Someday

Chambers, Ship in StormOh Moms…Did you hear the tree fall this weekend?  Did you hear the tribal cry of one of your own crumbling under the pressure of too stinking much?

Trust me when I say you do not want to know the horrid, snotty details.  Suffice it to say that the party for the in-laws, the super-speeder teenage son and his multi-hundred dollar ticket, the re-enrollment contracts, the parent/teacher planning conferences, the accidental discovery of a painful teenage daughter journal entry, the jury duty (I kid you not), the two back-to-back special events and the dollar movie theater fiasco created a perfect storm in which my ship went down.  Hard.  As in Send Out the Scotch Shopping Spa Saints cuz This Mom is Losing. It.

I didn’t realize it at the time but looking back, I could not find one solid rock on which to drop my anchor.  So I let go of the rope.  And I laid in my bed – drifting between sleep I must have desperately needed and guilt- ridden dreams because I still do not know where we are going for Spring Break – until 12:37 PM on Sunday.  12:37 people!

Then, I got up.  My husband tip-toed into our room and put his arms around me and told me what I needed to hear.  And I was grateful.  Snotty and helpless and a mess.  But grateful.

In the end, I was reminded of these important truths:

  1. my house is supposed to be built on a rock solid foundation.  And that rock is NOT called Mom.  How often do I pretend that I am strong enough? Capable enough?  Big enough to fix it all? How have I distracted my children from remembering where their true strength comes from?
  2. my children are my blessing and I love them more than life itself.  They are as imperfect as I am – as we all are.  They are broken in ways we have even yet to discover.  How can I hold them to a standard that is impossible?  How can I expect that they won’t break speed limits, that they won’t have their own hearts broken or that they want to know answers I can’t provide? How can I impose upon them to be more than they are?  As if what they are is not enough?!
  3. in the end, I have to recognize that our family is a living, breathing, growing thing complete with strengths and weaknesses.  Sometimes we fail each other in big ways.  Sometimes we hold each other together.

I told my kids not to fear Mom’s tears this weekend.  I told them that even Moms have crappy weekends and then, quite organically, the four people I love most in this world reminded me of Who We Are.

They told me that for them, our family is about love and listening and Jesus (according to my Flower); about perseverance and keeping a sense of humor (from my sweet Honey); about Normal Mom, Honey, Flower, Princess and Tech – five individual people working it all out together (said my independent Princess); like a pillow (confessed my college freshman Tech – who is just beginning to experience the hard edges of the world).

Perfect wasn’t an adjective that came to mind; orderly wasn’t mentioned; brilliant, timely, super powers weren’t even suggested.  Just love and listening and Jesus and being ourselves and providing a safe soft place to lay down every now and then.

That, I can do.

All the rest of it is just me trying to force things to be what they are not.

Sigh.  Someday, I’ll get this thing down.

I hope.

Thanks Village People

(I wrote this a few months ago but just ran across it again.  Even though I’m a bit late with it, it’s worth saying: thank you.)

Four extra large plastic containers, three suitcases, one cardboard box, a printer, a trashcan, two umbrellas, clorox wipes, and a laundry hamper.  Add one mom, one dad and a sometimes jittery, sometimes sullen 18 year old and you have the makings of Freshman orientation.

There are very few moments in life in which that surreal sense of disconnect occurs.   These are moments where you almost separate from your self.  Where you understand – intellectually – that your life is changing but you simply cannot connect that truth of the experience with anything tangible about the experience?  As we drove away from that campus yesterday and I looked at Honey with tears in my eyes.  “We just dropped our kid off at college,” I said, “we did that.  That was us.  You and me.”

And I can’t seem to make the connection because it just feels so surreal.

I drove silently for a while, barrelling toward a home that was going to be different in ways I could not fathom.  I wasn’t sad.  I wasn’t worried.  I wasn’t nervous or any of the other things I thought I would be.  I was shocked.  Unable to comprehend how 18 years could have just passed by.  Like. That.

