All My Rowdy Friends…

All my rowdy friends have settled down.

Yes, that’s a quote from a Hank Williams Jr. song. I used it for two reasons: 1. I love me some Bocephus (Hank’s nickname). 2. All my rowdy friends really have settled down. When I say they have “settled down,” I don’t mean they’re not fun. I mean they have “settled down” into who they are. They are comfortable in their own skin. They’re still a lot of fun…maybe even more so. They’re in their 50s.

Today, another friend turns 50. I have been in my fifties long enough that I feel sorry for all those folks in their 30s and 40s who still take themselves so seriously. No, really…I feel sorry for them. Lots of them are still worrying about what other people think. Lots of them still think they need to make the hamster wheel spin faster. They still think more expensive = better. Lots of them still think they have to keep up with the Joneses. Bahahaha! Yes, I feel sorry for them.

Interestingly, my friend, Jennifer, who is turning 50 today has been an old soul for as long as I’ve known her, but she’s also the most fun person I’ve ever known. We met about 15 or 16 years ago through another friend, when they both lived in Charlotte. The birthday girl moved to Columbus, Ohio, years ago, and the friend who introduced us moved to the Chicago area years ago. We were all supposed to go to Lollapalooza together in Chicago this year, but COVID messed that up.

When I say Jennifer has been an “old soul,” I don’t mean she has some sort of Yoda-like wisdom. She’s wise, but she’s no Dalai Lama. She has a different kind of wisdom. She can smile through almost any situation. Nothing seems to get her down. I like to think of myself as a pretty positive person, but she has had to talk me off the ledge more than once. I’ve seen her in situations where she should have been on the ledge, and she wasn’t. She kept smiling and kept moving forward. She also doesn’t worry about what other people think of her. As an example, she went back to work a couple of years ago, so I’m sure she “dresses” for work, but before that? T-shirts and shorts with sneakers or Birkenstocks every day. Chilly outside? She’ll throw on a sweatshirt or hoodie. During winter, I’m sure she wears long pants, but I’m guessing she still wear sweatshirts or hoodies every day. Handbags and shoes? She has a few designer bags, but like I said…I don’t know if I’ve ever seen her in anything but sneakers and Birkenstocks. Well, I saw her in hiking boots when we did a rock scramble with sprained ankles years ago. Yes, we both had sprained ankles.

As for the hamster wheel. Yes, she works again, but it’s not her whole life. She doesn’t “live to work.” She works to live. Her work doesn’t define her. She knows the hamster wheel is just a means to an end.

And she really is the happiest person I know. Nothing phases her. When she was looking for a job after not having worked for 15 years, she called me and told me when her first interview was coming up. I said, “You’re going to get this job.” She laughed, as she often does, and said, “I haven’t worked in 15 years! Why would they hire me?” I said, “Well, you’re confident. You’re clearly smart…you went to graduate school at Vanderbilt. Most of all, you’ll be good for morale in an office setting. You’re Miss Merry Freaking Sunshine!” Guess what? I was right. She was offered the first job she interviewed for in fifteen years, and she has been working there since.

Did I mention Jennifer has always been a lot of fun? She had a lot of fun in high school and college…and beyond. Oh, the stories she tells. She has a different kind of fun now, but frankly, she makes everything fun. She’s always up for the next adventure…and we have had many: rock scrambles in upstate New York, cold lake swimming in upstate New York, climbing a waterfall in Puerto Rico, swimming in the pitch black bioluminescent bay, ziplining in a rainforest, shopping with street vendors in NYC, riding bikes through a state park in Florida, all kinds of crazy fun in California. She lives life. And she encourages others (like me) to live our lives.

Am I worried Jennifer is going to get down about turning 50? Not one bit. She will approach her 50s just like she approaches everything else…with a big smile on her face and a sense of adventure.

She’s Miss Merry Freaking Sunshine!

Happy 50th to Jennifer!

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!

Graduation Gifts

Graduation gifts.

Yes, it’s getting close to that time of year, and sadly, this year’s graduating class is not going to have the same experience as other classes. I have lots of friends whose children are graduating from high school during this terrible pandemic, and I know they feel “ripped off.” That seems to be the general consensus…ripped off.

As much as I feel ripped off on my favorite things…vacations, sports, etc…I’m an adult. Some might argue that I don’t always act like an adult, but technically speaking, I’m an adult. At 52, I know “this, too, shall pass,” but then, this isolation isn’t delaying my graduation, my prom, my wedding, or anything else. Sure, I’m having to delay (or even cancel) some of my vacations to some of my favorite places. Sure, I’m not getting to watch my daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, play school lacrosse. But “good Lord willing and the creek don’t rise,” she’ll be playing next year, and I’ll get to take other vacations.

