Breach of the Levee



    Their barriers are better fortified so the floods are less frequent. It may also be that, stuck on an unbreaking weather front for so long, I now miss the nuances of atmospheric change that could predict an impending deluge. The monotony of the climate has impaired my instincts for meteorological shift.



    Still, when stars and clouds align, I can sometimes become receptacle to a warm and pleasant shower of conversation from my children. Even Michael.




    Alex has always been more the flash flood sort. Her sharing comes in loud bursts of information, full of pelting details. There’s immediacy and urgency. Pay attention and take cover. I can’t always be sure what’s coming, but I’ve learned to ride out the storms; they usually don’t last long.




    Until the year he stopped talking (to me), Michael’s showers were constant and consistent. Like those sleep aid sound boxes that generate rainforest background noise. I could predict their content and clutter. There wasn’t much I needed to do to inspire the rains; little I could do to forestall them.




    He and I have been in a drought for awhile, though. I rarely feel the pulse of quenching wet weather.




    But pulled away from the stresses of his life, Michael can sometimes fall to old weather patterns. I can’t change the storm’s path or direct its flow. In fact, the wrong questions from me can dry up the conversation entirely. If I’m careful, though, I can listen, bask in the cooling waters, and learn.
 
    
Back from Boy Scout camp, and trapped in the car with me for over an hour, Michael could have settled into sleep as he often does. And he did. But not until he shared stories of his adventures –for nearly half the trip.

    
Similar results from the sound recording camp he attended at Salem State University. His enthusiasm –and words- spilled over and out and onto me. And it wasn’t just a soaking of what-he-did, but more pleasing to me was that the conversation included plans of what-he-could-do, who-he-could-be.

    
Because in the tumult of the rains, there’s nothing better to see than glimmers of light, a bit of sun.

    
And the colors of his rainbow.




Boy Scouts



    My son is a Boy Scout. 

    
Not metaphorically. He’d unlikely make the metaphorical cut.




    But he is an actual Boy Scout.

    
Green shorts, olive drab shirt, badge-pocked sash, and all.




    If you saw Michael sans uniform, you probably wouldn’t peg him as a Boy Scout. Doesn’t really look the part.

    
His association with Scouting, though? A terrific metaphor for what Michael is.

    
A contradiction.

    
From the time Michael was in elementary school, his teachers often used an interesting assortment of adjectives and nouns to describe him –the gist of their meaning easily encapsulated in a single word: puzzle (thank you Mrs. Klipfel). 

    
Luckily for Michael, those early teachers liked puzzles.




    Not so much his high school teachers.

    Even I weary of the 
challenge. 

    
And I’ve been known to become puzzle-obsessed ‘til wee hours of the morning. 

    
But the pieces of Michael’s puzzle don’t generally fit neatly to any anonymous manufacturers’ pre-fabbed slots.

    
Then, why should they?




    In some ways, Michael is what I always wished I could have been – a non-conformist. Someone who chooses his path based on his own perception of what fits with who he is and who he wants to become.




    Had I the courage to begin along a similar course when I was his age, I don’t think it’s a path I could have fully followed. There would have been doubts. And then, a turning back.

    
There’s a push and pull for many of us, particularly in those early years when we’re all so damned confused. So many kids -and the kids who we once were- really have no idea what they want to be or do when they shed their childhoods for that next big chapter of life.




    Michael must have his moments, too.




    Boy Scouts, really?




    When Michael decided to quit Scouts, I dropped him off at summer camp with the caveat that we expected him to behave, earn the requisite number of badges, support the Troop, regardless of his future plans.




    That was three years ago.




    He goes back every summer.

    
This year, I overhead Michael’s answer to the Scoutmaster’s encouraging statement/question: “See you in September./?”




    The same guy that once wanted Michael out of the Troop, now wants him to stay.

    
Really.




    “Absolutely,” Michael responded, shaking the man’s hand and looking him in the eye.




    So my son, who doesn’t look the part and listens to the beat of a different drum (a whole jazz orchestra, actually) will, in September, begin anew his commitment to a 100-year old organization steeped in obedience and conformity.
 
    
I try to tell myself that I don’t really need to get it. It’s not my job to fully understand why he does what he does.




    Michael’s always colored outside the lines.




    Maybe it’s time I step back and look at the forming picture from a different vantage so I can better see the image that’s really only just beginning to take shape.

