Muck

I like cute-creative Halloween. Not ghosty-ghouly-gorey Halloween.

Like the year Tween dressed as a skeleton on Hawaiian vacation: skeleton costume plus grass skirt with Mardi Gras beads and puka shells topped with a straw hat. Cute, creative, and made us all laugh.

As I walk the dog through decked out neighborhoods, I continually avert my eyes to the dog, to my own plodding feet, to avoid the grossing-me-out décor. Pumpkins and hay bales, all good. Severed bloody limbs hanging from trees? No way.

I do the same with social media and news reports, which these days seem about the same. But even as I ignore insensitive comments, I can’t help arguing with them in my head. Did they read or hear the same info I did? Then how in the world did we come to such different conclusions?

How in the world, indeed. How in the world…

The other day I heard someone comment that we’ve had a bad week, oh, for about a year now.

Yes. That feels spot on.

As that comment ricocheted around my brain, I recognized that I feel increasingly, steadily, angry. Naturally an optimist, I seem to have lost myself, as I can’t find much about which to be optimistic.

I hate how noisy the world has become, with everyone shouting at one another. Not only disagreeing—never mind agreeing to disagree—but hating on one another.

Here’s what I hate:

I hate that our country’s issues have piled up like bricks in a wall, with friends and family members on either side hurling invective and brandishing pitch forks.

I hate that those with power refuse to even listen to those without power, as if they don’t have a right to an opinion, or their own perspective based on their own experience. Nope, they’re just wrong.

I hate the struggle to defend myself as a woman working in a man’s world. And the apparent inability of men to see that that is my experience. (And if I feel this way, as a white, middle class working woman, I truly cannot even begin to imagine what it’s like to be someone without as much privilege.)

I hate that life can be so hard, that people I love hurt so much for so many reasons and there is little I can do about it.

In so many ways, I feel stuck. Like one of our favorite children’s books, I’m one duck stuck in the muck and I want to cry, “Help, help, who can help?”

But I don’t cry, because I’m afraid. I’m afraid of sounding ridiculously needy. I’m afraid of being that vulnerable. I’m afraid of being accused of losing the faith, of being faithless. I’m afraid I won’t hear the right response, “We can, we can!” I’m afraid we’re all stuck in this muck.

I had a conversation yesterday about the title of my blog, “Miracles in the Mundane,” that there truly are bright, sparkly miracles in everyday life if we open our eyes to see them.

I still believe that. I do.

It’s just harder to find miracles in the muck. So, tired as I feel already, I must keep digging.

Maybe we should all try. Put down our burdens and instead start digging and looking for miracles. Because, honestly, that would be the best help.

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Carried Away

Today our middle school will hold the 6th grade dance, the one-and-only dance of the year for 6th grade students. Which reminded me of this story I wrote a year ago, when Tween played an unexpected center stage role in tween-age drama. It felt too raw to post then, and too likely to cause offense among the already carried away adults. Today I am grateful we have a lot less drama (of this sort, anyway) in our lives.

I got a call today from the school counselor regarding an issue with my 6th grade son. She said there had been rumors, and he had admitted to being the source. Allegedly, he and another boy had planned to get a girl to ask a boy to the 6th grade dance this Friday, all as a joke. The boy has special needs…

No one should be the butt of a girl-likes-boy-NOT joke, especially not a child who has other issues. That’s bullying, obviously unacceptable. It’s also completely out of character with who I know my son to be. Could it be a bad judgment call on a new-to-him awkward social situation? Perhaps.

Except it never happened, at least not like that.

Concerned that my son would hatch such a plan, I promised the counselor I would talk with him. So I did. But he didn’t want to talk about it. Not At All. Siding with the adults, I took that as a sign of guilt. I continued to push, and he burst into tears. I took that as a sign of shame. He kept saying, “But Mom, we were joking!” and couldn’t understand why that upset me.

I explained again (and again–cue Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice: “Wa wa wa wa wa…”) what I had heard from the counselor, and how that didn’t seem to line up with what he was saying. I asked my son if he was lying, to the counselor or to me. He begged to just get back to his homework, tears rolling down his cheeks.

Minutes later I received a call from another mom. It seems the 6th graders had inflated in their minds this once-only 6th grade dance into something akin to a prom. They thought they needed dates. What about the slow dances? Boys were asking girls to the dance. Girls were asking boys to the dance. Everyone was talking about who was going with whom, and who should ask whom, and what if so-and-so asked so-and-so.

