Peter Pan

    I can’t blame them really. There are days when I still don’t want to grow up. And I’ve been here for awhile.

    
So when my daughter expresses full-blown panic at the notion of graduating college and my son’s teacher suggests, quite benevolently, that he would perhaps benefit from a year alone on an island with just he and his guitar, I get it.

    I get that prelude to panic, the anxiety -although it was never a word we used – as my students begin their tiptoed-tread to the threshold of the real world. They want the independence, the sense of accomplishment, even a bit of the responsibility, perhaps, just not all of it. 

    They’d like to hit the pause button for a year or two –or more.



    And with the support of a science that seems to keep pushing back the maturation date on the prefrontal cortex, a whole lot of semi-adults are screeching to a skidded halt just before that scary doorway to grownup.

    
Emerging adulthood?  

    
Seriously, was there really a need to coin a new developmental phase of human existence for a crutch we created? 

    And create it we did. 

    
All those of us who constructed well-arranged playdates for our toddlers rather than risk the riff-raff of a roughhousing playground.  We didn’t just child-proof and germ-proof their worlds, we life-proofed them. With scary scenarios of child abductions, we bought leashes (sorry –that’s what they were) and held on way too tightly. My go-to response has never been panic, but even I can remember a moment or two when a lost kid sent me head-long into the worst-case scenarios of my unadmitted nightmares. Did someone grab the too-willing-to-go toddler from the water slide? Would I be one to regret the delay in summoning authorities to the shoveled off pond and the lost boys?

    I think we all start off a little crazy; it’s just that kids can turn us from semi-sane to certifiable.




    The best of us fight against it. But too many of us don’t even approach best.

    If a time machine propelled me back, I would probably have laughed out loud at the notion that my friend would become one of the best parents I know. Save for a great foundation, all signs pointed to her continuing her life-party well into adulthood, regardless of kid number one, two, three or four. Her early sense of priorities were on display when she took a pass on the well-planned proposal dinner at the frou-frou fancy skyscraper restaurant to come to a BYOB beach party I was throwing. 

    That was the girl I knew.




    Until she had kids. 

    When they were still toddlers, we shoved our offspring together for our own version of the protected playdate. My friend would often come to my house on the road to a museum, a park or a zoo. Come inside –in spite of my dog and her phobia of the furry guy. Rather than put her fear on full display, though, she’d tough it up for her kids, coo-cooing as she patted Nicki and encouraged her kids to do the same. All through gritted teeth, mind you, with the motivation being that she was giving her kids something she didn’t have. She recognized her unfounded fear for what it was and didn’t want to pass it along.

    That’s the best of us. Putting aside our own fears and neuroses for the sake of giving our kids a saner version of a crazy world.

    My friends and I didn’t overanalyze the job our parents did. I’d say most of us didn’t give it much thought at all. Until we had kids of our own. Then, it mattered. And most of us probably gave them due credit, but still had the audacity to think that we could do better. 

    Just a little bit better.

    Maybe not.

    In our efforts to do –we’ve done too much. And while the hands-on approach works well on some level, it’s that hands-off approach that forces kids to become adults. Navigating the world more on our own got my friends and me out the door. I’m not sure what will do the same for our children.

    But I have an idea.

    Teenage boys are supposed to pull away from their parents. There are a gazillion books explaining the how/when/why of it. All I know is that on our home front, it’s true with gusto. Save for feeding him and financing his whims, Michael would prefer we stay entirely out of his life.
 
    If I were smart, I’d fully oblige.
 
    Unfortunately, old habits die way too hard. I find myself in a pendulum pull of inconsistency that I managed to well avoid when I was disciplining toddlers. On one end of the arc, I willingly let him go. But then on a pivot I’m sucked back by the gravitational force of expectation. Not only my own. But my expectations for him. 

