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.

Sifting Shifting Sands

I look at the calendar and question whether I must be in a state of deep denial: Teen has only a handful of school days left, then a few days of finals, before he graduates high school. Fifteen days, including weekends, before this long leg of the journey comes to an end.

Oy, I just choked back tears. Not for the first time, certainly not the last.

Obviously I knew this end was coming. In a vague sense, since January I’ve been counting the months, the weeks, now days. I’ve been spending more time at home—more work-at-home afternoons, more nights in on weekends—intending to be present for those unpredictable times when he suddenly overflows with information. I never know what will turn the spigot, and whether it will trickle or gush, but I’m ready to catch the flow.

Sometimes the flow smells more like sewage than good, clean water. Undoubtedly, Teen could tell you more about the biology behind the term for this, called soiling the nest. Fledgling birds apparently make a mess of the nest so their birdy mamas will kick them out. The nasty stench makes it easier to say goodbye.

By refusing to get out of bed, or go to school, or contribute in any meaningful way to a positive home environment; by making me want to scream in place of fruitless nagging, and clench my already-aching jaw, go for a power walk, and come home to a glass of wine consumed in the privacy of my bedroom, we both become ready for a separation. The ridiculous part: by being his worst at home I’m supposed to believe he’s ready to show his best to the world?

I’ve reminded myself: he’s afraid. Everything he’s known and counted on throughout his lifetime is changing, and change is never easy. Sure, the adventures ahead are so exciting. He’s going to his #1 college choice to study his life’s consuming passion and play his sport. A few weeks ago he got a text from an Olympian who recently graduated from the school, congratulating him on his choice and looking forward to working out together. So cool!

Still, he feels vulnerable, unsteady as the sands shift beneath his feet. And I am a safe arm to grab hold of, to catch all the junk he doesn’t know how to process. He can actively push away because he knows we will always be his soft landing spot. Push and pull, shove and yank. Some days it feels like a fistfight; others, a cling-for-your-life embrace. Hard, and normal.

Thankfully, some days I see the man he is becoming. Some days my presence at home has been rewarded with pleas for advice, details of his adventures, arguments on real-life issues he’s working out in his head and sounding out in private. Just yesterday, he invited me to watch one of his favorite movie scenes with him. We laughed side-by-side on the couch, a tender moment (for me) until the scene ended and he said, “That’s it. You can go now.”

We have lived on the California coast his whole life. When he was little, we sat facing each other in the sand, kitchen items between us—colanders, slotted spoons, Tupperware—sifting sand, tossing out the rocks, turning the shells over in our hands, collecting water and building sand castles. Always ready, I watched as he toddled away from me, playing catch-me-if-you-can with lapping waves.

Now he strides into his future, leaving me behind on the beach sifting memories and moments; tossing misshapen ones, treasuring the intricate beauty of others. Long ago as the sand slipped between my fingers I daydreamed of who he would be, how his exuberance would develop into passion for something larger than himself. Now I have space to daydream of other shorelines—and mountain trails and jungle paths—where we will walk together, creating new memories, as he explores life.

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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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Learning to Let Him Go

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Today Teen drove away with friends to cheer on their high school football team in the state championship (Go, Campo Cougars!). Four hours away, in a city they’ve never visited. They’ll stay together in a hotel, arranged by another parent. They’ll return home tomorrow.

It makes me a little nervous, honestly. There will be plenty of adults at the game, but no chaperones at the hotel. A group of teenage boys staying alone overnight…what could go wrong?

But he’s a good kid. He turned 18 last week and he’s off to college in nine months where, obviously, he will have unprecedented freedom. I’ve got to start letting him go sometime.

My parents were overprotective of me and I respected them for it. And I still found a way to occasionally make questionable choices. So my instinct is to overprotect my kid, which he hates because he is way more wired for risk-taking than I am. All the more reason to overprotect, right?

I have to trust him. I have to demonstrate to him that I believe he is worthy of my trust. I have to trust that we’ve done the best job we could raising a responsible young adult. I have to trust that God is looking out for him.

