Friday, April 26, 2013


It is official, child number two, Grace, has decided to attend Valparaiso University. She will be studying Choral Music Education so she can be a high school choir teacher.

Now to get in to a good Music Education program you have to audition--as in sing opera-y type songs in Italian and German and stuff. Luckily, Grace actually knows how to do that but I have to admit, until this year, I had NO idea our choir teachers were so gifted.

Anyhoo, now that she knows where she's going my fun has ended for a while because I don't get to do any college visits until Lilly goes in 2015 and frankly, she's so sick of being dragged along to some of the visits, she is threatening not to go to college.

Which would be a shame because it turns out, I really, really liked the college visits. What's not to like about a road-trip with one (or more) of your kids who are at an age when you barely see them let alone TALK to them?  I loved it all and consider it a perk of parenting.

Between March of 2011 and February 2013, first with Atticus, next with Grace, I visited more than a dozen colleges. Some of those were quick, informal drive-bys, but most were official visits. And since I am the only one in the family who went on ALL those trips, I am kind of the expert here.

Which makes me qualified to write one of my "what to expect" essays. So here goes:

Nail down a date for the visit: Good luck with this one. I am not sure there is anyone on earth busier than a high-school Junior unless that is a high-school Senior. But sometime between dances, concerts, school plays, exams, practices, and lessons you might find a day or two for a college visit. If you have to pull your kid from school to do this, surely the teachers will understand and be sympathetic, right? Wrong. They do not care why your student is missing school, they just hate it and will try to make your stressed out kid a little more stressed out.

This means you will make several of the college visits in the summer. Sounds nice but of course, who knows what a school really looks like without students? So you will probably end up having to come back during the year anyway. At least that will only be for the one or two schools that make the final cut.

Ask your student to register for a visit: If you have a slacker-child, skip this step and do it yourself. Really. If you have a responsible kid, this is not a big deal. I am speaking from experience.

Fly or drive to your destination and spend the night there so you will have plenty of time in the morning to get to find the Admissions Office: No matter how many times you do this, no matter how early you leave your hotel (or your home) no matter how many maps you have printed from the internet, you will somehow still be late for your campus tour. 

Except for the final visit when you FINALLY realize you not only have to get near the campus you have to drive around it repeatedly the night before until you are sure you can re-create the route in the morning. 

If you are traveling from home do not try to make up any lost time by speeding on the Tollway because you will get a ticket and then your child will really panic as she is being made late for her singing audition while the nice officer writes out your ticket and you will lose a day of your life when you have to go to the Daley Center to traffic court to get your license back. I mean, not that it happened to me, but it could.

Show up late for the campus tour: You would think it is not a big deal to be 10 to 15 minutes late for a campus tour. As a margin of error, it seems quite small when you consider the 24 or more hours you spent trying to get there. But It kind of is a big deal. Especially for your non-slacker child who hates to be late for anything. 

Your slacker will shrug it off and even laugh as you run back and forth between the parking structure and wherever it is they make you go to get the parking voucher (this is never the same in any of the schools and it's not clear at all when it matters or not and when you might get ticketed or towed but you will be a little paranoid if you went to school in Ann Arbor where ticketing and towing visitors is a municipal sport.)

Join the group wherever they may be: Sometimes they are still milling around over the coffee and donuts and sometimes they are already in the middle of the quad. No worries, you really can't miss a crowd of adorable (if anxious) high school kids, their dumpy (and soon to be poor) parents, led by an overly-eager college kid dressed in school colors and talking animatedly while walking backwards.

Take the tour: You will see lots and lots of buildings (which don't really tell you much about the quality of education do they?) and one sample dorm room (most of which are pretty much the same as when you went to school), and be invited to eat in the cafeteria (that  is not exactly fine dining but is SO much better than where you ate during your college years that you will start to get resentful) and the fitness center (ditto).

Ask your questions: You will get surprisingly candid answers sometimes even though you are asking people who are supposed to be selling their school. My two favorite were the weary financial advisor at one small conservatory-type college in Ohio who pretty much told us there was no money for our kids unless they were quite poor, and the K-College professor of photography who more or less said there was no reason he knew of why someone would want to pursue a career in photography.  In both cases, I am fairly certain these gentlemen had smoked something semi-legal before meeting with us.

Feel nostalgic and resentful: You are only human if being on campus (your own or anyone else's) brings back vivid and fond memories of your years at the old ivy-covered alma mater. However, you will quickly remember too that nearly every vivid memory involves boys or alcohol or both. Even if the boy in your memory is now the father of the very child you are with, resist the temptation to share ANY of those stories. The last person on the face of the earth who wants to hear about your college escapades is your own child (or perhaps your mother). So zip it and share it later with your hubby.

And finally, let the bitterness go: You may feel some regret or resentment that your child actually has a plethora of colleges to choose from. Some of which look like a whole lot more fun or a better fit than where you went. Let this go. It was the 70s and no on was taking college visits (unless you were a Kennedy). Most of my peers have shared that their first "college visit" was something called "freshmen orientation."  
And we all turned out just fine.

If you have the privilege of taking a child to college visits, I hope you have as much fun as we have. And remember, don't speed on the Tollway, and don't talk about that game of quarters at Dooley's and you'll do just fine.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Text from my neighbor:

Just watching "The Middle"  
Is it us?

It was funny to get that text last night because I happened to be watching "The Middle" at the same time and it wasn't even on right then: both of us were watching it a day late on our DVR.

I also happened to be thinking the same thing.