These high school (and college!) seniors don’t get a “do over.”

And as I sat thinking about that recently, it occurred to me that, at the very least, I can let them know that I’m thinking of them. Normally, I would wait till the end of May or early June to send graduation gifts, but I decided to go ahead and start sending them now…just trying to put smiles on their faces right now…let them know we’re thinking of them. These kids are missing out on so much, and I think they will be thrilled to start getting some early gifts…no matter how big or small those gifts may be! They just like knowing someone remembered they are graduating.

So, while it’s on my mind, I want to share a few ideas for graduation gifts, in case you want to go ahead and send something to someone you know who is missing out on the fun stuff of senior year.

AMAZON GIFT CARDS. Seriously, this is what I’ve been sending. You can pick the amount you want to send, and Amazon will attach a gift note and ship it out to your favorite grad. With an Amazon gift card, they can order just about anything they want, right? I’ve been ordering the card that comes “wrapped” in a box with a bow. You can order here.

BATHROBE. For young people who will be heading off to college in the fall, a bathrobe makes a great gift. Many of them will have community bathroom situations, which in my mind, is part of the “joy” of freshman year, and they will need a good bathrobe. Lands’ End has some quality robes starting under $50, and many of them can be monogrammed. See their selection here.

OTHER PERSONALIZED GIFTS. Personalization Mall has lots of great ideas for personalized graduation gifts. When I graduated from high school many moons ago, some of my favorite gifts were a personalized laundry bag and shower caddy. Personalization Mall offers those and lots of other things. I know, a laundry bag sounds old-fashioned, but if a college student is as crafty as I was, they’ll find the nearest place that will wash, dry, and fold all their laundry for a small fee. Yep, I dropped mine off regularly…so much better than waiting for a washer and dryer to come available!  You can see their selection here.

OTHER GIFT CARDS. There are so many great gift cards graduate will love. Whether they are going off to college or not, they can use lots of different kinds of gift cards. Just think about what your graduate likes or enjoys. Most young folks in our area love Chick-Fil-A, so that’s a safe bet for a gift card. A Netflix gift card is another safe bet. Target and Walmart gift cards could come in handy for almost anyone. You can get them online at each company’s website.

CASH. Because cash is king. No doubt. Doesn’t every graduating senior love to get some cold hard cash as a gift? This year, I will be sending one cash gift to a friend’s daughter in Alabama, but I’m afraid she will have to get it in the form of a check, since we can’t see her to hand her the cash.

All these ideas are not new ideas for graduation gifts, but my point is…start gifting these grads NOW. They will appreciate the recognition. It might take some of the sting out of this isolation for them. Who doesn’t like to receive a surprise gift? Plus, you’ll not only be helping the graduates; you’ll also be helping the economy when it needs it!

 

Hanging With The Teenage Daughter (during the COVID-19 crisis)

Hanging with the teenage daughter (during the COVID-19 crisis).

I’m getting accustomed to it. I hate to admit it, but I’m getting accustomed to “sheltering in place.” If you had told me I wouldn’t be completely stir crazy after this many days at home, I never would have believed you. It’s likely there are several reasons, but I think the main one is our daughter.

Our daughter is 16, so in “normal” life, she’s rarely home. She has school Monday-Friday, like most kids, and after school, she “normally” goes straight to lacrosse practice in the spring. She doesn’t get home till around 6:00pm, and then she has to finish her homework. That leaves very little time for us to to spend together. Sure, there are weekends, but she is quite social, so she wants to hang with friends on weekends. I get it. I remember 16.

I’m not happy that people are suffering and even dying with COVID-19. We say prayers for them every day, and we are trying to observe all “shelter in place” rules. We are at home most of the time, except when we go out for “essentials.”

And while “sheltering in place” initially sounded terrible, having my daughter around more is great. She’s doing her school work online during the day Monday -Friday, but in the afternoons and evenings, we’ve been spending more time together. Our world has slowed down a little, and I’m trying to appreciate the slowdown.

Yesterday, for example, she took a break in her schoolwork to come down for lunch and asked if I would make her some avocado toast for lunch. I was thrilled to get to do that for her, but our avocados weren’t ripe enough yet, so I made her some peanut butter/banana toast. She was happy. Normally, during the week, I don’t get to sit with her for lunch, because she’s at school. Afterward, she went back to finish her studies, and later, she sat outside by the pool with me for a while…something else she wouldn’t normally be able to do on a weekday. ***I’ve since been informed that I can soften an avocado by sticking it in the microwave briefly.***

At dinnertime, we opted to go get takeout from a local favorite Mexican restaurant, something we had both been missing since all this started. We came home and had dinner as a family, and then I suggested we go for a walk around the neighborhood. I was thrilled when she said it sounded like a great idea…and off we went!