Deep breath, mama. He’s gonna be fine.

Two years ago he asked to go to a rave. I’ve never been to a rave, but I’ve heard more than enough bad about them. He was so determined that I couldn’t be sure he wouldn’t go regardless of our prohibition. So we put a range of protections around him, including logical consequences: an early morning bike ride with his uncle—an adventure to anticipate!—would be so much fun if he wasn’t hung over and terrible if he was, for example. He didn’t drink, and he enjoyed both concert and biking. We found a way to give him what he wanted and satisfy our parental concerns.

Two Halloweens ago, he told us he was going to a party about which we’d heard neighbors had contacted police in advance. We asked him not to go. We were with friends down the street when we heard the sirens. We walked to the house, texted Teen, to which he replied: “Busy.” Paramedics rolled out a stretcher with an intoxicated girl strapped to it. Teen walked next to her until she was in the rig, then turned back to talk to police and the home owner. We stood across the street and watched as our son held a mature discussion with adults.

Turns out he hadn’t had one sip to drink. Instead, when a girl arrived already drunk, he appointed himself her caretaker. He tried to get her to go home. When she refused, he parked her on a couch and got her water. When police, and then paramedics, arrived and she tried to fight them off, he convinced her to go with them peacefully.

Another night he returned from being out with friends and flopped on my bed. “Have I got a story!” he exclaimed. Teen was driving his friends when they witnessed a bad car accident. He pulled over to call 911 and see if he could help (good Eagle Scout!). Fortunately, no one was hurt, but both drivers were badly shaken. They emerged from their cars shouting at each other. Teen separated them. He then talked with each individually, calming them and waiting with them until police arrived. His friends sat in the car, disgruntled at Teen’s good deed-doing because he made them wait. Teen cared more about doing the right thing and less about what his ticked off friends thought.

He doesn’t always make good choices, of course, developing teen brain and all. One night he returned home later than we’d asked but still early, 10pm-ish. He didn’t say a lot, went to his room, and Guy assumed he’d gone to bed. Mom-suspicion sent me to check on him, where I found windows open (under closed curtains) and pillows under bedcovers, topped with stuffed lion mane on the pillow, a nice touch to simulate his own curly-coarse hair. I threw the lion at Guy (feeling betrayed that Teen used my lion-gift to deceive me—and frustrated that I was simultaneously impressed with his creativity) who immediately called him to Come. Home. NOW!

We heard the story over days, in a less-than-effective shouting match, then debate, and finally, calm and cool discussion. He’d left his hat in his friend’s car; the car was low on gas and Friend didn’t want to come back up our cul-de-sac; so Teen hopped out his window to meet him on the main road. Once out, Friend asked if he wanted to stay out, as he didn’t have to be home until 1am. They’d only gone a few blocks when Guy called and Friend was forced to waste gas driving Teen home again.

Meanwhile, I did my own research, asking friends with high schoolers about their curfews. I thought 10:30-11pm seemed reasonable; apparently, that’s early. The football guys (Teen started high school as Football Guy before giving his all to rugby) regularly stay out until 1am on Fridays/Saturdays. Teen didn’t approach the conversation well, but we weren’t listening well, either. We had to listen to his actions to learn to let go.

We’re learning. As a student, Teen’s primary job is learning. My primary job (not the paycheck, the vocation) is parent; I get to be a student of my children, fascinated by their unique temperaments, personalities, and strengths/weaknesses. I have a Master’s Degree focused on Adolescent and Family Ministries, and yet there’s no class on “Teen Ricketts.” Some days I don’t even want to learn to let him go, and yet I want to launch him well. This learning may come harder, yet it’s that much more important.

Meatless Monday – Apple Pie Oatmeal

Wish we could turn back time, to the good old days
When our momma sang us to sleep but now we’re stressed out
Stressed Out, 21 Pilots

I’m no singer but, like many mamas, I sang my babies to sleep. I even made up my own lullaby for Baby Teen which became Baby Tween’s lullaby as well. It was part of our ritual, a favorite few moments at the end of each day.

