T-Minus Zero: Thoughts on Launching My Son Into College

Today is the day. We have been planning for it for over two years now, even before my son’s junior year in high school when we toured colleges, when he took ACT prep courses and AP classes, participated in all those extracurricular activities, solicited recommendation letters and completed the college applications. It was almost all-consuming, until this May when he finally made his decision to attend a college a two-hour plane ride away.  We could finally breathe a sigh of relief.  Then, reality set in and we began to plan. Shopping, sorting clothes, packing, arranging travel.

We are on an early morning flight, bound for Portland, Oregon to move my son into college.  It takes three parents to do this—his dad, his step-dad and I.  I am almost sure my son will have the most parents to move him into a dorm suite he will share with three other young men.  With all those parents and four students in one single room it is sure to be crowded.  But I would not miss this for anything.  Never mind that despite all my planning, late night packing and barely sleeping, we almost missed the flight because we left too late from the house.  Perhaps I was delaying the inevitable?  Anyway, my husband Juan and I made it without a moment to spare.  My son had arrived at the airport with his dad and was already seated on the plane.  Juan and I found our seats next to my son, and directly in front of his dad. It’s kind of strange to be traveling all together like this, but then again, it really isn’t.  I know that all of us who have played a role in getting our son to this moment, would not want to miss it.

As I settle into my seat and calm my racing heart I hear the voice of a little boy in front of me.  From the space between the seats I can see he has strawberry blonde hair.  The passenger seated beside the boy engages him in a conversation. From the sound of the boy’s voice I guess him to be about 4 years-old. He is talking about Mickey and Minnie Mouse and coloring in a Disney coloring book. All of a sudden I am transported back to a time when I would sit with my own sweet 4 year-old blond-haired son, and read, over and over again, the story of the Tonka Rescue Helicopter.  I close my eyes and try to recall the sound of 4 year-old Nico’s voice, but I can’t. I promise myself that soon I will convert all those video cassettes with countless recorded memories into a digital format, so I can actually watch them and hear my son’s 4 year-old voice.

I look over and see my son, headphones in place, eyes closed, and realize he is the same boy who I read to all those years ago. Then it occurs to me he is not. His once blond, fine hair is now a thick dark brown, and he has grown into a young man, ready to embark on a wonderful, challenging and exciting adventure—without me.

He is ready.  I, on the other hand, may not be.  My son has been a joy to raise and I love having him around.  He is thoughtful, funny, sensitive, bright, kind and good.  I don’t want college to change that.  As much as I know college will challenge him to think and experience beyond the familiar,  I hope that the values we have tried to impart on him will sustain him.  I keep thinking there must be more I can say to him, some wisdom I can share to prepare him, but I know there is nothing else to say right now. We have talked about everything, some of it sensitive enough to embarrass him.

So we are here, about to launch this young man into a life away from his family.  I realize that we didn’t begin this process only two years ago. We have been preparing for this moment his entire life.  I look over at hm, napping, and I am glad. I don’t want him to see me blinking and squinting, trying unsuccessfully to keep the tears from rolling down my face.  He is already concerned enough about his parents because he knows this transition will be difficult for us.  I don’t want to cause him any more concern by seeing my tears.  I use a cocktail napkin to dry my eyes and I know that even though I am sad at the thought of  his leaving, I am deeply, truly excited for him.  I think that means that I am ready too.


Ready to launch. College here he comes!

Family Movie Night

Recently, it was a big day in Diego’s life and in the life of our family. It was definitely blog worthy. Ten years ago, Diego entered our family and changed all our lives.  He had been talking about his big TEN birthday all year long. I guess he wanted to be sure that I would not forget that it was a special birthday for him. He really didn’t need to be concerned–his birthday also reminded me just how special his is to our family

I’ve written about Diego before and his special role in our blended family. Lately, the blending in our family is really a huge mess. It’s a lot more grinding, mashing and straining than blending. Last year Olivia left for college while things were tense at home. Erica has been spending most of the time at her mom’s while we try to stay connected and involved in her life. Nico is exercising his independence more and more. Juan and I are challenged to stay united and strong during these turbulent times.

