Freshman overwhelm


My cell phone rang at 10:45 p.m. and when I looked down I saw it was my daughter.  In New York it was almost 2:00 a.m., on a Monday night.  This would not be good news as I had already heard from her through text today that she had overslept and was overwhelmed.  When I answered, “Hi Sweetie…  What’s going on?”,  a tearful unintelligible response came back.  I had to tell her to calm down and breathe so I could understand what she was saying. She was agonizing over a first draft of a paper due tomorrow, and the fact that she is feeling chronically behind, that her roomates  are treating her badly, (I want to kill them), that she isn’t living up to her own expectations in school, and that she keeps having to make excuses to her professors.  And the worst thing, that she feels like she can’t feel comfortable in her own room, like she doesn’t have her own space.  (Did I mention that I want to smack her roomates upside their heads who never clean up after themselves?  My daughter spent all day saturday cleaning the dorm/suite).

This is a mother’s torture.  I can’t make her pain go away.  It will never be something I can get used to.  When they are babies and they have pain, the response is immediate.  They need to be held or nursed, rocked to sleep with lullabies and soothing words.  But this is so different.   I can’t fix it.  I can only trust that her pain is a part of her growth and important for her to go through.  I can’t write a note to the teacher or sit down with her to help her write her paper.

I did what I could.  I asked her to read me the email she was writing to her teacher and told her that it sounded good, not like an excuse but an honest communication about how she is struggling with time management, being sick, and adjusting to being on her own for the first time.  We talked about how this is the hardest part, first semester of freshman year, an adjustment phase.  She felt soothed, stopped crying, and then went to bed.

My adjustment phase is here too.  It’s a very different kind of parenting – less immediate but no less important.  I am now a voice of soothing through the phone, not an immediate presence to kiss the “owie” or wipe away her tears.


When we got off the phone I felt intense anxiety.  I had to remind myself that nothing terrible is happening.  She isn’t failing, she is safe, has food to eat and a bed to sleep in.  She is just going through a rough spot, one of many yet to come as a college student.   
As I wind down to sleep my gratitude is that I am able to connect with her, to empathize, to validate, to help her put things into perspective.  Somehow this too shall pass and she, (and I), will both be stronger for it.

Posted in Anxiety, College, Daughters, Dorm life, Empty Nest, Freshman year, Gratitude, Homework, Identity, Mothers, Musical Theater, New York, Parenting, Roomates, Success, Teenagers, Uncategorized | 3 Comments

Flat Rate Shipping


Okay, it is obviously time for me to get a grip. Do you know about flat rate shipping? You stuff as much as you possibly can into a small box white box with red print on it, hoping it will weigh at least $17.90 worth, and mail it anywhere in the U.S. And it’s priority mail so it gets there in two days!

So I can obsess about what my daughter needs at school, pack it into several small boxes, wrestle it closed with enough packing tape so nothing but a small army could open it, and then rush to the nearest post office to wait in line, feeling somehow useful and at peace because I am still taking care of my child from 3000 miles away. I do this with intense focus, as if it were a matter of great urgency, a familiar sense of purpose filling me with energy as I imagine my daughter gratefully opening the box, uttering “Thank God!” as she takes out her kitchen supplies, shoes, or DVD’s I have shipped to her.


In reality she isn’t even at her dorm. Out till 2:30 each morning she is having the time of her life in New York, the very last thing on her mind being that she might need anything from me aside from money. She is seeing Broadway shows, bonding with a million new friends, and loving the excitement of living in the city that never sleeps.