For those of you who don't watch the show, it is a family sit-com starring Patricia Heaton as a mom in "The Middle" meaning the mid-west but it could also mean the middle years. It is uncannily accurate in the portrayal of a 50 ish mom.

In this episode, her character, Frankie, was trying to get a job and the employers kept asking her "So who IS Frankie?" which had set off an identity crisis. After 19 years of parenting three kids she was not so sure anymore. (Parenting three kids for 19 years. Why does that sound familiar?)

My neighbor is a true empty-nester--her singlet is a junior in college. I still have the girls at home--but not for long. Now that everyone is in high-school and beyond...well I haven't moved into the empty nest but I certainly need to start shopping for one.

This is a way harder time than other moms let on. Sometimes you catch a glimpse of honesty on the topic. As I re-read (for at least the tenth time) A Gift from the Sea, by Anne Morrow Lindbergh while on vacation last month, I came upon this paragraph I had not recalled, in an epilogue she had added some 20 years after first writing the essay book on parenting and marriage:

"When I wrote Gift from the Sea, I was still in the stage of life I called "the oyster bed," symbol of a spreading family and growing children. The oyster bed, as the tide of life ebbed and the children went away to school, college, marriage or careers, was left high and dry. A most uncomfortable stage followed not sufficiently anticipated and barely hinted at in my book. In bleak honesty it can only be called "the abandoned shell." Plenty of solitude, and sudden panic at how to fill it, characterize this period. With me, it was not a question of simply filling up the space or time. I had many activities and even a well-established vocation to pursue. But when a mother is left, the lone hub of a wheel, with no other lives revolving about her, she faces a total re-orientation. It takes time to re-find the center of gravity."

Many of you have careers outside the home so perhaps do not feel quite so lost or lost at all. For those of us fortunate enough to make the choice to be stay-at-home moms, well, I feel like the reverse of that t-shirt that said "Oops, I forgot to have babies"! Mine could say, "Oops, I forgot to go back to work".

So now what? For many of us, age, health concerns, and ailing parents, not to mention a job market that is not exactly looking for a woman who hasn't worked in 20 years, keeps us from readily re-entering that world.

Many will overcome those obstacles; many already have.

I don't know what's next. Like Frankie Heck, I don't know quite how to answer that question, "So who IS Judy."

But at least I know I am not doing it alone. Because if my neighbor feels that way, and the writers of "The Middle" know it, and Anne Morrow Lindbergh in 1975 wrote about's pretty universal.

Best wishes to us all as we seek to "re-find the center of gravity."

Monday, April 01, 2013


My fashion plate. Notice, no winter coat but it was very cold that day.
Yesterday Atticus (who was home for Easter) spent most of the day in his boxer shorts. He did put pants on when Grace's boyfriend, Billy came in. I said, "Hey maybe even a shirt?" and he glanced down at the pile of clothing on the floor and said, "Oh, yeah, here's a shirt."

I should mention the pants he did put on were pajama bottoms my mom made him for Christmas because he prefers a sort of lounge-wear look.

Later, as we set the table for Easter dinner he said, "I think I'll put regular pants on," and went upstairs to change into jeans. He did this on his own. So proud of my big boy.

His baby sister commented, "Hey, you're wearing big-boy pants. They look good. Did I pick those out for you?"


To say my son does not care about clothing is clearly an understatement. There was, as you may recall, the unfortunate 7th grade incident in which he accidentally wore his sister's jeans to school. Perhaps that is why he prefers pajama bottoms now. Yes, that's it--it's not that he's a lazy slob--it's because he suffers from PTSD. And there's the fact that he doesn't wear (or even own anymore, I stopped buying them) a winter coat despite the fact that he goes to college in downtown Chicago but that perhaps is another blog altogether.

Anyhoo, over Christmas break I asked his sisters to take him shopping. "Buy him some new jeans and maybe a shirt that is NOT a black t-shirt with an ironic saying."

The girls leaped at the chance to play "What Not to Wear" (which is our FAVORITE show) and one afternoon, when I was not feeling well, they grabbed the credit card and their brother and took off to the mall.

While they were gone I got a frantic text from Grace, "He has NO idea what he's doing. He does not even know how a dressing room works." Hmm, maybe all those years I ran into Kohl's and grabbed two pairs of jeans and three new shirts for him while he was at school did not serve him well in the real world. For him, that was the extent of his "back-to-school" shopping.

They came home successful. The girls proudly showed me their acquisitions. Two pairs of jeans that were actually in fashion (as opposed to the carpenter jeans he's been wearing for four years), a few nice shirts and even a cardigan sweater.

Then they showed me the two tops they had bought themselves as a "reward" for their trouble. Ahem. I had to reiterate the house rule that all unauthorized purchases must be returned or mom must be reimbursed.

It was a full month later I got Atticus's version of events. He told me his sisters were ruthless and even--get this-- MADE HIM TRY THE CLOTHES ON! The nerve. He begged them not to try anything on but then, as he tells it, "Grace got those crazy eyes and said Mom would not pay for anything if I didn't try them on. You know I do anything she says when she gets like that."

God bless Grace and her crazy eyes. If you know her well you've seen them. Wonder if Billy has seen those yet?

I digress. The point is, well as usual there is no real point, it's just funny but let's say the point is this--when you have kids it's fun to get the ones who like to do something to make the one who doesn't like do something do it. (Ha ha, I can just see Laurent my English as a second language friend puzzling over that awful sentence). Then you can just lie on the couch until you feel better.

And in the end, you might have someone who voluntarily changes from pajamas to jeans for a semi-formal dinner.

Baby steps.