Three Strategies for Dealing with our Kids’ Mistakes

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Before I had children, I assumed if you raised them right and prayed enough and set the very best example, they’d skip the rebellious stage. The lying stage. The sneak out and drink, or swear or post terrible things on social media, stage. They’d love God and love me, and I’d pat myself on the back in my gray-haired years on a job well done.

I think you know where this is going…

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When You Don’t Want Summer to End: A Serenade for the Seasons

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Come mid-August, I’m ready for the return of structured days. I’m ready for yellow buses and quiet hours and watching my kids play sports under a canopy of burnt orange leaves. I’m ready for early mornings and rain-soaked skies and school books fanned out across the dining room table. Did I mention I’m ready for the quiet? I love the muted hum that enters with the advent of Autumn.

My kids begin school in two weeks, and for the first time in many years, I want to tug the curtain back on the new day dawning, exposing us to more sunshine and summer. I blinked and an invisible hand drew the drapes on this season. This year, I’m not only saying farewell to summer, I’m also saying goodbye to this season of parenting. This abundant season when all my children live under my roof, needing me, wanting my time, my approval, my attention.

My oldest enters her senior year of high school in two weeks, and she is ready. I am ready. All is as it should be, but knowing this doesn’t remove the taste of it from my mouth. It is, like most things in life, bittersweet. We are moving into a new season, and the bright blooms of summer will fade, the sun will play hide and seek, and the child of my heart will trim away the strings that tie her to me.

I want to lament the passage of time, but I would be wrong to wish for anything other than life as it is today. This season is so good–so very hard, but so very good. Next summer, my daughter will pack her life and all of my love in a few cardboard boxes and drive into the beginning of the rest of her life. I hope she’ll remember how I used to sing her to sleep. How my life was spent as a serenade to the changing seasons.

Faking it since 1975

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My oldest daughter is guiding me through a reading of Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities. She read and analyzed the novel for English class in the spring, and initially, I promised to read alongside her to keep her company among the pages. Life intervened, and three months and a rather large library fine later, I’m finally sitting down to read the book long after she finished it. Saturday night, I texted her while she was on a date: “What is the significance of …. Is that just a weird detail or is it meaningful?” She replied that it was important, and it is a “known thing”. Known to whom, I’m not sure. Certainly not to her mother with the questionable education in English Literature.

My child is sixteen and far more educated than me in many ways. This causes no end of internal conflicts for me as the “authority” figure around this joint. In conversations with her about her school work, I find myself standing in the kitchen holding a greasy spatula or an over-flowing laundry basket wondering what I have to offer her. I often feel as if I’m missing the “known thing”, and I’m winging it on the general knowledge of spot removal, one thousand ways to cook chicken, and how not to tend a garden.

I told a friend recently, “I’m not above faking it,” and I realized this has unexpectedly become my rallying cry.  So far, my faking it has kept most of my former patients out of the morgue, three kids thriving across three countries, my marriage and home (mostly) intact, and my relationships breathing oxygenated air. Inexplicably, faking it has also landed me in a master of fine arts program for creative writing. Apparently, they are unaware I spent the better part of the ’90’s reading questionable novels with a healthy side of People magazine.

I find myself faking it a lot on this journey to discovering the “known thing”. As a kid, I naively believed that once I became an adult I would know everything–I would draw closer to flawless wisdom with age. And the more I age, the more I realize how far from flawless, how far from wise, how far from knowledgeable I truly am. The answers I once held fast, unravel with a swift tug. The facts and figures once memorized, drift away on a constant stream of new information. The dreams and plans I made, continue to shape-shift like shadows at sunset.

My hope is that faking it will eventually lead to doing it. And doing it will eventually lead to mastering it–mastering the mystery of the known thing. It takes humility to let my children lead me into the knowing, but I believe I’m better for it. And certainly more well read.

……

Are you learning anything in unexpected places?

The Ministry of a Mini-Van

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My husband sat in the driver’s seat and popped his head out of the window, saying, “Say goodbye, this might be the last time you see your car!” I touched the side of the sliding door and said, “Goodbye, faithful friend.” I tried to summon tears, but really, that’s a bit dramatic, even for me, and he drove away. He was right, he came home from the dealership without the mini-van, without the car stuffed full of a decade of goldfish crumbs and half-eaten lollipops. He came home without the car that carried my three walking hearts for the last ten years, the one that drove us endless miles across America, that captured every argument, every sweaty post-game crowd of kids, every morning goodbye.

