What We’ve Learned about Sleep

Most parents coach their infants to consistent sleep patterns and take their high school graduates to college. Tween didn’t learn to sleep, so in middle school we took him to a major university to participate in research on teen sleep.

1 week old

Every child is different, right? Teen was a great sleeper from Week 1 (or maybe that was the C-section drugs?). Still, he played hard during the day and slept hard during the night.

At the other end of the sleep spectrum, Tween never slept well. His crib was in our room for the first year and we did this ridiculous crawling-on-the-floor-through-the-dark routine to get to our bathroom and/or bed; no matter, it never worked. This child popped up, alert as a bird at daybreak, to say hello?, love me!, hold me!, feed me! Entertain. Me. NOW!

As a little guy, his sleep-resistance efforts were kinda cute albeit occasionally maddening. Somewhere I have hilarious video footage of him at about 20 months, naked in his crib, bouncing and singing his ABCs. Rather than nap, he’d stripped the bed and tossed everything on the floor, then stripped himself and provided the music for his own happy baby dance party.

We thought Tween was just a light sleeper. During the day he wields a different energy than his brother, so needs less sleep at night. Right? In his mid-elementary years he finally spoke up: he felt constantly exhausted. Either he’d lie awake for hours before sleep descended, or he’d conk out only to wake up in the wee hours. Either way, he didn’t get consistent, sufficient sleep.

So when we received a card in the mail inviting participation in a sleep study for teens with sleep disorders he immediately said, YES! Maybe they can help me sleep…

Did you know that sleep coaching can be as effective as medication for developing better sleep? That’s what the researchers told us. It hasn’t entirely solved the problem; this will be his life-long issue. But it has helped, and we’re grateful. It’s also gone a long way towards demonstrating his parents’ love for him and care for his well-being.

What did we do?

The study involved, for Tween and for me, a series of phone and in-person interviews plus on-paper assessments before we could be admitted to the study, repeated periodically over the course of a year. Tween spent the night at the university a couple times. No, he did not wear electrodes all over his head. Instead, they took saliva and administered computer tests throughout the afternoon/evening, and again in the morning. For a week at a time, a few times, he had a daily phone interview with a researcher, and other weeks he wore a special watch that works much like a FitBit to record activity, light, and sleep.

Best of all, he met weekly for an hour with a sleep coach over seven weeks. We haven’t seen the official study results yet so we don’t truly know what the researchers discovered. We do know, however, what we learned from Tween’s sleep coach.

What did we learn?

For Tween, and for many of us who struggle with sleep, his thoughts proved a massive obstacle to sleep. Any of this sound familiar? Watching the clock. Pondering (trying not to ponder) thoughts from today or concerns about tomorrow. Expecting not to fall asleep. Worrying about when you might fall asleep. Trying to force sleep. Wondering why in the world is it so hard for me to sleep?

He has to calm his mind…

Get rid of the clock. We removed Tween’s digital alarm clock from his room. He now has to trust that, if his parents haven’t woken him, it is not time to be awake. This works for adults, too. Silence your smart phone, then set an alarm. Don’t look at it until it goes off.

Journal. An hour or so before bed, write down all the things you want to remember from today or brainstorm for tomorrow. Make notes so you free up brain space to begin to relax.

Gratitude. Reset your brain by focusing on the things for which you can be grateful. Recording three unique items for gratitude each day has also been shown to increase happiness.

Wind down. This was one of our biggest and best discoveries. For an hour before bed, turn off the screens. Turn down the lights (more mood lighting, less overheads). Instead of playing video games or watching TV, read a (kinda boring) book. Journal. Draw. Do a puzzle. Whatever it is that relaxes you, do that. Wind down can also include nightly rituals, like a bath/shower, a cup of herbal tea, a hand-and-foot massage, or diffusing essential oils. We know bedtime routines are essential for littles, yet we forget how truly relaxing those routines can be.

Restrict bed for sleep only. We read bedtime stories to our kids in bed. We send them to bed a few minutes early with a book. Except reading in bed trains our brains to go crazy in bed, whereas we want our brains to cue that bed means sleep. Set up a separate in-bedroom cozy nook for reading/wind down time.

