After the longest summer vacation ever, the kidlings of the world are back to school, and that includes Singer Girl.
We packed a dozen suitcases and flew her back to Michigan a few weeks ago. If you recall, she attended a different university her freshman year, and quickly decided that was not her place. she attended a different university. Last year, she transferred to this school and started over. Now, as a Junior, she was ready for a year of really getting into her education, and enjoying all the normal experiences of college.
She was supposed to move into an apartment with her two best Wolverine friends, but one decided that the distance learning was not worth paying for housing, and chose to virtually commute. So the remaining two were put in an apartment with two strangers. It was kind of like starting over for the third time for my baby.
No in person classes, unless you count 3 times a semester for one class. No sorority formals or fraternity parties. No a Capella competitions. No football games.
She considered staying home, and taking everything online. But the apartment contract was signed, and we were gonna pay for it no matter what. And I told her that attending zoom-college in an apartment with other kids, in a college town, was way more of a college experience than logging in from her parents’ basement.
It’s not a normal college experience, buti t is HER college expereince.
Her 4 bed, 4 bath partemnt is super cute. It’s in a hge highrise complex, with a freaking amazing pool area in the middle (all teh aprtaments overlook the space, whch has grills and big screen tvs and lots of place to gather, hopefully safely).
She is getting along fine with her new roommates. She is cooking healthy meals (I’ve seen the instacart receipts and I feel ashamed when I compare her grocery lists to mine).
While we were still in Ann Arbor, we did some shopping for her place and helped her set up. We hit the farmer’s market, took her out for meals, and even got a date night in.
We sadly have no plans to visit. Originally we were going to attend the Michigan-Wisconsin game later this month, and I was way stoked about that. SIGH. Maybe next year…
As for HWSNBN and me, we are doing okay. The house is quieter, and clearner. I am way more prodctve with no puppies or kids around, and HWSNBN even goes into the office on most days.
I miss my girlie, of course, EVERY SINGLE DAY. If the pandemic had any silver lining, it was the amazing evolution of the relationship we have with our now-adult daughter. We sent more quality time together in the past 6 months than we have in the past 6 years (I know I’ve mentioned this before, but it is huge). It made it a little bit more painful to say goodbye this time, but it’s only 3 months.
I got this.
So there’s this bug going around…
No, I don’t have it — yet.
Am I the only one out there not freaked out, but still get that it is a real thing? I mean, I know I will likely get it, or at least be exposed to it if I haven’t been already. I also assume that, sadly, I will know someone who dies. That’s an awful thought, but the odds are likely.
In the meantime, I am not sitting around wringing my hands and obsessively watching press conferences or reading charts or graphs or statistics.
My life has changed, sure. Date nights are gone. So is any personal space. My activities at home have to be curtailed to accommodate our home being turned into an office and school space.
The first time it started feeling real for our family was on our trip to Seattle Feb 27-March 2nd. That was about the time it started breaking open in Washington. As we wandered through museums and tourist attractions, rode planes and Ubers and ferries and monorails, ate samples at food markets and didn’t wash our hands enough, the bug was out there, closing in.
On Wednesday the 10th, HWSNBN was sent home from work to self-quarantine. He hasn’t been back to work since. That was the first way the pandemic has affected the family. We are lucky that he is still working — but keeping puppies quiet during his conference calls has been challenging.
At my weekly marketing meeting for Secondhand Hounds, the animal rescue I work for, we discussed possibly changing our upcoming events. I reached out the next day, Thursday, to my upcoming puppy parties (that’s what I do: I run our puppy party division), assured them that animals can’t spread the virus, but if they wanted to reschedule, that’s fine. No one took me up on the offer.
The next day we sent another letter, informing that all events were canceled, whether we liked it or not.
About that time my daughter and son were starting to feel the ripple effects where they are.
Singer Girl goes to school in Michigan (Go Blue!). She loves it there. I told her to prepare for things to change. I told her that her A Cappella group’s trip to Boston would likely be canceled. She said no way (it was canceled). I told her folks would soon be leaving. She said no way. The local kids started heading home temporarily. The school canceled classes for two days to decide how to handle the situation. They went to online classes. She wanted to see what would happen with all the social stuff. When St Patrick’s Day and Aca prom and here sorority’s charity event were all canceled, she was stunned.
I told her she would be coming home soon. She said no. She was still working; in fact, she was working more than she ever had, to cover the shifts of all those who had left already. She also worried about exposing us to anything she had come in contact with.
I told her she would be coming home. She said she didn’t want to leave her friends. I said just start emotionally planning for it. She rolled her eyes, and we hung up.
