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Archive for the ‘teenagers’ Category

Teddy’s first year at Notre Dame is almost over.  He will be home for the summer in less than a month, and back to eating us out of house and home once more. After we dropped him off, we didn’t hear much from him for a long time.  It was a far cry from the frequent tearful phone calls I remember making home the first few weeks of school, which settled to weekly–and tear free–eventually, or even the daily contact I had with Emily when she was in college via text, email, and instant message.  Teddy texted a few times–mostly when he had questions about something–and I didn’t call him either, giving him time to settle in and get used to being on his own. He came home for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and dropped by to and from his Spring Break in Florida.  He’s always willing to spend his first hour or so back home talking to me and answering my questions, but after that he’s off doing his own thing. But I got a real treat last weekend!  St. Edward’s Hall (Steds is what the boys call it) hosted a Mothers’ Weekend and I drove up to spend the weekend with Teddy.  Yes, I did, all by myself–about an eight hour drive not counting stops.  Of course it poured down rain, the kind of rain you can’t see to drive through, for the first several hours (why did it have to do that while I was driving in my own hilly state and not where it was flat?) but after that it was smooth sailing, especially since I made sure both ways to time things so I would not be driving in the dark (because I’m not as young as I once was!). I made it to South Bend right around six and after I checked into my hotel I picked Teddy up and we went for pizza (it being Friday, and Lent, and South Bend not being exactly a place I’d expect to specialize in seafood) and then checked out the weekend’s first event–hors d’ouevres at the Eck Visitors Center.  This was my first chance to meet Teddy’s friends, including the three young men with whom he will be living next year.  They had just chosen their rooms the night before, and will be living in a quad on the fourth floor of St. Ed’s (most people stay in the same dorm all four years)–room 420 to be precise, and if you don’t know why they think that’s a hoot, your teenager can probably tell you.

Jake, Teddy, Kevin, and Phineas

Jake, Teddy, Kevin, and Phineas

Would y’all just LOOK at my son?  When he came home looking like that I thought maybe that was just the new thing, but then I saw all the other boys, who all look like the boys pictures above, and it became clear that Teddy is the only one doing this particular thing. Anyway, I was tired so I had Teddy drive me back to my hotel so I wouldn’t have to drive in the dark (oh how I love love love staying in a hotel all by myself!) and we arranged for him to pick me up the next morning, when we were all scheduled to attend brunch at South Dining Hall. After brunch, we had a free day.  I didn’t get to see nearly all the campus when we dropped Teddy off.  Y’all, the place is enormous.  And it was hot then, and the weekend was packed with required events. (Plus I have more energy now but more on that later.)  So we decided to spend the day exploring the campus. It was a glorious day for it–in the upper forties and sunny.  Also have I mentioned it’s flat up there?  I can walk for hours under those circumstances and I did.  We started around noon and kept going until after four.  Teddy calculated we walked around five miles and we both even got a little sunburned! Here are some of the sights we enjoyed.   nd 11 Starting with this, even though it isn’t where we started, because it’s what everyone wants to see, right? nd 26 Here’s a nice shot that gets the Basilica in there too. nd 47 We actually started out in the bookstore, where this was only one of many children’s books designed to indoctrinate them early!  Seriously, it is a really nice (and super expensive) bookstore. After that, Teddy pretty much walked me all the way around the campus, including quick trips inside the library and the student center. nd 49 I showed y’all Touchdown Jesus last time I wrote about Notre Dame.  This guy they call First Down Moses. Did y’all know that Notre Dame du Lac is the school’s official name?  And that two lakes sit right next to it?  Last time John and I walked around the smaller lake, and this time Teddy and I walked around the other one.

nd 28

nd 42

nd 44

Can’t go to Notre Dame without stopping to pray at the Grotto.  There was a wedding party there posing for pictures, and then a rival lacrosse team stopping to pray together after their game.

nd 13

The last thing we went to see, and my favorite thing since y’all already know I’m weird that way, was the enormous cemetery which is practically at the front door of the place.  But that’s going to get a post to itself. :-)

So moving right along, I barely had time to get back to the hotel and shower and change for the big evening event at the Jordan Hall of Science.  We had hors d’oeuvres and drinks, heard about the latest renovations to St. Ed’s, attempted (Teddy and I did not attempt this seriously) to learn how to two step and line dance, and ate dinner.  We sat with Teddy’s new roommates and their mothers, and it was a real treat to get to meet them and some of the mothers of Teddy’s other friends.  We went back to the dorm afterwards and “chilled” a little longer but I didn’t stay too long because I didn’t want to be tired the next day for the long drive home.

The grand finale to the weekend was Mass on Sunday morning at 10 a.m. (super early for these boys who are used to Mass at 10 p.m.!)  held in the Chapel of Sts. Edward and John, which just happens to be at the end of the hallway where Teddy currently lives.  If y’all are picturing some folding chairs and a wooden altar with a cross sitting on it, you might want to think again.

