A Whole Week Home From College

A whole week home from college.

In less than a week, our college student daughter is coming home…for a whole week! We haven’t seen her for seven days in a row since she left for college in August! We have seen her for a couple of days here and there…two football weekends, one day when my husband visited when he passed through town, and she has been home for two quick visits. But soon, she will be here for a whole week! In fact, she will be home for a little more than a week! And we can hardly wait.

Back in September, I booked her ticket on American Airlines to come home Saturday. But then, two days ago, she called me and said she wants to come home earlier. My first question? “Don’t you have class Friday?” She told me her Friday class has been canceled. I kept her on the phone while I looked at the American Airlines website. We discussed flight times and finally decided she could come home on an afternoon flight Thursday for only $99 more than we paid for the original ticket. Sold!

Seriously, y’all, I was so flattered that she wanted to spend more time with us. Anyone who has college-age kids will tell you it’s fun when they’re around again. I told her I was excited we are going to get to spend some extra time with her. And that’s when she said, “Oh, well, yes…but I’m going down to Columbia, South Carolina, with friends Saturday morning for the South Carolina game.”And that’s when I realized she isn’t coming home early to spend more time with us. She is coming home early to go to the University of South Carolina! I laughed out loud, because of course that’s what she wants to do!

I remember what it’s like to be 19, so I’m happy she gets to go visit friends in South Carolina with friends from home! I loved going to football games at different schools with friends when I was in college, so I get it. Will we, her parents, be offended when she wants to spend every evening with her friends? Nope, not one bit. In fact, I hope she will bring them here to gather at least once or twice. We love the energy they bring into our home, and I love preparing food for them…grilled cheese sandwiches, avocado toast, or even a late night breakfast.

But I also realize that, because she wants to go to South Carolina for a day or two, she is still coming home earlier than she originally was, and that’s a bonus for me and my husband! We are so excited! Of course, at the end of her stay, I’m sure I will be writing about how little time we actually got to spend with her! And that’s OK too, because we just want her to be happy and healthy. Spending time with her friends in Charlotte will be good for her. When she returns to Charlotte from South Carolina Saturday night, I will be here, ready to feed her (and friends) when she gets home.

Plus, I’m sure she will sleep a lot. Our daughter who has never been much of a sleeper will need to make up for lots of lost sleep while she is here. Sleeping in a twin bed in a dorm just isn’t the same as sleeping in a queen bed at home. I remember that too. There’s nothing quite like sleeping under your parents’ roof, with your dog in the bed like old times. She will sleep soundly knowing her daddy will bring her coffee in bed in the morning, and I will call her down for a hot breakfast shortly thereafter. Just like her last visit, we will have all her favorites at breakfast: scrambled eggs, grits, hashbrown casserole, bacon, biscuits, and Conecuh Sausage (again, if you’re not familiar with this, you want to try it. It’s from Alabama, but they carry the original sausage at most Publix stores. See the Conecuh Sausage website here). Some mornings, she might want avocado toast too. And she will get it if she wants it.

We are excited for her to arrive Thursday. My husband can hardly wait to go pick her up at the airport…a job he has already volunteered to do. I will ask her what she wants as her “welcome home” meal, and I will have that ready when she arrives. Of course, she’s likely to eat and run…or as my late friend, Wendy, would say, “chew and screw,” which means the same as eat and run. She was from Boston, and I don’t know if that’s what other people say there, but I think it sounds funny, so I say it occasionally.

Now, we just play the waiting game. My husband started his countdown today, telling me she will be home in just five days!

We are excited!

***Feature photo from Charlotte Business Journal***

College Homecoming

College Homecoming.

Lawn decorations on sorority row. Tailgate tents on the quad. Grills smoking. Families and friends gathering. A parade through campus. Band playing.

All these things contributed to a festive atmosphere when I went to the University of Alabama this past weekend for Homecoming. It had been a long time…10 or 11 years…since I had traveled there for Homecoming, but I was so happy I went this year!

When I was in college, we got dates to every football game, so it was always fun, but the Homecoming game every year was more exciting…more festivities, more excitement, more parties. It never occurred to me then that “Homecoming” was actually a time to welcome back alumni. I just thought of it as the football team was coming back for a home game after an away game. Thinking of “alumni” was just not on my radar. And with good reason…I was young and self-centered, just like most young people.

The fact that Homecoming is really for alumni hit me after I had a child. Taking her to the Homecoming football game in 2011 was the perfect opportunity to showcase my alma mater to her. And as anyone who has ever visited the University of Alabama knows, it is a beautiful place…worthy of showing off. My daughter was just seven years old at the time, but she loved football…not much choice in my family…you either love football, or you’ll be miserable during football season, because watching football is what we do. So when she was seven, my daughter and I went with my friend, Angela, and her daughter, who was nine years old at the time.

