High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

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Swing

A few years ago, our neighbor took down their simple tree swing. He walked across the court and put it under our pine tree, then returned to his garage to get a ladder and tools. Within minutes, their slightly-older children had bequeathed to ours a perfectly good source of outdoor entertainment.

Now adolescents, I suppose my kids might be too old to spend much time on the swing. We keep it up, though, for the waiting times – waiting for rides, for friends, during transitions. And the neighbor kids come up the court when the weather’s nice. I love hearing little kid laughter from our front yard. It makes me giggle in chorus.swing

Some months ago a friend challenged her social media followers to do something childlike. I immediately thought of our swing, and so I spent a few minutes swinging. I had thought I didn’t like swinging, that as I get older the motion makes me a tad seasick. And yet, it didn’t. It was fun, playful, indeed, childlike.

We’re in that funny NorCal time of year when technically the calendar declares Winter and yet we experience Spring-like days. The sky is blue, the birds sing, flowers pop up from the ground, trees bud, oh, and allergies make my eyes sting. While I would be thrilled for the heavens to dump a few more feet of rain on our parched landscape, meanwhile the beautiful light quality makes me happy. It makes me want to play outside.

So I’ve been swinging on my tree swing regularly. The other day I set the toaster for four minutes and ran outside to swing until the timer beeped. Other days I’ve set the timer on my phone for five minutes and played until it goes off.

On the swing, I feel my body – legs pumping rhythmically, lungs filling and exhaling, heart thumping with joyful exertion. I feel the rough rope in my hands and the air on my face and blowing through my hair. I move fast and pump hard, and then rest, floating. I see sky between branches, pine cones opening to distribute their seeds, California poppy leaves taking over our once-lawn. I hear the creak of the swing and the branch, the birds as they flit from tree to tree.

Five minutes seems like a completely do-able amount of time for a break. I don’t have to think. I get to just be in the best, most human sense. I suppose I’m getting exercise, moving my body in ways that I wouldn’t otherwise, but that’s not the point.

The point is play. It has occurred to me to wonder if the neighbors are peaking out their windows, wondering what’s gotten into me. It has also occurred to me to tell my inner critic to bug off. Who cares if a grown woman on a swing, no children in sight, looks like a nut case? I’m having fun. I’m gathering a new perspective. I’m enjoying the day and my place in space. I’m saying YES! to life.

How about you? What do you do for play that reconnects you to child-likeness and helps you gain perspective?

Transitions

Eleven years ago today this Beautiful Boy was born:

1 week old

1 week old

His brother wasn’t yet three years old when we began praying/hoping/trying for Baby #2, and it took twice as long for this one’s arrival on Planet Earth (+prayers, tears, too-many doctor visits, pain, and money). His brother was 5 1/2 years old when Lil’ Guy surprised us with his five-weeks-early arrival; his brother said, “Oh, yay! I needed someone to play with today!”

5-9 Q and Dene-OMy dad held our New One for the first time at Four Days Old. Lil’ Guy had jaundice; so did Dad. They kind of match, if you look closely. Dad was diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer not long after I discovered I was at-last pregnant. He lived for fifteen+ months with a cancer that kills too many in about three months.

[Just so we’re clear, this post is harder to write than most…]

I worked hard to capture this pout!

I worked hard to capture this pout!

Lil’ Guy is all Lovebug, snuggles and sweetness, joy and smiles, laughter and exuberance. Honestly, I’m cracking up just looking at that attempt at a grumpy face, especially because I know only a moment later he cracked up with sillies and tickles and pounce-on-Mommy goobers.

Today he is 11 years old. This morning he left for school-sponsored Science Camp, a sleep-away camp for the next four nights. Yup, he will sleep away from home on his birthday for the first time at 11 years old. I slept away from home on my birthday for the first time at 18 years old and, even then, I thought it something of an injustice. What, the whole world doesn’t stop for my birthday? You’ve got to be kidding me, I have a mid-term exam On My Birthday? Egads!

