As millions of parents prepare to proudly watch their high school seniors march down the aisle toward their next academic milestone, there’s no denying that, this summer, in many homes plenty of attention will be focused on the upcoming college launch. In honor of college-bound graduates and that higher education road trip, I’d like to share one of my most popular essays from my book College Bound and Gagged: How to Help Your Kid Get into a Great College Without Losing Your Savings, Your Relationship, or Your Mind. This essay was one of the winners of the 2010 Erma Bombeck Writing Competition, which I think reflects the fact that we’re all in sticker shock.
It fell out of the most important letter of the year. A thin adhesive sticker tucked inside the anxiously awaited university acceptance letter.
“Mom, I got in!” my son exclaimed. “Now you can get off my back.”
I might have cried, but I was too busy thanking a higher power for giving me my life back. The admissions office insisted I didn’t owe them that phone call. Like proud parents everywhere, I took the highly coveted university decal mobile. Clinging to the rear window of our SUV, the victory sticker symbolized closure from a process I thought would never end. This would be the last and most expensive decal on the journey of parenthood. Soon the nest and the bank account would be empty.
“What will you do with your time now that you won’t have to nag him to write essays and study SAT words?” my mother asked.
Back in the day, I did buy pre-packaged granola bars. The ones that we were told were “good for you”. The more I got into making homemade everything, the more I realized that most things in a package, bottle, or can contain lots of ingredients that are not only manufactured but one’s that I cannot pronounce.
As of last week, packing lunches has become part of my morning routine. Always a protein, some sort of veggie, a fruit, rice crackers or nuts, water, and if I have it on hand, a little sweet treat. Cutting out gluten is not as challenging as one would assume. It’s more the sweet treat that’s a challenge. I don’t have a” cookie jar” filled with the latest and greatest. Instead, I bake off frozen cookie dough, 8 or 10 at a time, which doesn’t leave a lot of room for leftovers. However, it was more the “granola” type bar that my kids were missing.
After several attempts at a no bake “granola” bar, I was frustrated with them not staying in one piece. Although they tasted good, they fell apart in my kids hands, making them the perfect topping for homemade ice cream. However, I wasn’t looking for toppings. I wanted a bar that I could put in their lunch for snack time. After the first batch, I pulled out my silicone muffin cups and voila, something magical happened.
Shopping for vintage clothes was for me something of an art. Or maybe a sport. I had a little talent for it. When I was a teenager, I almost exclusively wore antique (what we called it then) dresses. Shirts and coats as well. The only vintage pants I remember buying were those old high-waisted navy sailor pants. Those were so friggin’ bitchin. But they were made of wool and itchy. I was all about the look though, and an itch I could tolerate for the look.
When I started driving, I would head out to a favorite store on Wilshire in that strange hood just before Santa Monica, near Barrington. The Junk Store. A semi-nasty person owned the place and when I tried to purchase my first item there — a black velvet 1940’s coat with big padded shoulders and white, sorry to say, elephant ivory buttons — I was told to go straight home and get a written note from my parents.
A lot of parents were coming in complaining about and returning their kids’ purchases. I thought, “WHAT? My mother loves my style and everything I buy and wear. I also make my own money and it’s not my parents’ business.” But I went along with it, and I’m such a goody-goody that I brought back a legitimate note. I could have gone outside and written my own. I’m slow. Everyone went to The Junk Store for the must-have ski sweater and the patchwork quilts.
Jane Curtin, my former colleague on Saturday Night Live, characterized school cafeteria food in a way I’d never thought of. One day, on the set, I was waxing poetic about the fact that I loved the stuff. I think Spaghetti Day was my favorite.
“I don’t know what it is. It was pretty simple. Tomato sauce with ground beef and noodles. I usually had chocolate milk with it. You know, the holy trinity, savory, starchy and sweet. It was just so… divine..”
“Oh, yeah.” Jane said, as she tugged slowly on her cigarette. “Institutional food”.
“Hmmm.” I thought. “Really?”
I pictured all the movie close-ups I’d seen of miscellaneous slop being slammed on to metal trays in various pre-riot prison scenes. Some burly lifer upends the new ‘fish’s' meal. But what he doesn’t know is, the new “fish” was often Jean-Claude Van Damme or Chuck Norris. Usually canned corn and peas, white bread and mystery meat. Probably saltpeter as well.
I have taught English for over twenty years and the reading, planning, grading, and yes, the teaching consume much of my waking time from August 28th until June 20th every year. I have never had children of my own. But I guess you could say, I'm "the village." I have taught about 3200 students in all, ranging from the kids whose mothers clean the homes and care for the children in Santa Monica to the kids in Santa Monica whose moms employ the other moms.
I have taught future lawyers, doctors, rabbis, curators, filmmakers, poets, art historians, scientists, and I have taught future crack addicts, pregnant teens, suicides, and criminals. I have taught the ambitious and the indolent, the focused and the preoccupied, the optimistic and the pessimistic, the successful and the not so successful.
Now that school is back in full swing (our second week), the dreaded morning scuffle has also returned.
I was hoping a more streamlined ritual would fall into place, but alas it's business as usual.
You see, I have one child who does everything he's supposed to, when he's supposed to do it. I have another child who couldn't be bothered with the type of work and effort it takes to get to school on time.
It's time to get up....."I can't".......It's time for breakfast....."I'm busy"....Are you dressed...teeth brushed...hair combed....shoes on....."no".
It makes me crazy. I feel like I've tried everything to help facilitate the morning madness but nothing seems to light a fire under his behind.
My husband Chad went to New York recently to drop our oldest daughter
Lena off at college. That same week, our 14-year old attended a cheer
camp at UCLA for four days giving me a rare glimpse into the gaping maw
of my Empty Nest Future and lemme tell ya, it was bleak.
I won’t mince words. I walked around the house weeping. No kidding. I went into Lena’s room and smelled her pillow and the skeletal remains of her wardrobe. Each article of clothing summoned a sweet memory that only served to drive the knife in further, launching another torrent of bawling.
“Oh, those Gladiator’s from Urban Outfitters that I warned her not to wear at Coachella. But didn’t we have a kick-ass time?’ (Sob) “Oh, and look at this high collared floral shirt that she called “sexy secretary” when she wore it with that over-the knee pencil skir-hir-hir-hir-hirt, oh God, oh God, my ba-bee-he-he-he-he-heeeee.” I just stopped short of falling to my knees, pounding my chest and bellowing “WHY, WHY?”
The song you’ll hear after the jump is about driving my daughter Charlotte’s teenage carpool in 1998. The absolute horror of it. All I can remember about it was how much I hated it. Then, today, I was reading through my journal from back then, and come across the following entry. I must have been writing things for Charlotte to read in later years. She’s 26 now, so Charlotte, this is for you:
I am going to miss our lazy days of summer. Breakfast, lunch, snack, and dinner doesn’t seem as daunting during the summer as it does during the school year. First of all, I get a bit of help with the prep, the clean up, and my sons culinary suggestions inspire me.
The school year brings it own set of hurdles. Breakfast and lunch have to be prepared at the same time – unless I can get my act together to prep the night before. Then there is the after school rush. Piling them into the car only to hurry home, get their homework done, give them a healthy snack, and hustle them to their various after school activities. Oh boy am I going to miss summer.
For the past few weeks I have been experimenting with a few ideas. My kids love pizza, but the stuff in the box leaves much to be desired and I just don’t have enough time to make one from scratch – given our schedule and how limited our time is (sadly said). Solution: pizza muffins.