Block light. Another key discovery: even the tiniest bit of light disturbs sleep, another reason to ban the digital clock. If you can’t get rid of all light sources, try a sleep mask. Tween occasionally pulls his out; I use mine every night, no fail. It’s annoying at first. You get used to it.

White noise. We are big believers in bedroom fans. The fan doesn’t have to point at the bed, and it doesn’t have to be on high. A little air movement and a little whirring will do the trick, even if you wear ear plugs–another plus for light sleepers.

Get up. If you’re not sleeping after what feels like a half-hour, get up; keep lights low (store a small flashlight or head lamp nearby) and do something quiet and relaxing. After what feels like another half-hour, go back to bed. Repeat until you can fall asleep.

Rise up! Don’t hit snooze in the morning, just get up. Wash your hands and face with cold water. Open the windows, head out the door, search out the sun. You can move your way into greater energy even when you want to collapse. Get going, and keep going, until wind down time.

There were other tips–limit caffeine; don’t nap; keep your bedtime and wake-up times consistent throughout the week–all common sense. Tweens and teens may need up to 11 hours of sleep per night; 9.5 hours is a reasonable goal, even when that feels completely unreasonable (homework and sports and whatever, oh my!).

Two key moments in our sleep research experience…

It is nearly impossible to estimate your own sleep quantity or quality. We are so accustomed to asking our loved ones, “How’d you sleep?” And we have no idea that there is no way they can accurately answer that question. People simply can’t tell–even as they stare down their clocks–how long it took them to fall asleep, or how long or deeply they slept. Unless you wear a smart gadget, and even those glitch.

Then the sleep coach said something to this effect: “All this only really matters because the world keeps moving on schedule. If you could just sleep in anytime to get the sleep you need, we wouldn’t need to try to regulate your overnight sleep.” Huh.

To that point, I am grateful that our society in general and our local schools particularly have begun to take seriously research on teen sleep. Through adolescence kids need to sleep more in the morning. Not all, but many (most?) do. It’s biology, and we should work with our bodies rather than against them.

For my part, I have begun getting ready for bed when Tween does. I make some herbal tea (I like Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime teas), wash my face, put on a headlamp, and read in the almost-dark until my eyes get heavy. I sleep better on those nights. School is stressful and homework loads vary, so Tween cannot be as consistent at this stage. Nevertheless, he has learned early some very important lessons.

On the drive to our first in-person interview I said, “This is kinda cool! I bet you’re the only middle schooler you know who gets to participate in research at a major university!”

To which he calmly responded: “Yah, but I’m also the only middle schooler I know who has insomnia…”

Someday he won’t be the only adult he knows with insomnia, but he might just be the best-rested insomnia-wrestling adult he knows!

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ReBuild: Mexico 2017

One of the best things our church does fills one week with life-changing experience and takes the rest of the year to plan, then debrief, before planning the next trip: our spring break house building trip to Mexico with Amor Ministries. This year, as in most years, about 250 high school students and adults built hope, twelve new homes, and a classroom for a church in the community. In one week.

In addition to thirteen build teams the trip includes a tool team, a camp crew, a medical team, a camp therapist, and a media team. Layered throughout are the Catalyst student leaders, all seniors, who lead the build teams, and the adult coaches who play a supporting role to their Catalysts. It takes a lot of people putting in a lot of work to pull it all together, and that’s not stating it strongly enough.

Each trip has a theme, and this year’s theme was ReBuild. Guy chose the theme at the end of 2016 and, when he told me, I had to laugh: without consulting one another, he chose a “re” theme for this trip into which he invests so much love, energy, and leadership, while I chose a “re” theme (re:create) as my word of the year, the word that has and will motivate me to new investments of love, energy, and leadership.

The group returned last night, and today in worship we celebrated what God has done. In Mexico, through the buildings, the memories that will last a lifetime, and the hope for a new and better future as people have a safe, dry place to nurture their families. In participants, as so many spoke of new or renewed faith commitments, fresh insights into themselves and their place in the world, and deeper relationships across all the ‘usual’ social boundaries–adults and teens, kids in different grades and from different schools.

We also celebrate what God will do. In families, as this year more than ever I was struck by how many families or family groups participated together–siblings, parent-child, married couples, and whole families; and in families where some or most did not go on the trip, they, too, will be affected by the overflow of experience from those who did. In schools and workplaces, in our church and community, as participants continue to live out their experience over weeks and months and years to come, and as God’s love shines brightly, bringing glory to His name.