As parents, we tried to bill this week as: “The Biggest and Best Birthday Party EVER!”

Tween is smart, creative, talented (you should hear him play trumpet!), devoted, funny, loving, sweet, sensitive, peacemaking, willful, and a little bit sassy: of late, as he steps into this new stage, I call him my “sassy sapling.”

This year has been odd: Teen growing into the independence of mid-adolescence, increasing amounts of friend-time and driving; and Tween rounding the corner towards Middle School. I have been aware since August that my Baby is almost done with what we call “Childhood.” I’ve ached with it all year, almost like the groans of pregnancy.

Q social

Tween + friends, discussing “Life.”

Ten years ago today Dad slipped into Eternity. Ten years ago last night my siblings and I slept over at my parents’ house, our childhood home. Actually we’d had a several-nights’-sleepover; Night 1 of which involved sipping wine and telling stories late into the wee hours. Did we expect Dad to go in our midst? Maybe. I wish someone had turned on a video camera, as we told stories and extended grace to one another like I’ve never experienced before or since, our individual and complimentary gifts magnified by the light of life and death. In the middle of the night Dad made it clear he wanted a sip, too, so we brought him a glass of wine and a straw, and held it to his mouth. Always a pleasure-seeker, I hope he enjoyed it.

So Yes, Tween’s birthday is also the anniversary of my Dad’s death, which makes today stranger than strange.

I have the coffee mug from Dad’s local coffee shop, which I had made for him, emblazoned with his name. After a too-long hiatus from his own visits to the shop, obviously due to health issues they didn’t know, I picked up his mug for him and he was thrilled to have it back for a time. For nine years I sipped morning coffee from his mug on May 4th (Tween’s birthday/Dad’s passing) and October 15th (Dad’s birthday).

Ten years makes a difference.

Today, I did not completely fall to pieces.
Today, I chose not to sip from Dad’s coffee mug; I can drink from Dad’s mug on his birthday, or other days, but maybe not during the celebration of Tween’s birthday. I did, however, drink a margarita in Dad’s honor.
Today, I saw Tween off to camp, had a second cup of coffee, and treated myself to a seat in my stylist’s chair.
Today, I honored my dad for his strengths and weaknesses.
Today, I waved “Hello!” from this new stage of life – a whole new era of life and parenting, this ‘new’ church and town and house and community… How my dad would have loved where we are now, who we have become in this place/decade of life!

My dad didn’t get to meet his most recent three grandchildren; he met but didn’t get to know the two before that. All of these children are delightful and amazing and full-of-life. Dad would have loved them and (probably) grumped at them at least a little, as was his way.

Q rock toss

Hey, Dad, these kids are Day-Glow, glow-in-the-daylight-and-dark fluorescent-brilliant. And you paved their way. They’ve heard stories – you riding horseback between San Diego’s mountains and beaches; you flying planes the world-over. They love your city, they get where you came from even if they see it only in glimpses. They skip rocks as I’m sure you did in your day.

Today, I appreciate that Dad waves back at us more often than we know. Cheers, Dad! The future looks bright.

Mommy Guilt

Sometimes the person we need to forgive, the one most in need of the gift of grace, is ourselves. We need to release our own guilt. 

A few years ago I had the opportunity to speak to moms of preschoolers on social/emotional development. As I reflected on my children during the preschool years, the topic that demanded reflection and airing was who I was as a parent of a preschooler. So I talked about the moms instead of their kids, specifically mommy guilt. I suspect most moms deal with mommy guilt long beyond the preschool years. I know I have.

Even though Teen is smack in the middle of high school and Tween is rounding the bend toward middle school, the preschool years were some of the hardest and loneliest years of my parenting thus far. I wanted these kids desperately and waited a long time for each of them, and then they arrived: these little people so different from me.

