Launched

Summer is ending and everyone is heading back to their respective lives, so I’m getting nostalgic about what it was like when my now adult children lived under our roof. Here is a blog I just wrote for The Huffington Post about missing my daughter and her friends. And these are my thoughts, below, about sending my son off into the world.

Thirty two years ago, the summer after I graduated from the University of Michigan, I eagerly stuffed my used Ford Escort with my scant possessions and drove 10 hours to Washington, D.C. to start my first job as a paralegal. The position was intended as a one year stint while I decided whether to pursue journalism or law school. Within a few months, I landed a job with a publishing company and ended up spending six years in our nation’s capital, where I fell in love with the vibrant city and began my life as a journalist.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I packed our 13-year-old van full of our son’s possessions and drove him to the identical destination the summer after he graduated from our alma mater. He’ll be starting a position with a federal program assistant teaching in a Washington, D.C. school. Though history is repeating itself in our family, it didn’t quite strike me until the long drive, where I had plenty of time to contemplate how the years since leaving D.C. had quickly flown by. My husband and I were newlyweds there. As we traversed the hills of Pennsylvania, I was awash with memories: the first friends we made who we’re still close with today; jogging in the sticky summers after work; lingering over dinners where we regularly split a bottle of wine; and riding the crowded metro to the mall for July 4th fireworks.

When my son was deciding where he should apply for jobs, I immediately suggested Washington, D.C. We hadn’t visited much since we left, so he knew little of it, but agreed it was worth trying. Once we headed there, staying with our long-time friends, he realized it was the right decision. He was immediately put at ease meeting his six new roommates, others in the same federal program. On the same metro we once rode, I pointed out all the young people surrounding us. We headed out to a hip restaurant in a revitalized area near the baseball stadium that was buzzing with excitement. I saw his eyes light up the way mine had when I first moved here so many years ago. Though I ventured here solo, not knowing anyone except one friend from college, he was able to have his parents accompany him, and see this city through our eyes.

This is our second launch. Our oldest child packed up her belongings three years ago and headed to the East Coast to start her new life. She attended college two hours away and spent the summers there, so the transition was slightly easier; we were more accustomed to life without her. Our son’s school is located near our house. Though he lived on campus with roommates, we saw him often. We could hear the door opening late at night when he stopped by spontaneously, desiring a cuddle with our cat or dinner leftovers. We could count on him to join us for birthdays and holiday dinners, or stop by whenever he needed the car. With our youngest heading back to her college in North Carolina in the fall we will truly be empty nesters without the occasional companionship of our only son.

When you drop your child at college, it’s difficult and heart wrenching to let them go. Still, there’s some consolation in knowing they’ll return home for holiday stretches and long summer breaks. College doesn’t substitute for the home where they were raised. But launching them after that is so much harder. We’ve already booked our son airline tickets to join us for Thanksgiving, and since the school will likely be closed for a winter break, I presumed he’d be back in December. My husband doubted it. “Washington, D.C. is his home now,” he said. Indeed, I realized that, though I wasn’t quite ready for it to be so. After parenting children for 25 years, I still like to think of our time apart as merely temporary.

I understand this phase is healthy, that letting go of your child is necessary and a part of life. But the separation is bittersweet. Those post-college years truly represent the end of childhood, when your parenting work is mostly done, your influence on their lives limited.

Two days after we returned from leaving our son, we received a text. “I love it here,” he said. It was gratifying to know that though we will miss him, his transition is going well. And just a few weeks later, I had a just as satisfying experience, when I ran into a friend at the bank, as I was transferring my son’s last month of rent money for his college apartment to his account. “You’re witnessing history!” I said to her and the bank teller, reflecting on what hopefully will be the end of our 22-year financial commitment to our son.

My husband and I are trying to take comfort in developments like that and in the meantime will cherish the remaining three years we have with our youngest on her breaks from college. As I watched her pack this week, she talked about the next time she’d be returning “home.” I smiled, grateful that she still views the place she was raised to be that home. I’ll take that, for now.