I remember we made our way around sorority row soon after arriving. The lawn decorations are impressive every year, and little girls love them, so we made sure ours got to see all of them that day. The lawn decorations are a lot different than when I was in college. Back when I was in school, the lawn decorations were as tall as the house! We had to climb on scaffolding to “pomp” tissue paper into giant chicken wire structures to show our spirit for Homecoming week…outside with music blasting till wee hours of the morning…boys helping us till wee hours of the morning. It was great fun in the 1980s, but now, it seems they do most of the “pomping” indoors, and the much smaller structures are placed on the lawn afterward. No more scaffolding…kind of a shame, because it sure was fun!

That Homecoming in 2011, we walked over to the quad and visited friends who were tailgating. We ate lunch in the alumni tent, and we ran into lots of people we knew from our college days. That is what Homecoming is about…visiting your alma mater to see people and visit with college friends you don’t see on a regular basis.

And this year, we did exactly that…spent time with friends we haven’t spent much time with over the last few years. I even managed to spend a little time with a friend I had not seen in 20+ years…one of the sweetest souls I have ever known. In fact, she is the very friend who told me after a bad breakup in my late 20s, “Just think! You get to fall in love again!” I reminded her of that when I saw her, and I told her how much hope it gave me after that breakup. Now, it’s what I have told my 19-yr-old daughter to say to her friends after they go through bad breakups. Because really…there’s nothing like that “falling in love” feeling.

We ended our Homecoming visit with a little tailgate time with a friend who had folding chairs that rock in her tailgate area. Not gonna lie…it was fun catching up with her, and it was hard to get up from those rocking chairs when it was time to leave! There’s something extra relaxing about a rocking chair…and I could have drifted off to sleep right there. But we needed to get moving, so I had to get up.

We didn’t stay for the game. We were spending the night at Angela’s house in Montgomery, and because we had a 90 minute drive ahead of us, we opted out of the game. We drove home on the winding road from Tuscaloosa to Montgomery, reliving the moments of the day…doing what we call “Post Game Wrapup” of our day. And while we talked about the fun of the day, we reminisced about college too. We had lots of good times at the University of Alabama back in the 1980s. That’s when Angela and I became friends, and we each remember different funny things that happened, so we laughed a lot on the drive.

We barely got to spend any time with our daughters, both of whom are students there. We saw her daughter for about an hour, and literally saw mine for a total of about five minutes! But I was happy…if she’s not clinging to me, she’s happy. I drove back up the next day to spend Sunday night in a hotel, so we had more time to visit. Then o came home Monday night.

It was a successful Homecoming. Yes, the team won the football game, and that’s definitely necessary for a successful Homecoming, but it was mostly successful because we got to see people we care about…people with whom we shared fun experiences in college.

And that’s what Homecoming is about.

College Students/Adult Decisions

College students/adult decisions.

Oh, it’s the Facebook parent page for my daughter’s university again! A parent posted that her son stopped going to class after his computer broke. They are four weeks into the semester, and she is getting him a new computer, but he seems to have given up. The mom doesn’t know what to do to motivate him, and she wonders if maybe she should just cut the losses and bring him home.

Of course, there were lots of suggestions. Some said, “Rent a laptop from the library.” Others said, “Maybe he’s not really ready for college.” Quite a few said, “Maybe you should encourage him to get back in the game. It’s early.” And then, someone said, “When do we let them start making their own adult decisions on their own?” That one made me think.

When do we let them start making their own adult decisions on their own?

That’s a tough question. Should we allow our college students to make their own adult decisions with no input from us, their parents?

The first thing that came to mind for me was, “I’m paying for it. I’m paying a lot of money for our daughter’s college education, so yes, I have input.“ I can have an opinion, and I can tell her what I expect from her. I make no bones about it. Our daughter is very social, so even before she went to college, I stressed to her that while her social life is very important, she has to take care of business first so she can stay in school to enjoy the social aspects. Does that mean she remembers that conversation? Not necessarily, but I ask regularly, “Are you taking care of business?”

Another thing that came to mind about “allowing her to make her own adult decisions on her own” is that I don’t always make adult decisions on my own…and I’m 55 years old! When I was in college, I regularly got my parents’ input about big decisions. Heck…until my parents were dead, I regularly got their input about adult decisions! And now that I don’t have my parents, I often turn to my spouse, other family members, or friends. I get lots of info and do my research before making big decisions. And you know what? I don’t want my college-age daughter getting all her advice or input from other college-aged people. I have always told her it’s good to get input from friends, but she needs to remember their brains aren’t fully developed either. They don’t have any more life experience than she does! I have stressed that she should come to me for advice, because I have a lot more life experience, and I always have her best interest at heart.

Think about it. What are college students like? There are some who do their schoolwork and work toward an educational goal with no distractions or interference. That’s not my child, and honestly, I don’t want her to be that student. There are college students who quickly find a good balance; they enjoy some social time while working hard in school. There are those who play a lot, and the academic part is secondary. And then there are all kinds of students in between.

