Writing My Way Through Tough Times

Writing my way through tough times.

If we live long enough, we all experience heartache at some time or another. It might be in the form of a breakup, or it might be in the loss of a loved one. I experienced a few breakups as I grew up, just like most everyone else, but my first big, real heartache was when my daddy was diagnosed with and eventually died of pancreatic cancer in 2006.

He was officially diagnosed in February of that year, and he died on October 2 of the same year. Today is the 16th anniversary of his death…a tough day for me, and a reminder of the heartache I managed to survive. I suffered. It was the most painful thing I had ever experienced…losing my daddy. I was the mother of a toddler, but I was afraid I was losing my mind. I made lots of plans, because I thought I needed to stay busy. I ran myself ragged. But I learned.

When my mother fell ill 11 years later, my friend, Angela, who has also lost her father, said, “Get ready. It’s going to be tough when you lose her.” I vividly remember turning to her, saying, “It’s going to be tough, for sure, but I feel like I learned something when Daddy died. I feel like I developed some coping skills.” And after Mother passed, I learned I had, in fact, developed some coping skills. I had learned not to run from it. I had learned from my experience with Daddy’s death that I needed to just drop out of the world for a little while and process it. So that’s what I did after Mother died. I have written about it before. I literally gave myself permission to recover quietly and cancelled all plans and went to bed for a month. Don’t get me wrong. I was functional. But I didn’t feel like being social, so I wasn’t. I did what I needed to do for our daughter, but for the most part, I stayed home. And after a month, I “pulled up my bootstraps” and rejoined the living.

For Christmas that year, I had received a gift from a friend. It was a book called My Future Listography: All I Hope to do in Lists. When I received the gift, I thought it was cool, but when Mother died five days after Christmas, the book took on more meaning. It’s a journal, of sorts, and it’s part of a series of Listography books. Each one contains lists to fill in, and this one is full of lists about the future. Examples of some of the lists: What countries do you want to visit? What films do you want to see? What fictional characters would you like to hang out with? But after Mother died, the book became good therapy for me. Sounds crazy, but it gave me things to think about in the future. It made me see past the state of gloom I was in and look to the future. It really helped me move through the grief. It helped me realize that the act of putting my thoughts out there could help me heal. To order My Future Listography, click here.

And because of that, I started my blog. Writing things down…or typing them, in the case of the blog…was therapeutic! My Future Listography had brought me through the initial trauma of losing my mother, and writing the blog helpted me continue to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Since losing my Mother on December 30, 2017, I have given copies of My Future Listography to lots of friends when they have been going through tough times…breakups, death of a loved one, or even new empty-nesters who are having a hard time. Sometimes, they look at me like it’s a weird gift, and maybe it is…but several times, people have called me later to tell me how much it helped them keep putting one foot in front of the other…keep looking toward the future. We know time helps with heartache, but knowing there is life ahead of the heartache can help too. When someone is in the middle of grief or heartache, they aren’t necessarily thinking about the good things ahead, but this journal can help them see what the future might look like.

I have a friend who went through a terrible breakup two years ago, and I gave her a copy after the relationship ended. There’s something about a relationship ending that can seem particularly dismal. It can feel like everything you believed about someone was wrong…a lie. Later, we realize that’s not always the case; sometimes, there are just extenuating circumstances that cause relationships to end. And as with my friend, sometimes we need to be reminded that there is a bright future ahead. She called me months after the breakup and told me the journal of lists had helped her. Now, I keep a few handy to give as gifts, because you never know when someone you love is going to experience something bad.

Sometimes, we just need a reminder that better things lie ahead.

Pre-Departure Breakdown

Pre-departure breakdown.

The daughter leaves in three days. I haven’t had a breakdown. My husband hasn’t had a breakdown. In fact, our daughter only had a minor sniffle earlier today because she is going to miss her friends.

But something wicked this way comes…

I can feel it in the air at our house. I’m a little tense. She’s a little tense. And she is trying to squeeze in as much time with her friends as she possibly can. She slept at a friend’s house last night and came home long enough today to pick which clothes she wants to pack…or maybe I should say she picked which clothes she wants me to pack for her. And that’s OK.

After she dashed out to spend time with her friends again, my husband said, “Wow. She doesn’t want to spend time with us as much as she wants to spend time with her friends.” I told him, “That’s normal. In fact, I would be worried if she wanted to be with us more than she wants to be with her friends right now.” He looked surprised, so I explained further, “She knows we are here for her. She knows we always love her. We are the sure thing. But her friends are all going in different directions. I’m glad she wants to spend time with her friends.” And he got it. The fact that she wants to be with her friends means she feels secure in her relationship with us. It’s a good thing. We should actually be flattered by it.

It’s like when a kid behaves perfectly well in public but then gets home and acts like the spawn of Satan. My mother used to tell a story about 4-yr-old me. She said she took me somewhere, and I acted like a perfect angel, but when we got home…I was mean and fussy. She finally asked me, “Why do you act like this at home?” My 4-yr-old answer? “Where else can I act like this?” And she got it. She said, “Nowhere, honey. Just here…where we love you.” She knew I felt secure enough at home to have the breakdowns and act a little out of sorts. I knew she would love me no matter what. And that’s what our college-age daughter is feeling right now. She knows we will always love her no matter what, but she is trying to cement her relationships with friends before she leaves.

So yes, she teared up a little earlier, telling me she was going to miss her friends. She then told me, as we were packing her clothes, that one friend texted her earlier that she had a full-on meltdown about leaving for college. I think our daughter knows it is going to happen to her too. She had a fearful look in her eye. And I reminded her that she is going to be OK. She will, in fact, love it once she gets there and gets through the initial jitters. She laughed and said, “I feel like I am going to sleepaway camp. I guess it’s kind of like that.” I said, “Oh, honey…it’s so much better. You’ll have a brand new dorm room with a great roommate and your own bathroom. You’ll have lots of new friends. You’ll have lots of boys to meet…they don’t have boys at sleepaway camp.” She laughed. She knows I’m right.