Two hours later she called and said, “Ok: come get me.”
So last Thursday I drove 10 hours to Michigan. We packed her up the next day and drove back on Saturday.
Now, we all have to juggle wifi and quiet time so she can do her studies, HWSNBN can do his work, and I can stay sane while they step all over my routine.
Sailor Boy is supposed to change duty stations this summer — to Italy. Not sure if that’s going to happen now. The military is taking some major steps to deal with the virus, and his day to day life has drastically changed. He calls every day, and we discuss the latest development. Will he go to Italy? Will he stay with his current ship? Will he deploy? Will the navy help him move? Will I have to go to Washington and help?
Weirdly it’s like wartime. It’s what he signed up for, I tell him. In a lot of ways, this whole gig reminds me of what I imagined WW2 was like. Folks are sacrificing and stockpiling. We are being told to use supplies wisely. Many common items are hard to come by. People are churning out homemade masks and hospital gowns to protect health care workers. Neighbors are checking in on one another. Again, we all are waiting for that shoe to drop: who will we know that will pay the ultimate price?
Rescue is all weird now too. We have been told to stop doing spay and neuter surgeries. We’ve already cut our office staff to a skeleton crew. On the plus side, more people than ever before want to foster. Sadly, we are unable to take in as many animals as we usually do, as we have cut down on transports to minimize potential volunteer exposure. So we have fosters just waiting to help, and we can’t get needy animals to their waiting homes.
On a day to day level, my life isn’t radically different. I am not worried. My philosophy for most of my life has been to plan for the worst, hope for the best.
In 2015, I saw a movie that pretty much changed my life: Bridge of Spies. Tom Hanks stars as an attorney on cold war America, called upon to defend an accused Russian spy. He funds the situation distasteful, to say the least, but does his civic duty Upon meeting the spy in jail, Hanks’s character explains the gravity of the situation, while the accused spy calmly listens. hanks, exasperated, asks why he is so calm. Isn’t he worried?”
“Would it help?” the Russian replies.
Would it help? Does worrying help? No, of course not. It just stresses you out. So from that moment on, whenever I get that nagging feeling, I pause and take a breath. Rather than waste energy worrying, I take action. Do what I can to take control of the situation, then let it go.
That’s where I am now: I have done what I can to prepare. Now I breathe. And wait.
It’s the morning we move Singer Girl into her dorm, and into her new life. She’s in the bathroom getting ready, when suddenly — just like she always has — she starts singing.
No idea when I’ll get that spontaneous joy again. At home she always asked me to not listen. I lied and said I couldn’t hear her. I think she knew I lied. As long as we kept up the charade all was cool.
Now I couldn’t pretend anymore. It would be true — I would still be listening, but I wouldn’t hear her.
The night before, as we were wandering her effingly beautiful campus, she offhandedly remarked that this will be her only “first day of school” picture without Santa Bear. I doubled over like someone had punched me. UGH.
The months preceding this moment have been like walking on a Minnesota pond in early December: the ice might hold, it might not, so every step you hold your breath, listening for the subtle cracking, desperate to avoid the violence of a cold water bath. I learned that we only talked about things in tiny morsels, and if/when she freaked, I shut up. I dunno if it was the right way to handle things. But that’s true of every step of parenting: you gotta rely on instinct most of the time. You MacGyver through things, hoping that a paper clip, playing card and some chewing gum will get you through successfully.
As we got closer to the actual departure date, I grew a bit more frantic, knowing that there were things that needed to be done — didn’t every Facebook parent group keep telling me what I had to do? I had the checklists, and we discussed them. I said she didn’t need a steamer, she ordered one anyway, then decided to return it. Was I wrong to not get the famous Ikea blue bags? (Nah — we didn’t need them). Should I send her with her original Social Security Card or a copy? (settled for copy).
The night before she left, we hosted one last sleepover. HWSNBN thought I was nuts. I knew it would be an added layer of stress, but it would be worth it. I think it was also for me. As I looked at the pile of shoes strewn by the door, I knew it would be a long time until I saw that mess again. Her leaving was the end of something more than just no kids in the house — it was the end of my day to day job for the past 21 years. I had been laid off. But that’s another post…
The kids had a ball — scarfing crap, drumming and singing and being very loud all night long. I told everyone they had to be gone by 8am, as we were leaving for the airport at 9am. It was a slow, slow morning. I tried to give them all space, but as the clock ticked I finally had to rip off the bandaid. They all trudged upstairs, and convened in the driveway.