I have to laugh at myself just a little – my packing and shipping like a squirrel finding nuts. I suppose this is predictable. Like the “nesting” instinct you get in the later stages of pregnancy when the morning sickness subsides, filled with energy to create the perfect nest for the new baby. I remember the sweet little room I created for my daughter, with organic cotton baby sheets and onesies, and soothing sage green colors in the color scheme.  Now I am a classic “empty nester”. But if another person says those two words to me again I may have to smack them. “Yes, I am experiencing the empty nest”, I say with a polite smile, inside wanting to scream, “Do you really think you’re the first person to suggest this to me!?! Do you think I haven’t had those two words shoved in my face about ten thousand times over the past year!?” And really there are very few people I want to talk to about this, and only if I am in a place where I can cry openly because there has been a lot of that going on. I wish I wouldn’t cry in yoga. It seems to happen most often in Savasana when the room is silent. It must be with all that deep breathing I can’t hold the tears back.

I do appreciate the other parents who are reaching out to me in support, who know what I’m going through and who can relate to the grief. It also helps to know I still have a life, still have some purpose here other than sending my daughter boxes across the country. Like taking tap dancing classes, watering my plants, or holding my youngest nephew in my arms as he sleeps. I also suspect I will have to try on some new identities as I struggle to adjust. Who do I want to be now? Where will I fit in?

If truth be told at this moment I’d like to leave everything behind and start a new life like my daughter has, where I am not known as a mother missing her daughter. I want to hurry up and get over this painful period of grieving the loss of my former life so I can get on with a new one. But there is no way around it. I am sad, and the only way out is to go through it. So here is the new saga – my daughter’s year in college.

Posted in Anxiety, College, Daughters, Empty Nest, Grief, Identity, Launching, Mothers, New York, Parenting, Relationships, Single Parenting, Teenagers, Uncategorized | 4 Comments

Unbearable In-Betweeness

CPotter - Version 2

This is the summer between high school and college. There is an awareness of my child actually being a legal adult since turning 18 in May. She decides what she does and even though I find myself unable to shut my mouth at times, I know that trying to tell her what to do is ridiculous. It undermines what she is supposed to be doing developmentally – independence. And my effort to “help” just pisses her off.

I’m aware that my own insecurity is what is posing the biggest threat to our relationship this summer. There are ways I see her struggling with the exact things I have battled throughout my life – my difficulty with taking down time or spending time alone, my behaviors related to anxiety, and my tendency to pack too much into my days and weeks. When I see her repeating MY patterns I see myself trying to fix her. I don’t want her to have to struggle the way I did, but I know I can’t influence her anymore. We are long past that phase of parenting. I can’t change the mistakes I’ve made and she is no longer in a place of needing or wanting my help – unless she specifically asks for it! And what a negative message to send to her when I try to fix her – as if I don’t believe in her ability to take care of herself or be responsible. The truth is she is a wise, confident, talented and extremely resourceful young woman. She is not perfect, but none of us are.

Of course some of my reactivity to her constant running around is my separation anxiety. I fear the aloneness I will soon feel when I come home from leaving her in New York. I have done my best to fill my life with wonderful and positive people and activities, but the pain of this separation is inevitable.

Last night we had a weird fight. I hadn’t seen her for two weeks, aside from picking her up at the airport on Sunday. This week she is house sitting, then going river rafting with her dad. I wanted to get some times scheduled with her for packing and other things we need to do for her move, and I’ve been missing her more knowing the BIG separation is coming soon. Unfortunately our discussion turned into an ugly interaction and I couldn’t seem to get clarity or to resolve anything with her. The more we talked, the worse it felt, and the worse I felt about myself. Eventually I left the house she is staying at, in tears, not knowing what to do with myself in my pain.

I went home and sat in my living room watching Animal Planet drinking a glass of wine, terrified for the baby otters in Brazil being hunted by the Jaguar. Not a very good distraction. I figured it was time for a new blog post, and began writing again for the first time in weeks. I also posted on Facebook and a friend who is also a mother of teens sent me this poem by Kahlil Gibran:

And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, “Speak to us of Children.” And he said: Your children are not your children. They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself. They come through you but not from you, And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you. You may give them your love but not your thoughts. For they have their own thoughts. You may house their bodies but not their souls, For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams. You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth. The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far. Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness; For even as he loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.


