Milestones and Stages
We tend to measure our children’s lives in milestones and stages. Often we are wishing for a certain stage to conclude (think terrible twos) or hoping the current stage never ends. However, it is the milestones that we really celebrate. Events like the first day of school or getting a driving permit or when they take their first step, start using the toilet, and lose their first tooth are all celebrated in a big or small way. There are the “big” birthdays; 1, 10, 13, 16, 18 and 21 that have a bit more weight or importance than others. However, we put our heart and soul into making every childhood birthday special and memorable. Finally, we celebrate graduations from kindergarten, sometimes eighth grade, high school and college. When you get to the college graduation you realize that this amazing child of yours has made it through all of the childhood stages and milestones. From now on the milestones are adult level: marriage, turning 30, first house or first baby. This may make you feel old, but don’t let it make you act old!
Sugar River in Shirland, Illinois
A Big Milestone to Celebrate
On May 14th we celebrated our oldest son’s college graduation. It was a big milestone and worthy of all the pomp and circumstance. I didn’t even mind that it took center stage to Mother’s Day. This was Rikley’s day and a day for his parents, grandmother, aunt and brother to cheer him on as he strode across the stage and accepted his diploma. All of his success has been a direct result of his effort. As a side note, for Mother’s Day, I was given a fabulous new cookbook. I’ve tried three of the recipes and would make them again. Run Fast Eat Slow is written by two runners and is full of nourishing recipes. The recipe for their Superhero Muffins is reason enough to buy the cookbook. They promote it as “nourishing recipes for athletes” but I would consider the recipes to be nourishing for anyone who is wanting to add delicious real food to their diet.
Kale & Radicchio Salad with a side of roasted Brussels sprouts. Recipes came from Run Fast Eat Slow.
What? No Waterfall?
Back to graduation. Before the ceremony began Keaton asked me if I was going to cry. It’s a fair question because I’m known to cry over everything and anything. Any emotion, whether it is sad or happy, can cause tears to well up in my eyes. Shoot, I’ve even cried watching coffee commercials. My guys just laugh, shake their heads and say, “Mom’s crying again.” But, back to Keaton’s question. The tears clouding my vision on this beautiful spring day were from the joy I felt as Rikley took his diploma in his left hand and shook the college president’s hand with his right. Then I wondered why it was so different from his high school graduation?
The Difference Between Then and Now
Four years ago I was wiping tears from my eyes for two months. All at once it came to me. High school graduation is the end of a big childhood stage. It’s the stage that most parents never want to come to an end. Have you ever wished that you could go back in time and do it all over again? I would repeat the last 19 years in a heart beat if I could. This is the stage that starts with your child’s birth and ends when they’ll no longer be living full-time in your home. College is a short four-year stage that flies by. Nonetheless, college graduation is a triumphant milestone that proceeds new beginnings and adventures as your child begins a new stage of adulthood. Additionally, it is the end of tuition payments and that is certainly worth celebrating, right? Perhaps one other small factor to the absence of a river gushing down my cheek is knowing that my boy is coming back to Oregon where he will pursue his doctorate degree in physics at Oregon State University. One hundred thirty miles away is so much better than two thousand seventy-eight miles!
Age is Irrelevant
I wonder how it is possible that I am old enough to be the mother of a college graduate? Of course age is “just a number.” What is important is how you feel inside and out, and this comes down to the choices we make every day. I refuse to think myself “old”. Think young and stay young. Some people stay young at heart, playful and physically active. They keep their brain and body engaged in activities they enjoy. Furthermore, they participate in social engagements and belong to groups. I seriously believe that this is what has kept my mother so young. She chooses to stay socially engaged and to keep herself mobile.