Honey and The Boss dozed (it was a long two days) while I pulled images from the recesses of my mind.  An Easter photo shoot…an afternoon playing in the sprinklers…art on the back deck…a Superman birthday party…Kindergarten… and about 40 miles in I realized that these memories contained more than just my baby boy.

I remembered his first and lifelong BFF, parenting partners who have been most steadfast and faithful.  I remembered all his Other Mothers who loved my child through skinned knees and stolen peanut butter.  Images of our parents taking tremendous pride in this grandchild, tutoring him through science class, letting him throw peas all over the new dining room rug, investing in a tiny set of golf clubs…just in case. I love the memories of him with his Aunts and Uncles – all watching closely to see how “this” parenting thing works, showering him with gifts on his first Christmas, assessing every ear infection, wheeze, sweetheart crush or broken bone.  The doctors.  Oh, the doctors!  In several different states this kid has been stitched, repaired, disinfected, or put back together.  He’s had friends who have held him accountable, friends who have shown him forgiveness or grace or how to longboard.  He’s had inspiring Teachers – at every level and in every circumstance.  Prayer warriors, who have whispered words of protection, inspiration, praise.

It dawned on me, as I rounded 75S toward the hospital, that (damn Hillary Clinton) it does take a village. It takes a big village.  One with a church, a few schools, a hospital or two, a Mexican restaurant, a Smoothie King, some safe hangout zones, lots of family and a few solid friends.

Yesterday this village sent one of it’s own to college.

Check.

So far, so good Marietta town.

Dear The Mom I Used to Be,

You know that house you are about to move into that you swear will be The Last One?  Yeah, not so much.

You’ll move again.  You’ll make a 9th move that you won’t be expecting.  And you’ll be grumpy about it.  But stoic.  Because there won’t be anything you can do to change things when your “rainy day” turns into a Category 5 and you run out of umbrellas.  It’s out the door you’ll go – thankful that we were even able to sell.  Thankful that you have a free – albeit teeeeny tiny – place to go.  Thankful that you are probably in the best place you’ve ever been to face that next phase.

You’re gonna haul the baby boxes down from the attic and sort out the Must Haves from the Can’t Get Rid of Yets.  In essence, the entire infancy, toddler-hood, preschool and pre-adolescent youths of your three children will be compacted into a 3×3 square at the Public Storage.  It is going to be an interesting conglomeration of mementoes that mean nothing to anyone else but will mean everything to you.  You’ll think back on this version of yourself – the version that was determined to save the shiny red shoes you now hold in your hand.

You’ll wish that you could have known then what you know now.  You’ll wish that you could tell the Mom you used to be some really important things.

1)  The milk-fermented vehicle strewn with Cheerios and mis-matched sippy cups will morph into the vehicle that your child learns to drive.  You will not care one bit about what is in the BACK of that car…only about what is in FRONT of it. So hang up a Black Ice air freshener and move on, honey.

2)  Eating bugs will not kill them. Nor does it reflect poorly on your housekeeping skills.  It is merely a matter of what can be seen when you are crawling on your hands and knees less than 12 inches from the ground.

3) Kids don’t need more toys.  They need more time.  Stop worrying about the being the Room Mom, the Party Mom, the MOMS Club Vice President, the Neighborhood Newsletter Mom, the Book Club Mom, the Grade Level Mom, the Deacon, the Sunday School teacher, the VBS Coordinator, the TRYING NOT TO LOSE MY MIND BY STAYING SUPER BUSY MOM.  Just go ahead, lose your mind, and stay in your pjs.

4) In 18 years your baby will be gone.  The laundry will still be there.  You can do it then.

5) Techno Boy will not remember the six-point rose you carefully affixed to the home-made cupcakes for preschool snack.  Nor will Princess recall the precision with which you will hand-craft the 2007 Holiday cards.  Flower won’t even remember the time you walked her into the corner of the wall – having forgotten she was perched on your hip.  Stop trying so hard to be perfect.  And forgive yourself for being human.

