Thursday, June 04, 2020

May 2020: 16 Year old Milestones

Kate, Ryland & Parker:

Lest we forget what a historic month May 2020 turned out to be--for you personally and in our nation...

At the first of the month, pandemic restrictions were lifted in Georgia and we took a 36 hour trip to the beach. It turns out sand in our toes was grounding. The sun on our skin was therapeutic. A change of scenery was a glorious gift to our mental health.

We returned home for a final week of online school. Ninth grade is officially complete!

A week later you all became gainfully employed with your first jobs--K & R lifeguarding and P at a favorite local deli. You filled out your first tax forms and rose to the occasion of adult activities like drug screens, orientations, and negotiating work schedules.

On the 26th we celebrated your 16th birthday in a back-to-basics driveby/stop by front yard gathering with friends. Watching all of you interact was a reminder of how important social interaction is--never forget the gift of community and friendship!

Kate and Ryland each passed their driver's test--another non-traditional affair as Covid regulations prohibited the examiner from riding in the car. Instead, she watched with her clipboard as your Dad and I rode in silence (under threat of penalty) if we spoke. This proved harder for one of us than the other. ;-)

Parker, you wisely chose to let the first wave of new drivers pass as you take your time with your training and grow in your confidence. Having your own fleet of chauffeur's seems to be just fine by you! You also colored your hair in an evolving attempt to find your style. Your unapologetic individuality is a joy to behold.

I didn't mention the first date and new crush that emerged from this month for two of you...and what an absolute handful our pandemic pup has been. Suffice it to say, there are a lot of milestones to note in this house!

It is now the first week of June and even without camp this Summer is proving itself to be one of tremendous growth. Physically,  all three of you are over 5 feet. (5 ft K, 5'4" P, and 5'9" R) Spiritually, you each are investing in your personal relationships with the Lord and your church family. Civically, you are learning how to work hard and contribute at home and in the world.

The racial unrest in our country has led to deep and important conversations about the multi-layered complexities of race in this country and how we can serve as allies. There are no easy answers--but I am so proud of your willingness to consider the questions.

We have spoken of the importance of lament, leadership, compassion, and authentic love of neighbor.

And that was May.

This has been a month I've wondered about since I knew I was carrying triplets--three 16 years olds!! But I can honestly say, as with most things, the anticipation was far more emotional than the actual season. Perhaps it is because there have been SO MANY firsts, I haven't been riding the waves.  Instead, I feel buoyant with hope and joy.

While I know the Covid crisis has been devastating for countless people, the time at home before you emerged into the world this Summer was truly formative.

I know this is just the beginning of all that comes with budding independence and adolescence, but I am truly more joyful than sad and clinging to the hope of Phillippians1:6 "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it..."

"So, be truly glad, there is wonderful joy ahead..." I Peter1:6

Monday, April 13, 2020

Week Five: A New Normal

We are entering our fifth week of social distancing. 

For posterity's sake, here's glimpse into daily life. I try to make just one trip to the grocery store each week for produce, milk, and other essentials. People are now encouraged to wear masks and stay six feet apart. The stores are strangely quiet and I have realized it is the absence of children and social chatter. I have tried a couple of different grocery delivery options, but prefer to make my own trips. 

But for driving me on these essential errands (where they stay in the car) or trips to our farm property 8 miles across town, our kids do not leave home. 

Ryland is still working, although most surgery is still on hold to save PPE (personal protective equipment) in the event of a surge in the virus. His office has most of their staff only working 3 days a week now and financially everyone is hurting. For my husband, a helper, leader, and problem solver being sidelined during a medical crisis is a frustrating experience. Surgery is not the cure for a virus, and so he is doing all he can, spending hours daily catching up on the ever-changing research. At this point, we do not see an immediate way forward and so settling into a new normal is the order of the day.

Yesterday was Easter and the end of what would have been Masters week. Instead of Augusta National's beauty and visits from out of town family, we watched church from our sofa, had a take out feast here at home and enjoyed a Zoom call with family from Atlanta, Maine, and Denver.  There was terrible weather in our region throughout much of the night, so we spent hours in the cellar during tornado watches and warnings. 

