Friday, October 14, 2022

What Really Matters?

Like many parents before me, I have found the challenge of handing over the reins to my young adults emotionally challenging. Too much to fast, too little too late--it all depends on the child and the situation. 

Early this Fall as I started processing the ending of this chapter of parenthood and the beginning of another, I became a bit Ecclesiastical. In my exhaustion and cynicism I wondered if intentional parenting doesn't guarantee a result, what has all our investment been for? The temptation for a person who has long believed that everything matters is to swing wildly to the other side. What if nothing matters? 

I had the privilege over the last couple of weeks to read my Seniors' college admission essays. It has been a gift to read how they define themselves--especially what moments from their adolescence they determined to be transformative. Frankly, the big memories I tried to engineer aren't their watershed moments. Instead, it has been the more mundane, organic moments they cite as formative. 

So, I have arrived at this: You don't get to know in advance what matters down the road. 

Parenting, it seems, is a lot like throwing mud against the wall. Some sticks, but you can't predict what. So we sling love, hurl encouragement, and fling opportunities against the sturdy wall of our secure bond. Then, we wait to see what stays. 

Thanks to my blog hobby, I have my own version of some of my children's essay topics. Unsuprisingly, my perspective in the moment differs slightly from their recollection years later. A nod to Ecclesiastes 3: 11 "He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men, yet they cannot fathom the work God has done from beginning to end. "

These blog posts reveal my own sanctification in the process of my children's formation. As a result, I can say with confidence that none of it is meaningless. God is always at work in the "unadorned pots of our everyday lives" (2 Corinthians 4:7)

To Him be the Glory!

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Packing Their Bags

Perhaps because of the demands of my husband's career, we learned early that getting far away and off the grid was the best way to truly relax together. Travel has become a part of our family DNA.

When our children were younger, I did all the packing. As they got into upper elementary school, I would give them a fairly specific list and they would select items accordingly. In high school this evolved into me asking them what they thought they needed for the trip. I might give general reminders and feedback, but they learned to evaluate the activities, weather and length of trip to decide what they needed. Because journeys are unpredictable, there are times when we miss the mark. I am thinking of many sweatshirts, swimsuits, and shoes through the years that have been purchased at our destinations.

As I brainstormed Christmas gift list ideas last week, I thought about the bags my young adults would need. I don't yet know their destinations. Will they be mostly driving home from school or flying? Will they land in places where they might hike on weekends or settle into an urban environment? I can't predict what types of bags they will need just yet, nor do I fully understand what they will practically need to put inside them.

When we elected to give our kids a redshirt Kindergarten year, I started calling this 18-year-old Senior year our 'victory lap.' Little did I know it would actually contain its share of hard lessons that sometimes feel more like defeat. 

As I was discussing this with a friend recently she said "It's all going in their adulthood bag. These are the lessons they will carry with them. Aren't you glad they are happening when you are still close enough to really coach?"

Much like the destination, the challenges they will face in their journeys remain unknown. An encouraging older Mom friend urged me to view the lessons they are learning this year as essentials they will need in their emotional/social/spiritual bags. Especially the difficult ones. 

Another important point was made by my husband recently when I was in a tizzy about something that had barely affected one of my children. As I talked through how it triggered something from my own high school experience he wisely and lovingly reminded me, "That's your stuff. They have enough of their own. Don't ask them to carry yours too."

Sigh.

So here we are, doing the work of packing bags for adventures and destinations unknown to us, but already fully covered by the Author and Perfector of our faith.

Thursday, July 07, 2022

Our Training Wheel Summer

Twelve years ago we made the decision to "redshirt" our children by having them repeat Kindergarten as they changed schools. We did this for many reasons including their prematurity, early Summer birthdays, mixed genders, small stature, and our general observation that while we knew a handful of people who wished they had given their children the gift of an extra year at home, we didn't know any who regretted doing so.

This Spring, as similarly-aged students were preparing for high school graduation, I found myself full of gratitude that we had another year. I felt strongly this Summer was going to be instrumental in giving our freshly minted 18-year-olds opportunities to experience independence, maturity, and space.  

Kate & Ryland were hired as counselors at the camps in Mentone, Alabama & Black Mountain, North Carolina where they spent their childhood Summers. Parker decided to serve on the Work Crew (doing outdoor maintenance and sound tech) at a Young Life camp in Brevard, North Carolina. By the end of July, all should return with 5-8 weeks of out-of-the-nest experience under their belts.