My daughter falls somewhere in the balance/having fun category. The first semester of college is quite an adjustment! And since she is at an SEC school, football season is a big deal, and she pledged a sorority, which does take some time. I want her to have fun. That’s why I encouraged her to take the easiest classes she could this first semester, so she can learn to manage her time and become accustomed to college. It can take a while for them to learn how it all works! I remember! By my sophomore year, I knew how college worked, and I had a system for “taking care of business” while still having a good time. I think some kids jump in with the hardest classes they can take freshman year, and for some of them, it causes problems/stress. They need some guidance. Mine’s not taking the hardest classes, and she might not even need my guidance, but I “check in” regularly, and I always remind her that I am always ready to help.

She’s almost 19 years old. That means she has less than one year of adulthood experience. Would you hire a lawyer who had one year of experience and no mentors? No. Would you want a surgeon who had one year of experience and no assistance? No. I’m not expecting my almost-19-yr-old to make all her own decisions. In fact, she’s going to get my input whether she wants it or not right now.

So when will I allow her to make adult decisions on her own? She makes some of them on her own every single day. But the big decisions? Personally, I don’t think she really wants to. As long as my husband and I are on this planet, she can come to us. And if it’s something I know nothing about, I will encourage her to go to someone with more knowledge…no doubt. Will I make all her decisions for her? No way. But if I think she is making a bad decision or needs my help, I will let her know it…even from 450 miles away.

I’ve said it a million times…no matter how old they are, they’re still our “babies.”

I’ve Already Graduated from College

I’ve already graduated from college.

When our daughter was in third grade, she came home one afternoon and asked me to help her with a math problem. She didn’t ask for help often, and I was happy to oblige. I sat down and worked with her, showing her how to do a problem. When I finished, she just looked at me and said, “That’s not how my teacher does it.” I said, “Well, that’s how I do it. I won the math award in high school…I know what I’m doing.” Again…”that’s not how my teacher does it.” My response? “Then ask your teacher in the morning. I have already passed third grade math.” And honestly, that was the best response for lots of reasons, the main one being that I don’t know how to do “new math.”

It reminded me of my mother when I was in school. I remember asking her for help with geometry, and her response was, “Honey. I don’t remember. That was 30 years ago. I’ve already passed geometry.” And with that, she turned back to continue watching Dynasty, because what Krystle Carrington was wearing was important. At that point in my life, I guess I thought moms retained every bit of math knowledge they had acquired in school. I guess I expected her to be able to recall the Pythagorean theorem on demand…30 years after passing her geometry class. My daughter has not asked me for math help (or any other kind of help in school) since. I guess, if she needed help along the way, she asked a classmate or a teacher.

And now, she is finishing high school in the next few weeks and preparing to leave for college! Exciting times at our house! She is enrolled, but she has lots of things to do before she can go off to college.

Back in the 80s, when I was applying to college and preparing to leave, I did it all. I don’t remember my parents helping me at all. Sure, they paid for everything, but I did all the legwork. I remember brochures and packets coming in the mail from different colleges and universities. My mother put a bag in my room to deal with that. Every day, after the mail arrived, she would bring all the brochures and packets up to my room and drop them into the bag. Every now and then, I would weed through the information and throw away the information from the schools I wasn’t interested in. When I applied to colleges, I simply asked her for checks to mail with the applications. I wrote the checks, and she signed them. I’m not even sure if she knew which schools the checks were going to. And that was OK, because I was the one going to college. She had already graduated from college.

Now, as my daughter is preparing to leave for college, I have joined some Facebook parent pages for her university, which is also my alma mater. I have written about the parent pages before. They are annoying, to say the least. Moms asking how to send baked potatoes to their kids’ dorms. (Not kidding.) Moms asking where their kids should park. (Not kidding.) Moms asking about tutors for their kids. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to do their kids’ schedules. (Not kidding.) Moms asking how to drop/add classes. (Not kidding.) Rarely, there is someone who asks a question or shares information that is useful.

Why did I put “not kidding” behind each of those items I listed? I will tell you why: because those are all things the kids should be handling themselves. And do you know why? Because they are the ones going to college. Fortunately, my daughter hasn’t asked me to handle anything for her (I don’t have any login information for her student account). She likely knows I would say, “That’s something you need to figure out like I had to do when I went to college. I’m not going to college; you are. I’ve already graduated from college.” Does it mean I don’t care? No, it means the opposite. It means I care enough to let her do it herself. She needs to learn to solve her own problems. She needs to know how to get her own questions answered. She needs to be responsible for herself. I have full confidence in her, because I have let her figure things out for herself for a long time. Heck, it’s easier for them now than it was when we were in college! Now, all the information they need is on the website!

Back in the good ol’ 1980s, if we had questions about college stuff, we had to search through the university catalog. Or get the university phone book and make some calls to get answers. If we were wondering about where to order a baked potato to have delivered to our dorm, we had to find the yellow pages and look it up. Only, we couldn’t look up “baked potato delivery.” We had to look up restaurants and search for one with an ad for delivery. We also had to have some idea of which ones offered baked potatoes. Or we could walk down the dorm hall asking people if they knew where we could order a baked potato…that often worked. But back in the 80s, our moms were not ordering food to have delivered to us. No way. Honestly, I’m not even sure my mother knew the name of the dorm I lived in freshman year! No joke.

