Tuesday, October 27, 2015

But, they're only suggestions

It's crunch time. In a mere five days, applications will be due for two of the three colleges my son Ian is applying to: University of Chicago (early action) and Villanova (for consideration for the Honors College). If it were up to me these applications would have been submitted a month ago, but Ian is not me. And I've been trying hard to keep that in mind, not only where college admissions are concerned, but also with regard to his collegiate life.

One of the things I have struggled with during his high school years is allowing my son to be himself. Personality-wise, he's good to go (except for his excessive computer time and tendency to procrastinate), but I confess that I have been disappointed more than once in the decisions he's made. Not with regard to classes, behavior, friends or that special someone (a shout out to B.Q.), but rather his choice of extracurriculars. That's not quite accurate. It's not the activities he's been involved with that bother me, it's the ones he hasn't taken part in that bum me out.

Ian should have appeared in every play and musical for the past three years. He should have competed in the oral interpretation category in speech and debate--I personally found him the perfect material. He could have pursued fencing or martial arts, both of which he showed promise in when he was younger. And I'm sure there are a myriad of other activities that I would have wanted him to take part in if I'd known about them.

You may think this is about me. That I want to relive my youth through my son. Well, not's entirely true. He did show great potential in these activities, particularly where acting and speech competitions were concerned. It's not like I pushed, prodded, nagged at encouraged him to take on the school newspaper or yearbook. I didn't recommend more than once or twice robotics or other appropriately geeky science-related clubs that I knew he wasn't interested in, despite being eminently qualified for. Honestly, I had the best intentions. And, if Ian loves his mother, he might just prove it by auditioning for the musical this year. One last opportunity for him to make the right decision.

Until college, when I'm he's given a fresh start.

I have recently experienced Ian sightings at Villanova. I'll be walking across campus and envision bumping into him. Or seeing him in the cafeteria. That's not so bad. I probably won't embarrass him much if/when that happens. What's more problematic is that I've started to take note of opportunities that I don't want him to miss if he comes here. I hear one of the many acapella groups perform and think, "He's got to try out; he'd be great!" I learn of a student-run homeless shelter in the city, and I can't wait for him to get involved. I know of a certain professor who is conducting research on a topic that will interest Ian and I tell the professor that my son would love to work with him/her. The Global Leadership Fellows Program? Where do I sign him does he sign up? My The excitement is palpable!

I'm in trouble here.

And this post may have just squashed the possibility of Ian attending Villanova.

I have his best interests at heart. But he knows his interests and he's becoming an adult and he will need to make all of these decisions for himself.

Perhaps if I just refer to them as suggestions?

P.S. Did I mention there's Irish dance? And an ethics bowl team?

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Gotta Get Myself Connected

When my kids were in middle school, their day ended with a period called "Connections," which was the equivalent of "home room" in my day. Today, though my children are no longer at the middle school, I find myself thinking about that word choice, and I think I really like it.

The idea of connections has been on my mind of late. Though if I reflect on the posts I've written through the years, I suppose connections are a running theme for me. It's basically the purpose of my writing. While blogging may be perceived as a cry for attention, in my case, the need for attention is really the equivalent of a desire for connections. And if we zoom out for a wider view, I think we can agree that my posts generally are about the real issues, feelings and life experiences that connect us.

Whether we put it into words or not, most of us crave connections. It's what makes us human. Nearly every day I think to myself, "Today is the day I'm going to say hello to every individual I encounter." Why is that always on my mind? For one thing, I think it'd make for a fascinating blog post, but more importantly, I think I could make a small difference in someone's day. Not because there's anything special about me, but because we all want to be recognized. And honestly, there is something surprisingly lovely about someone offering a simple greeting, an acknowledgement of our existence.

One of the nicest encounters I've had recently occurred while I was walking on campus. I passed by an older gentlemen and he greeted me with "Good morning, Miss." Now, it could be because he called me "miss" instead of "ma'am," but I'm pretty sure just the "good morning" and a smile would have had roughly the same effect. Even though that encounter was weeks ago, it's stuck with me. That's how powerful a greeting can be.

So why haven't I followed through on my desire to greet everyone I see? It's hard. Way harder than it should be. People don't make eye contact anymore. If their heads aren't down, looking at their phones, they're likely to look away if you look at them directly. Friendliness, sadly, has become uncomfortable instead of commonplace. A couple years ago, Villanova, which boasts its friendliness and sense of community, tried to institute "tech-free Tuesdays" in an effort to get us to stop looking at our devices when walking across campus, and instead look at one another and say hello. It failed miserably.

I honestly worry that within a short number of years all we will see when we walk down the street is the top of people's heads. No one will look up anymore. We'll all need chiropractors to work on our aching necks. And sales of hair growing tonic will dramatically increase as men worry more about balding.

Given the challenge of exchanging basic niceties with strangers on the street, I thought I might have more success trying to connect with those whom I interact with on some level. The gym is the perfect example. If we're in a class together, we should be bonded by a shared misery experience. We should connect over a good groan when the instructor calls for burpies or mountain climbers.  If we're walking out of the building afterward and it's refreshingly chilly, you should acknowledge my witty comment about it. Unfortunately, for most people it doesn't even register that you're speaking to them.

I leave you with this quote from Dr. Brene Brown, a young American researcher who studies vulnerability, courage, authenticity, and shame:
"Vulnerability is the birthplace of connection and the path to the feeling of worthiness."
So put yourself out there and connect to another member of our human family. I can almost guarantee the good feelings will be worth it!