Rearview Parenting: Dropping My Daughter Off At College

I built this one up good, friends. Ever since she got that official "Welcome to college!" letter from the university all those months ago, I've been mentally rehearsing it. I've been dreading it and anticipating it and fretting like a mofo about it.

Dropping her off at college. And then driving away.

I imagined the sobbing, the clinging, the sweating (always, with the sweat). I thought long and hard about what my last words to her would be, what nuggets of wisdom and warm gooey maternal love I'd leave her to hold and examine and cherish.

As the pile of her "college stuff" grew in our weird little nook by the sliding glass doors, it became woefully obvious that my tinny little Ford Focus would not be able to carry all of it, plus my daughter and me and the one brother she requested to accompany us. No way. One of my friends, my young pal Alex whom I met at trivia many moons ago, stepped up and said he'd drive us in his SUV. Again, my friends save us. It never fails to get me all kinds of verklempt when it happens.

The BIG DAY arrived...so, so quickly and if a day could sneer, it would have been sneering at me. I woke my girl up, one last time, and as we finished packing the last-minute things, Alex arrived and we began the Tetris game of packing up the vehicle. Alex won:

All clear, Alex! Bravo. 

There was just enough room left inside for Alex, me, Molly and Henry:

If you squint, you can see the college freshman.

Molly's school is about 2 hours away from our house. Two hours! That's all the time I had to chat with my girl before she and I parted ways until Thanksgiving. So, naturally we all played games and facebooked on our phones most of the way.

Are you imagining the tears? Do you think I was like a human sprinkler with the crying that must have been happening?

Nope. There were none. There had been a few the day before, when William gave Molly a goodbye hug before setting out to a sleepover. And several the day before that, when I read a text from a friend, who was sending her little girl off to France:

"Enjoy your time with her as your little girl, she will have changed the next time you see her."

But my eyes were dry that morning. And during the drive. There might have been a few tears shed when we drove down the streets leading to the dorm, past the throngs of rental houses where the older students live. They were all out on their lawns, kegs and camp chairs galore, and several of the students stood, holding signs that said things like:

I'M GOING TO TEACH YOUR SON BULLDOGGIE STYLE! (held by a girl) (the college mascot is a Bulldog, obvs)
AFTER 18 YEARS, I'M HER DADDY NOW (this one was kind of chilling, actually, but made me laugh)
MILFS DRINK FREE! (Alex, slow down! I'm parched!)

And so on and so forth. I'm not a pearl-clutcher, so those signs didn't give me a case of the vapors. In fact, they gave me my first rush of nostalgia as I remembered driving down those same streets 28 years prior. There is no feeling like that in the world, is there? Knowing that you are about to embark on one of the most transforming life-journeys of all...the freedom, the fun, the responsibility...and oh yes, the parties.

It was those feelings I was thinking about as we unloaded the carefully packed car, and with just two giant rolling carts and some manpower, we moved Molly into her new home. I think that's why I wasn't crying. This whole experience is hers, and hers alone. I'd had my time, it was over and done. I was sad, yes, sad that my lone girl-child wasn't going to be around me like she's been for the past 18 years, sad because there was nobody else who would sit on the couch and watch awful television with me, sad because there are always going to be regrets and piles of "should've, could've and would've" thoughts during milestones this enormous.

But this time? It's Molly's time and knowing this kept my head in the right place. Not in the past, not bemoaning my loss...but right there, in the present, helping my daughter take her first steps in this new life. Just as I stood beside her when she first began toddling on her achingly adorable chubby little baby feet, so I stood beside her as we met her roommate, as we put her mattress pad on and made her bed, as we organized and plugged things in.

The pride that filled my heart was colossal. Proud beyond description of my daughter, my sweet lady who overcame painful shyness and some pretty intense anxiety and was now moving to a new city without any of her close friends in tow. Proud of her for not becoming one of the stereotypical "children of single mothers", those kids who, according to some asshat people and politicians, are doomed to a life of hardscrabble times, drugs and alcohol and teen pregnancies and gun violence.

