Tuesday, September 30, 2008

The best time to talk to your kids

Here’s a little tip for you Mothers with young children who are reading The Portable Mother.

Friends ask me, “Do you call Pablo at college?”
Well, yes and no.
If I have something I need to communicate to him –airplane ticket info, loan application, important family news, I call him, give him the info, and then we chat a little and hang up. Mission accomplished.

But if I call him because I want to chat or to hear his voice, what I’ll get is a yawn, a disinterest, or he’s busy.

It reminded me of when my kids were little and I would pick them up at school and want to hear about their day. They’d get into the car and I’d say brightly, “So how was school?”


“What’d you do today?”

“Not much.”

Here I wanted to hear about their day, and they were not interested. After a few tries I realized: They’ve been in school all day. They are tired. They are up to here with school. The last thing they want to talk about is school.

Later on in the day, when I’d be driving them to a piano lesson or taking them to buy some school supplies…they’d start talking and everything came out. Because they were ready to talk.

The best time to talk to your kids? When they want to talk. Not when you want to talk.

So, make them want to talk by leaving them alone a little. I’ve learned to wait for a good chat. When Pablo wants to talk, he’ll call me. It’s then that he’s loving, amenable, talkative, and sharing.

When I go online and see that Pablo is online I stifle the natural urge to immediately message “Hi!” I don’t want him to feel stalked by his mother.

Rather, I wait. He sees I’m online. If he wants, he’ll message me.

And more often than not, he does. “Hi!” pops up on my screen. And I’m the happiest Mother ever.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Good things about the empty nest.

For the last few weeks I’ve been writing about empty nest. I think that’s enough for now.

Before I go back to the original purpose of The Portable Mother, which is to write things I want my children to know about life…I thought I’d dedicate a day to celebrating the good things about the empty nest.

It makes me think of an English nanny I had one summer when Nina was born and Pablo was two. (She’s now a mother of three with a busy life.) She taught me to say, whenever something wasn’t going according to plan “…and the good thing is…” and to insist on finding something good in the situation, no matter how small it might be.

You can’t be the mother of small children your whole life. Fun and wonderful as it is, we all get our chance, and then we must continue on. Our kids our counting on it! So, here are just a few of the things I’m rediscovering.

Gas in the car
Not having to negotiate using my car with my Pablo's social life
Juice in the fridge
Always a chocolate or a cookie when I want one
Less house cleaning
Less laundry
Lower grocery bill
Not having to cook if I don’t want to
Phone rings a lot less
No dirty dishes in the sink
No sofa pillows to puff up
Sleeping late
Taking naps
Not living on a school schedule (having to be back by a certain time to chauffeur or cook)
Hours of reading a delicious book
Learning German
Joining a gym
Writing a new novel
Reinventing myself and remembering who I was and what life was like when I was single.
Being grateful that I had the sacred opportunity to nurture two human beings.
Being grateful that I will be there for them as long as I live.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

It's so over.

A month into Pablo’s freshman college life, I’m finally realizing it.
It is so over.
Mothering, as I knew it, is over.
I had my chance. 18 years of: go to bed, cut your hair, make your bed, take a shower, why don’t you…etc. 18 years of cajoling about piano, or sports, or friends, or homework.

Pablo doesn’t write, he doesn’t call. He’s so thrilled with his new found freedom to become an adult, his freedom to understand who he is in the world, without me telling him: go to bed, cut your hair, don’t play your music so loud.

When he comes home, he will be this adult “friend” –someone who I love endlessly, with a strange connection to me. I was once his Mother; I was once the person who had to teach him, tell him, and shower him with love. Now, I am his Mother – someone who will always take him in, who will always go visit him somewhere, who will always be his biggest champion.

But I can never tell him again what to do. I can make suggestions. But only when I am asked.

He doesn’t call, he doesn’t write. Doesn’t he love me? Doesn’t he miss me? But then, I remember, as a college freshman I wasn’t homesick. I didn’t miss my Mother particularly. I loved knowing she was “there” – but that was about it. I knew I was loved and supported. That's what you know for the rest of your life, that you are loved and supported by your Mother.

One of the rewards of launching your “child” in the world, is seeing what lessons you taught them, that they are now putting into practice as they discover who they are on their own.

What I see in Pablo is this: His joy with the world is my joy. I planted it. His hunger for reading is my hunger for reading. His desire for new experiences – horseback riding, piano, aikido, medieval sword fighting, party planning – is my desire for new experiences. He is generous and kind. He is compassionate and thoughtful. All the things I hoped and wanted he would be. He is all of this and more.

I spent my precious 18 years teaching my Pablo everything I know about life. Now it is my turn to watch and let him teach me who he is and how he will live his life.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Empty Nest

Think about it: you spend more of your life with an empty nest than you do as a 24/7 mothering mother.

The first 18 years are the most important in a certain, definitive way. But all the next years of your “child’s” life…are his life!

You are always the Mother. But are you the Mother who is, “ Sigh…I have to go see my Mother…” or the Mother who is, “I can’t wait to get home and visit my Mother!”

It’s your choice. And it requires a big shift in behavior.

There are lots of books about having babies, raising babies, how to be a mother.
But not so many about how to be an empty nest Mother.

As Pablo completes his first month in college, I find myself thinking about my Mother a lot. Once I left home to go to college and beyond, I didn’t realize that she had a life because I was so busy with my own. I was off traveling, discovering, working, and she was, in my mind, always at home.

It is now, as I look at the watercolors she left behind and register the dates on them, I realize she was painting. She had friends and took trips with my father and had a whole life I didn’t know about.

To me, she was there when I called on the phone, and there at the airport or bus station, or at the front door if I pulled up in a car or a taxi. Always waiting, welcoming, ready to cook, drive, shop, and hear the stories of my life.