Life these days is a bit surreal.

We are keeping a record of Covid losses and gains. As the days have turned to weeks, the list of cancelations has grown to include the following: 

- Neighbor's wedding in New Orleans
- Young Life camp for the boys
- Kate's braces off
- Masters Golf Tournament
- Soccer, lacrosse, and track seasons
- Study abroad in Spain for Kate
- Driver's license exams for the kids (already canceled even though birthday is weeks away)
- Big Sweet 16 bash we'd been planning since February. 

We are waiting with bated breath to hear the official word on Summer camps. Kate is a club leader and truly relishes this two-week experience each year. This was to be Ryland's age-out year and his last chance to be tapped for Palladin. (A big accomplishment that he hoped to follow his Dad's footsteps in achieving.)

This is to say nothing of all the daily life losses like time with friends, small groups, our former foster child, and the grandparents. There were also many boarding students at our school who never returned from Spring Break and my children are disappointed there was not a proper goodbye.  

These are small in comparison to loss of life, homes, businesses--but we mourn them in our own ways. All were extras, not critical to our survival, so rather than deep grief, we are experiencing a quiet reorienting of what we thought our privileged first-world Spring was going to be.

In happy news, we adopted a puppy. We've learned new games, made new memories, and enjoyed time together that we would have never had in the hurried pace of a typical high school Spring. 

The children are beginning their fourth week of online learning and it is going fairly well. I am trying to take my own parenting advice and let them own their academic life, but this is new to all of us and having a child with ADHD and other executive function challenges is causing me some confusion as to how much to enter in versus letting them learn to self regulate. There is no handbook for adolescent crisis learning during a pandemic!

While we are on the subject of parenting during a pandemic, I am realizing that allowing my teens room to grow while we are stuck in the same house all day every day is extremely challenging. When they are at traditional school I can let go with an "out of sight- out of mind mentality." I trust the adults there. I know the process is essential to their healthy development--and not having to witness it all relieves me of my overwhelming feelings of responsibility. At home, the gap between what I want to do (back off) and how I feel (responsible) is a true source of stress. Managing this gap is exposing some control issues in me. 

I know how important it is to be consistent and I find I am quite the opposite. I try to give everyone space to do the right thing in terms of chores, screen time, academic work, etc...but after a few hours of ignoring, I frequently swoop in and have a mini freak-out from all my stuffed feelings of anxiety. I fear I am not being a good Mom and they are regressing instead of progressing. I really hate this cycle of loose-controlling-loose. I am hopeful that we can settle into a space that is healthy for all of us.  

It is ironic that I trust the Lord with their spiritual development, but feel a LOT of pressure for their social and academic progress. Awareness and admission are good first steps, but I am ready to move forward. 

Truly, the inability to move forward is perhaps one of the most discouraging and frustrating aspects of this pandemic period. What is the way forward--economically, financially, socially, professionally, academically? Who will define it? 

I trust the Lord for the long-term big picture, but the daily challenges necessary to get there are a struggle for me. This is where the rubber meets the road of daily devotion to the Lord and my inadequacies are being exposed.  

I wrote this on Instagram last week, but it bears repeating here. The frustration with the unknown timeline has led me to ponder why it seems to matter to me so much. In addition to planning and control issues, I think it also has a great deal to do with a desire to pace myself and my family. I am reminded that we are exhorted in Galatians 5:25 to "keep in step with the Spirit." The Lord of the Universe is to be the pacesetter. We cannot allow ourselves to fall too far behind or rush ahead. So, I am renewing my desire to stick with Him as the refinement and sanctification continues. 

Onward, into week five. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Choosing Joy in this Journey

Last Fall I was asked to speak to women in our congregation about my journey towards a life of joy. I had no idea then how diving deeply into the Scriptural commands to be joyful would be so nourishing to my spirit mere months later.  

At the time, my greatest thief of joy was the way my teenaged triplets were slipping away as they asserted their adolescent independence and how I mourned the loss of quality time with them. (Oh, how this makes me giggle now after two straight weeks of uninterrupted quality time due to a worldwide pandemic!)

