My Youngest Is Graduating (And So Am I)

It’s official. No more tuition payments, no more school bureaucracies. My youngest son is graduating from college. My husband and I are so proud of him. He’s become a man who’s responsible and self-sufficient as well as creative and fun-loving. His college graduation marks the end of an era for all of us.

me & Greg

As he goes forward to meet his future, I will step back from active mothering.

Admittedly, he hasn’t needed much day-to-day mothering lately. I haven’t made his lunches, checked his homework, done his laundry, driven him to soccer, or nursed him through strep throat in a long while. He’s been living with friends for the past few years, so my role was already limited.

But mothering is so much more than physical caretaking. When he moved out, I shared his excitement about setting up his own kitchen. He and I have always loved to cook, so I knew how much it mattered to him to make the space his own.

Although I was secretly worried about having him so far away, I encouraged him to study in Spain, because I knew how much he would learn—about other cultures and about himself. When we visited Sevilla and saw that he was thriving, I was glad I had set aside my concerns.

As he began focusing on possible careers, we talked about what kinds of work would be satisfying and what would allow him to make the most of his abilities. I urged him to research his career paths thoroughly so he would know what he was getting into.

Now he’s launched. That was always the goal, but still, it feels odd to be at this juncture.

I’ll miss his school concerts, games, and the conversations we had as he discussed his ideas for term papers. Not being needed in those classic ways is bittersweet. He still needs my love and support, but not my supervision or protection. Now our interactions can be those of adults who enjoy many of the same things. He may ask for our advice occasionally, but he doesn’t have to. That’s as it should be.

When he went off to college, my husband and I started back down the path toward coupledom—cooking meals for two and making plans without considering our sons’ schedules. It’s been fun.

As I go forward to meet my new life, I can’t help looking back over my shoulder at what I’m leaving behind.

Mike &Greg

Mike, B.A. in Economics and Political Science 2011 Greg, B.A. in Psychology 2014

I enjoyed raising him and his older brother, so although I’m proud of them, I’m also a little sad to see the official end of this phase. I expect I’ll also enjoy what comes next—living in the carefree space between childrearing and grandparenting. Our time is our own. We can be spontaneous again.

Advertisements

Two for the Price of One

blog 2 002Antonio and Crystel are at that in-between age.

For example, Crystel completed a babysitting class and yet Jody and I have arranged for the 11-year-olds to have a nanny part-time this summer.

Crystel and her friend Allie’s babysitting advertisement states that they are responsible, trained, and caring. It is true that they are all three, but it is also true that Jody and I aren’t ready for Antonio and Crystel to be on their own for 8 hours a day.

 

They need supervision at the same time that they can supervise others.

I love witnessing—at arm’s length—their growing confidence and ability to manage themselves in this world—but not so far that my tentacles can’t grasp and reel them in.

Antonio with his new bike

Antonio with his new bike

Even before the snow was gone Antonio was riding his bike 3.44 miles to school. “You must like the freedom,” I said to him last night. “Yep,” he said.

During our latest bout of rain I watched him grow increasingly anxious waiting for it to stop so he could have his independence back. Finally, he quit waiting. He rode his bike in the rain.

I didn’t mind letting him. A kid should know what it’s like to ride in the rain so in the future he can choose whether or not to do it.

Also, I have this belief that if Jody and I provide experiences for the children that will make their hearts race perhaps they won’t need to search out excitement through drugs and alcohol. That could be ‘pie in the sky’ thinking. But, I’d rather take them to Guatemala and have them jump off of a cliff, zipline, kayak on their own, drive a boat, and ride a horse than be safe on our cul-de-sac.

"I've biked in snow, rain, and hotness."

“I’ve biked in snow, rain, and hotness.”

Speaking from experience, I know that my behavior growing up was most risky when I was busting out of the restrictions that were placed on me. It was when I was by myself, free of my parents’ rules that I acted responsibly.

Of course, Antonio has rules to follow when he’s riding his bike–such as wearing his helmet, letting us know where he is (we provide him a cell phone for this purpose), following the street lights and crossing at intersections. Do I believe that he does all of these things all of the time? Unfortunately, I am sure that he does not. That’s when the mother tentacles spring into action.

Crystel is excited about babysitting with her friend Allie. I like that she’s doing it with a friend. I always stressed to Antonio and Crystel to stick together walking home from the bus and to take the same route each day. Two heads are better than one, I’d tell them and two children together are less vulnerable than one.

This in-between age means that often they are not together.

This age brings many dilemmas for parents—deciding on when to say yes or no isn’t always easy or clear. It is also an uncomfortable time for the 11-year olds, especially if they forgot to erase all the messages on the cell phone, didn’t realize that Mom could see the You-tube history or their moms have come looking for them because they weren’t home at the time that was agreed upon.

