Leaving Them at College

Zach college 6On August 31, 2014 we left Zach at college. Ten hours away. Lots of people do it every single year. Many of you have done it, survived, and are no worse for the wear.

I’m in process…

Zach - U of MThere are few circumstances in life in which we can so acutely feel opposite  feelings simultaneously; this is one of them. I could not be more excited for Zach. This is the university he has wanted to attend for so long, delivering him to this campus was exciting!

But then hugging him one last time Sunday morning was one of the hardest things I’d done in a very long time. Ten hours is a long way away.

Family Support :)
Family Support :)

When he stayed at home his freshman year and attended Indiana-Purdue University near home I had to get used to him suddenly being around some of the days – in my space. It was different after years of a quiet house while they all went to school, but I adjusted and we found a comfortable rhythm. Now it’s very quiet once more and I’m adjusting again. I’m confident I’ll be comfortable in short order, that’s not exactly the hard part. The hard part is waiting for him to feel comfortable and connected all those miles away. He will. I know he will. But this is the hard part.

Zach - family shotSo it’s both ~ happy and hard. When I feel sad, I promise you it’s not that I want him here, he was ready, prepared and eager for his next phase.  It’s just that launching your kids out of the nest leaves most of us feeling empty inside for a spell. My sister called the morning of Day 1, before she called I had assessed how I was doing and the verdict was well. The sun was shining (a guaranteed spirit lifter) and I was ready to move through the day, but then she asked how I was doing and I burst into tears. Oh my goodness, that took even me by surprise.

Courtney joined the road trip to Minnesota
Courtney joined the road trip to Minnesota

There does exist a bit of a grieving period. I will never again be in this particular mothering phase with this particular child ~ the door is closing. The little guy who needed so much from me his first four years, who endeared himself to me with his adorable voice, scuffed cowboy boots, blue eyes, white-blond hair, whose love of a night-time song in the rocking chair, and whose miniature hand disappeared in mine, well…he’s growing up and suddenly one day my hand felt small in his.

I do realize he’s been growing all along, but trekking 600 miles across the midwest caused it to hit me in a new way. There have been so many “lasts” along this mothering journey ~ and there are times you become keenly aware that you didn’t even notice many of them as they came to pass. When did the last tea party happen with his sisters? Where are those cowboy boots, and when was the last time he held my hand as we walked to get ice-cream?

U of M with Minneapolis Skyline
U of M with Minneapolis skyline

Happy and hard. When the hard part washes over me, I tell myself this is part of the process, so step in and feel it. The happy, content, and proud part exists underneath all of what I am experiencing. We invested much into raising future adults after all, not children, and he keeps taking the next steps in that process. This does my heart good.

Saying good-bye to Emma was hard too.
Saying good-bye to Emma was hard too.

 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  Jeremiah 29:11
May the Lord bless and keep you Zach.

When Your House is Under Your Dorm Room – A Different Perspective

Zach guest blogs today to tell his perspective of living at home while going to college ~

When I decided to stay home for my first year of college my parents worked hard to make sure that it didn’t feel like another year of high school. This took a lot of changing, but the main thing for me was realizing that I needed to accept both sides, that I was now a college student, but also living at home. So I knew that my freedoms would expand, but I also lived in my parent’s house.

The first thing was changing my room. I had originally decorated my room in elementary school, so it was ready to do some maturing. It was important to pack up all the small stuff that I wouldn’t have taken to college with me anyways, because I didn’t want to feel like I was living in the same environment that I had since I was a child. A new room allowed me to feel like I was actually transitioning from high school to college, even if it was the same room I had had since I was four.

Another important thing for me to do as a commuting student was to get involved at school. Although IPFW was not my first choice I knew I had to make the most of my time to make sure I didn’t have a bad experience. I made sure that I lifted in the weight room on campus, I joined the wrestling club, I played intramural flag football, and I attended each and every free food event provided by the school. Every one of them. Even if that meant being late to class. Free food is that important. This helped me to feel like I was a part of the college atmosphere, so that every minute not spent in the classroom wasn’t spent at home.

