And He’s Now a Graduate

I think I was waiting for some emotional moment to happen when my oldest graduated. I expected to be overcome with sadness, but instead I was just immensely proud. I expected to mourn his milestone into adulthood, but instead I was really excited to see him transition to this next chapter of his life. I reminisced in my head about his kindergarten graduation. I bragged to anyone who would listen about him. (Sorry social media. But kinda not.) He’s now a graduate, moving onto this next adventure of his life: college, which is clear across the state from us.

It’s hard. It’s hard to put all of this to words. I spent the graduation not being able to hear anything and making jokes about how the mayor is only good at public appearances and giving speeches. I was just focused on getting him through the day, doing the walk he didn’t want to do. I told him, “I don’t care if you don’t do the walk. This isn’t for you. I care that your grandparents are going to be pissed at me for letting you not walk. I just don’t want to listen to it. So, suck it up buttercup, you’re doing it.” I explained for him that graduation is about the family being proud of their graduate. Hilariously, after all of that he keeps asking me for any pictures I had of the event. Not bad for someone who didn’t want to do the walk.

It’s easy to feel sad about this. You remember them as babies and somehow you blink and they are planning their college adventures. They are on a program for dormmates that’s essentially just Tinder, where you scroll through and select the people that you think you can spend the year not arguing with. You may even make a friend for the rest of your time at school. I’m not sure if it’s because I’m not letting myself focus on the sadness of my oldest leaving sooner than I’d like. I’m focusing on the other things. Like how great it’s going to be for him at his dream school. Like how I need a new couch and a fixed bathroom door before I can throw a party. Like how if I break down, I know everyone else will follow. But if I show strength, they will all know it’s okay. I know my role in the world, and that’s it.

My boy graduated within the top 70 of his class of 291 students and he graduated with a fancy Pro Merito recognition. He finished his grades with a 90 in AP English and had honors all 4 years of school. He had his choice of colleges and a future wide open to him. I’m so proud of his hard work and the man that he’s become. He’s caring, compassionate, and kind. He’s trying to figure out how he can use his future career to have a positive impact on the world. He wants to help people and wants to work in law enforcement, trying to do his part to make the system more honest. He has lofty ideals that I hope for his sake (and the world’s really) he can accomplish. I have faith that he’s going to do great things. I have faith that I did everything that I could to give him the foundation of intelligence, confidence, and compassion to achieve everything he wants to.

My boy is a graduate. The world is now his to do what he wants with. And I wish that I could say that I could not be any more proud of him than I am in this very moment. But I know that he’s going to keep making me even prouder when he goes out into this world. I just hope that he’s ready for the world.

Can’t I Just Send Him to Summer School?

I’m fortunate that I have 2 very bright boys with unique personalities. I try to navigate the difficult world of discipline, without the purpose of breaking who they are. My youngest, who is always described to me by others as “lively”, “willful”, or “quite the handful”, is probably the most difficult of the two to navigate. He, unlike my oldest, has yet to respond to my simply glaring at him. I just give the look to my oldest, he cowers in fear, and apologizes. Sometimes, I do it just to mess with him and to remind him of my power. I’m an awful human being and sometimes that just translates to my parenting. It’s all about psychological warfare, giving me the upper hand as the alpha of the house.

My youngest is his own brand of beast. He’s defiant, often just for the sake of being defiant. He’s impulsive. He lives life by the motto of “It’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission”. My struggle now is pointing out that “Sorry” is meant for an accident, where you didn’t intend for something to happen. Apologizing for intent is meaningless because that means you knew what you were doing and simply didn’t care. He’s a sweet boy, who mostly means well especially when his meaning well gets him to what he wants. But he’s a kid. That’s what kids do. Due to the age difference between the boys, each of them had their own time as the “only” child. The difference is that my youngest is the baby of the family and that’s the way that it goes. He’s mine. He’s my special child that once he gets through this phase, is going to make his own positive mark on the world. We just need to make it through the now.

