Failure to Launch

This is one of those blogs that could go haywire really quickly – much like the conversations between my husband and I regarding the subject matter. Could go haywire? Oh, yeah – our conversations have absolutely gone haywire. If by haywire you mean, oh, hey, has this caused the two of you any all-out-definitely-count-as-an-argument moments?. Yes. That kind of haywire. But, in the interest of patting myself (and him) on the back – the moments of spillage from just plain distress to an eruption of angered emotion have been much less prevalent than we would have predicted if you’d asked us, say, six months ago, how we would react to the news that, not only had our daughter dropped out of college, but she’d also been looking us directly in the eyes as she lied about it for those six months. That was a long sentence. I tried to match it with the length of the last 732 days. Just kidding, it’s only been two months since that bomb was casually inserted into the family text string. It’s just that we’ve now crammed 732 days worth of emotion into those two months. That’s a lot for what’s essentially a blip in time.

Hi. If you’re sitting there thinking oh, gosh, that happened in my house too! I’m just going to go ahead and ask you to put a comment down there at the bottom for the other parents reading that think they are unique. Apparently, this is one of those parenting badges that most keep to themselves out of embarrassment or shame or anger or not wanting to be discovered by their neighbors. It is also one of those agenda items that would be much more palatable with the knowing of not being alone. Or, more specifically, if we knew it was all going to be okay. So, yeah. Down there. If you could just go ahead and leave your comments about how it will all be okay. And, maybe, a quick timeline on that okay-ness.

How did we even get here? In the last 60 days, I’ve asked that question a thousand times. Until June 1st, we were floating along with what had become a pretty great set up in our family. During the eleven months prior, Child One had settled into college and those of us left at home had settled into life with one less kid present, but certainly still on our minds. All the drama that resides in a home with a teenage girl seemed to take off with her – and I’m not saying that pejoratively of my child. I’m saying that teenage girls are so stinking hormonal that they often go from soft-fluffy-rabbit to fire-breathing-dragon in a matter of seconds. And, yes, I will say that I am an authority here – qualified by my own teenage girl behavior. In our house, those teenage girl mood swings were paired with a mom who was not enjoying pre (and then total) menopause and all the hormones that came with that. In summary, there have been times when I’ve caught my husband’s eyes going from his keys to the the exit door and back to a heated conversation so quickly that I was worried he may seize.

This kid had a great first semester in college, earning a terrific set of grades for someone in her first semester of college during some very weird times. She’d been employed off and on that first semester – eventually opting to bag the paycheck for more study time with the benefit of living off a large purse filled during the previous summer’s savings. Visits home were mostly delightful, save a few But I’m an ADULT now arguments. Second semester? Much of the same. We saw her multiple times – always very happy as she filled our ears with stories of her classes and outings with her friends. Rich and she seemed to get the most conversational during detailed discussions about her Religious Studies class, which he loved! I was never actually too sure of what classes she was actually taking – other than hopping in with ideas for fulfilling some last minute requirements for an Emerging Leaders class attached to her scholarship. As the semester came to an end, she began to really dig into the idea of transferring schools – no surprise, as this was always her plan. Maybe a little surprise. We were a bit stunned to hear that she planned to land in California, but hey, she’s an adult now, right? We really didn’t feel like it was our place to be discouraging solely based on the percolating parental terror. In fact, we did a bit of a presto-change-o in upping our offered level of help as we really wanted to make sure that, if this really was her dream, she didn’t miss any critical steps.

It was in the process of that process that things veered dramatically and unexpectedly onto the path of haywire. We were talking about and keeping a shared log of necessary steps – including things that really did have to happen prior to the purchasing of a plane ticket west. For instance, she needed to have the necessary documents submitted, by June 1st, to ensure that should would have a bed to sleep in on the other side of the country, though she wouldn’t cuddle into it until August. That’s a normal mom thing to do, right? Ensure a bed? Especially a mom who wants to grab a plane ticket before prices began escalating as the world reopened? I’d even reached out to the campus housing coordinator (in secret) just to beef up my parental confidence in this puzzle.

