Tag Archives: change

College Decision Day

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This is for all the parents out there whose child is going to college for the first time this fall…

As featured on The Huffington Post 50, and The Huffington Post College.

May 1st, 2014. It’s been a strange spring for daffodils. By this writing, they’ve usually shot up, bloomed, and wilted. This year: not one yellow head in the garden. These daffodil bulbs are loyal and old friends. I planted many of them when I built my home here in Montana, three years into my now eighteen year old daughter’s life. They have never failed me, and frankly, neither has she. And now she’s a few months shy of fledging. Going to college. Spreading the wings that she has grown in full flourish and that I have proudly procured, mostly in small moments, doing things together like planting bulbs, canning jam from the strawberry garden, collecting heart-shaped rocks on any number of Montana riverbeds to line the garden path. This garden knows this child, and especially the daffodils do. She was born in daffodil time. My hospital room was full of them. I cannot look at a daffodil without thinking of her.

I try not to anthropomorphize as a rule, but something tells me that the daffodils are in revolt. They are harbingers, after all, announcing summer after a long Montana winter when you can’t believe there will be any other color than grey, mid-grey, and white. Somehow, they prestidigitate through the last of the snow and POW—there they are, promising color again. Birth. Every year their promise feels so pure—like the kind a grandmother makes. There will be life again. In abundance. Summer. Sun on flesh on green grass and ladybugs. Lemonade on the front porch with bare, painted toes, and cricket symphonies. I love those daffodils: they are all H.O.P.E. Maybe this year they know that she’ll walk down that garden path in a few months, and not come back for a long time. Maybe they’re depressed. Or in denial, thinking that if they don’t produce blooms, she will somehow stay. Maybe they’re trying to stall spring, so that summer and fall will have to wait. Maybe they’re teasing time in hopes of keeping her around a little longer. The tulips don’t seem to care at all. They’re ready to do their thing, looking around in confusion like their warm-up band has bailed and they have to play to an un-lubed audience.

I’m envious then, of the daffodils. I want to go on strike. To not have to feel my way through this fledge. This inevitable and natural parting. I want to fold my arms across my chest and say, “I’m stepping out of the wake of all this college stuff—the financial aid forms and tax returns, the coast-to-coast-and-in-between college visits, the applications and essays and what-do-you-want-to-do-with-your-life questions. The info sessions and tours with perky student guides walking backwards and shouting fun university factoids to battle-weary Juniors and their parents. The “Beggars” meetings with advisors and teachers and admissions people and alumni. The rejections. The acceptances. The “Choosers” tour that ended just last week— the trains planes and automobiles that have taken us to all of those hallowed halls, trying them on for size, hoping to fall in love.”

I just want to spend today sitting in the garden with her, amid the daffodils, telling her about the day she was born. And drink hibiscus sun tea. And braid her hair. Can’t I, can’t we, just…plain…duck from all this for a moment? It’s over. She made her choice and she’s thrilled about it. I am too. We have a few months now to breathe. To collect the years of her youth and to pile them up somehow into a cairn that will help her find her way wherever she goes. There is this deep need in me to have it all make sense. To make one defining sculpture of her happy childhood that she can leave behind, and a duplicate for her that is portable.  I’ll put the first one in the garden and slip the other one in a box along with her comforter and favorite pillows marked:  bedding. Maybe the daffodils will come out of hiding then.

Only a mother whose child is going off to college would have these berserk thoughts. I cannot imagine what a mother whose child is going off to war thinks about to fog her fear. I’m sure it’s about way more than daffodils. I keep thinking that I am one of the lucky mothers out there who knows her child will be happy wherever she goes, and if she isn’t, she’ll change things around so that she is. She’s so comfortable in her own skin. She’s so ready to fly. I mean, what if she wasn’t? What if she wanted to live in the basement and get a minimum wage job and let her dreams, or worse her wonder, sift through her fingers? If that was the case, I’d be shoving her out of the nest with all my might. This is a good “problem” to have. But it doesn’t mean it’s easy.

The official college decision day was yesterday. We sent in the deposit. Filled out the last forms. Applied for a few more scholarships. She wore the collegeT-shirt to school, along with her other friends who wore their college-of-choice T-shirts. It was a day of celebration. For her. I made her favorite comfort food: Greek lemon chicken soup. I think tears actually landed in the broth as I stirred. I served it to her in bed because she had homework to do and sprained her ankle running track, and just needed to be in bed. I don’t blame her. It’s the end of a long academic, extra-curricular, SAT, form-filling haul. She deserves her favorite soup in her very own bed. Next year, if she’s having a day like today, she’ll be in a bunk in a dorm room, with ramen and a microwave. Hopefully she’ll call her mother.