ND Chapel Window St. Edward

ND Chapel Altar 2

Did I mention that about 100 mothers came for the weekend (and there are around 150 boys in the dorm)?  So all the seats were full and the boys sat on the floor.  I’ve heard people say that Notre Dame isn’t authentically Catholic and I can only assume that those people have never been there.  Father Ralph (who lives right there in the hall) started his homily with these beautiful words of St. Augustine: “You gleamed and shone, and chased away my blindness. You breathed fragrant odors and I drew in my breath; and now I pant for you. I tasted, and now I hunger and thirst. You  touched me, and I burned for your peace.”   And I wish I had taped those boys belting out “Wade in the Water” at the end of Mass!

Then it was time to go home, but not so hard to leave knowing how soon I will be seeing Teddy again.  And it was great to see how at home he is and how much fun he is having, and to be able to picture him there with his friends.

 

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When I was a teenager, the poster below (or one very like it) hung on the back of my bedroom door.

footloose kevin bacon

It wasn’t because I had a huge crush on Kevin Bacon, although I did think he was cute.   What I loved was the movie–Footloose.

As I checked my phone before bed last night, I learned that Kevin Bacon, who remains incredibly cool 30 years later and has aged better than most of us, appeared on the Tonight Show and was not too stuck up to engage in a little self-parodying here.

This was serendipitous because at the very moment he was doing this, I was watching Footloose with my big kids (well, two of them) who HAD NEVER SEEN IT.   John picked it up for me the last time he was at the video store, knowing how much I love it, and I’d been waiting for a good opportunity to share it with them.  This weekend, with John and the little people off on a quick visit to Baltimore, was the perfect time.

I was a little worried that they wouldn’t like it, that it wouldn’t stand the test of time or “translate” well across the 30 years that have passed since I saw first saw it.  I even wondered it I would still like it. (Yes, I did, for the record.  Just as much, with maybe even a little more depth as I now have a lot more understanding of Pastor Shaw’s point of view!)  Why should I care so much?  you ask.

I can’t even think of a way to describe the way I feel about this movie and the night I first saw it without resorting to the worst kind of cliches.  I was 17 in February 1984, just like Ren in the movie.  Like many teenagers then and now, my life was completely wrapped up in my group of friends.  I could not imagine a future in which I did not see or talk to them every day and I dreaded the thought of going away to college and leaving them.  We saw the movie at what was then the Cinema 6.  These days it’s an artsy place showing lots of foreign films, but back then it was our favorite theatre, perhaps because of its close proximity to the Downtown West location of Mr. Gatti’s (gone now), which for some reason was our high school’s acknowledged hangout even though the school itself was on the other side of town.

We were having a slumber party at one friend’s house and it was the birthday of another friend, and I don’t remember how we came to the decision to go to the movie, if it was spontaneous or part of the plan from the beginning.  But perhaps it’s worth noting that I remember anything about it at all.  I mean, I know some of the other movies I saw in high school, but no other evening at the movies maintains this much space in my memory, or evokes so much feeling.  I clearly remember watching the opening sequence–all those feet–and feeling excited about what was to come.  But what I remember even more is coming out of the theatre after the movie.

There were, if I remember right, six of us there that night, five girls and one boy.  I can remember coming out of the movie almost dancing–maybe actually dancing, there on the sidewalk to the south of the theatre.  I don’t remember what we talked about, other than how much we liked the movie.  Probably we were discussing what we were going next, which might have been back to the slumber party, or maybe to Gatti’s for pizza–that part I don’t remember.

What I do remember so clearly though is how I felt.  Maybe it wasn’t the movie itself.  Maybe it was just the joy of being young and with close friends, out alone at night under our own steam, having friends who were driving and a couple who even had their own cars.  But for me the way I felt that night is inextricably linked to the movie and always will be.   I felt . . . empowered.  Like I could do anything.  Like life was good and all of it was ahead of me (that part at least was true).

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My Facebook feed is filling up with pictures of beach views, because both Knox County public and Catholic schools are on break this week.  Were I to post a picture of my view, it would be the same one everyone has seen before:  my back yard.  I’m not complaining, though, because I do have some future travel plans to look forward to (more on that later!) and  a week at the beach would bore me to tears anyway.

The Spring Break that’s been on my mind took place last week, when both Jake and Teddy were frolicking at Panama City Beach.  Now that they are back safely (well, Jake is back safely; Teddy was here briefly and is driving back to Notre Dame today) I can let out that breath I was holding and get back to thoughts of my own “vacation”–a break, at least, from getting up before dark and spending hours driving kids around.