    Michael’s friend recently said she saw “a lot of potential” in him, that she hoped he would “find his way.” Okay, at first I thought –wow, a 16-year-old with that depth? But then I thought to why I’ve always hated the word -because it has so much potential to be lost. And I want to believe that Michael’s won’t be. That he will find his way. But because it is indeed his way, I need to step away from our dance and let him go. When he’s ready to go out the door after all, it’s his decision as to which others he chooses to open.

See You At The Beach

                          



            There must be a mathematical equation confirming that the velocity of time increases exponentially with age.  Why did the years before I turned 16, 18 and 21 crawl?  And yet the time watching my son zip from two to ten, my daughter turn from dress-up to makeup, has passed in an eye blink.  When did “time flies” go from being the phrase of my parents to the refrain of my peers?  My rational brain knows it could not have been a single moment that began the process.  However, I can’t help but wonder if the bearing of children doesn’t somehow set that clock in motion at an unyielding rate.  I only know that the minutes seem a bit more swift of late, the moments a bit more precious.



            It was one of those frigid Spring afternoons, dreary and raw, when I bumped into an acquaintance.  Emblematic of our lives, it was a rushed hello and a dash out the door.  But before the goodbye, she said she’d see me at the beach.  Only in New England would a thermometer hovering still below 50 prompt the notion of a day at the beach.  But the yearning is easy to identify with.  In the shadow of our children’s footsteps, we race from sporting event to piano lesson, from pre-arranged play dates to carefully selected club meets.  Perpetual motion behind the wheel of an SUV.  In such tiny towns, how is it we spend such an inordinate amount of time in our automobiles?  If our winter roads are so harsh how do we move so speedily through the shortest of days?  And the routine only accelerates when the clocks bump forward.  Spring sports verses end-of-year school activities and obligations cause universal conflict.  The holiday bustle has nothing on overscheduled children coupled with the rising temperatures of Spring Fever.  This break neck pace hurtles on for the too many of us who acquiesce to the race.  Continues, that is, until the summer bell.  Until we can tear up the weekly scheduling charts, put aside the lists of required reading, and take a moment to join in the collective end-of-year sign.  Take a moment, perhaps, to dip into the frigid Atlantic waves, turn the cell phones to mute, leave the wristwatches on the nightstand and spend a day at the beach.



            From my narrow perspective, there is a defining lift of burden with that last bus note, that last spring game.  It isn’t just that my own work schedule slows to a trickle or that it seems there’s less to accomplish and more time in which to do it.  It’s more a sense of the throttle decelerating, a life planing to a more even keel.  And it all harkens back to the day when cloud watching had nothing to do with the weather and everything to do with the dragons in their billows; when the walk to the post office really wasn’t about the bill in my hand.  With the caveats of the adults in my life who warned “how quickly they grow,” I frequented the museums and parks.  There were rambling bike rides with the little girl in back nodding off en route.  There was “Mommy and Me” day for the kindergarten boy.  On one trip to the beach, we went off on a tangent and instead took the subway to Faneuil Hall in Boston in search of the “rock dove” from our bird chart.  The commuters must have wondered about that five-year-old kid jumping up and down because he finally could check off pigeon from the chart.



            Today, the simplicity has been supplanted with the temptations of their twenty-first century lives.  While my children willingly maintain their position at the center of their own universes, there’s less space in there for Mommy and Daddy.  Instead, we’re often relegated to the neighboring orbit.  Held close by our gravitational pull rather than theirs, we hover with an assortment of competing celestial objects: school, sports, clubs, after school jobs, friends, boys.  It gets a bit crowded.  So my offer of a day at the beach today has appeal only if it includes the invitation to a friend or two.  Unfortunately, the time I enjoy spending alone with my kids doesn’t always coincide with the time they wish to spend with me.  I am not, however, so thick that I don’t take the time they still give, even if it’s at 10 p.m. on a Tuesday night.



