A month has passed since my two youngest moved to Colorado, to a city outside of Denver. I’ve had thirty days of tears, fears for their safety, and anxiety. The youngest son (YS) began college and my daughter (MD) wanted to start her new career in a new place. She’s in the health field and was certain she could find a job in the first week.
Parenting is hard, long distance parenting harder still. There is that fine line between ‘being there’ for them and gently pulling the apron strings from their hands. Kind of a holding on and letting go motion. In this case there was no gentle pull, but a sharp yank.
During the first week, YS had his bank account robbed-his entire summer savings-taken by someone who used his account number on the internet to purchase items from Macy’s. He found this out while shopping for groceries at the local market. He was pissed, MD mortified that they had to abandon their grocery cart and walk out with nothing.
YS made a flurry of phone calls to his bank and to me. Their Wi-Fi wasn’t working and they don’t have a printer so he had to fill out forms on his smart phone at Burger King and print the forms at school and mail them out. It’s a helpless feeling to know that your kid got ripped off, you can’t make it right for them, and you hope he’ll calm down enough to follow the long process to get his money back.
I wanted to FedEx them groceries, wire them money, do something. I imaged them starving. Instead I had to stop and think the situation through and have the kids do likewise. Yes, they had basic staples, beans, rice, and pasta. And that’s what carried them through. YS received his new ATM card and had his money returned in a week and a half.
Lesson: Listen first, don’t dive in to fix things. Do not keep your ATM card number stored on websites, change your password every 90 days, and check your account online frequently. Keep your pantry stocked with staples. Give kids recipes for making Mexican rice, sopita (alphabet or angel hair pasta in spicy sauce) and beans de olla (beans with onion, spices, in the pot) before they move.
The second week the kids new microwave wasn’t operating properly, burning popcorn, not heating. MD called complaining about the micro. We had a conversation about whether they could do without a microwave. She took it back to Walmart and used the $54 for groceries they hadn’t bought the first week. The internet in their apartment is still glitchy, MD doesn’t have a job yet, she ‘s getting worried, I’m getting worried about November’s rent. YS takes MD to a job center to do a job hunt the old fashioned way. MD and YS argue about the chores. His position “she’s home,” her position, “I’m not a maid.”
Lesson: Listen some more. Ask questions that help them solve problems. Luxuries come after necessities. When all else fails get back to the basics. A chore list is posted on the refrigerator.
The third week, MD called at 9 p.m Colorado time. With a trembling voice, she said she smelled something like gas and firetrucks were rumbling into the parking lot of the apartment complex.
“Get your coat, shoes, important papers, cat and get out of there,” I told her.
“I can’t find the cat,” she wailed.
“Leave the patio door open and get out of there,” I repeated.
She hung up. I called back, no answer. I called YS and told him to hightail it back to the apartment. FIve minutes later MD calls, crying. The firefighters told all the residents to evacuate a minute after our phone call. YS was visiting a friend, she couldn’t find the cat, and she was standing in 38 degree weather with her robe and slippers shivering. I did blow my top then almost shouting, asking her why she didn’t do what I told her to do.
“I had to find the cat.”
In my mind I shout, “F*ck the cat,” (sorry but I did), instead I reiterated that the cat has an exit through the patio door and I’m glad she got out with her cell phone. She had to hang up again. MD calls again, she can see the fire fighters walking on the roof above her apartment, then she yells “They’re chopping through our roof!” And I about faint. We lose our phone connection. I start praying and taking deep breaths.
Three minutes later she calls back and says all the residents had to walk a block away from the complex. She tells me how nice the neighbors are to her, noticing that she is alone, offering her a coat to wear, telling her cats are resourceful and keeping her company until my son arrives. We think of a game plan of where they will stay the night in case they can’t return to the apartment. YS wants to sleep in the car so they are nearby. Three hours later they get the all clear that they can return. MD finds the roof axed open, leaving a large gaping hole, a foot away from her front door.
We FaceTime a lot during the next couple of days. I check my airplane miles, I have enough to use for a round trip. I book a flight for the end of October.
Lesson: If you smell gas, and the fire engines are entering your parking lot, get your clothes on, take your wallet/ purse, and get out of the area. Post a sign on the inside of your front door specifying you have pets and their names. Appreciate the kindness of neighbors. Sometimes FaceTime isn’t enough and you’ll only feel better when you hug your kids in person. (This is the let go/hold on part).
The fourth week MD says YS is hardly home, he’s with friends he’s met at college and the skate park. She doesn’t have a car and stuck at home. I encourage her to walk her neighborhood, go to the rec center a couple of blocks away. “I don’t want to do that alone,” she says. The chore list isn’t working. Finally she has a job offer, but it’s not in the health field.
“But it pays well enough to cover all the bills and have money left over. It’s ten hour days, four days a week,” she says. “I start November 1st.”
“Good enough for now,” I say and exhale.
While Southern California endures scorching Santa Ana winds, my YS calls, “It’s snowing.” He’s never driven in snow. The kids send me photos of snow covered trees and cars. They complain that it’s “Freaken’ icy cold over here.” They find boots, warmer scarves and hats at the Goodwill.
And then they send me a photo of a squirrel on their balcony. “It’s so awesome over here.”
I breathe easier. So many obstacles in one month but we made it through. My worry hasn’t dissipated altogether, but I do have hope, faith, and pride for their accomplishments, and mine, to carry me through the next month.
2 thoughts on “Lessons from Long Distant Parenting”
Oh my! I can’t imagine all that happening in one month. It sounds like you’ve been doing a good job, giving them the right lessons to deal with things and thrive.
Oh Jennifer, you made my day! Thank you.