6) The Popular Girls are now The Popular Moms.  Same person.  Different color hair.

7) Life, marriage, parenting – it’s really all about your attitude.  You’ll blame others and say “If only they…”  Then. life will turn upside down in such a way that you’ll be forced to look at yourself.  And recovery will begin when you finally discover you have no control over they…  Facing one more day of a vomiting toddler or a twisted teen is really just about facing one more day.  Neither will kill you.  Both will pass.  Be kind to them because they are just doing the best they can.  And so are you.

8) Read, read, read to your kids.  Read every night no matter how tired or how bored you are.  Eventually, there will be this thing called HULU and you will be able to watch every missed episode of The Practice.  But you won’t be able to rewind bedtime.

9)  Go ahead and lose that weight, girl.  Cuz it ain’t coming off after 40.  Period.

10) Save the gaudy, shiny red shoes she wore for 49 straight days.  It won’t make sense to anyone else but don’t listen.  They’re special.  They always will be. When there comes a time in your life where you are forced to compact 15 years into a 3×3 square and remember what is really important in life, you will be glad you saved the things that are so iconic to your past.  You will be glad you saved the things that connect your past to their’s.  Don’t worry so much about the trophies.  Save the shoes.

Love,

The Mom You Are Becomming

Powerless

There are a number of things over which I have control.  Over the past month I have managed to coordinate the complete remodeling of three bathrooms (and I mean all the way down to the subfloor, ladies) and a retirement celebration for 300 guests.  Honey, TB and I have processed through the final decision making for TB’s college choices (he is Lee bound!) and extended invitations to 65 close friends and family for a celebratory lunch.  I’ve color coordinated clothing for 5 people to attend 4 events in the next 2 weeks.  Bam!  I know y’all – you’re thinking GOOOOOOO Mama!

Certainly, all the things we parents have control over are enough to keep us running from sun-up to sun-down.  They are enough to keep our To Do lists growing and bank accounts shrinking.

Saturday, despite all my best management techniques, we were running late.  Princess hates to be late.  I know this.  She knows this.  Everyone within a twenty mile radius of our lives knows this.  When it became apparent to her that we would not make a 10:00 start time for a group meeting she needed to attend, she announced she wasn’t going.  Sort of the same way she announced – when she was three – that she would not wear a homemade Halloween costume. Or – when she was seven – that she was a vegetarian.  Or – at 13 – that she is going to college in London.  When she says something, she means it.

Because the apple doesn’t fall far, my immediate reaction was to dig my heels in deeper and explain that she was in fact going to the meeting and had she not taken so long to get out of bed this morning we wouldn’t be running late and after all I was ready and making this drive 20 miles away and she had better get her skinny butt into that meeting whenever we arrived and that was the end of this disCUSSION!  Yeah.  That’s what I wanted to say.

But the Lord shut my mouth.  I asked Him if He wasn’t too busy could He help me come up with something a little more gracious and loving?  Then I decided I would just drive on in silence until He could get round to me thank you amen. Because someone once told me that sometimes the most precious thing we can give our loved ones are the words we don’t say.  I’m incanting this truth like a Tibeten monk (things we don’t say, things we don’tsay, thingswedontsay) when

four or five miles later, Princess said it again.  “I’m not going in, Mom. You can’t make me.”

Then He hits me with this:  She’s right. You can’t make her. 

I’ve come to realize that the only sane way to raise teenagers is by recognizing that which I must release.  Making Princess walk into that meeting is out of my control.  She is not a toddler to be transported.  She is not a child who can be guilted.  At 14 years old, she has the ability to decide where her feet will take her and I cannot make them take her into that meeting.  No amount of threatening, cajoling, compromising or incenting will work with this precious girl.  If nothing else, I have learned that!

All I have power over is getting her there.