This afternoon I pulled out the notes from my November talk and was reminded of a few specific truths that bear repeating. Life as we know it has drastically changed, but God’s Word stands as a timeless and firm anchor for our souls.

Many of us have spent years sitting under solid teaching, meeting in small group studies, and doing our own personal study of Scripture. This season is our opportunity, as Paul exhorts in Philippians 4:9, to put into practice what you learned, heard, saw and realized. “And the God of peace will be with you.” Philippians 4:10 (NIV)

I Peter 1:8-9 describes being “filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy” as a result of faith and trust that is not based on circumstances. Our joy must flow from the Spirit that we KNOW not the news we hear, the future we fear, or the scarcity we feel. This world is not our home, our citizenship is in Heaven (Philippians 320). We are being given the unique opportunity to hold out the Word of Life to our family, friends and a watching world as we walk through these days with hope and faith anchored not in the temporary, but the eternal.

Rick Warren has defined joy as “the settled assurance that God is in control of all the details of my life, the quiet confidence that ultimately everything is going to be alright, and the determined choice to praise God in every situation.” (emphasis mine)

So, let’s go forth in peace, joy, and confidence that can only be explained by Christ. Cling to the truth and look for the gifts.  

“Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction and constant in prayer.” Romans 12:12

(I wrote this for a church publication, but am crossposting here for posterity.)

Sunday, March 22, 2020

Covid Quaranteens: Week One

Our first full week at home social distancing was actually quite smooth. In many ways, this Mama's heart was overflowing from the gift of so much time with my people.

I wanted to establish some sort of rhythm without being overly controlling, so I settled on a checklist with categories of activities. My teens were given freedom in what order they completed the tasks and how to fulfill some of the requirements.

We were able to address a dozen "life skills," complete many home projects that have been lingering on my list and learn lots of new games (including Texas Hold 'Em and Spades). I also took advantage of the captive audience to introduce a few movies they might not have otherwise chosen for their screen time.

Ryland returned to work at his surgical practice and covering call for two hospitals. He is adjusting to a new normal as all elective surgical cases have been canceled and this was a large portion of his practice. There will be tremendous financial implications, as well as difficult management decisions within the practice. At this point, the caseload of Covid infected patience is under control enough that Ryland is not on the front lines, but this could change at any time. In the meantime, he is researching a great deal and ordering his own personal protection (when possible). 

Parker, our introvert, is thriving. Kate seems to be enjoying the forced sabbatical--a pause from all the social, scholastic, and schedule-related pressure. RyGuy, my extrovert, has been the most affected so far. The greatest losses for them at this point are their lacrosse, track and soccer seasons and the threat to their age-out years at Summer camp.  Kate is also disappointed that her date from brace removal has been kicked back three weeks :(

I am adjusting to the loss of my daily normal it has been quite manageable so far. I always said I wanted to cook more, so I guess this is my chance!

So many poignant things have already been written about the hopes for this period of history and what we will learn. I don't necessarily feel the need to add to that here. But I do think it's helpful to look for the lessons. At the conclusion of the first week, I am grateful for the forced pause, the opportunity for a reevaluation of life priorities, technology to stay connected, and the peace of being at home with a strong family unit to weather this storm.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Whiplash: From Chile to Covid

Two weeks ago today my family left on a plane to South America for a bucket list Spring break trip to Patagonia. We had a head full of adventurous dreams and a packed calendar to escape. We had heard a little bit about a coronavirus making its way through China, but there was no personal relevance for our daily lives.

While we were away, enjoying the incredible beauty of Chile, life, as we knew it at home, had drastically changed.

I cannot adequately describe how serene and calming our experience was at Tierra Patagonia. The breathtaking beauty of creation and the vast, natural landscapes surrounded us. There were no televisions in our hotel and we only checked in to WiFi twice a day, mostly to post photos. On Thursday I started to receive messages from worried friends at home. "When are you returning?" "Things are getting crazy here." "Did you hear they are closing some borders and canceling flights from certain countries?"

Checking social media, I started reading about grocery store shelves being picked clean and strangely, about toilet paper shortages.