On the eve of his 10th birthday, I asked Diego to tell me about some of his favorite things.  He recited a long laundry list of his “favorites.” Perhaps, in an effort to make up for the absence of record-keeping in his baby book. I promptly memorialized his list here:

Diego's Top Ten at Ten

Diego’s Top Ten at Ten

One of his “favorites” which surprised me a bit was when he said his favorite thing to do is, “Spend time with my family.”  I was surprised because for the last couple of years our family life has been so stressful that sometimes the least favorite thing for me to do is “spend time with my family.” There, I said it.  I sometimes feel that with all the chaos in our family, I am tempted run away and change my identity. But, this was about Diego, not me.  Diego loves it when we are all together, when his sisters are home and they can get along, when his brother stops talking on the computer or doing homework long enough to play video games with him, and when we can all sit down together for a family movie night.

On the eve of Diego’s 10th birthday,  Juan and I sat down and watched Diego’s birth video. One of my favorite parts of the video is when I am in my  hospital room and Juan brings the older kids into the room to meet Diego for the first time. Nine year-old Olivia bursts into tears, six-year old Erica is looking bewildered and excited and five year-old Nico is just taking it all in with a sweet smile. There’s a lot of excitement and chatter, and I explain to the kids that their new baby brother might recognize their voices. Olivia asks, “Did he think he was an only child?” I couldn’t help but burst out laughing! I laughed at the thought of how much Diego would have hated being an only child. In spite of the constant challenges we face in our blended family, Diego still experiences enough happiness that being with his family is one of his favorite things.

The next day with Olivia home from college, and Erica and Nico home from the other parents’, we all went to dinner to celebrate Diego’s birthday.  Afterwards, we went home to eat cake, and have a “family movie night” with Diego’s birth video.   The kids started laughing  at the sound and sight of younger versions of themselves, and of course we all burst out laughing hearing Olivia’s question and watching Erica put her unwashed hands all Diego’s face even when Juan told her to use the hand sanitizer! I looked over at Olivia and noticed that was tearing up and wiping her eyes as she watched her younger self weeping at the sight of her new brother.  Diego was beaming with pride and joy.  I looked at all of us, and felt joy at the sight and sound of us together and happy.  In that moment, I was reminded how this could be one of my favorite things too.

Meeting their brother in 2004.

...And Now

Celebrating with their brother in 2014.

Yes, There is a Santa Claus: Enabling My Son’s Belief Even When I’m Over It

I expected this to happen sooner or later.  After all, Diego is 9 years old and how much longer could I really expect him to buy into the Santa Claus thing? He really wants to be a believer in all the holiday fantasies.  He enjoys the magic of all of it. He even had me enabling his beliefs when I ran out on St. Patrick’s Day and bought him green gifts so he would think the leprechauns really did visit.

This year it’s not even Thanksgiving and he’s already asking about Christmas, and Santa. Honestly, I was just hoping that his belief would just fade away and this year he would admit to me that he didn’t believe in Santa anymore. Last year Juan and I drove over an hour to Filmore so that we could have what I thought would be our last “Santa Experience” and Diego could ride a Polar Express train. I figured 8 years old was really the end of the Santa fantasy.  I thought that by now he would stop believing and I wouldn’t have to do the whole leaving cookies and milk thing or sneak around and pretend Santa paid us a visit. My three teenagers stopped believing long ago, and frankly I am kind of over it.  I certainly didn’t expect Diego to ask about Santa this year, much less today. I was caught completely off guard.

On the way to school this morning Diego started asking a lot of Santa questions. He asked, “Why don’t parents get anything from Santa on Christmas? What would I want Santa to bring me?” I was not prepared to have this discussion before I had my first full cup of coffee. I just couldn’t be that creative that early in the morning. I quickly detoured that conversation by saying I had to concentrate on driving in traffic.

On the way home from work this afternoon, in the pre-holiday rush hour traffic we had a lot of time to kill.  We started talking about Thanksgiving which led to a discussion of how many days until Christmas, which of course led into another conversation about Santa.  It was dark and I couldn’t see his expression as he sat in the back seat, but he sounded sincere.

Diego: Do you believe in Santa? Be honest.

Me: Do you believe?

Diego: Yes, I believe.