Meanwhile, my husband and I have been practicing a new normal herein the nest--where we eat smaller meals in a quieter house with much less frenzied schedules. We have been referring to this time as our "training wheel Summer." 

As my people start returning in the next two weeks, I want to be intentional about honoring all we have learned. I am praying about exactly what that looks like, but I am convinced the first two steps are being mindful about it and putting it down on paper. 

I have been making lists of things we need to cover when they return...from college applications to high school Summer work and haircuts and sports practices in between. I am hoping to have a couple of individual meetings with each one to debrief when they return and reinstate weekly family meetings as the Fall begins. 

But I am posting this as a pause to honor the gift of this victory lap...as the training wheels are loosened and we remain a soft place to land. I hope we can start to deliberately transition from chaperone to coach/consultant--and hope our kiddos will have grace for us as we learn to ride on two wheels too!


Thursday, June 09, 2022

An Ode to Being Older

Most mornings my coffee brews while I catch up with a couple of old friends who live in other states via an app called Marco Polo. We send each other video monologues with headlines/prayer requests from our daily lives and it serves as an important touchpoint/ongoing conversation among friends of 30 years. 

When we started this practice 4-5 years ago, we frequently commented on our less-than-stellar selfie faces when we turned on the camera. As time has gone on we seem to have gotten more comfortable and most mornings my videos are filmed early, as I am brewing my coffee before makeup, hair brushing, or even a shower. 

I think this practice of sharing my heart in selfie mode has been an interesting exercise in embracing the full accurate picture of my age. For every line, spot and sag I see in my reflection I am finding peace, humility, and insight in my words (which are an overflow of my heart). The same aging process that has reduced my collagen has increased my faith. 

In my 20s and 30s I often felt as if I were playing house, only pretending to be the grown-up my responsibilities indicated I ought to be. Here in my late 40s, there is no denying it. I recently walked through a difficult season in a relationship. As it has been worked through, with mutual patience, grace, and honesty, the refrain I have had on repeat is how good it is to be an adult. Adult circumstances aren't easier, but they are more manageable. 

Adults can say what they mean and mean what they say. Adults have enough life experience to not expect perfection--and an ability to give the grace and forgiveness they desire to receive. Adults can listen and not just speak. 

As I am parenting young adults, I am reminded that one of the greatest gifts I can give is an example. So while I plan to continue with some of my youthful aesthetic regimens, I am renewing my focus on embracing the ying and the yang of aging. And today? I am feeling grateful for the gifts of being "old."

Friday, June 03, 2022

Confessions of a New Senior Mom

Watching the class ahead of us over the last month was a little overwhelming, and apparently, I am not alone. Talking to other rising Senior mamas is electric. The emotion under all our actions is palpable, even if we can't name it.

I am a planner with a real bent toward control. I can easily fall victim to the one-time-only anxiety as a Mama of multiples. This is my one shot. I have got to be on top of things.

As a personal coping mechanism, I composed a Google Doc of all the dates I am aware of for next year and a month-by-month to-do list of the actions I need to take, appointments to be made, and reservations to be secured. It was already three types pages long--in May! I felt prepared and paced until I talked to other Moms. 

Oh, what is that phrase about comparison? Such. A. Thief. The blissful peace of preparation (and maybe even the illusion of control) was ripped away and I felt behind. Egads! (Side note: I love that the official definition of Egads is expressing surprise, anger, or affirmation because I feel all those things--plus the embarrassment that I should be more mature than to feel those things!)

Thankfully, the Holy Spirit and my husband are excellent settlers of my anxieties. 

After a couple of episodes of panic, I thought about what really matters--and it is not the "perfect" X, Y or Z. It is that I provide a settled and peaceful place for my three Seniors who are about to ride the roller coaster of emotions involved in college applications, big future decisions, friendships separated by miles, living independently, etc. 

What if my desire to plan and list and do in order to 'not miss a thing' was actually the reason I missed the ordinary moments that make this phase of life so sweet? What if my panic over what's coming prevented me from enjoying what's now?

