Dear Parents of graduating seniors

Dear Parents of the Class of 2017,

One year ago, I stood where you stand in the count down to high school graduation. I teared up at key events, smiled through the rest with deeply exhaled sighs and nervously contemplated the college drop off day!

Those significant events of graduation, college preparation, packing & leaving my first-born son behind at college was agony at times.
How was I going to survive this next step? I worried my anxieties were going to spoil his summer and aggravate him to the point of causing him worries. Toss in my husband’s concerns, well, we were a pair of anxious parents.

Ladies and gentlemen! We did it. I did it! Kudos to me, my husband and our son! Believe it or not, YOU will do it too!

In a matter of days, my eldest child arrives home from completing his first three-quarters of his first year of college! 30 credits hours completed towards his degree and a paid Summer internship.

He went South just an hour away to attend college out-of-state but he did not make it a suitcase college!

He didn’t come home on the weekends. He didn’t remain in his room watching ESPN 24/7 & playing Clash of Clans on his computer!
Not that I thought he would, but….you could have knocked me over with a feather when he said, “Mom, I’m rushing fraternities!” Wait, WHAT?! My independent son, a friend in all circles but not adhered to any one particular group of friends was going to WHAT? Woah.

So, my child joined a fraternity, two chapter sub-committees, e.g. risk management and the scholarship committee, which he chairs, two professional fraternities, one leadership organization and one service organization. He participated in SGA and continued his love of working out at Lambright Wellness and aquatic center. He played tennis, football and baseball with friends and fraternity brothers while successfully balancing a full course load. He built a life away from home.

In his day job of academics, my son discovered Engineering wasn’t his life choice and switched into the college of Applied Sciences in the pre-med track with focus on the biology and chemistry. STEM is his thing.
My son sought advisors, friends, and department heads in different colleges to explore while weighing his options. Congratulations to him for puzzling through this conundrum to shape his future with a path suitable to his strengths and personality.

He survived and thrived through the “make or break it” classes at Louisiana Tech. Hence, the discovery that engineering is monotonous, boring and not his type of pursuit. Duly noted, STEM is his strength but the tedium of engineering was not. He survived the first quarter engineering classes with his normal take no prisoners attitude intact as he smoothly transitioned into his preferred degree with no detriment to his grades/GPA.

He managed a visit or two, appointments to the health center for minor sinus/chest colds, washed endless laundry, cleaned his apartment countless times, balanced his budget/checking account and he lived through many blurry eyed late night study sessions. As I’m sure his butt print, as many before him, is permanently imprinted in Tolliver from study sessions.

A 1:10 am phone call in the middle of a torrential rainstorm here and down there will invoke terror in your parental hearts but you will be amazed at the calm God gives you to listen and guide. God has your back. Our son suffered a minor fender bender, navigated the police report and insurance process with a forthright approach and calm.

Self assurance and confidence aided our son to adapt to his 3 randomly assigned roommates as they co-existed in their campus apartment without any skirmishes. He learned much about roommate personalities and common space cleanliness. He managed to eat meals and get himself to class. He formed study partners, gained friends, a lovely girlfriend, too. In all this transition, he discovered his next year’s campus apartment mates through those circles of friends. He managed his business.

At no point did we have passwords, or sign on information to any of his college accounts or grades, nor did we ask. We honored his privacy and new-found responsibilities.

Our son scheduled his courses, procured his housing and paid his bill without Mom and Dad holding his hand. This young man of ours managed his own college expenses through his first year with scholarships, monies supplemented from years of odd jobs diligently saved with no student loans and very minor parental supplement.

We savored his chats through texts, calls or visits to discuss or hash out his concerns. Our son included us as he felt inclined and he honestly answered questions we as posed them. He gained so much wisdom through soaring solo as needed. I am sure he felt secure knowing we stood ready to share a meal, give him a quiet place to rest, lend our ears to listen and guide when invited. We watched him continue to grow. He taught us much about himself, the man he’s becoming everyday at college and when he visits home.