Teddy went to Panama City last year, and seemed surprised and irritated this year when I texted the boys occasionally to make sure they were okay (I did not hear from Teddy ONE SINGLE TIME last year). “Stop texting Jake,” he said.  “You are killing his vibe.  I didn’t die last year and I won’t die this year.”  Jake, on the other hand,  called of his own accord a couple of times to tell me how much fun they were having and ask how I was doing, and to assure me that they were being safe.

Now there was never any question of my going on a trip alone with my friends sans parents while I was still in high school.  I remember begging my mother to let me and a friend drive to Coalfield to watch a basketball tournament, returning the same evening, and she wouldn’t even allow that.   (My sister got to go on Spring Break with friends HER Senior year.  Go figure.)

My first year of college, I came home for break, bringing my roommate, who was from Seattle, eager to share Tennessee with her.  We spent one day in Gatlinburg (which back then was more or less shut down that early in the season) and one exploring the mountains.  I don’t remember what else we did.  Sophomore year we decided we wanted to go to Daytona Beach.  Even as a sophomore in college, I had to beg to be allowed to go, and promise to stop and call my mother every two hours while driving to let her know we were okay.

From what Jake told me when they got home last night, the scene at Panama City sounds something like what Daytona Beach was like back in the day.  Not that I would know firsthand or anything, because my roommate and I and our friend STAYED WITH THE FRIEND’S GRANDMOTHER.  We took a day trip to St. Augustine, and another to Disney World.  Oh, we were such good little Catholic girls (typed completely without irony).

The next year we went to Charleston, and John came along.  I was the only one who’d been there–it was the last vacation I ever took with my family, the summer before I left for college–and I was excited to go back and to show them the beautiful and historic sites.  Charleston remains a place I want to get back to.  Senior year I was busily planning an August wedding and I think I went home for Spring Break to conduct wedding-related business.  Since having kids, Spring Breaks have usually been Easter Breaks and occasionally included a few days in a hotel in Gatlinburg with an indoor pool.

Below are some pictures from a couple of those college trips.  Please excuse their condition, remembering they’ve been through fire and flood and that I have them at all is a minor miracle.

My roommate, Renee, in the Gatlinburg wedding chapel, March 1986

My roommate, Renee, in the Gatlinburg wedding chapel, March 1986

Me in the cantilever barn in Cades Cove, March 1986

Me in the cantilever barn in Cades Cove, March 1986

John in Charleston, not doing a very good job at simulated hopping, March 1988

John in Charleston, not doing a very good job at simulated hopping, March 1988

 

What about you?  Are you going somewhere special for Spring Break this year?  Do you have any memorable trips from your past you’d care to share?

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All-Nighters

I may have mentioned a time or two that I was an English major.  So that meant I wrote lots and lots of papers in college.  And college being what it is, I rarely wrote any of them until the night before they were due.

I write really fast, so usually that wasn’t so painful.  My senior year I took four English classes at once.  By some evil twist of fate, my Southern Fiction and my Catholic Fiction class required four papers each that were always due on the same day.  Routinely I would start writing these papers around nine p.m. the night before the due date, and I’d be done by midnight.  This drove my roommate, who was in one of the classes with me and who was a much more painstaking writer, crazy.  She’d still be working on the first draft of her one paper and I would be all done.

If this sounds like bragging, it’s not meant that way.  Writing fast without the need for much revision is just a gift I have and I can’t claim any credit for it.  It’s a good gift for an English major–and a blogger!–to have.

Now these are five page papers I’m talking about.  When the assignment was longer, I did try to start sooner.  The problem with college (and now with life) is that things aren’t neatly ordered and often responsibilities fall on top of one another.  It was a mantra of mine in college to say “It has to get done so it will get done.”  And I would make myself do the most urgent thing first and then move on the the next.

So there were a few times when I waited too long to start a longer paper.  When I had so much to do in a given week that I just couldn’t get a head start.  When I started a ten-page paper at midnight (a paper that had to be written in longhand and then had to be TYPED ON A TYPEWRITER).  And that meant an all-nighter.

I remember one particular time, staying up all night writing and typing until dawn and then turning in the paper the following morning.  I was writing about Gulliver’s Travels, and I was so sleepy that I kept spelling the horse-people’s name a different way every time I mentioned it.  I won’t even try to remember how to spell it now, although it would be easy because Google.  I attached an apologetic note to my paper explaining that I was exhausted and the letters just kept running together before my eyes!

When I was a little girl about ten years old my mother and I stayed up all night one night to watch the sun rise in the morning, just for fun.  She made me sweet coffee with lots of milk and we stayed up and talked all night.  It was an adventure.  In high school I sometimes stayed up all night talking with friends.  Then there were those college all-nighters.  I’ve stayed up all night laboring with four babies.  But it’s been a long time since I can remember staying up all night on purpose, particularly pulling the kind of all-nighter that is followed by a  full day of responsibilities with no opportunity for sleep until late in the following day.