Over the course of remote learning, I struggled with desperately wanting to send them back and desperately not wanting to end up in the hospital or worse because of the virus. I did know that when the schools opened up that this would be the best place for him because he needed that environment to thrive. Some kids don’t. My oldest didn’t, but I sent him anyways because he’s a senior and he needed to suck it up and enjoy his last year in the school. Plus, I wanted them to not spend the entire day eating $200 worth of groceries in one sitting. Boys, am I right?

The summer school in our district is free. They bus the kids. I joked about sending my youngest to summer school, because with the way the year ended up, he spent most of the year at home. This summer school would be the break that I needed! It was a funny joke, but then after thinking about it, it doesn’t actually sound like a bad idea. My youngest works best when he’s in a strictly structured environment. His routine every day is down to the minute on the clock. That’s how he’s always been. He’s a bit more flexible about it than he was, but the basic need for routine and knowing what to expect for the day is still important to how he functions and deals with the day. It’s a thing.

I won’t send him to summer school, but you best believe that I’m going to fantasize about it while I’m arguing with him about why he doesn’t need to eat an entire bag of family-sized salt and vinegar chips in one day and why buffalo wings are not something that should be eaten 3 times a day, 7 days a week. Or while I explain mommy needs to work and doesn’t want to know about his YouTube video at this exact second of the day and maybe it can wait until after work. I’ve earned the right to fantasize about summer school for my kid and so have all of the other parents that had a difficult year.

As They Grow Into Adults

I’ve always said that my approach to parenting was all about the long game. It was about raising future adults. I wanted to be the change, doing my part to raise a generation of kids with a strong work ethic, a duty to serve others, and to just be kind human beings that did their part in the world as functioning adults. I wanted them to be self-sufficient. As I raised my oldest, I taught him how to do laundry as soon as I felt it was safe to. I taught him how to cook. I taught him “girl” things because I wanted him to be able to take care of himself as an adult. I wasn’t going to be raising a 32 year old that was incapable of doing the simplest thing for himself. I wanted him to be able to live on his own and if he did get married, he could take care of his partner.

It’s amazing to see it happen. It seems like you blink and one day they are on the last week of high school, like my oldest son is now. But when you think about it, you saw the process happen in slow-mo. You watched those little steps. You watched the first time he made your famous curry dish and proudly showed off. You watched him do his homework and get honors and high honors on the report cards. You saw his hard work as he worked towards his goals, getting into his top choice college. It was a process that was an honor to be a part of. While I always want to protect my little (not-so little) boy adult, it’s time where I move onto the sit back and worry stage. It’s under his control now. He is the driver of this ride that he’s on now. I now have to transition into the guidance stage. The stage where I support and offer advice, but ultimately, it’s on him now.

This is why I thought it was so important to play the long game. I wanted to make sure that he was equipped out there. That he was equipped to make the right decisions. That I did the best that I could to make sure that he would carefully think out his next move. That I did the best that I could to raise an adult that would contribute something great to society. I hope I succeeded. But when he moves onto campus in a few short months, that’s when I’ll know for sure if I did my job effectively, while still letting him know that this would always be his home no matter where he lives.

You try to deny that this growth is happening. Not my little baby. But eventually the days count down and you can’t avoid it anymore. But, I have a sneaking suspicion that this adult will find his place in the world and do something great. I even imagine seeing him on ID, talking about how he profiled and got the bad guy. I look forward to seeing the great things that this young man will accomplish. I did my part in this arrangement; now, I have to trust that he will take it and run with it.

They All Inevitably Grow Up

Exactly one month from today, my oldest will be graduating from high school. I spent all year (actually the past 4 years, for the interest of full disclosure) mentally preparing for this. As the college offers came in and the eventual acceptances to all of the schools he applied to, I offered insight and advice when asked. I didn’t have to help him decide where he wanted to go: the minute he saw the criminal justice program at one school he immediately knew that was the school for him. It wasn’t the most prestigious of the schools that he had been accepted to, but it met his criteria: it was a small campus, quiet town, and had the programs he was interested in. And he was accepted into his top choice school, Salem State. He considered the closer schools, but UMass Amherst was too big for his liking and the other schools didn’t quite have the program he really wanted. Salem was perfect. Plus, he loved the added bonus of walking around the area of the witch trials. It was in-state, as affordable as college can be, and it made him happy. I supported that decision.