Oh shit. Here come some tears. But not the big ugly cry I've been anticipating. Nope. I don't think that one is going to happen, folks. Maybe it was me preparing myself for this event months in advance. Maybe it was reading other mama's experiences with this scenario and weeping over their photos and words (like my new favorite blogger friend, Amy, and her piece about the drop off...read it here and then when you're done crying come back here to the place where THERE ARE NO TEARS).

Maybe it's because I've done with these feelings as I've done with so many others throughout my life: shoved them down somewhere deep and dark and covered them with Ling Ling's Potstickers and martinis. I am a wee bit worried that this is exactly what's happened and that something is going to trigger me at the wrong place and the wrong time: mayhap it'll be at school when I'm working and I'll see a mama and her kindergarten girl walking out to their car, hand in hand, talking about butterflies and new friends. note to self: don't look at them.

Or maybe, just maybe, all of this growing and changing that my daughter is doing, is also happening within me. Maybe the two of us are approaching separate, but equally major, developments in our lives. She's becoming an adult, living on her own without Mommy in the next bedroom. And me?

I'm watching the city disappear in my rearview, the city my daughter will call home for the next year...and there are no tears. Only love and pride.

P.S. I received my first text from her about 5 minutes after I took that picture. It read, "OMG Mom. I forgot to pack a toothbrush."  She's still my little girl.


Pepper Spray and Bravery: Talking About Rape

"Mom, someone said I need to get pepper spray."

This was my daughter talking. She's 18 and mere days away from leaving home for a college campus a couple hours away from here. Away from home. Away from me.

We were at the local Home Depot-ish store, doing one of our seemingly never-ending shopping trips to get her geared up for dorm life. Closet organizers? Check. Command wall hooks? Check. Underbed storage containers? Check.

Pepper spray? Oh God.

We asked the salesperson where we might find pepper spray, and without batting an eyelash, he led us to the correct aisle. There it was, a small section, maybe three rows down, three rows across: protection against attackers.

Just the simple act of picking up a package and placing it in our already-stuffed cart was a wordless affirmation to my girl. An acknowledgement that yes, she might need it. She might find herself being hurt by someone, and she might need to spray them in the eyes with this noxious chemical in order to save herself.

"Mom...how do I even use this?" She was looking at the package. We'd picked out a pink pepper-spray dispenser, just because. Shouldn't your anti-rape arsenal be pink? I looked at the package with her. "Oh...there's directions on the back. We'll read them when we get home." Pepper spray? Check.

We didn't read the directions when we got home. Our days have consisted of checking lists, procuring the items a young woman needs to make herself a home-away-from home. I didn't think about talking to my daughter about what she should do if she finds herself being attacked.

But now I know I have to. I have to tell her my story, and I have to make sure she really, truly understands that there is a very real threat out there. A threat that might look like a cute athlete or a shy bookish sort or a sensitive hipster. A threat that is just waiting for her guard to be down, not lurking in bushes but walking down the same hallways she will be walking, eating in the same cafeteria and shuffling laundry to and from the same washers and dryers.

Last week, I wrote an essay. I wrote it from my perch on the couch, on a drizzly Sunday. In between laundry and Lifetime movies and getting my daughter packed and trying really hard to remember that I have other kids who needed me, I wrote an essay about rape.

My rape. There. I finally, finally said it. Well, typed it. But...phew. 

I wrote it, cried a tiny bit, and then found myself struggling with it. It was powerful, at least to me, and it seemed to be something that would help other women, other girls, who had been through it. But. I struggled over whether or not it was something I wanted to put here, on my silly little blog where I talk about Louis CK and single parenting and giant tampons.