So, will you survive this new phase in your child’s life? Yes. Just like those baby to toddler to teenage years. Yes. Only as much as you let go will you gain in return from the fruits of your efforts.

Your child will be fine. You will be fine.

Life continues on and it all works out. I promise this isn’t the end of your relationship, but the very beginning of the new improved chapter! Embrace the new chapter in your child’s life story. Those new discoveries are so very thrilling and thought-provoking, if you hang on loosely with respect.

Hang in there and call us seasoned veterans for sorting out the necessary from the junk. Like those parents before me, we have your back with ears and heart.

Much love and empathy,


49 vs. 17, perimenopause vs. teenage testosterone.

It’s been a “Ben” kind of morning. I haven’t been up more than an hour and a half, maybe, and already, I feel in need of prayers for patience and coffee for endurance. I have two teenage sons both are bright, witty and joyfully challenging but right now, I swear the eldest is trying to fit more “first time for everything” experiences in these last remaining 40+ days of high school. The one final push to my pull, a battle of wills. The youngest clearly understands the principles of survival. He quietly falls into the background watching and documenting for himself, Mama’s hot buttons.

Both of my boys are outstanding young men, but there are those times when they are hormonal driven teenagers battling against Mama’s perimenopause. This is not a good mix for the eldest who at times displays “my mini me” in temperament. Thank heavens, his disposition is diluted with his Dad’s personality as well because that little bit is what saves him on some days. 

Basically, I’m saying, I can’t stand myself as a 17-year-old boy. Never having been a boy, I just don’t get him sometimes and honestly, his Dad was a boy but firmly remains clueless. I am lost and aggravated. It’s convenient, how the one guy in my household with prior experience in all things boy, claims senility. Or maybe, my husband’s practicing survival instincts and playing dead, because he’s experienced a “hell hath no fury like a scorned woman”. Yes, scorned by the teenager because he taunts me with heaping tons of disdainful mockery and eye rolling and Daddy’s no fool. Disrespect is my hot button. Incendiary, to be accurate.

There’s no reasoning with me when I am past the point of understanding teenage boys. Two of the men in my life retreat to safe distances but that 17 years old, young man, keeps coming…must have the last word. Push, push, push and the volcano erupts into a fiery passion of world’s colliding.  He thinks he’s entitled to express his thoughts, whether or not, I am ready.

I’m the immovable mountain, lava’s going to flow and he’s going to get burned.  Oh, the naive wonder of youth.

I consciously understand, Ben and I are like tectonic plates shifting and moving. He’s trying fit into his vision of the world. I’m trying to soften some of those rough shifts, as so, he doesn’t encounter those volcanic reactions from the outside world because he is seismically moody, while still an arrogant male teenager. Family is the training ground readying you for life. We practice boundaries, push and pulls, we teach consequences, while the world takes no excuses and second chances are rarely given.

He is a very successful student, very thoughtful to the world at large, he never displays less than ideal traits. Great kid all around and I’m proud to call him mine. Although, there are times, I think my own Mother cursed me harshly with the “I hope you get a child just like you are now, just a thousand times worse!” Sigh.  I have called my Mum begging her to rescind the ancient curse of Motherhood  and release me from the pain!   She cackled and  chuckled, saying, “You’ll survive.” Notice, she didn’t rescind the curse. Mean Mother, just mean. So, onward I arm myself with ancient remedies that seemingly pays dividends in the future with an endless supply of joy to the cursing parent in their later years. Who said, revenge isn’t sweet? Pfft. Not my Mother, she’s laughing all the way, at my expense.

I know I created the boy, his strong will is all mine but nevertheless, his personality growth spurts are painful. Swear to the high heavens, he saves it for me as a test. As like a “crash dummy” victim, in the aftermath, measuring the results. I know I said, family is the training ground for teenagers. The safety net, if you will, for a soft place to land while free-falling through those testosterone driven crash tests. BUT when does the ride end? When does the warning light switch on inside this boy’s head? No longer, flickering like a transformer about to blow but a steady power to use and control? 