Saturday we left a small, new and clean airport in Puerto Natales for a two-hour flight to Santiago. When we disembarked the plane there I started to feel hot and panicky. I cried twice as we stood in long, crowded lines for baggage check and security. People were wearing makeshift masks and warily eying one another for threatening symptoms. Every time someone coughed, a protectiveness welled up in me that made the stranger feel like a dangerous enemy poised to hurt my family.

The flight home was nine hours long and full of cruise ship passengers, many of them older. A woman behind me was coughing and it led me to cover my entire head and face with a blanket while I slept.

Our flight landed in Atlanta at 5:20 am, which meant Customs and Immigration was a fairly speedy process. We chatted with other Americans who were returning to the same new world. Our spirits were mostly jovial and resigned to face whatever was coming...and at that point, none of us could determine if this was an overreaction or a necessary way of living.

Our 90 minute drive home from the airport was calm. It was still dark outside. We were exhausted from our redeye flight. The radio was on a news channel and our driver, Jerry, tried to fill us in on how our community was being impacted.

We unpacked the car in the dark, leaving all the luggage outside. Each of us showered immediately and while I made a trip to the grocery store to restock our food supplies, Ryland set up a decontamination process in the laundry room while the children tried to sleep a bit.

My trip to Kroger was emotional whiplash. I was expecting it to be like a pre-snow day trip in the South...but instead, I felt afraid, sad and disoriented in a place that has been a regular part of my weekly routine for 16 years.

Although it was only 8am on a Sunday there were many shoppers and even more employees. Shelves were being actively restocked on every other aisle. The store was eerily quiet. Everyone seemed to be on a mission and processing in silence. A couple of times I started to make eye contact with another patron only to realize humanity might make me burst into tears.

With a cart full of two week's provisions, I thanked the shellshocked employees in the check out line and returned home to begin our self-quarantine on Sunday, March 15, 2020.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Ill-fitting skin

A few months ago I noticed my restlessness. I have a hard time describing the emotion exactly, but it felt like a mixture of boredom, annoyance, fear and exhaustion. I am a positive person. I am truly grateful for a circumstantially terrific life. I have strong feelings of purpose and hope for my eternal future. And yet, my skin just felt like it wasn't fitting just right.

Ahh, the beginnings of the proverbial mid-life crisis, I thought.  But there was no crisis. The more I examined my feelings, the more frustrated I became. On paper, it did not make any sense.

I don't want to run away from my life, but in some ways, I felt like it was running away from me. Our little one, who was here via foster care, went home to her biological family. My teenage children are moving rapidly toward independence--which is the goal, my husband reminds me. My husband has taken a passionate interest in his new hobby of flying...and I am just here holding down the fort--which I am truly so grateful to be able to do.

I have important and fulfilling roles and relationships outside of my family. My to-do list is never complete. And, yet, I could not find my mojo.

One afternoon, exhausted by wrestling with my thoughts on the matter, I called a friend of mine (who is also a counselor) and described my feelings. I explained that as I tried to pin down what I was lacking and express it to my family, I would be inexplicably annoyed by their attempts to meet the need. I imagined myself as a person trying to identify their craving--only to find they still felt empty after eating.

When I finished, my counselor friend said, "what you are describing sounds like grief. It doesn't always feel like you would expect and it operates on its own timeline."

As she spoke the words, I wept. She touched my soul with revelation and permission to stop trying to solve and instead just feel for a bit.

I am being forced into retirement from my favorite job I have ever had. Being a hands-on Mama to birdies in my nest has been incredibly stretching, humbling and satisfying. I don't want it to change! And while I know motherhood continues for decades, it shifts in ways that feel unfamiliar and uncertain to me.

In four short months, they will be driving themselves to and from school. Car conversations are my favorite and I am NOT ready to give those up. And yet, spreading their wings and learning to fly has always been my hope.

So forgive my silence in writing (and maybe my grumpiness in person), I am going through a thing over here.

Trusting the Lord. Asking Him to nip and tuck this old skin to fit the way my role is changing--and trying to savor all the car rides in between.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Notes from the Field: Freshman Fall

Our family survived the first 9 weeks of high school and I confess it is so much more fun than I imagined! Each of my freshmen dived in head first in different ways.