She also remembered that I said I would like for her to stay there till Thanksgiving, so she can become a part of the community, and she asked, “What if I want to come home one weekend?” I laughed and said, “Honey, you know I will get you home if you need to come home.”

She can always come home.

I reminded her of something that happened when she was on a group trip hiking across Iceland a few years ago. They were near a volcano, and the guide told them it was due for an eruption. Apparently, she also told them that air traffic is halted for a month when the volcano erupts. (I actually remember that happening 10 or 12 years ago.) Another girl on the trip panicked and ran to their tent (yes, a tent…ugh). My daughter followed her in there, and the friend said, “We could be stuck here for an extra month if it erupts!” And my daughter replied, “Don’t worry. There is no way my mother will let that happen. If that volcano erupts, she will find a way to get us out of here. She knows people.” I laughed out loud when she told me that after she returned home from Iceland. But she wasn’t wrong…I do know people…people who could have “extracted” her from Iceland in no time. And so today, when she was saying she might need to visit home before Thanksgiving, I assured her she can always come home. But if it’s just homesickness…try to stick it out, because she will enjoy college life a lot more if she becomes a part of the community, and you can’t do that if you’re running home all the time. Make college your home.

So with three days left before departure, I feel pretty sure a meltdown is on the horizon. The question is…will it be my meltdown or hers?!?!

College Parent Pages

College parent pages.

Y’all, I have written about Facebook college parent pages before in another piece (you can see it here), but really…I feel like I didn’t do them justice. If you have a child in college, and you follow a college parent page on Facebook, you know what I’m talking about…the insanity. If you follow a parent page and don’t see the insanity, well…you might be the insanity. It’s like when people say “every family has a weird cousin, but if you don’t know who it is, it’s probably you.”

Seriously, though, if you see your own post here, please don’t be offended. Different people think differently. These are just a few of the ones my friends and I have pulled from the “interwebs.”

Stay with me here, because I am about to enlighten the parents who have not been subjected to this yet. Oh my! It’s something new every day! I know. I could “unfollow” the parent pages, but every now and then, there is some useful information. Besides, if I unfollowed the pages, what would I have to laugh about with my friends?

I will not name colleges or universities, but I asked some of my friends to send me some of the posts from their parent pages too, and I made a compilation. Hold onto your hat, folks.

  • I just saw this one on a Tiktok a friend (someone I have known since college!) shared with me earlier today: Where can students fill their water bottles? What about washing them? Yes, the parent of an incoming college freshman actually posted that on a parent page. What in the world? The Tiktok was funny, because the lady who made it (user881865674708) totally took parents to task for ridiculous posts like this one. Can your 18-yr-old can figure out where to fill up a water bottle or wash it?!?! If you’re asking a question like this, you might need to keep your student home and teach him/her how to do menial tasks.
  • Here’s one another friend sent me: My daughter wants to join a sorority, but we aren’t sure we can afford it. She will rush, but if we find it too expensive after she pledges, she will drop. No, no, and no! Costs are usually outlined pretty clearly. Where my daughter is going, parents must sign a form saying we know the costs associated with joining. At SEC schools with sorority houses, it’s expensive. If a chapter loses a member, they lose the money they were expecting from that member to help pay the cost of running the chapter and the house! It is unethical and unfair to the chapter…not to mention how unfair it is to your daughters. If Greek life is important to the student, and the cost is prohibitive, maybe they need to go to college somewhere with less expensive sororities…the ones that don’t have houses.
  • I saw this one today: Tuition bills are being posted! I’m from (out of state). It’s an awful amount I have to pay. What the what?!?!?! Did you not know that before you let your kid enroll??? It’s easy to find out the cost! Don’t agree to it and then complain publicly about it…you knew it going in!
  • Here’s a funny one: We are trying to buy tickets to the XXXX football game, but the cost is outrageous! Welcome to the SEC, honey. And if it’s a rival or Homecoming? You can plan to pay. Also, know the difference between Florida/Florida State, Ole Miss (Mississippi)/Mississippi State, etc. Sorry, it’s a pet peeve, since I have been following football my whole life.
  • One a friend sent me, because she is tired of seeing posts like this: I’m driving back from “University” to our hometown of XXXX, and I need a place to stop midway. Can someone tell me what that might be? This one cracks me up. Really? Have you never left your hometown? Never used an atlas or a GPS?!?! It’s not that hard, people! I worry about humanity…
  • Frequent post: My child needs a tutor… Let your child find the tutor, for goodness sake!
  • Here’s one: I’m not sure if our health plan, XXXX, is accepted in [the state where the daughter is attending college]. Is anyone familiar with it? Do you know if it is accepted there? Hmmm…how about you call your health plan company and ask them?!?!
  • And another one from someone whose child goes to an SEC school: I don’t understand why athletes can have housing all four years, but my child cannot? I can’t…I just can’t. Lol!
  • This one is a doozy: My child will be flying to school from out of state. He has never flown by himself before, and I am concerned about him navigating the Atlanta airport. Any advice? OMG. If he can’t navigate an airport, he needs to go to college closer to home. Also, I hope you used a fake name on the post, because he will be mortified if (when) he hears about that crazy post. Here’s how I look at airport navigation: If you can read, you can survive.
  • And while we are talking about airports: My daughter missed her connection at XXX International Airport. Can a parent tell me if there are any hotels located nearby? First, if it’s an international airport that is a hub for an airline (thus, the connection), the answer is probably “yes, there are hotels nearby.” Secondly, a quick Google check will answer that question, and your daughter (if you let her) will even be able to find out if they offer a free shuttle to/from the airport. Lots of airport hotels do.
  • Another example of “let them do it”: I’m looking for recommended clubs/fraternities/organizations for my freshman son. Again, no, no, and no. Let him figure it out! Did you pick all his activities in high school? If so, it’s time to let go, Dad. Let him figure it out.
  • Here’s a favorite: My daughter is having trouble getting dates since she got to college. Any ideas on where she can meet potential suitors? Holy smokes! A mom is literally trying to find her daughter a hookup! No, mom! You are not her matchmaker or her pimp! Let her find her own dates! It might take some time, but most people do get dates if they want them.
  • Here’s a tricky one: What is a reasonable allowance for my freshman child? First of all, we don’t know your income. This is something that might be better to discuss with a close friend who has a child in college. What is reasonable to some people might be outrageous to others. Only you know your financial situation.
  • Also, lots of questions like this: Where can I find my child’s syllabus? Can I see my child’s midterm grades somewhere? How do I know if my child is doing OK his first semester? Could your parents see all that when you went to college? Think about that. If they couldn’t see it, you don’t need to see it either.
  • And this one: Did anyone have a child who attended the XXXX Camp for freshmen before school started? It’s supposed to help freshmen make friends before school starts. If not, how did your child make friends when he/she got there? Are you serious? Mama…let him grow up. He will make friends somehow…probably in his dorm…if you don’t move in with him, because it sounds like you think you need to do that. He will be fine if you leave him alone.
  • This one made me laugh: Where can my child open a bank account? Hmmm…at a bank?
  • How about this? My son has tickets to a concert [an hour away] in November. Does anyone else have a son/daughter who will be going? Maybe my son can ride with them? As my mother would say, “Oh, dear Gussy.” If your child really wants to go to the concert four months away, he will have plenty of time to make friends with similar interests in the months leading up to it. You do not need to arrange his transportation for him, and if you do, well….
  • And this: My daughter is a sophomore and needs a job. Where can she find one? Hmmm…shouldn’t she be looking for the job instead of you, Mom? Are you going to fill out the application for her, too?
  • Ending with some comic relief: My child is staying in the dorm for orientation. Does anyone know what he should bring? A friend sent a picture of this post to me via text. She said the answer should be “condoms.”

