The College Experience

Over the weekend, I was walking through the streets of New York City with a woman who had been a stranger up until the walk had begun. We had been thrown together by our daughters, who had gathered for a meeting with a group of their soon to be college classmates.

As this woman and I walked, we talked about the typical things that mothers of teenagers talk about. We started with college and choosing the right school; we talked of letting go and stepping up. We discussed work and children and the challenges and rewards of each different child. Our conversation even wandered to the care of aging parents.

Somewhere in the middle of our conversation, when I mentioned that I, too, had attended the college our daughters would attend, she asked me, point blank, if my college experience had been a good one.

I paused and took a deep breath as I gathered my thoughts. College was an experience. I had been young, as most students are, and struggling to find my way. It was not the best of times for me. “Well,” I started. “It was college. And as we gather life experience, we learn that in any situation, there will be good times and bad times.”

I went on to explain that for the most part, college was a good experience, but there were some tough times and some moments of incredible growth. I was a perfectionist. I took a tough load of courses and I demanded the best work from myself. College—like life, I suppose—is tough, but when you are eighteen, you don’t yet have the life experience to know that this is the case. You have high expectations, and you don’t think it’s possible to be on a campus with so many age-peers and yet, experience loneliness. There are things that all college students should know before they leave home. Here are just a few:

College is not the best four years of your life. I know you’ve probably heard this, but if it were the best four years, why would people keep working and striving? The best part of your life comes much later, when you’ve figured out who you are and what you are about. It takes awhile to get there. Be patient and enjoy the ride.

Don’t be so hard on yourself. Just because you have gotten into your first choice college (or your second or third choice…), and most of the time you might be happy about that, there will be times that are incredibly sad or difficult or challenging. That’s the way life is, and these years prepare you to face the sad/difficult/challenging times later on. The campus environment can’t protect you from the challenges, but it does provide a good support network to find help if you need it.

Give yourself time. You are living away from home for the first time. You will need time to transition to your new life, adjust to your new surroundings, and familiarize yourself with your new schedule—just as you would in any new situation. Don’t make a snap judgment and go home after your first—or fifth—night on campus. If you find you are homesick, make a commitment to try one new thing each day—even if it is just to take a different route to class.

Power through. It’s not always easy to keep going when things happen or when life rears its ugly head and wants to take you down. But as with any situation, you have to keep moving in a forward direction. Eventually, generally sooner than you think, you will find yourself back on course, and you will be happy you kept moving.

Take advantage of all that you have available. College campuses have a wealth of resources available to students. There are professors with a vast array of knowledge. There are classes in many varied disciplines. If you think you want to try out a course in a new subject area, do it. You will also have activities and lectures and events available to you. Choose wisely, but take advantage of what is offered. If something looks good, check it out. Who knows when you may have another chance like this?

Surround yourself with people who energize you. It is a fact that spending time with people you are fond of will help you adjust to the newness of your surroundings. It will make you feel connected, and it will give you a network to fall back on, and you will have a chance to raise others up, as well.

Most importantly, enjoy! While you are studying hard and involving yourself in all that your college campus has to offer, don’t forget to enjoy the moment. Take a minute to toss a Frisbee with a friend, grab a coffee on the way to class, or take a P. E. class so you can fit in some exercise. You will be glad you did!

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Time for Action

Dear Elected Officials,

Today is Ash Wednesday in the Christian calendar and also Valentine’s Day. It is a day to celebrate renewal, rebirth, and love. The perfect confluence of holiday and holy day.

And yet, here we are, once again shocked and bewildered by a mass shooting in a U.S. high school. We are listening to horrific accounts of students scattering to escape gunfire; hearing parents’ fear as they talk of receiving panicked texts from their children; watching the post-shooting press conferences as law enforcement officials talk of casualties. Here we are. Again.

And there you are, sitting on the floor of the House and the Senate, collecting your donations from corporations and organizations promoting their agendas. Lining your pockets with blood money. Living out your days of public service in affluence at the expense of our most vulnerable—our children—while you refuse to consider that the real problem with our county might just be a government that is sponsored by corporate interests.

Senator Chris Murphy stood on the floor of the senate, visibly shaken by the most recent news, and delivered a brief message before he moved on to business. He said you are all responsible, but then he ended with the statement, “We will hope for the best.” What?

Seventeen more lives lost, and you are going to “hope for the best”? Seventeen young people who will not make their contributions to the world. Seventeen what ifs. These were young people with their entire lives ahead of them, young people with great promise. They were everything to their families, just as your children are everything to yours.

Perhaps one of these students was to be the  brilliant mind to find a cure for the very cancer that could now take the life of your grandchild. Another of the victims would promote an innovative and workable idea to create lasting peace in the most intensely war torn regions of the world. One could have developed a system to recycle and purify the Earth’s dwindling water supply. And another would figure out a way to reverse brain damage.