My son recently told me when he thinks of his childhood, it’s colored with memories of Splash Mountain, eating at Cracker Barrel, and the smell of despair (his own) from too many hours spent at the mall. When I think of my kids’ childhood, I think of the mini-van. It sat at the heart of everything. I was a mini-van mom, a role I rejected and complained about initially, but one I grew into. I expanded with each deep conversation and each extra carpool kid and each trip to a new, unexplored location.

There is nothing like the ministry of a mini-van to our kids and our community.

We have entered a new season, with two teens and a tween. One kid is months away from driving. The five of us are rarely together in one place, but I still spend most of my time on the road, shuttling each one to their own activities. The mini-van served us well, but we have put that season behind us, before I feel ready. Sometimes, you don’t realize you’re in a new season before you’re knee-deep in the muck and mud of it. We have entered a new season of parenting, with our oldest only one year away from flying from our nest.

It is strange to think I’m no longer the mom wrangling three littles, or shuttling kids to elementary school. I’m no longer the mom who cuts out paper hearts or buys teacher’s gifts or takes photographs at the Daddy/Daughter dance. I’m the mom who cheers from the sidelines of their lives, while they run and run and run towards their future.

This is the goal, isn’t it? To work oneself out of a job. To move from season to season and let ourselves and our children expand into them, and grow with them, rather than fight the change.

The mini-van is an impermanent thing which gave us permanent memories. The lacrosse sticks, school books, and dirty clothes strewn around my house will not litter the floor forever. But the memories are the scent that rises, the one that brings us back to times of love and frustration and growth, this sweet smell is a fragrance we never forget. It smells like sacrifice and permanence and chocolate cake.

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Wishing all of you who love a child, and love them well, a very Happy Mother’s Day. DNA isn’t required for making a difference in the life of a child, and you dear auntie, teacher, mentor, friend, you are. So thank you for mothering our children! I’m sending many blessings and roses and virtual naps to you.

 

Choosing Our Lives Means Having This One

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“There was another life that I might have had, but I am having this one.” ~Kazuo Ishiguro

I rummaged through four plastic bins in the basement before I found them. The three photo albums and four school yearbooks sat tucked into an assortment of hand-stitched pillows, a sombrero, a dirt-smudged doll, and a pair of maracas. My childhood ephemera. I was searching for my prom photos to show my daughter what the 90’s looked like on her mother. Big hair, electric blue satin dress, and sequins galore. I couldn’t find the photograph I was looking for, but I found so much more. The memories came drifting back on the scent of cracked albums and old paper and yellowing ink.

I often find it hard to reconcile the childhood me and the forty-one year old version. Lately, in my journaling and in my prayer time, I’ve been trying to return to the girl in the photographs. Trying to recall her, to remember her with clarity, to see what remains of the little one I used to be. I suppose it’s because my children are growing older, and it’s given me pause when I think about what they’re like now and who they could be. They are old enough to hear and appreciate my own childhood stories, most of which I can’t recall with much clarity.

I have tried to write my way into my own memories, the ones clinging to the edges, shimmering like something once dreamed. I want to unravel what of the five year old me remains. What part of her led me to this life? What part of her dreamt this life of husband and children and life abroad and writing into being? I’m sure she’s still here somewhere.

There are so many ways in which the years can unravel, so many paths for our lives to take. It’s important to remember what choices led us to where we are as adults. What did our inner five year old know and love and how do we see her alive in us today?

As I raise my kids, one of my biggest goals is for them to become more fully themselves. This means trying new things on for size and seeing how these new experiences and expressions settle into their skin. Some will wrap themselves around their soul in a perfect fit, some will be outgrown in time, and some ways of living will never suit them.

In order for me to live more fully in this life, as my true self, I have to remember that I could have chosen other paths to follow, but this is the life I am having. This is the life I chose, and the life that chose me. My life is an amalgam of five-year old me and who I’ll be at fifty.

And it is beautiful and heartbreaking and the perfect fit for the skin I’m in.