The rules around the house were good too. They allowed me to have even more freedom, with the understanding that I still lived at home. I was able to have friends over at any time; this helped for those night that I was up late studying, as well as those nights where I hosted Madden tournaments because class didn’t start until 11 on Thursdays. My parents allowed me to have the freedoms of being a college kid. There were nights where I told them that I didn’t know if I was going to come home or if I would spend the night at a friend’s house, and all they asked was that I let them know. There were nights where I was out longboarding with friends downtown until 3am without any questions about what I was doing, because there wouldn’t be if I went away to school. These were freedoms that I did truly enjoy, because I could feel like I was away at school, even if I still lived at home.

A few things didn’t go as planned, but they were things I had to adjust to because I was still living at home. There were days that I was asked to get up early to take Erin somewhere, and I knew that if I was off at school that wouldn’t have happened, so why did it now? But it was because I did still live at home, and I still had to contribute. Or where the “letting us know where you are going” turned into “please put your schedule on the calendar” and that wasn’t a problem, it just wasn’t what being away at school would be like, but then again, I didn’t go away to school.

Overall the year went really smoothly. I had a lot of fun, made a lot of new friends, and enjoyed living at home for one last year. It was a perfect transition phase, and that was because my parents were willing to change how they treated me so that I could truly feel like a college student.

Read the original post, When Their College Dorm Room is Upstairs…in Your House, here.

When Their College Dorm Room is Upstairs…in Your House

When our son, Zach,  turned down his first choice of universities to accept a scholarship from a college in town, I considered how to help him still have the college experience while still living at home…sleeping in the bedroom he had been sleeping in since he was four years old. Here is what I came up with to give him a little feel of dorm living while still living under our roof.

Zach's Room 2011

The first thing I suggested was that Zach go through his room and remove ANYTHING he would not have taken to college. That adorable picture of him and me when he was two – box it up. The dresser knickknacks accumulated over the years, and the books on the bookshelf from younger years – box those up too. I provided him a plastic tub so he didn’t have to get rid of anything, just box it up now and go through down the road.

We gave him some funds to purchase new bedding, and then we sent him to Lowes to pick out paint for his “dorm room”. We had him paint his own room – giving valuable experience in wall prep, taping, painting, cleaning brushes ~ as well cleaning paint from the carpet! He received a mini-fridge for graduation, so that came up from the basement storage area and went in his room as well – which he kept stocked all year with an abundance of chocolate milk, Gatorade, and Coke! He and I picked up a small corner desk to give him a study space. He decided he wanted his own TV, so off he went with some of his graduation money and purchased one. Slowly but surely the space was transformed, looking less like his old room and feeling a more like a dorm room.

Lastly his dad and I sat down one evening with Zach and went over the Dorm Perks & Rules. Here they are:

  • We offer free Wi-Fi!
  • We offer free printing!
  • Quiet hours after 11:00 PM on weekdays.
  • All friends are welcome to come over anytime – may have to work with your sister on reserving the basement.
  • You don’t have to ask us if you can go anywhere or do anything – but letting us know would be respectful.
  • When you come in late, come in quietly.
  • We are not a co-ed dorm  :)
  • We are an alcohol free dorm – except for the RA  :)
  • We are a drug-free dorm – no exceptions  :)
  • Unlike other dorms, we are open over winter, spring and summer break – you are welcome to stay over these breaks!
  • We do not have a healthcare facility on site, but we do offer free healthcare!
  • We will offer you a $20 weekly gas stipend – if you had gone away and lived on campus you would not have the added financial cost of driving to and from campus each day.
  • We offer an all inclusive meal plan, with options available 24 hours a day – totally free to you!
  • You will be expected to voluntarily contribute to a minimal level of house chores weekly. This includes bringing the garbage to the curb.
  • On occasion, (but not often) you will be expected to pick up or drop off your sister.
  • In the winter, you will be expected to sometimes help shovel snow.
  • We will expect you to communicate to us if we are not being respectful of your need to have study hours.

Most of this was tongue in cheek as you can see, but it seemed important to lay out what was in our heads so no one was guessing about what was expected. Since we had never done this before, we said we would schedule an assessment of the Perks & Rules in 6 to 8 weeks. Scheduling it was important so that if things weren’t going so well we already had a plan to address it, and if things were going well, it would be a quick meeting.

Zach’s freshman year has come to and end – I believe it went pretty well, but I have invited him to be a guest writer here on this topic later this week so you can hear his perspective as well. I am sure there are things he experienced that we could have done better, and because  I love sharing things that go well as well as learning through things that don’t go well, I have asked him to share openly and honestly.