The truth? I was afraid. Afraid of my kids seeing it, because although I play dumb sometimes, I know at least two of them have been here. I mean, really...who can blame them? I remember holding my breath, listening to my mom talk on the phone about me, about her life. My ears would catch the words Jennifer and she and I'd strain to hear. The modern day version of eavesdropping is done online, right? This wasn't something I wanted them to overhear.

Another truth? I was ashamed. I thought about different people in my life, besides my children, and imagined their reactions. "You were a slut!" "You totally got yourself into that situation, Jenny. Duh." "Oh my gawd...who was it? Tell me their names!" "You have no proof. It's your word against theirs!" and the worst of all..."Well, you were drunk. You asked for it. You deserved it." Yes. I was ashamed to divulge something awful that had been done to me, because I thought it would make me look bad. Make me look whorish or loose or like a lush. In this age of oversharing and TMI, this was the ultimate overshare. Was it too much information?

I'd never done an anonymous post before, but this one seemed like it would be a good candidate.

So, I consulted three women. The first? Kristen, who writes at Abandoning Pretense. I chose her because she's younger and hipper and is infinitely more current on what's happening in the blog scene. And I trust her. The second? Jill, who is better known as Scary Mommy. I chose her because I trust her with my words, and if I did decide to pursue the whole anonymity route, her website was my first (and really, only) choice. The third? My homie/bff Danielle. I chose her because she's not involved in the blog world, not one bit. I jokingly call her my moral compass but it's not really a joke. She has a level head, she doesn't ever judge me and I trust her more than just about anyone else I know. Let's just say, if you need dirt on me? She'd be the first place you dig. You dig?

All three of them readily agreed to read it. And all three responded immediately. Interestingly enough, one of the first thing all three of them said to me was this:

"I'm so sorry this happened to you."

They all liked it. Two said, almost immediately, "Fuck it. Fuck them. Put your name on it. You owe those guys nothing." The third one came around to that, eventually. They collectively coddled me while I fussed about the anonymous thing. They put up with facebook messages and texts and my super annoying habit of hand-wringing and second guessing myself. Most importantly, though? They all supported me. I am so grateful for that. There wasn't a shred of disapproval, not one little voice asking, "Are you really sure this is something you want to do?". And that was the nudge I needed.

Jill ran my article on her site. You can read it by clicking here on the title: "Why Hello There, Old Rapist In My Facebook Newsfeed." 

So there it is. I'm admitting it. I'm coming clean. I'm doing this because I have a daughter, and I have sons. I am doing this because of the hundreds of comments on that piece, the comments like, "I saw mine at the store" and "You are not alone" and "The song Funky Cold Medina makes me want to vomit." The comments from women who were once 16 and went to a party and had bad things done to them, women who were once 5 and were violated by men with whom they shared DNA. Women who have been carrying around this hot coal of embarrassment, of self-blame and doubt and all those other things our culture has taught us about victimization and sexual offenses and being female.

And most of all, I'm doing this because we need to talk about rape. We need to educate our daughters, we need to educate our sons and we need to stop being so mother-effing ashamed of it, and of ourselves.

One of my best friends says that part of us just stops growing when something traumatic happens to us. Like, say you're ten and your parents get divorced. She thinks that for the rest of your life, there will always be a sad ten year old somewhere inside of you.

I think about the bad things that have happened to me, and about how many sad versions of myself there are:

The 9 year old me, looking down at the angry red hand print my stepfather left on my thigh.
The 15 year old me, stuck on the floor between a bed and a wall, feeling indescribable dread.
The 39 year old me, watching my husband leave our house, leave our family before dawn on the last day of school.

But now there's this brave, 47 year old me...the one who has been through some hell but who has lived to tell about it.

I'm ready to tell, folks. And it feels great. Scary, but great.


Blogging Anonymous: Brave or Not?

It was one of those essays that just happened. Those of you who write, you know what I'm talking about. Like a baby that is coming out NOW, there was no stopping it. On a lazy Sunday, while watching Lifetime movies and pretending that life wasn't about to change drastically at our house, I wrote what I think is one of my bravest, darkest posts ever.