When my boys were small little bumpkins crawling and playing with toys on the floor Mom would get down there with them. She said to me, “I just want them to remember me.” You have to understand that she was 75 at the time. So, it was a justified fear of hers that she might die before they had time to accumulate enough memories of her. Well, she is now 94 and they have a treasure trove of memories to look back on and remember what a remarkable Nana they have. One memory they will never forget was the day they were playing golf with her and she got her first hole-in-one! It was just the three of them and they watched the ball she hit from the tee roll right up to and into the hole. Mom continued to play golf until she was 91, getting one more hole-in-one before she quit. She still gets out 3 days a week to play bridge with friends, walks up the street to get her mail, goes to Book Club once a month, drives herself to get groceries, goes to the library to check out more books, meets with friends for dinner on Thursday nights… She does all of this even though her knee aches, it takes more time to get ready and she tires more quickly. My mom is my role model.
Nana has been there every Christmas morning of their life.
Milestones to Come
This is why I want to stay healthy and fit. I want to be able to get down on the floor and play with my grandchildren. I want to take them on hikes, play games, and chase them around a playground. However, that stage is years away, so I think I will savor the stage my boys are in right now. I know that I am taking care of myself not only so I can run, ski and hike with my family now but to ensure that I can still do those things twenty years from now. Choosing to eat real food (not processed) and choosing to exercise is my insurance for a healthy future. Be thankful for the milestones and celebrate them. However, don’t forget that what we do now will determine how we will enjoy all the future milestones.
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When children are young the focus of their birthday is on the party with friends; invitations, theme, games, decorations, cake, gifts….. And maybe a separate celebration with family. I always tried to make my boys feel special on their birthdays, but a lot of work went into the celebration.
When children get older and celebrate their birthday away from you it’s different. For me, I get more reflective and sentimental about their life. I realize how much my life was enriched by them, and I wish I could go back and do it all over again. That’s what I’m doing today on my first baby’s 22nd birthday. He is far away, but he is very present in my heart and mind.
This post is in his honor, but also for all the moms out there who are missing their children.
Cheers to My Son on His Birthday
Cheers to this day, January 31st, the day when I became a mom. It’s the day when my life was changed beyond my comprehension and in ways I could not believe possible.
Cheers to this tiny baby whose light head rested softly in the space between my neck and shoulder.
Cheers to this baby who snuggled in my arms and cried when I put him down.
Cheers to this baby who climbed before he could walk and who started walking at ten months old never to slow down again.
Cheers to this toddler who moved ever so quickly and whose hugs were given on a quick flyby as he chased after another adventure.
Cheers to this little boy who transitioned seamlessly when we moved to England. Cheers to this little boy who, without hesitation, let go of my hand to join a new group of classmates.
Cheers to this boy who learned to read and comprehend math so easily. Cheers to this same boy who loved baseball and soccer and always checked to make sure I was watching.
Cheers to this boys who cultivated strong friendships, loved his family and was a positive role model for his brother.
Cheers to this boy who embraced life with vigor and excitement and who played with such passion.
Cheers to this kid who had more than his fair share of scrapes and bruises. Cheers to this kid who announced so valiantly that he thought it was time to make yet another trip to the ER to stitch up the newest gash in his skin.
Cheers to this teenager who shares my love of skiing and who races down the slopes while flying, twisting and turning off jumps.
Cheers to this young man who has compassion for others and deep loyalty to his teams.
Cheers to this young man who graduated from high school with high respect from his teachers, family and friends.
Cheers to this young man who left home to pursue a higher education and continue his passion for playing soccer and lacrosse.
Cheers to this man who grew up much too fast and will graduate this spring with a degree in Physics and Math.
Cheers to this man whose hugs are now longer and stronger than ever.
Cheers to this man whose sense of humor warms my heart because it is so reminiscent of his grandfather’s.
Cheers to this man who will always be my little boy, full of spirit and action, love and dreams!
Happy birthday, Rikley, as you turn 22 I know your future is as bright as you. Always know that you are loved beyond measure and my pride for you is monumental. Thank you for all the joy and memories you have blessed my life with.
PS. Remember to call home.
As the mother of two boys I’ve had two fears. The first is for their safety as they fearlessly tackled physical challenges. If you have boys you know what I’m talking about. They’ll climb on counters and jump off, luge on a skateboard down a steep neighborhood road, or sail off of every jump they can find on a ski hill. The second is that they will move far away and never come home to me. Now that my nest is empty the second fear is becoming greater than the first.