The night before, we all lay out on the patio as a family…looking at the stars and watching for satellites to identify using the SkyGuide app. Our daughter didn’t stay out as long as we did, but she seemed to enjoy it. She was much better at spotting satellites moving through the night sky, because her eyesight is better than ours, and it was obvious she was enjoying it when she would exclaim, “I see one!” She would then tell us where to look, and I would try to find it on SkyGuide to see what country launched it and how big it was. Would she have willingly gone out there for stargazing under “normal” circumstances? Probably not. She likely wouldn’t have been home or would have been doing homework.

Tonight, my daughter and I are going to start watching Tiger King, presently the #1 series on Netflix. We don’t alway agree on shows, and when I first suggested this one, she wasn’t interested. But when a teenage boy told her it was really good, she changed her tune. No, I wasn’t offended. Like I said, I remember 16. We have a few more series “on deck” to watch after we watch Tiger King. We will likely watch All-American on Netflix, Peyton’s Places on ESPN+, and a few more sports-oriented shows, since we miss our sports right now.

Additionally, she has been helping around the house…today, she will do some laundry and cook dinner for the family. She and I are going to sit down in a little while and find the perfect recipe for her to make a chicken dish for us. She loves spinach, so she will likely sauté some spinach for the side dish.

So while this COVID-19 crisis is terrible for individuals, public health, and the economy, we are using it as a time to strengthen our little family. We were a pretty tight unit anyway, but I feel like we are getting a gift of extra time with our daughter. She will be going off to college in 2022, so I’m happy to have some extra time with her. No, the reason for the extra time isn’t ideal, but I’m trying to look at the bright side. I’m making lemonade out of lemons.

We are hopeful that the pandemic will be under control sooner rather than later, but till then, we plan to enjoy this time with our daughter. Sure, we all miss sports. We all miss friends and extended family. We all miss “normal,” but we’re trying to make the best of the cards we’ve been dealt.

Till then, we’ll be hanging out with our teenage daughter.

I Never Wanted to Homeschool

I never wanted to homeschool.

Seriously…never. It never, ever crossed my mind in a serious way. There were times I thought, “If we homeschool, we can go on vacation all the time! We can educate our daughter on the road!” And I know that works for some folks. But for me? Nope, nope, nope. I love my daughter, but we don’t need to be together 24/7.

Yet here we are, in the middle of a pandemic, and homeschooling is the only way. I’m not officially homeschooling, because she is still signing in to her school website and having remote video “class” and conferences with teachers. Thank God. We just returned from “spring break,” during which our trip was actually canceled, but we had a break nonetheless. And now school is starting back.

Lucky for us, our daughter is 16 and a sophomore in high school. She is old enough to figure it out herself. In fact, I have been receiving emails from her teachers about remote learning, and every time I see one, I think, “Really? Don’t y’all tell us to be ‘hands off’ when they get to high school?” Why do they suddenly want us to be hands on?!? I know the students are home, but my daughter needs to drive this bus herself. I never know what her homework is, just like my mother never knew what my homework was in the 80s. That is entirely her responsibility.

When my daughter was in third grade, another mom approached me at school one day and asked, “Is your daughter ready for the Bunnicula test?” I must have looked at her like she had three heads, because I responded, “What the heck is a Bunnicula?” Apparently, it was a book they had read, and they were having a test on it that day. For a brief moment, I wondered how the other mom knew they were having a test! I had no idea, because even when she was in third grade, I didn’t help with homework. I didn’t help her get or stay organized. I didn’t help her with her homework at all. It was all up to her. That was her job…just like it is now. I know…I know…some of you will say that was a little too hands off. Trust me, I am a very present parent in every other way, but I have always believed she needed to learn how to do her schoolwork the same way I did…without any help from parents. I remember when she was in sixth grade, I sat down with her and taught her my secret method for studying for tests, and she has thanked me a million times since. I’ll offer guidance. But helping with daily homework? I’ve never done it.

She knows she can come to me for guidance when she needs it. I will always provide support and guidance. As recently as this morning, I reminded her that she needs to stay in close touch with her teachers. She needs to email or conference with them pretty regularly, even if she doesn’t feel like she needs help. She needs to keep the lines of communication open. That’s my advice for the day. That’s how I help her with her education.