We will never know what might have been. We will never see what these young people might have contributed to our society. Because they didn’t make it to their high school graduation.

Yes, Mr. Murphy, you and your colleagues are responsible. You cannot “hope for the best” while you sit on the senate floor and do nothing. In this case, “hope” is not an action verb. “Hope for the best” all you want, Mr. Murphy, but hope without action is for cowards.

It’s time, Senators and Congressmen, to take on the work of the people who elected you to office. It’s time to protect the right to life of the children already born. Risk the disdain of those around you and take some action. If you step out of your comfort zone and do rather than hope, you might just change the trajectory of our society.

{photo used with permission of my talented daughter}

Bread

My daughter was recently telling me about an experience she had at school. Her English teacher was talking about his experiences when he was younger. He told the students that there was a time when people started to realize that bread was not good for them, and bread companies almost went out of business.

“Can you imagine if that had happened?” he asked them. “There would be no bread anymore.”

“What do you mean there wouldn’t be any bread?” my daughter responded. “People would just bake their own bread.” Because that’s a simple solution.

But then she realized that her classmates were looking at her as if vines were growing out of her head and traveling down her back. “No one bakes bread,” they told her definitively.

At that point, I imagine she shrugged, puzzled, and went about her business. She turned to a friend and quietly said, “My mom bakes bread all the time….”

That afternoon, as she told me the story, I could only chuckle. “I have to agree with your classmates. No one bakes bread anymore.”

This was one of those moments when my daughter realized that even though she might think our family is completely normal, maybe it’s not. And it was a moment for me to recognize that my kids might be a bit sheltered.

So what if my kids live a sheltered life? If “normal” means we don’t eat home-baked bread, I’d rather not be normal!

 

Positivity Post: Helping out…

It was nearing lunchtime on a recent rainy day when one of my students appeared at my office door with a mystery that needed solving. She was breathless and dripping from her trek across campus. “Did I leave my jacket here last night?” she asked.

My memory completed a quick inventory of what I’d seen in the classroom that morning when I was cleaning up from last night’s late meeting. “I don’t think so, but we can check.” I stood and walked to the classroom door and flicked on the lights. A visual sweep revealed no jacket. “What does it look like?”

“It looks like this one,” she flipped up her hands, which were in her jacket pockets. “But it’s navy blue. I had it when I was tutoring, and I thought I brought it down here with me.” She sighed. “My ID is in the pocket.”

If you’ve been on a college campus lately—or had any contact with college students—you know that students need their IDs for pretty much everything—to get food in the dining hall, to unlock their dorms, to do their laundry…. This was serious.

“Do you remember when you last had it?” I questioned, taking on the diligent mom role, a role that seems to blend and bend into many aspects of my life.

“I wore it over when I was tutoring last night. That’s why I thought I might have left it in the meeting.”

Together, we went upstairs toward the tutoring room, but as I walked past the reception desk, I had a thought. “Hold on,” I said, stopping to check the drawer in the desk. The previous receptionist would sometimes put found items there for safe-keeping. The drawer was locked. “Not there, but let’s try the closet.” I opened the closed where we keep the mail, copy paper, and the receptacle for documents that need shredding. Two jackets hung from the rack, one of which was a navy blue windbreaker. “Is this it?” I asked, and her face brightened.

“That’s it!” she smiled.

I felt the pockets. “And your ID is in the pocket!” I handed her the jacket, and she left for lunch.

Now, I’m not saying it was my job to help this student find her jacket. In fact, it would have been very easy to send her off to find it herself. But it took less than five minutes out of my day, and because I know the building better than she does (and the places her “found” jacket was likely to end up), it made sense for me to help her. And the mom in me wanted to make sure she’d be able to get lunch….

A little kindness goes a long way, it seems. Not only did I help her find her jacket and ID, I scored some wins of my own. I gathered a few extra steps on my Fitbit, I had the satisfaction of making my student smile, and I was the recipient of her gratitude.

The next time I’m gong to send someone off to find something on their own, I might think twice. A little extra kindness goes a long way.

The College Search – Tips

I spent last weekend looking at colleges with my daughter. Of course, it had been my plan to complete this process a bit earlier this time around, yet here we are, the fall of senior year, we’re ready to launch, and we are just finishing up our college visits. However, I do think we are in pretty good shape. Of the final three remaining school visits, one is a third visit—to sit in on classes—at the current first choice school; one is an “official” visit to my son’s college; and one is a school that was added to our list just this week. Once those visits are complete, we’ll stop visiting. But for those of you just beginning this process—no matter the age of your child—I have compiled a list of helpful tips.

