My oldest son recently begun taking online college courses. Naturally, he is encouraged to do well, and that tends to be where the friction lies. He doesn’t want to be asked about school. This is mostly because his focus is elsewhere—whether it’s video games or going to work. We have come to a point where we have stopped asking…almost. We made him very aware that college is way different from high school, and he has to be on top of his coursework. In the end, we are skeptical he will succeed in the first semester. Those who have gone to college understand what that means, especially when it comes to funding.
It got me thinking about my rerun through college a few years ago. I did the work and became dedicated to getting my degree. Just like my son, I didn’t take my first year in college at 19 as seriously as I should have. However, I do wish I did. I shared that with him, too. His 19 and my 19 were vastly different in circumstances, but the mentality seems to be the same. Learning from my mistakes and experiences doesn’t seem to be working.
Going back to college in my forties changed me for the better—but, in the end, that’s all it did. There was no job waiting for me after earning my Bachelors Degree. There was no indication that a degree would even help. It is such a paradox. Companies want a degree-toting employee, yet having one guarantees you nothing. I’m not naive to think experience and knowledge isn’t a factor. In my experience, even a resume that matches a job description perfectly doesn’t get you any phone calls.
I tried pointing at things to blame. Was it my age? My last name—which was Spanish at the time of graduation? Was it because I took a few years off, not working, to raise my kids? Was it the field of study? I found that nothing I came up with was conclusive; only that having a degree really didn’t matter. I will clarify: it didn’t matter when getting a job, but it did for my own personal goals.
But, how do you persuade your children to go to college and get a degree to have the career they want when they know it didn’t work for you? I’m not sure. I will, however, continue to emphasize the immense feeling of gratification it gave me. I will expand on how I learned more about not only what already interested me, but gained other interests. I will tell them it taught me focus, patience, and perseverance. College heightened an appetite for knowledge.
This is the take-away I want for them.
We had a fantastic weekend! I’m almost ashamed to write that. Partly because the kids are away visiting their grandparents. All parents need a break sometimes—and this was ours. We slept late, not caring what time it was when our eyes opened. There were no commitments or deadlines to meet. We just flew by the seat of our pants. That is a fabulous feeling. The weekend was ours for the taking; and we took it.
We decided a road trip was on the agenda for Saturday and headed to St. Petersburg. We wanted to do two things, visit an old bookstore, and go to the beach. Our first stop at Lighthouse Books offered us exactly what we were looking for: Ernest Hemingway for him and Edith Wharton for me. This bookstore is unassuming and has been around forty-years. Without the sign in the front, you would assume it was just another house on the block. Inside, the rooms were lined with shelves and every inch of real estate was occupied with books. We stopped at another book store down the street, but it was more like a discount Barnes & Noble. It lacked the charm of Lighthouse and had more new books than old. We decided to head toward the beach for part-two of our journey and stopped at Sloppy Joe’s in Treasure Island for a bite to eat. The bonus—we were dining beachfront at a restaurant whose namesake was inspired by Ernest Hemingway (we embrace our nerdiness.) We sat on the open deck, sipping cocktails and devouring our lunch as the ocean breeze blew, listening to the seagulls cawed, and feeling the sun tanning our skin. It couldn’t have been more perfect.
With full bellies, we drove down the coast through St. Pete Beach. Just past The Don CeSar hotel and all its salmon-colored grandeur, we found a great spot on Pass-A-Grille beach. As our toes touched the sand, that peaceful feeling one finds when near the ocean, swept over us. We love the beach and try to be relaxing on one whenever we can. There was a wedding that had just taken place just past the entrance. We were amazed how anyone would want to have a beach wedding in the heat of a July afternoon, but understand the sensation of vowing to love one another where the land meets the sea. But I must say though, it must be hard to keep your wedding-do upright if your head is melting.
As we threw off our shoes, we were surprised that despite the 95 degree weather, the sand wasn’t at all hot under our feet. Amazingly, and what a lot of people don’t realize, St. Pete beaches are covered with white sand and a deep teal-colored ocean. It’s assumed the Gulf beaches aren’t as beautiful as they are on the Atlantic. They are… so, go! We decided to walk along the shore, talking about anything and everything, laughing along the way. The water was warm, yet inviting, ironically cooling us down. The waves were minimal at best and the water simply disappeared into the horizon. There were people swimming, fishing, building sandcastles, parasailing, and some were just relaxing as they soaked up the sun. We were compelled to take several photos, but Michael is the real photographer—crouching down to catch shots of the tiny waves, making them look large enough to surf on. It’s a gift.