I know…I got a little snarky, but sometimes, it’s hard to weed through the insanity to find the posts that are actually meaningful/helpful. If you think I’m the only one thinking this way, think again. Here is another piece from Medium.com. Please, don’t embarrass your child by posting these questions. Let your college student figure things out! Somehow, we figured it all out (in the 1980s) without the internet, and they will figure it out too. Honestly, my parents probably didn’t even know my major until I graduated. Let’s allow these kids to do their thing…grow up…figure it all out!

Preparing for Launch to College

Preparing for launch to college.

Boxes are piling up in the foyer of our house…Amazon, Nordstrom, Bed Bath & Beyond, Neiman Marcus, Target, Walmart, Zappos, more Amazon…you name it, we have it. Seriously, the foyer is starting to look like a warehouse. And it’s all because we are preparing to send our only daughter off to college to start her freshman year.

She moves in the first week of August. Are we ready? Well, we don’t have everything she is going to need. But I guess we are as emotionally ready as we will ever be. Who knows? We likely won’t know until we drive away from her dorm. I’m sure there will be tears at some point. Will we cry in the dorm room? Will we cry over dinner after we get everything moved in? Will we cry in the car after we leave? Or will it be a delayed reaction? Maybe we will cry after we get home and see her empty room? I have no way of knowing, but I will gladly answer all those questions after the fact.

Freshman move-in day is a day she will remember for the rest of her life. She already knows her roommate, but she will make lots of new friends on the very first day of dorm life…just like I did back in 1985. I have written before about my first college friends. You can see that here.

My friend, Angela, whose daughter is a junior in college (fortunately, at the same college where our daughter is going), tells me she didn’t cry when she left her in the dorm the first time. However, she did cry after she got home, and she occasionally still cries.

This whole “preparing for launch” thing is real. It’s a lot these days. When I went to college as a freshman in 1985, I feel like I took the bare minimum…linens, towels, enough clothes to last me a couple of weeks, some shoes, toiletries, an alarm clock, photos and posters to hang on the bulletin board in the room…and that’s about it. I wasn’t abnormal for the time, I don’t think. But wow, times have changed.

Now, you can look online and find all kinds of dorm decorating ideas. Girls decorate their dorm rooms with lots of stuff: pillows, rugs, lamps, curtains, extra shelving, headboards…all kinds of stuff. Fortunately, my daughter’s roommate’s mom is an interior designer. Yay, me! When I first talked with her on the phone, she told me, “I can do this in my sleep.” Thank you, Lord! It wouldn’t be left up to me! No one wants me to decorate a room. I think there are two types of people: the ones who see surroundings, and the ones who see faces. I am the latter. You could ask me right now what color the walls are in different rooms of my house, and I wouldn’t be able to tell you. In fact, I am working in our guest room right now, and even though I have been in that bathroom numerous times over the last few days, I couldn’t tell you what the cabinetry in there looks like. Is it white? Is it black? I’m not sure.

But back to the dorm…

The roommate’s mom and I agree that the girls’ room should not be so stuffed with extra things that it feels claustrophobic. It’s a small dorm room for two girls…two XL twin beds, a desk, two wardrobes, a refrigerator/microwave combo, a vanity area, and a bathroom with a shower. Obviously, we need to outfit it with the basics. They’ll need a shower curtain, a bath mat/rug, linens/bedding, towels, hangers, clothes, and their personal belongings. We have added some bed pillows, headboards, two throws for the beds, a rug for the bedroom, curtains, a couple of lamps, a few wall hangings, laundry bags, under-the-bed shoe storage compartments, a stand-up steamer, a vacuum (for the rug), Clorox toilet wand, and a table to put between the beds for the lamps. We aren’t taking extra shelving. We just want them to be comfortable, and I think they will be.