            All this to agree with what we all agree upon.  That life is short and time truly does pass by more quickly than any of us want.  And to offer what I am certain is unneeded advice to my friend awaiting the birth of her first child.  There will be a day in your future when you will have too much on your plate.  Papers, work, a messy house.  There won’t be time for the park or the beach.  Go anyway.  Ignore all but that tiniest of your responsibilities: that little person who’d love to show you his sandcastle.  As a matter of fact, sacrifice the manicure and dig right in. 




There’s No Such Thing As Normal


    I suspect that my 20-year-old self would be aghast at the notion that this other version of me would pine for just plain old normal. Boring, even.




    Ahhh –how time does play with the perceptions of life.




    Once upon a time I had no idea of the twists and turns one’s journey could take. Now, I understand all too clearly that a world view can easily be skewed by the prisms of a differing  vantage point.




    I love the Whoopi Goldberg quote –Normal is in the eye of the beholder.




    How true.




    I also love when the young people with whom I work and live try to tell me of the oh-so-out-there exploits of their friends and families.




    Because I often think, OMG –you have no idea.




    There are secrets in every family and fold. And there are stories that veer so far from normal that I wonder of the word’s constraints. I looked up its origin –made in accordance to a carpenter’s square- and thought to the confining nature of squares and boxes. No wonder so many of us don’t fit to normal. It’s a shame that too many of us pretend we do.




    A little crazy is a good thing.




    The campus on which I work and the community in which I live both squeak a little too loudly with that hollow echo of normalcy. Pretty houses, pretty people. Good kids, good grades. Standards and squares. Lots of squares.




    Yikes –how did I end up here?




    And what ever made me think that this idyllic setting would be such an ideal one for me and my family?




    Michael could look and act just like all the other kids. If he chose to. He doesn’t.




    I would love to fully support his conscious efforts at non-conformity, his unique view of the world and of himself. I want to high-five his many talents and the philosophical bent that assures me that just because he’s not going about it my way, doesn’t mean he won’t eventually get to where he’s meant to be. I want to remain his number one fan, cheerleader, the one who “gets” him more than anyone else.




    But he makes it hard. Really hard.




    It’s not just the disdain with which he often showers me. Or that his teen angst can explode like messy carnage.




    It’s more the gravity pull of expectations. My own and those of others. And it’s because without the rose-colored glasses I may once have worn, it’s hard not to see the doors he’s closing around him. With clear-eyed vision, it’s too easy to think of wasted time and talent, of lost potential. It’s frustrating and discouraging –even sad.




    Normal would be easier.




    Even if I don’t believe in it.




    I have seen behind the curtains of those picture-perfect windows where dysfunction functions in disguise. And I know the outward reflection can be pleasantly distorting. But not at all real. And I think real is better.




    And Michael is, if not anything else, real. And honest. Beguilingly, candidly, painfully honest. He’s also bright and funny and capable.




    The parent of one of his friends recently made it a point to offer a positive picture of my son.




    He’s a good boy,
she said.




    Well, that’s something.




    When parents of today are queried about what they want for their children, the go-to response is that they want them to be happy.




    I do, too. Of course I do. I want him to pursue his dream, to find something fulfilling to do with his life. I want him to be happy.




    But I also want him to be a good person, a man of whom he –and his family- can be proud.




    We have a bit of a family joke when it comes to the young men who pursue my daughter, that they often look good on paper.




    I see a lot of kids on campus and in town. Most of them look good on paper. And some of them are good kids, good people. But some of them are only the ink of their resumes and not its heart. And quite a few of them willingly tilt their “honest” answers to fit the questions and the questioner. It’s probably why I so appreciate it when one or another will quite candidly state that no, they didn’t bother to read the assignment or attend the class. My favorite assessment came from a student who when asked about a poor grade he’d been given by an oft-maligned professor, admitted –it wasn’t her fault. I deserved the grade. An honest answer –a good boy.   




