Putting on your big-girl panties.

Dear friends,

This is a photo my CupKate posted on Twitter Friday night of her tennis team.

I wish I could tell you they were dressed up for a happy occasion, but that’s not the case. Instead, they were going out to dinner with their coach to tell him goodbye.

Not long after Kate arrived in August for the start of her freshman year, it became clear there were issues with the tennis program. I’m not going to air dirty laundry that’s not mine to air. (In fact, I know very little. One thing you learn quickly after your child goes to college is that parents have little-to-no rights to information.) I’ll simply say the fall season was cancelled and the coach is leaving following an NCAA investigation.

It was a shocking development to say the least. Kate and I spent all of last year touring eight different colleges. I had pinned my hopes on a private Jesuit university several hours away, but Kate chose her current location — a small public university in our home state — because she instantly bonded with the coach and with these girls. I adjusted, and to say we both set sail with high hopes is an understatement.

But you know what? The universe immediately handed Kate a difficult but valuable lesson, chiefly that life doesn’t always work out like you planned. Two weeks into what Kate imagined would be an idyllic college tennis career, life smacked her upside the head with a big dose of adult reality: humans makes mistakes, institutions are fallible, and life goes on. I’m proud to say Kate put on her big-girl panties immediately and has been dealing with it in the most admirable way.

Kate is the only American player on her team. The other seven girls hail from Morocco (the girl in purple to the right of Kate, who is Kate’s roommate), France, Russia, Slovakia and the Czech Republic. I don’t know if cultural differences have played a role, or if it’s a matter of youth, but I can tell you Kate’s teammates were having difficulty navigating the complexities and uncertainties of this very difficult situation.

So I sprang into action. If there’s one thing I know how to do and do well, it’s how to navigate administrative and organizational hurdles. Some would say I’ve made a career out of  making bureaucracy work to my advantage. I became the team’s ombudsman, advising them, scripting them, helping them prepare and organize their inquiries and responses and, hopefully, calming their nerves. The girl nicknamed “Frenchy” started calling me “the Tiger” (la tigre).

When Kate told me this, I laughed out loud. If you’ve followed the controversy over author Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, you know I’m more of a laissez-faire kitten-mother than a tiger. Still, I knew the name was offered with affection and gratitude and I pledged to wear it as a badge of honor (despite the Asian stereotype). And I couldn’t help but think of the seven other mothers, thousands of miles and four languages removed from their daughters’ situations, and hope it would give them comfort knowing one of us is well positioned to help.

None of us have any idea what the future will bring. A new coach, certainly. How that will affect these girls, their tennis careers, their college experiences and, ultimately, their adult lives is anybody’s guess. I advised Kate to ride out the year and see what unfolds — and she’s doing that with her famously mature approach.

The truth is — she had a drawer full of big-girl panties before she went to college so I had nothing to worry about.

With gratitude {for a girl who can roll with the punches with the best of them},

Joan, aka la tigre du tennis meres

Good morning, Sarah!

Dear friends,

I have a friend from back home named Sarah. She’s one of the most adorable 20-something girls you’d ever want to meet and she tweeted this yesterday:

Sarah is the daughter of a woman I went to high school with named Shelli. Shelli’s adorable, too, so it runs in the family. (In fact, back in high school another friend of mine used to say about Shelli: “Isn’t she the most adorable girl ever?”)  Anyway, Sarah has told me before that she likes to start her morning with Debt of Gratitude, and that thought alone makes me happier than you can imagine. Probably happier than Dr. Pepper, m&m’s and my blog make Sarah.

I was not having a stellar day yesterday. It was my first day back at work after returning from Oklahoma and it was jam packed with meetings and other obligations in which I had little interest. Everybody knew I had just returned from taking Kate to college and everybody kept asking me how I was doing.

I smiled. And I said fine. But really . . . I wanted to burst into tears. So when I saw Sarah’s Tweet mid-day, it sure perked up my melancholy little heart.

“I can’t be sad and mopey,” I thought to myself. “I have to go home and write something for Sarah!” I wish I had something more creative, something more profound, something more substantive than “thank you” to offer her (to offer all of you, really), but I don’t.

Still, since this is a blog devoted to gratitude, I can’t exactly argue with an expression of appreciation, no matter how modest.

So thank you, Sarah, from the bottom of my heart for evicting me from Mopeland and back to real life where I count my blessings every day.

With gratitude {for Sarah and all my readers whose daily visits enrich my life},

Joan, who also wants to give a shout-out to Debbie, her first college roomie who made her home-to-college transition so much more bearable all those years ago

PS: While I’m counting my blessings, will you indulge me just a moment? I want to show you some photos I took of Kate at college. She’s in a lovely environment and it gives me comfort to know her world is a pretty, happy place.