There have been the battles, reminding him to get off his butt and apply for scholarships. Reminding him about other deadlines. Reminding him that there’s no secret trust fund to pay for his college tuition. Telling him to get his scholarship letters to the school. But, it’s been an experience for sure. It was a learning adventure, learning to step back and watch him decide the trajectory of his life. This was his call. If he wanted to find a job and skip college, that would be his call. But he has his grand dreams of becoming a forensic psychologist and helping to solve crimes. He wanted to do his part in making the criminal justice more fair, from the inside. It’s not my job to tell him what to dream; it’s my job to support him where I can.

Yesterday he signed up for his freshman seminar and orientation. It would be virtual due to the pandemic. It made everything so real. I’m happy for him to move onto this next chapter of his life. But it’s going to be sad. You dedicate so many years trying to grow these babies into adults, getting them ready for the real world, that it does become a bit sad when you have succeeded. The most rewarding of sadness?

I’m excited for him to get out on his own. I’m hopeful for him. I have said for a long time that this boy was going to change the world. I was wrong; this young man is going to change the world. Everything he has done until this point was just minor in comparison to what he’s going to be capable of in the future. He may be leaving to college far sooner than I would hope, but he’s ready. I just hope I’m as ready as he is.

I’m Not That Kind Of Mom

There are those moms that go all out at every holiday. I don’t judge them. Good for them for having the money, energy, and patience to go through all of that. I don’t think they are any better or worse than me; just different. And that’s okay because we all have our own parenting styles. Some holidays do get more priority in my book than others, for instance the only one that I actually care about which is Halloween. Easter is just another money grab from the candy company, I spend enough on it at Halloween.

By the time Easter hits, assuming I remembered, I’m all tapped out from birthdays, Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Halloween to even bother with the holidays that I don’t really concern myself with. I don’t make heart-shaped anything on Valentine’s Day, which is honestly another holiday I often just forget about. I don’t turn everything green on St. Patrick’s Day. I don’t even like boiled dinner or corned beef and cabbage. I eventually suck it up and do it, but I don’t like it. This year when Easter hit, I just grabbed whatever was left in the store and made something of it. Fortunately, my youngest child’s favorite candies weren’t anywhere near sold out. The only toys that I could find was sidewalk chalk and giant $12 plushies. Yes, I saw the price, said “No way”, and just grabbed the chalk.

Do I go the extra mile? Half the time I barely think my kids are going to make it out of the day alive. I’m frequently reminding them of why putting random stuff in their mouth is a choking hazard, why you can’t live off of just salt & vinegar chips or chocolate, and other things that I feel like are a more important use of my time than whether or not I spent $100 on an Easter basket. Which I would never do, because I’m also extremely cheap.

I bought the ham. We had a nice low fodmap Easter dinner to stick with my husband’s new diet. We went for a walk and let the youngest run free at the park. We sat outside and let him draw all over the driveway, sidewalk, and front steps with his chalk. I’m trying to teach my kids the importance of the little things. It doesn’t matter the stuff they received. It’s just stuff. Those aren’t really the memories I want them to have. I want them to realize that stuff doesn’t equal love. It doesn’t mean anything. The actions, those little moments, those are the ones that I want them to treasure. Are they absolutely spoiled in stuff and in love? Yes. But being spoiled doesn’t mean that I have to teach them to equate material items and cost of things with how much another person loves them.

I only spent $20 on the basket items. My youngest doesn’t care. He cares that he was remembered. He cares that the Easter bunny gave him his favorite candy. We don’t need to go broke for material things to prove that we love people. We need to remember those little things, like how much they love Reese’s and Starburst jelly beans. How much they love to help make the Easter ham and spend time with their family. Material items are just around for so long, much like the people in their lives. They won’t remember all of the material things. I’d rather make the memories so that they can carry those memories long after I’m gone.