All this also makes me think about something that happened when our daughter was about six years old. My friend, Wendy, and I had taken my 6-yr-old daughter, Wendy’s 6-yr-old son, and my twin 6-yr-old nephews to Great Wolf Lodge one weekend. When we took them to dinner, my daughter was holding her own plate, but standing next to me at the buffet. Wendy’s son was holding his own plate but standing next to her at the buffet. I looked around for my nephews and saw one at the prime rib station, asking the server for a slice of prime rib. The other one was navigating the salad bar on his own. When we sat back down, Wendy and I talked about how awesome it was that they handled it all on their own! I called the nephews’ mom the next day and said, “Wow! They handled the buffet like champs!” And I still remember her response. She said, “That’s what happens when parents ignore their kids. They become self-sufficient.” I laughed, because I knew she didn’t really ignore them, but she didn’t baby them. They handled things for themselves at six! And I learned a valuable lesson. l didn’t ignore my daughter, for sure, but I let her handle things on her own. Those same nephews are off to college this fall too, and I feel sure they can handle anything that comes their way.

When we get my daughter moved into the dorm in August, I will feel pretty sure she can figure things out. She can handle it. She has always been a decision-maker. She is like me; she can make a decision…it might not always be the best one, but she can make a decision, and that is a life skill. Why can she make decisions? Because I have always stepped back to let her make her own decisions. I might present the facts before she makes it, but she makes her own decisions. I’m proud of that, because “the road of life is paved with flat squirrels who couldn’t make a decision.” If your kid is about to leave for college, and you haven’t let them make life decisions, you have a few more months to let them practice, so they don’t become a flat squirrel.

I’ve already graduated from college.

Old School Fundraisers (You’ll Recognize a Few)

Old school fundraisers.

Back in the day, public schools, like the ones I attended, were all about fundraisers. PTOs, PTAs, marching bands, sports teams, and cheerleaders all raised money for one thing or another. And back then, there were lots of different things you could sell to raise funds.

The earliest fundraisers I remember were in Brewton, Alabama, where I lived till I was seven. I remember two different fundraisers, mostly because I remember the items my mother purchased from band members or athletes who lived in our neighborhood. One of my favorites was a birthday calendar. I hope someone else will remember these, because over the years, I’ve asked people if they remember them, and no one else can recall them. Back in the early 1970s, some part of our local school…I’m guessing the band or an athletic team…sold birthday calendars. They were wall calendars, but I don’t even remember what the pictures were. I just remember that on each date, it listed local people’s birthdays. I don’t know how it worked, but I guess you got to submit your family birthdays if you purchased a calendar. I loved it. As a kid, I was obsessed with little facts like birthdays, addresses, and phone numbers…weird, I know, but these fundraiser calendars made me very happy…especially when I saw my own name on my birthday. In fact, to this day, I still remember the birthdays of some of my childhood friends, simply because I flipped through that calendar all the time. I could also tell you some of their phone numbers, but that might be weird.

Something else my mother purchased through a fundraiser at TR Miller High School in Brewton? Red and white pleather (plastic leather) duffel bags. They were emblazoned with “TR Miller Tigers” and a graphic of the tiger mascot on one side, and it seems there were ads for local businesses on the other side. If I remember correctly, the bags were red with white lettering and white piping and a white plastic handle. I could be a little off with some of the details, but that’s how I remember it. Unfortunately, my family moved several times when I was growing up, and that duffel bag (or gym bag) got lost in the shuffle somewhere along the line. I sure wish I had it now. Apparently, they were popular at the time, because you can look on eBay for “high school duffel bag” and see quite a few of them (like the ones below)…from lots of different high schools across the country. Heck, I might purchase one from a different school just for the nostalgia!

Later, when we lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama, we sold chocolate bars to raise funds for the PTA at Spanish Fort School…our local elementary school. I think the brand was World’s Finest. I was probably in third grade, and I was all excited to sell some candy bars out of a cardboard box with a handle on it, but my mother was not keen on it. What I remember most? Each candy bar wrapper had a “buy one get, get one free” Whopper at Burger King. That sounded awesome to me! Nevermind that the nearest Burger King was across the bay in Mobile. In fact, the only one I remember at the time was way out toward the airport, but there might have been one closer to town. Either way, it was at least 30 minutes from our house, and we never went to Burger King. Also, I’d never had a Burger King Whopper at the time, so I had no idea that there was no way I would eat a burger with all those veggies at the time.

