Gifts for Dad ➔

It was my son’s first day at a new preschool. The teacher and I discussed his entry ahead of time, and I followed the script. I stood in the doorway while she led him up to the front of the classroom. She propped him up on her lap in her special storytime armchair, opened an oversized book, and asked him to point out different farm animals. As his eyes scanned the huge cardboard page of happy-faced animals, he reached up and grabbed onto his hair—his reflexive sign of distress. Then he glanced at me across the room, and his bottom lip started to quiver.

I smiled too brightly, waved too enthusiastically, and called out, “Have fun. See you later!” I turned and walked away before I could see his tears.

It’s going to be OK, I reassured myself. To prepare for this moment, I had read articles about preschool separation anxiety.

RELATED: Preschool Isn’t For The Faint Of Heart

Then came his first day of kindergarten at the neighborhood school. It was a balmy fall day, and he and I walked together holding hands while brainstorming about the wonderful things that would happen in kindergarten. When the schoolyard came into view, he slipped his hand out of mine. As we stepped onto school property, his pace quickened and mine, respectfully, slowed down. He took his spot in line by the designated entrance, just as we had practiced at kindergarten orientation. The school bell rang. Before the door opened, he looked over his shoulder, caught my eye, and waved gleefully, his whole body bursting with excitement, so much so that his lunch box banged against his thighs. 

I smiled too brightly, waved too enthusiastically, and called out, “Have fun. See you later!” I then turned away before he could see the quiver of my bottom lip and tears in my eye.

It’s going to be OK, I reminded myself. I had read accounts of mothers and the kindergarten empty nest syndrome to be ready for this day.

Thankfully, everything has been OK to date. My son and I have made it through the major developmental milestones. I expected his transition to college to be difficult, but it wasn’t. He was up for the new challenge, and it was time to pull back in my parenting. In preparation,  I had sought advice from other parents of college students on the typical pitfalls of freshman year. Confident we had a script for first-year college success, I thought we were ready for anything.

The unforeseen COVID-19 crisis, however, has drastically changed our script.  

RELATED: Our Kids Have All Lost Something

Like so many other students, my son was exiled from campus in March and returned home to finish his course work online. And while this was not the challenge he was anticipating, it has been a very challenging time for both of us. Boredom, frustration, exasperation, and anxiety colored our confinement, and each of us had moments when we looked at one another and our bottom lips have begun to quiver while our eyes have filled with tears.

Is it going to be OK? While watching the news and perusing social media, we confronted devastating stories.

I reassured us both, though, that in the long term things will be OK. In the short term, however, there are still too many unknowns.

The near future holds bitter disappointments for my son and his peers including canceled internships, unfunded grants, and rescinded summer job offers. Then there is the looming specter of online classes in the fall. My son is adamant he does not want to re-enroll if this is the case. Instead, he thinks he may want to take a gap year. What this might look like will take quite a bit of planning.

RELATED: It’s Tough to Watch My Grown Kids Face This Fear

Here I can help him, in a new, different iteration of my role as a mother.

Together we are trying to think strategically not just about what he might find engaging, but also, what might make sense in the post-confinement life landscape. Virtual platform expansion, medical research, government social services, and start-up delivery services seem like promising fields to pursue. Concert and event planning, not so much—in the short term. We brainstorm possible options, realizing neither of us knows for certain what the next few months will look like. Still, we are collaborating together—in ways we have never before done—to create a plausible plan.

For now, we are both working hard to give each other space in otherwise claustrophobic circumstances. We are also trying to lift one another up in each of our individual moments of feeling down. And we are genuinely trying to reassure one another that it is going to be OK; we will get through this. While we haven’t read the script about these times, together we are writing our own.

Tara Munjee

Tara Munjee's creative nonfiction essays on family life have been published in Autism Parenting, New Madrid Review, and PILGRIM: A Journal of Catholic Experience. In addition to writing and caring for her family, Tara teaches humanities and dance courses at El Centro College in Dallas, TX.

Thanks For Leading by Example, Mom

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Adult woman and mother smiling, color photo

Dear Mom,  Thinking back on my life as a child, young adult, and now a middle-aged mother myself, I am indebted to you for the many life lessons you have taught me—some directly, mostly leading by precious example.  If I have any bones to pick with you, it could be that you made it all look so easy. So very, very easy! Marriage, motherhood, working outside the home, relationships with in-laws, relationships with co-workers, relationships with church friends, and just relationships in general. I hardly ever saw you cry. The few times I did see you cry stand out to...

Keep Reading

To the Emotional Mom of a High School Senior, Enjoy It

In: Grown Children, Motherhood, Teen
Teen girl in graduation gown, color photo

Dear moms of high school seniors, I see your posts on social media, and I sense your excitement, mixed with anxiety and a bit of sadness (if we are being completely honest). I notice your photos of all the lasts, and I celebrate your child’s accomplishments with you. I see you, and I know you because I have been you, twice now.  I feel the almost palpable sinking feeling that hits in the pit of your stomach when you think about them moving on to the next stage. How is it possible they have grown from such a tiny, helpless...

