Meet Shelley, who is sharing her experience as an OC parent through her blog. Her children Emily, (OC '13) Rachel, (OC '15) and David Michael (OC '18) are only mildly embarrassed by her stories.
I’m a fraud. Totally and completely. For four years now I’ve been writing this blog thinking I understood, at least to some degree, what the old “empty nest” syndrome was all about. But I was wrong. Oh. So. Wrong. I mean, I knew how it felt to have an EMPTYING nest, but turns out that’s a far cry from how it feels to have an EMPTY nest.
It’s not as if I wasn’t warned. A few well-meaning friends actually MOCKED me when I told them I was looking forward to having time again to quilt and read and even clean out my sock drawer. But the majority just gave me pitying looks, while advising me of the impending period of “adjustment”.
And I promise I dutifully listened and dutifully dreaded the inevitable day of my youngest leaving home. But still I was caught off-guard, shell-shocked really, when we dropped David at Warlick Hall and returned home to what honestly felt like an empty nest, complete with tangled twigs and a forlorn feather or two.
So what’s a mama bird to do without her young’uns around to tend to? Well, I don’t know about anyone else, but during the first few weeks I discovered some highly effective coping mechanisms. Oh, I stayed away from the standard drugs, alcohol, strange men, and sports cars. But I embraced a few others and highly recommend them for the short-term, when the pain is especially raw.
First is REALITY TELEVISION. (America really does have talent, and now I know it.)
Second is SITTING ON THE COUCH, STARING INTO SPACE. (Sometimes napping.)
Third is EMOTIONAL EATING. (Donuts and circus peanuts seemed to work best for me. Personally, I consider emotional eating to be the most under-rated of the coping mechanisms. Not sure why it gets such a bad rap.)
Of course, now that we have survived a whole month in this empty shell of a house, the wounds are less tender. And I am determined to leave childish ways behind, and especially destructive ones. So I’ve taken a break from the staring into space and emotional eating, and decided to substitute prayer and exercise instead. And, oddly enough, these new activities seem to be working just as well.
I guess I could also give up reality television. But then how would I ever know if Carlton makes it to the finals of DWTS?
I’ll close with a couple of pics of the happy children, hardly seeming at all concerned about their old parents rattling around in an empty house…
And a shot of my oldest nephew Zach, taking his oldest to school on his first day of first grade. Tomorrow, he’ll be moving that kid into a dorm. Or so it will seem.
So I hope to be back shortly. No promises, no guarantees. Just some hopefulness.
Thanks for listening.
It’s a well-known fact that every high school music teacher has a cruel streak that manifests itself in his or her song selections around graduation time. Even if the songs aren’t obviously forlorn, they are clearly designed to reduce parents to blubbering messes. I mean, seriously, right now my son’s group could sing that overplayed “Happy” song, and I’d probably crack. So you can imagine my distress when hearing them croon Calling My Children Home, a little ditty with this heart wrenching refrain:
I’m lonesome for my precious children,
They live so far away.
Oh may they hear my calling…calling,
And come back home someday.
But hey, my mission here today is not solely to hate on music teachers. That sad, depressing song just reminded me of some vital information I wanted to share with you first time parents of a college student. AND, since every blogger out there is giving out numbered tips these days, I might as well jump on that bandwagon as well. So here are…
FIVE TIPS FOR PARENTS REGARDING TELEPHONE COMMUNICATION WITH COLLEGE STUDENTS
Catchy, eh? Okay, maybe not. But my tips are legit, gleaned from personal experience, so here goes:
1. DO NOT WAIT FOR YOUR CHILD TO CALL FIRST. Some of you will reason (rightly) that her schedule is more erratic than yours and so it only makes sense for her to call you when she is free. DO NOT GIVE IN TO THIS KIND OF RATIONAL THINKING. Even though you will NEVER actually reach her when she is free to talk, you will be viewed much more favorably if you simply make the attempt. And bonus, she won’t be able to school you with that, “Well, you never call me…” bit, always said in an irritatingly superior tone.
2. WHEN HE SAYS HE HAS TO GO, LET HIM GO. You will be tempted to ask just one more question, which will inevitably lead to another question, and then another. Not only will this annoy your child, but next time he has a free minute but not a lot of time, he won’t call. He will reason: “If I call mom now, I may not be able to get her off the phone, so I’ll just call later when I have more time.” The thing is, he will NEVER have more time. So when he says he has to go, you need to rattle off (in machine-gun fashion), “Okay, I love you, thanks for calling, goodbye.” No pausing, no hesitating, no heavy sighing. Just say it quick and HANG UP. I guarantee he’ll call more if you use this technique.