They might think we want them to be nervous on purpose. No, when the time comes, we just want them to leave the reach of our tentacles fully intact with a sense of adventure and a joyful spirit.

Crystel and Allie. Message me to take advantage of their 2 for 1 offer.

Crystel and Allie. Message me to take advantage of their 2 for 1 offer.

 

Mother’s Wisdom

My niece recently had her first baby, and as we talked about taking care of a newborn, I was reminded of several huge insights I had when I was a new mother.

1. Learning how to be a mother is harder than it looks. I’d been warned about the messiness of motherhood—babies spit up and diapers leak, but I was pretty surprised by what my body was undergoing as it made the transition from baby on the inside to baby on the outside.

People also told me about the intensity of taking care of a newborn, but I really couldn’t comprehend what that meant until I experienced it. The unpredictability was hard—we might have a calm day followed by a crazy day when nothing seemed to work.

I recall thinking, “I’m this child’s mother. I’ve tried everything the books said—feeding, burping, changing, rocking, singing, swinging, walking, and he’s still crying. Shouldn’t I just know what to do?” Umm, no. Most new mothers don’t have secret instinctive wisdom, but fortunately, we figure out what to do after a while.

Realizing I was not in charge—the baby was—took a while to sink in. Once I accepted that, life got easier.

2. My Mom is a genius. When I became a mother, I gained newfound respect for her. She knew so much—from how to soothe my son who hated to be undressed to how to keep from freaking out when both kids were crying.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOver the years my respect for my mother grew. I finally understood how much effort it takes to prepare good meals night after night—planning, shopping, and cooking—whether she felt like it or not.

I learned how hard it is to stay on top of all the details: getting school supplies and baseball gear, signing permission slips and carpooling, making sure schoolwork and chores get done.

I discovered the pains she went to make our birthdays special—tracking down cool gifts and staying up late making a cake and wrapping gifts.

Although my three siblings and I have different personalities, Mom managed each of us with wisdom and a light touch. One brother loved science and engineering but disliked authority. The other loved sports, parties and math (in that order). My sister loved pretty things and just wanted everyone to be happy, while I was shy, sensitive, and fiercely independent by turns. I marvel at how rarely she lost her temper when she dealt with my stubborn teenage self.

Even with four kids Mom was always so sane and so nice. Although I can’t claim that, I do share her view that mothering is the hardest but most rewarding thing I do. I hope my niece makes the same discovery.

What’s Behind the Wage Gap Between Women and Men?

Recently, my son mentioned that he’s decided to ask for a raise. My immediate (but unspoken) reaction was caution: Don’t rock the boat. Look what a great learning opportunity you have. In this economy just be grateful to have such a good job. That mindset exemplifies a gender difference—women often are afraid to ask for a raise or insist on a promotion.

When I think about my son’s situation more objectively, I realize he’s right. For the last nine months, he has been doing a product manager’s job without the official title or the additional money a product manager would make. Higher-ups in the organization have publicly recognized his efforts, so it is a good time to ask for a raise.

I was surprised to realize how ingrained my caution is. Because I’m aware of women’s tendency to be self-effacing, I thought that mindset no longer had power over me. And yet, I can recall times that I’ve devalued my contributions. I know that women worry about being disliked if they advocate for themselves—I’ve done that, too.

Reluctance to rock the boat is one of the reasons why women’s salaries continue to lag behind men’s.

The pay gap figure that’s often used is that the median earnings of full-time female workers are 77 percent of the median earnings of full-time male workers (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Often women aren’t confident, effective negotiators. Many times women feel grateful for the job—lucky to have it at all—instead of recognizing the value we contribute. Or women want to be liked and worry that pushing for what we’re due will be seen as being aggressive. There are good reasons for women’s concerns.

A recent New York Times article describes research that validates the persistent, and often unconscious, perception that women who ask for raises and promotions are unfeminine and demanding.

Linda C. Babcock, one of the researchers the article cites, addresses the “apples to apples” argument in her book Women Don’t Ask. When comparing the salaries and negotiating experiences of single men and women who had just earned MBAs, she asked, “When you got your offer, did you attempt to negotiate?” She found that about 7 percent of women attempted to negotiate, while 57 percent of men did. Of those people who negotiated, they were able to increase their salary by over 7 percent.

There are other systemic reasons for the wage earnings gap. Here are some of the common counter arguments rationalizing it:

Women often take more time off – They are more likely to interrupt their careers when they become parents, and they are more likely to be the default caregivers for sick children and parents.

