Archive for August, 2010

Away at College: Week 1

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

Our daughter, Valerie, has a case of buyer’s remorse.

Steve moved Valerie into her dorm room at Chapman University in Southern California six days ago and she is questioning her decision to go away to college.

“Oh my gosh, what was I thinking? I’m living with total strangers, I miss my room, my friends and I really miss the cats. Maybe Chapman isn’t worth what it is costing me in student loans and going to the JC and living at home wouldn’t have been so bad after all.”

Plus, she is shocked because she thought that Chapman attracted smart kids, yet there are freshman doing stupid things like drinking to the point of passing out at the orientation dance and setting off the fire alarms in the dorm. How high school can you get?

Unfortunately, I can’t speak to her from personal experience about the process of going away to college because I lived at home the entire time I was in school. When I finally did move out, I wasn’t “moving to” San Francisco as much as I was “escaping from” Salt Lake City.

Steve, however, can relate his experience of enlisting in the army to what Valerie is going through now. He told her how he remembers waking up on Day Two of basic training and thinking, “What have I gotten myself into? How am I going to make it through 1,094 more days of this?”

He told her that things seem bleak because absolutely everything is new to her. There isn’t one aspect of her daily routine that is the same as it was a week ago. And just because her fantasy of meeting her roommates and having instant BFFs didn’t happen doesn’t mean that she isn’t in a good place and won’t find lifelong friends.

Steve went on to tell her that basic training ““ which is meant to make your life hell ““ wasn’t that all that bad once he made some buddies and settled into the routine. He is certain that her time at Chapman ““a place where she is valued or they wouldn’t have given her a scholarship ““ will be very positive. She just needs to give it more than a week. Once she starts going to art class and joining some clubs that interest her, she is certain to meet other kids with the same sensibilities and she will feel like she fits in.

In the meantime, I’m going to take the advice of parents who have been through the process of sending kids off to college and send Valerie regular care packages stuffed with photos of kitties, art supplies and protein bars. And instead of phone calls that can turn into whine-fests from her, we’ll stick with sending texts and chatting on FaceBook so I can be encouraging while keeping some distance between us. It won’t help her if we talk on the phone and I get sucked into the same depressed place that she is.

We feel confident that she is on a path that will lead to many good things over the next four years; however, the first few steps can be a little rocky.

Off to College

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

When does 18 years seem like a very short amount of time?

When it’s the day before your daughter leaves for college. That’s when the 18 years spent with your child just doesn’t seem like enough time. I know you never stop being parents no matter how old your children are, however, the time when we can have a direct impact on her life has passed; when it comes to aspects of parenting that we wished we had done differently, there won’t be any more do-overs. She’s moving onto her own life now. How did it happen so fast?

I can’t help but feel sentimental as we help Valerie get packed up for school; Steve and she will leave Monday for Chapman University in Orange County so she can get moved in and oriented before school starts next week.

As part of preparing to say goodbye, we had the opportunity to spend an evening last week with some friends who have known Valerie all her life. All of these people had written a short letter to Valerie after she was born. My friend put all these letters in a book which they gave me at Valerie’s baby shower when she was about a month old.

Reading the notes aloud almost 18 years to the day after they were written was very emotional for me because at the time, Valerie had already been through some traumatic medical situations although only she was only a few weeks old.

You see, Valerie spent the first week of her life in intensive care. There were a variety of factors that had caused her to be transported by ambulance from the hospital in Novato to UCSF Neonatal Intensive Care where she spent the first week of her life: she was premature, had been delivered by me in our bathroom at home, she was missing an arm, and had a Code Blue episode in the first 24 hours in the hospital.

It was a few weeks later when these friends wrote their notes to Valerie. At that point it was too soon in her young life to know if the worst was over or if we were looking at a lifetime of uncertainty about her physical condition. But in the letters that our friends gave us, one thing was clear; although she was only a month old, she had already fought through some tough situations. And her strong spirit touched people.

We were very blessed that physically Valerie grew into a very healthy child who just happened to be missing an arm. And the letters that our friends wrote to Valerie were indeed prophetic. She continued to show her strong spirit in everything she tried, whether it was as an artist, student, or physical challenges like competing in rhythmic gymnastics.

Yes, it’s hard to let go and say goodbye. But I’m very proud of her. And I know that same determination that got her through the first few days of her life will help her with the challenges that lie ahead as she ventures out on her own.

Exposition Park: The Other Disneyland

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

A trip to Disneyland has been our default summer vacation for many years. Our familiarity with the Magic Kingdom takes away the stress that goes along with figuring out the drill in a new place. As soon as we’re through security, we’re off to get Fast Passes for Indiana Jones so we can squeeze as much fun as possible out of our two-day Park Hopper passes.

However this year, we decided we would make a trip to Southern California to help Valerie get a little more familiar with Chapman University in Orange but skip going to Disneyland. Chapman is so close to the Magic Kingdom that you can almost hear the screams from the Tower of Terror when you are on campus quad, so we figured we will have plenty of opportunities to do Disneyland over the next four years.

So if you’re not going to Disneyland, what do you do in Southern California ““ besides sit in stop-and-go traffic on the 405 Freeway?

I would highly recommend going to Exposition Park, a collection of museums and exhibits that sits on 160 acres on the west side of town. Who knew there was a chunk of land in LA that didn’t have cars on it?

It also is where the LA Memorial Coliseum, home to the USC Trojans is located. A fun fact: the Coliseum It is the only facility in the world to play host to two Olympiads (X and XXIII), two Super Bowls (I and VII) and one World Series (1959).