The girls clustered around her, laughing and crying and saying they couldn’t believe it. The boys stood awkwardly to the side, trying not to get emotional, discussing cars. I overheard the band’s bass player, a giant of a guy, semi-joking that this he might actually cry for the first time in years. I stood in the garage, out of sight, watching, crying, grateful that she had this group and praying that this wouldn’t be too hard.
After most of the friends left, Drummer Boy stuck around. My stomach was in knots. They went back downstairs to get the rest of her things. They looked shattered. At 8:45 I finally stood outside her door and said “honey, it’s time.”
She yelled through the door “NO!”
But she came out. He carried her suitcase for her. They clung to each other, and he left. My heart ached for them.
It was finally time to go. We loaded 6 suitcases and 5 carry ons into the uber, and we were off. At the airport, there was another mom and daughter wearing t shirts from her college. I wanted to say hi. Singer Girl looked at me like she would cut a bitch. To keep the peace, I bit my tongue. I posted on the college’s parent page instead, and gave the gal a virtual hello. No idea if she heard me…
On the flight, I couldn’t stop staring at my baby, touching her. Remember that first time you are alone with your newborn in the hospital, and all you do is gaze at them? Yeah. It was like that. I couldn’t keep my hands off of her either — which would’ve been fine except her arm was sore from one of the last minute vaccinations I made her get, and I kept forgetting. Nothing like pressing on a bruise to make someone remember you (now that I think of it, it’s all like pressing a bruise, isn’t it? Little, constant, painful reminders of the passage of time. Blech. Very maudlin.).
To her credit, she actually seemed to find my frantic devotion cute. She humored me all weekend long when I had spontaneous attacks of leaky eyes (yes, I packed waterproof mascara).
My biggest fear about her leaving was that she wouldn’t enjoy it. She was soooo unexcited, whereas I remember being so pumped I don’t remember anything about moving in. I mean, I know my parents were there, but my strongest memories of the first day of college was meeting my roommate and choosing wear to hang my Van Halen poster (sorry Mom).
Move in was fun and busy and exciting and exhausting. I thrive with a project and organizing is like oxygen to me. It’s the one thing I KNOW she got from me. I also recognized the process, and her need to make this her space. I asked her opinion and permission on everything, even though I of course knew how it should be done. HWSNBN stood floundering in a sea of boxes and packaging. I pulled him aside and said “just do what she says and no one will get hurt.” That evening he looked at me, stunned, and revealed he had no idea move in would be so exhausting. I reminded him that the last time he handled a college move he removed the screen from his second floor apartment window and threw his belongings into the back of a pickup.
We had planned to stick around until Sunday (moved her in on a Friday) as we were so far away and knew she would need to run errands. After move in, we went to dinner then shopped a little — she finally agreed that naked cinder block walls were not attractive. We found a big wall hanging, and we agreed to pick her up in the morning and do some more shopping. By the end of the weekend, we had done Office Max, Kroger’s, Home Depot, Urban Outfitters, Bed Bath & Beyond and Target (twice).
On campus the school had arranged barbecues and concerts and speeches. I cried at everything. She patted my arm and grinned. Every now and then I saw a spark of excitement — although she would never admit it when I asked her about it. She would reveal things slowly. She and her roomate had wandered around the first night meeting people. On the second night she did the same with other people. After a week there, she was “out with friends.”
Good news bad news: we never hear from her. I am trying to be respectful and not bug her. With every online post I see about kids begging to come home, I breathe a little sigh knowing that if she isn’t calling me, it can’t be that bad. She has asked to come home for her high school’s homecoming, and that’s fine.
Me? I realized when I got home that she had done an excellent job of training me for this moment. I never saw her when she was living here, so it doesn’t feel that different. I cried so much more when we were with her than I do now. In fact, I cried more writing this than I have in all the time she’s been gone.
But moments get me. This week we did the state fair for the very first time without kids (could’ve used her help eating some of the food). This weekend we go up to Madeline Island, Wisconsin, like we have for umpteen years — first time without a kid, or a dog, for that matter (double ouch).
Can’t believe she won’t be laughing at her parents’ weird friends at our annual Halloween party.
This is the first fall in seven years that I haven’t volunteered at the high school’s freshman orientation.
She will be okay.
Eventually she will text me without being prompted — or without needing something.
It’s hard, but it’s supposed to be. I look forward to seeing what happens next for her.
But in the meantime — you know those Facebook “on this date” memories? They are awesomely cruel bits of nostalgia. Thanks, Zuckerberg, for both treating me with glimpses of days gone by, and reminding me of all the everyday shit I am missing. Can’t decide if I want to strangle you with your damn black T shirt or buy you a new one.
Hmm… wonder if Singer Girl needs a new t shirt?