    So when Michael declines to answer a prodding question of mine because he says he doesn’t want to lie, I back off. At the base of the man I hope for him to become I want there to be a solid foundation of honesty. With the often earthquake activity in our pretty house, at least I am  -so far- still assured of his one true beginning.



The Academics of Life

     Someone recently reminded me that my job title is academic tutor. In that capacity, I’d like to say that I’m at least marginally qualified to impart some sort of knowledge onto my students. On the other hand, I’d also be the first to admit that I may be completely ill qualified in most other areas in which I offer counsel to them.


whiteboard  When we set out in the semester, my fellow learning consultants and I are supposed to outline the student support program, explain the requirements of participation and tell the students what they can expect from us. Each year, I’m quickly able to click through the points and offer my assistance on a host of academic, organizational and campus navigational tasks without hesitation. 

 

     Until the last one.


Be a mentor.


My first year, I balked at what I thought was a pretty presumptuous offering. Of course, I understand that anyone can be a mentor, that it requires no degree or specialized training. I get that even I am vaguely qualified.


Still.


I didn’t even know these kids, yet. And, more importantly, they certainly didn’t know me. Why would they sign on to take counsel from a stranger more closely aligned with their parents and professors than their peers. How could they say yes to a pretty big trust connection with such a blank slate?

 

Luckily, my students aren’t nearly as jaded as I.

    Lucky also, that my boss is a bit of a sorceress. Not only does she perform a pretty neat trick with regard to the space-time continuum –accomplishing way more hours of work than should reasonably fit in a day- but she also seems to possess some intuitive knack for fitting tutee to tutor. At first glance, she’s merely linking business students with business tutors; communications kids with the likes of me. But there’s something more to the doweled fit she seems to construct.


Kelley would likely not allow me to attribute the pairings to the mere technical savvy of my supervisor. Rather, she’d be more apt to point to a grand scheme for the universe in which I am supposed to be doing just this job at this point in my life and with these particular kids. What I try to lay off on coincidence, she sets before a higher power. A concept over which, I have learned not to roll my eyes. Not only because I truly respect from where she comes, but also because she seems to have some sort of belief in me –that perhaps I still can be taught. And in weaker moments, she does have the ability to suck me in. 


And I understand now, that this is a good thing.

     For me.

    But also for my students.

    And for my own children. Because of all the jobs I have held, the one for which I often feel most inadequately prepared is parent. And sometimes also this position as mentor.

    But with voices other than my own in my head, I take a breath and try to listen to the universe. And rather than assume myself ill-fitted to any role, I think to all of the people who would have been considered such a mismatch to my own life. And thank that they were there.

The woman for whom I babysat should have remained only a neighbor and a reliable source of funds. Instead, in the fuzzy friendship we forged as I stepped into adulthood, she helped me become the person I was supposed to be. An unlikely pairing, believe me. Had we been the same age, our paths would not have crossed and we would never have become friends. But we did.

So when my daughter’s high school years were in turmoil and I was one of her closest friends, rather than fret over the time she spent with a woman I barely knew, I stopped and tried to believe. In the goodness of people. In my parents’ creed that what goes around, comes around, and in the idea that a good kid deserved someone good in her life. And it worked.

    I owe an immeasurable thank-you to that woman of long ago and to the woman who helped pull my daughter back to the surface.

    And I owe something to these kids I supposedly tutor. Because I often think that they’ve given me more than I have given them. 


Or maybe not. They thank me often and text me with good grades and give me credit that I don’t deserve. They share their work and their accomplishments and pieces of their lives. And they trust me.


I am an academic tutor, and I’ve tried to set some pretty clear boundaries –the most ironic of which might be exampled in a recent interaction with one of my students. I told her that if she ever felt compelled to text me in the middle of the night because she was under-the-gun with regard to an assignment, that I would indeed be angry. However, I added that I would be angrier still if she neglected to make the call when it had nothing to do with academics at all.