We moved another time, and my new elementary school, Wetumpka Elementary (or Bobby’s Brain Factory, as my parents called it, because the principal’s name was Bobby, and we all loved him) which I attended in fifth and sixth grades, was on a perpetual quest for air conditioning. I’m sure I participated in fundraisers for that…or maybe I should say my parents just bought all the candy bars I brought home…only to move on to middle school before the air conditioners were installed. I then went to a middle school that didn’t have air conditioning…in Alabama. In fact, I never went to a school that had any kind of air conditioning till I was in ninth grade…in Alabama. And then, it was just window units…in Alabama. Do I need to mention how hot it is in Alabama? We were tough, though. Seriously, I know I sound like an old person, but can you imagine today’s wimpy kids going to school without air conditioning? In Alabama?!?! Folks make fun of southerners for not being able to handle a little snow, but I remember reading about some schools in New Hampshire canceling classes a couple of years ago because of a “heat wave.” I think the temps were in the 90s. Haha! It was in the 90s from April or May through September (and maybe even into October sometimes) in Alabama, and we didn’t miss a day of school because of it!

In high school, in the 1980s, we had more fundraisers, and I have some fond memories of them. When I was a cheerleader, we sold lots of things…ice cream from a freezer in our advisor’s classroom, suntan lotion (because we called it suntan lotion instead of sunscreen then), spirit towels, and my all-time favorite: booster badges! I don’t know if other high schools had booster badges, but they were all the rage at mine. As cheerleaders, we were given a stack of booster badges on Thursday afternoon to sell every Friday during football season. I think they were fifty cents each, and we each had to sell $50 worth each week. I would get to school early Friday morning with a shoe box full of booster badges to work the parking lot. It worked out that each cheerleader ended up having loyal customers. In fact, I remember who my loyal customers were to this day! If you’re not familiar with booster badges, they looked like the photos below. But ours weren’t all positive like the signs kids are expected to make today. Our said things like “Mutilate the Mustangs,” “Pulverize the Panthers,” and “Butcher the Bulldogs.” As soon as we had sold all our allotted booster badges for the week, we would take our boxes to our advisor who would take the money, and we stored our shoe boxes in her room till the next week, when we picked up more booster badges.

I remember our marching band selling Krispy Kreme Doughnuts (I think they were $2.50 a dozen), candy bars, and boxes of M&Ms. One reason I remember is that I often had those M&Ms for lunch. If I arrived in the school cafeteria and found they were serving something I didn’t want to eat, I would search out a friend who was selling M&Ms and have Peanut M&Ms for lunch. I probably washed them down with a Coke or Dr. Pepper from one of the school vending machines, but that’s a story for another day. I also remember one person in the band who had a car accident and woke up to find herself at the bottom of a ravine, alone. One thing she remembered about waking up? She had M&Ms in her hair from the fundraiser. She was fine…no injuries.

Things are a lot different now. My child has never come home from school with stuff to sell for a fundraiser, and her school doesn’t have vending machines with sodas or snacks for students. The food in her “dining hall” is prepared from scratch by a chef and skilled staff, and the food is fantastic…and there are lots of choices! While I know my parents thought some of those fundraisers were just a scam to get them to send in money, I feel like my daughter has missed out on some special memories. I’m going to eBay now to order a duffel bag.

The Loss of a Beloved Teacher

The loss of a beloved teacher.

When I was growing up, my family moved several times. In fifth grade, I landed in a new town and new school. It was a school that was several times bigger than my previous elementary school. At my “old” school, we had only two classes for each grade. Everyone knew each other, and we were a pretty sheltered bunch. At my “new” school, there were four or five classes for each grade. Everyone did not know each other, and well…they weren’t as sheltered. Fortunately, I fell into the classroom of a wonderful, caring teacher.

I feel pretty sure she could feel my pain on the first day. While everyone was friendly, I’m sure I looked like a deer caught in the headlights, so my new teacher assigned two girls to look out for me. They showed me around and introduced me to their friends, and it certainly made the transition easier. Assimilating wasn’t difficult, thanks to the teacher and those girls she introduced me to.

There was something special about this teacher. She was dealing with students from various socioeconomic backgrounds and races, and somehow she brought us all together. I don’t know how public schools work in Alabama now, but back in the day, students were grouped by reading level and math level. We had at least two different levels in our class at any given time, except math, when we went to a different classroom where everyone learned the same thing. In some cases, I’m sure students who weren’t working on the highest level might have felt inferior, but I don’t think they ever felt that way in her class. She loved all of us, in spite of and because of our differences. And while I was in the highest level reading group, I know we never looked at the other groups in our class and thought they were “less than.” That’s because our teacher pulled us together. She understood that fifth grade students needed to move around some during the day, and she encouraged us all to participate in discussions, be creative, and work with our “neighbors.”

I had always been a good student, but I had usually been pretty quiet in class. But at the end of the first grading period, the teacher called my mother before sending home my report card. She wanted to warn my mother ahead of time that she had marked “talks too much” on my report card, but she explained that she had done it for our whole group that sat in the same area. Apparently, we had bonded well enough that we never stopped talking! My mother was surprised but thought it was funny, since she had never been told I “talked too much” at school. And we, the students, learned a valuable lesson about working as a group…everyone in the group is responsible for each other.