    
(And for all those of you who wonder how Michael feels about being front-and-center in so many of these posts, I’ve always given him veto power. In fact, he’s the only family member who seems at all interested in these rantings, even when they don’t include him. He usually lets me read them to him.

    
Go figure.)



A Bear in the Woods


    Or maybe not. Apparently the bears are moving out of the woods.




    It seems that every week there’s another sighting. Another roving bandit making his not-so-stealthily way through city and suburban neighborhoods across the country. They’re pulling at birdfeeders, scurrying through yards, perching themselves up in backyard trees.
 
    
According to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, this is the time of year when the mama bear kicks the kids out and sends them into the world. Those baby bears are supposed to find their own territory, start their adult lives.




    At the risk of being redundant (https://kidssuck.net/2010/09/01/deer-in-the-headlights.aspx)

and way-sexist, I posit that the sow bears are doing exactly that. Heading out of the family dens and building some of their own, on track and on target.




    But that not-so-little guy with the dumb-eyed look hanging in an Attleboro tree last week, I’ll guess he’s a boy. A teenager, for sure. And the thought bubble above his head in less-than-articulate fashion probably reads: What? Where? Vinnie Babarino in a bear’s cloak.

    
That’s not to say I don’t think the boys are smart. On the contrary, they are. That’s what makes their life delays so damn frustrating. I think Michael has actually devised a mathematical algorithm to compute the absolute minimum effort required to get by in certain areas of his life. And he’s not alone. I’ve had some pretty in-depth conversations with a few of his friends. In a foggy, fast-forward scenario, I can even picture them as adults. Responsible, good men.
 
    
But now, they’re just baby bears, a bit wild, somewhat misguided, and roving.




    And like the bears popping up in places they’re not supposed to be, many of the boys I know are taking the most circuitous routes possible to get to god-only-knows where they’re going. I don’t. And I don’t think they do, either.




    But back to the bears.
 



    All those mama bears in the woods are pushing their kids out into the world. Our world. They’ve taught them well, I’m sure. And they probably know that the girls have paid heed, will likely do just fine. But I bet mama bear also knows full-well that her baby boy isn’t quite ready for the world. Judging from the overblown reaction he gets every time he makes a backyard forage, the world isn’t ready for him either.

    
Mama doesn’t seem to care. Ready-or-not, she pushed him out anyway.




    Too bad we humans don’t do likewise.

    
Instead of following the rules of nature, we’re bucking the intended order of things. It seems that all those helicopter parents created a rash of boomerang babies. The kids often go off and out. But then they come back.




    And in true 21st century fashion, rather than remedy our missteps with action, we’re reacting with talk. There are websites, blogs, discussion forums, all themed around adult-children-living-with-parents.



    All to tell us, we’re not alone.

    T
hat’s part of the problem. Because when we’re assured that we’re not the only ones, it lends normalcy to the trend. 

    
I know of so many really good parents who’ve gotten themselves in this too-many-adults-under-one-roof predicament.




    Reminds me of the guy interviewed on television after something horrible happens in his neighborhood, saying if it can happen here.




    It can happen anywhere.




    Unless maybe we follow the bears. And the birds, for that matter. The nest above our back porch light is a-chatter with chaotic chirping in the spring. Long before summer ends, though, it’s pleasantly silent.




    Michael’s only 17. But on days when he’s performing solo drum concerts for hours-on-end, I sometimes wonder what silence emanating from his playroom nest might sound like. And if I’ll ever hear it.

Go to Start


    It isn’t usually about a student’s learning style or a professor’s eccentricities. It’s generally unconnected to too much work or too little resources. And it often has little to do with a student’s inability or an assignment’s difficulty.
 
    
When my students fail to complete their assignments or don’t do them well, the one commonality at its root can be summarized in a single word: procrastination.  

    
That isn’t to say that there’s not often a whole lot of other stuff that gets in the way of their start-to-finish. The roadblocks to the boys I know often come by way of a party; with the girls, it’s the drama.

    But for all of them, they get caught up in it. And often to the exclusion of all else.

    
Instead of buying the supplies or starting the research or making the phone call or doing the interview or drafting the outline, or any of those many tiny steps that could set them on go –they don’t. They stay still. 

    
Well, not still exactly.

    They’re generally moving, just not in the direction of the project or the paper.