I often wonder where we would be today if those fairly simple by June 1st tasks had been completed. Would the purchased plane ticket sit looming with a departure date on the bulletin board? Would we have a growing pile of must haves and developing plans to get them west without crazy baggage fees? Would we all still be considering her time at home this summer as a mere few weeks pit stop before she could venture to freedom? Would we still not know that the big secret of her second semester was that there wasn’t a semester at all? When would that have emerged? Would she have waited until she was wheels down three thousand miles away to send a blurb like Oh, man, these Redwood Trees are amazing, I never finished my freshman year, have you ever had a lobster roll? I suppose it is for the best that we made the discovery prior to pulling the trigger on our SkyMiles.

The mom gut is real. It is also alive and well in the Barlow house, apparently. During a roll call of those simple tasks on the agreed upon due date, something did not feel right. I don’t know why, but I asked for her second semester transcript. Well, I do know why. It’s because I love a coupon and good grades equal savings on car insurance. Is it out of line to just blame State Farm for the last two months of hell? That’s probably not fair (sorry, Sarah), but it seems a lot easier than really digging into our emotions. I knew that State Farm wouldn’t ask for the transcript until July – yet I asked anyway. There was too much wishy-washiness in the responses to why that simple task list had turned into a mountain.

The transcript was sent via a screen shot and included a lot of W’s and a D. Of course, I immediately started a mental bashing of “kids today” and how letter grading had even been changed to match their sensitivity levels. W? Win? Went? Well done? D? Just a regular Done? That was the scholarship required class, yeah, that made sense. Done. Hello, my name is Jyl and I’m a naive-aholic. Right. W. Withdrawal. D. D. It’s a D. In the class that required a B in order to keep the money. W. W? What the Eff…

Here’s another thing parents don’t often share – I’m going to because sometimes just putting it on paper links one to others riding the same merry-go-round and maybe you’ve been or are on ours. I want you to know that you are not alone. I want to know that I’m not alone. Here we go. We are parents to a young adult with a long history of lying. This history has been full of gut feelings and explain-aways. She’s just creative…she has a big imagination….she was scared to get caught…she was anxious…she’s always been a story teller…Even now, we have yet to nail down the actual dropped-out-of-school date as there we have heard some many different versions of that story. Even now, we prefer to lean towards words like embellishment or misunderstanding than feeling the jerk in our hearts that comes with admitting the reality.

The dropping out? We really don’t even care. This wouldn’t be the first child to bail just past the starting line, right? Rich and I both think back to (maybe) the only true thing we’d been told this semester – I don’t even see what the big deal is with college. And why would she? Why would any of those 2020 first year students? The majority were relegated to Zoom classes while isolated to their dorm rooms or apartments. There was none of the fun stuff. There were no opportunities to make new friends or go to parties or long mornings at the local coffee shop. The only thing that was available were the actual classes during which their professors were two inches tall. That’s not a college experience – that’s just a really long and confusing year!

The dropping out? No big deal. The big deal? There were two. First, we lost track of our child for four days as she turned off her phone immediately after sliding that telling screen shot. Terrifying? Hardly touches it. We had no idea if she was downtown in her apartment, halfway to California, lying dead in a ditch, or joining a cult. The longer we didn’t know where she was, the worse the possibilities became. We did run one exploratory mission the day of the news – we knew she was still local that day, but beyond that and for the next four days, we had no idea. She’s an adult now, right? What could we do (other than send constant texts and make regular phone calls)? When she did reappear (finally), there was a tone of need. Suddenly, it wasn’t just a semester in school that she had skipped, it was a semester of life. She reported an inability to get up or function or even crack open her laptop for months. And I’ll get back to that in a moment, I promise it was noted. But having just discovered that she’d been lying directly to us for all of those months (while she was up and visiting our home or meeting us for lunch), we now had the unwanted problem of not knowing just what we could believe.

It was the intricacies of hiding the failure to launch that left us with no choice but to face that reality. We were now looking directly behind a curtain hiding all of the other times during which our parental that-doesn’t-sound-right hackles were raised and then pushed back down with that list of explain-aways. And yes, we did bring her home almost immediately after that relieving moment when we heard her assigned text tone bling again. We brought her home under the guise that we needed help around the house but what we really needed was to be able to sleep at night. Our first big conversation was not awesome – we explained again that it wasn’t abandoning school that was the issue – it was the lies. It was the years of lies. We were met with an admission that she knows she often lies, that she hears the lies coming out of her mouth and can’t stop herself, that she lost the ability to keep track of whom she told what long ago, and that she has no idea who she actually even is because she’s created so many personas.