But guess what?  Jake has waited until the last minute to write his Western Civilization paper, a paper with such ridiculous parameters that you wouldn’t believe them if I read them to you.  And Jake does NOT write fast.  He is going to need a lot of moral support to finish this paper and Emily and I are providing it.  It looks like we will be up all night tonight.  I hope I still have it in me.

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Today I watched my first Notre Dame football game as the parent of a student. After all, I’m “part of the Notre Dame family now,” (as we were reminded MANY times during last weekend’s orientation events).

Teddy's view from the student section today

Teddy’s view from the student section today

(Fortunately, the Notre Dame game was at 3:30 and the University of Tennessee game didn’t start until 6:00 My next door neighbor, a Notre Dame alumna, couldn’t understand why there would be any conflict for me if they aired at the same time! But I digress.)

I’ve grown up hearing about Notre Dame, which was always presented as the pinnacle for a Catholic student, and at one point I assumed I would go there. Then I read the Barron’s guide which stated that there was nothing to do there in the dead of winter but stay on campus and drink beer. That probably sounds attractive to many high school students, but I was turned off and did not even apply.

Of course, now I’ve seen the place, and realize that as big and wonderful as the campus is, whether there is anything to do in South Bend is immaterial. I don’t have any regrets because I loved Georgetown, but I am very excited for Teddy and the adventures he is going to have.

The mystique surrounding Notre Dame is unbelievable. I don’t think there is anywhere I could have announced that Teddy was attending that would have incited a more enthusiastic response. I had not realized myself until visiting the place just how attending a Catholic high school inculcates you with a familiarity with and reverence for the place. Teddy played high school football for the Knoxville Catholic Irish (and just last weekend, KCHS played the Chattanooga Notre Dame High School’s Irish!). The Notre Dame leprechaun was painted in the middle of the old Catholic High’s floor. Teddy wore gold and blue for most of his football career. We played the Notre Dame fight song at games when I was in high school. All the sports memorabilia that I saw at Notre Dame’s Joyce Center at the Purcell Pavilion looked eerily familiar. I told Teddy that all his high school sporting attire and t-shirts are going to fit right in (a good thing, too, since that’s most of his wardrobe).

ND purcell center detail 2

Notre Dame sets out to cultivate that mystique and to build loyalty from the moment you arrive with your kid. Once we were allowed on campus and directed to the back entrance to Teddy’s hall (St. Edward’s, the oldest one, built in 1882), we were met by an enthusiastic bunch of identically-dressed, cheering young men who surrounded our car, washed our windshield, and whisked Teddy and all his belongings upstairs in two minutes or less.

ND St. Edwards 3

As the weekend went on, we were fed every meal (for free!) in the campus dining halls (one of which features a fireplace big enough to roast a cow in and a mural of the Last Supper on the wall), offered the opportunity to watch Rudy (we were too tired), given ample time to walk around campus to absorb the iconic atmosphere, and welcomed officially via orientation events that went on until Sunday afternoon.

Saturday morning we were invited to meet with the rector and the rest of the residence hall staff in the hall chapel. Yes, EVERY hall has its own chapel and daily Mass at 10 p.m. I’m told that it’s really something to walk around campus on Sunday evenings and hearing the singing coming out of each hall. I’m not sure what I had envisioned when I pictured a hall chapel, but it wasn’t this.

ND Chapel Altar

St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)

St. Edward (King Edward, the Confessor)

We were welcomed, we were instructed, we were reassured about the safety and welfare of our sons. Later in the afternoon we attended a welcome at the Purcell Center for the freshman and then a special session for parents while students were meeting their first year advisers. That was the first time we heard “You are part of the Notre Dame family now” but it wasn’t the last. We heard from the President of the University, the Dean of First Year Studies, and others, before adjourning to explore the many course offerings in the different academic buildings–making John and me wish we could go back to school and major in more subjects!

We had plenty of time for exploration while Teddy was busy setting up his room and doing his own thing. We spent hours in the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. We walked around one of the two lakes. We visited the grotto. Teddy was only with us part of the time but he was doing his own exploring and said that his feet hurt. Seriously, how even an in-shape young person can handle all the walking necessary in that enormous place (no cars, y’all!) is beyond me.

Basilica interior

Basilica interior

View across the lake

View across the lake

grotto

grotto

On our last morning we went to the Purcell Pavilion again for a Mass celebrated by the President of the University. (Notre Dame’s Catholic identity, by the way, was very much in evidence throughout the entire weekend.) Mass was followed by a box lunch in our seats, during which Teddy joined us so that we could experience the last event together.