Parenting the Free-Spirited

I get it. I wasn’t a normal kid growing up. I was spirited. I did things my own way. I didn’t want to be fit in a box with labels and I did everything that I could growing up to keep people on their toes. I was a unique, free-spirited child that enjoyed a bit of mischief and psychological warfare. I’m really not afraid to admit that I still have these same tendencies. This attitude has kept me sane and surprisingly out of the typical drama that adults deal with. Because I genuinely don’t care. The other parents want to make fun of my custom Chucks or my really warm hat and stained winter coat, let them. I’m not dressed like a blizzard is coming at any moment for them; I like being warm and cozy in winter. and if you want to look stylish and freeze, that’s your issue.

My children each have a bit of this free-spirit in them, though my oldest child is far more reserved. It’s challenging, especially as a parent, because you want them to follow basic rules of behavior but at the same time you don’t want them to lose that free spirit. My youngest has been the biggest challenge with this, primarily because he doesn’t have time to bother with whatever social norms are expected of him unless it really matters to him like when he’s teased for his uniqueness. For instance, when kids at school made fun of his Skechers shoes because they weren’t Nike or Under Armor shoes and my husband proceeded to buy him a new pair of shoes because my husband was scarred from some incidents where our child was teased for being Asian and it was important to “minimize what they could tease him about”.

He has always just marched to his own drum. From his alternating between sleeping, waving, and acrobats during ultrasounds, we knew from the start that he was going to be his own man. He was born in September and by Thanksgiving, he was rolling around like a madman. I remember telling the pediatrician and he laughed at me saying “It’s too early for that”. He didn’t laugh when my spirited little child tried to roll of the exam table and the doctor looked at me and said “Yeah, you have a mover on your hands.” Developmental milestones meant nothing to this child, whether it was inch-worming by Christmas or not speaking until he was 4, my little guy decided he was going to just do things his own way.

There’s a fine line that needs to be walked here, one where picking your battles gets a little harder. Because it ends up that everything is a battle. Bedtimes are rude and I’m the worst for enforcing them. How dare I expect him to wear pants when guests come to our house? You do want to encourage the independent spirit, even if there’s a bit of defiance behind everything he says. When you don’t encourage the independent spirit, you end up with someone who follows whatever is the popular thing at the moment or blindly follows a political party without questioning it. It’s not about raising someone to be molded in your image or into this perfect, ideal child; it’s about raising someone into the person that they are supposed to be.

It’s going to be a complicated struggle. You will end up sobbing behind the closed door of your bedroom because you’re on the verge of breaking down. But the most important thing is to not break their spirit in your goal of trying to teach them how to be both good people and free spirits. I wish I could offer some advice on the best approach, but I’m just winging it where some days are better than others. But that’s kinda my advice on anything parenting related. We’re all just trying to make it out alive with children who grow up to be reasonably functioning but not totally damaged adults.

The Anticipation and Hesitation of Sending Them Back

After winter break has concluded, it’s anticipated that the kids will finally be returning back to school. My youngest will be going back 4 days a week and a remote day. My oldest will be returning for 2 days a week with remote learning for the rest of his week. Once upon a time, I would be cheering for the ability to send them back. Not that I didn’t love them… but doesn’t every mom need a break? Wearing all the hats moms are expected to wear on the regular is difficult enough some days; adding in the extra responsibilities of teacher and principal just are too much for me while trying to work and get everything else done. I partially blame this for my lack of creative drive to get my own personal work done.

It is anxiety-inducing for me. What if they do bring the virus home with them, with my husband potentially missing 2 weeks of work or me getting very sick/suffering from the aftermath? My body loves being unique, meaning that usually the rarer conditions/side effects typically happen to me. I blame my Irish immune system. My body loves playing tricks on me, such as having bad allergies but also being allergic to Benadryl. You learn to adapt and laugh at the insanity.