In a season in which we started quickly grasping at straws – we took that admittance as a win.

Trust is amazing until it’s gone – then it’s just a series of doubts, over and over. As a parent, the loss of trust with a child is heartbreaking. A friend came in clutch with this quote – sometimes, good parenting just isn’t enough. Yes. Sometimes good parenting still results in the bottom dropping out. And while my husband and I haven’t gone as far as voicing this to each other – I know one of our common thought threads is Did I do something wrong? It has to be that, right? Some misstep years ago that kicked off this years long habit? Sure, it could be nothing at all. It’s just that the idea that there was nothing we did wrong implies that there is also nothing we could do today to make it right. If it wasn’t caused by standing in the rain at the bus stop, then we can’t fix it by buying an umbrella. If it wasn’t caused by not feeding her enough vegetables, then we can’t fix it by planting a garden.

Our How I Spent My Summer essay is going to suck. We are emotionally exhausted, physically drained. We have spent hours on the phone fighting with various healthcare providers – raising a white flag in response to the red one waved by our 18 year old. We have been met a few times with an attempt to reverse course – indicating that some “time off” to just relax a little before heading west is all that is needed. Her parents have not backed down – firmly convinced that dropping out of life and staying in bed for three months is not the best of signs for a child with a history of depression and anxiety. We see the weight she is carrying, only matched by the one we are. We debate about how much involvement we should have in her re-launch. We debate the right time to just pass the adulting baton. We are trying to err fully on the side of caution – depression and anxiety is not new, no – but neither is the struggle to contain it. She prefers to not take her medications as prescribed. She is often untruthful with her therapists. We aren’t sure we should be force feeding her pills or asking for a detailed report of each session. Honestly, we don’t want to. We want this child to (finally) commit to righting her own ship by taking responsibility for whom she is. She’s an adult now, right?

We have emerged from emergency mode. Where that first week felt like the parental equivalent of grabbing a tourniquet we’ve now been able to slow down a bit. Child One remains home with us (unhappily). We’ve given a list of requirements to remaining at home (of course, they aren’t fair). We are now balancing two hormonal teens with attitudes of But, I’m (practically) an ADULT now swirling around them like a thundercloud waiting to burst. There have been tests and sessions and please to allow us to skip the line of all those people dealing with pandemic blues in the name of having a child in crisis. We have no idea if we are making progress or not. Evidently, that won’t be clear until her frontal lobe grows in. Perfect.

In the meantime, we will keep at it as we try to minimize the damage until that control panel forms.

With any luck, the re-launch will succeed. With any luck, we’ll be able to hop of this merry-go-round.

With any luck, now you know that you’re not alone on this ride.

2 thoughts on “Failure to Launch

  1. Jyl,
    You are a wonder, and Zoe will figure that out when the prefrontal cortex magic happens. My son Sean forgot to tell us that he was no longer going to classes in his junior year at George Washington. He was depressed. His girlfriend had also stopped going to classes and had moved in with him. She hadnt told her family either. She was going to be leaving school and he wasn’t interested in taking advantage of the scholarship and completing his degree. So close. So sheltered as a kid. So inexperienced and naive. And here’s the clincher. Mark and I had divorced when Sean was a high school senior. How’s that for guilt inducing? Since then Sean has attended a couple of years of weekly therapy, gotten a job he likes that pays him a decent wage moved into an apartment with a friend, and now a new place in LA with his girlfriend and a cat. He left GW 7 years ago. It can get better.

    1. Oh, gosh! Thank you SO much for sharing! These kids!! I have a theory (coming soon to a blog near you) on this crazy sense of ‘if I don’t want to do it, I shouldn’t have to…’ Yeah, I can see where that would about send you over the guilt edge. Honestly, it probably didn’t matter when you divorced – just that you did. I say that as we really do think that most of Zoe’s hiccups stem back to a lot of junk she’s got mentally stored from ‘the bad times.’ Of course, as her mom, I want to push her to address it all so we can wrap it up into a nice package. But… according to people with actual degrees, that’s not how it works. Dang it!! I have been so weirdly pleased with the number of moms raising their hands on this one – it really does help. Always good to hear from you!! ~Jyl

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