It's going to be published on another site in the next few days. But my name will not be on it. For the first time in my very short "writing career", I am publishing an anonymous piece.

I agonized over this one. Truly, agonized. I called in some trusted advisers, let them read the essay and then gathered opinions. The majority (of three, ha) said it was okay to put my name to it. In fact, two of them actually said, "Fuck it. Put your name on it!". But all three agreed that going anonymous would be okay, too.

Putting my name on it almost happened. Because I know that it's an important piece, something that I should be proud to be associated with as a writer, and as a woman. But something took precedence, something was more important than pride or acknowledgement.

Actually, four somethings. Four someones. My kids.

When I first started writing here, at my lowly little blog, privacy wasn't much of an issue. I used my real first name, and the names of my kids. In fact, the only people I really afforded ANY privacy to were my ex husband and his lovely wife. Now that I look back on it, that doesn't make sense. I was worried about legal repercussions that could result in revealing details about who my ex is, and had very few concerns about what, if anything, could affect my children. Of course, I did ask them if certain subjects were okay for me to write about. And four years ago, they said yes. Four years ago, this blog was "mom's stupid online thing" and not anything to be concerned about.

I never dreamed that anyone outside of my little circle of hens would read this thing, to be honest with you. In fact, I'm still somewhat amazed that perfect strangers find this site every day, and stick around. Almost a million visits? Gah. Blows my little mind, folks. And considering the stuff this mind has seen, that's not an easy feat.

It also blows my little idyllic mindset that this is a private sanctuary, exclusive to friends and supporters.

Because of this, I've been going through old posts, and hiding those that might be considered embarrassing or invasive to my children. When I find enough time, I'm going to go through the whole thing and change names. I always used to roll my eyes when fellow bloggers used pseudonyms for their family members...now I totally get it. My apologies for any eye rolls, friends. YOU WERE RIGHT.

But back to the whole anonymous thing: so the post that's going public is nothing I am embarrassed about. I'm very proud of it. However, it's not something I want my kids reading. Not now. Considering the gravity of the subject, and the topicality of it, yes...I think it's worthy of discussion. And I'd like to decide when it's time to discuss it.

Those of you who are regular readers will probably figure it out. Writing styles are like fingerprints, right? And who knows. Maybe after seeing it "live" I'll change my mind and decide that it's okay to own it. To make it mine. In the meantime, I don't want to risk having my (very) well-intentioned friends linking me to the post, or linking it to this blog. I hope that doesn't sound pretentious, and I certainly hope it's not insulting.

Thank you, so much, for your support and understanding.


Doormat No More: Behold, My New Balls!

Forgive me for such blatant Vague-Blogging, but I'm going to keep this one opaque.

I have been dealing with a difficult personality for the past 18 months. It's someone I see on a daily, Monday through Friday basis. When I first encountered this person and their personality, it was with lots of forewarning: "Watch out, you're in for it" and "Good luck with that!" and "Don't let it get to you."

I remember laughing and saying to myself, "How bad can it be? I can get along with anyone."

Oh dear. It was pretty bad. In the interest of being vague, we'll just leave it at that.

However, I am not one to give up without a fight. Some of my favorite students at school are those who present me with the biggest challenges. The tougher the nut is to crack, the more I enjoy what's inside (or something like that...sounds kind of icky, now that I see it all typed out).

So I persevered with this person. Asked a lot of questions, joked around with them. Got to know them. I found bits and pieces that I liked, and ran with it.

"It's not so bad!" I exclaimed to the previous naysayers. "There's good in there!" I crowed. "I WILL LIKE YOU, DAMMIT" I said in my head while spending time with the difficult one.

And for a while, it worked. I think the person in question was surprised by my friendliness, by my willingness to chat and laugh and hang out. For a while, I really did like this person.