Parents were calling parents: do I need to volunteer to drive my son and his date to the dance? (No one drives to an after-school dance). Should we have a conversation with our daughter and your son to set expectations? Obviously they’re too young to date so we want to be clear she can dance with whomever she wants.

Egads, people, it’s a 6th grade after-school dance! We all need to take a deep breath.

This is the drama surrounding the rumors attributed to my son.

On Monday, only four days yet eons ago to the pre-teen brain, back when he truly believed he must have a date to the dance, my son and a friend had a quiet conversation in math class. They said something like, “What if Girl A asked Boy B?” They weren’t going to talk to Girl A; she wasn’t going to ask Boy B to the dance; neither child was in their math class, just random names that popped to mind. The whole conversation was conjecture, something to talk about during a few spare minutes. Let’s consider: why do 6th grade boys talk about anything? Sheesh, who knows?

Apparently an adult overheard them and told another adult who told the counselor. What the adult didn’t overhear was, “What if Boy C asked Girl D, or Girl E/F/G asked Boy H/I/J…?” You get the picture. The adults didn’t.

Rather, the adults thought a) the students were hatching a plan and b) that the plan specifically included Girl A because she is cute and Boy B because he has special needs. The counselor then invited kids from the math class into her office, two by two, asking about the rumor, until two someones copped to the conversation.

Mind you, it was only a rumor because the adults talked to one another. The kids had been oblivious.

My son had NO idea Boy B had special needs. In fact, when I asked if he knew the boy had special needs, he didn’t even understand the term. He has no classes with the boy, he doesn’t know him well, and his impression is that “he’s nice.”

Another miscommunication: my son had told the counselor he and the other boy “were joking.” To his 6th grade mind that meant, “We were having a meaningless conversation.” Joking as in, light-hearted, of no consequence; NOT joking as in to poke fun at, to prank.

But the well-meaning, overly-conscientious adults interpreted the situation as a mean-spirited prank. Which is why everyone was surprised that my son was at the center—this doesn’t sound like something he’d do at all.

Because he didn’t.

What IS in character is to make and keep peace at any cost. When pushed, he will accept even undeserved blame. He admitted he had spoken “the rumor.” He thought he had explained himself by saying we were joking. He didn’t understand and didn’t ask why everyone was so upset. In his old-soul way, he sees that adults get all bent out of shape over things that don’t warrant it, and he wrote the situation off to that. He didn’t tell me about it not because of guilt, or shame, or lies, but because to him it was truly No Big Deal.

Yet a few stirred-up adults spent a whole lot of time stirring up a whole lot of students trying to get to the bottom of a situation that never was.

On the one hand, I get it. In the too recent past, the school dealt with a fairly serious bullying issue. In the more distant past, the school had a serious abuse issue. They have to act on suspicion to prevent harm and protect students.

But there could have been a simpler solution. The administration must have been aware that the 6th graders had misunderstood the dance. A counselor or administrator could have taken a few minutes in the math class under suspicion or, better yet, in each of the required 6th grade Core classes, to explain the dance: No dates, all group fun. No suggesting or speculating or joking that anyone ask anyone, and we certainly don’t want anyone humiliating anyone by pretending to ask someone, because that would be bullying, and not in character with our iKind school, and would carry consequences. Any questions? That could have solved the problem, minus the student interrogation and accusations.

I am bothered that an overly suspicious adult in a petri dish culture of fear put into motion a chain of events that led to me accusing my son of being both mean and a liar. Neither is true (and my heart knew it), and I have asked my son’s forgiveness.

The real irony? He’s not even going to the dance. He has other plans.

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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!

school's_out_for-53737

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?

How Do We Pray?

walkAs we walked the trail, my friends talked about dealing with stress: exercise, meditation, therapy, hypnosis…

I said, “Or you could pray.”

They expected that from me, but I didn’t expect their response: “Well, you know how to do that. We don’t know how to pray. Maybe you need to pray for us every morning.”

On the spot, I grabbed them in a hug-headlock and started praying. It’s not that complicated, but we seem to make it more complicated than it needs to be. I talked to God our Father, asking Him to wrap them up in His loving arms and soothe away their stresses as they learn to rely on Him. Walk over, we grabbed a cup of coffee and went our ways.