Many times I’ve told her about a calculus class I had in college. I had a low A going into the final, but I had been meeting with the teacher two or three times a week to keep that A. And then I bombed the final…I don’t mean I made a C.  I bombed it. Back then, to see our exam grades before we left school at the end of the semester, we had to go see where they were posted outside the teacher/professor’s office door. After I saw my terrible grade, I entered his office, he said, “Oh, Kelly, you did not do well on the final.” I said, “I saw that!” I then asked him what grade I would get for the semester (the final was supposed to have a lot of weight). Instead of answering me, he asked, “What grade do you think you deserve?” I would have said a C. But seeing an opening, I returned the question, “What do you think I deserve?” He looked at me, very kindly, and said, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” He was from another country…I don’t remember where…so he spoke in broken English, but he had the sweetest way of expressing his wisdom, and he was a very compassionate man. I thanked him profusely, and I was on my way. I have remembered his kindness for all these years…and when someone in our family works hard and meets a goal or accomplishment, I say, “You do good in long journey.”

That’s my long way of saying I worked hard to try to get a good grade in that class, and my teacher recognized that. That’s what I am encouraging my daughter to do right now. She has heard that story a million times, and as a teenager, she might not fully hear it, but one day, something will happen, and she will know I’m right.

So, while I’m sure her teachers and school are simply making sure I’m informed with those emails they’re sending me, I’m not getting into the fray. If she were younger, I might have to jump in with both feet, but in 10th grade? Nah. She can do this, and she’ll appreciate it a lot more if she does it on her own.

Homeschooling? It’s still not for me. That’s one thing I know for sure. I’ll be team mom. I was a homeroom mom many times when she was in elementary school. I volunteer all over the place. But I’m not planning to take the reins on this homeschooling.

She’s got this. She will “do good in long journey.”

 

Quarantine: March 1985

March 1985.

Thirty-five years ago.

It was my senior year in high school, and as spring break approached, I was feeling miserable. My mother took me to see Dr. Mracek, our family physician, and he said those words no high school senior wants to hear, “I think you have mono.” You know…mononucleosis…also known as “the kissing disease,” because it’s easily transmitted between teenagers. It was the last thing I wanted to hear, because at the time, for a teenager, it was a death sentence for all activities. Of course, I felt so badly that I couldn’t go anywhere, anyway.

My throat hurt. My head hurt. I had no energy. The mono test came back positive, and the doctor told me to stay in my bedroom and only leave it to go to the bathroom and take a shower/bath. He told my mother to get me a good multivitamin and keep the rest of the family away from me. He told her to get paper plates and plasticware for me…and get me my own salt and pepper shakers. He didn’t want the rest of the family to catch it. And he told me to stay hydrated. He also instructed me to stay out of school till he told me it was OK to return. I think people worried a lot more about mono back then, because I see kids returning to normal activities much more quickly after being diagnosed now. My mother, being a registered nurse, followed the doctor’s orders to the letter. I stayed in my room, but I didn’t really have the energy to do anything else anyway.

At 17, I couldn’t believe it. It was my senior year of high school. I was missing a spring break beach trip. It meant I would be home on Friday nights to watch The Love Boat and Fantasy Island. While that would have sounded awesome a few years earlier, as a senior in high school, it sounded terrible. Interestingly, I remember seeing the debut of Mr. Belvedere, a sitcom starring Bob Uecker and others, but since my family always watched sports, Uecker is the one I remember from the show. Uecker is a former baseball player who is the broadcaster for the Milwaukee Brewers, but he is also known for some Miller Lite ads he made in the 80s, using the tag line “I must be in the front row!” I still use that line regularly, but no one knows what I’m talking about when I do.

My bout with mononucleosis is my only “quarantine” experience. After missing spring break and a week or two of school, I was slowly allowed to return to half days, then full days of school. Eventually, I resumed all normal activities. By summer, I was feeling normal, and I was able to go off to college in August of that year.

Interestingly, that time of “quarantine” is just a blip on my radar now. I don’t remember much about it. I know I was heartbroken to be separated from friends and missing school activities, but while I remember that, I don’t feel it.  I don’t feel any sadness in looking back on it. I don’t feel sad about what I missed because of it. I missed a few months of normal activities, but now, it doesn’t matter. In fact, I feel pretty sure I had gotten over the sadness by the time I started college that fall.

Now, March 1985 is a distant memory, and one day, March 2020 will be a distant memory too. Because this COVID-19 pandemic is being experienced by the whole country, we will likely remember it more clearly…and hopefully learn from it… but my hope is that, eventually, we, as a country, will recover…just like my bout with mononucleosis. It will be a much bigger blip on the radar of life, but eventually, it will be behind us.

There will be recovery time from this. Lots of people have lost their lives and/or family members. Lots of folks have lost businesses and jobs. Lots of us have lost lots of money. I certainly don’t mean to make light of that, but I think we all need to look out for each other. It’s devastating…but our country will recover.

***I’m saying daily prayers for those who are suffering with COVID-19. I know there are lots of sick and dying people out there, and I pray for them and their families.***