Me: (Thinking) He’s still a believer?! How could I crush his belief? Even if he really just wants to believe in the magic, but doesn’t truly buy into the whole Santa thing, how could I tell him the truth? I don’t want to lie. But I don’t have the heart to ruin his fantasy. Especially now, when I am driving in traffic, and when I can’t see how he’ll handle the truth. And I’m tired. Can’t he just stop believing without me having to be the bad guy and ruin it for him? 

So, I kind of lied.

Me:   Yes,  there was a man named St. Nicolas. He would give presents to kids.

Diego:  (Not missing a beat). You mean used to be? What about now?

Me:  (Using my lawyer tactics) Well, what do you think?

Diego: I think he’s real. My friend Nelly told me she saw him once with his elf. I think his toy bag is magic and refills itself with the toys for the kids. How else could he have toys for all the kids?

Me: Yeah. (Seriously? This kid has quite an imagination. Either that or he is really playing me.)

Me:  Well, it sounds like you have it all figured out.  Oh look, a traffic accident!

Crisis averted. For now. Damn.

Christmas 2012. I thought it was the last year for Santa. I guess not.

Christmas 2012. I thought it was the last year for Santa. I guess not.


Wishing for a Superpower

There’s been a lot of news about superheroes lately. Yesterday,  young Miles Scott’s wish to be Batman was granted by the Make-A-Wish foundation and the good people of San Francisco.  My kids aren’t immune to Superhero adoration.  Even Nico, my 15 year-old still has fun with the idea.

A couple of weeks ago we were at dinner when the talk turned to which superpowers my boys would like to possess. Here are their top choices:

Diego’s Superpowers

  1. Invisibility
  2. Force Field
  3. Super Speed

Nico’s Superpowers

  1. Invisibility
  2. Intangibility
  3. Super Speed

Hmmm. It seems that invisibility and super speed are pretty popular. Come to think of it, I would like some superpowers of my own. Here are my choices:

  1. Teleportation: I would be able to travel from home to work to the kids’ schools and after-school activities instantly.
  2. Mindmeld: I can finally discover what my teens are really thinking beyond the eye rolling, grunts and responses like, “Fine,” “Good,” or “Okay.”
  3. Super Speed: Imagine getting laundry, dinner and dishes done with time to spare.

Can’t someone grant my wish?

What superpowers would you want?



Throwback Thursday

Today’s Throwback Thursday is inspired by yesterday’s Wordless Wednesday.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

Erica 4, Nico, 3 and Oliva 6, exhausted after a weekend of roughing it.

I am sorry the picture is so grainy but I couldn’t find the original and I had to use a copy of the photo. Besides, the photo was taken in early Spring 2002, long before I had a digital camera.  Juan and I were dating and things were getting serious. We were spending more and more time together and on those weekends that we had custody of the kids, we would take them to the zoo, the park, or other outings.  In this photo we were driving home from our very first camping trip with the kids. I use the term “camping” very loosely.  Juan never really camped before, while I grew up camping with my family, and had great memories of spending time outdoors.  I wanted our kids to experience the fun and adventure of the great outdoors, so I convinced Juan that we should take the kids camping one weekend.  As an introduction to “roughing it” I chose a campground about 2 hours north of us, in Solvang.

When we arrived I discovered that the “campground” was really an open meadow located a few blocks out of town.  The campground was accessible to restaurants and grocery stores.  It wasn’t quite the getaway I envisioned, but the campground had flush toilets, and showers, and with three young kids, I figured it would be a pretty safe introduction to camping.  The campground accommodated tent campers like us, and RV’s like everyone else there that weekend.

Instead of the wild call of nature, we heard the hum of generators.  Instead of campfires and marshmallows, our neighbors listened to their radios and watched their portable TV’s.  Even though it was not the camping experience I wanted for our kids, they thought it was a great adventure.  They ran around the meadow, dodging RV’s and trailers, while Juan and I struggled to pitch our tent.  After a take out pizza dinner we roasted marshmallows.  We tried to sleep but the noise of all the other campers did not make for a very restful night.  The next day we packed it all up drove to a nearby beach.  Between the sleepless night and a day at the beach, the kids were wiped out.  They slept all the way home and I took this picture.

Do you have any camping memories?