I’m in a transition period. You don’t just take your kid to college and you’re off! There is reflection, a bit of mourning for a certain way of life, that day to day, living in the same house intimacy. I won’t be needed as a Mother in those ways ever again.

But I will be needed as a Mother in new ways. And this is what I’m musing about, as I discover who is the new version of myself and what is the life I want to lead now.

Monday, September 8, 2008

"...And how do you feel about that?"

When I took Pablo to college, the sensitive deans planned a wonderful day for the freshman parents. They knew we had driven and flown very far, and to just drop off your kid and disappear was not what we needed at this delicate time.

What we needed, they felt, was to be read the riot act, but in gentle--and humorous--terms.

So while Pablo was settling in and running errands on campus, the deans eased us into being college parents.

The major lesson was how to talk to your now adult child i.e. college student.

Your student calls you, either to share events and stories about his life or to complain about something. And no longer are you to offer your unsolicited opinion or advice.

Instead, you are to say, “And how do you feel about that?”

And then you listen.

Then you say, “And what are you going to do about that?”

And then you listen.

Only if you are asked for your advice or opinion, you give it. If not, you don’t.

Think about it. You didn’t want to hear your Mother’s opinion about what you ate for lunch, or what sport you decided to take up, or where you decided to go for vacation. Think about your friendships. Your best friends don’t offer their opinion on every little thing you do. If they did…you probably wouldn’t have them as friends.

I know, it’s hard. We’ve been telling our children what we think for so many years now that it just comes naturally. Kids don’t want a parent constantly saying what she feels about some aspect of their lives or behavior. It makes them feel they are under scrutiny, where everything they do or don’t do will be judged.

Carolyn Heilbrun, author of “The Last Gift of Time: Life Beyond 60” wrote that one of the ways of being a wanted adult in the lives of her children was to stop talking and start listening. What your adult children tell you will be far more interesting than anything you could ever say to them. It is their world and their struggle, now. What they need most, is someone who will listen.

I'm not saying I have all this down yet. It takes practice to stop jumping in and trying to fix things. But I do think, if you treat your adult children as respectfully and lovingly as you do a friend, and you have a greater chance of having a loving, rich relationship for life.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The 18-year-long pajama party is over...

Nature knows best. Nature helped me through the big goodbye.

The summer was excruciatingly hot. Pablo, Nina and I packed up and moved to our new house. They couldn't believe how stressful and awful moving was. "Welcome to my world," I said to them.

Recent high school graduate Pablo was impossible, as only a Mother can describe. He stayed out until the wee hours and then came home and slept till mid afternoon. He didn’t get a job because in Mexico you need to be 18 to get a job, and when you do get a summer job…you might earn about 400 U.S. dollars after eight weeks of serious toiling… He didn’t see the point. I kept telling him about developing a work ethic until I got tired of hearing my own voice.

You see, he knew best. He knew better. He wouldn’t listen. He didn’t care. He drove me crazy.

I was so sick of him by the end of the summer that I dropped him off at college with the attitude, “Here, take him.”

That's nature for you. Nature engineered it perfectly. 18 years is our allotted human time. Birds get pushed out of the nest much younger, like a few weeks. Mama birds too get tired of the fuss and push the birds out of the nest.

The night before I drove him to college, we stayed in a hotel. At 3 a.m., I realized he wasn’t in the room. I got dressed and went down to the deserted lobby. There he was, chatting on Internet. I burst into tears and started yelling at him. “Do you realize what time it is? We have to get up at 6 a.m.! You have a long day tomorrow! Go to bed!” I went back upstairs humiliated at the absurdity of this. Me, yelling at my 18-year-old son, who I was going to take leave of tomorrow. Reminded me of couples who have a big fight before one of them leaves on a business trip.

Leaving him at college was fine. I knew he was in a luminous place, surrounded by great natural beauty and inspiring professors.

He was not at all sad to see me go, or at least, he didn’t show it. He was too overwhelmed with the beauty and challenge of his new life. And the scent of freedom.

Of course I cried when I left him. He couldn’t understand my sadness.

I was crying for me. My years of Mothering were officially over. My job, as 24/7 “Mother” was phased out, terminated. I was shown the door and handed my pink slip. I had my chance with him, a full 18 years…and now it was over. I cried for this.

And I mourned for this: When your kids are young, you are the star of their lives. And now, I have a supporting role, a bit part. The college administrators told us parents that our children would finally begin to see us now as people, and not just as their Mothers. That's a good thing.

That day I delivered him to college, I saw him become an adult right before my eyes. He trotted around a campus he had never seen before, getting his photo, picking up an ID, going to the cashier, the registrar, getting keys, meeting a roommate, navigating everything new. He took charge of his clothes and put everything away. He made plans to open a bank account and had a slew of meetings to get to. Everything he didn’t do at home all summer, he just slid into perfectly.

This is what you wish for when you are a Mother -- that you raise your child to be able to thrive in a new world.

Back home, I am discovering new joys in my life as the Mother of an adult. I feel lighter now. There is no more, “Go to bed, it’s late.” Or, “pick up your room.” “You asked me for $$ yesterday.” No more hearing the boring, antagonized drone of my own voice.

I no longer have to cook huge meals, buy gallons of juice, watch cartons of cookies disappear before my eyes. I can diet. I can sip tea. I have my life back.

It was a glorious 18 year long pajama party.

And now, that party’s over. A new relationship between Pablo and me begins.

Nature knows best.

Monday, September 1, 2008

"Catch as catch can, here we are, back at the stand."

So wrote J.D. Salinger.

I'm back. Reporting after a fast and furious summer.

Fast facts: Pablo is in college. He is tremendously happy.

The Mother, (me) is also doing well.

I learned so much! And I will tell you all about it.