As story after story was shared, participants built for the listening congregation a vision of God at work through this week in Mexico. I’m no contractor, but clearly God is our foundation. He created us. He knew our names, He had good plans for us, all before we were yet born. This year, for perhaps the first time in the 27 years of this trip, all teams had solid concrete foundations poured by the end of the first build day. I hope they remember: a strong foundation is essential to a strong structure, and God is our firm foundation.

One after another spoke about the strength of relationships developed in such a short time. And as I reflected on the theme, ReBuild, it occurred to me that we have the power to build supporting walls in each other’s lives. Someone said, “As the walls of the houses went up, the walls in our hearts and lives came down.” That’s true: we build metaphorical walls to protect ourselves from judgment, from criticism, from rejection. And it’s also true that when we find safe people, we can dismantle our walls of protection even as we together build stronger walls of community and encouragement.

Life can be hard, and people can be mean. Too often we throw verbal stones or, for whatever reason (sometimes for no reason, at least no good reason), we tear each other down. No surprise we wall off our hearts! But encouragement and community, they rebuild us and make us stronger.

One young man said he had been seeking community for years. Something clicked this week and he found it, evidenced by a friend’s embrace as he returned to his seat. My Teen has been fortunate to know that community. A twice-monthly before-school boys’ Bible study started with a group of motivated 8th grade guys and has continued through their senior year. They were adult-led until they took up their own leadership, and they have carried it forward in ways that pleasantly surprised their parents and other adult leaders.

Teen got to be a Catalyst this year (achieving one more life goal!), as did many of the Bible study boys. Along with their female peers, they have forged a tight-knit group; their community had a “ripple effect” throughout camp, fostering community with each gentle wave. Teen stood up to thank his fellow Catalysts, and to thank his team. He said, “We became a family. By the end of the week our team was a family building a home for another family.”

I watched with awe as my son–surrounded by community–stood, arms raised, singing:

I’ll stand
With arms high and heart abandoned
In awe of the one who gave it all
I’ll stand
My soul Lord to you surrendered
All I am is yours

Safe to say they are returning home having been rebuilt by God and His gift of community.

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Thankful Thursday – Beach Therapy

I am a beach girl, all about toes-in-sand over body-in-water (although I have heard stories of little me evading my parents’ grasp and running headlong into the waves, fully dressed and shrieking with delight). With proximity to the shore, I breathe differently: deeper, more fully, relaxed. Robinson Jeffers wrote, “The tides are in our veins,” and I agree: again and again the tides pull me back to the coast. I need regular doses of vitamin sea.

So today I am thankful for Pacific Grove, California, one of my favorite places on the planet. I first visited with Guy on college-escape weekends to his parents’ home in Santa Cruz. Back then I referred to Pacific Grove as Monterey, no firm line on the coastal cliffs marking town from city. For most of my kids’ lives we have vacationed there one week each summer. This week, while Guy and Teen build homes in Mexico, Tween and I got away for a few blissful days.

Our summer “‘Cation House” unavailable, this trip started with a Groupon for two-nights’ stay at The Olympia Lodge at the end of Lighthouse Avenue, a five-minutes’ walk from Point Pinos Lighthouse and the rocky shore. The lodge is a little like Grandma’s house–friendly, cozy, a few updates but mostly old in a comfortable way. We don’t require luxury and the price made it right. We’d stay there again.

Tween and I scrabbled on rocks and examined tide pools. He led the way, pointing out stable rocks to land each step, calling, “Mom, look, look!” We saw so many hermit crabs, anemones, even a chiton. We saw nesting Canada geese. Never have we seen so many seals and sea otters in the wild, bobbing in the waves. The sun hitting surf spray created flashes of rainbows. And everything was blooming!

While Tween “rested” (read: stared at phone) I went for an almost-two-hour walk from the golf course to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and back. I walked and prayed and people-watched. People walked alone or in pairs. Many walked dogs. Some ran or biked or laughed with loved ones as they maneuvered surrey bikes. Some sat, soaking in the view. A couple of middle-aged men enjoyed a glass of white wine; when I smiled, one remarked: “What better way to end the day?” Indeed!