    They’re battling in video worlds or chatting on Facebook walls. They’re making it to Zumba class and Wings Night. They’re taking road trips and pizza runs and pit stops to the mall. Going out to lunch or dinner. Heading to the gym, going for a run, cleaning their rooms. They’re helping friends through crises. Taking time with families.

    But in all that doing, what they’re not doing is that small pile of work relegated to the back corner of their desks or hidden in untapped files on their computers. And the longer they tap past it, the more the pile grows. Until eventually it seems to expand with the rate of a Youtube post gone viral. Out-of-control and unavoidable.

    And so they finally begin the assignment in crisis mode. 

    Not the best way to do one’s best.

    There’s a price to be paid for the putting-it-off. Not just in a ditched assignment, shoddy work, or a bad grade. There’s actually a point to most of the work their professors assign. And they’re missing it.
 
    T
hat isn’t to say that sometimes it’s not worth it. That in the throes of  procrastination, they might not discover rewards of another kind.

    My student may better remember the time she had with her friends than she will any real-world benefit she got from that one botched Research Methods paper.

    But then, maybe not. I’m not sure how much she actually remembers from that particular  night.

    That’s not the point.

    The point is that they procrastinate at the peril of their accomplishments.

    But we all do it.

    I’m doing it right now. I post to this site at the sacrifice of the should-dos and have-tos in my real-world life. And that’s a bad thing.

    But.

    In another way, I’m doing what I am supposed to do. This is an exercise of sorts. A means of keeping a finger in a craft where my whole hand should be. Because at least it’s a finger.

    But I am doing this instead of a whole lot of other stuff. Like my students.

    Many years ago I took a pause from my to-do list to join my uncle on his boat pulling lobster traps from Boston Harbor. The crazy cousin who regales with his stories and spends with a generosity that contradicts his ability to pay offered a philosophical take on the day. 

    This is the kind of day that is immeasurable in its value. You couldn’t give me a million dollars to take a pass on it.

    For all its aura of inaction, sometimes procrastination is exactly the right action to take.

    And the pile grows.

Bridging Divides


    My son has a girlfriend. And I like her.

    
Which is probably okay with Michael. More likely, my input on his love life falls to the apathy pit of his emotion with regard to anything parent-related. An actual objection from him would indicate that he cared. Or noticed.

    
Way too much effort.

    
What he may not be as comfortable with, though, is that she seems to like me, too.




    And I can’t imagine that notion fits well into a world where the parent-child divide spans like the width of Grand Canyon.

    
Ah, the Grand Canyon. 

    
The family vacation which my husband still refers to as the time I tried to kill him. (He’s not much of an adventurer.)



    And which I call the trip-of-a-lifetime.

    
Because it was.

    
Not only for the photo-stop memories that set three generations against a backdrop unlike any other on the planet.

    
But also for that slice of nine-year-old boy that seems such a juxtaposition against the 17-year-old near-man with whom we now live.

    
Hard to believe that Michael is the same boy who mom and dad protectively shuffled to the boat’s rear as we settled in. Showed how much we knew about whitewater rafting and inflatable boats –we had positioned him most decidedly at the craft’s bow, the best place to enjoy the ride. And also to be swallowed whole by the mammoth rapids we would encounter. Go figure.

    
And then again, warned of an impending day of wet, wild, and frosty rapids coming our way, we wrapped Michael in a blue rubber suit that would have fitted better if he were first mate to Captain Ahab. Sure, the water was cold, but temperatures hit 116 degrees that day. The poor kid was at the mercy of his parents’ pitiful effort at protection.




    And, to some extent, he still is.
 
    
Unfortunately, today there are no guides creeping alongside the rapid-riding youngster to assure his safety from plummeting conditions. And we’ve got no trusted adult giving Michael a parental reprieve and lessons on the right way to get up close to a rattlesnake (Dad still maintains there is no right way).

    
One of my students refers to me as her life coach. Apparently, calling myself that actually would require some sort of education and certification. What I am, more likely, is a sort of bridge between her generation and my own. I get to “coach” her not by benefit of school degree, but rather by life degree. And span the chasm that could separate us by offering up a rope of knowledge without placing too much expectation upon her. Or judgment. 

    
As parents, we expect, and too often –we judge.  To some extent, that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do. After all, we’re the ones who brought them into this world. And we will be judged by what impact they make upon it. But we should, perhaps, let the judgments fall away.  Our own, but more importantly, our concern for others’, as well.
 