But for now, I am feeling a little overwhelmed by the boxes in the foyer. I just walked into our daughter’s room and told her we need to go through the boxes to see what is “keep” and what is “return.” She just looked at me. I’m sure she feels overwhelmed by the boxes too. Looking at the ever-growing stack of boxes, it seems like a daunting task to open them and make decisions right now.

Last year, I purchased lots of big, blue IKEA moving/storage bags well in advance of this endeavor. A friend told me to purchase them early, because by the time I realized I needed them, they would be out of stock. So they’ve been in a closet just waiting to be used. And tonight, we will carry some of them downstairs to start sorting through the boxes. We will start packing the “keep” items in the moving bags, and we will start putting the returns in my car for me to transport to the store, UPS, or FedEx…wherever they need to go.

I need to get out my checklist and start checking things off. There are checklists all over the internet. I found a helpful one on the Colleges of Distinction website. You can see it here. Some of the items we definitely won’t need, so we will redline those items, but then we will finish collecting all the other items we need and getting them packed. We also have to remember we must be able to fit it all in the car when we go! Sure, we could ship things ahead to the university post office, but honestly, that just sounds like a bigger pain to me, because I’m sure parking would be difficult, and there will be lines to stand in. No thanks. We will simply have to figure this out with the space we have.

Am I dreading the process? In a word…yes. But I’m not dreading it because we will be leaving our daughter behind. I’m dreading it, because we actually have to get all the stuff there and into the room. Even though we are trying to take a somewhat minimalist approach, we will have lots of “stuff.” Once the stuff is in the room and put away, I’m sure I will dread the actual departure without our girl.

Preparing for launch to college is no joke.

My College Advice to My Daughter

My college advice to my daughter.

It has been a long time since I was in college. In fact, I graduated with my bachelor’s degree 33 years ago…hard to believe! It’s especially hard to believe, because I have so many great memories from college, and when I see friends from college, we fall right in step…as if we have been hanging out together every day for the past 33 years. But I remember…I remember college. And because of that, I have some advice for my daughter, who is leaving for college in five weeks. Yes! Five weeks! My “wisdom” might not be wise…I’m the first to admit that, but I can only base my advice on my own experiences or things I witnessed in college. Here we go:

  • Make your college/university your home. Wait at least six weeks before going home. You might be homesick, but you want to become a part of your college/university community. That won’t happen if you’re running home every weekend. We are encouraging our daughter to stay at her university (450 miles away) until Thanksgiving week. Sure, we will attend some football games and see her then, but she needs to stay there. As long as she has one foot in her hometown, she’ll never become a part of the school community.
  • Butt in seat. First and foremost, go to class. If your butt is in the seat in classes, you are more likely to have success. You can’t succeed if you don’t go to class. It has been proven time and time again. I know I was most successful when I never missed classes.
  • Don’t put the key to your happiness in someone else’s pocket. This is something my husband shared with our daughter recently, and wow…it’s wise. Whether it’s a friend or a love interest, no matter what, do not let your happiness be dependent on another person. You need to make yourself happy. It’s a difficult lesson, but your happiness is your own responsibility. I have told friends and family for years, “You can’t make someone love you.” But you can create your own happiness.
  • Make as many friends as you possibly can. Become friends with people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, different geographic areas, and different ethnicities. College is the perfect time to make lifelong friendships. And it’s also important to make at least one friend in each class you take; you never know when y’all will need each other.
  • Attend sporting events, even if they don’t sound interesting at the time. I always went to football games in college, but I didn’t always go to other sporting events. In my junior year, I realized how much fun basketball games and baseball games were at my university. And track meets too! All those sporting events made for some fun memories, and they were great opportunities to make new friends!
  • Keep a planner. Keeping a planner is the easiest way to manage your time. This was something our school taught students starting in third grade. Each year, they learned more organizational skills. Because of all the newfound freedom, time management can be a big problem in college. It’s crucial that students find a way to keep time from getting away from them.
  • Get to know your teachers. I’ve told this story a million times: when I was a second semester freshman in college, I took a math class that was tough for me. I got to know my teacher and met with him two or three times a week to make it through the class. Going into the final, I had a high B or low A, but then I failed the final. The next day, I went to meet with my teacher to find out my grade, and after he told me what I had made on the final, he asked what grade I thought I deserved. I turned it to him and asked the same thing. That’s when he said, in broken English, “I give you B. You do good in long journey.” I was grateful. And this is a perfect example of how a teacher who knows you have worked hard might give you the benefit of the doubt.
  • Get involved. Find activities you love and try new things. Participate in some leadership opportunities. Enjoy some outdoor activities. Learn a new sport! It will enrich your college experience and your life.
  • Exercise. Always get plenty of exercise for your physical health and for your mental health. Exercise releases endorphins, the hormones that relieve stress and create a feeling of well-being. Work out regularly…whether it’s walking, running, playing tennis, rowing, hiking, racquetball…just exercise.
  • Don’t burn bridges. This is crucial life advice. I am a forgiver, so I know the importance of forgiveness. Why do I forgive? Because it’s easier than carrying the burden of a grudge or anger. Plus, it just feels better. My daughter has heard me say it her whole life…don’t burn bridges. You never know when a friendship can be mended, but it will never be mended if you burn the bridge behind you.
  • Do what you need to do so you can do what you want to do. Take care of business…or as I always say to my daughter, “TCB.” When I was in college, I saw lots of people having “too much” fun. Trust me, I liked to have as much fun as the next person, but I knew I had to make my grades to be able to stay there to have the fun. And I did. But I knew people who didn’t, and they failed out of college. Take care of business.
  • Have a budget (or at least be aware of your spending). This is a life skill. Know how much you can/can’t spend on different things. If you know you have $100 to spend on food but spend $120, you’ll need to take that $20 from another part of your budget. Truly…life lessons.
  • Keep the laundry under control. Whether you do your own laundry, have a service, or pay a friend to do it, keep it under control. You don’t want to run out of clean clothes. Make sure it gets done one way or another.
  • Change your sheets once a week. Just do it.
  • No friend left behind. This one is especially important for girls. Going out with friends? Do not let one friend linger alone somewhere (a bar, a party, anywhere) after everyone else leaves. And don’t let your friend leave with someone she doesn’t know. Be a good friend.
  • Be careful where you park. Girls generally know this, but it’s OK to remind them. I also tell my daughter not to use the parking deck alone. If she drives into the parking deck, and it appears there are no other people there, call a friend to meet you…safety in numbers.
  • If you think you need to call 911, you probably do. Dorm living means our kids might witness or have medical situations they have never encountered before…or never had to deal with on their own before: seizures, choking, injuries, illness, etc. It is important that they understand how crucial it is to get medical help. If you think you might need to call 911, go ahead and do it. You won’t regret calling, but you might regret not calling. On a side note, make sure they know not to mix alcohol and acetaminophen/Tylenol, as it can cause liver toxicity. Don’t even take Tylenol the day after drinking. If they’re hungover, the best thing to do is hydrate. Make sure they have plenty of Drip Drop or Liquid IV on hand in their room. You can purchase Drip Drop in your local Walgreen’s, or you can order it here. You can order Liquid IV here. Or you can order from Amazon.
  • Never leave your drink unattended. Why? Because people will drug your drink. They can even do it when you’re holding the drink; and bartenders have been known to do it when preparing drinks. Always watch your drink being prepared. Or better yet, just order beer. But always keep it with you, and don’t make it easily accessible to anyone.
  • Don’t abandon your friends for a boyfriend/girlfriend. I know falling in love is fun. I know people enjoy spending time with their significant others. But if you abandon your friends for a boy/girl, you will regret it, without a doubt. How do I know? Because I have seen it happen time and time again. You need friends. And college is when you want to make lifelong friends. Don’t let having a significant other mess that up for you.
  • Take some classes that will broaden your horizons. When I was in college, I took an art history class. I was majoring in journalism. I didn’t need art history. However, I learned a lot about 19th century art, and that knowledge has been useful for me in lots of conversations in different settings over the years since. I even surprise myself sometimes with my knowledge of 19th century art!
  • Call your parents! We are part of your support system. We always have your best interest at heart. You’re our favorite.