Some appeared to be turned inwards (one or two even in tears), while many, like me, smiled because they couldn’t help themselves. It wasn’t until later that I realized: perhaps I noticed so many smiles in direct response to the slap-happy ridiculous grin on my face!

Tween and I enjoyed all of our regular activities–a few hours at the aquarium followed by a walk down Cannery Row, a scrumptious chocolate-caramel sample at Ghirardelli Chocolates, and drinks at Starbucks. We ‘socialized’ puppies (held, played, laughed, and loved puppies!) at the animal rescue. We looked for potential new reads at BookWorks.

We also bought art supplies and spent an hour drawing the view. We devoured guacamole and chips and burritos vegetales smothered in enchilada sauce from Michael’s Grill & Taqueria. And we went paddle boating on Lake El Estero next to the Dennis the Menace Park. Tween hadn’t been paddle boating since his legs were too short to reach the pedals. The half-hour ride around the lake, which afforded us an up-close view of two herons and a pair of turtles, was a perfectly relaxing way to end a perfectly relaxing couple of days.

Next spring break Tween will be on a school-sponsored trip, and the following year he expects to join his dad on the Mexico trip. This week was our final spring break hurrah for just the two of us. I’m grateful we did it right!

 

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Found!

If you attended our church this morning, you heard Guy preach this story. If you know me well, you may have heard me tell this story. Having studied Luke 15 earlier this week, this story has lingered on my heart. It has become a touchstone of faith for our family, a reminder of God’s love and protection.

Mother’s Day weekend, May 2011, we went camping with friends in Yosemite National Park. Between us we had four adults and five boys, ages seven to twelve. Tween was the youngest, having turned seven just a few days earlier.

Saturday morning we made our way up the Vernal Falls trail. Less than two miles round-trip, it’s still a moderate hike with a 400 foot elevation gain. We went slowly, re-configuring along the way: at times I walked with my Guy, other times with my friend. The boys, older adventurers in the lead with the youngers working hard to keep up, mostly scrabbled up and over the rocks to the left of the trail, reappearing now and again.

Tween loves to adventure with his brother, but he’s less adventurous at heart. He needs to periodically touch Mama before racing off after the boys. I was grateful we’d dressed him in a long-sleeved, bright red, highly visible T-shirt.

At one dramatic vista point, we stopped to admire the raging Merced River below, a rare sight in the California drought. Guy nudged me onward, but I lingered; Tween hadn’t checked in. At that spot, he really should have. We shared a look, and then began running.

The other couple had four boys, but not five. Where was Tween?

Panic-struck, the men dropped their packs with me and ran in opposite directions: one up, the other down. The other mama continued walking with the boys, while I stayed put with the packs I couldn’t lift anyway.

Commence the longest hour of my life. When it had passed, you could have told me it had been five hours and I would’ve nodded, yes, of course. Time elongated, tortuously so.

Tween was born five weeks early. The pastor who came to pray with me read Psalm 91. Verse 11 jumped off the page–this baby, too early on his way into the world, needed God’s protection. We have prayed this verse for him all his life: God will put His angels in charge of you to protect you wherever you go. Considering he’s a true homebody, preferring to go nowhere, it has provided regular comfort.

Over and over and over I claimed that promise for my lost baby as I sat alone on that trail. I focused on the waterfall trickling on the rock face across from me, trying to block images of my fallen child, foot stuck between rocks, or washing away in the mad river. Each time people came around the bend I hoped they had my little one in tow. They didn’t, but one young girl wore a shirt that read: “God is good all the time.” I accepted it as reassurance that God was, indeed, protecting Tween.

Feeling overwhelming responsibility, Teen came back to sit with me. He cried angry tears. How had he lost his little brother? We prayed together before he ran to catch up.

When he came back again his face was still wet with tears but he shouted: We’ve got him! Just as Guy arrived at the ranger station and the ranger picked up the phone to call Search and Rescue, our friend arrived at the Vernal Falls footbridge and found Tween with a family with kids about his size. He called his wife who called Guy, then sent Teen back to me so we could all rejoice in the good news.

