From the Desk of Ellen Fisher - May 2010

Car Crash - Crash Pad

On Easter Sunday, my son, Seneca, totaled one of our cars. Before we took him to the train to head back to college I asked him for the tenth -or maybe twentieth- time, if he was feeling fine. He certainly looked okay, but I just needed to make sure. His only complaint, after my incessant prodding, was that his nose felt sore from the impact of the airbag against his face.

My daughter, on the other hand, who had not been in the car, was totally bent out of shape. As one of her upperclassman perks, she was keeping the car at school and using it every Friday to travel to an internship. (And to stop by the house for a home-cooked meal which, if you want to win an Olympic Medal in the sport of Exaggeration, you could sort of say is on her way back to her dorm.)

Later that night I called Seneca to see how he was feeling. I suspected there might be a problem when he did something he rarely does - he picked up the phone. And when I didn't hear lots of voices or loud music in the background, I knew something was up. Turns out he was having trouble stringing thoughts and words together and he also had an awful headache. While engaging him in small talk, I immediately visited the Mayo Clinic's website to confirm my suspicions that he had a concussion. I urged him to go to the Campus Health Center. I thoroughly understand that when your kid no longer lives under your roof, you have to let go of a certain amount of control, but when Seneca said he'd wait until the following day to get checked out, I wanted to stick my arms through the phone, lift him up, and carry him to the Emergency Room. Instead, I did what all good mothers do; I spent a sleepless night fretting over my son.

His headaches persisted, so Seneca did go to the Health Center. They told him he had a minor concussion and that there was nothing they could do for him. If he felt worse he was to go to the E.R. I reined myself in and, against every instinct, did not hop in the car to go see him.

As the week progressed, Seneca was still having headaches. They were farther apart, but he was a bit concerned because they were interfering with his schoolwork. (As an interesting aside, I'd like you to know that these headaches didn't seem to keep Seneca from participating in his Fraternity's Hell Week or travelling to Baltimore to attend a formal dance.) I was going out of town for the weekend, so I asked (insisted, if I am being very honest) my husband, Brian, to drive down to Washington D.C. and check on Seneca. My instructions were to accompany him to the E.R. for a CT Scan, no matter what Seneca's objections.

That certainly seemed like an innocent father-son bonding experience, right? Well, not exactly. Brian did visit Seneca; Seneca did still have headaches; but Brian and Seneca did not go to the E.R. Instead, Brian drove Seneca and three of his friends to look at an off-campus rental house for next year.

Before I describe the house my husband saw, I want you, dear reader, to imagine what you think four teenage boys would call an 'awesome' house. Brian pictured something akin to where he lived as an undergraduate: a ratty, slightly decrepit, mildly moldy house, with green shag carpet throughout, next to a railroad track that rattled the structure multiple times a day, two tiny bedrooms into which they would cram twin beds, and with a nice-sized living room for parties. If you had a similar image, all I can tell you is that you are totally off track.

The house was a beautifully landscaped, four bedroom, or possibly five, if you add in the maid's quarters, mid-century ranch in a ritzy section of Bethesda, Maryland... with an in-ground swimming pool. Brian could barely get his head around the outrageous fact that his kid would live in a house (almost) nicer than the one we live in and for which my son's share of the monthly rent would be higher than our mortgage. Yet he, too, seemed to fall under the spell of this house.

Although I was not in favor of my son living in an expensive party house, I did something very uncharacteristic: I let go of the whole situation and let Brian handle it. It felt really odd, almost to the point where I was physically uncomfortable, not having even my little finger involved in the action. But Brian, and all the other fathers of the boys, seemed to be having so much fun bonding over this house while discussing things like liabilities (and, I am sure, living vicariously through their sons' choices) that I didn't have the heart to stop it.

The boys, with their fathers' help, move into this house the first week of May.

I usually glean business lessons from my personal life, but in this case, I did just the opposite. I was able to try my hand at 'letting go' of control in my personal life, because I do it all the time in my work life. What a great learning opportunity - to take one of my business strengths and transfer it to my personal life. I encourage you to think about how you can use one of your work strengths to not only handle a personal challenge, but to make your life better by turning it into a growth opportunity.

Ellen Fisher, Publisher who hopes her son will soon find a summer job to help fund his expensive lifestyle!

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