That conversation certainly motivated me to pray for my gals, but it also broke my heart a little. These friends come to church and hear people pray regularly. Still, they feel ill-equipped to pray themselves.

I’ve been church-going and praying all my life and I still don’t like to pray out loud. I love me a good Bible study but don’t relish out-loud group prayer. Which meant, I thought, I didn’t know how to pray.

I remember the moment, about a decade ago, when I had an epiphany: I pray all the time! I pray as I read God’s Word. I journal my prayers. When I’m alone in the car, I keep the radio off so God and I can chat on the go. I pray as I walk. When someone comes to mind, I pray for them (and then get in contact to see how they’re doing – there is often a reason I’m thinking of them). I pray with and for my kids. I listen to music that leads me to pray. And on and on.

Why did I think I couldn’t pray? Because my introverted tendencies make it uncomfortable for me to pray in groups. It can feel too intimate. I don’t know what to say. I feel a responsibility to those I’m praying with to “get it right” even as I stumble over words. None of which provides an adequate excuse for not praying in groups. I still have to do it. Praying individually and in groups grows me as a follower of Jesus.

I’ve already offered a number of ways to pray individually. In addition, my friend Nancy has written and artfully illustrated a booklet of prayer ideas that you can download for free as you learn to Pray More. There are boatloads of books on prayer, but my new favorite is Fervent by Priscilla Shirer (written for women but don’t let that stop you, guys; the principles apply to everyone).

Some tips for praying together:
* Listen to what others pray for and agree with their prayers instead of composing your next prayer.
* Pray short prayers, using normal language.
* Silence is okay!
* Let the Spirit lead the direction of your prayers, each prayer building upon the prayers of others.
* Remember that God is your audience, not just others in the group.
* Use Scripture as God brings it to mind.

The good news? My friends are learning to pray. Like anything worthwhile, it takes practice. But they are reading daily devotional books and leaning on God throughout their (still stressful) days. As they pray, I suspect they are falling deeper in love with Jesus. Which, by the way, has been my regular prayer for them since that day on the trail.

Panic Attack

I arrived home from work mid-afternoon and found Teen seated on his yoga ball hunched over a stack of papers in front of the family room computer, his study spot. I came up behind him and while I was yet two feet away, he abruptly stiffened and threw his hands in a “Don’t Shoot!” position. Without looking at me he shouted, DON’T touch me!”

I recoiled, slapped by his words. Without a sound, I tip-toed a wide berth and gingerly reached to remove the bowls containing crumbs and residue of his chips and salsa snack.

An hour later Tween and I had flopped on his bed to read aloud a book we’re enjoying together when Teen poured himself in alongside us. He said, “Mom, I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have shouted at you. I was in the middle of a full-blown panic attack and I just couldn’t handle it. I needed to be alone, and couldn’t deal with interruption.” He explained that he’d been trying to figure out his current GPA and what he would need to score on various final exams to keep or raise various grades. He had felt utter despair of being accepted to any college he’d want to attend – the list of which has gotten both shorter and longer as we’ve accepted a realistic assessment of his high school academic performance.jeremiah-29-11

We have prayed this verse over our child since the day we knew we were pregnant, about eighteen years ago. He knows it by heart, and he prays it for himself. And so we talked about the hard fact that God’s plans might not look like ours. As much as he wants to attend a four year college straight out of high school, and he might, perhaps that’s not his only or best option. Maybe taking classes at a community college, getting out of the way classes that would be more difficult at a four-year school, getting a part-time job and a super-cool internship, maybe all that takes some stress off. Maybe it’s okay to not live the Lamorinda norm. YES, it is okay not to live the cultural norm.

Wise beyond his age, Tween understood his presence wasn’t helpful so he slipped off his bed and out of his room while Teen and I talked. I mostly listened as Teen poured out his heart and mind – classes he likes and doesn’t, teachers he loves, teachers he likes but wishes they put more love into their classes, teachers he feels don’t give a damn… None of it an excuse because it’s still up to him to be responsible, work hard, and do his best, but easier done if you feel like the Teacher has invested in both subject and students.

The conversation ended as it was time to move on to sports practice. He trudged to his room to gear up and I followed him. I said aloud his name, and wordlessly my Big Kid poured himself into my arms for a hug. My Teen, generally touch averse, needed a Mom Hug as much as I needed to hold my child for a moment. “Thanks, Mom,” he whispered into my hair.