Somehow Tween had landed on the trail ahead of our group. He thought he was behind, so he raced on. He described his mama to everyone he passed, and when this family realized he was lost, they kept pace with him. When Tween didn’t see us at the footbridge, he wanted to keep going. They kept him safe, knowing that parents wouldn’t keep hiking up the Mist Trail without their young child.

Two weeks later neighbors suggested we spend Memorial Day at Muir Beach. We’d never been and we love the beach. That day, though, turned out to be cold and windy, a hard beach day. I couldn’t sit still to enjoy idle conversation. Dogs and kids played–my polar bears even waded into the water–while Guy and I walked the length of beach, back and forth, moving just to keep warm.

As Tween jumped behind a boulder, I realized he was again wearing his red T-shirt. Sheesh, you’d think he’d be easy to see! He popped back into sight and kept running after his brother.

The boys hopped from rock to rock when we heard, “Is that Tween?” Honest to God, the same family who had found him in Yosemite were standing on the beach. Seriously, what are the odds? We thanked them again, profusely. Tween calls them his angels (later we had to encourage him that, while God did use this family to protect him, we couldn’t count on them to show up if Tween acted irresponsibly…)

Beginning when he was four, we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with Tween night after night. One night a few months after Tween met his angels, we again came to the last story. It was sweet to snuggle and read together, so we kept going. Here’s the last page:

I looked at Tween. He was beaming and I realized more was going on than just bedtime stories. I asked, “You believe that, right? You’ve said ‘Yes’ to Jesus?” He smiled and nodded, so I continued, “That means that, even more than my child, you are God’s dear child. He loves you and you belong to Him.”

Those 25 minutes were the highlight of my week, and that may not be saying enough. God gave me the assurance that my child loves Jesus and wants to live God’s story for his life. The hour my child was lost was the worst of my life, but he has been found. Jesus came to seek and to save His lost children. Thank you, Jesus, thank you, a thousand times thank you!

Jesus: Our Shepherd
Found: Luke 15

Connect
When have you searched for something you’d lost?

Study
Read aloud Luke 15:1-7.
Jesus assumes that his audience would have the experience of searching for one of their own lost sheep. How might Jesus tell this parable today?
How is the sinner like the lost sheep? How is repentance like being found?
What is the shared emotional response between finding the sheep and the sinner’s repentance (vv. 5-7)? Why is that significant?
What is the role of “friends and neighbors” (v. 6)? Why are they important?
Who are the 99 righteous? Do they really not need to repent?
Why do the Pharisees and teachers complain (v. 2)? How does Jesus’ parable respond to their complaint?
Parables have one main point. How would you state Jesus’ one main point in this parable?

Live
How does a critical attitude get in the way of hearing Jesus?
Who went looking for you when you were lost? Who have you gone looking for?
Who are your “friends and neighbors” with whom you can celebrate found sheep?
How might joy be the antidote to criticism? What can you do to cultivate joy in the Lord?
For which lost sheep are you praying?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray specifically for the lost sheep you love to be found by Jesus.

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On the Go

To my senior quote in my high school yearbook I included Matthew 28:20–“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” With life as I knew it coming to an end and a future on the horizon I could barely imagine, I relished the comfort that Jesus would always be with me. No matter what happened, no matter the highs or lows of circumstance, I would never be alone.

Fast forward six years to flowers from a friend on the occasion of my being hired for my first paid ministry gig. The card read: “Go and make disciples!” I had prayed so long and hard for this professional opportunity that her words, well-chosen from Matthew 28:19, felt like confirmation: my always-present God would be with me as I shared the good news of His great love with others.

Fast forward another four or so years: Guy and I were married, both working at the same church, both attending seminary part-time. We were also pregnant. During the last months of pregnancy, we were enrolled in a Leadership class. [Funny side note: I wrote the end notes for my final paper while in labor. Sadly but not surprisingly, I had to rewrite them after Teen was born].

Professor wrote a note on that final paper, wondering why I hadn’t reflected more on parenting as leadership. He had taught about it but, as much as that baby-in-belly animated my body and imagination, I couldn’t yet wrap my brain around how much leadership goes into the significant and mundane acts of parenting.hands-1920854_1920

Eighteen years later, I’d like to hit Rewind rather than Fast Forward. While some days felt oh-so-loooong, and I am generally grateful to be done with certain seasons, overall this parenting gig might have been on Fast Forward x4. Now Teen is a high school senior, actively preparing for his own can’t-even-imagine-it future.

