So it finally happened, I dropped my oldest off for her freshman year of University.
I mean how exactly are you supposed to just drop your first born off and walk away and go back to life as usual? How does that not leave a scar, or a wave of tissues?
I don’t know how to organize all of my thoughts and feelings, because some of them I don’t recognize yet, but here comes the confession.
When I was at the stage Maggi is now, I remember thinking about my future, finding my Prince Charming, the fairy tale wedding, my first home that was going to have a swing on the front porch and a magnolia tree in the front yard with hydrangeas and gardenias in the back.
Then after I found my prince and had the royal wedding, I read “what to expect when expecting” and could picture myself pregnant in those infamous maternity overalls, then in the delivery room, by the crib at night, preparing for the terrible twos, saying bedtime prayers before turning off the lights at night, the first day of kindergarten, packing lunch boxes with sweet notes, teaching the sweet angelic children to ride a bike without training wheels, soccer games and ballet lessons, helping them transition through junior high, (ugh those years still bring back nightmares) I may have even pictured them on the stage getting their high school diploma. But then, for me at least, I skipped a phase, I went to where they were getting their first job, finding their Prince Charming (that I have been praying for since before they were born), and starting their little families.
There are aisle of books on pregnancy, parenting young children, commercial adds tugging on the heartstrings of all of those beautiful phases. But Hallmark did not create a category for the heart wrenching day you drop off your kids at college. I mean they sell halloween cards, ‘you’re turning 50 card’, Cinco de Mayo, Happy Dog Day, but not a section, of “friend you are going to need some people from that village that helped you raise that child you just dropped out of the “baby carriage”‘.
Pre-marital counseling, Dave Ramsey’s finical peace, Focus on the family, Growing kids God’s way, Teaching your child to read in 100 easy lessons, Potty training in One day . . . Check, Check, Check, Check.
We got out of debt, we had both girls using sign language in their little high chairs for “more” and “please”, both girls read before Kindergarten, (one used the word “proboscis” in her little rainbow class when talking about the butterfly at the age of 3) one potty trained in a day, (the other had negotiated a trade agreement, if she wore big girl panties she insisted on taking ballet classes and having a pink tutu). All was going as planned.
Then we switched that “All American Way” of planing for our future and our family, and started over in a different culture and the living out the calling He had for our future and family.
So then we read and memorized the book Third Culture Kids. So we adapted, we acclimated, and immersed ourself. They started their own ministries, they are fluent and literate in a second language, they have a big world view . . . check, check, check, check.
but no where.
is there a guide that helps us transition us from being “mommy,” to someone that gets sporadic “proof of life” texts.
So here I am. A week out. And I survived the stage that no one talks or prepares you for.
So I wanted to share a little of what I learned.
Granted my experience is very different than it would have been if I still worked in a hospital, and had still been putting the extra money in their little college saving plans that have been dormant for 9 years now.
But here goes nothing.
My confessions of being a missionary mama without a guidebook. (OK please don’t write me and tell me I have the Bible as a guidebook, that goes without saying, and Those Inspired Words have been the true light to our path, I promise)
Because I was a labor and delivery nurse (in what I like to refer to as my other life), I use a lot of that in how I assimilate new situations and experiences (poor Emma did lamaze breathing whenever she fell and started that crying and couldn’t stop, picture your pre-k kid taking a deep breath in, holding it in, then breathing it out slowly when she fell off the swing). . . so many things they are going to be able to talk about in therapy one day.