Yes, I can give her my love but not my thoughts. And I am an imperfect bow sending her out into the uncertain world. Truly this feels like the hardest thing I have ever had to do as a parent.

Before I went to sleep last night my daughter called me and we had one of those amazing talks where everything makes sense again. I told her how I feel anguished at times when I see her struggling in ways I have struggled, knowing it is too late for me to influence her. She made it very clear that she WANTS these challenges, it’s how she discovers her own strengths and who she is. She said the only time my help is welcome is if she specifically asks for it. I agreed. She also told me she sees the truth behind my insistence that she spend time at home to “get things done”. What is underneath it is my hurt when she wants to be out all the time, and my missing her, my resistance to letting go. She told me she’d rather I just told her that I miss her and want to spend time with her. Seemed so simple when she put it that way!

Today I feel balanced again. I went to the post office and bought shipping boxes for when I will send her clothes and other things she can’t bring all at once to New York. We had a lovely hour together in between her various activities and my work schedule. I kept my mouth shut where I might not have before. Another day in the process of this transition..

Posted in Anxiety, Daughters, Fear, Launching, Mothers, New York, Parenting, Regret, Relationships, Single Parenting, Teenagers | Tagged , | 5 Comments

It’s DONE!!!


The time has come. High school is finished.  OVER.  DONE.  So strange to have focused this blog on the past two years of high school..  And now what?   Prom is over.  Final exams forgotten.  Graduation finished.  Speeches made, tassles switched, caps thrown, tears, pictures, flowers, balloons, and hugs. I observed myself walking through it all in a daze, distracted by my own overwhelm with this phase of life ending.  Yesterday my daughter left for a 12-day trip to Thailand with her grandparents.  And here I sit tonight, reflecting on it all.

The thing I feel most intensely is my inner resistance to accepting change.  Because this is not a small change.  It’s a Doozie.  And even though as a therapist I tell people that change is a positive, inevitable part of life, I still don’t like it.  As a mother this change is also a loss of purpose, a loss of identity.  Everything in my life feels different, strange, like an ending with no new beginning in sight.  Too much is unknown and unfamiliar.  Even my job and living situation feel tenuous right now.  If I’m really honest I also realize that part of me doesn’t want to be left behind.  I would like to move someplace completely different and start my life over, like she is doing.  And yet I am still a mother, trying to figure out how to afford a two-bedroom apartment so my daughter has a place to come home to, and I’ve made a four year commitment to helping her financially through school.

Over the past few weeks I have found myself reflecting back to my own senior year of high school.  So very different from my daughter’s.  I actually graduated a semester early and got the hell out of Dodge. (or San Francisco in this case).  I was best friends with a girl who graduated the year before me.  She was traveling in Europe and when I found out I had enough credits to graduate early I decided to travel to Europe with the hope of spending time there with my friend.  (Unfortunately she ended up going to Israel and I never saw her during the 6 months I was there).  Things in high school had turned ugly.  A girlfriend of mine, also a senior, was dating a boy in our class who was physically abusive to her.  I tried to help her get out of the relationship but soon everyone turned on me.  I was scapegoated, labeled “The Feminist”, and it was suggested that I hated guys and was a lesbian.  I was suddenly no longer invited to parties or included in our social group.  I was an outcast.  So leaving felt like the right thing to do and I got an open ended plane ticket and Eurail Pass and left the Bay Area for England, Scotland, France, Sweden, Spain, and Italy.  I was seventeen and had no idea what I was doing.  (A long story for another blog perhaps..)

Needless to say I never went to my prom, senior picnic, grad night, or graduation.  I had no sense of pride or accomplishment in finishing high school, and was disconnected from most of the kids I had been friends with.  I only felt bitter in looking back, and relieved when I was free.  I was reminded of this the other night as my daughter read through the things people wrote in her year book.  It was filled with funny and heart-felt goodbyes, so much written that there was not enough space for everyone who wanted to write.  She felt loved, and satisfied at ending high school on a good note.  She too was relieved, not sad or nostalgic, but definitely proud of herself and ready to take the next step in her life.