I think it started changing when the stress in my life flared up. When I found out that I was losing my job, to be precise. At first the stress was a long ways out, and I could barely hear it. "Yo, Jenny!" it called out. It was faint. As the days flew by on the calendar, it became louder. I heard it when I tried to sleep, it interrupted conversations, it talked over the songs on the radio as I drove hither and yon. About three weeks ago, it became the loudest it had ever been, and I found myself feeling low. The job interviews were not panning out, and the panic over what my next move would be worsened.

That's when the difficult person really began to irk me. Little things, things that had been happening for months prior, suddenly became big things. Control issues that had been quirky were now glaringly bizarre. It was like going from having a roommate who kind of bugged you to living with Julia Robert's husband in "Sleeping With The Enemy" (remember when she opened the cupboards and all of the cans of food were arranged just so? Yeah. Like that.)

Run, Julia!RUN!!!

And it was more. It was being treated like shit, in a very passive-aggressive, Nellie Oleson, "oh I'm sorry, did that bother you?" kind of way.

Here's the deal with me: I have always been a doormat. A Libra through and through, conflict terrifies me. Take it, suck it up, go with the flow...that's always been my way of living. Even when I was going through my divorce, after proof of my ex-husband's affair had been shoved in my face, I kept up my Doormat facade and tried to not rock the proverbial boat any more than I had to. "No need to be a total bitch," I'd tell myself. And always, always: "Take the high road, Jenny."

I am very familiar with the High Road. If the High Road had a Frequent Flyer program, I'd be flush with points. My kids hear it from me all the time, and it's a virtue I extol ad nauseam here on my blog and when discussing divorce and co-parenting elsewhere.

But does taking the high road sometimes equal allowing yourself to be shat upon? I think so. I think we, as women especially, are taught to turn the other cheek, take the high road, be the better person. And that's GOOD, believe me, in most situations. In some situations, however, I think it allows the Nellie Olesons and the Regina Georges of the world to keep on being mean girls and bullies. And also allows difficult personalities, like the one I've grappled with over the past year and a half, to carry on with their cuckoo behavior without getting called on it.*

Sometimes you need to take a detour. And that's what I did. The difficult personality person did one of the things that has caused me many headaches and stomachaches over the past 18 months. And as I felt that old familiar stress ball start forming in my gut, I decided to fling the doormat from my forehead. I approached the difficult one, and I said exactly what was on my mind. Gesticulating like a mofo, I made my voice heard.

I closed with, "And THIS is exactly why I find it so frustrating to be around you." (cue the applause)

You would not believe how good it felt. The stress ball in my gut was gone, my heart was racing in a good way and I felt like a half ton of bricks had just been lifted off my shoulders.

You know that feeling after you've held your bladder for far too long, and you finally make it to the toilet without having tinkled even just a little in your pants? That release, that relief??

That. It felt that awesome.

Me: Oooh! What's that tingling sensation in my nethers?
Also Me: Oh honey. It's your balls. They're growing. (Also Me sounds just like Karen Walker, btw)
Me: They're so cute! And shiny!

See? I'm crazy, too. Only my crazy is kept inside most of the time. Hopefully, it doesn't cause anyone stress. If it did? I hope they'd stand up for themselves and let me know.

So watch out, world. I have lost my stand-up-for-yourself virginity. And I'm dying to do it again.

* HUGE CAVEAT HERE: I wouldn't be a real Libra if I didn't stress that sometimes people are difficult to be around because of underlying issues: true mental illness, going through a sucky situation, health problems, etc. And if that's the case, the High Road, with lots of compassion and empathy, is your best bet. BUT. To quote Gordon Gano and the rest of the Violent Femmes, "De-derange, we've all been through some shit". A lot of us deal with mental illness, with sucky situations, health problems and other life "stuff" that can make us less-than-pleasant to be around. I've been cut miles of slack by my friends, family and coworkers during low points in my life, and I'm eternally grateful. It doesn't, however, give us an excuse to act like turds.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...