Frankly, as a planner, some degree of advance preparation is necessary on my part to feel that peace. This is the way I am wired. But I must remain on guard that this does not become a place for comparison. Everybody is managing their own stuff. And a lot of Senior mamas are dealing with their own flood of emotions in addition to those of the other hearts in their home. I want to be an encourager to the fellow Mamas I am crossing the finish line with, not a competitor. There is no prize for who does this best. 

So, I am actively working to reorient. I am praying the downtime of Summer while all my people are away on their camp employment adventures will allow me space to prepare my heart and my Spirit for what is to come for the journey. I am fighting the tide of carefully curated. I am praying for the perspective that a picture-perfect ending is not the goal.  

I know it is going to be a constant wrestling match with my anxious flesh, so I am writing this for accountability. 

And if it involves a checklist or two, so be it ;-)

Friday, May 20, 2022

The Power of...

I graduated from high school 30 years ago, a spunky teenager who frequently had more energy than sense. Although I checked the boxes of a 'good girl,' I drove like a maniac and my mouth sometimes got me in trouble. (Both things are true to a lesser degree at 47.)  

My career aspiration from the age of 12-19 was to be behind the desk on television reporting the news. I was heading to the University of Alabama as a Telecommunications and Film major having shadowed people at our local news station. My friend Jill and I were even the morning co-anchors for our school's Channel One daily announcements broadcast.

Somewhere in that experience, I got out of bounds. I have racked my brain (and even asked Jill) for the story. Neither of us can remember the specifics, but nonetheless, I abused my position in a way that landed me in the Principal's Office. And even though I don't recall the details I absolutely remember my punishment--a lengthy essay on "The Power of the Microphone."

In the last few years of social media craziness, I have reflected on the difference it might have made for everyone to be assigned that essay. But it was a powerful punishment for someone like me who loves to communicate--and was pursuing that field as a career. Even after switching gears professionally and wearing many hats since, the lesson about harnessing my tongue and the power of influence remains. 

Thirty years later, as a parent of teenagers, what I am now struck by is what happened after I was disciplined. 

At our high school graduation, our principal Dr. F bestowed his award--the "True Viking" Principal's Award. As he spoke of the recipient, my ears perked when he emphasized "the power of the microphone." I could not believe it when he called my name. I was stunned to be honored after being 'in trouble,' but Dr. F. wasn't rewarding perfection. He chose to award a young person willing to learn and grow.

I wasn't canceled for a mistake, I was disciplined. There were consequences, but all were done in an instructive and restorative way. As a result, I don't think back on that experience with shame--I don't even remember what I did! Three decades later, I see it as it was, a powerful building block for the places God was going to place me and use me in the future. 

So while many of the certificates and statues handed out annually in May are discarded or tucked away in boxes--the lesson from mine was so powerful that it has gone with me into adulthood and parenting. 

Today my physical award (a clock) sits high on a shelf in my study, but I have been thinking a lot about how to apply the principles to the way I view the inevitable stumbles of the young adults in my sphere of influence--especially as we embark on the increased freedom and responsibility 18-year-olds bear. I needed to reflect on this as I prepare for the stage to come. Grace is more powerful than shame. Instructive can be more beneficial than punitive.

And of course, I wanted to share because I believe in the power of the microphone (and grace).

Sunday, May 01, 2022

Junior Spring

May 2022 || Our trio turns 18 in a few weeks and we have one year to go until graduation. 

It seems fitting that the season is Spring and I am surrounded by sunshine and pleasant days full of evidence of new life and growth. Rather than extreme sadness or anxiety, I am truly feeling the excitement of all that is to come. 

The last month has seen a flurry of college visits and each time we have walked on a campus I have enjoyed 'trying on' some version of what life might be like for my people if they attended that school. Of course I have no crystal ball, but the promise and potential of each place serves as a reminder that there are many paths they could take. I feel like a child at Christmas, waiting for the time for gifts to be unwrapped.

In the meantime, I am watching our trio each rise to the occasion in their own way. My expectations of what defines being 'ready' for launch are shifting and becoming more refined. I can also sense our young people want to listen a bit more now that the reality of living away from us becomes more clear. 

This weekend has allowed us to spend true quality time together as a family and I am really enjoying each of my people right now at this age. I don't just love them, I like them a lot. My husband said our focus for the next year should be to savor---and I am leaning into that challenge. 

I read a quote last week about how raising older teens was like starting the last chapter of a book you love--you can't wait to see how it turns out, but you aren't ready for it to be over. 

I couldn't have said it better.