Back to the point. As anxiety-inducing as this is for me, I’m also a woman of logic. Statistically, they won’t get infected at school. It’s also the best thing for my youngest, who thrives in a situation where there’s far more structure. Where the teacher can be the one to keep him on track because apparently I do a piss poor job of it. Also, I don’t know common core so I taught him old school math. I apologize in advance for what that’s going to look like in the classroom. Plus, he can finally talk to his friends in person. I just hope he follows the “no hug” rule, which will probably be difficult for my boy who is know for being a bit of an affectionate guy that the other moms just love.

I’m putting a lot of trust in these schools to not screw this up. I’m putting a lot of trust in other parents, who somehow still drop off their kids despite the fact that they have the flu. I just hope that I don’t regret that. I’ve seen the impact this virus has when people get symptoms and the aftermath of that. I have a lot of people relying on me to have my crap immune system give out on me because other people didn’t want to do the right thing. But… I mean.. yay school?

Hooray, It’s a Snow Day!

Though right now, is a snow day really any different than any other day aside from the fluffy white covering everywhere?

At the beginning of my district’s school year, they announced that they were getting rid of snow days. The kids are going to be remote anyways, so what’s the point? Save the days. I, if I’m being honest, 100% agreed. Let the kids get out sooner since the classrooms in our district are super hot in the summertime. Plus, it reduces the sun exposure my poor Irish skin has to be exposed to when picking up my son from school.

Apparently I was in the minority with this belief. The parents were fervent in their belief of snow days. “But the magic of snow days!” I get the point. It gives the kids a mental health day to play in the snow. Fine. Let them have snow days. I’m open-minded enough to see that there are other point of views that are better than mine. Plus, the added benefit would be that I wouldn’t have to argue with my spirited son about his school work while also trying to do my own work. It would be a win-win.

Except, that’s not really what parents wanted apparently. Today, there was a snow day called based on the forecast. Seeing it outside now, I can see why. The local forums weren’t as happy. “Why bother having a snow day?! They are remote anyways!” As much as we want to, we can’t have it both ways. We can’t just have a single snow day when we fight for snow days. You get snow days when they seem fit. The poor school district just can’t win. Either way, parents are going to be pissed at them and that pissed group is just as loud, abundance, and opinionated as the other group. Let the kids have a day where they aren’t at the computer for all those hours. Let teachers regroup, especially my poor son’s teacher. I know he isn’t easy, but he’s so cute and lovable.

I applaud my school district. They are doing what they can to make things as normal as possible right now. They are trying to do the right things for their students, teachers, and parents. It’s just extremely hard to do the right thing when everyone seems to have their own opinion as to what the right thing is. Managing the expectations of everyone when no one is on the same page must be stressful enough. I think instead of fighting them every step of the way, maybe we give them some room to navigate these unprecedented circumstances. They are learning this at the same exact time we are. If we are not going to adapt, we are teaching our kids to be stuck in their ways and this just won’t serve them for the future. You need a little flexibility to succeed and thrive, both professionally and mentally.

We can’t control everything in life, as much as we may want to. I gave up trying to control things a long time ago and I couldn’t be happier. Sometimes you just have to watch things happen because the only thing that you can control is your reaction to things. Take the time to cherish this snow day, because you’ll blink and your kids will be moved out and you will wish you had this day again.

The Daily Adventures of the Verbally Abusive 8 Year Old

I feel like every day of remote learning is tearing away of what’s left of my sanity. Should the schools be opened because I’m losing my crap here? They should open when it’s determined to be safe enough. I chose to be a mother; I signed up for all of the mentally challenging parts as well as those joyous moments. My kid being more than a handful was probably my fault. I tried my best. I really did. The first one came out so well.

Joking aside, I have spent a good majority of most mornings being screamed at for entire chunks of the morning. He’s screaming about being tortured. How he’s forced to do schoolwork against his will. How sitting at a desk is torture and schools don’t care about kids and they just want to torture him and all he wants to do is play video games and revel in his defiance of everything that the adults say.