I don’t sing to them anymore. And there are absolutely times when any one of us might agree to take a spin on Hermione Granger’s time turner, back to those good old low-stress days.

An acquaintance inquired after Teen the other day. She said, “Every time I see him he seems so stressed out.”

He’s a high school senior attending a top 1% school in an extremely competitive, achievement-oriented community. So, yes, he is stressed out. And, bummer.

Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Back to School week did not go swimmingly. No, swimmingly is for summertime: fun in the sun, no set schedules, no morning hustle-bustle, and most importantly, No Homework, just learning and reading for fun. And far fewer arguments.

School Day 1 ended with a parent-child shouting match. Topic: stress and stress avoidance.

School Day 2 included Tween promising that he didn’t need his trumpet until next week. Later, a text that read: “I need my trumpet RIGHT NOW!”

School Day 3 we forgot high school late start day, so Teen arrived to school an hour early. You’d think by senior year we’d all be dialed in to the school schedule.

You know what helps?

Hanging on to gratitude, a regular priority with renewed back-to-school emphasis.

I am grateful for…

Smart, strong, healthy, energetic boys who will be and do well in this world despite adolescent bumps.

Good schools, albeit imperfect.

A fantastic Day 2 conversation with Teen to make up for the previous day’s shouting match. We shared a sweet half-hour talking through pros and cons of different decisions and how each might affect his days, senior year, and whatever comes next.

Tween’s Day 2 homework: a half-page explanation of “What Makes Me Special.” I think this should be a regular assignment for all humans. We are special, and we should gratefully appreciate the characteristics that make us so.

Consistent day-to-day routines: exercise after drop-off, bedtime reading with Tween. What a gift that he still enjoys reading aloud with Mama at 12 years old!

Also, a healthy, hearty breakfast made once and quickly warmed up to enjoy throughout the week. Sure makes the morning rush more delicious!

The kids add Craisins, I add fresh fruit

The kids add Craisins, I add fresh fruit

Apple Pie Oatmeal
Serves 4

Boil three cups water. Add 1 cup steel cut oats (I use Bob’s Red Mill) and 1 cored and diced apple. Return to boil and reduce heat to medium. Cook for 10-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add 1 tsp cinnamon (or pumpkin pie spice). Serve with a sprinkle of cinnamon, Craisins, raisins, or fresh fruit, and a splash of non-dairy milk. Recipe can be easily doubled.

Thankful Thursday – Kickin’ the Door Shut & a Happy Dance!

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By 12:20pm tomorrow, both our boys will be done with this school year.

Hallelujah!

This has been a particularly rough year for a variety of reasons. Junior year for Teen, filled to the brim with cultural stress even when our immediate little family wasn’t topped to our own stress limit. Unfortunately for all of us, his school counselor didn’t take time to look up at the student sitting before her when she advised he take certain classes (he shouldn’t have taken) and absolutely wouldn’t allow others (completely in his wheelhouse). All year long we have been paying for the mistake of not standing up to a school administrator while there was time. What a painful lesson we have learned…

Sixth grade for Tween, which means we now have one year of middle school under our belts. You’d think “experienced parents” might have this down but different kids transition differently, which makes for a different experience all ’round. We used to say that Teen leaped through 6th grade like a series of belly flops–fun in the air, painful on impact, everyone gets splashed. Tween has been way less adventurous and more consistently bewildered by the new demands on his life. A’s for effort, though, as this kid has been diligent in his hard work, sometimes doing two to six hours of homework per night (yes, WAY too much, and darn that slow processing!)…and then forgetting to turn it all in, or losing it (in his backpack) for weeks. Sigh.

But tonight I am truly grateful. Grateful we are done, mostly. I have been ready to kick the door shut on this year for, oh honestly, months. At least weeks. And yet I am also grateful for the free and fantastic education in our competitive small town. Grateful for the collateral lessons of organization, communication, self-advocacy, assertiveness, creativity, persistence, and more.