I guess, that’s the conundrum of being a teenager, successful steps forward and a few faulty steps backwards, a constant flickering until the light inside them glows strong and steady. The shock of it, burns us both at times. So, while he’s figuring it out, I’m applying the curse all Mothers scream out to their children in vexation. I said, I would never do the things my Mother did to me. Unfortunately, we carry our Mothers in our soul’s history books as reference, pulling from those sage old teachers to guide us with our own children. Proof, we survived our childhood so, it worked for her, it will work for me; I mixed my Mother’s curse with a little extra sting, uttering his prophecy:

“I hope YOU (Ben) have all girls. I hope you understand the frustration I feel. I hope all your girls start their menstrual cycles while your wife begins perimenopause!”

Yes, I did. I went there. I cursed my child.

I managed to stump him into silence and scatter the rest of my men under the weight of that uttered statement. My 14-year-old, flew behind my back into his room, muttering, “Oh, my, you are done for Ben. Just stop. Shut up and run, Ben.” My husband eyes went wide and he patted Ben’s shoulder saying, “oh man, you are screwed.” He got between us and said, I think his exact words were “Don’t eat your young, honey, he’s really clueless.” My husband gently squeezed my shoulders, to remind me, I love this child.

I do. I love this young man.

It scares me. In 40 plus days, this young man graduates high school, begins prepping for college while he still walks around in a vacuum. My husband said, he’ll be fine, after all, I walked around in a vacuum. This is a minor comfort to me as my husband still walks in a vacuum at times. Granted, my husband, Dominick partners a successful family, leading a very active community presence and diligently successful work life. My husband is a wonderful role model for our sons.

It’s those hiccup moments, which lift my eyebrows in disbelief during Dominick’s referenced”vacuum moments.” My husband, Dominick at times makes me wonder if I’ll be “Driving, Miss Daisy” aka.. “Driving, Mr. Dominick”…insert his name in the Daisy field as Morgan Freeman and I swap driving roles. We actually joke about this movie moment quite frequently as our future life. Gulp, chuckle and a knotted stomach…yes, Ben will find his way like Dad.

He will be fine.

Someday, he’ll be the 49 vs. 17, and if, I did my job well my time will arrive full circle. I’ll just wait my turn to answer the phone and laugh myself silly like my Mom. And like my Mother, I will not remove the curse, because I owe it to my future grandchildren. Ben’s time will come and like me, he will be fine, too.

I realized “sucky girls and crappy days” won’t last in the light of awesome sons. ♡

I’m feeling nostalgic, this is my first child’s last few months of high school before he transitions to college in the Fall. I am re-reading those last few years of entries reflecting on those significant moments in our relationship. I’m preparing myself for the next transition, the phase of parenting an adult. Sigh.

October 2014:

My eldest son amazes me in some way, every single day. His compassion when it manages to surface through the craziness of 16 and “clueless male fog” makes me very proud. 

Today, while picking him up from swim practice,  Ben noticed, I’m not quite on par today. He said, “What’s up, Mama? Talk to me.”

After listening quietly, Ben offered this insight: “Mama, in about 35 years, after getting in touch with “my inner husband and father” all you shared with me will make more sense. BUT still, even now, Mama, I know this NOW: Girls of any age suck at times & will be crappy. You will get through these awful hurt feelings. You’ll be ok. You are worth more than a thousand moody girls.” (He meant to say, mean, spiteful women.)

I squeezed him really tight in my arms, sniffled, smacked his cheek with a big kiss and told him, “Ben, you’ll be an awesome boyfriend/husband someday.♡♡♡”

I realized “sucky girls and crappy days” won’t last in the light of awesome sons. ♡

–Joanne Roth Marino

The trials at 15 years old form the character of a 17 year old senior.