Any way. . . Think back during those 40 weeks of pregnancy. You created a life and then there was a natural progression of events, right? You start off terrified and excited at the same time, right? You couldn’t wait to hear the heart beat (sitting on that table we all held our breath until that swishing sound came from out of no where), then you wait to get your first glimpse on that ultrasound (and realize that you have been waiting to hear everything looks normal, that after you hear it, your whole body relaxes, have you really been tense the last 20 weeks? Yes mama, you were. Then to feel that wiggle inside, then to have your hubby put his hand on your belly to feel that sweet kick, then the nesting, and then the big day finally gets here. During those 40 weeks, we were elated, nauseated, glowing, puking, bulging, beaming, terrified, elated, constipated (keeping it real) sometimes all of those emotions and bodily fluids were all on the same day (or the same hour). And then it gets closer to delivery and because you have taken your childbirth classes you know you have to stay home until contractions are every 4 to 5 minutes for one to two hours I remember feeling like I was”bracing for impact”. I remember being happy, scared, excited, laughing and crying all at the same time. So when all of the stars and contractions align up and you get admitted it is then “game on”. Things start getting real and at some point doing the labor, you are absolutely convinced that this is too painful, that there is no way that the 8 pound baby is coming through a 10 cm “passage” without collateral damage. But somehow it does, it could have happened naturally, according to your birth plan with low playing soothing music in the background and your first family picture looks like you just got back from Easter Sunday. I don’t envy you, I am not jealous of you. I don’t secretly despise you or your instagram worthy post (thank the good Lord in Heaven I didn’t have instagram or facebook back then). Or it could look like you got hit by a train, after you ran a marathon and your make up looks like you failed clown school, and your first family picture has you sporting the infamous blue hat in the operating room (which alerts the world that you failed at the one thing your body is supposed to do, birth a baby naturally). I bet you can’t guess what my first family picture looks like, and because there was no social media in the dark ages, you will never know.
So the last 40 weeks (give or take, or double that) I have been bracing for impact again. I was convinced that there was going to be collateral damage again. The whole range of being happy and sad at the same time returned, but this go-around it could have come from 3 out of the 4 people in my family (I know what your thinking. . . I know, but don’t worry I helped Dave each time, someone has to be the stable one in the fam, I got this). The day before we left Costa Rica, the tears started with a team, in a public place, with one of us, and was then contagious, even people on our team started tearing up. I remained calm and evacuated the Starbucks, and made people throw their pastries in a to go bag. I am so good under pressure. (And planing, we actually left the country about 2 hours before our team did) Anyway, the three most vulnerable of us realized that this was the end of an era, the only era that we have known. How can we be happy and sad at the same time? We got in the car, and because this team was small, one lady on the had to go with us in the weepy car, and when all of her attempts to make us smile failed, she joined in the waterworks; misery loves company.
And I found myself asking (on Dave’s behalf) how do I (I mean we) do this. What are your ‘Child-leaving’ secretes? What does your “Child Leaving Plan” look like (and I am going to tell you, we all know those stupid well intentioned birth plans are really just a ticket to a c-section for the family picture with the blue hat, so I should have known better to think that there was a plan book). At an event that we attended this summer where we were with more than 1000 missionaries, when other mama’s would come up to me they would get a little teary. I AM NOT KIDDING. I know that at times I can over exaggerate (shocking but truth), but I am serious. Those that have gone before the “Great Good bye” were teary, and those that are right behind me were just as teary. There were a few, that stopped and prayed for me right where we were standing, and the world stood still and I could breath a little easier. Eventually someone I hadn’t seen in years, but bumped into the day before found me the next day; it was hard to see someone randomly and even harder to see them again if your were not purposely looking for them ( it was a gigantic family reunion) and said “remember when you pregnant and you carried her for 9 months and she was growing inside you. . . eventually that had to change, she had to be born. Your role changed, you didn’t loose her, you gained a different version of her. She told me that during one of her deliveries, when she was at her breaking point her labor and delivery nurse (they are so wise, I mean really) gently reminded her, that birth was a natural process. That her body was created for this very thing that her mind was telling her was impossible. She said Amy, “you were made for this.” As I typed that, I cried and got chill bumps again.
And so, just like that, I have a different version of my daughter.
I am going to be real honest, there were times after delivery of both of my daughters, I missed feeling them grow, and move; I missed feeling those little baby hiccups. They were safer at night tucked between my bladder and rib cage, than they were in that big old bassinet so far away (ok, you’re right, attached to my bed). And now I miss passing her room, she was safer here when I knew what time she was coming home and I knew the front door was locked.
But this part, that they don’t have commercials or hallmark cards for is here, and it is ok. I survived (and so did Dave, I know y’all were worried).
So I have stretch marks and growing pains on my heart instead of my tummy this time. And wasn’t God good to use a labor and delivery analogy to speak to my heart? -Side note people, God is in the details of your life. He speaks to you where you are at in a way that only a loving Father who knows you can.
Here are some take aways that if I would have known would have made this time a bit easier. Knowledge is power for me.