As I listened to this morning’s sermon on Matthew 28:16-20, as I pondered the distinction between making Christian converts and making disciples of Christ, I recalled that Leadership class. As a parent, I wasn’t aiming at my kids’ one-time decisions; I hope, instead, that I modeled, taught, and led them into a lifestyle of putting God first; loving Jesus with all my heart, soul, and strength; asking not just what I want but what God wants for me, for us.

So much of parenting happens on the go: in the car, between activities, running errands. Jesus knew that, of course, which is why “Go and make disciples” might be translated, “As you are going, make disciples.” Which means I should always be prepared to give a good and gentle answer to anyone who asks about my faith. To anyone, but especially my children.

As we are going to school. As we are walking the dog. As we are carpooling. As we are on the sidelines at the game. As we are doing homework. As we are making and eating dinner. As we are doing chores. As we are going to church, yes, but in all life’s other moments as well.

I never intended to raise young Christian converts, products of a one-time decision. Instead, I intended to make disciples, young men whose decisions over time will show that they have become life-long followers of Jesus Christ.

Come & See – Matthew 28:16-20

Connect
Reflect on a significant lesson you learned from a teacher/mentor. What makes that lesson stand out?

Study
Read Matthew 28:16-20.
Why do you think Matthew tells us that some worshiped Jesus while others doubted (v. 17)?
Why does it matter that Jesus has authority in heaven and earth (v. 18)?
According to vv. 19-20, what does it mean to “make disciples”?
Why does Jesus reassure His disciples of His ongoing presence with them (v. 20)?

Live
Who was instrumental in your growth as a disciple?
How have you discipled others?
What is the difference between making Christian converts and making disciples of Christ?
What might help those who doubt take steps toward Jesus? What could get in their way?
In an average week, who might you meet in the places you go that God might want you to disciple? What could that look like?
What does this passage communicate about what it means to be Jesus’ disciple?
What is Jesus saying to you through this study, and how will you respond?

Pray
Pray that God will direct you to people and opportunities to share His love.

An Uncommon Commitment

The month, and again, the week before he began 6th grade and a new school (Aug 2015), I asked Tween when we could get his hair cut. The first time, he shrugged, very pre-teen of him. The second time he responded, “I’m not. I already put it out on Instagram that I’m growing my hair to donate to charity.”

To which I replied, “First, you have an Instagram account? And secondly, that’s not something you thought you should talk over with your parents first?”

[In my defense, he is my second child and WAY more tech-savvy than anyone else in our home…]

I spent about a week trying to talk him out of it. New school. New teachers and friends. First impressions. Long hair can be a pain. Kids can be mean. It could be a bigger commitment than he understood. I suggested he wait until he’s 16 and donate blood–no necessary prep time.

He held his ground. He said, “Mom, there are kids who can’t grow hair. I can. I’ve got great hair. And I’m 11! I don’t want to wait until I’m 16 to do something good for others!”

Why on earth was I trying to talk my kid out of being a good guy with a generous heart?

He has fabulous hair, thick with a few curls and slight waves, a blonde-strawberry color that cannot be produced from a bottle (I’ve long said that if a colorist tried to do my hair his color, I’d end up pink). Some child/ren will be blessed with a wig made from his fantastic goldilocks.

I gave in, and together we researched different organizations. We ruled out the Big One (you know, the one you assume receives all hair donations), because they charge patients for wigs. We pulled up six or eight different tabs and I left him to do his own reading and research. This was his project and he needed to choose the organization that tugged on his heart. I warned him, though, that most organizations won’t take processed hair and, because of my blonde highlights, I would likely not be able to join in his efforts…

Things mamas don’t expect to do with tween-age sons: invest in good conditioners and better brushes; loan him your hair ties and buy him not-too-feminine head bands. Also, blow dry his thick mane while you simmer with jealousy. And grow out your own hair because doing it himself is not enough–he wants to mount a campaign of hair donation.

We left Tween in front of the computer while we went to the Farmers’ Market. We hadn’t yet parked when he called: “MOM, I found it! Children with Hair Loss will take eight inches, not ten, and they’ll take processed hair in good condition! You can do it with me!!!”