I wish I could say it was the remote learning crushing his spirit. The truth is that my spirited special boy is his own person. He spends his school day trying to work smarter, not harder. By trying out outsmart the teacher by logging minutes on things when he just “AFKs” and lets the minutes log while he pulls up game sites and YouTube on his Chromebook. It’s exhausting running in his space in the dining room, while he breaks the 1000000th headset of the school year and reminding him of all the work he should be doing. Then he shows me the work is turned in and everything is fine. It isn’t. He didn’t do it and just turned it in so that it looked completed to me. Then I get the message first thing in the morning about how he needs to the work he didn’t do the day before. Which starts this vicious cycle all over again.

I try so hard. I’m worried he will fail the 3rd grade because he doesn’t care about school. He’s 8 and doesn’t care about school. He doesn’t want to go to bed when he should. In fact, if he’s told to do anything against his will, he turns into a gremlin who ate after midnight and the wrath is felt by everyone in the house.

I try not to argue. You can’t argue with a 8 year old, especially when they start complaining about how they are suffering and being abused for having to do school work. I try to be patient, when all I want to do is scream at the top of my lungs and start physically pulling out the hair that is already falling out due to stress.

This is just a phase. He has anxiety and a sensory condition. It’s difficult to navigate this time, which is already pretty tricky. I take comfort in the fact that I’m told my husband was just as bad at that age. But, he turned out well as an adult. Not sure my husband put a metal toy in between the surge protector and the Chromebook cord out of boredom during school, causing the power in the entire room to go out. At least my oldest learned how to reset the fuse at the box, a valuable lesson for any adult to know.

We will make it through it together. We will navigate this tricky phase and come out better on the other side. The best I can do is make sure that he knows that he’s loved and supported, no matter how long he screams at me for being an abusive torturous mother for forcing him to do his work. I can hug him and let him know that he’s fighting for independence and I get that, but that at the end of the day he still just needs mommy cuddles. It’s hard for kids to manage their emotions, especially when they don’t even know what they are going through. It just takes some patience… and a bottle of wine after they go to sleep.

Remote Learning Will Never End

I feel like every day since remote learning started, I’m the fail mom. The one who has no idea what she’s doing because she is awful at technology. The mom who seems like the worst parent, because every day I get messages about how my child isn’t doing work. How he struggles with focus. It’s a rough journey that was supposed to end a few weeks ago but due to a spike in cases in the area, was postponed. The phase-in process for my youngest was supposed to take place on October 26 and was postponed indefinitely. My oldest was likely not going to school until the second semester. Again, who knows since his school was completely shut down due to a potential outbreak in the school (not cases contracted within the school, but people who attended parties outside of school, which led to potential exposure and quarantine of a portion of staff and students).

I wasn’t thrilled about sending them back, as I’ve mentioned several times here. I signed them up for in-person because I predicted that they weren’t going to go back for a while. I also did it because my youngest does need extra help because he struggles with focus. He needs to be at school with a teacher who knows how to accommodate his 504 plan. Sending him back does make it even more important to stay in my bubble. Not just to keep myself safe but to make contact tracing easier. Because my husband already spends a lot of time at various places throughout his work day that it makes it even more important to stay safe in a bubble.

I’m running out of ideas on how to make remote learning easier for us. I’m running out of ideas trying to play teacher while managing my workload. I don’t want to respond to the teacher, snapping “I’m doing my best here”, because I know that won’t help. She’s doing the best she can too. She probably doesn’t mean to come off judgey. Or maybe she does but doesn’t get to see that I am active in their education. I do ask to see if they did their work. I’m trying to do everything right and I fall short just like every other parent who is at home by themselves, trying to wear more hats than fit on their head.

I want this all to be over. I want this virus to just vanish as everyone tries to convince us it will. (In fact, I heard a rumor it was going to vanish after the election.) I want people to do their part so that the ones who’ve been doing the right things all along can finally get back to enjoying things. I want my kids to be safely at school. Maybe soon, I tell myself. Maybe soon.