Kate outside her new apartment. She’s on the 2nd floor. Hooray for the built-in Stairmaster!

Kate’s bedroom. We both were pleased with the pink-and-black decor and the $20 craigslist desk. Hooray for cheap chic!

Kate and her roommate, Houda. Houda from Casablanca. I love saying that! You know what else I love? Houda is Muslim and speaks Arabic. Hooray for cultural diversity in Kate’s life!

The college girl.

Dear friends,

My two favorite brunettes of all time.

Some women my age would be embarrassed to admit this, but during my college years, Cosmopolitan magazine was my primary textbook. I scoured every issue and took its advice seriously. I thought Helen Gurley Brown was it, and I longed for a career as glamorous as hers.

My views have changed considerably since then — though my appreciation for independent, outspoken women has never waned. So I was sorry to hear Ms. Brown died yesterday in Manhattan at the age of 90.

From her NY Times obit, I learned a story about HGB that had never before caught my attention. Chiefly, that her mother sent the legendary Cosmo editor a telegram just before her best-selling (and career-making) book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” was published. In it, her mother wrote: Dear Helen, if you move very quickly, I think we can stop publication of the book.”

I cringed when I read it. I never want to be that mother, I thought. The naysayer. The second-guesser. The older woman dispensing one generation’s advice to a younger generation for whom the old rules don’t apply.

Lord knows I’ve been dispensing plenty of advice in the last few days as Kate prepared to go to college. Everything from where to buy the cheapest textbooks, to how to get answers from college administrators, to why it’s important to thoroughly read the syllabus.

In the end (where end equals Sunday night, time for mom to go home already), I simply had to zip my lip and walk away.  And, yeah, I walked away with tears in my eyes, trying hard not to make eye contact with the girl who wouldn’t be helped by a tearful goodbye. I left her among her friends and contemporaries, where I hope she will find the space and the encouragement for her unique voice to develop and her dreams to flourish, which is the only thing I ever hoped college would offer her.

I told her to call me if she needs me. (I know she won’t hesitate because barely two hours after I departed, she called to ask where I had put the Q-tips that I unpacked. I’m not sure if I’ll be more or less relieved if her next call for help is about a matter of more consequence.) I told her I loved her. I told her I was proud of her.

And then I drove six hours home, where a new adventure awaits me, too. (Just as soon as I stop crying. Kiddingnotkidding.)

With gratitude {for the strongest, smartest, kindest college girl a mother could hope for},

Joan, who finds it odd that the mother who breezed through Kate’s first day of Kindergarten had to look away or burst into tears while buying last-minute dorm supplies at Wal-Mart on Saturday (Who knew separation at 19 was harder than 5?)

My life in photos: the fear edition.

Dear friends,

Interesting weekend, this one that just passed.

As you know, both my kids were gone. Kate to college orientation, Parker to the lake with friends.

Not that I was twitchy or anything, but I checked my Twitter feed a lot — you know, just to catch a glimpse of whaaaaaaasup with the kids.

This popped up Sunday morning on Parker’s feed along with the Tweet: Me and (name of friend) jumped a 55ft cliff today. #freefalling

Yep. That’s my boy. The one falling. From a great height. Into a large body of water.

His bad grammar notwithstanding, if you read this post, you know how I feel about these things.

If you didn’t read that post, I’ll just tell you: I feel IRRATIONALLY FEARFUL of these kinds of shenanigans.

So I did what any good mother would do . . . I sent a Tweet back to my son with the message “If you come home in a sip and puff, you’re on your own, buddy.” (A “sip and puff” is family slang for a breath-activated wheelchair for quadriplegics.)

I reminded myself there were adults present on this trip. Adults. Watching my son falling from a great height into a large body of water. I had to assume the adults were exercising their good judgement.

A couple of hours later, this popped up on Parker’s feed along with the Tweet: Extreme tubing backflip.

Yep. That’s my boy. Flying backwards off a fast-moving object. Into a large body of water.

Good lord . . . this mothering thing isn’t for wimps. After Parker’s daredevil-photo Tweets, I got a “distress text” from Kate. She was feeling a little more homesick than she expected. I sympathized (because no one wants to hear you shouldn’t be homesick), gave her a pep talk, then put my phone away because, you know, there’s only so much long-distance mothering (worrying) a mother can do in one day without having a nervous breakdown.

The good news is (Mr. Mom would say it’s the predictable news) — Parker came home safe and sound, declaring it the best lake trip ever. And Kate survived orientation, noting the student leaders were “super nice” and their freshman survival tips helpful.

Thanks to all of you, dear readers, I’ve got a leg up on this new parenting gig of mine. I have a feeling it’s a lot like jumping off that damn cliff — pretty scary from the top, but exhilarating once you’re in the water.