I thought motherhood would be filled with books, arts and crafts, music and baby gym classes, baking special treats – quiet, creative and mostly indoor activities. And while we enjoyed some of those things, Teen took off running full speed before his first birthday and hasn’t stopped since. He wanted to be outside, up a hill, in a tree, at the zoo, collecting snails and lining them up for races; he got the ‘creative’ but not the ‘quiet’ or ‘indoor’ part of my vision.

snail

Meanwhile, I seemed to be surrounded by super moms parenting super kids. While I made activity charts and set timers to balance high- and low-energy activities and wrestled with boredom and most days felt like I was on a see-saw of incredible joy and wanting to yank out my unwashed hair, these moms appeared 100% put-together, never frazzled, and yes, their kids were eating, sleeping and pooping right on schedule.

I watched and listened and tried to take advice. I read about parenting. I joined a moms’ group. I talked with teachers and pediatricians. I tried to apply what I learned. Some of it helped; some of it made me feel much, much worse. Why couldn’t I be the mother I wanted to be? What was wrong with me? Desperately in love with my son, too often I felt like a terrible mom.

One mom who happened to write down a story much like mine said her “Aha!” moment came when she was carefully making the final arrangements for her son’s sixth birthday party, trying so hard to measure up to society’s – and her own – vision of perfect motherhood. As she set the table, her son came bounding in and bounced apart all the work she’d done. She shrieked, “Can’t you see I’m trying to make a nice party for you?”

Can you see his face?
Can you feel her guilt?

As she attempted to be the Pinterest-perfect mother, she moved farther from being her son’s best mother. ‘Doing it all’ on the outside, inside she felt inadequate, overwhelmed, and burned out.

Popular authors Cloud and Townsend point out that most parents are perfectionistic when it comes to their kids. We want to parent perfectly to raise perfect kids. But we aren’t perfect and neither are our kids. Hence, we experience mommy guilt.

I asked my Facebook friends what causes them mommy guilt and their answers mirrored my experience:

I felt guilty for wanting my child to be more like me.
I felt guilty for not understanding more about who he was and what he needed.
I felt guilty for being low-energy when my child had enough energy to power a large metropolis region.
I felt guilty for not having enough time to care for anything well or even adequately –my child, my home, my husband, or myself.
I felt guilty for needing to work and so being away from my child, and I felt guilty for enjoying my work time away from my child.
I felt guilty for not having it all together like the other mommies seemed to.
I felt guilty when my child was the one screaming in the grocery store.
I felt guilty when I was so beat at the end of the day that I read myself to sleep in my child’s bed.
I felt guilty for wanting to read a magazine instead of Moo, Baa, La La La for the 100th time.
I felt guilty for feeling so guilty!
And this one made me laugh: one friend responded that she felt guilty for hiding in the bathroom to eat chocolate so she wouldn’t have to share.

There are plenty of real reasons why a parent could feel guilty, but that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m talking about the real or perceived pressure we put on ourselves to be perfect parents, get it all done (whatever “it” is), to measure up to unrealistic standards…

I think you follow. Take a deep breath and give yourself grace! Yes, you will fall short. So will the people around you. They need grace as well.

One of the most encouraging things I heard during the preschool years was this: “Don’t compare what you know of yourself to what you see in someone else.” I recently heard these quotes: “Comparison is the thief of happiness” and “Faith and worry cannot live in the same heart.” Maybe other parents felt as worn-out as I did and simply did a better job hiding it, but I compared and let it drag me down. I wish we’d all been honest with each other about the joys and struggles of parenting. Friends, find those safe people!

The single most encouraging thing I’ve ever heard about motherhood: God chose me to mother my child. That makes me the perfect mother for my child. YOU are the perfect mother for your child – God intended you to be and grow together. And along the way, God helps, guides, and supports you. He isn’t surprised that life is hard, that it twists and turns. God has equipped you for the journey, and He trusts you to do a good job in His name.

Of course you have things to teach your child, but be open to the ways that God wants to use your child to teach you. There is no one perfect way to raise children. In fact, since God created each person unique, there have to be as many ways to parent a child as there are parents matched with children. While preparing this talk, I found a whole book on just that. Funny, I found it on my own book shelf. I have decided not to feel guilty about not knowing I had a book that might’ve helped me had I realized I had it.

