18 and Life to Go

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This is my only son.

My firstborn.

Today he turns 18 years old, but I chose this old photo of him because it shows him rowing away from me (us).

In so many ways, there’s nothing more anxiety-provoking than launching your first child into the world. But when he leaves us in 3 months, I don’t actually expect him to come back, except for (maybe) in the summers in between college years. I expect he will probably start and finish college in a timely manner, find his way in the world, find a nice girl, get married eventually, have a family of his own.

For any mother, having her very first child turn 18, register for college classes and Selective Service, make adult-sized decisions and mistakes: terrifying. Because that first launch is the final test as to whether his mom and dad did a good (or not-so-good) job of parenting him. Did we teach him enough about God? About kindness, compassion, community concerns, how to treat women, how to succeed without putting money first? Did we teach him how to be a good man?

I can’t even imagine what it is like for him; to look forward to college, to realize that he will finally be totally independent from us, will make every decision himself, every morning that he wakes up. Maybe he is like me, launching into adult life without a plan or a well-developed format. Or maybe he is like his dad, who was already planning his life before he even started it, who had signed up for the military before he even WAS 18. Yeah. I think he IS like his dad. Who although not perfect, is a good man, is a goal-oriented person, who sees the pros and cons analytically; not me, who jumped into everything with both feet without even looking.

That makes me feel a little bit better.

Happy 18th Birthday, Son. May you make this world better than it was before you entered it. We love you.

 

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Scrappy is, as scrappy does

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Occasionally I look into the meaning of names.  My name is taken from Genesis, its origins and namesake being the wife of Isaac, and mother of Jacob and Esau.  It is a belief of Hebraic scholars that an individual who carries her name has a measure of her unique strength.  In looking at Genesis, it is apparent that Rebekah had full complements of gifts and weaknesses.  She was both obedient to the will of God, and enslaved by her own wishes: the dreams that she had for her future, her marriage, and her favored child Jacob.

She was, in a word, scrappy.

I am, in a word, scrappy.

I, also, was drawn to my husband in an inexplicable spiritual way.  The Lord honored that drawing by deeply binding us shortly after we began to date.  Our identities and fates intertwined and we walked on, together.

We were married within eight months of meeting, and I have never looked back.  I have never regretted moving forward into marriage with a man whom others would say I barely knew.  I have never doubted that our bond was God-created and God-blessed, and that bond has endured for the twenty years since we met, and I don’t doubt that it will endure, still, for the forty or fifty years that we have left together.

But unlike Rebekah and Isaac, we have each become closer to God and more united with each year we have spent together.  We have spent 18 of the last 20 years improving each other and our children through our unity.

The first two years of our marriage was dicey, mostly due to the lingering effects of hurtful relationships I had experienced in the past, and my inability to cope with those hurts.  Through the sage advice of my husband, I sought refuge and attitude-shaping through individual therapy.  My therapist Alan was thoughtful, spiritual, and gave amazing insight into what grave hurts men are capable of; and what great healing I could allow in my self through the attention of my patient and loving husband.

Together we have spent the last 18 years of our lives awake in our marriage, thoughtfully stepping through the landmines and oases of friendship, intimacy, parenting, spiritual development, Christian community, and personal relationships with our God.  We have fought – hard – when ghosts of our pasts threatened our sense of security or purpose.  We have spent many hours both organically growing our marriage, and seeking the wisdom of couples who have gone before us and navigated similar deep waters.

Sometimes it has been very difficult; my scrappy nature and my husband’s quiet strength have been both a boon – and a detriment – in different scenarios.  My fighting spirit has sometimes inhibited my ability to “sit on my hands”, mentally and spiritually, and that has caused some problems in our relationship.  My husband’s patience has sometimes allowed for pauses – where there should have been action.  But any time we have set aside our own individual wills, and subsumed our natural personalities in favor of where we felt God was leading our marriage, we consistently saw growth, change and increased strength in unity and purpose.

I am very sure that God led me specifically to my husband, and intentionally to that therapist.  I am very sure that God is leading us every day, further onward – and upward.  I am very sure that God is not done with us yet, as individuals and as a couple.  I am very much looking forward to see what God has in store for our marriage!  He is always transforming darkness to light, divisiveness to unity – as much as we will allow Him to.

Wait? Did I Sign Up For This Mission????