The first part is for Missionary/Third Culture Kids and all the things I wish I would have known.
*Your child (aka all of a sudden “young adult”) will need some form of official identification. For Maggi, all we had was her passport. So initially we had to carry her passport around anywhere that we needed to do something official (like sign up for a cell plan). I wish I would have ordered the little passport card that they offer for an additional charge when you get your passport. They are not useful for international travel so we have never gotten one, but that would have been a perfect ID, without having to carry her passport around. Get the passport card.
*Establishing an official residence was not an easy task, and is critical for obtaining a driver’s license or a state identification card. Think through this one, and do your research way in advance. We owned property in two states, but our permanent address was in a third. We thought that we could get her driver’s license in any three of those states. We legally could not. For example in South Carolina, we got her permit but we stretched the truth a little. The DMV wanted a report card from her school. We enrolled her in a home school co-op so that we could bring that to the DMV. However getting her license she needed her attendance record, and we felt like that was really pushing the truth so her permit expired. It was crazy and frustrating. I called the state senators and state representative to explain my situation. There was no loophole for kids, unless they were military kids at boarding school. So do some research in the state you think you can best establish residency and get a driver’s license or a state identification card. Each state is different so check to see what you need to bring: a birth certificate, passport, your social security card (I wish I wouldn’t have forgotten that social security card). . . For some of us, this is no easy task to obtain those documents for security reasons they can be in several different states or countries.
*During a time of furlough or extended time in the states, see if it possible for your child to take driver’s training, and maybe get a permit and some driving practice in. I have the best story of what happened when Maggi went for her driver’s test. I wish I would have not listened to the internet when they said that in Florida you don’t actually leave the parking lot for the driving test, poor girl, she sure did.
*Start to establish their credit. Very few of the MK’s can hold jobs in the countries they live in because of our religious visas, etc. So they have no work experience. We had Maggi open an account with a credit union (had the statement’s go to the state/address we were using to establish residency), we also added her as a co-user on own credit card, and put her cell phone bill in her name. It is a start. I wish I would have started that a little sooner. But building good credit should start sooner rather than later. I know they have credit cards for students and some that you load with money to start off, do what is best for you and your child.
*Look for Scholarships and incorporate that into part of the preparation process. The credit union we use offered a scholarship to graduating seniors, so we had her open an account there to be able to qualify for the scholarship (which she won, Thank you Jesus). I took on the responsibility of finding the scholarships and she had to fill them out. I can write a whole blog on hunting for scholarships, but I’ll say the biggest lesson I learned was it is worth your time and effort (this is probably the most helicoptering I have done as a parent). Your student probably doesn’t understand the ramifications of the loans that they will need to pay off, just like they can’t learn to walk on their own, there are other things they can’t learn on their own. Help them out here. My best advice is to gather the information that will be common in all of the scholarship applications in one document (the achievements, the clubs, the community service) and copy and paste that as needed. Some of the scholarships for the schools are given out early, so I know the search for the perfect school for our kids is hard, but the sooner they zone in on their favorite, encourage them to start looking at the finical aid resources, if Maggi wouldn’t have applied early she would not have been eligible for their honor’s program which comes with a scholarship. I wish there was a better way to communicate how important it was to watch for deadlines and proof read, rewrite, have someone else review, and rewrite those essays again. There was some tense moments between mom and daughter. I wish I wouldn’t have waited ’till her senior year.
*If time allows, go to the city that the university is in. Find local coffee shops, donut spots, places to picnic, thrift stores, and figure out the public transportation (I failed on that last one, we attempted but it was not an easy system to understand and the heat got to us it was still 90 degrees at 8 p.m. I wish I could have done more research). Go to a few churches, find local pastors and people who can help them start to establish community. That is a perk of being an MK, most churches and pastor’s have a heart for them and will be your hand’s extended in times of crisis/homesickness/etc. just like we are there hands extended on foreign soil.