This weekend he’s out of town for a huge college/high school sports tournament, a high school recruiting event and the only one like it he will attend. Next week he has finals, bad timing. Meanwhile I hope he plays aggressive and safe, and leaves behind some of that stress on the field so that he returns home tired but energized, ready to sleep and then study. He’ll be fine even if the path winds in unexpected directions. We have faith.

Tell the Truth

stress

A few nights ago, just as I realized I had an unforeseen free evening ahead of me, my neighbor popped over to spontaneously invite me to a panel on teen stress at a nearby high school. I said yes.

An hour later I fought back tears as a well-dressed dad pointed to a picture of his teenage son on the big screen, a good-looking kid who committed suicide three years ago. That tragedy spurred the dad and other parents to begin a Wellness Committee aimed at addressing stress among adolescents. Ultimately, they want to change culture – students, parents, schools, teachers, systems, and society – the perfect storm as we all play a role in the overwhelming stress our students experience.

For the Committee’s first public event, they began with stress, which may lead to depression, which may lead to dangerous behaviors and, worst case, suicide. The Committee will do important work, but it won’t matter a whit if the rest of us don’t jump on board.

Teen’s pediatrician happened to be one of the speakers. A wise, well-grounded man, he received several rounds of interruptive applause for speaking truth. Things like, why do final exams come after winter break? In other words, why can’t “break” be a true break, with no finals, no homework hanging over kids’ heads? How about reduced homework, or a later start time since older teens need more sleep?

Other good exhortations:
Just because our kids are older, we are NOT life consultants but more like President of the Board to our kids; they get more responsibility, yes, but we don’t take a hands-off advisory role. We still have levers to pull, and it’s our responsibility to pull them as necessary.

Eat dinner together as a family – friends, we can spare fifteen minutes to be face-to-face with one another!

According to a recent survey, high school students in our district get less than 7 hours of sleep per night. They need more (they should average 9.5 hours/night), so parents and kids can work together to make that change.

Though teens act a convincing part that they do not want to spend time with family, family fun time is important, one of the levers we employ to keep kids healthy. Take a vacation or even a day trip to do something together.

Help kids focus on who they are becoming more than what they are doing. Just like adults, their identity is not wrapped up in performance, in their GPA or home runs; their identity is Who They Are, at their core, when all their accomplishments have been stripped away – as they will be once they have to “start over” in college or the work force.

Technology addiction has become a huge issue, and it’s not healthy that our young people are “on stage” through social media 24/7. Most of us give in to the positive stimulus response, parents may be equally addicted, and we all need to unplug more regularly. Tough love, perhaps, but Teen’s pediatrician thinks cell phones should be off by 8pm, internet by 9pm, and kids in bed by 10pm (my Teen said, “Uh, yah…No Way.” Not sure I’ll pull that particular lever, but we are going to have another conversation about a healthy bedtime routine).

That recent survey revealed that as many as 46% of local high school kids have had or currently have depression, feeling unrelenting sadness for two weeks or more such that it interferes with their ability to perform daily tasks. Staggering! Maintaining the status quo may be easier, but it’s killing our kids. How can we ignore the truth that our kids are drowning while we stand by, cheering them on?

As adults, we have to model better behavior. We can’t mentor kids in stress-free living if we’re workaholics who don’t stop to enjoy life, if we don’t make time to listen to them. We have to talk about stress. We have to put our phones away and sit face-to-face with our kids and admit our own struggles, our own mistakes.

Life is hard. Parenting is hard, and parenting adolescents can be downright crazy-making. What’s the point in pretense when talking about it helps? Every family, geez, every human!, struggles in some way or other. Talk to your spouse, your kids, teachers and coaches, friends, and neighbors. Talk to anyone who will listen compassionately. Find your safe people if you don’t already know who they are. We’re in this thing together whether we like it or not, so we might as well get on the same team and admit our weaknesses so we can build on our strengths.

Glennon Melton of Momastery wrote, “I’ve never made a friend by bragging about my strengths, but I’ve made countless by sharing my weakness, my emptiness.” Fear and shame keep us from vulnerability, but vulnerability is exactly what we need to combat loneliness. We need one another. Tragedy strikes the one who feels unnecessary and can’t talk about it. Let’s all tell the truth so we can offer one another hope.

If you need someone to talk to and don’t know where to turn, the National Lifeline has trained counselors ready to listen anytime, day or night. It’s free and confidential. Please call: 800-273-TALK.