I know I’m leaving out some things, so this piece will likely be fluid and ever-growing. Let’s equip our college students with knowledge and wisdom they need…and send up lots of prayers.

Happy Mom

Happy Mom.

Call me crazy (you wouldn’t be the first). When our daughter was a toddler, a local amusement park made me a happy mom during the spring, summer, and early fall months.

Carowinds is a Cedar Fair amusement park in Charlotte known for its gigantic rollercoasters. Most moms roll their eyes at the thought of going to Carowinds, but not me. Carowinds saved me.

My husband and I first took our then 2-yr-old daughter to Carowinds on his 40th birthday. I had driven past the park many times and seen the rollercoasters. I will readily admit that I love rollercoasters, so Carowinds looked like a fun way to turn 40. I love a song by David Wilcox called Top of the Rollercoaster that was a metaphor for turning 30. Personally, I think it can be a metaphor for any of the big birthdays. You can hear it on Apple Music or listen to it here. My husband didn’t think Carowinds sounded like fun, but I talked him into it, and afterward, he was glad I did. No, we didn’t get to ride any rollercoasters that day…we had a toddler with us…but we had a great time! He rode the little boats with our daughter. I rode the little cars with her and the helicopter ride. We rode the Dora Train and yelled “Swiper, no swiping!” at the appropriate time. And our daughter laughed and laughed. And we all went to what we referred to as the “Dora Show.” It was a live show in the kiddie section of the park…based on the Dora the Explorer cartoon show. At the end, we all did the chicken dance with the rest of the crowd, and we laughed! It was a great day, and even though my husband thought he didn’t want to turn 40 there, he has great memories from that day.

My husband’s birthday is in May, and after we went on his birthday, I realized Carowinds would be a fun place to visit regularly. I just didn’t realize how regularly we would go.

We got season passes for all of us, and one morning in June, I got up and took our 2 1/2 year old daughter to Carowinds by myself. After we entered the front gate, I rented a stroller. The park’s strollers had steering wheels, and even though the steering wheels controlled absolutely nothing, our daughter enjoyed thinking she was in charge while I was pushing her around the park. And after that visit, I realized we were both happy there. No, I didn’t get to ride rollercoasters, but back then, the park was owned by Paramount, so some of our daughter’s favorite cartoon characters were roaming the park. She loved seeing Dora the Explorer, the Fairly Oddparents, Little Bill, and the characters from Spongebob Squarepants! Oh, we have so many pictures of her with them! She also loved riding the little rides in what we referred to as the “kiddie” section of the park…swings, a little rollercoaster, the boats, the cars, and the Dora Train. And she loved seeing the Dora the Explorer show at least once on every visit.

As for me, I loved being outside with a happy child for a few hours every day. Yes, I said every day, because after that, we visited every day that we were in town and weather permitted. With the season pass, it was a cheap way to spend a day. Sure, the food was pretty expensive, but we often had lunch right there in the park…always having French fries. She had at least one Icee on every visit, and sometimes, she enjoyed a frozen lemonade. I walked miles on every visit, pushing the stroller and chasing a toddler.

We went so often that Mr. Bob, the usher for the Dora the Explorer show, knew us. Seriously, we would walk in, and he would greet us like old friends. In fact, after we had seen the show 20 or 30 times, Mr. Bob would tell her, “If anyone doesn’t show up for the show today, we can let you stand in for them, because you know the whole show.”