I admit there were times I had to intentionally remind myself that he wouldn’t have to answer to us if he lived away at college, so I made efforts not to ask a lot of questions. I wasn’t concerned about him making crazy choices that were going to derail him so I tried to change my verbiage from ‘What time will you be home?’, to ‘Have fun!’ He had to experience more freedom if he was going to feel good about living here, so I had to shift what I expected of him.  It wasn’t natural to let go so swiftly, but it was important to the process so I worked at it.

Univeristy-of-MinnesotaDuring his freshman year, Zach applied for and was accepted into a program that has given him the opportunity to transfer (on that scholarship!) to his number one university. In 10 short days we will get in the car and drive him to his next dorm room – 10 hours away. I have a feeling I’ll have to intentionally work at a lot of new things very shortly.

Summer 2014
Summer 2014


The Hard, Good Choice

To understand the decision our 18-year-old son made, there needs to be a little background. All his life, Zach has loved Minnesota and has hopes of living there someday. He supports each of their professional sports teams, has purchased more jerseys than I could count, and early on knew he wanted to attend the University of Minnesota. Kevin and I were both born and raised in Minnesota, so this passion for our home state has been endearing to us.

He applied to several colleges but we all understood the University of Minnesota was his number one pick. When we went on our college visit he noticed, walked over to, introduced himself, and had a conversation with Rodney Williams, Maurice Walker and Andre Hollins, all Minnesota Gopher basketball players, whom he had just watched play in the NIT basketball tournament! The deal was sealed in his mind. This is where he wanted to spend four years, and thousands upon thousands of dollars…both ours and his.

He was beyond thrilled with this arrived:

But the boy is smart. He used his math skills to figure out how much tuition (out-of-state) would cost for four years. He then sat down with his dad and went over the college funds that will be available to him from the Bank of Mom and Dad (we’re actually less like a bank and more of a pre-loaded debit card – when it’s gone, it’s gone. And it won’t fully fund four years.)

One of the colleges he applied to, and was accepted at, was Indiana University – Purdue University Fort Wayne, otherwise known as IPFW. As he began to look at the data he had gathered, he began to wonder about staying at home for 1-2 years to begin his college education in town at IPFW. The many saved dollars on the front end would allow him to transfer to the University of Minnesota and likely leave college debt free.

Then this arrived:

Yep. A scholarship from IPFW.

The boy is also wise. Simple math led to a difficult choice ~ the numbers were just too favorable for him to pass up. He had two goals, one to graduate from the University of Minnesota, the other to graduate debt free. So Zach accepted the scholarship from IPFW, got in touch with the University of Minnesota to make sure each class he registers for now will indeed transfer later. We went to orientation, he registered for classes, and he begins college in the morning. He made a hard, but good choice, but in the end it will pay off as he is on track to graduate both debt-free and from Minnesota.

I’m proud of you.
Love, Mom

Later this week I will write about how we helped him move into his dorm room – which happens to be upstairs in the room he has been sleeping in since he was four.

Small things

Our shy little boy grew up, and last week graduated as a outgoing tall young man. I’m so proud of his hard, dedicated work all throughout his many years in school, but I am most happy about who he has become – apart from what he has done.

This morning he left for a week in Florida with another family, but evidence of who he is showed up at home as I went to get the mail just now. He had a goal of getting all his thank you notes written and in the mail before leaving for Florida; I saw him as he sat at the desk writing, and writing, and writing. He was so quick about getting the first batch of thank you notes in the mail that he forgot to put stamps on all of them! He left a note on the mailbox asking the mail lady to put them back in our box, and indeed she moved them from the dropbox to our box and they went out again the next day with stamps!

Today I opened the mailbox and saw two thank yous with no stamps and no addresses. It cracked me up ~ I thought to myself, he must have been very tired when he wrote these. I smiled and pulled them out of the box. But quickly, I saw he had forgotten nothing…these were put in the mailbox as is, on purpose, for Kevin and me, as well as Erin. He had forgotten nothing, and no one. Though we are his parents, he didn’t take for granted our gift, our time, our efforts.

Parenting ~ we parent to the big things in life, and to the little things. And sometimes it’s the little things that reveal that the big things are in place.