“Here’s the thing,” I begin, “you don’t have to go.  And I can’t make you go.  I am not responsible for whether you go or don’t go.  But I am responsible for taking you there.  So.  That’s what I am going to do.  I am going to continue to drive you to your destination.  I am going to drop you off at your destination.  And in an hour, I will pick you back up.   If you choose not to go into the meeting, that’s your right.  I think it’s a poor choice, but it is, ultimately, your choice.”

The only power I have is the power to get my child to the point where she can and is willing to make her own choices.  I can’t even control whether she chooses good things or bad things.  At the end of the day, my teenager has the power to do or not do.  That’s part of growing up.  We drive them to their destination, we drop them off and then they decide what to do next.  While we pray.  Ceaselessly.

So that’s what I did.

When we arrived at our destination – 15 minutes late – the tears began.  “Mama, please don’t make me, please don’t make me. I can’t! I can’t!”  Oy Gawd it was awful.  Enough to make a mama want to sweep her babe in a tight bundle and soothe away the tears with kisses.  But this is 14.  This is choices.  These tears can’t be soothed away with kisses.  They have to be wiped – with her own hand.

I tried to stay confident in what I had control over.  I kept saying “I’m just dropping you off – you choose what to do next.  Wait in the lobby, wait on the stairs, sit outside the room, invite me to come with you, read under a tree.  It doesn’t matter, Princess.  But I have to drop you off.  And you have to choose what to do next.”

At that very moment – I kid you not – a vehicle pulled up behind us.  It might as well have been adorned with feathers because angels brought it to that parking lot. Angels.  With halos.  Fleet of wheel, so to speak.  Sparkling.  Maybe there was even harp music.

“Princess!” Two tiny teenage girls jumped out of this car and ran to pull Princess to her feet.

Princess wiped her eyes and sniffled.  “Hi.”

“Come on!”  they called, eager for her to join them, grasping her hand and pulling her forward.

Princess walked hesitantly between two others who are struggling with life.  Not alone any longer.  Slowly lifting her angry dug-in heels.  Holding hands with one who was more sure than she.  Taking steps away from her own powerless-ness.  Had she not glanced back over her shoulder to catch my eye, wanting (I think) to see that I was still there, I probably could have gotten all the way back home with narry a thought about it.  But she did glance back and I waved, realizing in that moment, that it is as hard for her to take those steps as it is for me to let her.

Then I drove to a small corner of the parking lot where I proceeded to bawl horible unsightly snotty tears – gasping THANK YOU LORD, THANK YOU LORD over and over again.

Because He is clearly, faithfully, almightily power-ful.

And I

am power-less.

The Bus – Again

Note:  Today is my son’s last day of school.  In about 10 weeks, he will leave for college and he will never again (please GOD) live in my house.  Our relationship will morph into something new and (I trust) equally beautiful… but it will be different. 

I made his sisters wake him up this morning to say congratulations.  He was not happy about it, by the way.  It seemed like we should commemorate the moment with a special ________________.  But I couldn’t think of what that was… so waking him up to say You Did It seemed like the minimum.  Then, I remembered this post I wrote three years ago and realized that it is a much more fitting way to recognize how much he we have grown.  My boy is totally ready for The Bus.  And this time, I am too.   - Normal Mom

Many, many years ago Techo-Boy decided he no longer wanted to go to school.  I remember he was in first grade at the time. Sadly I don’t remember his teachers’ name.  One day he was happy at school and the next day he wasn’t.  Tears, drama, carryin’ on with all sorts of horror… atleast in the eyes of his mama.

I spent – oh, I don’t know – about 10 seconds trying to rationally understand my son’s sudden mood swing.  Then I proceeded to demand that Ms. 1st Grade Teacher explain to me “right now” what could possibly have happened to my child to turn him into such a snivelng, frightened little kid.  Had some big bully stolen his crayons… or perhaps eaten his pb & j…or demanded that he kiss some 1st grade hussey in a display of cootie resistent toughness?  “What happened?”  (Oh, I was indignant.)  I was absolutely certain that TB had suffered long enough at the hands of a teacher who was clearly ineffective in the area of classroom behavior management! (It was baaaaaad.)