3. IT’S OKAY TO PLAY A LITTLE HARD-TO-GET. A parent hungry for news of her child can be a tad overeager, sort of like a salivating puppy if you know what I mean. Of course, puppies have that cuteness factor and can pull off the pathetically-needy-for-attention routine. In a parent, however, begging is NEVER pretty. Your child needs to see you as having a life of your own, even if you have to fake it. This is Psychology 101 folks. Intermittent reinforcement. If YOU are too busy to talk every once in a while, your child may work harder to get YOUR attention.
4. DO KEEP YOUR PHONE AT HAND AND TURNED ON. This may seem like an obvious one, but I’ve missed many a call because I didn’t have my phone nearby. And even if only a few minutes elapse before you see the missed call, your window of opportunity to talk to your child will more than likely be gone. You are welcome to return the call but, 99.9% of the time, they will be on to the next thing and won’t answer.
5. REMIND YOUR CHILD, EVER SO GENTLY, THAT YOU ARE PAYING THE CELL BILL. Okay, so I’m the kind of parent who doesn’t mind sending my kids on an occasional guilt trip. I’m not exactly proud of this fact but I don’t mind reaping the benefits. Even if your child has nothing to say, he might call out of obligation. And you won’t care if that’s the only reason, because you will be busy listening to his beloved voice.
My friend’s recording of David’s group singing Calling My Children Home is linked below. If you are David’s sister, you will want to listen to the entire three minutes. Everyone else may want to skip to 2:06, where they hit the most poignant notes.
You can find many other versions of this song on YouTube, each one more plaintive than the last, and many with better videography and sound (no offense Chelle). But I love this version, partly because it features our cruel…okay, and very talented high school music teacher. But also because, if I listen very very closely, I can hear…the voice of my son.
My dad never met a “dad joke” he didn’t like. You know, the old…
Me: I’m hungry.
Dad: Nice to meet you Hungry. I’m Starving.
One of his favorite routines, something he said EVERY time we neared our destination after a long car trip, was, “You know what the monkey said when he got his tail cut off by the lawnmower….” To which we kids were thoroughly trained to reply, “It won’t be long now!”
Even after we descended into the halls of jadedness, somewhere along the way to being teens, he forged ahead with his monkey tail question, ignoring our groans and eye-rolling like all good fathers do. Now, of course, we’d love nothing more than to hop into a car with him and drive 500 miles, just to hear him say it one more time. So he gets the last laugh, and trust me, that was always his life’s goal.
Here’s an old photo of him, a favorite of mine…
I miss that face. I miss that personality.
One small comfort, to me at least, is that Dad managed to embed that goofy monkey tail bit into our repertoire of family colloquialisms. To this day, anytime anyone has a big day or event approaching, someone invariably rattles off, “You know what the monkey said….” And we still roll our eyes (for old times’ sake) as we dutifully reply, “It won’t be long now!”
So here’s my life right now.
Let’s see, David graduates in May, right? Yep. You know what the monkey said. It won’t be long now.
And in August, he heads to OC? Yep. You know what the monkey said. It won’t be long now.
So your nest, well, it really will be empty then, right? Yep. You know what the monkey said. It won’t be long now.
I’m not enjoying this. I’m not enjoying this.
Have I mentioned that I’m not enjoying this?
Honestly, I thought it was going to be easier this time. Not EASY, mind you, just EASIER. I thought we were tired of parenting and ready for life’s next stage. I thought we could get through this particular Senior year unscathed. But it turns out we can’t. We’re SO not ready. Not for that last high school graduation, that last dinner around the table, that last bedroom to pack up.
But, ready or not, here it comes.
If you haven’t done this gig yet, and want to be surprised (or just live in denial), stop reading NOW. Seriously, this is your SPOILER ALERT!
My sister Sally (the wisest of us all) has identified the three most brutal moments you’ll experience when sending your kids off to college:
Number one is when you leave the house with them, for the last time.
Number two is when you say that final goodbye to them outside the dorm.
And as if that weren’t enough, number three is when you get home, and walk into your house without them for the FIRST time.
So there you have it. Your top three moments to dread…and survive. I’m sorry for going there, but I can’t help myself. I’m wallowing a little bit. I even found this double-whammy of a photo to post…my dad holding newborn David, 18 years ago…
So are there any happy thoughts here? Not really. Unless you count the quality education he’s signed up for. And I do count that, but right now I’m just sad.
Because you know what the monkey said.