What are some of your favorite memories of your children?
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The following are five tips that I feel helped us cope with all of the emotions around taking our boys to college and separating from them.
- Before You Go: Let your child be in control of the details. They will soon be in control of their schedule, need to communicate with their professors, plan their social activities and in general, navigate through a whole new environment without daily help from you. I believe, as parents, we need to let them practice before they get to campus. Keaton scheduled his TB test at the doctors office, asked for his medical records and then confirmed that the university health center received the information they requested. He let us know the schedule for move-in and orientation. He was our navigator on the trip from leaving the house all the way to finding his dorm. We relied on him for all the important details which gave us reassurance that he will be able to manage everything without daily reminders from us on what needs to be done. Maybe this is all obvious, but I think it’s hard as a parent to remember that our college kids are legally adults.
- Getting There: Road trip there or take a family vacation before going. Not everyone can drive their child to college, especially if they are heading to a different coastline. We were fortunate to be able to road trip with our boys. Three years ago we packed the SUV to the brim and started a five day family adventure to Beloit, Wisconsin. We didn’t realize what a blessing this time in the car would be. Up until the morning of our departure our son, Rikley, had a full social calendar of saying goodbye to his friends and girlfriend. The road trip let us have uninterrupted family time. We visited Mount Rushmore and the Badlands on our way, listened to the same music and talked. When we arrived on campus we had one day to move into the dorm, get his ID, find his mailbox, open a checking account and attend several scheduled orientation events. At 5:00 the college had an outside ice-cream social, and at 6:00 announced that it was time for parents to leave. The whole day had been a whirlwind of activity and the goodbye came too quickly. We were thankful that we had so much time together the previous five days. So, this year when it was time to take Keaton to Bozeman we knew we would drive. It was a shorter trip and only the three of us, but we had him to ourselves for two days. If driving your child to college isn’t an option consider taking a family vacation as close to departure as you can.
- Moving in: Give them space but stay close. Last Wednesday, after moving Keaton into the dorm and a final trip to Bed Bath and Beyond, we left the campus in the late afternoon. We didn’t have to say goodbye, just “Have a good night and we’ll check in with you tomorrow.” The next morning Rob and I drove about 30 minutes out of town and went on a couple of hikes. Rob did some fishing and I took pictures. We texted with Keaton a couple of times but didn’t actually see him. He was busy with orientation meetings, and we wanted to give him space to make personal connections and start building friendships. On Friday we spent half the day fishing and taking pictures before we met Keaton at his dorm. I wanted to get a few pictures with him around campus and see how he had settled into his room. We spent less than two hours with him, but it assured us that he was finding his way, making connections and settling in.
Saturday morning came and we picked him up for breakfast. We imparted our final words of wisdom on him over eggs and coffee and talked about his plans for the weekend. Then it was time for us to say goodbye, get out of his way, and leave town. We didn’t get to have that kind of time with Rikley and I felt more comfort leaving Keaton because of it.
- Saying Goodbye: Trust them with making good choices. As parents, we have to believe that we have raised our children to be responsible, keep themselves safe, and be true to themselves. Now is the time for them to show us what they’ve learned over 18 years, and we have to trust them. I was fine through breakfast and it wasn’t until we pulled up in front of Keaton’s dorm that I started to choke up and tears filled my eyes. It was an immediate reaction to the dread of hugging him one last time and letting go. Of course we will still worry about how he is adjusting. Is he making friends? Does he like his roommate? Is he eating well? Is he getting enough sleep? Does he like his classes? Is he happy? I know he will do well, and I have the peace of mind knowing that he is intelligent and capable of taking care of himself.