With gratitude {for two courageous kids who made my weekend nothing if not interesting},

Joan, who wants to give a shout-out to regular reader Deb, without whose sage advice on this post I might have lain awake “carrying the strain” of Kate’s mood

A new window on the world.

Dear friends,

I am sitting in the kitchen drinking coffee and watching it rain (hallelujah for rain!). I have a whole new window on the world, both literally and figuratively.

A few months after Mr. Mom and I moved into our new home last year, we learned that some of our windows were rotting. After a thorough pre-sale inspection that uncovered termites but not window rot, this discovery was particularly disappointing. The previous owners were meticulous in their upkeep and I have often said (and meant it) that I would have eaten off their garage floor.  How window rot escaped their notice is beyond me (unless, of course, it didn’t; but I try to give folks the benefit of the doubt). Anyway, representatives from the window manufacturer came to our home a few days ago, at our expense, to replace the ruined ones and repair the sashes on those in danger of decay — so I’m breathing a sigh of relief that my window on the world is sound again.

(I tried to resist pointing out that our home in Oklahoma, which is still for sale, has 91-year-old windows made of solid oak without so much as a speck of rot — but I failed because nothing gets to me like irony. Century-old house, sound windows. Decade-old house, rotting windows. Sigh.)

In addition to new windows, I have a whole new view of the world. Both my children have flown the nest. Parker is spending a few days at the lake with the family of his girlfriend and Kate is at her college’s freshman orientation. My house is eerily quiet in a way that is becoming increasingly familiar to me.

Mr. Mom and I woke up to an empty house this morning. We drank coffee in bed and talked — of our day, our weekend, our future. Parker has two more years of high school, but he’s mobile and has a social life that any teenager would envy and so we find ourselves alone a lot. I’ve said jokingly that I’m glad we like each other, but I know it’s no laughing matter. That Mr. Mom and I enjoy each others’ company is one of the greatest blessings in my life.

I’m less and less restless about this lack of children to fuss over and (s)mother. Even though I’m not entirely certain what Mr. and I are going to do with this newfound time on our hands, the prospect no longer unnerves me.

What does give me pause is the unknown of my relationship with Kate. Will we talk on the phone? Skype? Text? Email? All of the above? (I hope!) Will we communicate frequently, or will she be in touch only when she needs me? What does the mother-daughter connection feel like when it’s no longer daily? I assume my relevancy will ebb and flow in her life, but how will those tides feel for me?

I suspect I’ll have different perspectives on these questions as time marches on. In the mean time, I’m “swimming  upstream” and mindful of all that is new and glistening in my world.

The unflinching light of mindful awareness reveals the extent to which we are tossed along in the stream of past conditioning and habit. The moment we decide to stop and look at what is going on (like a swimmer suddenly changing course to swim upstream instead of downstream), we find ourselves battered by powerful currents we had never even suspected—precisely because until that moment we were largely living at their command.

– Stephen Batchelor, “Foundations of Mindfulness”

With gratitude {for new views},

Joan, who believes washing windows is a most satisfying chore

Cover girl.

Dear friends,

I’ve been away for a couple of days at a retreat with my colleagues. Those sorts of things are always exhausting, especially when you’re in charge. (Energizing the troops takes thought. And, um, energy.)

Anyway, I got home last night after two days away and felt like I’d been gone for a week. The first thing I noticed when I walked in the door was that Kate is packed. There were boxes lining my hallway with her hand-written labels, such as “Kitchen stuff” and “Laundry Supplies.”

Oof.

My daughter is really leaving me, it seems. In seven days.

I promise to hold it together until then, but when I come back from dropping her off at college, you might need to indulge me for a moment. Or a year.

Anyway, the other thing I noticed right away is that she picked up her senior yearbook while I was away. And guess who made the cover?

Yep, that’s my little CupKate front and center. I can’t tell you how sweet it seems (to both of us) that she was the new girl in a high school of a thousand students and she made the cover of the yearbook,  prominently located no less. Kinda takes the edge off the trauma (drama?) of moving a year ago just as she was about to start her senior year.

A lot has happened in the last year. Some bad (re: the mountain), some good (re: every single day of my family’s love and support as we’ve built a new life together in our new town).

With gratitude {for all of it, absolutely all of it},

Joan, who is certain there’s a “Tracy Flick” in Kate’s school who is seething right this minute over the injustice of the new girl making the cover of the yearbook (bonus points to any reader who can name that movie starring Reese Witherspoon)

PS: If you’re a regular reader of mine, you’ve no doubt noticed Sizzle is, too. We’ve been bloggy friends for years. She got some bad news this week and my heart is aching for her. Won’t you take a moment to head over to her blog and wish her some love and peace? I said not long ago that the world can seem like a big and scary place, but not when we all stick together. Thanks, friends.