We decided to head back to Orlando not too long after our jaunt on the beach as the heat of the day had taken a toll on our enthusiasm. We already had a list of places to explore on our next trip out to St. Pete and can’t wait. Our road trips offer great conversations, sing-alongs, and opportunities to stop for snacks. This one was no exception, both coming and going. We usually pick a couple of things we don’t normally have and probably haven’t eaten in years—items like Slim Jims, spicy pork skins, and, of course, Icees. Not the diet of champions, but hey, it’s a tradition now. This one provided Boston Baked Beans Candied Peanuts. If you haven’t had tried them, or had them since you were a kid, you must indulge! The peanuts are coated with a rich crunchy shell that is essentially pure sugar. After about three, I was done as the nostalgia was more satisfying than the sugar rush. How I ate a whole bag as a kid is beyond me.
Sunday was a bit lazier, but we took care of our grocery shopping. That may not sound at all fun, but with us two clowns it’s sure to be a blast. We headed to Freshfields Farm to load up on fresh fruits and veggies. This is how we go crazy when the kids are away--fill the dinner table with vegetables they’re unlikely to touch. Michael had never been and it’s been years since I shopped there. I offer no excuses. There are two separate stores within: one laden with farm-fresh vegetables and fruits, and the other is stocked with meat, poultry, and seafood. Our inner chef was inspired the moment we walked through the door, overwhelmed with the rich colors each display was filled with. We were like kids in a candy store (go with me on this.) We picked up the greenest of veggies like beans, and peas. We grabbed brightly colored fruits, like red tomatoes, yellow bananas, and purple grapes. Our basket was filled with pretty much every color of a rainbow and included a dragon fruit. Not a clue what it taste like, but anything with dragon in the name has to be good. We bought a couple of logoed burlap grocery bags to haul our loot, feeling satisfied with purchases considering a lot comes fresh from local farms, and the fact we were being so eco-friendly.
Walking into the other store was a different experience as it was bright with white displays filled with a variety of meats. Every cut of steak you can imagine and then some can be found here. They also have a butcher in the back to offer fresh cuts of meat, in addition to deli selections sliced to your preference. We had a craving for filet mignon, but they had already sold out—which was not surprising given the constant flow of customers. We decided on some Alaskan sockeye salmon that looked like it was caught fresh that morning, and a package of chicken breasts that is sure to last us a month. The amazing thing is that everything costs less than the regular grocery store and no doubt fresher.
We ended up at the regular grocery store as well to pick up all the other items we needed that Freshfields Farm didn’t sell. We skipped the processed and frozen foods given our new-found health kick (road trip snacks don’t count). Together, we’ve already planned the meals this week. It felt good to fill up the fridge with all that we purchased, but had to work it like Tetris to get everything in. I immediately went to work on dinner and had a renewed excitement about cooking. I pan-seared the salmon in olive oil, steamed the green beans, and sliced up the yellow and red tomatoes with some red onion to make a salad. I used a limes and some cilantro in the rice, which accompanied the salmon perfectly. There’s something to be said about fresh ingredients as everything was absolutely delicious. Of course, the chef has a lot to do with it.
Needless to say, we are making plans our final childless weekend and very much looking forward to it. With Orlando perfectly centered in Florida, it offers a smooth segue to everything we want to do. We traveled to the West coast in about two hours, passing and very close to all sorts of hot spots we are planning to visit. Next weekend is the East coast, Palm Beach specifically. Yes, there’s a beach and yes, we are going to a particular antiquarian book store. But, that’s what we love! I know we’ll see other sights, dine in some local restaurants, and stop for artery-clogging junk food along the way. That’s what makes it so special! I do love living in the heart of Florida. Even in Orlando we find new things to do around every corner—it’s not all just theme parks. I will say, Michael and I do have annual passes to Disney, but we’ve gone to several museums and parks, shopped at local businesses, dined a variety of restaurants, attended shows at Plaza LIVE, and much more. There’s always something to do, with or without three teenagers in tow. And believe me, it’s definitely like you’re dragging them sometimes.
I’ve learned something about myself recently. I’m really not a very good driving teacher. I officially have two teenage boys learning to drive and I am a hot mess. The funny part is I am the backseat driver--literally. My fiancé is the teacher sitting ringside and I guess you would call me the teacher’s aid. I sit in the backseat and observe, chime in when needed with my driving know-how, and get to say “slow down” a lot. I let Michael do almost all of the teaching and he’s really very good. He’s patient and already has Son #2 driving with the regular traffic on lesson three. If it were me, we’d still be driving in circles in the empty parking lots and my need for Xanax would be astronomical.
I’ve learned my self-control is stronger than I thought as I can sit quietly and appear calm in the back seat, despite sometimes feeling like my death (or that of a fellow citizen) is flashing in front of my eyes. Son #2 is driving very well and an excellent student. He listens, doesn’t panic, and follows directions. I, on the other hand, have small panic attacks with each turn of the wheel. The silent scream of “Oh my god!” rings through my head as we weave through a grocery store parking lot as unknowing potential victims walk by. Today was driving in 5-o’clock rush hour traffic as the swarms of commuters fly through the downtown residential neighborhoods. We survived unscathed. And, my need to control the situation (because obviously I know best) has taken the backseat with me. I don’t question the teacher’s methods and let him instruct. I need to keep things serene by not blurting out my worrisome mother-thoughts.The last thing any of us need is a distracting debate while teaching a teenager to drive. Besides, Michael knows never go against a half-Mexican when death is on the line.