 

The Anguish of Reporting About Teen Suicide

In all the years I have been a journalist, the hardest interview I had to conduct was with a mother who had just lost her 16-year-old daughter to suicide less than a week before we spoke. As the mother of young adults, I could feel her pain as she sobbed into the phone, having to relive the horrific tragedy as she shared the intimate details of her daughter’s struggles. When tragedy strikes, journalists are often first on the scene. And it’s difficult to understand how we choose to pry into people’s private lives. But Cathy Housh, the mother of the teen, didn’t hesitate to speak with me. She realized that we shouldn’t be afraid to talk about suicide and that getting this subject out into the open will ultimately help to save lives. In fact, she’s made it her mission to push for legislation that will create programs to prevent it. I knew that reporting about teen suicide would be a tough sell for a woman’s magazine. And I applaud Good Housekeeping for running my article,  in the April, 2016 issue. But it was a long journey, one that started when I turned in the first draft one-and-a-half years ago. Advertisers, the major source of revenue for magazines, typically don’t like to wrap their ads around an article focused on such a dark issue. Instead of the article being highlighted in the editor’s column as I hoped it would be, it was buried at the end of the magazine, surrounded by an ad for Clump and Seal cat litter and a promotion for heart medication. It would be ideal if the women’s magazines would give these kinds of meaty topics a higher profile. Still, it’s a start. And I feel gratified that my piece ran in a publication with a circulation of 24-million. It may be enough to get the word out about a tragedy that is becoming far too common among our teens.

Resiliency In the Face of a 13-Year-Old

With the onslaught of articles on the perils of helicopter parenting, including this piece, and concerns that this will leave our children unable to forge on in the face of adversity, I was inspired to witness such strength and courage this past summer at the Bat Mitvah of a dear friend’s daughter. The world is a difficult place now. It seems there’s tragedy and unrest everywhere we turn, so to see this burst of sunlight, a young woman who gave me such perspective, was truly a privilege. I discussed the experience in this article that I wrote for The Huffington Post. As we go through our days, trying to maintain our sense of optimism and positive outlook, I think we could all do well to take a little of Mia’s spirit with us. I hope you enjoy the piece!

Male Boomers Realize Friendships Are Key to a Happy Life

As a journalist, I’m constantly observing the world around me, curious about what makes people tick. A never-ending source of fascination for me, as I’m sure it is for many people, is the factors driving longevity. People are living longer than ever. But what’s the recipe for a long life that’s filled with happiness? Research has shown that a big driver is social connections. Those who have meaningful relationships as they age tend to live longer, healthier lives. I was able to see this first-hand as I reported this Wall Street Journal piece on men finding friends after 50. This is an age when male friendships tend to wither while women’s continue to grow stronger. But boomers, never hesitant to act proactively for the sake of their own contentment, are actively joining groups to seek out male companionship. The results are particularly satisfying. It’s clear, based on those I interviewed, that these relationships have enhanced their qualify of life while promoting both physical and intellectual engagement.

When Dealing With Your Child’s Teacher, How Much Is Too Much?

My freelance articles are the result of my developing a story idea and selling it to an editor or I’m assigned a story topic. I rarely turn down a story that an editor asks for, as the task of selling a piece is daunting. I spend much time in the sales and marketing venue and often am unable to convince editors to assign stories that I think are perfect. Two weeks ago, I was contacted by an editor of a new website. And she had a compelling story to assign. She wanted me to write an article providing advice for parents who want to forge the most positive relationships with their child’s teacher from the start. How can parents stay involved, yet not seem like they’re in helicopter mode? What situations do require intervention? What do teachers need most from parents in the way of support that leads to the best educational experience for their child? The result was this article, Best Parent/Teacher Relationships. The teachers I interviewed were grateful for the opportunity to share not only horror stories of what happens when parents overstep the appropriate boundaries, but also ways for them to intervene most helpfully. The takeaway: empower your children to advocate for themselves. In this era of many parents who probe every aspect of their children’s lives and often intervene to rescue them, it’s a valuable message.

