Note: Strong sarcasm ahead. It is bred in me, and having just returned from the Boston area, where I grew up, it is on high gear right now. Also, while my kids have forbidden me to post their pictures or use their names, my son did give me permission to post any pictures of him when he was little.
For those of you who have been reading my blog, you may have guessed that the title of this post does not refer to some deeper social issue. Middle Man is my 19 yo son, who has been home from his first year of college and who is returning to school this week. And, if you’ve been reading (if you haven’t, well you should go back and read the other posts!) I did warn that this day would come: The end of summer would be approaching and I’d shift gears and suddenly feel some motherly remorse about things I said earlier, and start to pine for a little more time with my college age kids. The messes would seem trivial and I would realize the greater value of our relationships and just be satisfied to have this time with them, before they’re gone for good (cue: Cats in the Cradle)… Um, nope. No doubt the illusive Mother of the Year Award that I’ve been chasing for twenty-one years, is about to slip through my fingers again and somewhere my aunt, if she’s reading this, is saying: “Oh lord.” She is a much kinder soul than me. She’s the mom I turn to when in doubt. Sometimes I make her shudder, but she loves me.
While I am now a tad wistful that my son leaves in a few days, and we all know I’ll be tearful next week, the reality is: it’s probably time for summer to end. This has been a rough one for our family, not typical in many ways and pretty much a challenge for all involved. From my perspective, I was utterly unprepared for the directions things went this summer. To start with, having two kids in college has changed the dynamics of how our home is the rest of the year. It’s quieter for starters and much cleaner. Little Man (15) is generally an easy going kid, who doesn’t present a lot of challenges, when it comes to teen issues or behaviors that we need to address. He usually picks up his stuff when asked, says sorry easily, and likes to be around us. We are well aware that this is all a-typical. Having raised his two older siblings, we have no illusions that we are somehow wonderful parents who raised this great kid. We are just lucky… for now. (That is the other thing we know at this point: it can all change in one semester.) You put all the same ingredients a bowl, but that doesn’t mean you get 3 vanilla cakes. You’re bound to get some chocolate swirl!
So, back to Middle Man. He is as opposite from Little Man as two people can be. He has been the kid who tests all of our rules, all of our patience, all of our hypocrisies (“don’t leave your stuff lying all over” “ok mom, should I put your pile of papers somewhere, or do you want them left on the counter?”). Sharp as a tack; thoughtful when he wants to be; selfish with his smile or laughter, but able to melt me when he shares them; quick to let things go (unlike the rest of his family who seem to hold on tight to most issues); adventurous and fearless: something that makes a parent shudder, or beam, depending on the circumstances, and possessing a dry, clever sense of humor– me: “Do you think “blank” is gay?” MM: “No, why would you think that?” “Well, I can usually tell. There’s just something in his expression, something I see there, even though I hear him talk about girls a lot.” “Yea, he does talk about girls a lot. What do you see in his expression?” “Just something in the way he looks.” “The way he looks? I don’t think he’s gay, he just has bright eyes!” Left me snorting with laughter. These are all pieces that help make up the son that has challenged me at every turn. The kid who is most like me in many ways and the most different as well. My boy.
When he stepped off the plane, back in May, looking every bit the college kid who had partied all night and figured a 5 AM flight would still be ok, my heart nearly burst with joy. I was so happy to have him home again and really looked forward to a summer getting to know the new, maturer version of the kid we sent off in the fall. He dresses sharper, studies hard at school, cares about his grades, has good friends and is happy, thus: he must be almost grown up, right? Pause: let me just say here, I did know this was a fantasy. I may still have his (and his sister’s) little red boots by the front door, to remind me that he wasn’t always this big, but I knew he’d be leaving big, smelly sneakers in the middle of the kitchen floor, in no time. I did tell friends that I knew this summer might be challenging: His sister, Principessa (21), had been in Israel for an entire year and has embraced a much more conservative Judaism than the rest of us; Little Man is no longer a baby and at 5′ 8″ was ready to assert himself a little… I knew it would not be smooth and Brady sweet. I did see some conflict coming. BUT, in that moment, when he brought his bags out to the curb and gave me a big hug, my rose colored glasses had no smudges; I beamed the entire ride home.
Cue screeching breaks: The shiny, sparkly images in my head, lasted about a week. It had to change; any parenting book could have warned me. However, I tend to buy those and then not read them. No doubt, on pg. 54 (or earlier) of any guide to living with college age kids, there must be some well researched explanation for how and why it can all go wrong. For my part, the expectation that my calm, mostly clean, ordered environment would stay that way was plane old, ok, I’ll say it: Stupid. Duh. My middle aged brain must indeed be losing gray matter and IQ points to have thought otherwise. Again, the rosy vision lasted a week.