This was “The Spirit of Notre Dame,” and there was no doubt that it had been carefully orchestrated to make us feel part of that “Notre Dame family” and to send us off on a high note. It featured words of welcome from the Mayor of South Bend, the athletic director, the football coach, and the women’s basketball coach, followed by musical performances from the all-male Glee Club, a mixed ensemble, and the Notre Dame Band. Note Dame has a lot of traditional songs apparently, and we heard them all. We sang the Alma Mater, and the whole thing culminated with “the moment we’d all been waiting for” (seriously, they said that, and by then it was pretty much true): the Notre Dame Fight Song.

I had never visited Notre Dame before and did not know what to expect, but to say I was impressed by the program and the place is to understate my reaction. I am very excited for Teddy, and I can’t wait to go back and visit again.

ND Golden Dome

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020

Most of the time five kids doesn’t seem like a lot to me, it just seems normal.  I can blithely respond to that ubiquitous comment, “I don’t know how you do it!” with “Oh, after three it’s not any harder, just louder,” and mostly mean it.

But there are times when I just want to turn to John and say, “We have too many kids.”  Not that we’d send any of them back . . . (well, only sometimes!).  I don’t know if it will make me feel better or worse to reel off the reasons I am feeling that way right now, but at least I will get some sympathy–right?

1)  John is currently en route to pick up Emily for her Spring Break.  She will be home all this week, and so will William.  However, Lorelei’s break is next week, when William will be back in school.  So no vacation OR staycation for me.

2) Easter is one week away.  That means five baskets full of candy, and bunnies, and maybe some new clothes, and sweet rolls, and lots of church this week, and Easter dinner, and lots and lots of money (and did I mention my car is in the shop and will cost over $1000 to ransom?).

3) On Easter Monday, the ONE DAY when all the kids have off, guess who gets to drive Emily halfway back to Mobile?  I bet you’ll guess it in one.

4) That same week Teddy is going on his first road trip to Florida with his friends.  (Good news–he saved money for this so that at least is taken care of!) During the week he is gone I expect all his college letters to arrive, so it could be a good week, a bad week, or a mixture.

5) TAXES.

6) April 21 is Lorelei’s First Communion. (I’ve got the dress, thank God, but not the veil and the gloves she insists on.  Or a present for her.  And I’ve got to plan some celebration afterwards and make sure people are invited.)

7) April 26 is Prom Night.  Jake and Teddy are both supposedly attending proms (in two different locations).  Tuxedos have to be ordered.  Rides have to be arranged.  And MORE MONEY.

8) April 27 is my birthday.  Somehow I doubt I will get to spend the weekend away alone, which is what I like to do.

9) May 4 Emily graduates from college.  IN ALABAMA.  We need hotel reservations. We need to buy her a present.  We need to figure out the logistics of having John’s mother get there from Baltimore.  We will have to take two cars, and we will be bringing her and all her stuff back to Knoxville for the coming year.  Did I mention we need more money?

10) May 18 Teddy graduates from high school.  Another celebration will need to be planned!

11) At the end of May we are all supposed to go to Washington for John’s 25th college reunion and to Baltimore for a visit.  Granted we would be doing this regardless of the number of children we have but supposing they all go it now requires two cars and three hotel rooms and needless to say MORE MONEY which we therefore somehow have to continue to earn throughout this two month period of craziness because we are self-employed.  And don’t get paid to go on vacations.

Now I realize that except for the taxes these are all joyful celebrations for which I should be grateful, and of course I am.  And a wonderful things about having lots of children is that there are so many more celebrations.

But why can’t they be spread out just a little? :-)

Five Kids

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Debauchery

I knew something was up when I heard the front door open this morning before I even went downstairs.  But I have a secret weapon:  thanks to our security system and the wonders of the iPhone, I can look on my phone and instantly know every time the door has opened in the past 24 hours.  This is great for keeping track of teenage movements.

Jake was out with friends when I went to bed last night, but my phone told me he had come home shortly thereafter.  It also told me that he was in and out of doors several times throughout the night, so I knew he’d been up all night.

The signs were clear when I came downstairs.  What had been left behind told the story.

Coffee cups.  Empty pizza boxes and plates with bits of crust.  Dead laptops.  A sooty hardback copy of The Lord of the Rings.  A notebook.  And most shocking of all, an Encyclopedia of Shakespeare.

And then Jake and his friend Jim popping back into the house.  “Good morning, Family!” Jake sang out.  Apparently he was none the worse for the wild night he had spent.  Oh, well, you are only 18 once, after all.

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I just saw a tweet from an online acquaintance who was upset because her little kindergartner came home with the news that her classmates had told her that “Obama kills babies.”

Now that is all kinds of wrong for all kinds of reasons.  Number one, it’s factually inaccurate and intellectually lazy:  Mr. Obama supports legal abortion; he does not kill anyone.  Number two, no five year old needs to know anything about abortion or baby-killing of ANY kind.  Let’s preserve their innocence as long as we can.