Whatever it takes.

Dear friends,

Mr. Mom and Kate and I were having lunch yesterday (we were out test driving more cars!) when Kate just happened to bring up the topic of her quest to get fit.

She’s known all summer that college tennis would be a step up for her. And she’s been working out regularly. But she got an email from her college coach this week telling her to report for duty on August 9 and to “come back fit,” and there’s nothing like a direct order from your coach to light a fire under your tail. Suddenly, she’s worried her cardio isn’t up to snuff.

Mr. Mom responded that she ought to interval train and suggested a running regimen that he I and used years ago with great results. Kate actually acted interested for the first time ever (her father has only been giving her fitness advice her whole life) and even asked “What time does the sun come up?”

Let me just say . . . any mother worth her salt knows that’s an open door if ever she saw one.

Joan: 6:00 am. Actually a little before that. Hey, I have a great idea! How about if I get up and interval train with you? It’s a little tricky the first time you do it, so you might appreciate having a partner who’s done it before.

Kate: Um . . .

Joan: Really, Kate. This would be great for me, too. I haven’t been running and interval training would be a great way to help me get back on track. It’ll be good for both of us and we won’t have to do it alone.

Kate: Um . . . I guess that would be fine.

Joan: So it’s a deal! We’re getting up at 6:00 am tomorrow morning to run! This is great! I’m excited!

I know . . . it’s tragic. Only a desperate mother whose daughter is leaving in three weeks would be excited about getting up at 6:00 am in July to interval train. But, hey, whatever it takes, you know?

With gratitude {for 21 more days},

Joan, who has only one word for you after this morning’s training: oy!

Pro-cras-tin-ation.

Dear friends,

Source: Primitives by Kathy

I’ve been singing the Heinz Ketchup “Anticipation” song for a while now, only I’ve been substituting the word procrastination in the melody.

Pro-cras-tin-ation. Pro-cras-tin-AAAAA-AAAAA-tion.

Sorry. Anything to take my mind off the actual task for which I’m procrastinating.

I’m not usually a dawdler. Truly I’m not. I did my taxes in February and pocketed my refund a long time ago.  But the task I’ve been putting off is more annoying  than taxes.  And worse, it has a tongue-twisting acronym.

Have you heard of the FAFSA?

As in, “Oh, god, I HAVE to do the FAFSA?” Or, “Have you DONE your FAFSA?” Or, “What the HECK is the FAFSA?” (Pronounced just like it looks: faf-suh.)

I’ll tell you what it is — it’s a torture device for parents of college students. It’s a stupid electronic form that you must fill out if your child plans to attend college. It becomes “available” on Jan. 1 of every year. So I’ve managed to put it off for exactly 107 days.

Kate and I are headed to her college of choice next week to enroll and sign up for financial aid. I happened to mention this fact yesterday to a friend who’s a financial aid director of a university. And she immediately asked, in an urgent voice, “Have you done your FAFSA?”

I uttered a mild expletive. Then I answered “No.”

“Do it tonight,” she urged. “Otherwise it won’t be processed by the time you enroll.”

So that’s how I spent my Monday night. Reading instructions and cursing and looking for tax information. Creating log-ins and passwords and PINs. Entering field after field of personal information. Like my net worth.

Do you know your net worth? You know what, good for you if you do! I think if I knew my net worth (or even thought about my net worth), my net worth would be higher.

After I got most of the way through it, I realized I had filled out the wrong year’s form. (You have to choose a year. I know it sounds simple, but it’s more confusing than you might think.)

So I had to “clear” the form and start all over.

Then when I got to the end again, it wouldn’t let me electronically sign and submit the form. I was desperate for help, so I opted for the live web chat. It’s not really live by the way; it’s delayed by several minutes.

A woman named Siera Pink helped me. Isn’t that a weird name? You’d think they’ve give their customer service folks fake names, like the Pakastani fellow named “Albert” who took my CitiCards call the other day. No way in the world he was named Albert. And Albert is such an odd choice. If I were in charge of the fake names, I’d use lots of Jacks and Janets and Beckys and Toms. Easy stuff that’s not weird. Albert is weird.

Anyway, Siera Pink is weird, too, but she helped me find my mistake and get the whole thing submitted ONE HOUR after I began.

It was hard to be terribly appreciative on a Monday night when the last thing I wanted to do is the FAFSA. But I did it. And I guess the good news is Kate can go to college now. Hooray for us!

With gratitude {for Siera Pink who kept me from throwing a brick at the computer screen},

Joan, whose customer service alias would be Beth Parker (which is a combo of my favorite girl name and my favorite boy name; nothing weird; easy to say and spell; see how easy this is? I really should work in Customer Service)

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