The rest of the summer has been a battle to get kids to: rinse down the kitchen sink (I’m sorry but I hate old food drying on my sink… nachos, THE worst!); move the dishes 6 more INCHES to the dish washer (a modern marvel that they can not understand works better for getting things cleaned, than say, leaving them sitting there); not leave stinky, dirty socks on the kitchen floor, kitchen counters, family room floor, sofa, you name it; not leave shoes every where; wet clothes in the washer until they mildew and stink (right, good that they put said clothes in the washer, but I’ve begun to question whether I should just buckle and start doing their laundry again… to avoid the mildewy stink!)… and while Middle Man does not hold the sole responsibility for all this, he seems to have missed all the Memos that his expensive college must have sent out (that comes with the tuition, right?), regarding how not to piss your mom off, when home for the summer. He is the only nacho culprit in this house and if I see one more pile of nacho remnants in my sink, I may implode.
Principessa brought her own unique issues in to the house with her kosher 2 burner hot plate, set up on the end of my counter, her kosher plates and cooking utensils and her new religious practices that make it impossible for her to eat any of my cooking or eat any of the foods our family has always shared. Gone are the gorge on crab summer dinners and cheese burgers. If I can’t cook for you, am I still your mom? Middle Man, in his razor sharp way of doing things has delighted in finding humorous loop holes in the Torah (Old Testament) and to the many edicts that sage Rabbis have taught, much to Principessa’s amusement or fury, depending on the issue or her mood. They have gone back and forth between fighting and trying to bond all summer.
Little Man has spent the majority of his summer (aside from his trip to Yellowstone) on the X-Box 360 or our computer, playing video games. Principessa and Middle Man have spent the majority of that time making passive-mostly aggressive remarks about that fact, harassing Little Man and venting to mom. They would cry foul if mom called it snitching or tattling, but it seems pretty much like snitching or tattling. Mom is sick to death of it. She agrees, but she’s tired of hearing it and of being put in the middle, trying to acknowledge that it’s not ok to be on video games all summer, but she’s not a bad mom for allowing it and there’s nothing “wrong” with Little Man for doing it… The fact that she’s talking in the third person, and fantasizing about kids going back to school, so she can move out of this ugly mom phase, is clear proof that it’s almost time for summer to end.
I have definitely been Ugly Mom for a number of days this summer. I admit it; I own it. I can also defend it: You try cooking for gluten free, kosher, vegetarian, “I don’t eat potatoes or tomatoes”, kids each meal. Fair, Principessa has agreed to cook all her food this summer, but you try feeling like the food you’ve worked years to perfect for your babes is no longer ok to eat (at all) and not be a little ugly. You see your boy come home bloodied and needing stitches from the Vancouver riots (Stanley Cup finals, and please note I’m from “Boston”) and stay pretty mom. Ok, so Middle Man was not burning cars or inciting mahem, but he was close enough to the action to end up cut and bloodied and needing those stitches. He was arrested during game 2 of the Stanley Cup play offs, and while there were no charges (they just rounded up a very large group of people and did not charge them), it is enough to test any mom’s patience to find out your kid has been in jail all night. There is banging up the car. There is the numerous nights out without letting parents know where he was. There are the messes and rule breaking. I maintain that all this might make any mom turn ugly over a three month period. And if you’re this mom: a tad volatile and not one to let much slide by, well Ugly dwelled here.
Middle Man can defend each of the points and no doubt most parents of 19 yo boys would argue that the mess and some upheaval just goes with the territory. Surely that’s all in the parenting books too. BUT, it made for an awful lot of buttons being pushed. The fact that I ran off to Yellowstone for two weeks is pretty much a testament to my inability to take home that Mother of the Year statue. I would probably have only thrown it at someone. Today, while chatting with Middle Man I noted that he has been the charming, sweeter son I so enjoy spending time with now that he’s leaving in 3+ days. His perception is that it was me who had the issues, not him. “I had a great summer mom,” he said, with that smile that melts me. No doubt darlin’.
I however, have struggled with the shifts and changes that came this summer. I am happy to see my kids growing up and I know that they are going to be good people who do exciting things in life, Middle Man especially. He has always been better at letting things go and moving on to the next exciting chapter. He makes fun happen and he’s made good friends and fun memories to show for it: a summer hoe down with 50 gallons of red jello, for jello wrestling; road trips to concerts; a mini-Woodstock by the lake, and more.
But I’ve struggled with holding on to my sense of self while he explores his. I’ve stumbled trying to maintain my own humor in situations that only he finds amusing. It is probably not the best attitude when you catch yourself hoping that some of your future grandchildren will be curfew breaking, party loving, nachos in the sink dumping kids, or worse, just so your own kids will see the points your making now. I’m tired of hearing me say “someday YOU will get this, you’ll see…” So, no wonder he is. What if he doesn’t? What if they don’t? What if my future grandchildren are wonderful kids who make everything easy and never push any limits for their parents (my children)? Would that mean that this was mostly me and my stuff this summer? Was it me having trouble accepting the changes that come with college age children or were the problems real? Or is it something in the middle, man?
How was your summer? Did you have children home and what ages? If your kids are in college, how have the home-comings gone? Share your thoughts. Tell me what you think.