I am not a heli-copter mother. I didn’t push her through her childhood (except to take piano lessons, I confess. But I let her finally quit when she got to high school. Now she wishes I had pushed her to keep going…so go figure!) Instead, I took her pulse. I was the wind at her back when she needed it and sometimes without her knowing. But it was always her life to live, not mine. The first thing I said to her when we were alone in the hospital room on the day of her birth, her whole body fitting between my fingertips and the crux of my elbow was, “You can be anything you want to be.” Daffodils and all. Time to fly, my dear daughter. braid_2

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Breaking Point: #16

Today’s Breaking Point stories are about endings.  They’re about having to let go of “the way things were.”  If there’s one thing we can count on…it’s change.  Sometimes that’s good news.  Sometimes that’s heartbreaking news.  We want to cling to the past, to the myths that society spins about where our safety lies.  I have learned that our only real safety comes from within and I think that is excellent news:  because it means that we can feel safe no matter what’s going on in our lives.  Especially when we recieve the present moment rather than resist it, and learn to breathe into its groundlessness.  yrs. Laura

Both of these are about the end of marriages, the first from the perspective of a child…

Submitted by: Stefanie A. Shilling who blogs here.

“The Word”

It would be the last time the four of us crawled into my parents’ bed. It could have been the first time, for all I know, because that was also the day that my childhood not only ended but was erased. I have virtually no memory of my life before that day.

I was 9 years old.

I don’t remember the words leading up to the only word I really remember. I’m sure they told us they loved us. I’m sure they told us that it wasn’t our fault. I’m sure it was probably hard for them.

But they weren’t 9.

They saw it coming. They were witness to their arguments. They felt the unhappiness. They knew long before the day they told us.

I remember feeling completely shocked. I don’t remember ever seeing them argue in front of us. But I guess I don’t remember seeing them hug or be affectionate with each other either.

I don’t remember how, or even if, my brother reacted. His childhood had just exploded, too. He was 13. I’ve only known him to process things internally. I don’t know if he cried much before that day but I’ve only seen him cry a few times since that day.

I don’t know which one of them said the word, but I know the word that I kept yelling:

NO! NO! NO!

No! No! No!

no. no. no.

Of course it didn’t matter. It was another reminder that it often doesn’t matter when a child says no. It wouldn’t be the last time in my life that I said that word…but it was the first time that I remember.

…And the next Breaking Point story is from the perspective of an adult.

Submitted by: Gracie

It was last August and my husband was screaming yet again at the top of his lungs. About  how we were separated (even though we lived in the same house), that he could do anything he wanted, that he didn’t have to consult with me about anything, that everything was over and why wouldn’t I just get it?

I was silent in the face of his blasting furnace of anger and pain. He was a far cry, at that moment, from the man I had loved and been devoted to for 8 years, for whom I had left a husband and a life on another coast, 3,000 miles away from this home of ours in the woods. As I stayed silent and looked at his red face, his clenched hands, his rigid body, I saw that he was completely broken and that it was time for D. and I to go. I could not fix him, I could not reason with him, I could not make him see. He had problems that required the help of experts and professionals, far beyond anything either he or I could do, separately or together. But there was no explaining that to him. He just couldn’t hear me, so I left a few weeks later and took our 3 year old son with me. It was time now to protect him, more than anything else.

I had fought the idea of separating for more than a year. During that time, I forgave (I know people say they do but I truly did) a digital transgression of many months, the existence of which I thought explained a lot of the difficult and painful behaviors happening in our house. But that wasn’t all of it. Not by a long shot. There was more to come, Another 8 months of screaming rages, smashing pans and dishes in the kitchen, hateful invective, and lots of cursing. It hurts even remembering the unrelenting, seemingly inexhaustible tide of anger that rolled through our house. I did not scream in response. Having grown up in a house with a dad who was a crazy screamer, I actually hate screaming, doing it or being on the receiving end of it.

For months, I waited out the rages thinking: soon he’ll find the right meds and feel better. The rage will subside, he will be ok again. But it never came, at least not while we lived there. He cycled through a stack of prescriptions and medical and therapy appointments but nothing worked, until it finally did, after we were gone.

I don’t know why the screaming fit in August was the one that did it. It was no worse than any of the others. It was certainly not anything I hadn’t heard before either. But during this one, as I looked at my husband, I really saw him and I realized in his current state, he was beyond my reach and I was finally done.

 

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