Ugh, his sweet enthusiasm! Donating my oh-so-fine hair had never been on my bucket list. I tolerate this hair; will someone else want it? I have bad dreams that I’ll receive a rejection letter… And yet, all parents recognize that our kids take us in directions we’d never expected, so my hair is now longer than it has been in 20 years, since pre-kid days.

Having heard about Tween’s campaign, two 20-somethings, a former babysitter and her friend, have donated hair. Two girls at church, one in middle school and another in high school, have donated hair. A mom of two littles cut off her long black locks and she, too, will send her hair to Children with Hair Loss. And then us: Tween and me. He went first. I have another month.

Three weeks ago Guy took Tween to his barber; Guy needed a cut, Tween needed a measure. And to make sure Guy’s barber was down with the ponytail/donation method. Far beyond the necessary eight inches, Tween was closer to twelve.q-hair-1

At which point he panicked. His whole middle school identity has been wrapped up in being the long-haired boy. He got major social cred with the girls as soon as his hair was long enough to braid–and he let them (smooth move, Kid!). It took a while to wrap his brain around a looming new identity…

Tween’s last haircut was just before his 11th birthday, early May 2015. At that point we had no idea this commitment would appear on our horizon, so honestly, his haircut could have been end-April 2015–when didn’t seem to matter as much as that it happened. Today, at least 21 months later, he got a hair cut.

q-hair-2q-hair-3q-hair-5

I am so proud of this generous kid. Of his sweet heart. Of his uncommon commitment. I can’t take credit. He is his own amazing person. I’m just grateful for getting to swing in his orbit, for becoming a better person because of his example to me.

“Ain’t Ever Getting Older”

Except, he is.

We went to Tahoe to celebrate his eighteenth birthday and brought five of his friends, including a girl, so they could attend a three-day music festival. This was Teen’s one and only request for his Big Deal B-day, and since December birthdays have clear drawbacks, we decided to make it happen.

tahoe-1Originally, the ticket was his gift, on one condition: a trustworthy adult who knows him and cares about him would lay eyes on him at the end of each day. When he couldn’t find that person, we ponied up.

Twenty-plus years of youth ministry, leading and chaperoning countless trips with, oh, thousands of kids over those years, should qualify us to take six teenagers away for four days. But “parent” is different than “leader” and I wasn’t sure I felt up for four mid-holiday days of serving Teen’s friends (cooking, cleaning, shuttling). And yet. This was a chance to demonstrate BIG love.

Well worth it!

We rented a three-story house in South Lake Tahoe, 57 stairs bottom to top—at altitude, those stairs loomed tall in our weekend workout. The boys jumped on unloading the car, carrying suitcases and bags (and boxes) of food. We laid out a spread of chips and dips and cheese and crackers and fruit and they happily ate up, comparing thoughts on the day’s music line-up and who they would see at what time on which of three stages.

They were gone from about 2:30-11:30pm each day, which meant we fed them breakfast when they rolled out of bed, earlier than expected; cleaned up; fed them lunch–or at least put out snacks they stuffed in hidden jacket pockets to sneak in to the venue; and cleaned up again before Guy dropped them off at the shuttle. Then he, Tween, and I were on our own to enjoy time together (sightseeing, walks, movies, board games).tahoe-2

The kids were kind, talkative, and hysterically funny. They kept us in stitches as they used words in new ways, creating their own code they hoped might hit a stage and boomerang through the crowds. They chattered endlessly about who they’d seen, both on and off stage, who they hoped to see, who they danced with, even who kissed who. They stumbled in before midnight to eat the hot dinner we had waiting for them, except on New Year’s Eve, really New Year’s Day, when the crush to exit the venue had them fed and to bed before 2am.

Besides the tired around his eyes, I have rarely seen Teen so full-body happy since childhood. He thought Night 1 was the best night of my life until he got to Night 3 which he said was definitely The Best Night of My Life! My non-touchy kid gave me kisses and hugs, and at weekend’s end he generously thanked us for such a great celebration.

If gratitude, good and kind friends, and unselfconscious happiness aren’t signs he’s getting older, I’m not sure what is.

[Chainsmokers headlined the 2017 SnowGlobe Music Festival. Closer is their big radio hit]