Sometimes, our friends from our toddler playgroup would go with us, adding another element of fun.

We were, quite possibly, the best customers at Carowinds for several summers (yes, several summers, because we were regulars for several years), and I was a happy mom. I got out in the sunshine without worrying about my child in a pool! I got exercise with my happy toddler accompanying me! We played games (one summer, sometime between age four and six, she climbed the wiggly rope ladder to win a gigantic, stuffed purple dog!).

As she got taller, she could ride bigger rides…eventually the giant rollercoasters…new adventures for us to enjoy together!

And we made great memories. Seriously, I would not trade those summers for anything. They were some of my happiest times. I love being a stay-at-home-mom, but I didn’t enjoy being stuck at home all the time. I loved getting out with her on a regular basis, and Carowinds was an easy way to keep both of us happy.

Yes, Carowinds made me a happy mom.

To see more about Carowinds, click here.

Finding a College Roommate

Finding a college roommate.

It’s that time of year…the time when lots of high school seniors who are going to college are searching for roommates. My own daughter, fortunately, found a roommate from another Charlotte school soon after they both decided to go to the same college, so we don’t have that stress. But there are still lots of people looking. How do I know this? {Deep breath} I know this, because {another deep breath} their parents are posting their photos and bios on college parent pages, trying to find roommates for them. {And another deep breath) I’m not judging, but my daughter would definitely stop talking to me for a while if I did that.

There are tried and true methods for high school seniors to find roommates, and those methods do not include their parents posting photos and bios on parent pages. They also don’t include the moms doing it for them. Seriously, I’m not judging. I just think it’s something the students need to do. If your soon-to-be college freshman needs a roommate, here are some ways for your child to find one:

  • Ask friends if they know anyone. You might be surprised at how small the world is. Several people have asked my daughter if she knows someone going to a particular college, and she has been able to make some connections. If your child knows someone who is already a student at the university he/she plans to attend, that person might have friends who have younger siblings who will be freshmen next year. If your child is going to college in a different state, he/she might reach out to people he/she knows who live in that state. For example, if your child is going to college in Florida and knows three people who live in that state (cousins, family friends, etc), they can ask them for suggestions. It’s even OK for moms to ask other moms if they know anyone…it’s OK to help them get started, but the kids need to carry this. They need to do the reaching out.
  • Post your declaration on your college’s Instagram for incoming freshmen. This one is easy for most soon-to-be graduates. Most of them are accustomed to navigating social media, and if they’re not social-media-savvy, they need to be. Lots of communication in college is done via social media. Get with the program. Most colleges/universities have public Instagram accounts where incoming freshmen can post their photo/bio. Many of them are called State University Class of 2026. I know lots of people who have found roommates using Instagram.
  • College-sponsored roommate selection services. Lots of colleges and universities have a selection service that helps students find roommates. At my daughter’s university, it’s called My College Roomie. The process starts with creating a profile. Next the incoming freshman completes a questionnaire. Based on his/her answers, matches will be generated, and they can reach out to their matches by sending messages through the service. I have heard of other college having the same type of program. Your student should look at his/her school’s housing website to see if a similar service is offered.
  • Facebook groups. Facebook is another great social media resource for finding a roommate. Again…your child needs to do this…not the parent! If you aren’t the person who actually needs the roommate, you don’t need to do the search. If your child doesn’t have a Facebook profile, he/she will need to create one before joining Facebook groups. I have seen at least three Facebook groups for roommate searches at my daughter’s university. In the search bar, your child can enter “university name, roommate,” and specify that he/she is searching for a group. Some possibilities for groups will likely appear.
  • Roommate Search Apps. And lastly, there are roommate search apps. Two that I have heard of are RoomSync and Roomsurf. I think they work a lot like online dating sites…create a profile…maybe complete a questionnaire. Matches are made.

Worst case scenario, your child doesn’t find a roommate before school starts, and he/she gets assigned a random roommate. That is not a disaster. It often works out great. If your child ends up having a random roommate, it could be a new, forever friendship. You never know where a new friendship will blossom.

Sure, mom and dad can help a little along the way by asking people they know, but personally, I don’t recommend posting your child’s photo/bio on a parent page. Personally, I think that shouldn’t even be allowed on parent pages, but since I’m not the administrator on those pages (thank you, Lord), I don’t have any say-so. I’m not judging. This is one of those things that falls under “things your college student needs to do on his/her own.” That’s just my opinion, and it’s worth what you pay for it.

And very important: tell your kids to be themselves when searching. Do not misrepresent yourself. If you don’t drink, say you don’t drink. If you go to bed early, say you go to bed early. If you prefer quiet space, tell potential roommates that. If a potential roommate says he/she likes to get up and run several miles every day, it’s OK to admit you can’t even run to the mailbox. Be who you really are.

Good luck to everyone looking for college roommates for Fall 2022. It’s an exciting time! These students will remember their freshman-year roommates for the rest of their lives…good or bad…but hopefully good.

Now I’m Getting Nervous

Now I’m getting nervous…

It’s no secret that I have been looking forward to my daughter’s high school graduation. She has been at the same independent school since she was four years old, so she really thinks she is ready for graduation. Plus, she is an only child, so when she graduates and goes off to college, we become empty-nesters. We start a new phase of our lives. It’s a phase we are excited about.

And up until now, I’ve been nothing but excited. I have been looking forward to summer vacations. I have been excited about how much she is going to love college. I have been looking forward to the adventures my husband and I will have…traveling to different places…the possibility of living somewhere else (not right away, of course, because we know our daughter needs to be able to come back home during her freshman year). There’s a lot to look forward to.

