3 Things I Noticed About An Empty Nest

I wrote this after my youngest left the nest in 2014. It’s 2017 and the nest is still empty, but we get visits now and then. We’ve planned trips to see both kids this fall and I’m looking forward to the moments we get to spend together. All in all, the empty nest is not that bad! Here’s what I noticed the first few months with no kids to take care of:
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Towels

Let’s start with towels. First off, we own too many of them. I gathered our towels into one room and separated the wheat from the chaff. I asked my son Robert if he needed any. I recall sending him off to college four years ago with a small set of matched towels. He’s survived with those two towels all this time? Plus, a beach towel of course — since he goes to UC Santa Barbara.

One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UCSB

One of the most beautiful campuses ever. UCSB

Eighteen towels and two dozen or so hand towels and washcloths sit on his bed, awaiting his return Thanksgiving weekend. These 18 towels didn’t make the cut to remain members of our family — unless they commit to being shredded into rags.

images-3The next thing I noticed about my towels is that I’m no longer washing them every time I turn around. Raising two swimmers as well as overly hygienically-conscious kids, I believe they went through four or five towels daily — each — which never got a second use. I no longer have to hear the thump, thump, thump of my washing machine doing a jig with the over-packed, heavy towel load.

images-5Groceries

Have I mentioned that I raised two swimmers? We joined the Piranha Swim Team around 1999. I honestly believe that having my kids involved in swimming was the single best thing we ever did as parents. Sure, the kids worked hard. Yes, it was a time commitment. But, I will repeat, it was the single best thing we ever did. You can find a lot of my articles about the benefits here and here and here. Read what my friend has to say about swimming here.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

Robert and Kat a few years ago on photo day for the Piranha Swim Team.

So, what does this fact have to do with groceries? Well, it means I bought a lot of them. All the time. Robert drank a half gallon of milk a day and a box of Cinnamon Life every two days. Kat could eat whatever she wanted and she liked my sole, chicken and dumplings, meatloaf, and brown medley rice. At least I think she did because I was always cooking and buying more groceries.

Life-Cinnamon-Detail.sflbToday, my refrigerator is bare and I rarely cook. There’s no reason to buy more than three items at a time at the grocery store. When I enter the store, I don’t need a cart. I use the little hand-held basket.

images-4Dishes

 I cannot seem to get a load of dishes to wash for the life of me. My sink is empty. My dishwasher sits bare and lonely.

I guess that’s what they make Thanksgiving weekend for.

This is a photo of Kat. She didn't want to be a ballerina. She wanted to swim!

Why Kat joined the swim team. “I don’t want to be a ballerina!”

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How Best to Deal With Your Kid’s Roommate Drama

Now that your child is in college, be prepared. Roommate drama is a thing. How can parents help–or should we?

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University of Utah, Salt Lake City

 

I experienced drama with my first roommate at the University of Washington. I won’t go into detail, but needless to say it wasn’t a pleasant experience. She was from out-of-state, didn’t know a soul, and after a few fun weeks of acting like besties, we were unable to live with each other. I remember her passive aggressive nature, and I never knew what I had done to offend her. But, she wouldn’t speak to me for days on end. Next, she glommed onto my brother and I watched them as an inseparable couple—except she’d flirt with one particular guy behind his back. We ended that roommate situation after two quarters and never spoke to each other again.

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University of Washington, Seattle–my alma mater

My son had a bad situation his freshman year. He and his roommate filled out the computerized roommate pairings at UCSB and they housed together because they had the exact same SAT scores and similar interests. However, the roommate was an hour from his home and girlfriend, had a ton of high school friends with him, and my son just didn’t click or want to get sucked into the continuation of high school life.

 

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UC Santa Barbara

 

This weekend, we went to my daughter’s “Parents and Move-In Weekend.” For the second year, she’s living off-campus in a house with three other girls. She has a large, yet cozy room she’s decorated in her own style. But, inevitably there’s roommate trouble from time to time. Whether it’s someone who hoards dishes under their bed, roommates who never do the dishes, or another who’s boyfriend has moved in for 60 days…things will happen between college kids living in close quarters. They are used to having their own space. There’s bound to be tension as they figure out how to be adults, living with new people.

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My daughter’s living quarters.