I am grateful for my children, these beautiful, amazing, creative gifts from God, each their very own unique human being. And I am grateful that for the next ten weeks we will not argue about homework. I will not have to wake them earlier than their bodies want to rush them out the door. I will not have to hurry them off to bed to get enough rest for the big day, big test/project, the next day’s measurement of their (supposed) worth.

I am grateful for summer and its lazy days slower pace. I am grateful for the adventures that await us individually and as a family–trips to San Diego and Mexico, Oregon and Monterey/Carmel as a family; Boy Scout camp for both boys; high adventure risk-taking for the Eagle Scout-Teen.

I am grateful for summer’s organic learning. Books to read just for fun. Scout badges that will precipitate new experiences and open their minds to new discoveries. Time to hike and climb and explore…just because.

I am grateful for a season of rest. I am grateful for friends we enjoy all year long, friends who have done this year with us, and who will now stretch out into this rest with us. For field trips and day trips ahead. For bowling and roller coasters and movies and beach days and swimming. For glasses of wine and laughter. For concerts and picnics in the park. For worship with our church family.

I am grateful, and so I have been doing my own crazy happy dance all day. Psalm 149:3 says, “Praise his name with dancing…” God has held us close during this chaotic year. He has gotten us through, and He has provided rest just ahead. Want to happy dance this joy with me?

Project Parenting

C at sea

This morning I had a long-overdue cuppa tea with a friend. Of course we talked about our kids. My Teen is a few years ahead of hers, and so conversations in our home run a different course than she has to deal with quite yet – driving, drinking, dating, college, life goals and plans… My friend has a special gift for making me feel like a stellar mom, even though I suspect all moms (all parents) just do their best in each moment, none of us truly knowing exactly what to do or how to do it. And each kid is entirely different, complicating this whole Parenting thing.

The closer Teen gets to high school graduation, the more I am convinced that there is no One Path Fits All. I am also increasingly convinced that culturally we have done our kids a disservice, robbing them of the freedom and fun of childhood far too early. My kid isn’t me, and the world he occupies isn’t the one in which I grew up. I wish I had realized that years ago and encouraged him to take the most fun-for-him classes that would also get him through middle school and high school, competition-based “shoulds” be damned. I have another kid who might yet benefit from this enlightened perspective, but chances are high that his path will be so entirely different that lessons learned with Teen won’t fit. Sigh.

A few hours later I read a magazine article about people who engage in long-term projects: hiking the Appalachian Trail, for example, or completing a cross-stitched quilt that consumed “free time” on and off for close to 50 years. The quilter said, “In art, when you’re creating, you have to be open to the possibilities” (Sister Judith Ann Shea, quoted by Amy Shearn in Real Simple, Feb 2016). Shearn goes on to say:

Being, and staying, open to the possibilities. That, right there, is exactly the near mystical appeal of the long haul… [The similar attitudes of those who undertake long-term projects] remind me to enjoy the slowness of a worthy, complex endeavor, to surround myself with positive people, and to remember to laugh, even through the moments that aren’t fun, even when you look in front of you and see hundreds more miles to walk…

Which sounds a whole lot like parenting, one heckuva worthy long-term endeavor! You create a family (whatever that looks like, but at least involves parent and child), and then you stay open to possibilities. You commit your life to help another human being create their life. The complexity of parenting takes every ounce of parental creativity; once you think you’ve got anything figured out, your kid changes or circumstances change and you find yourself back at, well, not Square 1, but at least a few steps off.

Which is why parents need to surround themselves with positive people, safe friends who Get It, who will listen and not try to fix you or your kids because none of you truly require fixing. We all need friends who love us unconditionally, friends who won’t judge. Friends who help us remember to laugh especially through the no-fun moments that threaten to last forever.

Not new news, of course, but today it feels like a fresh perspective:

Parenting = the most creative long-term project I will ever undertake.

Good thing I like creative projects. Thank God for the gift of this family, and thank God for friends to walk alongside as together we enjoy the slowness of this hike of a lifetime.