Got back last night from Syracuse, NY, where Singer Girl was auditioning.
As you’ll recall from my last post, ’tis been a bit stressful around these parts. I have been trying to find my inner grown up, and held my tongue and smiled pleasantly a lot over the last few days. We flew in a day early to tour the campus. I had already decided to spring for the club level at the Sheraton — a brilliant call, if I may say so (and I may. It’s my blog, after all). The extra cash got us free breakfast, and snacks and our own bar in the evenings, plus the club room was open 24 hours.
That was the best part. Singer Girl was wound a little tight. She has always been angry if anyone was home when she needed to rehearse, often refusing to even do a warm up unless I left the house (so she didn’t warm up. Until she pays the mortgage, she is not kicking me out of my own home, thankyouverymuch). But because of the club room, she got the hotel room to herself for awhile, and I just took my laptop and hung out with Mr. Wine. Win-win, wine-wine!
When she texted me the all clear, she was starving. Room service was an obvious choice, as we were travel worn and not willing to put shoes, or bras, back on and go out in public. But I pulled a teaching moment: if she wanted a steak brought to her under a silver platter, SHE needed to place the order. She was horrified. She refused. “I can’t! I don’t know how!” I shrugged, and said I didn’t need to eat. She, however, was ravenous. She stared at the phone, terrified, absolutely flummoxed on how to start (kids these days.) I showed her the little button on the phone that said room service, and she dipped her toe into the shallow waters of independence. A hurdle had been crossed. A woman dependent on over-priced mashed potatoes and tiny salt and pepper shakers was born.
Next day was the tour, which was cool. Very pretty campus, Syracuse. People were friendly, weather wasn’t anything we weren’t used to, school seems to have what she needs. The rest of the day we were hotel bound; she did homework and texted Drummer Boy, I worked on planning parties for puppies and high school seniors. That evening she needed more practice time, and so I was sent to “my room,” where I met my new best friend. The lovely gal working the bar greeted me with a warning: “I pour big.”
Come to mama!
My already-oversized glass brimming with Merlot, I sat down and worked some more. A little later the Wine Fairy brought over a second glass — on the house — also perilously close to overflowing. Damn, gurl. I’m not sure what work I got done, or which emails I sent, but if you got some sloppy declaration of love, I apologize. And I hope I didn’t volunteer for something new… My Bartender Angel announced she had to close up — would I like anotherhouse? Um, I had barely finished half the second one — but she insisted on topping it off.
Needless to say: if Singer Girl ends up at Syracuse, I know where I will stay for parents weekend.
The next morning was the audition. I tiptoed around the room, giving her her space. I watched surreptitiously as she pulled out her wardrobe choices. We had yet to discuss clothing options, as I was fiercely rebuffed on the subject last week. It’s a delicate dance, when asked “do you think I should wear this or this?” when neither are what you would’ve picked, but her only choices are what’s in the suitcase and it’s not about you anyway. Several changes later, she was ready, looking very cute, even if not wearing what I had read she should wear.
But she was right, and I was wrong.
Yes, she was the only girl not in a skirt or dress. Yes, her bra straps showed. Yes, she wore bright yellow doc martens instead of the more modest dark colored boots and heels of the other musicians. But she was herself, and the others in the room sort of regarded her as a threat for being so unique. The judges in the audition told her they just loved her boots. She bonded with one over their shared love of Led Zeppelin. She came out of that audition beaming, lighter than I’d seen her in months. I don’t know if she got in, but she was glad it was done.
Next week we fly to Miami for her second and last audition. I learned this week that most of the musicians were doing auditions numbering in the double digits — made me nervous we were putting her eggs in too few baskets. That thought re-occurred when I learned that at Syracuse they were only accepting 40 students in the music school for 2018 — and only 10 in her program. Gulp. But she will be good. I have faith in her — those boots were made for singing.
I don’t know what she will wear for the audition in Miami — but I know it can’t be the same outfit. We did have one crisis moment: she had left the waiting room to go warm up, then came back a few minutes late, loudly whispering, “Hey mom! I need your help!”
I rushed out, eager to see what she needed. Was it a word of encouragement? A hug?
Nope. Her zipper broke — did I have any safety pins? I did not. But this was my moment. My MOMent. Why I was there. I rushed about, asking total strangers for safety pins. It was looking dire. I finally found a woman in an office who dredged some out of her junk drawer, plus requisitioned some cute “Go Syracuse!” buttons that were to go on jacket lapels. It wasn’t pretty, but her pants stayed up. And I helped. We’ll never forget that moment — even as she had one foot out the door, on her way to the future, she had to turn back to mom one last time.