But earlier today, I was talking with a friend whose only child, a daughter, is a sophomore in college, and she gave me a warning, “No matter what you think right now, you are going to miss that girl when she goes to college.” And it hit me. She’s right. I’m going to miss her. I’m going to miss her like crazy. We have been together almost every single day of her life. Soon, she will be leaving me behind. I’m happy for her, but now I’m nervous for me. It’s uncharted territory for me.

I wrote recently about how I have one job. I’m a mom. And that has been my one job for eighteen years. But now that’s about to change. I’m not officially being “fired” from that job, but the job description is going to change. She won’t need me daily; frankly, she probably hasn’t needed me daily for a long time. However, once she goes off to college several hundred miles away, I will likely go months without seeing her in person or giving her a hug! She will be fine. I’m worried about me.

God prepares us for this. As they grow up, kids gradually become more independent. Even in elementary school, they start going to friends houses without us. They go to sleepovers with friends. And then, before they can drive, we drop them off at places to meet friends regularly. Then, they learn to drive, and everything changes. As soon as our daughter turned 16, she was off to the races…we hardly saw her anymore, because she had the freedom to move around the city at will. Four months after she got her license, though, COVID hit. Because she couldn’t spend as much time with friends, she did a lot of driving around. She even invited me to go for drives with her. We looked for places to drive around…sometimes just driving around town, and other times driving into South Carolina to see what it looked like when states started to re-open during the pandemic. South Carolina opened way before North Carolina did, and we drove around looking at the lines outside restaurants!

Because teenagers are social creatures, we were not particularly strict about the COVID restrictions. She needed to see her friends. She needed to spend time socializing, so we let her. I joked that she spent the summer of 2020 trying to catch COVID but never caught it. I felt sure she would bring it home to me and my husband during those first few crucial months, but we never got it. Actually, I did have it in late January of this year, but I didn’t get it from my daughter.

Pandemic restrictions lifted, and school eventually went back to “normal.” She has been going to school dances and sporting events. Her social life has resumed in full force. She is hardly ever home, but we usually see her for at least a few minutes a day. Lots of times, I don’t even know when she will be home after lacrosse practice.

And now, she is taking another step toward independence…and so are we! We are going to have lots of free time on our hands. It’s going to be scary. It’s going to be fun. But even while we are having fun, I’m sure I will miss our little girl who’s not so little anymore. She is three inches taller than I am and ready to face the world. We just have to get ourselves ready to face the world in a different way…and really, that’s the scary part. I’m going to have to reinvent myself!

Yes, God prepares us by making their independence gradual…so gradual that we hardly notice till they’re ready to fly the coop! And now it’s almost here…

Once we get her to college, we plan to take a nice, relaxing vacation to “celebrate” our new status as empty nesters. Hopefully, we embrace the freedom…

The future is bright!

Down to the College Wire

Down to the college wire.

It’s April 1. College admissions decisions are out there for most schools, and now it’s time for lots of high school seniors to make their final choice. My daughter decided long ago, so we were happy to step off that hamster wheel, but she has friends who are still deciding. God bless them. Some of them are having a difficult time for lots of different reasons. Some didn’t get into their top choice. Some got into none of their top choices. Some got into every school they applied to and can’t decide which one is best. It’s just not easy. It’s an adult decision…the first adult decision lots of them have ever made. They feel alone. They know they are embarking on a new experience, but it can be scary, and they are afraid of making the wrong choice. You see that guy in the feature photo for this piece? He’s sitting there alone…that’s how lots of them feel right now… like they are alone. They need support from the folks who love them.

I’m no college counselor. I’m simply a parent of a high school senior, but there is one thing I wish all kids would consider: they need to find the best choice for themselves.

I hear lots of seniors saying their parents want them to go to one college, but they want to go somewhere else. I hear lots of them say they don’t want to disappoint their teachers/college counselors. I hear lots of them say they want to pick a school by how it’s ranked in US News and World Report. Who am I to say they’re wrong with their methods of decision-making? So no, I’m not going to say they are “wrong.”

I do, however, want to remind them they are the ones going to the school. Their parents won’t be attending. (If their parents are paying, affordability might come into play.) Their college counselors and classmates won’t be sitting in their desks in the classrooms, living in the dorm, or going to athletic events. Each senior needs to make his/her decision based on his/her preferences, because guess what? US News and World Report isn’t going to college either. What US News and World Report thinks is most important might not be what you think is most important. Different people like different things!

And as these kids (yes, they are still kids) make their final decisions, we need to offer them support instead of shaming them for their choices. I know lots of kids who get into “highly ranked institutions,” but they choose a school with a “lower ranking” because it offers other things they want. My own daughter would never get into an Ivy League school, but that’s OK, because that’s not where she wants to be anyway. And there are other kids who do get into Ivy League schools but opt for something else where they will have a different experience. Big sports are important to our daughter, and she would laugh at Ivy League football games. No offense to the Ivy League people of the world, of course, but she likes to watch more competitive football. I have lots of Ivy League friends I love, but even they admit SEC football is awesome.

Some kids want to go to schools that are more outdoorsy. In North Carolina, one school that is “outdoorsy” is Appalachian State University. I know lots of very successful people who went to school there and loved it. Is it a Top 50 school, according to US News and World Report? No. But it’s number one to those people who love it. All kinds of people go there, though…not just the “outdoorsy” people. I went to the University of Alabama. Again, not a Top 50 school by US News and World Report’s rankings, but I think it’s number one! It’s fun! It’s absolutely gorgeous…looks like a movie set. It has a wide array of majors and lots of opportunities in different areas. And it’s geographically diverse. I made some of my best life memories there and certainly made lifelong friends from all over the country. Over 65% of the student body is from out of state. The weather during tornado season is iffy, but most winters are pretty mild, and the sun shines a lot. Some people (like me and my daughter!) don’t want cold climates. And come on…football season is crazy fun there. Also, BarstoolU just ranked it as the number one party school in the country. Lots of people likely think that’s shallow. I think it’s important to have lots of options for fun, and so does my daughter.