I’ve learned to give Son #2 more credit in what he can accomplish. It’s not that I didn’t think he couldn’t do this whole driving thing, it’s just the idea he could do so well in the first three lessons. I know we have to allow our kids to fail in order to succeed. But, I don’t think they meant while driving your one-ton vehicle for the first time. Failure means car accidents and the potential for my seeing blood. I have a weak stomach for that sort of thing, not to mention my immense despair anyone get hurt--much less my son. I don’t take for granted anything can happen during this ritual right of passage. It’s my willingness to be open to the fact the boys can successfully learn to drive when given the chance to do it on their own...with our help. Five to ten years should be enough time to learn to drive, right?
I’ve learned to trust. Not that I don’t have the utmost faith in Michael. I do, completely. It’s trusting that he knows what he’s doing when he decides Son #2 can drive up busy Michigan Avenue with the many maniacal drivers on the road. There is no one I have more faith in than Michael. He puts my mind at ease with a simple look toward the back seat, always sensing my angst. He knows me. Not unlike Son #2, this is a first for both of us--for him, driving; and for me, allowing it. It really is a leap of faith no matter how much trust you have in those you love. Quite honestly, it’s not my concern so much for those in my car, but those people driving alongside us. As a veteran driver, I know way too many people drive rather shitty and won’t know we’re in teaching mode. I know there will be that one day when we’re honked at, yelled at, and get the universal hand gesture signaling their displeasure with our driving presence. Perhaps that’s the real right of passage.
I’ve learned that I will survive this driving lesson with a sense of humor. My father did. My dad was patient and a great teacher, but let you know street racing is illegal when I floored it at a green light. I also heard, “What shade of green do you like?” if I was too slow. These jaunts out on the open road have brought a bit of nostalgia with them. I remember driving with my father and his comments like, “you may want to pick a lane, you can’t have both.” or “You’re supposed to have your eyes open when driving.” My dad is not one to let any opportunity go by where he can poke a little fun. And just like my him, Michael keeps things lighthearted with his jabs at Son #2’s sudden stops causing whip-lash or gunning the accelerator when the light turns green. I know this is all part of learning to drive, and having a good sense of humor whiling doing it is essential...not to mention a neck brace.
I’ve learned to be humble about my own driving experiences. They key is not to brag how perfect you remember your first time out driving. It wasn’t. I was nervous and anxious, just like the boys are. Did I assume it would be easy and didn’t need much help? I’m sure I did. However, what I share is my own mistakes while learning to drive. My parents told me to take it slow when changing lanes, ease into it. When #2 switches lanes as if it’s the last thing he’ll ever do. I say the same thing my father did. When I turned corners on two wheels, my dad let me know he wasn’t ready to die. It’s okay to share your mishaps with your children as it reminds them no one is perfect and we don’t expect them to be. We let him know we are proud of him regardless of whether or not we were at times terrified. And, we also let him know what he needs to work on. If we get this right, both our boys will be excellent drivers and feel comfortable behind the wheel--even if it’s out of alignment from hitting the curb.
Lessons for Son #1 will commence soon and he has a completely different personality. He is somewhat like me in the sense I want to be perfect the first time out with anything I do. Perhaps all of us are like that when trying something new. We know it isn’t possible and can get easily discouraged. A different approach will be needed with him and we will have to hold back on humorous criticism. I think having Son #2 start first was a good thing, like a primer. He is more laid back, whereas #1 is all business. For us parents, we are getting in the groove of teaching a life skill everyone takes for granted. It’s a refresher course for us and we are more aware of not only how important it is to follow the basic rules of the road, but we’re that learning this can be a scary experience for all involved. We’ve all been there. And for kids, teenagers specifically, they have to become vulnerable to their parents as they get behind the wheel for the first time. Name me a teenager who doesn’t hate that. They’ve spent the last few years trying to convince us they already know everything and can manage on their own. It’s obvious they can’t. Not yet.
So, I look forward to the day when my children call me to share their experience teaching their own children. Hopefully, they’ll be able to look back on their own experience and remember how much patience we had, relatively. I hope they recognize this is a driving lesson for us parents as well. I’ve already started thinking about teaching my daughter how to drive. I’ve got about four more years to prepare. However, I’m really not too worried. Everyone knows women are the better drivers.
I am a woman-child at heart; continuously evolving to find my place in life. I am a mother, a daughter, and a sister. I am a lover and a dreamer--an explorer and a traveler. But it's my passion for writing that allows me to explore my ingenuity. This is something that undoubtedly carries over to the many roles that make up the ever evolving woman I am.