One of those friends, James, from that class group texted me recently. He is my longest continuous-contact friend, and we were brought together right there in that classroom. We have been friends for 43 years. He texted me to tell me our beloved teacher had passed away. He loved her too. In fact, he was, quite possibly, the student who checked in on her the most over the years. She saw something special in him when we were in 5th grade, and he didn’t disappoint. He remembered her kindness and spent time with her when she was in the hospital several years ago, and then, last year, he visited her at home…spending time laughing and talking with her.

The last time I spoke with our teacher was Mother’s Day weekend in 2019…just over a year ago. We talked about old times. We talked about how she let us veer from the lesson plan sometimes to give us time to be creative. She sometimes secretly gave clothing and snacks to the students who needed it…but in a way no one else knew it, so the student wouldn’t be embarrassed. We talked about how she became a teacher. We laughed a lot while we reminisced, and we solved some of the world’s problems in that phone call. She reminded me of a few things, and I reminded her of a few things. And she asked me to write down some of my memories of her/her class and send them to her.

She taught my brother two years after she taught me. We are two totally different personalities; frankly, he’s a lot more fun than I am. And I’m sure he was quite the class clown, but this teacher? She had an appreciation for his humor. She found a way to teach him without squashing his spirit. She saw something special behind his twinkling, mischievous eyes, and she loved him. He loved her too.

When I heard about her passing, I was heartbroken. I knew her health had been in decline, but I was surprised to hear she had passed. I was, however, happy I had followed through on my promise to write down some memories and send them to her. It took me a few months to get it done, but I got it done. I emailed it and then sent her a hard copy of it too. A friend was having coffee with me at my house when I got the news, and I told her, “Wow. My fifth grade teacher just died.” I went on to explain to her how special this teacher was to all her students…how she actually cared. And then I said, “I’m so glad I talked to her last year and sent her some memories I had written down for her.” No regrets.

She had long since retired, but she made a difference in the lives of lots of children over the years. She was special. I feel sorry for the ones who didn’t get to be in her class. If you had a beloved teacher during your school days, make his/her day by sending him/her a letter, or even just an email, letting him/her know he/she made a difference in your life.

She was a lovely lady, and “lovely” is high compliment from me…one I don’t throw out lightly. God bless her family, and God bless the soul of Mrs. Stiff.

All Quiet on the Home Front

All quiet on the home front.

Oh, COVID, how I hate thee. Not only have you messed up the last six months, but now you’re forcing me to be quiet in my own home.

School has started for the 2020-21 school year…remember when we were all excited about moving into the year 2020? It was supposed to be the year of clarity. We got clarity, all right! I can see clearly now that it’s going to be another messed up school year! And it’s mostly going to be messed up, because it’s taking place in my kitchen.

Actually, I have to give credit where it’s due. At least our school is trying to get back in the classroom. Our school opted to divide the students in half and they go on alternating days. That means every other day, my daughter will be camped out in my kitchen. Last year, she opted to do “remote learning” in the upstairs game room, but this year, she wants to be in the kitchen. I get it. There’s more light.

But there’s also more noise in the kitchen than upstairs in the secluded game room…and more chance of interruption.

Take today, for example. While our daughter was working in the kitchen, I was in my room trying to get some work done. I recently started some contract work of my own…not full time stuff…just something to keep me busy. I can work on my own schedule, as long as I have my computer, so today I was working in my room with Shark Tank on the TV for background noise. Occasionally, I would look up at the screen, if something seemed particularly interesting, or if someone said something funny. A lot of funny stuff happens on that show.

And then it happened. A guy made a fantastic deal with one of the “sharks,” and I expressed my disbelief…loudly. My daughter promptly texted, “Quiet plz!” I can only hope her high school English teacher didn’t hear my exclamation of surprise…it might or might not have contained an expletive.

So here’s my question: am I actually going to have to be quiet every other day in my house?

For most folks, that likely wouldn’t be a problem…especially if they’re working on a project of their own. But for me, it could be a problem. I’m accustomed to having free reign in my own home. I’m accustomed to talking as loudly as I like. I accustomed to laughing heartily and talking on the phone as I walk into the kitchen. I’m even accustomed to playing music in the living room, which is adjacent to the kitchen, during the day.

I guess all that’s coming to a screeching halt. I guess I’ll take all my phone calls on the patio. I’ll try to keep my voice down and my laughing to a minimum. I’ll try not to walk into the kitchen while laughing and talking on the phone with a friend…like I did today in the middle of my daughter’s history class. I don’t know if the history teacher or anyone else noticed, but I sure got a nasty look from the daughter. At least I had on clothes, right?!? I’ve read about moms who have unknowingly walked past the zoom classrooms in various levels of undress. That wouldn’t happen around here, because I don’t tend to walk around the house unless I’m fully dressed, but I am in danger of dropping an occasional expletive in the middle of class.

Next thing you know, my family will start shipping me out to a hotel on remote learning days. Honestly, I would welcome the opportunity to order room service for lunch. Should I make my reservation now?

