Tag Archives: letting go

Gap Years are for Parents, Too

canstockphoto16603922I can go on and on about what we hoped for Emma while she was on her gap year, but I hadn’t really thought much about what it would be like for me. Her mom. She hasn’t called me “Mommy” in years. While I’ve never thought of myself as a clingy, helicopter parent, I’m realizing how much I was involved in her daily business and how much I did for her. My primary focus is as a stay-at-home mom. Yes, I’m a writer, but that comes second to my family and my ‘job’ as mom, wife, chef, chauffeur, tutor, laundress, book-keeper, scheduler, and valet.

What hit me yesterday was the daily emotional stuff and ‘doings’ of life. While at home, she would look to me for a lot of support in solving problems. I helped her figure out how to get from home to a friend’s house, organized driving lessons, bought most of her food– the kinds of things you do when your kid is still living at home.

With her across the world, we have had limited access to each other. She goes for a week or two without much communication at all–an email here and there. Our last FaceTime together was at Christmas. So, we haven’t “talked” in several weeks now. Most of her emails begin with “I don’t have much time, but I have SO much to tell you…” It can be frustrating at times.

When I get a lengthy email, I savor every word and re-read it several times to make sure I’m not missing anything. A week ago, she informed us she and her TBB traveling companion met “some guy” on the side of a road to buy train tickets in some sort of black-market -like exchange so they could go up to Rishikesh on their independent student travel weekend. A twelve hour train ride. Just the two of them, away from the group. In India. Once there, they had to manage their own hotel and entertainment for the weekend and get back to Jaipur. I barely managed to do that kind of thing in England when I was a couple of years older than she was.

Yesterday’s email came as a response to one I sent her about her brother’s first day skiing. I got a rather lengthy reply, and sandwiched in the middle, after a paragraph about how she’s working out at a gym and her concerns about American-style Big AG was this:

Anyway. The last few days have been insane. Last week I had a bunch of expensive jewelry I had bought (including a gift for you) stolen, as well as all my makeup and my hairbrush and perfume. All the stuff was in two little pouches in my bag…

She goes on to briefly theorize about who and how the things were stolen and jumps into a paragraph about visiting the City Palace and their weapons exhibit.

It was as I re-read the email for the third or fourth time that I realized whatever emotional upset and whatever drama was happening with her, she was relying on others to listen and support her. For her to relay a theft so casually to me means she had dealt with it when it happened and with help from other people. Her program leaders and fellow TBB students are her current go-to peeps. Not me! I’m not wounded by this as much as I am relieved. It’s a parent’s dream to see their child find their way in the world, to find friends and partners they can trust being a big part of that. Sure, I still want her to come to me for talks and advice, but I love knowing she can build a support system into her life with other people. It’s lovely to think “you don’t need me, you’ll be okay out there.”

(c) Can Stock Photo

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Fly, baby, fly…

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Emma with her packs and mini-mandolin.

Well, there she is. My nineteen-year-old baby off on a gap year. Okay, so it’s not exactly a year, but close ‘nough. Over the next eight months, she will be living and working in Equador, China, India and South Africa. She’ll have “enrichment” weeks like climbing Machu Picchu, visiting the killing fields in Phnom Penh, riding camels across the dessert, and going “on safari” in Africa. For the majority of her time, though, she will be working with NGOs in each location. She’s not doing this alone, but with a group of other students her age and three adult advisors.

Over the last year, we have talked about this trip to countless people. It’s hard to not have to go into some explanation why you need to buy a particular kind of clothing, shoe, or back-pack-like item. We spent ten minutes at the bank talking to the teller before she counted out the one and five dollar bills she needed. (Equador is the first stop and they use the American dollar as currency.) Emma posted about how inadequate and tiring it can be to talk about something in brief snippets in her first blog post.

When talking about the trip,the responses I get from other parents land pretty squarely in two camps. The first is enthusiastic, and the second is a large-eyed dismay covered quickly with a tentative question about how I feel about it. I know I am generalizing here, but the younger a child the parent has, the less enthusiastic they are. It makes sense. If you have a little baby, you can hardly begin to imagine them at a friend’s house for a sleep over let alone sending them around the world. I know when Emma was little, I used to worry about how she would do overnight, let alone for 8 months.