Oops. In my last post, I left out a couple of my favorite photos from the graduation. I mean, look at this gem…
Yep, that’s one impressive photo bomb right there, being executed by OC President John deSteiguer.
And the girls in that shot? Well, those are just Emily’s roommates…and best friends. Back in my very first Leaving the Nest blog post, I talked about these girls. To quote myself…yes, I’m quoting MYSELF…I said, “I can’t wait until [Emily] meets those special girls who will become her lifelong friends.”
And well, she met them. Their names are Jordan, Kaitlyn, and Danielle. She made a few others dear friends, but these are the ones who loved her day in and day out, when she was at her very best and when she was at her very worst. They spent 3½ years laughing with her and at her, and inspiring and encouraging and supporting her. They celebrated with her in good times and propped her up in bad times. But most importantly, at least to me, they held her tightly and loved her deeply through several of her worst times.
How exactly do you thank the people who do that for your kids? I know I don’t have the words to say it properly. But this post is my tribute to them, and to college roommates everywhere who make it so we mothers can relax a bit, knowing our daughters aren’t alone.
One last shot of “the 207” at the graduation, sans the photo-bomber…
Incidentally, in honor of Emily’s big day, they all showed up in leopard print, which just happens to be my daughter’s fashion obsession. Which reminds me of a little scene that played out in Dillard’s one day recently, when she spied a pair of leopard print pants and exclaimed, “Oh, I neeeeeeed those.”
I felt compelled to ask, “Don’t you already have a pair of leopard print pants?”
To which she replied quite seriously, “Well…I only have one.”
Needless to say, she still only has one pair. As far as I know.
So okay, NEXT TIME we’ll talk about my poor, neglected middle child. Most likely.
Last November, OC Staffer Kerri Cunningham called me to ask if I’d lead the pledge of allegiance at OC’s graduation in December. I felt immediate angst of course. Was I coordinated enough to walk on stage without tripping? Would I remember the words to the pledge? And most importantly, could I avoid nervously giggling and embarrassing my graduating daughter? But I couldn’t very well admit all my insecurities to Kerri (even though I’ve known her all my life), and I was flattered that they’d even asked me. So I said yes.
And it was a lovely graduation. As it turned out, I remembered all the words and I managed not to trip or giggle (too much), even though I had to march in and out with the REAL dignitaries and sit on stage with them through the whole ceremony. And I convinced myself that I was fairly inconspicuous on that stage, amidst all those OC bigwigs in their flowing robes and other academic regalia. But then I saw this picture on the OC Facebook page.
Note to self: Next time you sit on a stage somewhere and want to be inconspicuous, wear a nice sober black sweater. NOT a garish red one.
Yeah, and I also figured no one would notice if I snapped a couple of pics from my front row seat. But then I ran across this on OC’s Facebook page…
Only slightly embarrassing. But the bottom line is, I was not about to pass on the opportunity to get some up close and personal shots of this occasion. I mean, compare that shot of the commissioning of 2nd Lieutenant Keith Dugan with mine…
Okay, so that one’s not so good. But seriously, I’m sure I was the only one to get this great shot of the Silver Dollar Salute from Naval Electricians Mate Jack Dugan,...
And here’s what most people saw when Dr. Baird was telling the graduates to use their power for good…
But this is what I saw, a guy talking about super heroes, and looking kind of like one himself…
The truth is, I intentionally busied myself with the photo-taking and the whole nervousness thing, so that I could keep at bay the fact that THIS was happening…
And I apologize for turning this post which should have been about Emily graduating from college, into a post about me. But as a defense mechanism, it’s working quite well.
So what’s next for these graduates? Internships? Graduate school? Real jobs? I’m sure it looks different for each of them, but watching the bright faces of all those graduates as they passed my seat on that stage, I was convinced that they were prepared to meet the world, and bring it some special shine.
As for Emily, three weeks after she was handed that faux-diploma (yes, they do that in college too), we put her on a plane to Zambia to spend a couple of months working at the Namwianga Mission. The plan is for her to return home early next month, and then commence with her official adult life. From where we sit this will entail a serious job hunt, but you never know. She’s always liked that Graham Colton song where he sings about diving into the great unknown and ripping out the pages and letting life unfold. So we are going to be interested in seeing where that mindset will take her.
Here’s a link to that song if you’re interested. One caveat: I heard it first in the context of a parent-child relationship, so it always makes me weepy. It might be better to give it a listen when you are NOT in the midst of life-changing events. :)
Next up…another big life event to report on, this one about Rachel, and coincidentally also involving Kerri Cunningham.