The wisdom of 15 years old.

My son, Ben: “Mum, I’m ready for school to be over. Learning shouldn’t be so hard.
I’m so tired of teacher X. I’m tired of battling student bias. I absolutely hate that class. She belittles me for asking so many questions then turns around answering everyone’s but mine.
All I want is a better explanation. I’m listening but she mumbles while rushing through problems. She said, I’m lazy and I have no focus.
I’m rethinking being a doctor because of teacher X.”

ME: “Ben, there will many “teacher X’s” in life. You’ll encounter people like “teacher X” as neighbors, in church or through employment. These people are checking boxes in life until the next thing to do. Sometimes, they perceive others as in their way and they react negatively. Sometimes, people have no excuse for being less than encouraging and motivating. The fault is in themselves, tearing people down is usually a sign of poor self-esteem or plain meanness on their part.
You’ll need to learn how to manage yourself in the presence of people like “Teacher X”.
Don’t allow those kinds of personalities to change your goals and derail your dreams. Find a way to persevere, so you’ll move through your time with them, with as little frustrations possible. Figure out what you need to do to succeed in this class, while keeping your head down, out of target range.”

BEN: “So, disarm her?”

ME: ” Figuratively speaking, yes. Retreat, assess your plan, pick your battles to achieve the goal.”

BEN: “Be the doctor, find the cure?”
Hmmmmm, “So, what you’re really saying is later, when I’m a doctor, I can choose to be an out of network doctor and not accept teacher x’s insurance or charge them a fortune because their taking up my time and knowledge? I could be spitefully biased too or are you saying, I could succeed despite them.”

ME: “Yes, to the first, No, to the middle part and YES! to the very last part. No spite, Ben, succeed in spite of their negativity…don’t plan a grudge.”
Singing, “Let it go, let it go, let go, go gooooo!”

BEN: “Really?! Ugh, stop already.” Sigh. “It was simpler in grade school. These life lessons take the fun out of a being a kid.”. Making faces while rolling his eyes. ” Yeah, I know, I know, welcome to your world.”

At the time of this conversation, two years ago, my son was 15, he was figuring out where to go and how to get there.  He was holding 14th place in GPA ranking out of 321 students in his class. He had the smarts and was learning the people skills to navigate the high school pressures.

March 2016 Update: The 17 year old senior.

Since two years ago, those setbacks did not alter his course, he has not lost his focus or concentration at all. Currently, he is a senior, holding 10th ranking out of 286, with a weighted GPA over 4.12, proving his focus and willful determination to succeed.

In his junior year planning conference, he opted to load his final senior year with 4 Advanced Placement courses. He would have scheduled more if, he hadn’t doubled up in previous years, whittling down his remaining choices. He was looking forward to stack the college resume in his favor to earn scholarships.

He strives to do his personal best, it’s that competitive nature he sports.

Just like he’s always looking to improve his swim times, latest Cross Fit lift records, GPA ranking….never bragging but proud to prove himself better than his last effort.

He is constantly moving, seeking and changing.

Focus and determined. He’s charted lists, plotted and measured his must do’s to achieve his goals. He got up early at predawn mornings, to attend his Cross Fit gym before volunteering a few weeks here and there at a local non profit. He’s a strategic planner. He doesn’t sit idle at any point, because there’s always an opportunity to do something, make money, become stronger mind and body, be a better student.

My son has climbed through the  rigors of Advanced placement courses meeting or exceeding teacher expectations, finding mentors to guide his way. This kid doesn’t have quit in his mind, anywhere.

This boy took the ACT test, a total of 5 times.

After accessing each result, he was determined to advance the score, register ing yet again! After devoting 2 weeks, this previous Summer in ACT academy workshops, his score remained stagnant after his 4th attempt. The 5th AND final time met his satisfaction allowing him to move on.