And then there is number three, the subject of this post:  no five-year-old came up with that language independently.  Someone they trusted and respected, most likely a parent, TOLD them that.  Which means that their parents have introduced inaccurate, inflammatory information into their innocent intellects in the interest of indoctrination.  And that’s not how I believe we need to be talking to kids about politics.

I don’t believe in indoctrinating children. (Some of you are probably laughing because you know I am raising my kids Catholic and certainly that implies indoctrination–but moral and religious indoctrination is another story and we can argue about that another time!)  What I like to do is to present kids with a variety of ideas, answer their questions, see what they come up with, and correct any misinformation.

So when the subject of the death penalty, or abortion, or any other controversial issue has come up, I’ve explained it to my kids in the most neutral way I can.  Then I wait for their reaction.  Most recently it has been William, age 11, learning about these things. “But that’s ridiculous,” he said of the death penalty. “That’s horrible.  That doesn’t make any sense.  You can’t DO that.”  Even when I agree with his reaction, I offer him some of the reasons that other people disagree.  I don’t want parrots.  I want thoughtful critical thinkers.

My kids are–at least I think they are–extraordinarily lucky to have been raised in a home where 1) the adults don’t always agree about politics, and 2) the adults love to discuss politics.  John majored in International Politics at Georgetown and is passionately interested and well-informed.  I love nothing more than analytical conversations and arguments.  But there has never been any danger that my kids are going to go off to school and parrot their parents’ opinions, because we don’t walk in lockstep here.  We encourage them to come up with and defend their own opinions.  And now that three of the kids are more or less grown up, they don’t always agree with either of us.  We’ve got one kid identifying as Republican (not a Romney fan, though) and two who lean Democrat (of the pro-life type) but refuse to identify with any party.

Then there are the little ones.  Several weeks ago William announced that he did not like Mitt Romney because “he doesn’t care about poor people.”  I assure you, he did not hear that around here.  We just don’t make over the top statements like that and we call our kids on them when they do make them, so that I told him I was sure Mr. Romney cared about poor people but that different candidates have different ideas about how to help them.  I felt it was only right for balance to tell him some of President Obama’s drawbacks as well.  William learned about abortion only a few months ago, even though he has been participating in Marches for Life since he sat in a stroller.  He’s an oblivious sort and I was happy not to have to explain it to him.  So when I told him that President Obama was pro-choice, he decided he could not support either candidate.

Out of uniform patriotic attire for voting day at school

Lorelei does not know what abortion is and I have no intention of telling her any time soon.  Seven is too young–too young, really, to understand most political issues.  But she did sit and watch part of the debates with us until she fell asleep, and she was excited to cast a vote today in the mock election at school–for President Obama.  “Why?” I asked her.  “I just like him,” she said.  “Well, that’s fine.  It’s your choice,” I told her.  She looked so dejected coming out of school today, where predictably Mr. Romney carried the day with over 80% of the vote.  She perked up, though, when she got to come help me vote after school.

I read an article earlier today suggesting that we shouldn’t share our political views with our children at all until they are old enough to understand them. I don’t agree.  I believe we can share in an age-appropriate way.  When Lorelei asked me how I decided on my vote, I was vague:  “There are things I don’t like about either candidate, that make me feel I cannot support either one.”  I remember many years ago a friend of mine commented that she was surprised that we talked about politics with our kids.  Politics are important.  If we don’t talk to our kids about them, if all we do is say things like: “We are Democrats in this house,” or “Obama kills babies,” we are raising people who do not know how to think for themselves.

Remember, the kids who parrot you now will grow up to parrot some idiot, if you haven’t taught them to think critically.  If it’s important for you for your kids to think like you do, then educate them.  Tell them WHY (if you know) you think the way you do.  For us, having kids who think like us isn’t the goal.  The goal is having kids who THINK.

 

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Twenty-eight summers ago, my family took me on a college-shopping trip.  Much of our recent vacation was a re-enactment of that journey, with the college-shopper this time around being my 17-year-old son Teddy.   The memories of that long-ago journey overlaid this one, giving it a faintly surreal feel.

We started with Georgetown University, which is only an hour from Baltimore, where we were lodged.  This was a highly-anticipated moment for John and me, since it’s our alma mater and we had not been back in several years.   When we drove across the Key Bridge we more or less spontaneously broke into song, starting with the Alma Mater and segueing seamlessly into the fight song, which is the most awesome fight song EVER.

Once we parked, Jake and Emily struck off on their own while the rest of us went to the Admissions Office for the information session. (That’s how college visits mostly work–an info session led by officials, followed by a campus tour led by a student.)  The session was overcrowded so the little people and I waited in the lobby, where I enjoyed talking to the student at the desk about how things have changed and some of our past escapades.