Get to know yourself. Say yes when you can and no when you need to. Parent from your strengths and find others who can fill in where you’re weak. Rely on your husband, and try really hard not to correct him when he does things differently than you would have. Surround yourself and your child with trusted friends and coaches and teachers who can build them up in ways you can’t.

One time when I felt particularly discouraged in parenting, someone asked me what I do well for Teen. Unsure I was doing anything well it took me a while, but eventually I realized that I cheer him on. I know him and understand him and can advocate for him like no one else in this world. That day I decided I would be Teen’s biggest fan. I will never have the organizational strengths to be PTA president, but Teen will always know I have his back. Yes, I know, most moms are big fans of their own kids. But consciously recognizing my own strengths as a mom helps me to let go of my weaknesses.

Hanging in my kids’ bathroom is a series of sayings entitled “How to Really Love a Child.” One line says: “Teach feelings. Heal your own inner child. Learn about parenting.” Unfortunately, as kids, a lot of us didn’t learn feelings, or at least, we didn’t learn well how to feel. We can let God work to heal the little girl hiding in our heart. We can ask God to help us forgive our parents for their own shortcomings. We can let God teach us how to feel – how to love, how to be kind and gentle, how to have strength and courage. The more we know our own hearts the more we will be able to let go of guilt and teach our kids well about feelings.

Colorful & wise

Colorful & wise

One friend confessed that she thinks she comes from a line of guilty mommies and simply inherited a legacy of guilt. As she pondered the idea, her middle schooler entered the room. She asked if he understood “mommy guilt.” He pointed to a specific example when he knew she felt guilty and then said, “Mom, you shouldn’t feel guilty. None of you should. It’s good for moms to take care of themselves!” I’m so impressed that he was able to bless his sweet mama (may we all have such experiences, eventually!).

The flipside of knowing yourself is studying your children. Think about the process you went through as you first got to know someone who has become dear to you. You observed them, asked them questions, spent time getting to know their likes and dislikes, and after all this time they probably still surprise you. If you put so much effort into getting to know your peers, it makes sense that you’ll have to put even more effort into getting to know your children.

I continually unwrap the mystery God built into my kids. They amaze me, surprise me, frustrate and delight me constantly. Having spent sixteen years with Teen, I know to send him outside when he’s having a hard day, when he’s reading a book, when he’s having a good day, pretty much all the time. And of course that doesn’t work as well with Tween because he’s a different kid with a unique personality and needs. I try not to beat myself up any more about what I don’t know. I want to continually become a humble expert in knowing my kids.

What about when we have a real reason to feel guilty? Hallelujah, children are resilient, and even better, God offers forgiveness. When we admit our failures, ask forgiveness, and seek to grow from our mistakes within the context of our families, we model for our kids health and faith. We can learn to be less afraid of mistakes and more afraid of denying them. Romans 8:1 assures us that “…there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus.” No condemnation, no fear, no guilt!

You and I are God’s children, and so are our children. God doesn’t abandon His own. God loves your child more than you do. He fearfully and wonderfully made your child, and He is deeply invested in their growth and safety. Psalm 27:10 promises: “Even if my father and mother abandon me, the Lord will hold me close.”

Not long ago one of my kids pronounced me “the worst mom ever!” I told another mom and she burst out laughing, “No way! That’s my title. You can’t have it. I am the worst mom ever!” Her perspective brought me back to myself. I am not my kids’ mom in order to be their best friend. If I’m doing my job well, they will occasionally not like me at all. And more often than I’d like I will not do my job well. I am not a super mom but I am a good enough mom in love with my kids and trying to be the mom they need.

We’re not perfect and God loves us anyway. We’re not perfect and our kids love us anyway. Let’s give ourselves the grace God wants to freely pour out on us. My favorite line from “How to Really Love a Child” is this: “If they’re crabby, put them in water. If they’re unlovable, love yourself.” Stop the mommy guilt. Let’s trust God and learn to be gentle with ourselves and gracious with others.