After reflecting on her preparation for this trip, I realize that a lot of how ‘okay’ I am with this has to do with the fact with how ‘okay’ she is with it. Sure, she was pretty nervous yesterday when we waved her off, but it was clear her excitement outweighed her nervousness. Part of this does have to do with her education and how it trained me to accept her leaving in incremental baby steps.

I’ve written about Waldorf education in the past, and most of you know I have a love-hate relationship with it. Her experience with the various class trips she had is something to LOVE about Waldorf. Starting in third grade, she went on an overnight sleep away experience on a farm. In fourth grade she was gone for two nights for their Potlatch, in fifth grade it was the Olympiad, and so on. In high school, they upped the ante and sent the kids on week long back-packing, hiking, and service trips. Each time, the experience got a more difficult or involved. Her final senior class trip included rebuilding a trail in Oregon. Each trip taught Emma something new about herself and how to cope with being away from home, family, and creature comforts. And, each taught me something new about myself as a parent and how to let go.

Am I worried? Yes and no. I know that Emma has the where-with-all and reserves to handle the home-sickness, lack of technology, and various other social issues that will come up. I am worried about the things I can’t control–the unexpected and random stuff that happens. Weather, earthquakes, crazy people, illness–they exist everywhere. The fact that I won’t be around to help her through anything like that…well, that’s the hard part.

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Flexibility, ya gotta have some

20130827-142237.jpgThose who know us are probably surprised by this photo. Yes. It is Eli, OUR ElI, on a bike. My feelings on the whole bike thing haven’t changed all that much. I am not thrilled to have bikes back in our life,but there it is. Sometimes, as a parent, you have to bend a little and meet your kids halfway when their heart is set on something.

Let me back up for those of you who are wondering what the heck I am talking about. You see, a few years ago, my husband was in a pretty bad accident. With multiple breaks and a crushed helmet, he was lucky compared to some. Without the helmet, he likely would have been a vegetable or dead. Sure, we know people who have suffered much worse, but this was more the last straw after a series of accidents over the long term. Bill hung his bike on the rack and that was it.

We were lucky our daughter showed little interest in riding, and she never pleaded the cause. It is easy to say no when no one is asking. Our son is entirely different. He’s been asking for a bike for years. I mean that with the legitimate literal use of the word “years”. We’ve said no over and over again, making it clear to anyone who asks that it is our decision, as his parents, that he doesn’t get to ride a bike.

People’s reactions have been mixed. I’ve had other parents in my face with how wrong it is to withhold the joy of riding a bike from our son. I’ve had other people shrug and look at us like we are lunatics but not say anything. I’ve run into blank stares, as if the concept wasn’t something easy to grasp. And, then there is our son who has been begging, lobbying, and annoying us about it every chance he gets. A couple of months ago, I was beginning to waiver. It was more about the forbidden fruit and how keeping him off a bike and the arguments around the bike were getting to be more a problem then letting him actually get a bike.

Between my own “meh” attitude and the difficult fact that we do not live in bike-safe territory, it is not just getting a bike. It is getting the bike and him to a safe place where he can ride away from heavy traffic. This means bike, plus our time–our time doing something that we don’t really want to do. In spite of the various mental hurdles, I was making preparations to do my own lobbying for a bike for his 11th birthday in September.

Then, a few weeks ago, he went off with his grandparents to Pennsylvania. While there, they bought him a bike to use on the lonely road near the family home. The genie, as it were, was out of the bottle, and my son was smitten. Even after he fell and had bloody flaps of skin on elbow and knee, he was back on the bike right away. He rode as much as he could while there and returned home with renewed vigor in his plans to beat us down.

He started in right away with an overt wailing martyrdom “I love riding, and I’ll never get to do it again….” But, underneath that loud and obnoxious statement, I saw a sincere grief in his watering eyes and quivering lower lip. He had experienced something new, wonderful and freeing. Anyone who’s ridden a bike knows what the sensation is like. I ached for him more once he knew what it was he was missing. The hypothetical loss of something fun and wonderful had turned real. Before, he just thought he would like it. Now, he knew it.

After much discussion, we decided to bend. A lot. I took my own bike in for a tune-up. We bought him a bike. Bill is looking at getting himself a new bike–his old one long ago gifted to a friend. Add in a new hitch and rack for my car to make it easier to get someplace where we can safely ride, and we have a new family activity to “enjoy.” Given that the big girl is on her way out of the country, she can’t really complain that we aren’t including her in something she has no desire to do anyway. That old saying, “If you can’t beat then, join them” is living pretty large around here.

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