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We have now fully entered the dreaded “teen zone” here at home….chock-full of eye-rolling, dismissive, “you-were-never-a-kid-were-you?” kind of action. Only six months in and we find ourselves scratching our heads.
What happened to the fifteen-year-old’s awkward attempts at socializing with girls his own age? That’s turned into “YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT IT’S LIKE TO BE TRULY IN LOVE!” and then stomping off to his room, which – although clean and organized – smells dangerous – a combination of his reptile tanks and hormones leaking out of the top of his head.
What happened to our twelve-year-old’s bookish and charming exchanges with her friends, all of whom are obsessed with The Hunger Games, Harry Potter, or the Twilight movies?
They turned sixteen and thirteen. And suddenly, suddenly everything is so much more complicated. My son has decided that his long-distance girlfriend is the new authority on what he should do next. My daughter has started to ramp up in the temper department, probably not helped by the constant proximity of her two younger sisters; she has also taken to saying things that dance around – without actually stating – “you are the worst mother ever!”
Irony.
I think I’m psychic or something. I predicted that turn of events way back in December, when I started this blog. Ha.
I know I’m not alone in this: the anti-miraculous, almost-overnight, shift of formerly calm and beloved children into teens who practically foam at the mouth to cut the umbilical cord and break loose from their parents.
Which leaves us bewildered, impatient, and feeling isolated. Which in turn, makes us want to walk away and quietly shut a door and give up on the mission.
When you become a parent, you agree to this. You agree to all the good stuff, and the bad stuff. You agree to not become Parent Behaving Badly. You agree to not join your kid (bad, good, or indifferent) on the same plane: stomping feet, screaming, breaking relationship rules, disrespecting each other, swearing. Yelling things like “you never!” or “you always!”
When tempted to call a priest, throw holy water at them, or wear garlic around my neck, I remember that didn’t work with my parents; and that by the age of 25, they may start to calm down and rethink this whole “I’m right and my parents are wrong” mentality. If not, by the age of 30. If not….oh, dang. Let’s just deal with today and the surly man-boy who stinks and can’t find a summer job; and the pretty girl who I may have to lock in a tall tower in the next twelve months.
Let’s just deal with NOW.

How to avoid comatose parenting

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     My father-in-law asked me once, “How do you and Brad have such a good marriage, when you are so young?  We were just busy trying to survive at your age.”  Immediately I said “We stay awake.”  Puzzled, he just stared at me.  I explained that early on, I had gone for a year of therapy, to try to disentangle my visceral reactions to stress, to gain more coping skills, to consciously control my anger, to make a better marriage.  Brad and I spent a lot of time having husband and wife “meetings”, in which we discussed relationship issues, budgeting, future plans, etc.  We became “awake” in our marriage, and made a conscious decision to never fall into that sleepwalking stage we see many couples fall into, where they subconsciously act and react, instead of staying awake, paying attention, cherishing each other, and calling each other on to improving our selves.  And we prayed – a LOT.  We prayed for our marriage, our selves, and as each child was born, for that child. 

     Parenting should be like that.  Nowadays, some people either practice helicopter parenting, where they self-consciously attend to every decision for their child – and as a result, create children who are narcissistic extensions of themselves and their egos; or absentee parenting, where they kind of float along watching other people “raise” their children, under the premise that children just “find their own way” – which creates children who grow up without direction, focus, or purpose.

    Awake parenting is neither of these approaches, it is a dance.  You learn by experience when to fall back, and when to step in.  When to guide a child through choices, or when to let them make mistakes and face natural consequences.  When to discipline and when to let life discipline. 

     How do you figure this out?  Take time, add self-education of child development through reading, subtract ignorance and selfishness, multiply by the offered wisdom of parents whose children grew up to be confident and personally successful – and then EXHALE.  A lot.  Always remember to give yourself a break – a time-out! – by self-care, such as walking, yoga, or other relaxing activities.  Forgive yourself when you screw up, but then make mental notes about what did – and didn’t! – work with each child. 

     Don’t Blanket-Parent, which is to use the same affection, discipline, instruction and guidance style with every child under your care.  Attend to your other relationships: your marriage, your friendships, your work buddies; when you can.  It is important that you not pour every ounce of energy and attention into your children – they WILL suffocate.  And then will resent you later. 

     Children are not pods that just pop off our trees and then bury themselves, to create genetically identical shoots that then just develop into willows that look exactly like us.  They are unique, individual created beings who have their own minds, souls and life paths.  Try not to throw boulders onto those paths by sleepwalking through your parenting.

“One Step Forward, Two Steps Back”

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I’ve always been a weird mix between morbid-inner-teenage-angster and Miss Positivity (my yin and yang energy signature).  On the one hand, I embark on something new with my breath held, just in case it is a total disaster.  On the other, I jump in with both feet and think that if I give it my all by devoting time, energy and a positive attitude, that there’s nothing new I can’t handle! I think that is a result of my genetic heritage: passionate, impulsive Italian mixed with skeptical, hesitant German/Irish. 

The impact this mixed energy has on my parenting is probably considerable.  One day, I see the progress one or two of my children have made and think: the sky’s the limit with that kid!  The next:  one step forward, two steps back.  Or even three.  And I will feel like a failure.  But my job as a mom isn’t predicated on whether this kid or that is stepping on some linear line to personal or educational success…or whether they have absorbed all of the hands-on instruction and are executing it well.  I have to show up, hair clean and shoes shined, WHETHER OR NOT they meet the bar my husband and I have set for them.  Okay, not hair clean and shoes shined – because most of the emotional or logistical work that I do happens before nine a.m., especially on school days.  But I DO have to keep showing up.  And keep putting that foot forward, even if some days feel like a total loss, parenting-wise.  Because the dance doesn’t stop just because your kids are growing up – it just transitions from a cha-cha to a foxtrot to a waltz.  And I gotta keep up, even when I fall.  ESPECIALLY when I fall.