Intellectually I know this will all be fine.  I will settle in to the new me, mom of a college student, but also finding new paths and self-definitions.  I might have to get a roommate, a new job, a new community.  I might have to focus on myself a lot more than I have for eighteen years.  And despite my fears and resistance, I will change.

Posted in Anxiety, Choices, College Admissions, Daughters, Fear, Graduation, High School, Launching, Mothers, Parenting, Single Parenting, Success, Teenagers, Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Painful Choices


In the process of anticipating my daughter’s departure for college, I have been taking a hard look at my life.  To outsiders I may seem busy, fulfilled, and always having places to go, people to see.  I’m in a band, I write, I dance in a Cancan troupe, and I exercise.  But that is only the Facebook reality.  In the real world, my life has revolved mostly around work and my daughter for the past 18 years.  I do many things that interest me, but I do so in fits and starts, nothing that feels consistent.  So in my honest appraisal of my life and seeing how empty it will be without the mothering thing happening on a daily basis, I recently have been filled with thoughts of things I’d love to do, as well fear of aloneness if I can’t make more connections with people and my passions on a regular basis.

At the same time as my daughter leaving, our band, The Honeybelles is taking a break.  My daughter has been our lead singer for the past two years, and aside from the daunting task of trying to replace her, my sister is trying to get her cookbook published and is tired of being our band leader.  So I decided to take some action on finding new musical pursuits.  Tap dancing is something I’ve always wanted to do and have done a little at summer music camps.  Having been an Irish step dancer for 12 years I feel comfortable with foot percussion, and decided to look around.  I emailed a woman who is a body percussionist and singer, and former tap dancer and asked her about some adult classes in the Bay Area.  What I got back from her was a dream come true.  I received her email while my daughter and I were in New York, on the very same day my daughter chose the school she will attend.  The email, from Evie Ladin (, invited me to join her group which she calls “Hands Feet Voice” and combines body percussion, foot percussion and singing.  Perfect for me.  Although she is on tour a lot, I was thrilled to be invited to be part of this group when she is in town.  It seemed serendipitous that I would get this invitation on the very day my daughter’s future so far from home was decided.

The painful choice came shortly after we got home from New York,  My daughter was nominated for best actress at the 2014 California High School Musical Theater awards,, for her role as Dolly in Hello Dolly.  She was one of six girls nominated in the entire state, and the winner would go on to New York for the National Jimmy Awards at the end of June.  The awards ceremony would take place in San Jose, on the same night I was supposed to work with Evie Ladin and her group.  I knew that if I missed that night, I would miss out on learning some extremely difficult choreography, and as the newbie of the group, I knew I wouldn’t be able to catch up if I missed that night.  I felt it in my bones.  From what I had already seen, Evie does not slow down if you don’t get the steps or the rhythms.  So I decided not to go see my daughter perform on the largest stage on the biggest night of her young career. For the first time in 18 years, I chose myself over her.

My daughter and I discussed it, I in tears, feeling like either way I would not be able to live with my decision.  She assured me that she was not in need of my presence there, with plenty of other moms, her director, and all her friends who would be going. (The Musical Hello Dolly was also nominated for best musical, so they would perform an ensemble scene from the show that night as well).  The pain for me was that I would miss out on seeing her perform in what had been described to me by her director and other parents as “A Very Big Deal”.  I told them all it was because I had to work, which was partially true, since I could not afford to cancel two of my regular evening clients.  But I probably could have rescheduled them and gone if it had not been for Evie.

I agonized about it, slightly awed at this change in me that I would actually consider missing my daughter’s shining moment.  I who have been to every one of her dance vocal and theater performances over the years, volunteering, cheering, recording, and kvelling.  I went back and forth in my head a million times over those few days.  I talked with my mom, getting her perspective and her support.  She decided to go see the show and promised to fill me in on every detail.