- Coming Home: Take a detour on the way home. Rob and I are both planners. With our hectic work, school and sports schedules over the past decade plus, great planning helped us make it all happen. So, with a day of extra time on our hands, we did the unexpected and did not drive straight home to the big, empty house. Instead, we asked ourselves what could we do that was for us? While some of you may think of a spa, seeing friends or family, or exploring a new city, we drove along a winding road that followed a beautiful river and the route of Lewis and Clark. Our destination was the Wallowa mountains. We’ve backpacked there a few times and love the area with its clear creeks, mountain lakes and granite peaks.
We picked an 8 plus mile hike along Hurricane Creek for Sunday. It was strenuous, very scenic, and served its purpose of distracting us from the inevitable empty nest. If we could have we would have spent more time there. Three years ago, Keaton, Rob and I had a 5 day journey back to Portland. We picked a different route and traveled through Colorado and Utah. We lingered a bit at Colorado National Monument and in Arches National Park. If you can, I highly recommend a detour on the way back to your empty nest.
Dropping your child off at college is tough. I hope you can take something from these simple tips that makes it more memorable in the right ways.
If you’ve taken a child to college what kind of tips would you give to others? I’d love to know what made the experience easier for you. Please leave a comment below.
Typical of many moms, I graduated from college, began a career, got married, started a family, and then quit my job to become a full-time mom.
As a child, I remember wanting to be one of four things when I grew up; a park ranger, someone who worked with baby animals in a zoo, a school teacher, and a mom.
My grandfather was a park ranger in the summers and a school principal in the winters. He was a park ranger at Crater Lake and Glacier National Parks and Colorado National Monument. I never knew him as he died in 1958, five years before I was born. However, he passed his love of the outdoors to my father who raised me with a great appreciation for the outdoors.
I started backpacking when I was five and snow skiing when I was seven. I spent many days and nights at two lake cabins in southern Oregon. At one I learned to water ski, roast marshmallows around a campfire, and sunbathe on the dock. At the other I played in the water, hunted for tiny frogs, and caught and released chipmunks.
As I write this I’m sitting on a rock on the bank of the Gallatin River in Montana. It is peaceful with the sound of the ripples and birds. My husband is fly fishing, and I’ve taken many pictures today. This is peace for me. I never pursued the forest ranger path, but many of my happiest memories throughout my life are from times spent outdoors.
My grandmother was a school teacher. Her first job was in a one room school house in Lakeview, Oregon. She loved teaching so much that she retired four times before she retired for good. She gave me textbooks and supplies to play “school” with. I was particularly excited about the teacher copy that went with the reading book. As I got older I decided I liked children more than baby animals. I graduated from college with a degree in elementary education and within a year had a job teaching first grade. I enjoyed teaching, but I still had a strong desire to be a mom.
I always knew I’d be a mom someday. I imagined a family with six kids and gave them names. In reality, my husband and I had two baby boys. I quit teaching when boy number two was born. I consider myself lucky to have dedicated twenty one years to the full attention of my boys.
So, now it’s hard to believe that I am here in Montana getting ready to say goodbye to my youngest as he starts his freshman year of college.
As parents we raise our children to know right from wrong, think on their own, be responsible and independent. We have to trust that our lessons have sunk in and that they will make good choices, be safe, and be happy. Every year we’ve relinquished a little control and influence over them. However, the jump to college is like a leap across the Grand Canyon. We may never know the parents of their new friends or what time they get back to their room at night. Every day they’ll make choices and decisions without us knowing. There will even be days we don’t talk or text each other.
Tomorrow I have to say goodbye to Keaton. I’ll give him a hug and a kiss, tell him to make good choices, be safe, and be happy. I know he will, but I still have to do my job as a mom and remind him of these things. I’ll hug him again extra tight and cry. Then his father and I will drive 750 miles away from him.
Like my grandfather and father with the outdoors, and my grandmother with teaching, I’ve followed my passions into teaching and being a mom. Now that my role has changed, I’m following my passions for nutrition, the outdoors, photography, and inspiring others to live well longer.
I know a lot of moms who are saying goodbye to their college bound children. I know they struggle between letting go and knowing their child is off to great things. If you are in this situation leave a comment below and let me know how it is going for you.