All quiet on the home front…this is going to be a tough order. Any other moms of students who are learning remotely want to meet me for a long lunch every other day?

College for Your Teen

College for your teen…

Where do you want your teen to go to college?

Someone asked me that question recently. It didn’t take me long to answer, because I know exactly where I want her to go.

I have always thought she would love a big state university. I went to a big state university and loved every minute, so I have always thought she might like the “full college experience,” just like I did.

And then sometimes, she will tell me about some smaller schools that interest her…different ones all over the country. It’s then that I think, “Maybe one of those will be best for her.” Maybe she would like being on a small campus in a cute little town somewhere.

There are so many colleges and universities all over the country to choose from. Almost anyone who wants to go to college can likely find a place that work for them. Interested in big time sports? Check out state universities. Interested in the arts? Check out liberal arts schools near you. Interested in a smaller school setting? Looking for a school that has a high commuter population? You want a school that doesn’t have a high commuter population? You can likely find something that works.

But with so many options, the decision can be difficult. I peruse brochures that come in the mail. I take virtual tours online of different campuses. I talk to friends about where they went to college and listen to their college stories. And honestly, if you talk to the right person, almost every college experience sounds great. I always encourage my daughter to talk to people about their experiences.

It can be difficult to choose.

But here’s the thing: the decision isn’t mine to make. It’s my daughter’s.

My husband and I decided a long time ago that we want her to go to the college of her choice. We want her to find her people. We want her to go into the college experience knowing she picked exactly what she wanted. We want her to be excited. When she has tough days adjusting to college life, we don’t want her to think, “If my parents had let me go where I wanted to go, this wouldn’t be happening.”

Sure, I can listen to her and help her make the decision, but she will make the decision. This is a teenager who, as a toddler, wanted to make her own decisions. She’s got this.

We have made “unofficial” visits to colleges all over the country, just so she could get a feel for the campuses. She has narrowed it down to five or six that she likes. But she’s just entering her junior year of high school. She could find new places of interest over the next two years. She will likely learn about colleges she doesn’t even know exist, and it’s possible some of them could look interesting to her.

So when someone asks me where I want her to go to college, I will give them the same answer I gave my friend a few days ago:

I want her to go where she wants to go.

For the next two years, I will be an innocent bystander in the college search process…simply a facilitator. I will make sure she has access to information about lots of different types of schools. If there is a college she wants to visit, we will do it. If there’s a college she wants to mark off the list…by all means, mark it off the list. Because, when it comes right down to it, it’s her life. She gets to live it. She is quickly approaching adulthood, and she needs to know how to make decisions. I firmly believe a child/teen who isn’t ever allowed to make decisions will become an adult who doesn’t know how to make decisions. I’m going to trust that my daughter will make the right decision for herself, and I’m excited for her to do it.

She has two years to decide.

Let’s get this party started!

8th Grade Underdogs

8th Grade Underdogs.

No, I don’t want to relive middle school. Lord, no…just no. I don’t even want to relive my daughter’s middle school years. We were fortunate she had great teachers and administrators for most of her middle school, but she wouldn’t want to do it again, and I wouldn’t want her to. Today, though, a friend posted her daughter’s field hockey stick for sale on Facebook, with the caption, “For sale! The field hockey stick has a proud history of fending off many goals plus an epic win over [our rival]. #letthemeatcake  And it brought back a great memory from my daughter’s 8th grade field hockey season.

One great thing about middle school was that it offered students an opportunity to try sports they had never played before, and our daughter wanted to try to play field hockey in seventh grade. She had been to a field hockey clinic or two, but soccer had always been her primary sport. As the school year started, she decided that, even though she was also playing club soccer, she wanted to play middle school field hockey.

And so the school year started, and she would stay after school for field hockey practice for a couple of hours. Then I would shuttle her over to another part of town for soccer practice. It was more stressful for me than it was for her, because of the traffic at 5:30, but we did it. And then one day, after one of the first field hockey games, she got in the car and said she just couldn’t go to soccer practice. She had too much homework.

Something had to give.

I told her, “It’s time to make a choice. We can’t continue like this. Your schoolwork can’t suffer because of all these sports commitments.” And right there in the car, without hesitation, she picked field hockey. She was tired of soccer, and I understood…she had been playing since she was five years old. Frankly, I was tired of traveling all over the state for it every weekend. Getting up at 5am to drive to Mebane, North Carolina, for an early game was not my ideal way to spend a weekend. So…field hockey it was!

She loved it, but I wouldn’t let her play club field hockey, because I wasn’t getting us back into the same situation we had been in before with soccer. She needed time to get her schoolwork done in a timely fashion, and she needed family time and friend time. So she just played on her 7th grade school team, and she had a great time! Most of the girls on the team had never played before, so they were all learning together. They won some games and lost some games…maybe even lost most of them, but they had a great time. It was a good learning year, and they had a coach who was patient and let everyone get some playing time. And then, in 8th grade, most of them played again.