After a week of meetings, with all the necessary protocol of a public school system I might add, and no evidence of a crime against my boy, Mrs. 1st Grade Teacher asked me:  “does he ride the bus?”

Without even pausing, and with total indignation: “Ride the bus? Of course he doesn’t ride the bus!  I take him to school every day.”  Which was really my way of saying:  How could you possibly insinuate that my son would be a (gasp!) bus rider?  I am a good mother, in case you didn’t know, and “good” mothers do.not.put.their.first born children.on.the.bus.

“Put him on the bus,” she said matter-of-factly.

I remember I walked away muttering under my breath:  that’s it?  That’s all you have to say?  Put him on the bus?  27 years in education and that’s all she has to offer?  What kind of place is this?

Two weeks passed.  And I was out of ideas, friends.  Still, I was dragging this “poor child” to the classroom.  Still, he was distraught and unable to give me a clue as to why!  Then, one morning GOD intervened:  my baby was sick, my husband was out of town, my neighbors were on vacation, and I had No Choice but to put my Techno Boy on the bus.

So I did.

And guess what?

He was fine.  Not a tear.  Not a whimper, even.

I put him on the bus again.  And again.  And on the fifth day of putting him on the bus, I made an appointment with his teacher.  I marched myself down to her classroom and said – quite proudly:  “he’s riding the bus.”

She smiled.  “I know.  He told me.”

“Is he, is he…okay?”  I asked.  “I mean is he getting here okay?  Is he crying when he comes to school?  Are the kids being nice to him?”

She put her wrinkled hand on my arm and said:  “He’s doing great.  You did the right thing.”

The BUS, for crying out loud.  My kid needed The Bus; a simple transportation vehicle that became the manifestation of all my fears as a parent…all my fears of letting him go.  Of releasing control.  Of putting my faith in action.  Of not worrying about who he would sit next to.  Or if he’d forget his lunch box.
My kid needed me to put him on the bus.  And by doing so, I had unknowingly, unwittingly, silently said to him:  “I believe in you.  I believe you can do it.  I have faith that God is with you.  You are a big boy now.  Don’t be afraid.  It’s a good thing to grow up a little from time to time.  I’ll be here when you get home.”

What a powerful message!

In hindsight I can see that this was such an important life lesson for me, as a mom.  And I have come back to this lesson a LOT in the last few weeks.  Because guess what… having a teenager, it’s like puttting my son on the freakin’ bus every day.  He’s 15!  The bus is going to be pulling away from the station for longer journeys now and he’s got to know, once again, “I believe in you.”

I confess, my friends, it is not any easier than it was when he was 7.  It won’t be any easier when he is 18.   I still have many of those same fears.  But for all her wisdom, Mrs. 1st Grade Teacher was right.  Nobody had stolen my boy’s crayons, or his pbj… I was the one who had stolen his confidence with my worry and fear.

Your bus day is coming.  Try not to let your fear steal anything from your child.  Put him on the bus as much and as often as you can.

He will be so much better prepared for choosing the right seat.

Her Voice

Interestingly, there was a time in the very early years when I was the only one who understood Princess.  For many years she struggled to communicate.  Honey frequently lamented that he could not make out anything in her baby babble.  Nana didn’t hear her words.  TechnoBoy recognized a few words but he knew that she had much more to say than anyone seemed able to comprehend.  By four, Princess became frustrated.  When the constant requests to “say it again” became too burdensome… when she grew too tired of repeating herself … she began to withdraw.  “Neva mind,” she would grumble walking away.

That’s when I knew we needed help.

Turned out Princess needed 8 months of speech therapy after which, she became the most well spoken toddler you ever met!  The light in her eyes was radiant.  Finally, she was connecting with more than just mom.  Finally, she could express all the language that was trapped behind a malfunctioning tongue.  All we needed was a professional, some new skills and lots of practice.