I’m glad we were there for her when some roommate drama cropped up. Here’s a few ideas to help with roommate drama:

One

As a parent, stay out of it unless it’s a dangerous situation or may result in trouble with the landlord.

Two

Give support to your child and let them vent to you. Help them figure out what is the best course of action.

Three

Why are they anxious or upset? It may be deeper than what they tell you on the surface.

Four

It’s important for your child to not keep things bottled up, but talk things out. Whether it’s talking in person or texting—just make sure they are able to express themselves.

Five

Advise your child to think things through before they act. Are they willing to live with the outcome of a roommate confrontation? Or, is it better to let it go?

Six

Let your child know that it’s important to stand up for themselves. It’s not okay to be taken advantage of.

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Dusk at Liberty Park, Salt Lake City

 

What roommate problems did you have? How do you help your kids handle roommate drama?

On another note, I read in the Seattle Times that the dorms I lived in are being demolished!

Thoughts on Hair, Swimming and Momentous Days Ahead

My son is leaving the nest, really moving away.

This is different from leaving home to attend college. It’s a whole new world of parenting to have a college graduate—finally ready to be out on his own—and move away from us. Yes, it feels weird.

He came home over the weekend for a visit and a hair cut. He decided to stop getting hair cuts more than a year ago. He said he had this one time in his life, while in college, to grow his hair long. I didn’t like it one bit, but I did not argue with him.

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Days of short hair for both my kids.

I remember hair being a big deal in the 70s when I was a kid. My brother got suspended for having his hair reach his collar. My parents fought it and finally the school relented and hair restrictions were eliminated.  A few years before that, girls couldn’t wear pants to school and jeans were against the rules for boys and girls, too! Isn’t that wild to think about?

Two weeks before my son’s commencement ceremony, he drove home to get his locks chopped off. The length of his hair after the cut is still longer than it was during his 18 years at home. However, it’s a huge improvement over the “Robert Plant” do.

After graduation, he’s packing his car and renting a U-Haul trailer if necessary. Then he’s driving north to the Bay Area to pursue his dreams. Wow. I am working hard to get my head around that. He looks healthy and happy and it’s now officially his life.

 

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My daughter and teammates at the Fran Crippen Swim Meet of Champions.

My daughter has a big weekend coming up, too. This is after a week of getting perfect grades and an acceptance into Business School at her university. Her next momentous occasion is the meet at the Irvine pool. She’s trying for her lifelong dream of making Olympic Trial cuts. She’s been close for a couple years, but close doesn’t count in swimming–it’s not horseshoes.

I’ll be a nervous wreck at the meet. I hope and pray she’ll reach her goals. But if she doesn’t, I know she’s resilient, hard working and will have more goals to swim towards.

Most of all, I’m proud of the strong self-reliant adults my children have become! It’s been an amazing privilege to be their mom.

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With our girl after SMOC. One more meet to go!

Sometimes They Fall to the Ground Before They Fly Away

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“Sometimes when they leave the nest, they have to fall to the ground before they learn to fly.”

I was at a swim meet this past weekend, talking to a longtime coach friend of mine. The “leaving the nest bird analogy” was his answer to my question about if you should let your children fail. Or, continue to support them at all costs and bail them out of trouble?

When is it time to say no? In my opinion and according some of my best friends, at some point you have to put your foot down and no longer give in. The sooner you do that, the better off they will be.

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My son at Laguna Beach.

 

Is this “tough love” or is it merely letting our kids face reality and consequences?

My son, who is a bright, loving person, has struggled through some of his college years. His first year, he was in an accident and looking back, he should have taken a hardship withdrawal. Now, in his final quarter of school, he’s been sick for at least six straight weeks. He wants to take a hardship withdrawal now—with only four weeks left before he graduates.

Literally, it kills me. In the very least, it sickens my heart. I want him to finish, but we’ve drawn a line in the sand. We will not give him a dime more for college. He’ll have to figure this out for himself. In fact, I told him that if he withdraws from college now, he’ll have to come home. We aren’t paying for him to live in Santa Barbara without going to school. No, we’re not paying for next quarter, either.

Are we being too hard? I don’t think so. It would be easy to give in.

robertUnfortunately, I didn’t allow him to fail when the consequences weren’t so high. I was one of those helicopter parents rushing to school with forgotten papers, etc. I did him no favors by saving him from small failures. 