In eighth grade, the stakes were a little higher. The girls all got some playing time, but they didn’t get equal playing time. In eighth grade, they play to win. Again, I think most of the girls had a great time, and they played pretty darn well. In fact, as the season came to an end, they found themselves in the semifinals of the conference championship (the highest level in middle school) against their biggest cross-town rival. Our team was the underdog, but they had heart…just like The Bad News Bears…but with field hockey…and they’re girls. Their coach got them motivated, and they went into the game wanting to win…on the other team’s field.

The game started, and it was a close one…both teams were playing really well. A friend’s daughter was playing goalie for our team and had some great saves. The girls were stepping up their play! They were playing together beautifully as they never had before! Coach had really pulled them together! She certainly gets all the credit. And then, my daughter, who was playing center-mid, went down with an ankle injury right after halftime, when one of her friends on the opposing team accidentally hit the ball hard right into her ankle. We heard it in the stands: THWACK! My friend who was sitting next to me sat down with me, as I fully expected to have to take my daughter to Urgent Care, where, at the time, we should have had our own parking spot from all her sports injuries. From the stands, though, I could see her crying on the other sideline and icing the ankle, and in a little while, she was back on the field! I was elated!

The game came to an end, and our little team of Bad News Bears won by one goal! They jumped! They screamed! They cheered! They celebrated! And then, while our girls were still celebrating, two or three players from the opposing team quietly approached our players. They were carrying a cake…the one that was intended for their celebration…except they weren’t celebrating. The girls said their coach wouldn’t let them have their celebratory cake, because they didn’t win…and they offered it to our team. We didn’t have a cake, so it was a gracious gesture. Our girls were in shock but accepted it, and a new motto was born: Winners Eat Cake!

Our girls went on to play another cross-town rival in the championship and lost, and although they were disappointed, they have never forgotten how awesome that semifinal win was! As our girls start their junior year of high school and a new, strange field hockey season during COVID, they are still looking forward to the season and being together…and making more memories together. Sometimes the underdogs get the win. Such a sweet memory…

Hoping we can have a great season this year…even with COVID!

Winners eat cake!

 

 

 

Big Blue Marble Penpals

Big Blue Marble penpals.

Who remembers Big Blue Marble, the TV show that came on Saturday mornings back in the 1970s (and apparently, on into the 1980s, according to Wikipedia)? Those of us who watched it know the title was a reference to our home planet. In each episode, it featured stories about real-life kids…one segment about an American child and a segment about a child living in another country. The show also encouraged viewers to send letters in to start penpal relationships with kids around the world. I loved it the show, but I never mailed in a letter. But maybe I should have! Because of this pandemic, I’ve discovered that having penpals is fun!

Weeks ago, in an effort to brighten the moods of my friends who are stuck at home, I started sending out letters and some postcards I had collected on different vacations. We are planning to travel with some friends this summer (yes, still planning to go…fingers crossed), so I sent them postcards featuring the places we will visit…because I’ve visited the places before. And lucky for me, when I was there, I picked up some picture postcards, and till now, I’ve never felt the need to use them. But thank you, COVID-19, for encouraging me to dig through all my stuff to find those postcards and send them to friends who live far away.

But here was something cool that I saw on Instagram: one hotel where we have stayed before posted something saying, “Send us your name/address in a direct message, and a member of our staff will mail you a letter from the hotel!” Because I thought it was a fun idea, I submitted my teenage daughter’s name and address…knowing she would love to get some snail mail from one of her favorite places on the planet.

And I was right! When the picture postcard arrived with a sweet note written by the director of guest services, she was thrilled! Without my having to tell you, I’m sure you know what I did. First, I encouraged my daughter to write back…and she did. And instead of just mailing her letter back, I stuck a letter of my own into the envelope, thanking the director of guest services for sending her a postcard.

Since I started mailing postcards and letters, I have had the most fun opening my mail to find some of my friends in faraway places have written back! Some thanked me via facebook or email, and that was thrilling too, because they all said it brightened their days. It’s funny how a simple gesture can make a difference. Seriously, it doesn’t take long to write a quick note, especially on a postcard, and mail it.

If only Big Blue Marble were still on, kids could all get some new penpals all over the world. If I had actually participated as a kid, it would have been a great way to learn about different cultures. I suppose it’s a little old-fashioned now, but I still think it would be fun. Sure, some people use social media to meet “new friends” in other countries, but I don’t trust that. I’ve seen a few too many episodes of 90 Day Fiance, so I see how people get “catfished.” I even saw an episode of Dr. Phil on which a woman had sent thousands of dollars to her “true love” in some foreign country, and then, every time she was supposed to meet him, he missed a flight or had some other lame excuse. He was catfishing her. So no, social media is not the same as the good old Big Blue Marble days, and receiving an email isn’t as much fun as receiving a handwritten letter or postcard.

So I’ll just keep on sending letters and postcards to friends and family in faraway places. If you’d like to receive a postcard, send a private message with your name and address!

In fact, I’m walking down to the mailbox to send off a few more postcards now.