    
Our kids would certainly appreciate that.




    Because they’re judged enough by their peers. 

    
In Michael’s case, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Despite his ill-fit to the world-at-large, he seems a good fit to most of his friends. His girlfriend seems to like him. More importantly, she thinks he’s a good person. And with a maturity that contradicts her age, she says she understands my own frustration at the path he’s been heading down recently. She maintains, though, that he will find his way to the other side. I could lay off her faith in Michael on the love-is-blind foundation of young relationships or simple naiveté. Or I could attribute it to optimism, as yet unjaded by time.

    
But instead, I want to trust that this girl has insight, which I may have lost, into the young man I am still trying to raise. I also want to believe that for every guide in Michael’s life now who is introducing him to rattlesnakes, there are others still showing him how to keep a proper grip on life so he doesn’t fall too far off balance.

Friend Me


    I think Hallmark may have hyped the notion of friendship a bit too much.

    
Inflated the premise and oversold its availability to the masses.

    
Or maybe it was those afterschool specials and sappy sitcoms.




    Or the mean girl movies in which good prevailed and true friends stood solid.

    
Something has given our kids a misguided view of where they’ll find real friends and just what they’ll look like.

    
Perhaps the culprit is Facebook –so much else is blamed on the social networking site.




    Eight hundred and eighty-three friends -Seriously?

    
I used to cringe when my husband came home from a business meeting referring to his friends in attendance.




    Those aren’t friends- they’re business associates,
I would practically shout every time.

    
And I was often surprised at the reaction of those newly moved to town who were disappointed by the no-entry cliques that were too reminiscent of high school for my liking. I was never really sure why the newbies wanted in to the select town circles. Did they really think those people jockeying to get their own kids on the best soccer teams were going to pull another’s kid along?

    
One of my students was recently disappointed by her so-called friends. After what she saw as a betrayal, she said she was now going to trust no one.

    
Ouch.




    In talking her off the ledge, I assured her that this new philosophy was extreme.




    And then I delved a bit into just what her expectations of her friends were. But before I reached that bar, I had to ask –who she considered to be her friends? How many did she have? And the question which spoke more to my own philosophy than hers –how many exactly did she think she deserved?

    
I brokered my own response before she had a chance to answer. If you can count your close friends on a single hand, consider yourself lucky, I told her.

    
She is lucky. And she knows this. And she also acknowledges that she was perhaps misguided to label every acquaintance on even a small college campus as friend. Because not every project partner or kindred classmate is a friend. Tight living quarters don’t make tight friendships. And slurpy sentiments proffered at local bars are often forgotten before the sticky floors have been mopped dry.  

    
My daughter’s been tricked too many times by the illusion of friendship. At 21, I think she’s finally getting a sense of what she needs from the people in her life. And just how much she’s willing to give in return. Her foundation of friendship rests, in part, on membership in a sorority. When she first considered joining, I have to admit I wasn’t entirely on board. It wasn’t just the what-would-I-do voice in my head; it was that other, much louder voice of parental caution. She’d been hurt before –by girls- and the thought of such a large assemblage of them struck me as that many more chances for pain.




    I was wrong.

    
Theta Phi Alpha has given Alex the friends she missed out on in high school. And I think they may be true friends. But it doesn’t really matter what I think. It’s what she believes that counts here. Time will tell. Alex has always been quick to jump into new friendships, but quick also to abandon them when they didn’t measure up. In Theta Phi, loyalty is a requirement of membership. 

    
My student is under no such contractual obligation to give her own friends a second chance.




    But she will.




    Or at least she will to those who now fit her narrower construction of the word.




    She doesn’t know it yet, but that definition is likely to grow narrower still.




    Because I’m that old, I’ve had friendships as old as my student. And I can vouch for the genuineness of them because they’ve stood the test of time. I could teach her much about what constitutes a true friend.

    
But I won’t.




    She’ll figure it out -she’s smart. Although it isn’t often one’s intellect that speaks most loudly where matters of the heart are concerned. And a true friendship is indeed its own sort of love affair. In fact, most friendships last longer than love affairs; many outlast marriages.  

    
So while I’ll pass on giving advice on the girls in my student’s life, I will tell her that when she’s choosing a boy to try seeing first if he measures up as a friend. Because not only is that a great place to start, it’s also not a bad place to end.

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.