Today, I find myself wondering if I am back to the beginning with Princess.  I am struggling to understand her and she is struggling to find her voice.   We are both learning a new language called Teenager. Apparently there are many different dialects, many different cultural inflections, many different colloquialisms.  It’s a very, very difficult language and sadly, it’s not taught in any school.  I can’t Rosetta Stone it.  It’s a quiet kind of “speak” and one to which I must pay close attention.

Instead of turning away in frustration and plugging her thumb into her rosebud mouth, she has made a more dramatic and sad choice of withdrawal.  And I know what we need is help.

It’s been a rough six weeks with Princess but she is finding her voice again.  This one has been a little harder to find.  It’s not as simple to repair a scarred spirit as a malfunctioning tongue.  And although the words are fairly clear I must learn to listen to the meaning behind those words.  As with all manner of development, the teenager is much more complicated than the toddler.  So we work a little harder with our new skills and we practice.  A lot.

Lately I’ve gotten very good at saying I’m sorry.  I’ve gotten better at saying I love you.  And I’ve had to learn to trust that, in the end, she will speak loudly and clearly if only for her own ability to be heard.

A Great Hang Up

ImageOne day several years ago, my dad announced that he believed MacDonald’s to be the cause for the breakdown in the family unit.  I was a mere child of 12 and could not even imagine what he could possibly mean by such an obviously ridiculous statement.  After all, without MacDonald’s there would be N O T H I N G for a teenager to eat.  I couldn’t even imagine a world without those hot, salty fries. 

So, here I am, let’s say 200 years later, about to make the same claim about cell phones. Bear with me on this one.

To be honest, I love my cell phone.  It rarely (not never, but rarely) leaves my side.  It has undoubtedly made my life faster, easier and safer.  I love being able to “check in” with my peeps (few though they are), to group text my siblings, to receive a photo Honey took only seconds before as he stands in the aisle at Home Depot and asks me:  is this the one you want?  There are many, many things for which the cell phone is a quick and simple solution.  Just like MacDonald’s after a long, looooooooooong day at work. 

I am an adult.  And like many other things in life – I have earned the right to have a cell phone.  I have weathered the middle school hallways and gained perspective on bullies; I know how to debunk their casual judgement of my wardrobe.  I have lived through a car crash or two (or ten, okay?) and appreciate how quickly a glance away from the road can lead to extraordinary or life-long pain.  I have learned how to shake hands and look an adult in the eye.  And most importantly, I understand the value of hanging up.

I have discovered that this is a totally novel concept to my teenagers.  Even as I try to explain what it’s like to actually end a conversation, their eyes cross, their brows furrow and that essential teenage response escapes their lips:  huuuuh?   Yeah, I respond excitedly, sometimes it’s a GOOD thing to hang up.  Say goodbye.  Spend four or five or (gasp!) 6 hours NOT communicating with your friends.  End the conversation.  Take a breath.  Wait until you have thought through your response.  Pause.  Sleep.  Think. 

No one debates we are raising the next generation.  Our children will be repsonsible for raising our grandchildren.  Yes, they will decide who leads our country but they may also decide whether your care is provided by private nurses or by government financing.  They could be the ones to choose your doctors, approve your meds, and in reality, be responsible for the quality of life on this planet for the next 80 years (or more).  They will debate issues of morality and environment and faith. They will have arguments with their spouses, disapoint friends and neighbors.  Decide if they should drink or drive.

Don’t we want them to learn how to hang up?  Don’t we want them to learn how to pause? How to think.  How to reflect.  How to be alone with their own thoughts and come to their own conclusions.

Do it, moms and dads.  Make your kids hang up.  Pick a time each day when they have to say goodbye to the outside influences and reconnect – either with you, with their siblings, with their God, with themselves.  Heck – take everyone who does so willingly out for an order of crispy MacFries, even.

Just do it. 

Teach your kids to appreciate the value of a great hang up. 

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