Georgetown is a noisy place, with airplanes flying overhead regularly, lots of people, and delivery vehicles chirping as they try to back up (The only roads are access roads–it’s not a driving campus.)  So although the tour was by far the most comprehensive in terms of the buildings we saw, it wasn’t the best because we had a really hard time hearing our guide.  Things that struck me:  Georgetown has the world’s largest student-owned and operated business; it encourages internships and has many available all over the country; it places emphasis on studying abroad.  Getting an opinion out of Teddy is like drawing blood from a stone, but I know that he approves of its awesome location in our nation’s capital.  If I were going to pick, I’d send him there.  But I’m not going to pick because I am not a helicopter mom.

What do I remember from my own visit to Georgetown was my father sweating through his shirt and therefore having to keep his jacket on in the intense heat (we were luckier with our weather this time and missed the Knoxville heat wave too!); being told that there were Masses offered every 45 minutes all day long (this time around we also heard about the rabbis and imams on campus); and that it was my favorite from the moment I set foot there.

Georgetown’s founder Bishop John Carroll in front of the Healy Buiding.

One of many student-run shops on campus, its name a play on “Hoya Saxa,” the phrase whence Georgetown’s athletic teams get their name.

Jake posing where many presidents have given speeches on campus, most famously Lincoln, in front of Old North.

From the wall of the Intercultural Building, where the School of Foreign Service is housed

A favorite professor, now resting in the Jesuit graveyard on campus

Our next stop was Princeton University in Princeton, New Jersey.  We drove up from Baltimore for their afternoon session and tour.  Teddy and I went to Nassau Hall for the info session while everyone else went in search of snacks.   It was a grand location for an information session with a lot of history–it was briefly our nation’s Capitol.  Emily and Jake joined us for the tour (and brought the snacks!) while John rested and let the little kids play behind the Frist Student Center (yes, it is the Frist you think!).

It was a really good tour and I think all of us were impressed with the beauty of the campus.  Also notable are the residential college system (think Hogwarts) and the upper-class eating clubs.  From my first visit I remember thinking that the campus was beautiful but the town was too small, and my opinion remains the same (30,000 people in the town).  They told us back then that New York and Philadelphia were close and accessible by train, and they said that again this time, only they admitted what I suspected from the first, that people mostly don’t do that.

The main library from a distance

Some of that famous ivy

The chapel at Princeton

Teddy with a Princeton tiger

We drove straight from Princeton to New Haven, in preparation for our appointment at Yale University first thing in the morning.  That visit started out extremely well, with our finding two parking places right on the street in front of our destination.  Emily and Jake took Lorelei and John, William, and I accompanied Teddy to the information session, which was held in a lecture hall to accommodate the crowd.  For the tour, we were divided up into smaller groups so that we were able to hear our guide very well.

Me, I don’t like campuses with actual city roads crossing through them, but Teddy didn’t seem to mind.  Yale’s architecture is the prettiest–which I remember thinking when I saw it last.  It’s modeled on Oxford so there is lots of stone.  A highlight of the tour was one library which houses the rare book collection, including a Gutenberg Bible.  The main library is styled like a cathedral, with a large collection of secular stained glass (Yale was determinedly secular, which naturally turned me off.  No mention was made of religious opportunities on campus, although there is a large Catholic church on the street where the tour began–the only non-Yale building on the street.).

Teddy liked the “shopping period,” a two-week time during which you can attend any courses you want before you commit, even coming late and leaving early.  Yale also does the residential college bit.  I like the sound of that better these days–it didn’t appeal to me when I was applying to colleges.  New Haven was downright scary back then, which was a major downer.  I can see that it’s been revitalized quite a bit, but I understand that it’s still considered a high-crime city.   But, hey, D.C. was the murder capital of the country when I attended Georgetown.

Rare books cube

Gutenberg Bible

Interior of the main library, a “cathedral to knowledge”

Library exterior

So, finally, we headed for Harvard University.  It wasn’t one of Teddy’s favorites to begin with, and the tour didn’t change that.  He and I went to the information session while everyone else went to find parking ($27!).  The session was held in a theatre also used as a lecture hall, and was unique on the trip for having student commentators along with the admission official–a good tactic, I thought.  The rest of the family were wiped out and thoroughly tired of colleges by this time, so they did not come on the tour with us either.

Our guide was fine, but the tour covered the least territory of any that we went on.  At some colleges, there is a definite sense that they are trying to “sell” themselves.  At Harvard, you feel that they know they’ve already made the sale, because they are, you know, HARVARD, so they don’t try as hard.  The points that stood out to me about Harvard were negative points.  They are so secular that they don’t mention religion and so “diverse” that they don’t officially sanction any single sex organizations.  Cambridge is great and lots of fun I’m sure, but you are constantly crossing streets and I just don’t like that.  The architecture leans brickward which just isn’t as pretty as the stone on other campuses.  They de-emphasize studying abroad or doing internships during the school year, because who would want to miss a semester at Harvard?  And you only take 32 classes to graduate!