Although I couldn’t find evidence to conclusively confirm or disprove it, this assertion feels true. The trend is certainly true of the women I know. Obviously, if a woman works fewer hours and/or her family leave is unpaid, she will make less money in a year when she has heavy caretaking responsibilities (whether or not she should be responsible for more of the caretaking is a different issue).

But it doesn’t make sense for women to be penalized long-term for shouldering that responsibility. For example, 10 years’ experience should be 10 years’ experience, whether the employee is a man or a woman. If a woman works full-time for five years, then takes off for five years to be with her children, then brings her skills up to speed and returns to full-time work for an additional five years, her pay should be that of a person who has 10 years’ experience. The interruption shouldn’t have a lasting effect, but often it does.

Women often enter lower paying professions such as teaching, nursing and food preparation, and that’s why they earn less.

The low-paying profession argument deserves a closer look. Female elementary school teachers make 90.9 percent of what men make and female nurses make 85.6 percent of what their male counterparts make (Institute for Women’s Policy Research IWPR #C350a). That’s still a wage gap.

Women in high-paying industries also lag behind men. Female physicians and surgeons earn 71 percent of what males in those fields earn. Female lawyers earn 77.1 percent of what male lawyers make.

The size of the gap may vary, but the fact of a persistent wage gap is undeniable.

The gap grows during the span of a woman’s career. If a woman doesn’t make the same salary as a man at the beginning of her career, she is very likely to be playing catch-up at her next job. The lag will compound over the course of her career.

What makes pay equity even more challenging is that employees don’t know the salary range for their positions. Many employers have spoken or unspoken rules that forbid inquiring about coworkers’ salaries, so employees can’t ask without fear of retaliation. The Paycheck Fairness Act 2014 is intended to make it easier for women to know what their counterparts are being paid and give women the data as well as the legal clout to insist on equal pay. But even if salary transparency were legal, discussing income is nearly taboo in our culture.

As history and other anti-discrimination laws have taught us, changing hearts, minds and cultures is even harder than changing laws. Addressing women’s reluctance to negotiate and employers’ subtle bias against women who do seek raises and promotions are the real challenges.

On Being President

Antonio di Grazia 5th Grade President!

Antonio di Grazia 5th Grade President!

The presidency started off like many presidencies. When Crystel announced that Antonio was running for 5th grade class president, he denied it, “She’s lying!”

“Oh my goodness,” I said. “Antonio, your sister was excited for you. She just thought that you threw your hat in the ring. That’s all.”

I didn’t tell him that I was excited, too.

Antonio just wasn’t ready to share it with the world. The next day he confirmed that he was running for President. Candidates are allowed to waffle.

5th grade Presidency leads to White House. First Dog.

5th grade Presidency leads to White House. First Dog.

I asked him if he wanted me to write a speech for him. He said, “No.”

I did it anyway. I knew that he would probably need a speech and why not have one ready? I could see it in my mind. He’d pull it out of his backpack, it would be typed, easy to ready. And, oh, so eloquent.

Have you ever felt different? I have too. Starting with this line was sure to grab everyone’s heart. And, how vulnerable for a fifth grade boy. I could see Antonio on stage, speaking clearer than he has ever spoke. (In reality, he absolutely hates being the center of attention. And has refused since preschool to be on a stage).

Carving of President di Grazia scheduled on Mount Rushmore.

Carving of President di Grazia scheduled on Mount Rushmore.

Then I went on to say how I like Pokémon and soccer. Thinking that would bring in the male vote.

I was really into this. I thought if he was willing to stick his neck out at least I should offer my assistance. I didn’t worry too much about his popularity. His grades looked like he had been campaigning all last quarter.

After I finished writing the speech, I put it in a plastic sheaf so it wouldn’t get crinkled, and I slipped it into his science notebook.

Coming home from running errands, I saw that the speech was gone and that he had gone back to bed.

Probably to look the speech over.

My New Home. In Retirement.

My New Home. In Retirement.

But another part of me knew better and I checked the garbage. And, there it was. My speech all torn up in itty bitty pieces with the plastic sheath on top.

He told me that the speech was suppose to be WHY you wanted to be President. “Can you just say, “Because it’s pretty cool, and I’d feel awesome?”

He didn’t want to draw any posters – it was too much work. Too, bad. If he had included Pokemon drawings on his campaign posters, they would have been rad.

I knew WE had an uphill battle for this presidency. Even his sister wasn’t going to vote for him.

Unpacking

Unpacking

The big snowstorm put off the vote for a week. After the vote (no Antonio didn’t win), we were sitting talking about this blog, he said with a grin, those people who put posters up have to take every piece of tape off the wall, even the sticky part.

And now that I’m sitting with THEE Crystel, she tells me that Antonio didn’t even vote for himself and he voted for the person who won.

Oh my goodness.