On the big night I looked at the clock constantly as I drove to Oakland for the Hands Feet Voice group, knowing at 7:30 p.m. my daughter’s performance would begin, imagining what was happening inside her as she sang her solo “So Long Dearie”, and the big ensemble piece when she and all the waiters would sing and dance to “Hello Dolly”.  I felt such an ache and a longing to be there, and had to keep reminding myself that I was making the right decision.

The work with Evie was exactly as I had anticipated, harder in fact. I would have been completely lost had I not been there that night.  My daughter performed brilliantly, as I later got to watch on the video one of the parents took.  She didn’t win, but having been nominated and doing the performance was what she really cared about.

This experience was a profound lesson for me. My painful choice has given me hope that I will survive this separation and in fact thrive in my new passions.  I will, in a sense, reclaim my life.  Knowing that soon there will be many events, performances, and shining moments in my daughter’s life that I wont be there to witness, she will have a sense that she can go bravely forward in the world without always being connected to me. And in my own act of bravery, my life will continue, somehow, without her.

Posted in Choices, Daughters, High School, Launching, Mothers, Musical Theater, Parenting, Single Parenting, Success, Teenagers, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Launch Pad – Ready!



It’s done.  We are DONE! I almost can’t believe we are here, at this juncture. Finished with all the applications, essays, auditions, travel, school tours, rejections, acceptances, and finally, the choice!  It’s now time to get excited, to think about dorm life, roomates, and supplies for moving across the country to Manhattan!

The final leg of the journey was completed by May first.  My daughter had to decide between two schools, one in NYC, one in Connecticut.  We are lucky to have good friends living in Manhattan so it made the four-day whirlwind trip affordable and fun too.  The choice was clear once she visited the school in Manhattan.  My daughter has loved New York since she was ten years old and I took her for a visit during the holiday season.  It was a crowded time to be there but we saw all the sights, went to the top of the Empire State Building, took a boat to the Statue of Liberty, went shopping on 5th Avenue, walked through snowy Central Park, and we even saw a Broadway show, (A Chorus Line).  We visited again last April to look at schools in New York and Boston.  Last year we walked endlessly, went shopping, sang Karaoke, and saw Jersey Boys. My daughter told me then that she knew she had to live there.

But this final trip sealed the deal.  She wasn’t sure if the school in the Upper East side of Manhattan was going to be the right fit so we had to visit to get the feel of the place.  She knew the moment she walked into the building that this was her school, the place she will spend the next four years.  The people we spoke with all had a friendly purposeful manner.  The buildings were bright and airy, as well as clean and cheerful.  The student who took us on a tour was also a theater major, and described what she loved about the school, her professors, and the individual attention she received.  She described the “stress down days” during final exams when students can go to the counseling office where they eat cupcakes, relax and play with puppies!  All of my daughter’s questions were answered and I could tell she was falling in love with the school.  After that, everything seemed to fall into place.  She even met someone on the school’s Facebook page who is going to be her roommate.  They bonded over their love of Disney princesses and being gluten free.


The contrast when we visited Hartford was extreme.  As soon as we left the train station in a taxi to get to the school I could tell this was not the place for my daughter.  The town was flat, run down, and when we arrived at the building where the theater arts are held we noticed a used car lot across the street.  The theater arts program is held a mile away from campus, and although it was a nice building and the people were friendly it felt wrong to my daughter, who later told me there was no way she could choose this school.  She could not see herself living in the town or being at the school.

I have felt such a range of emotions since coming home from the East Coast.  I feel proud of the way my daughter is going after her dreams, and proud of myself for supporting her to do so.  I feel immensely excited for her to be moving to such a dynamic and fabulous city, and to be living there making connections and doing what she loves to do.  I feel a great sense of relief – having mothered, nagged, loved, supported, pressured, and guided my daughter for the past 18 years, I have gotten to the place where I have no choice but to let her go.  The relief is in knowing that for now, my job is done, and done well.  Her path for the next four years is clear, and will not involve me on a daily basis.