Keep Reading

A Mom Never Stops Wondering if She Did Enough

In: Grown Children, Motherhood, Teen
Mom and teen son

Two days before my first child left for college, I swallowed tears passing the chocolate milk in the grocery store. I did not need to buy it. Every time I saw someone that summer, they would ask, “Are you ready”? Is he ready?” And the answers were always no and yes. I did not want to let go. I wanted to relive and hold on (one more Cubs game, one more of your favorite dinners) and teach any last-minute things I had forgotten over 18 years (laundry sorting? self-check-in at O’Hare?). But those were the small things. In my heart,...

Keep Reading

Mothers Don’t Teach Us How To Live Life Without Them

In: Grief, Grown Children, Loss, Motherhood
Woman in dress with corsage, smiling color photo

When you’re a little girl, you dream of marriage, children, a career, and memories that you will cherish forever—and you want your mother by your side at all times. Our mothers teach us how to live a life we will enjoy, but they never teach us how to live a life without them in it. Our mothers don’t tell us that one day they will not be here to answer the phone when we call or go on spontaneous dinner dates. My mother never told me there will come a day when she will be gone and how bad it...

Keep Reading

There Are No Mother’s Day Cards For Broken Relationships

In: Grown Children

Every May, I wrestle with, what is for me, the most highly fraught holiday of the year—Mother’s Day. As I stand staring at the abundance of cards produced by companies such as Hallmark, American Greetings, and the like, I wonder if any of the card writers ever wrestle with finding just the right wording for a card as much as I wrestle with trying to find the most ideally worded card.  While there are a variety of options to choose from—sentimental to faith-based to funny—I’m on the hunt for something different. A card that captures the true essence of my...

Keep Reading

After My Mom Died, I Carried the Grief of Those Around Me

In: Grief, Grown Children, Loss

When the phone rang at 4:30 in the morning, I knew immediately who it was and what she was going to tell me. It was sweet Betty, and she was calling to tell me Mom was gone. My mom had cancer and dementia and had been in hospice care for the past month.  She was still breathing but no longer living. I knew the call was coming. I was expecting it, so I was prepared. Or so I had told myself up until 4:29 a.m. But I was not prepared. I was not all right. I was wrecked. I was...

Keep Reading

A Mother Doesn’t Stop Being a Mother When Her Son Is Grown

In: Grown Children, Motherhood

I saw you in pain today. Not a physical pain, where I could hand you a Band-Aid or two Advil and provide reassurance that the hurt will go away. You tried to mask the agony by hiding in your room. But it was too obvious to miss. When you were a child, I could place you in my lap, hug you tight, and whisper, “Everything will be alright.” I could protect you from scary monsters and the neighborhood bully. Reluctantly, you would tell me your fears—you talked, I listened. Then, I talked, and you listened. We’d recite a line from...

Keep Reading

Something Beautiful Happens When Your Parents Become Grandparents

In: Grown Children, Motherhood
Grandpa with his grandson, color photo

Sometimes I watch my parents with my children, and I wonder who are these people and what happened to the people who raised me? Something changed in my parents when they became grandparents, I think. It’s like life offered them a second opportunity at getting it right. A second chance at being good parents to small children. And they jumped at that opportunity like into a refreshing pool on a hot, sticky, humid day, reemerging from its depth brand new, shiny people. Suddenly, things that were egregious for them when my brother and I were children don’t matter anymore. Whenever...

Keep Reading

Moments Become Memories When You’ve Lost a Parent

In: Grief, Grown Children, Loss

Last weekend, we celebrated my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. It was a joyous occasion honoring a remarkable woman. It was also a devastating reminder that my mother is gone, that she will never celebrate her 80th birthday, or any birthday, ever again.        There is no way to prepare for the pain of losing a parent. It’s like being forced into an oddly exclusive club you never knew existed. Only after experiencing it can you understand the grief, the void, the all-consuming feelings of sadness. RELATED: To Those Who Know the Bitter Hurt of Losing a Parent When my mom...

Keep Reading

The Connection Between a Mother and Son Changes But Never Breaks

In: Grown Children, Motherhood

Words, phrases, entire sentences left my son’s mouth at the dining room table as if he were speaking a foreign language: cryptocurrency, NFTs, digital reality, avatars, metaverse real estate. Not unlike the time he used his eight years of Mandarin to order dinner at Tang Pavilion. My husband nodded and responded in the same dialect. The words floated in the air as I sat with a dopey look on my face, like a toddler seeing a soap bubble for the first time. The years of skipping the Business section in favor of The Arts had finally caught up to me....

Keep Reading

 5 Secrets to Connect with Your Kids


Proven techniques to build REAL connections