Parker is thrilled to have robotics on his class schedule and Mario Smash Brothers as a club. His inaugural year as the school mascot has proven to be a great fit for him, even though prolonged Summer-into-Fall heat made the job a sweaty one. An introvert with a penchant for silliness is quite happy letting loose behind the anonymity of a mask!

Ryland is thriving as the JV football kicker (with occasional Varsity showings), a soccer club and stagecraft/set design as his arts elective. Last month he located his long-desired pickup truck and loves being an enthusiastic inviter to Young Life functions.

Kate just wrapped up a cross country season which entailed running 6-7 miles a day (often before the sun comes up), setting new personal records as a result of that hard work and making it to the state meet! As Winter approaches she will dip back into music a bit more with guitar lessons and performing with the upper school's female a capella singing group.

All three have now had the sometimes bumpy experiences of asking and being asked to the Homecoming dance, learning to organize/make social plans, figuring out how to maintain their studies and keep their personal faith/church involvement a priority amidst this active social life!

AND we've still been driving, driving, driving.

It has been a whirlwind--but I only get to ride this train once so I am here for it!

Lest this sound too much like a bragging Christmas letter, I offer the reminder that we live real lives with challenges and struggles. While not wanting to "air the dirty laundry," of my growing young adults, the metaphor of laundry has been in the front of my mind the last few weeks.

Because we live only three miles from our school, I frequently pick my children up in stages as they finish up their afternoon activities.  While some would argue it teaches them character to sit and wait for me to make one trip, I am grateful for the private, distraction-free conversation time with each of my people. (In-town car rides are phone-free for passengers in our family.)

The way they toss their backpack in the car and settle into their seats is often a barometer for the type of day my teens have experienced. I brace myself for whatever may come as our car becomes a confessional for 15-year-olds in their rawest, exhausted state.

Some days my questions about their day are met with shrugs and indifference, but other days my passengers start shedding their emotional baggage even before they've taken off their backpacks. I have read countless books and articles. I know to listen more than I speak. I (mostly) don't freak out. I strive to be their safe place.

There is something intimate about the car, so we often linger in the driveway to complete a story before they go inside.

Once they leave the car it is time for food, relaxation, and homework...and I am left to sort through the dirty laundry of emotions, stories, and worries they seem to have deposited in my passenger seat.

Most days I head back out for the next pick up in short order, so the metaphorical laundry gets shelved to make room for the next teen's dropoff. By the end of the afternoon my heart has quite a pile to pray over: Hurt feelings, misconceptions, mean comments, unrequited crushes, rumors, academic stress, perceived slights.

And here's what the first nine weeks of high school drama have taught me: I am frequently spending more time evaluating, studying and ruminating in this stuff than my kids are. They drop it off with me, a safe place, and move on. I realized I was sometimes still rolling around in the mound of stinky teenage feelings a day or two later. They had long since moved on.

Ninety-eight percent of the afterschool verbal dumps aren't terrible stains requiring treatment. They are merely the equivalent of clothing that had been through a normal day and just needed a good wash and dry to be ready for their next wear. This is the point where I really appreciate the dirty laundry metaphor. Why was I rolling around in piles of stinky clothes that simply needed to be put through a good wash cycle?

This realization has really helped me recognize my place in this teen process. I am to listen, to love, to pray, to coach (wash, rinse) and then repeat. Our home is the emotional structure built over the last 16 years--safe, loving, peaceful, restorative--and now we do the daily work.

Dr. Lisa D'Amour, an author I enjoy, calls it dumping their emotional trash. I love her reminder that "even the sturdiest of adolescents would sag under the weight of their feelings if they couldn’t toss some of them into handy and dependable receptacles. .. the gift that so many parents give their teenagers all year round: the willingness to accept, and find a way to dispose of, the inevitable debris that comes with growing up." 

All of this is not to say the much bigger issues will not come. This is real life. But for now, I am learning not to major in the minors and to keep that emotional laundry cycle moving.