The Mommy Vortex


     Now that both Sarah and Max are home from college, I’m getting sucked back into the mommy vortex.  Yes, I know my twins are supposed to be adults at age 22. In fact, ever since they turned 18, doctors and educators have refused to talk to me without their consent.  Yes, that’s right, I now need signed permission forms from my special needs kids in order to interface with their doctors or advocate for them with their colleges.  All of that became patently ridiculous when college tuition bills went unpaid because Sarah and Max ignored them.  The truth is that today’s kids—or at least mine—seem to be growing up more slowly than my friends and I did. 
     Back in the ‘60s, when I was growing up, the hellish competition –to do well in school so you can get into a good college, get a good job and (supposedly) live happily ever after—was not nearly so intense.   I had a stay-at-home mom, but she never got involved in my school work unless I asked for help. There was plenty of pressure to do my best (especially as an only child) however I was expected to excel on my own.  Stanley Kaplan was not a household name, and over-priced SAT tutors did not exist.  Families that could afford to hire the few academic tutors available at the time only did so in extreme remedial cases.  Today any kid without an SAT tutor is at a serious disadvantage in the college application game. 
     There were no “Mommy and Me” classes when I was a kid. Many of us took piano or ballet lessons, played sports or wrote for the school newspaper. But our days, weekends and vacations were not completely swallowed up by the extra-curricular activities and community service projects considered de rigueur for entry into elite colleges today.  There was more time to drift and dream, time for family members to work and play alone or together.  In retrospect, that empty time was a mixed blessing.   Sometimes my friends and I felt lonely or bored, but we had  the time and space to experiment and  become independent.  We grew up in an era that was more adult centered, not far from the idea that “children should be seen and not heard.”  Our parents may have eaten more dinners with us, but the conversations usually revolved around the adults (and God help the child if he/she became the focal point).  Now it seems the pendulum has swung to the other extreme (at least in America), where family time is mostly child centered.
     In the 70’s, my “college guidance counselor” was my high school principal.  He told me and my mother I was an “over achiever.”  But he didn’t stop there. 
     “Why don’t you stretch out your long lovely legs and stop worrying about applying to the top colleges,” he suggested.

     Shocked and hurt, I said nothing, and I don’t remember my mother saying much either.  What I do remember is that my parents encouraged me to quietly ignore the headmaster’s advice.  I applied to Vassar early decision and was accepted.  The headmaster’s response?  “You got in, but will you be able to stay in?”  (I graduated Phi Beta Kappa, Class of ’78). 

     Today, if a headmaster uttered such comments, he would be fired, sued or perhaps forced to undergo a mental health examination.  But at least he left me alone to “over reach,” unlike most of today’s guidance counselors who expect to have their advice followed and to be treated like demi-gods.  Now there’s hell to pay if you and your son or daughter apply to too many “reach” schools and not enough “safeties.”  Even talented and gifted students can be discouraged and made to feel inadequate. 

     Perhaps it’s my fault for being a helicopter Mom, but how can I “let go” when my kids have disabilities and today’s world is uber competitive?  Without my nagging, Max would still be applying to college, instead of having graduated two weeks ago.  And without my advocating for Sarah and helping her find the right support services, she wouldn’t be in college at all.  Sooner or later I know I’ll have to butt out of their lives and let them make their own mistakes.  This has turned out to be an extremely protracted process, somewhat like watching grass grow.
      Max has not yet found a job, and no amount of nagging can persuade him to send out the large number of resumes that more ambitious and financially strapped students feel compelled to send out. The eager beavers start over Christmas break of senior year, if they hope to secure a job or an internship after graduation.  Like all good parents, Henry and I are trying to network everyone we know to help Max get a toehold in the career of his choice: the entertainment industry.  To my son’s credit, he has excellent grades, an impressive portfolio of comedy clips, a novella, a TV pilot and a documentary film.  Persuading Max to assemble, organize and put these achievements out into the world has been a daunting and time-consuming project. 

     Sarah’s home now too.   Unlike Max, her life is pretty well planned for the next year: take a three-credit theatre course, volunteer in a kindergarten classroom at a special ed school, and work with the Columbia University director on expanding her short film into a full length feature.  Where do I get sucked in? Sarah needs help preparing for the certification test to become an assistant teacher. Providing this “help” is not as easy as it sounds. The information needed for certification is fourth or fifth grade level and is simple and straightforward for a neurotypical person.  But since the test is comprised of multiple choice questions, it’s extremely confusing and difficult for a person with language processing and retrieval issues to pick the right answer. This is a nightmare for Sarah (and therefore for me).  No amount of studying and explaining can fill the gaps in my daughter’s knowledge and vocabulary. There is no prep that can help her to navigate the verbal jungle of wrong-but-tempting answers offered on multiple choice tests.  Nevertheless, I help as much as I can and cross my fingers that it’s enough to pass.

     So much for career and academic independence. Now let’s look at all the myriad doctors’ appointments both kids—er, adults—need. Sarah goes on her own for routine visits to the gynecologist, the dentist and even our endocrinologist.   But each new doctor requires my full participation.   She  lacks the confidence to fill out medical forms  unless I’m looking over her shoulder, feeding her simple information, and reminding her to print small letters instead of using her loopy and gigantic, nearly illegible  script.  Both of us want her to do it herself, but she’s not ready yet.   She also needs my help losing weight. (See last week’s blog, “Body Mass Insanity”).  Now I’m supervising her diet, taking the subway in the rain to meet her dietitian and trying to figure out why she’s only lost one pound in two weeks on her excruciatingly strict meal replacement diet.

     As for Max, with his seemingly endless but mostly minor health issues, I almost always feel that it’s imperative for me to go along to doctors.   Max is not phobic about how to fill out medical forms.  But no matter how many times I remind him to take his wallet and new insurance card, he still runs out of the house without them.  A few days ago the internist’s receptionist would not allow my son to leave  the office until he produced his insurance card or paid $385.
     “Good thing I brought a book,” Max told the irate billing person, as he settled into the waiting room.  He read for over an hour until he reached his father, who was able to provide the necessary insurance information for his release.
     Hmm….  Both kids sign HPPA forms at the doctor’s office but we parents pay the bills. 

     And speaking of bills, we may get stuck with a $65 vet bill because I failed to supervise Max’s brushing of his dog’s teeth.  Max has been taking care of Sparky for eleven years.  It seemed normal to hand him a toothbrush and leave him to the task.  For some mysterious reason, Max decided to use Colgate Total instead of the tooth paste the vet gave us.  Now we’re not sure whether Sparky has fluoride poisoning or is just under the weather from the Bordatella vaccine he received this morning.  The ASPCA won’t tell us the answer unless we give them our credit card number.

     I’m trying to let go, but it’s not easy escaping from the mommy vortex. 

 

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