A Car Accident, Dog Poop, Spraying Sprite and Perspective

It all began at 6:30 AM ~

It’s the last day of school! A full summer looms ahead of us! Beginning in eight hours and five minutes, ‘Summertime, and the livin’ is easy’ becomes our slogan. I. cannot. wait.

I dropped the youngest off at school and began to head home with the radio on, coffee cup in hand, and JOY in my heart. It’s going to be a great day as I prepare for the festivities for the last day of school!

There was a very long line of cars waiting to drop kids off and I could see an accident up ahead – someone had rear-ended someone else – I drove by slowly, this is what I saw…my 17 year old son talking on the phone and waving his arm at me! My daughter is on the grass with 2 other passengers. I pull over and run across the street. Please nobody hit me as I dart through cars, and Why, oh why, didn’t I wear a bra?!! Oh yeah, because I am still in my pajamas!!

“What happened? Is everyone OK?!” Tears are in my daughters eyes, and my son, although steady and mature as he calls the police, is shaking. Yes – they are all OK. He rear-ended the woman ahead of him. She was driving a brand new Buick Enclave. Of course she was. The front of my husband’s beloved red Mustang is pretty smashed, and her vehicle is going to cost some big money to repair. Awesome. As I try to talk to her, I understand anger, it’s the second time she has been rear-ended by a teen boy. Poor her. Seriously.

A family friend comes to pick up Zach’s passengers and I sit with Zach as we wait for the police, and then while we wait for the report to be written up. I put a hand on his back and try to assure him that it’s only money, it’s only cars, no one was hurt. This is what matters. (Although consequences await, they are not at the forefront of this moment). I’m compassionate and I’m frustrated, a slower speed would have avoided this. Eventually he is released from the scene, he goes on to school, and I drive home.

Once  home, I can feel that I’m a little shaken. I made a quick phone call, jumped in the shower and rushed to get ready as I needed to get to the middle school awards and was now running late. I hurried out of my room, through the kitchen…….wait…“Why does it smell like poop?” There on the rug, by the door is a BIG pile of dog poop. Awesome. I decide to just toss the whole rug out the door and deal with it later – as I do that, the poop falls off the rug and onto step right outside the door. Of course. I will get to that later, and I will hope Courtney doesn’t step in it. Then I ran out the door.

I got home from the awards (we will take perfect attendance as an award for Mr.), I take care of the poop, run to the grocery store to get what I need for teen boys that are going to be at my house – oh yeah, and drinks for a party Erin is going to that evening. Back from the store, I unload and put away groceries, make pasta salad, realize I have forgotten a vet appointment, greet Kyler as he comes home from his last day of 7th grade, drive to Zesto’s (our last day of school tradition for 12 years) with Kyler to meet Erin and Zach for ice-cream. Ahhh….ice-cream makes everything better, at least for a moment. When we get home, Erin asks for S’mores stuff in addition to the pop.

“I already went to the store, why didn’t you ask me yesterday?! And why am I sending drinks and smore’s stuff to a party someone else is having?!” (Yes….all that actually came out of my mouth. My goodness. So embarrassing.)

Her older sister swiftly steps in to save the day, and off they run to the store for smore’s stuff. When they get home Erin opens a case of Sprite to put in a cooler with ice, and  6, maybe 7, cans roll off the counter and onto floor – one after another in rapid succession and now there is Sprite spraying e-v-e-r-y-w-h-e-r-e! It looks like little fire hoses wildly going every which way in my kitchen!! The cans were on the floor but the pop was reaching my counters, cupboards, computer and walls! I stepped over the whole spraying mess and went outside onto the patio, shut the door and sat down. After this day, it was going to be Sprite that makes me come undone. Unbelievable.

Somehow I don’t come undone (Thank you, Jesus), and the girls and Kyler clean up the sticky mess. Kevin comes home, and Zach comes home and the Mustang is in the driveway – and a hard conversation takes place. Hotdogs go on the grill, teen boys are in my basement, a friend calls, and as we talk she tells me her husband’s cancer has returned. He will have surgery again in a few days. Every chaotic moment from the day falls away. Perspective has entered.