Memorial Hall, where our tour began

Interior of Memorial Hall

In Harvard Yard

Interesting building sighted on the way to Harvard Square

So where will Teddy go to school?  I suspect he will narrow it down by 1) Where he gets in and 2) Where he gets the best deal financially.  We shall see.  After my college tour, I made exhaustive pro/con lists (Georgetown won!) but still ended up applying to all of them (plus Brown, which Teddy did not want included on his tour–he is also considering Vanderbilt and Notre Dame).  I got into Georgetown early, was wait-listed at Brown and Princeton and outright rejected by Harvard and Yale.  Which was a blow to my ego but for which I am forever grateful, because I feel like you just don’t say no if you get into Harvard and I am so, so glad that I went to Georgetown.

When Emily looked at colleges, she loved Spring Hill right away and knew it was the place for her, just like John and I knew about Georgetown.  So I asked Teddy, “Did you get a special feeling about any of them?  Did any one place make your soul sing?” He responded, “Mom, I’m not a girl.”

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Today I am joining in Singular Insanity’s weekly link up:  Things I Know.   In an uncertain world, there’s a certain appeal in believing that there is anything we are sure about, and pride in celebrating and sharing lessons learned and wisdom gained.  And I do know a lot of things, some of them instinctively and others through hard life experiences.  This week I am telling you what I know–or think I know, anyway–about teenagers.

Let’s be honest from the start: teenagers are going to rebel. They are going to do things they shouldn’t and if they don’t actually get into trouble it’s only because they didn’t get caught. If your teenager always conforms exactly to your wishes, either you don’t know what they are really up to or their wishes are currently the same as yours. At some point when their wishes diverge from yours too much, your child will choose to do what she wants to do and not what you want her to do. The day will come sooner or later and it’s a normal part of growing up.

Teddy and Jake at 17 and 18

You cannot take the blame or the credit for how your teenager has turned out.  There are two reasons for this.  One is that–as my own teenager told me–kids are a product of genetics and environment and you are not morally responsible for the genes you passed on and the inherent temperament with which your kid was born.  But much more important is a revelation I had last week. You teenagers HAVE NOT TURNED OUT YET.  They are nowhere near done and you cannot judge the finished product right now any more than you could judge a cake by eating half-cooked batter.

Think about your own teenage days, and if you were a perfect teenager like me then think about some of your classmates. Chances are you are friends with them on Facebook now, and they have homes and significant others and steady jobs and more money than you do. They have teenagers of their own whom they love and worry about. And you thought they would never amount to anything, didn’t you? Well you were wrong and if you are worrying about the future of your own teenagers think about that. The vast majority of them turn out fine if they make it through their teens.

And that’s no laughing matter, is it? Because what with teen drivers and drinking and drug use and stupid teenage tricks and feeling invulnerable, there are some teenagers who don’t get to grow up and their parents never see how they would have turned out. That leads me to more Things I Know about teenagers: the two most important tasks in parenting teens.

The first one is keep them alive.  That sounds melodramatic but what it really means is that the truly important rules, the nonnegotiable things, the things you should really be worrying about, are those that impact your teenager’s safety.  Because a bad grade may seem like it will have a dire effect on his future. But it’s really not nearly as big of a deal as ensuring that he HAS a future.  Spend less time worrying about homework and grades and more finding out who your kids’ friends are and where they are going and what they are doing once they get there.

The second task? Preserve your relationship with them. Are you prepared to say my way or the highway and mean it?  Do you really want to go there? Is maintaining compete control worth foregoing a relationship with your grandchildren and your adult child down the road? Because that happens to a lot of parents who are too critical and punitive and authoritarian.  Their kids break free one day and don’t come back.  Or when they do it’s just a matter of politeness and that distance is never bridged.  Do you want that to be you? If not, then let love guide your relationship at every turn, not pride.  Don’t let maintaining control–which you are going to lose anyway–which you are SUPPOSED to lose anyway–guide your actions when you have a problem with your child.

So many people have the kid thing backwards.  They want newborn babies to sleep through the night in a separate room so that they can “get their lives back”–whatever that means–but they hover over these same kids when they are teens, waiting up for them at night, monitoring their homework, telling them what colleges to go to. No. The teen years are a time for letting go, for allowing more and more independence, for encouraging your kids to make good decisions, for trusting them to be the architects of their own lives.  Remember you cannot tell anyone anything.  There are very few mistakes that cannot be fixed down the road, and they are not going to learn from the ones YOU made, no matter how much you wish they could.  They have to make their own.  So let them.

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