Tuesday, August 7, 2012


So I've entered a new phase of life, I guess.
Parenting from afar.
So far, it seems to fall into several different categories.

#1- Providing information
One of the first days after Son #1 has left, I am sitting in a class. My phone vibrates. It's a text from son #1.

Text: What's a financial aid?
Me: It's when a college gives you money so that you can attend.
Him: I need to get it.
Me: We don't qualify.
Him: How do you qualify?
Me: It's based on how much money you make.
Him: How much money I make?
And on and on and on…

#2: Providing advice:
A recent phone coversation.
Me: I paid your tuition. Now you just need to buy books.
Him: Books?
Me (realizing that aside from a few summer reading or special project books, everything has always been provided by teachers): In college, they don't give you books, you have to buy your own.
Him: So where do I do that?
Me: (Thinking of the large sign on the large bookstore, located right in the center of campus, next to the student union, where I know he goes every day to use the wi-fi). You have to go to the campus bookstore. Take your schedule and ask a clerk to help you find the books. (And yeah, I know the campus bookstore is probably not the cheapest route, but trying to get the titles from him, locate the right edition, etc. on line, get it ordered and get it to him just seemed a little more than I could manage this semester. And I could see him sitting in class for an entire semester with the wrong book, not telling anyone!)
Him: Then how do I pay for it.
Me: Find out how much and I will transfer the money.
And on and on and on…

#3 Teaching him adult life skills
The junior college does not have dorms. My eighteen-year-old is living in an apartment. And has to pay bills every month. Last week, the electric bill was due. And it's in a totally different state. And the bill looks different from the one in my state. And I was going to pay it online, but to do that, I had to get the customer id number. Which was on the bill. Which he didn't know quite how to read. And I didn't either. Because it looked different from mine.

At one point in the conversation, I said, "OK, so why don't you just stick it in an envelope and mail it to me." To which he replied, "OK. Where do you get a stamp?" At which point, I was a little appalled that my eighteen year old did not know how to mail a letter, but then thinking about it, it made perfect sense. The stamps have always been in a desk drawer at our house. And in this age of electronic communication, he didn't use stamps very often. And when he did, I would say, "Go get a stamp out of the desk drawer."

#4: Sending stuff
One of my primary functions seems to be "sending stuff." So far I have sent:
1) his car registration and insurance card (accidentally left on his nightstand when he cleaned his wallet)
2) his transcript
3) a copy of his diploma (not to be confused with "that thing that came in the red booklet thing that says I graduated" but probably closely related
4) A box of school supplies- he didn't ask for this, but when I was at the store last week, I couldn't resist. I've been buying his supplies for ten years. Also threw in a package of underwear and t-shirts (I know how good he is at laundry), a couple of tubes of toothpaste, a box of Twinkies, and a barrel of Red Vines. Don't ask me about the wisdom of paying $30 to send a box of stuff he could easily buy at a local store. I just wanted to.

#5 Acting as a personal GPS
Son #1 has never been especially good at finding his way around Denver. And now he is 900 miles away. And he doesn't have a GPS in his car. And he doesn't have a smart phone. And he doesn't have wi-fi in his apartment. That first couple of weeks, about once a day, I would get a phone call.

Him: Where is ___________
Me: Hang on and I will Mapquest it.
Me: OK, do you know where ___________ is.
Him: No.
Me: OK, remember when we went to ____________. It was on that street.
Him: Oh yeah.
Me: Go to that street and turn. Go until you get to…
Him: I know. I live here, remember?

#6: Acting as Automatic Teller Mother (not to be confused with ATM but closely related)
We are still trying to figure out the money part of this new relationship. Because Son #1 is living in an apartment, he needs money for rent, groceries, gas, etc. And during football season, he doesn't have a job. I have been giving him a certain amount every Sunday. And it has to last. Because even though I don't get financial aid, I am a teacher. And a single mom. Usually about Thursday, I look at his bank account and there is 86 cents in it.  And I think of a whole weekend.  And wonder if he will be hungry. But he seems to pretty much get that once it's gone, he needs to eat at home, hang out at the apartment pool, etc. That is hard for me, though…

#7: Acting as souding board.
Saturday night. Not quite 10:00. My phone rings.
Him: It's ___________ (uses his first name, even though it comes up on caller id and even though I would recognize his voice if it didn't).
Me: Hi Sweetie. What's going on?
Him: I need to get a one bedroom.
Me: Really? Why buddy? (So far the roommate thing has worked pretty well)
He talks for about five minutes non stop, then says, "You don't get it. I'm mad. I gotta go." And hangs up. And I am left sitting there worrying all night.
I call him the next day to see how he is doing. He seems surprised when I ask how he and his roommate are doin "We're fine. We just had a little problem. But it's ok now."

I'm still getting the hang of parenting from afar. So far I don't like it much. But I guess I will learn to live with it. Eventually.


Linda B said...

You tell us so well, and with such humor, Carol, but I've been there, & I know what a worry it is long distance. I remember spending quite a lot on sending things in boxes & a lot of time on the phone giving my daughter recipes so she could cook just what she was used to having (at least at first). It does get better, but those early weeks-arrgh! Thinking of you!

Dana said...

Oh Carol - I just love how (and hopefully you mean to) you tell these stories and my friends would - in a way that shows how crazy it can be and at times appalling yet it is with HUMOR and LOVE and somewhat poking fun of it all. It just makes me smile even when I'm shaking my head saying, "No he didn't..."

I can tell you one thing - I LOVED it when my mom sent me care packages of any kind during college. I'm sure I failed to tell her that but I did love it so much!

Your son is going to learn so much this year! And he is so lucky that you are there to answer the phone and help. I remember when I first had an apartment calling to ask my mom things like, "How do you cook a potato?" He will learn (we've all been there at some point) and you will be doing so much of the teaching. ;) It will be appreciated even if it is not stated.

Michelle said...

Oh, it has to be so tough! Quite a balancing act because he's on his own and needs to figure it out, but yet he's still one of your babies. Love how you were able to categorize the various areas of parenting from afar. Best of luck on this new journey!

Karen said...

You are quite right -- parenting from afar is difficult. All your anecdotes made me chuckle, but the one that hit close to home recently was the spat with his roommate where you worried about it and he got over it without sharing that piece with you. Been there, done that. Best of luck with this long distance parenting!

Franki said...

I love this:-) This is exactly what I was thinking about when you posted about sending him off to college. Parenting goes on, just differently! Sounds like you are both doing great:-)

Nanc said...

Wow, he had to learn things really fast because of the apartment thing, the managing money thing and trying to get along with the roommate. The stamps really made me laugh because I would never have thought to tell Jeff where to get them either. I think it probably is a really big miracle when he gets a card sent off for our birthdays. How is Son#2 doing without big brother close? xo nanc

jyk730 said...

Parenting from afar does sound a bit more difficult...good thing for phones and internet to help us stay connected! :)