Flooding Continues in Ann Arbor, While City Urges University To Do More

This past weekend, the City of Ann Arbor was flooded, yet again. Coverage in the local paper, The Ann Arbor Newsincluded an article featuring photos from readers of the damage the water extracted. A synagogue was among the flood’s victims. Another piece showed fraternity brothers frolicking in the rain. This increasing rainfall doesn’t surprise city and county regulators, who say that climate change will ensure more storms in the coming years. Their concerns have made them modern day Noahs, and led to tough standards for stormwater control for those embarking on building and renovation in Ann Arbor. But I was surprised to learn that the city’s largest landowner, the University of Michigan, isn’t subject to those standards. As a public University, it only needs to meet state requirements, which are far less stringent. As it embarks on extensive building around campus, the University has exceeded the state standards in some instances, but city and county officials say it doesn’t come close to meeting what the city and county require. I was able to probe this situation in-depth in this article I wrote for The Ann Arbor Observer. It was fascinating to learn how the University operates so independently of the town in which it is located. As the city and county fear major damage from upcoming storms, that’s caused significant “town/gown” tensions. And it’s raised questions about the role the University plays in addressing environmental concerns. I appreciated having the chance to explore this important issue and hope to continue tracking the developments in this area.

Here are the links I included, in case you can’t access them via the hyperlink:

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/06/residents_hit_social_media_aft.html

http://www.mlive.com/news/ann-arbor/index.ssf/2015/06/flash_flood_watch_in_effect.html

http://annarborobserver.com/s/storm_over_the_u-m_full_article.html

Embracing the Joys of Extended Family

My father, Alvin Edelson, with his storytelling sisters, Reva and Anita

My father, Alvin Edelson, with his storytelling sisters, Reva and Anita

The wonderful New York Times article by Silas House, “The Growing Generational Divide” so eloquently discussed what I agree is one of the elements lacking in so many young people today: their connection with older family members. He argues that young people know the intricacies of celebrities’ lives more than they understand their own family histories. Next week, I’ll be traveling to Minneapolis for the unveiling of my beloved aunt’s tombstone. The unveiling is  a Jewish ceremony that occurs within a year of a person’s death. As I read this piece, memories of casual Sundays spent with my aunt came flooding back. She and her family moved to Minneapolis when I was just 10, but any time she visited, she and my father’s other sister would take the stage. The two women were the funniest I’ve ever met, and we would spend hours listening to them weave true-life tales, amusing anecdotes that they told with great expression. There were no soccer games or music classes to rush to; everyone in my family would linger over a brunch of bagels and kugel and be truly entertained. My interest in telling peoples’ stories — albeit in writing — in many ways was rooted in my love of hearing their recollections. One of the best summers of my life was when I was 15 and traveled to Los Angeles and spent three weeks with my grandmother. Though many teens would not relish this type of experience, I loved it. We stayed up late playing the card game, War, while she gossiped about the family’s secrets. There was plenty of family history to discuss, as my grandfather was the oldest of 11, 10 boys and the youngest a girl. A great listener, my grandmother was often the confidante for many of her sister-in-laws. I was fascinated by the stories she would tell, some slightly scandalous, about the back stories of her many relatives. It was better than any television drama. My grandmother was crazy about me and I could do no wrong in her eyes. A children’s writer, she was a voracious reader — she bragged that she had read every book in the library of the town where she grew up — smart, affectionate and kind and truly one of the best companions I ever had. I still remember her cackling laugh and her homemade blintzes. And I cherish the time we had together.

When I visit my mother in the Detroit suburbs, I’m always touched to walk into a delicatessen and see throngs of grandparents with their grandchildren, catching up on the week’s events. When I sent one of my children to camp one year, there were as many grandparents as parents giving the overnight campers bear hugs and sending them off on the bus. These children have had a great gift, with extended family being so much a part of their lives.

In his article, House points out that we will have an onslaught of aging boomers in coming years. I will be one of them. I hope that, as our population ages, we’re able to maintain that connection with young people, and that they realize what a treasure it is to bond with their elderly relatives. Now that my father and his sisters are gone, I realize that more than ever.