When my son’s college acceptance letter came earlier this year, in October, unlike some kids who breathe a little easier once the acceptance letter arrives, not him. Ben hasn’t changed his academic ethic because college scholarships were assured based on his previous years academic history and ACT scores.

Nope. He isn’t coasting through this senior year, secure in the knowledge he achieved verified early college admission and scholarships. He’s still navigating these final few months, diligently studying for those AP classes. All while juggling his  volunteer hours for National Honor society, serving church and his youth group, alongside completing in his final season as a lettering 4th year swim athlete.

Because, as he tells me: “What else am I going to do?”

He’s banking good habits towards a solid future.

As for “Teachers X, Y and Z”, many parents tell me, they are still instructing classes with their perceptions of students eschewed by gender, sport or popularity. Sadly, it happens everywhere, to someone at one point or another in their lives…. Blatant unfairness. And yet, looking backwards, my son has managed to succeed despite their perceptions and treatments.


It was 50/50. Him and Us.
Partly, because we imparted the tools and freedom to puzzle through it himself. He was confident in the knowledge, we were on the peripheral to guide him. Secure in himself to withstand failures as he worked though frustrations and obstacles.

Ben was determined to focus on the big picture, keeping sight of his long range goals. Waving obstacles is tantamount to daring him in a competition, no one will determine his course but him. Whether this determination was innately there or cultivated, he uses this strength to confront obstacles instead of allowing them to whittle away at his self esteem. He knows, it’s ok, to fail, as long as he put forth his best to change the outcome.

Those painful observations at 15 years old, served him well. He persevered, learning lessons about human nature which will pay him dividends in the future.  Life doesn’t come with a parachute. Sometimes, you need to save yourself in order to land safely, brushing yourself off to begin again, secure in knowing you can lead yourself forward in times of struggle.

He discovered himself and what a wonderful find, he is.


-Joanne Roth Marino, Ben’s Mom.

Today was a hard day.

Today was a hard day.
The day, where character lessons are tested and parenting for the future over the indignity of the moment is crucial.

Where you want to rage over someone’s ineptitude because it cost your son his opportunity to shine.

Watching the shock of it wash over your son’s face as the unfairness settles in the pit of his stomach. While squeezing his heart into anxiety, at the reality, this chance denied at someone else’s hand is irrevocable.

Punished for someone else’s mistake.

Wondering, why, and whether he should have challenged the request but didn’t, instead trusting the authority.
Following the rules and being denied fairness.

This moment becomes the joy of years of hard work. The pivotal moment in his youth, where he shines. Watching your child’s character lead his response and actions.

He owns this moment as one hard lesson in life, sharing his part in the collapse, taking responsibility, then placing it in those internal boxes of lessons learned and stored.

As friends gather towards him commiserating, he tells them, its OK, lets focus on you. It’s over, nothing will change the outcome, I won’t be miserable, it will not gain me anything.

As he gathers his character like a badge of honor moving forward to support his friends as their moment is yet to arrive, with grace and dignity.
When in reality, he’s disappointed, upset over disappointing his parents, school, friends and self.

Changing and adapting into the coach not the singular athlete.
The determination to stand among them, encouraging them to reach for their moment, cheering them on with the outward appearance of calm and happiness.

Internalizing this moment for future campaigns. Cementing his determination, reorganizing his approach to prevent any one from derailing his goals by owning the responsibility: it ultimately lies with him, accepting failures with out bitterness.

Vulnerable, yet determined.
Respectful, yet responsible.
Stronger, yet humble.
Triumphant over disappointment.

This day, where character lessons were forged.
The day, where parenting for his future has persevered over the indignity of the moment.
This day, when he has shown his character is crucial to his success and he doesn’t compromise his dignity or self respect.

This day, where parenting is triumphant.


~ Joanne Roth Marino

Late night talks with Ben

Challenges: Senior year

These late, late night chats, when my 17 year old, senior year child drops down on the sofa, pressing tight against my arm looking over saying, “I get to fill next year full of new people, places and choices. (Still and silent pause) I get to choose what and who to edit out. (Silence and staring outward.) So much is changing next year, I’m suppose to know. What if I get it wrong, what if I’m choosing the wrong path? (college department) Are there enough choices within Tech?”

