College, Etcetera, get real, letting go, mother, parenting, Philosophy, raising boys, That's Life!, Truth | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Frozen in Time

As I drove to a yoga class earlier this week,  in a hurry to make it there on time, I slowed down to a snail’s pace when I got to the school zone for a local elementary school. Sure, I had to slow down to 20 miles an hour as this is the speed limit. But, for a brief minute, everything slowed down, not just the speed on my speedometer.

Ethan and Noah

Ethan, left, Noah, right at about age 7 and 4

For a brief minute, it was as if my life was frozen in time. I watched the crossing guards channel the children into school and the parents walking with their children, who looked as if they were going to topple over underneath the weight of those heavy backpacks. I stared at one little girl with bright red hair and watched her trying to walk tall and proud with her books in tow. And then, for no more than five seconds, I locked eyes — out of my left driver’s side window — with an attentive father en route to school with his child. I quickly looked back to the road in front of me and then glanced to my left again. He was no longer looking my way but, rather, looking forward as he continued his slow and steady pace toward the school. It was as if he knew what I was thinking: Where did the time go? Wasn’t it just yesterday when I walked my once proud first-grader to school?

I was caught up in a trance-like state, only coming out of it when I realized I was no longer driving through the school zone and it was time to speed up again. But I wasn’t ready for speeding back up. I wanted to slow down again and walk my boys to school. My eyes got teary as I started to drive faster. When I hopped on the highway, I was back at the speed limit but I couldn’t let go of that father. Still can’t.

Today, I was on my way home and my eyes started tearing up again. I looked to my left and saw a large, bright orange sign: “Be Prepared to Stop.”  Workmen were on the street doing repairs. But I took it as a sign — my own personal sign. And, in case, I forget what this sign says, I can see it from my yard. Guess the universe wants me to keep seeing this sign.

Today, I drove past the parking lot at Sharon High School. I looked to my left and saw my son’s car (err, my car) parked in its usual spot, covered with dirt. My eyes teared up.

Ethan and Noah laughing

my little boys!

I looked out at the women in my yoga class this week and realized I have lived a whole phase of my life (their lives too) with them. When I started teaching this group, our kids went to Cottage Street Elementary school together. Now our kids are either adults or almost adults. We are empty nesters or almost there. And we sure as heck aren’t meeting at the entrance to school to pick up our children and talk about the upcoming school fair.

One could say I am turning into a sentimental mess. Or, going through a phase. Or, realizing that I’m not 30 anymore and time just sort of sped up while my eyes were closed. Or, all of the above.

Ethan Senior portrait

Ethan’s senior picture

In less than a month, my oldest son Ethan is graduating from high school. Next week, he turns 18 and I go get my grey hair covered.  He is taking AP tests today so I drove Noah, who just turned 15, to high school. We were talking and I caught him rolling his eyes at me. My first instinct was to say, “Why did you do that? Was that necessary?” But I said nothing. He’s a typical teenage boy and I am a typical teenager’s mom: I think I’m hip and cool (do they even say those words anymore?) but I am really a 46-year-old mom trying hard to hold fast to memories and my little boys.

In yoga, we all talk about “being present” and “living in the present.” Today, it hit home that the “present” goes by way too fast. We get one chance to do it right “in the present” and then that chance is gone, forever. All we have left is the past and future and we’re not supposed to dwell on that, right? But this week I am struggling to let go and thinking of all the things I should have done better. I know — that’s not productive or healthy. But I’m only human.

Here’s the truth. The gosh-darned human truth. My truth……I am afraid to let go. I am scared out of my mind. I write this as my eyes well up with tears. I am afraid to let my son go to Northeastern University in August. I am afraid for him to move out on his own and begin his adult life. And it’s not because I don’t think he’ll succeed or be ok. I know he will do just great in whatever he sets out to do in life.

It’s because I don’t know if I’LL be ok. There, I said it. I wrote it.

Up until this week, I thought I was fine with Ethan graduating and moving on. I couldn’t possibly be more proud of him. But now, I am reduced to a tearful mess. Ethan and I haven’t always got along in his high school years. Maybe it’s because we are so much alike — both headstrong and opinionated but yet we give 100% of ourselves to others. I’ll admit it: there were times when I couldn’t wait for him to move out. But now that this is becoming a reality, I know that I am just not ready to lose him to the world. I’m not ready to walk into his empty room (which will most likely turn into his room/guest suite next fall) and not trip over piles of dirty laundry. I’m not ready to have nothing to remind him about, all the time. I am not ready to be the mother of a college student.

I am not ready for how I will deal with the void.

Me and the boys in the snow

Frozen in Time

These next few weeks will be particularly challenging. I will cry tears of joy and sadness. I will do my best, even when it’s not good enough, to stay present and enjoy every moment. I will never get these moments back. That much I know. I will try not to cry hysterically next time I pass a group of elementary school children and their parents walking to school. I will always look for that father with the big brown eyes and all his dark brown hair intact.

He has “30” frozen in time.  Take care of that beautiful child weighted under that monstrous backpack. He will be 18 in no time.

 

 

 

Categories: Accidental Stage Mom, Etcetera, get real, letting go, mother, parenting, raising boys, That's Life!, Truth, Uncategorized, Writing, Yoga | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 12 Comments

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