He’s thought through his options and I’m happy to say, he’s sticking with school. However, I came to the realization, that whatever path he takes, it’s his decision and his life. There isn’t a right or wrong way to go. It would not be the end of the world if he didn’t get his college degree in June. It isn’t my first choice for him, don’t get me wrong. But, if he had to work for a couple years and save the money to finish college, he’d learn a lot. He may even appreciate the opportunities we’ve provided for him.

Nobody told me parenting would be so hard.

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Fly Away
by Lenny Kravitz
“I wish that I could fly
Into the sky
So very high
Just like a dragonfly
I’d fly above the trees
Over the seas in all degrees
To anywhere I please”
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Bring Tissues to My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2


MV5BNTA1MjMzNDM2M15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNTg3NzQ1NzE@._V1_SX214_AL_Last weekend, my husband and I went to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2. It’s the second movie about the Portokalos family, written by and starring Nia Vardalos.

It was the first time we were alone after enjoying two separate spring breaks. First, our daughter had driven from Salt Lake City to So Cal to spend a few days with us. I delighted and luxuriated in the little moments I spent with her. Whether it was getting pedicures, or lounging in the back yard, I just wanted to drink her in, sit next to her, be near her.

I was pleasantly surprised that she allowed me! She seemed to enjoy our company and wasn’t embarrassed to have us hang out with her and teammate Maryssa. Evenings, we went to the pool, sat with the current crop of swim parents and watched Piranha practice. Just like the good old days.

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My daughter and her teammate during Spring break. Honestly, I’m not that short!

The following week, my son spent most of his break with his girlfriend. Oh well. We did spend his birthday weekend with him in one of the most beautiful cities ever, Santa Barbara. He’ll be graduating from UCSB soon, and we may not have the pleasure of visiting him there more than once or twice more. Our friends live there, so we’ll be back. I’m sure I’ll feel a hollowness in my heart my first visit to Santa Barbara knowing he’s moved on.

Back to the movie. This past weekend, once again kidless, we went to see the second installment of My Big Fat Greek Wedding.

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My son’s birthday celebration with our good friends in Santa Barbara. Homemade Black Forest cake by Debbie.

We’d seen the first one as a family, bought the DVD, and it was a favorite with all of us. Michael Constantine, who plays Toula’s father Gus Portokalos reminds us of my husband’s Uncle Luciano, from Sicily. When we mentioned it to him he said, “I’m nothing like him!” I don’t think he took it as a compliment.

We laughed so hard at the first movie. The second one, not as much. It was a good movie, don’t get me wrong. It had the same quirky, awkward moments for Nia Vardalos, the writer and star. There were laugh out loud moments with all the characters in Toula’s family. I felt reunited with close friends that I’d missed for far too many years. 

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Santa Barbara Mission with my son and husband sharing a laugh.

It hit too close to home. The aging father, the teenage daughter ready to leave home. Toula, having to rediscover and find herself after years of taking care of others. Going out to dinner with her husband, swearing she wouldn’t talk about their child.

The hardest part for me, sitting through the movie, was the tears. How much I miss my kids smacked into the center of my brain. I kept dabbing at my eyes. My husband would look over at me. I wiped my eyes some more. Finally I gave into the tears. That’s all I’ll say. Go see it for yourself and let me know how you like it compared to the first movie.

Warning. If you’re new to an empty nest, bring tissue!

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Sunset at Carpinteria State Beach during a picnic dinner.

More Thoughts About Freedom of Speech on College Campuses

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My alma mater.

I worry about my kids and the world we are leaving them. I especially worry about how their ideals are so different than mine, when I was their age.

For example, I wanted to have a successful career. I was interested in getting a job. Eventually get married, buy a home and raise a family. Not that I wanted that at age 19 or even 22, but it was in the back of my mind.

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Another view from the UW.

I was a journalism major. My internships were at local newspapers and I spent one quarter at the state capital as a legislative reporter. I valued the written word. As an avid reader and writer for most of my entire life, I value freedom of speech and believe we are one of the few fortunate country’s in the world to enjoy this right. We have friends who immigrated from Eastern Europe. They told us how books were illegal in their country. They would smuggle photographs of each page to read and share with friends.

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Washington  State Capital Dome

I’m so surprised that our kids do not appreciate this right.