We go back and forth on career options.

“Mama, I will not enjoy my job if I’m sitting behind a desk without interaction with people. I need to interface, problem solve…you know…work it out, figure out solutions, wrong or right. Maybe I lead, maybe I don’t. I know I have to be part of the solution, you know a team. I can’t sit at a desk staring at a computer within a cubicle. I need to do.
What if I get it wrong, I will be miserable. I’m really scared. I’m sort of both sick and excited.”

Here’s what I told him:

“Well…what if you do “get it wrong”?  What if?  Would it be so horrible if you had to start again? No. It will not. 

You are only 17. It would be horrible, if you didn’t feel this sense of uncertainty.”

Here’s what I know, Ben:

“Uncertainty is a healthy reminder to be aware of opportunities and your choices. You will soar and you will stumble. If you never fail or sense fear, you will never realize your abilities to rise to situation at hand. Those qualities to figure out how to overcome the challenges stem from experience.

What if” is only a matter of possibilities. Sometimes you will choose but often times, life will choose for you. It’s how you respond, when facing those roadblocks. What you choose to do with forks in the road.
These occasions will strengthen your determination, they will build your confidence. These ongoing choices will determine your ability to persevere.

Change is ongoing. It is evolution of setbacks and achievements, which will bring forth pivotal growth and forge character by trial. You will grow into yourself every year a little better than the last.

Trial and error, proves what I already know: you are not perfect, you are not finished, you are a wonderful work in progress.

I am not afraid for you, son. I am excited to watch you discover those gifts within yourself. The essence of your character which will unfold everyday in unique and mundane ways.

I’ve been watching your determination build since your first struggle to crawl towards walking then into running. You were not afraid to struggle. You never stopped in the face of obstacles. You innately conquered through puzzling out ways around, over or through.

As a toddler, you were are already building a strong foundation for your purpose. Evolving with each choice, with every step as you struggled through every encountered opportunity and each successful failure. These experiences formed you into a capable functioning person.

Failure is never negative, its very nature will open different avenues of discovery. Alternate paths brought forth to consider when one choice was not the best direction to walk towards obtaining a goal.
Struggle is not harmful, it is a positive experience. It showcases effort and perseverance which  you will appreciate upon arrival at your destination.

Ben, remember those books by Shel Silverstein, we read to you? I remember a quote, about how to get through what you are feeling. It is what we all feel everyday at every age, even Daddy and I struggle with it at 49.”

“There is a voice inside of you
That whispers all day long,
‘I feel this is right for me,
I know that this is wrong.’
No teacher, preacher, parent, friend
Or wise man can decide
What’s right for you — just listen to
The voice that speaks inside.”
— Falling Up, Shel Silverstein.

Smiling, my son turned to say,  “Mama, Shel Silverstein said the same thing you just said in a thousand words and 15 minutes less!”

I rolled my eyes at him. My child rolled his eyes back at me, while smirking, my son told me he loves me. Leaning against my arm with his tucked under my elbow, he murmured “I get it”.  A quick hug and buss on my cheek, he’s walking off towards his bed, saying, “still scared, Mama.”
Less than 10 seconds later, My son stuck his head back through the door way, pointed at me, saying, “I hope my brother appreciates my struggles when his senior year Mother talks are 1 hour and 15 minutes shorter.” Laughing he pauses to tell me, again: “I love you, Mama.”

(Little turkey. I hope he has all girls.)

Things my eldest son has taught me:

I believe this has been the fastest passing year, since his first year of life. I have never been more challenged as a parent to be silent and just listen than ever before in his life. He knows I am here. He is teaching me so much about himself in his own way, while assuring me, I can let him go.

He will be fine.

–Joanne Roth Marino