Some of these kids might get into “highly ranked” big colleges/universities, but some of those same kids might think a smaller, liberal arts college would be a better fit for their personality. Don’t look down on them for choosing what is best for them. Applaud them for knowing themselves! You can’t put a square peg into a round hole. Or maybe you can, but the square peg likely won’t be happy there. And ultimately, don’t we want our kids to be happy in college? We want them to be happy there so they will stay there. We want them to be successful in college and beyond.

On the flip side, I was talking with a woman a few days ago who was in distress that her daughter wanted to go to a college far away. She wants her daughter to be happy, but said they don’t have any idea how they will pay for transportation costs. Yes, these kids are still kids, but they are pretty reasonable too, and they often understand that affordability counts too. Guess who is not paying your child’s college tuition? The college counselors at your school aren’t paying it. Their friends’ parents aren’t paying it. And their friends are not paying it. Some of them truly need to go to the “highest bidder,” meaning they need to go to the school that offers them the most money/financial aid.

And I recently spoke with another parent of a high school senior who was trying to make the decision for her daughter, saying, “She wants to go to XXXX University, but I just think she would love XXXXX University. I wanted to go there, but my parents wouldn’t pay the out of state tuition.” She’s trying to push her daughter into going where she wanted to go. Ick. We can’t live vicariously. We, the parents, aren’t going to college. We need to remember that too.

Here’s the skinny: each kid who is deciding on a college right now has different factors to consider. They have different priorities and different interests. Let’s applaud them for their decisions; this is one of the first tough decisions they will make in life.

We’re getting down to the college wire. Again, I’m not a college counselor, but I know it’s a tough time for lots of teens. Celebrate their decisions.

First College Friends

First college friends.

With my daughter preparing to graduate from high school, I’m looking back at my own college experience in anticipation of hers. One thing I often find myself telling people about? The first friends I made in college. The year was 1985…

I moved into my dorm at The University of Alabama on a hot August day. My parents took the trip with me. We took two cars, both loaded with my worldly…one for me to keep there, and one for my parents to return home in. I don’t remember the “check-in” process at the dorm. I feel sure I had to go in, get a key, and sign some forms before we could start hauling stuff up to the room.

I was one of the first ones on my floor that day. My room the first one on the left when we got off the elevator. My roommate, Fannie, had not arrived yet, so I walked into an empty room. We started unpacking things…compared to what girls take to college today, I took very little, so the unpacking didn’t take long. While we were unpacking, a cute, friendly blonde girl approached my doorway and introduced herself as Dianne from Delaware. She was absolutely adorable, and if I remember correctly, she had been attending summer classes before the start of her official freshman year.

Dianne was one of those people who made the college adjustment a lot easier for me, and she always knew how to pull an outfit together. I remember her tying a red sash on one of my dresses for a football game…and she did it perfectly. She was fun and outgoing…and still is. Back then, we liked to have dates for football games, and I remember one date of hers who drove up in front of the dorm and honked his horn for her. We were on the third floor, so we could hear the horn clearly. I can still hear Dianne screaming out her window for him to “get out of the car and come in to get me like a gentleman”!

The influx of girls started picking up throughout the day. Susan, a girl who lived down the street from me at home, was just down the hall…a nice, familiar face who became a closer friend in college! We had been friends in high school, but we became real friends in college.And Fannie arrived in the afternoon with her mother and her older sister there to help her move in. I was lucky. Fannie was outgoing and adorable. Thank the Lord!

We all rushed and pledged different places. Back then, Bid Day was on a Saturday, and Squeal Night was one big party. Fraternities had parties, and we all got “set up” on dates. Thankfully, it’s not done that way anymore…now Bid Day is on a Sunday, and the girls go on a “retreat” with their new pledge sisters immediately…undoubtedly a good thing. But back in 1985, a sophomore sorority member set me up with a pledge at her boyfriend’s (her boyfriend was a senior) fraternity house, and the fun began!

Here’s what we didn’t know when we started college: we didn’t know which friendships would last. There are some people I have been in constant contact with, and there are others I haven’t, but there are some who are never strangers. That sophomore girl’s senior boyfriend? His name is Richard, and he’s one of those people who, despite going years with no contact, has never been a stranger…we just pick right back up where we left off. Way back in 1985 and 1986, when he was a senior, and I was a lowly freshman, I thought of him as a father figure. Funny, I know. He was all of 22. But when you’re a naive freshman, it’s nice to have an older guy who has your back. And he did. I often referred to him as my campus “Dad” back then.

I’m still friends with Dianne, Susan, and Fannie. When Dianne is in Charlotte for work, we meet for dinner. I hear from Fannie and Susan occasionally. We don’t all see each other often or even talk often, but I definitely count them among my friends. And that “Dad”? Well, as luck would have it, he lives in Charlotte too! We reconnected through Facebook years ago, and in 2012, when we were both at the Alabama-Georgia SEC Championship Game in the old Georgia Dome (Alabama won the game!), we met up at halftime, and it was like time had never passed! We have gone to dinner with our spouses. We have met up at football games. My daughter has given his daughter some “hand-me-downs,” which means clothes she probably wore once. And just like my freshman year in college, I always know he’s there! I don’t know what I brought to the friendship, but I’m glad to know he has found me worthy of friendship for all these years. Does he know he was the first guy I met in college? I don’t know if he knew it before, but he knows it now! A treasured friendship, indeed.

I hope my daughter will find the same kind of friends I found in college. I was lucky to make these first college friends and lots of other great college friends in my four years there. College is an experience you can’t repeat, so I’m glad I got the friendships right the first time! Saying a prayer my daughter will have the same great luck I had!

And yes, those friends are some of my favorite things. I need to schedule a dinner with Richard and his wife…texting him now.