No matter what happens in Miami, we will always have Syracuse.
(Oh yeah: I finally got my new car! She’s a 2018 Mazda Cx9, and I luff her. Actually bought her last weekend, but we decided to add a few things — roof rack, remote engine starter and some rust protection coating stuff, as car warranties against rust are null and void in Minnesota, the land of road salt. They’d have had her ready mid week, but we were going to be gone, so we waited until today. Went to get my new wheels — and we couldn’t register the remote starter as the computer insists that it already belongs to someone else. The baffled staff had never seen that before — so they need to bring her back in to get that fixed. Of course. Two steps forward, one step back!)
Is it wrong to be excited about that empty nest opening up in August?
Don’t get me wrong: I love Singer Girl. She and I are getting along better every day — instead of me asking her to sit down and watch TV, she’s the one who asks “do we have anything taped?” No matter what I am doing, I stop it to sit next to her and roll our eyes at the drama queens on America’s Next Top Model or to critique the designs on Project Runway. But life always must happen on her terms.
I am not allowed to ask her questions about high school, music or college. It’s not that she is hiding anything: my “prying” revs her stress meter into over drive. Case in point: I happened to be reading about what to wear at auditions on College Confidential (great site — have you seen it?). This week we fly to Syracuse, where she will sing for her collegiate supper. Next week we do the same in Miami. I texted her:
“Have you thought about what you are wearing for your audition?”
I said we should chat, that it should be more conservative than stage wear, cute but covered.
“I’ll deal with it later.”
I suggested we work on it over the weekend, so as not to be stressed last minute. I got 4 abrupt texts in succession.
“I’m not gonna focus on that…I’ll do it when I pack…I have to write and record 3 songs before we leave. I’m not gonna focus on my clothes.”
I asked if I could maybe glance in her closet for options. I was rebuffed. I could tell she was stressing about all she had to do, so I encouraged her to ask me for any help — and said I assumed she wasn’t doing anything over the weekend so she could focus on audition prep. Being the stupid mom that I am, I was unaware that she had committed herself to several things over the weekend. “Just calm down I know what I’m doing.”
And I lost it, angrily pointing out that I am just trying to help and perhaps she should be a bit more grateful.
And I have felt guilty ever since.
Why can’t I be the grown up? Why can’t I just remember that she is under a level of stress the likes of which she’s never had before? Why can’t I remember that I am her safe place and not take it so damn personally when she snaps at me?
I know she shouldn’t treat us like this. Saturday we arrived home from car shopping (I bought one finally!), and were surprised to see her at home. She had a gig Saturday night and we thought she would’ve been gone already. She basically ripped our heads off, snarling “don’t start! Just don’t speak!” The next day, I received a text from HWSNBN, and I could feel the steam rising from the phone. Evidently she had been furious with him for deigning to ask where she was gong — with his car. Mind you: both of these fights would’ve been moot if she had just bothered to put gas in HER car, but no. Ain’t nobody got time for that!
When we calm down, and find a quiet moment, she and I both agree we are just too quick to insult and anger. That we know I am just trying to help, and that she is just trying to survive. I remind HWSNBN that we need to remember that she probably DOES have this — we’ve never once had to tell her to do her homework. It’s a fine line though, between pride and sorrow, relief and frustration, when your kid really is trying to not need your help.
Oddly enough, when she does ask for help, we roll our eyes and grumble about her not being able to do things for herself. Friday HSWNBN and I went out to dinner with friends. Soon started receiving a flurry of texts. Could she and Drummer Boy eat the steaks I bought for dinner the night before (on a night I assumed she would be home but, of course, she wasn’t)? Yes. Where are they? In the freezer. How long will take them to defrost. I don’t know, depends on how you do it. So how should I do it? How should I cook it? How should I chew and swallow? I finally told her to google it and let me eat my own dinner in peace.
Sometimes I hear this voice in my head chiding me, asking how I could let her speak to me the way she does. And I do get angry about it. Am I doing the right thing letting her use me to absorb her emotional stress? HWSNBN thinks she is in for a rude awakening when she has a roommate — or a boss. When I mention this to Singer Girl, she snarls back that all of her friends think she is super nice to me and that I am the one with the attitude problem. My guess is that all of those kids are treating their parents similarly, and don’t want to admit they could be wrong. And I am guessing that all the parents are feeling like I am.
In two days we board a plane. I always hope that these trips can have some fun — and she sullenly reminds me that this is not supposed to be fun. I hold out that it can be. I also cling to the idea that in a few weeks, when it is all out of her hands, she will have a little less to yell about, and we can find some more couch time.