*Reverse Culture Shock is real. Our kids have claimed Costa Rica is home. This means that the good old USA, was not. So there are some adjustments. It is hard to see some things get thrown away, that we know could be used a 1000 different times/ways in our host culture. My girls don’t really know how to shop. We do it in bursts when we hit the US, or via internet and have friends or teams bring things in, or they wear/have/use what our teams leave or bring them. It is overwhelming to walk into a grocery store and have 200 varieties of cereal. Also we are used to Latin America, everyone greets you with a hug and kiss, strangers pass each other with a kind word, we are loud and relational, it is not a time based culture. The girls know nothing about football or baseball. Here it gets dark every day around 5:30-6. We don’t observe daylight savings time, so when we were there and it was 8pm and still light, we were disoriented. We are used to bars on our windows, so not having those bars feel less safe, weird I know. Prepare them to re-enter slowly. Both of my girls see themselves as Hispanic. When you look at them, you know they are not. So it is hard to figure out exactly where they fit in. Maggi’s campus totally got that, and from her first official day on campus, people celebrated that with her, and want her to be part of promoting hispanic heritage month.
FOR ALL MY AGWM FRIENDS (if you have made it this far and thats not you move on). I am going to brag on Maggi’s school for a second here. We are Assemblies of God missionaries, and she chose an Assemblies of God University, Southeastern University in Lakeland Florida. She applied to 4 other of the Assemblies of God schools to actually compare the financial packages offered. Southeastern gave her the best package. So fellow AGWM parents here is a little break down, she gets $1000 every 4 years for being an honor star, she gets $2000 a year for placing nationally in Fine arts. The DYD for our district gave her a scholarship of $1000 a year. They also awarded her renewable scholarships for being a missionary dependent, and an alumni scholarship (even though I only went for 2 years) & a travel stipend. None of that includes her merit scholarship or for being in their honor’s program. Those were simply things that she qualified for as an Assemblies of God “Girl”. So do your research to see if some of the other schools allow scholarships to be stacked, make sure they are renewable for all 4 years, and then compare the bottom line. I know some offer 50% or free tuition (but not room & board). Then ask the other school to match the offer presented to her. Two of the other schools matched the package. So try to compare apples-to-apples. Ask questions like: are the missionary scholarships stackable with others (like for high achieving SAT/ACT scores) and are they renewable for all 4 years? Our first year is completely covered, and 3/4 of the rest is renewable, but I will continue to send her scholarships. No amount is to small, $400 and $500 add up, and help cover books and other expenses that some academic scholarships don’t cover. They can even be used for computers. There are also other scholarships only offered through your district, and then national AG scholarships. The more work you do up front and may need to force your kids to do will make a big difference for their futures.
The next part is what has helped me in general (most of it recommended to me by friends). Not so much Missionary focused.
*Keep communication open. Let them know that you are sad, but happy too. They are feeling that same unexplainable feeling, so be patient with each other. But, I told Maggi, don’t be afraid to call me on bad days because you think it will upset me. Call me, and then call me on days that are terrific and tell me you made an A on your first anatomy and physiology exam. Send me proof of life texts please.
*If you have younger siblings in the house, be considerate. Don’t let the conversation always be about the student that just got dropped off. The dynamics of your family have shifted, be mindful of their feelings and emotions. Jealousy can happen easily when they think your every thought is about the one that just left home.
*Let them see you cry when you leave. Don’t let them see you cry when you leave. I heard both. In the end, we just had to say goodbye in our own intimate way. For me we did it in pieces. A little bit here, a little bit there. That is how my mom did it. ‘Good byes’ and ‘See-ya-laters’ are hard. Do what comes naturally to you and your student. I don’t know if there is a right or a wrong. I know that when it was finally time to walk away, I didn’t have anything left to say, other than as Dr Seuss says, “Today is your Day! Your off and Away!”.
*Find out when parents normally leave. I had an “insider” and asked her when do most parents leave. I tried to leave when everyone else is leaving so that she didn’t feel pulled between hanging out with me, or engaging with all the new activities happening just for her.
*Give yourself something to look forward to. (I learned that as a coping mechanism when battling depression & it is still an invaluable tool for me) So Dave and I have a cruise booked in November. (Also in October I will get to fly home, pick her up, and go to my niece’s wedding so. . . we have a middle date too). Both of these things are super motivating for me.
*Give yourself grace. This is hard, you will have some grief, allow yourself to walk through those stages. Home is now a place your child will visit, not live in. That is hard to accept. It takes a while for that to sink in.
*After you survive the impact, be there for your friend next year. We need each other. When people sent me texts, prayed over me, called, or looked at me with tears in their eyes, I knew I was not alone.