Posted in College Admissions, College Applications, College decisions, Daughters, Launching, Mothers, Parenting, Success, Teenagers, Uncategorized | Tagged | 2 Comments

Money Talks



Money money money.  How ever do we survive with our constant focus on money – all the fear and obsession, the mistakes, the debting, and especially, the college tuition!?!

We are at that juncture now.  The final decision must be made by May first.  We are looking over the financial aid offers, and sending in appeals.  The complications here are seemingly endless.  For starters, the tuition costs about $30,000 per year.  But with room and board, books, travel, etc.. they estimate $50,000.  The financial aid offer was a $10,000 scholarship, a $5,500 Grant, and another $7000 in loans per year.  So they think the parents can come up with another $27,500 per year?  I’m baffled.  So I sent a letter, and we wait.  Always the wait.


Then there are the grandparents who had promised $6000 per year, but when they heard that she wanted to do Musical Theater they said they would not support that.  Of course, they never said this to her directly, or even to me.  It’s other family members who are relating this information to us.  What about some direct communication?  So I guess we can’t count on that money.

At his point, what are our options?  To deny her the college experience she has worked so hard to achieve?  All the AP classes taken in high school, the college applications and auditions to be a complete waste of time?  Was this an exercise in futility?  I don’t think so.  I have to remain positive.  She has applied for many outside scholarships, and plans to work every summer to earn some of her living expenses for the year.  The alternative is to stay home, get a job, go to community college, and let her dreams drift away.  Nope.  Not my kid.  No effing way.

I think back to my own experience arriving at UC Santa Cruz.  There had been very little discussion about money, or even my applying for school.  I did it all myself, deciding on UC Santa Cruz because several of my friends went there.  My mom helped me move in, her Toyota stuffed to the gills with all my stuff and some new dishes.  I even had an expensive new knife that was stolen within the first two weeks of my time there.  I moved in to a “suite”, which was for seven women in a dorm-like apartment.  We had two double rooms, and three singles.  It was all pretty nice, my room looking out over the trees and directly above the student-run health food store.

But the money had never been discussed in my family.  My second night at school we all went to a meeting for the incoming freshmen and everyone was supposed to be getting to know the staff and each-other.  At the end of the meeting they asked us for our apartment deposits, about $1,100 I think.  I just sat there in tears, frozen in my chair.  I had no money, no plan, no $1100 check from my parents.  I ended up calling my dad, begging for the money he had at one point offered but later forgotten.  He grudgingly agreed to send me a check, but I had to get a job right away.  Needless to say my time at UC Santa Cruz was short.  There were so many kids whose parents were paying for them to be there, and I just couldn’t relate.  I ended up at SF State, a much less expensive way to go, a school where I was not alone in working full time while being in school.

Last weekend my daughter and I met with her father to discuss college money.  We sat around my kitchen table and talked about how much her top choice will cost, how much we could each afford to pay, and what the worst case scenario will be in terms of loans if the school doesn’t give us more or if she doesn’t get more scholarships.  I felt a deep sense of relief having talked about it openly like this.  We can make this happen for her, and she is motivated to work to earn money every summer.  She has two supportive parents, a dream, and very strong motivation.

Looking back over the past year I still wonder at how we all do this insane dance sending our kids to college.  I talked with a friend today who is in the same boat – a single mom who wants her daughter to get to go to the school of her choice, but it’s more than they can afford.  She laughed at how she is on a first name basis with the financial aid office staff.  Then we talked about all the young adults moving back home after they finish college because they struggle to support themselves.  We laughed, we commiserated, we wished each-other luck.   At least I’m not alone in this process!

Next weekend we leave for New York for a last look at the two schools she was accepted to.  I will be on the phone with them this week, praying for a crack in the financial aid wall so we can make the final decision and then rejoice.

Posted in Anticipation, Anxiety, College Admissions, College Applications, College Auditions, Daughters, Financial Aid, Launching, Musical Theater, Parenting, Relationships, Single Parenting, Teenagers, Uncategorized | 1 Comment