Start Early. Let’s face it. High school guidance is not what it once was. I remember in my public school days, we sat down with a guidance counselor and developed a list of the colleges we should investigate. That list contained safety schools, reach schools, and several schools in between. Perhaps that is why I have helped my children to create lists of schools that run the gamut. And then we have taken the time to investigate each school and visit the most promising schools on the list, a time-consuming process that should be started in late sophomore or early junior year. Even in the fall of senior year, our list is changing, evolving, and constantly re-ordering.

Invest your time. If you pay attention on the tours, you will know where you will be investing your resources—both your money and your child. If I am going to invest a good deal of money in a school, I want to know about it. Recently, I was on a tour with another mother who was so busy texting that she was not at all focused on anything the tour guide was saying. I felt bad for her daughter, who will receive little meaningful advice from her mother, and I also felt bad for the tour guide, who was more than aware of this mother’s inability to put her phone away and offer her full attention.

Be an advisor in the process. High school seniors are still kids in so many ways. The decision of which college to attend is a big one. My kids have always attended the local schools and been with the same people. How do they know where they will be happy for the next four years? I can gently guide and suggest, and I can push them complete each step of the college process. I can pay attention to things we see and hear on the college visits, but most importantly, I can listen to what my child is saying and how he/she is reacting on our various campus visits.

Don’t be afraid to say the things your child needs to hear. I have been known to comment on the minimal endowment of a school and how that shows fiscal instability. I have commented on the glaring lack of students on a campus as well as inattentive faculty and staff. I have also been known to say, “That wasn’t the cleanest campus I’ve seen,” because maintenance is often the first area where cuts are made. As parents, we can spot problem areas that our children might miss.

Trust your gut (and teach your son or daughter to do the same). Every college campus has its own atmosphere and feel. When you walk onto the campus, you will get a feel for whether the school is a place you will be comfortable or not. The students, the buildings, the attitudes are all apparent, and they all reveal secrets. Pay attention. Feel the feels. If you don’t feel enlivened and comfortable with what you see, it’s probably not the school for you. Then again, if you look around and think, “I could definitely be happy here,” maybe it is your school.

Watch your step. And finally, a tip for the wanderer. If you decide to wander around a school on your own, be careful. Some doors will lock behind you. Those with a school ID can use it to unlock the doors, but those without may find themselves trapped in a hallway or stairwell they didn’t intend to be trapped in. I have no reason (at least not one that I will admit) to know this information. I will just say, trust me on this one. Check all doors before you let them close.

As I finish up my second time through this process, I am constantly learning. Next time, I’m going to complete the college search earlier, especially because my youngest has very busy summers. But also, I have a feeling the third time around—the last time—I might be able to get it right.

High School Awards

Because this morning, I was grappling with how I would address this topic–one that is so important–I am reblogging this excellent post: http://www.karensargentbooks.com/blog/kid-doesnt-get-award/

A Mom’s Reflections on High School

When I was a teenager, I attended high school. Well, you’re thinking. Didn’t we all?

Yes, we did. But recently, I have become convinced that many of us block out the truth of our high school experience—the feelings of being a lone boat adrift on an endless sea—and that is a distinct barrier to effectively parenting our teenage children.

In reality, my high school experience is the single best training I have in my quest for effectively relating to my own teenagers, and I will be a better parent if I can tap into the feelings I had in high school.

If I can recall all the times I felt out of place and lonely, when I was laughed at or pushed aside, I will be able to relate to my children when they come to me in tears after being rejected or treated poorly by a peer or peer group.

If I can conjure the relief that came with the end of the school year and the long summer vacation, I will be able to reassure my children that two months off fixes a great many ills that have festered over the long months of a confining academic year.

If I can elicit the intense need I felt to stretch my wings beyond the walls of the school, I can help my children to see the promise of the future rather than dwell in the tedium of the daily life of cliques and classes.

If I can remember all the reasons I was never seen without a book tucked under my arm and all the times I used the book to hide, I can help my kids find their own healthy means of escape.

But most importantly, if I am able to reflect back on my own high school career with an honest perspective—remembering both the good times and the challenging, I can help my kids to recognize that high school may not be the best four years, but it doesn’t have to be the worst four years, either. Instead, it can be the beginning of a period of intense growth as they begin to discover who they are and what they want from life.

Yes, I attended high school. And yes, my four years in that environment can help me to better understand and empathize with my children. I will be a better parent if I can not only tap into the feelings of being in high school, but be willing to share those feelings and experiences with my own children.

And maybe, just maybe—as we navigate the challenges—I can convince my kids that they not only have the ability to make their own lives better, they also have the opportunity to better the lives of the other students they pass in the hallways.