It’s only money, it’s only cars, no one was hurt, the poop is gone, the pop has been cleaned up, well, mostly cleaned up ~ my fingers are slightly sticky after typing and I still see some spots on the cupboards – but they just make me smile tonight ~ it was a sight to see. I wish I could have been the mom who stopped and laughed in that moment, but after my day, I just couldn’t…or wouldn’t, I don’t know which one. But now I can smile…at the pop that sticks to my feet and shines on the walls. The car situation will still have to be figured out, and it’s going to be painful – for us to parent through and for Zach to walk through – but it’s not cancer.

8:30 PM  ~  Perspective.

Going to Church

I want my kids to go to church. Although “going to church” really isn’t the goal.

I wrote here about Zach and Erin going to spend the weekend with Courtney recently. At the end of the article I mentioned that they even went to a church service while together…without parents. Meaning no one told them to go to church. I love this. But even as I write that – I know it isn’t the act of going to church that I desire. I don’t long for obedience, I hope for them to have their own desire to take time out for God.

Lots of people go to church. There was a time (actually there were years) where I “went to church”. It’s what Kevin and I did on a Sunday morning. Then we came home, read the Sunday paper, got groceries, maybe took a nap and then prepared for the work week. I was able to check the box, “Went to church”, but it didn’t carry over into the other parts of my week.

But I do value my kids to going to church because I believe when they go to church, they have an opportunity to focus on, consider, learn more about, and take time to worship God. The hope is that they are taking in teachings, using their minds and their hearts to consider positions, feeling challenged in areas of weaknesses and convicted in areas where they are off track. I hope they use this dedicated time to block out the distractions and worship the one who created and calls them.

The world is constantly crashing in on them. They don’t need to put any effort into being influenced and challenged by culture, but we all need to put effort into holding the world at bay to consider what we believe and what we will do about what we believe.

I don’t long for obedience, I hope for them to have their own desire to take time out for God. When my kids choose church for themselves, my heart feels not pride, but gratitude. I believe one of my “jobs” as a Christian mother is to lead my children to Jesus, introduce them, hope that they take His hand, and then allow Him to lead them in this world.

They will leave my home, I will lose my “majority stake” in influencing them, but if through our partnership with the local church they have their eyes on Jesus then I will be more confident in letting them go.

These Sibling Relationships – read it here.

Needed: Boundaries

I am very aware of how prevalent pornography is – I know it comes into our homes through our computers and gets caught in spam. I know with smart phones, kids are looking at it while sitting in class and on the couch. I know that both boys and girls in our middle schools and high schools send text messages with both inappropriate words and pictures.

I know our culture seems to be moving  has moved us in the direction of accepting more and more sexual material in more and more arenas, and consequently we are becoming more and more desensitized to inappropriate material.

But I am not so desensitized that I didn’t notice the cover of this month’s ESPN magazine. ESPN magazine comes to our home because we ordered it for Zach (our sixteen year old) as a gift last year. But he won’t be receiving this month’s magazine – The Body Issue.

Some will say I’m a prude, some will say I can’t appreciate the strength and beauty of the human body. But the truth is, I am a mom trying to help my son keep boundaries.

I would never put a magazine in my son’s hands with naked women and men in it; I throw away Victoria’s Secret catalogs as soon as they arrive in the mail. We are known to talk about pornography at dinner and during family devotions (I’m still not comfortable with these conversations, but culture is very comfortable pushing every envelope, so the way I see it, I don’t really have a choice except to talk to them). We are teaching our kids how, and even more importantly why, to protect themselves from images such as these.

I know the magazine is out there and Zach may have friends who have it. He certainly could purchase it himself. We may even raise his curiosity by keeping it from him. The same is true for the computer – although we have ours in the kitchen, there are others who have them in the bedrooms, though he doesn’t have a smart phone, he knows many others who do. We know we can’t keep our kids from all material that is inappropriate, that actually isn’t our goal, what we are shooting for is to help them understand what happens when you become desensitized and what happens when you allow culture, or even your friends set your standard.

I asked Erin (our fourteen year old) why she thinks we do all that we do in this area. She said it’s so they are very clear about what is right and what is wrong, that they have an understanding that is black and white about what is expected, and that by living by example, we help them keep purity.

That tells me we are making an impact and having an influence. It doesn’t mean they will always choose wisely. It doesn’t mean our job is done. There are marketing firms and a pornography industry spending millions trying to influence my kids – but I am a parent, who according to research, still has the greatest influence in my kid’s life, and I simply leveraged that influence today.