Did you hear that? Freedom of speech, which is our first amendment right, is not a favorable thing to a growing number of our college students. There was a recent Pew Research poll that tracked opinions about freedom of speech. Forty percent of students believe that our first amendment is outdated and that the government should have the right to censor our speech if it’s offensive to minorities.

“Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

Read more here about the document called the Bill of Rights. 

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I was a young child in the 60s when protestors were taking over college campuses, bombing buildings and burning flags. They were protesting the War. They believed in freedom of speech.

You don’t have to agree with the words being said. You don’t even have to like it. You can hate it and find it offensive. But, don’t censor or silence it. It seems that our college campuses have become microcosms of group think where no dissenting point of view is allowed. If someone speaks out with a contrary opinion, they are shouted down, silenced and excommunicated.

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It’s very scary to me that the foundations of our country are not respected or valued by our youth. I’m hoping they outgrow this attitude as they enter the world, get jobs and raise their families.

There’s a book I read when my kids were in grade school called Red Scarf Girl by Ji-li Jiang. It’s a true story and eerily reminds me of what’s going on today with our college students.imgres-3

“In 1966, Ji-li Jiang was twelve years old. An outstanding student and leader in her school, she had everything: brains, ability, the admiration of her peers – and a shining future in Chairman Mao’s New China. But all that changed with the advent of the Cultural Revolution, when intelligence became a crime and a wealthy family background invited persecution or worse.”

It’s a well written book and the story is one we should think about today.

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Here’s a story from 12/9/2015 that brings up some of the issues on campuses I’ve been reading about: Importance of Free Speech on Campus .

Here’s an opinion piece from the LA Times that addresses the issue of freedom of speech with numbers.

Here’s a couple blog posts I’ve written on the subject:

Is Freedom of Speech Dead On American Campuses

Are the Right to Party and the Right to Free Speech at Odds at UCSB?

Four Reasons Why Kids Fail Their Freshman Year

My Alma Mater. University of Washington.

My Alma Mater. University of Washington.

I wonder why so many kids fail college? I was shocked to read a statistic from ACT that 50% of freshman students do not return for their second year. Then, 30% of those remaining, do not graduate within five years!

Why? What can we do to better prepare our kids for college? There is so much pressure on our kids to get into great schools.You’d think with the great expense, and all their work to get in, it would be a breeze once they are there. But, it’s not.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

My daughter and friend on a recruit trip.

Here’s my list of why I think kids fail their freshman year:

ONE

Too many kids go to college. I do not think everyone should go. When I was in high school the majority of students did not continue their education past high school. They were able to get jobs, support themselves and their families without a college education. Today, a college degree has become the norm and standard. There are many kids who would be better served to work for a few years, and then decide if they want to go to college. By having everyone go, and not everyone is equipped to go, some kids are set up for failure.


TWO

High school doesn’t prepare kids for college. The work is often spoon-fed by teachers in little lumps of daily assignments and reading. Having a syllabus with a couple dates on it and no day-to-day requirements is more what college is like. It takes discipline, motivation and self-determination to not procrastinate, but to work and study in advance of deadlines.

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A gorgeous location. UCSB.

THREE

We do too much. As helicopter, hovering parents, we are afraid to let our kids fail. We don’t let our kids learn from their mistakes. They need to have more chores, part-time jobs or something to do besides homework. Some of the crazy, heavy AP schedules don’t allow for real life experiences. Plus, we cater to our kids’ every needs—even to the point of helping them complete projects or assignments. My conversation with four-time Olympian and former University of Texas head coach Jill Sterkel included some great advice that you can read on SwimSwam here. She believes in letting kids work out their problems in a less high-stakes environment. We need to give them room to do this.

FOUR

Millennials mature later, according to Kari Ellingson, Vice President at the University of Utah. I attended a talk by her at orientation with my daughter. I wrote more about her talk here. According to Ellingson, “It used to be people matured around 19, 20, 21. Today it’s 26, 27 or 28.” It’s no wonder they can’t handle the many demands of laundry, getting their own food, studying, etc. Maybe our kids are not mature enough to handle the responsibilities of college at age 18?

What can we do to help our kids be prepared for success in college?  I’ll talk to some more experts and will get back to you!  What do you think are the reasons why so many kids fail in college? I’d love to get your feedback.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.

My kids not wanting me to take their pic on the UCSB campus.