Although the west coast’s largest hands-on science center is in the park, our reason for heading to Exposition Park was to visit the Natural History Museum. Steve had fond memories of visiting the museum on elementary school field trips when he was growing up in the San Fernando Valley. And hard as it was for us to believe, our daughters said that after spending the previous day at an antique mall, an upscale mall and an outlet mall, that even they had had their fill of shopping. Looking at always-in-style dinosaur bones sounded pretty good to them.

Exposition Park has to be one of the best entertainment values anywhere. Tickets for the four of us was a total of $28.50 which paid for admission to both the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Gallery at the Science Center.

The Natural History Museum opened in 1913 and is certainly reflective of a different age of museum design. Forget the interactive exhibits that are the norm of museums today; this museum was meant to be a place of reverence ““ very dark with lots of marble and wood. And definitely, a hands-off experience.

But the cavernous rooms with glassed-in dioramas of taxidermied California mammals are part of the reason for going. There is probably some of the same dust on the bobcat’s fur that was there when Steve saw the exhibit more than 50 years ago, but that’s part of its charm. It’s easy to forget how much smaller the world seems to us now than it did when these exhibits were originally installed.

However, recent additions to the museum and renovations keep the museum from seeming like it is frozen in time. The beautiful rotunda with its stained glass dome was just restored and reopened last year and they have added an “Age of Mammals” exhibit that has so much light flooding the gallery that it’s almost blinding after the dioramas.

I could go on describing lots more cool stuff we saw; I especially liked the space capsule that Ham, the chimpanzee, rode in for the Mercury space program and Steve liked the A-12 Blackbird that was on display.

Looking at a T-Rex skull will never be as thrilling as going on Space Mountain but the oldest exhibit in Los Angeles never gets old.

Campus Tour

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

There’s nothing like a road trip for bringing the family together. And our trip to Southern California last week was one of the best we have ever had, perhaps because as the kids get older and start having their own lives, there aren’t as many opportunities for trips like this. With that perspective in mind, even the girls’ bickering in the back seat wasn’t as annoying as it is at home.

Our initial reason for taking the trip was to give our daughter, Valerie, an opportunity to get a little more acquainted with Chapman University in Orange. We were also hoping to see a dorm room so Valerie can begin figuring out how she is going to cram a roomful of stuff into the three square feet of space that she will be calling home for the next year.

Because the dorm rooms were being painted, we could only get into the dorm building and we weren’t able to see any rooms. However, at least now when Valerie goes through the sliding glass doors in Henley Hall, she knows that she should turn”¦as Beyonce says”¦to the left, to the left, with everything she owns in the box to the left”¦to find her room.

After the dorm, we continued making a loop around the nearly-empty campus, stopping in at the art department and then the business office to turn in some paperwork “¦all places that will soon be as familiar to Valerie as the C wing at Petaluma High was.

Our last stop was back at the administration building so Steve could buy a baseball cap and show off that he is a proud Chapman dad. On the way to the Chapman store, we passed a group of bored high school students and their anxious parents taking a campus tour. We overheard the staff member talking about the average SAT score of the students who are admitted.

Seeing these families, I couldn’t help but think how glad I am that it’s this year and not last year when Valerie still had the intense and stressful college application process ahead of her. We did a high-five with Valerie. “You made it into college!”

If we’re that happy about being Valerie being accepted, I can only image the sense of celebration that we will feel when our kids actually graduate from college. I think back flips will be in order.

The First of 50 First Dates

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

I enjoy reading Veronica Blaustein’s blog. When our children were little, I certainly remember the challenge of finding some time alone. When you are in that season of life, not having a toddler follow you into the bathroom is a gift.

But I have been surprised as our kids grew up, how often one or more of them would be in the bathroom with us as we are brushing our teeth getting ready for bed. The vast quantities of “alone time” that I thought we would have once the kids could dress and drive themselves have never really materialized. The types of demands that our children place on us have certainly changed but I don’t think they have lessened.

That all said, I think we have done a good job making ourselves accessible to our kids. But what we haven’t done as good a job at is making “alone time” for Steve and me. And with two out of the three kids soon to be out of the house, it’s time for Steve and me to pick up where we left off before we had kids 22 years ago and get to know each other as people and not just parents.

So last Tuesday, Steve took the lead and suggested we go out for a date ““ nothing fancy, just a glass of wine at nice local restaurant.

I’m about as spontaneous as a lunar eclipse. I like things on the calendar long before they happen. When he made the suggestion to go out, it was about 8:00 and I had just gotten back from a meeting. I had on my “I only wear these to go to the grocery store” jeans and any trace of makeup that I had put on that morning was long gone.

Plus, I had planned to come home and enter a pile of vendor invoices and I was really looking forward to getting depressed staring at the bank balances in QuickBooks. How dare he want me to come out of myself and put my worry aside for an hour or so?

But I couldn’t argue with him when he pointed out that bars are dark so what I looked like really didn’t matter. And perhaps my perspective on the world would be improved by half a glass of pinot noir.

So I reluctantly gave in and we went to Tres Hombres in Theater Square. Steve was right about the lighting; it was sufficiently and flatteringly dark so I didn’t need to be concerned about what I looked like. Although we have probably only been there a couple of times before, we were welcomed by everyone who worked there as if we were regulars.

We were old enough to be the parents and maybe even the grandparents of the young people sitting at the bar but it felt really good to be out among people who were enjoying the atmosphere and each other’s company. None of them had the beaten down, “Life is so hard,” quality that I tend to project.

However, the best part of going out was that Steve and I talked but we didn’t talk about the kids. We talked like a couple who was really interested in getting to know one another. I heard Steve’s perspective on his life in a way that I had never heard before…after 26 years of marriage

We finished our shared glass of wine and headed home. That’s the kind of alone time I want more of.