Hush.

It’s been a quiet week. While C19 has been away at college, Guy has been leading a house-building trip in Mexico for 250 high school students and adults, and Q13 has been travelling England and France, I have been at home, working and walking dogs.

I don’t mind. I had been looking forward to this week of quiet with an almost physical longing. I planned to deep dive in quiet, to enter into projects I never seem to get to or, if I do, have more than 20 minutes to devote at a time.

Not long ago, I reread that passage from Luke 1 where the angel strikes Zechariah mute because of his disbelief that he and Elizabeth would finally have the baby for which they’d longed for too many years. I can’t imagine being physically unable to speak for nine months. I’ve had the occasional bout of laryngitis for a few days, but even then I managed to whisper or squeak my point across.

Still, this week wasn’t as quiet as I’d anticipated. Twice a day (until the weather turned) I took the dogs to the park where I chatted with church acquaintances and park ‘regulars,’ most of whom I know by “Robin’s dad” or “Maya’s mom,” the names of their dogs carrying different weight than their own in this setting. I met friends at a movie, a comedy show, and a concert, an unusual amount of activity for this homebody. I talked on the phone with my mom and my mother-in-law. I ran a few errands.

I took the quiet to a different level by not trying to fill it with noise. I watched only the TV shows I’d decided to watch in advance (Jesus Christ Superstar and the last several episodes of This is Us, both excellent). I left the car stereo off. It was a discipline, for sure, but I resisted the urge. Somehow, it felt important.

As always, my To Do list was overly ambitious and I cannot cross off everything. But I got some things done and, most importantly, moved forward a project that required from me a stringent focus.

In the quiet, I noticed a few things:

The words I shared with others felt to me differently significant, breaking silence like breaking bread.

I like the hubbub of family life and neighborhood. Some quiet is good, and balance is necessary.

I am grateful for nurtured relationships with friends, neighbor friends and park friends and friends with whom to share different types of events.

This experience of quiet will help me appreciate the gift of spoken word, of shared daily life, of relationships. What a gift!

ACK the Crazy of Parenting Teens

A friend posted a link to an article entitled, “WHY AREN’T WE TALKING ABOUT PARENTING TEENAGERS? I’M LOST AF.”

Before I even read the article (a great article) I had my response:
Because teens don’t want us telling their stories. Because we don’t want to mess up their lives any more by sharing with the world the stupid stuff they do. Because colleges/employers search the Internet before accepting/hiring. Because we don’t want the judgment of other adults who will look askance or, worse, tell us our kids would behave better if only we were better parents. Reasons aside, I do write about parenting teens on my blog: milagromama.wordpress.com

I started blogging in part because I spotted the hole in the Mommy Blog community. Mommy bloggers tend to have littles, not teens. At a writing conference, I asked advice of a respected blogger who told me she wished she’d begun her blog anonymously, that she had not posted her kids’ names or beautiful faces.

I asked my kids: Could I write my stories about our life together? Not tell their stories—they have their own stories to tell—but mine? I promised not to use their names or faces.

Without hesitation, they both gave me a big thumbs up. The younger one matter-of-factly stated: “Mom, you’re a writer. I can’t believe you don’t already have a blog.”

After reading the blog post this morning, I picked up my Bible. Funny: today’s reading came from Luke 2, when teenage Jesus ditches his parents’ caravan from the Passover festival in Jerusalem to sleepy old Nazareth to instead spend days in the Temple. At first his parents don’t miss him, but when they do, they’re frantic. I imagine Mary bursting into tears at the sight of him, and falling further apart when Jesus just doesn’t get why they’re upset. And then the narrator comments: “Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and all the people” (Luke 2:52).

Can’t you imagine Mary and Joseph, chatting over a late-night oil lamp-lit glass of Cabernet: Sheesh, everyone thinks he’s so great, and he is, of course he is, I love him so much, absolutely to pieces, but I just don’t know what to do with him!

If I think raising my own teenagers is difficult, how entirely confusing it must have been to be responsible for raising the Son of God!

As Renegade Mama wrote:
Parenting a teenager is the hardest, loneliest, most emotionally trying phase I’ve ever experienced as a mother, and by far puts the biggest strain on my marriage, and our family as a whole…. and this is the part that makes the whole thing so excruciating: They are these soaring, powerful creatures who you look at sometimes and cannot believe they’ve grown so strong, so whole, so complete in themselves.

I felt like a total loser in the early childhood phase of parenting. Exhausted beyond measure, setting timers to get me—and them—through the next fifteen minutes of whatever boring—to me, or them—activity we had engaged in, I thought I might lose my mind.

Some days I still feel like I’m losing my mind, though the circumstances have changed and the stakes are so much higher. While I love watching my boys grow, developing personalities and interests and friendships, while I love seeing the incredible, gifted, unique human beings they have become and are becoming, some days I’d give anything to be able to pick up the cranky-butt and plop him in a crib for nap time.

My husband and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage in a couple of months. We’re still going strong, but I will say that we’ve had our biggest ever fights over parenting teens.

With younger kids, there were regularly-scheduled pack play dates, all the moms (and available dads) with kids of various ages meeting at the school or park or someone’s home for a spontaneous gathering, often a potluck. That doesn’t work so well when the kids age into different social circles and have more of their own commitments.

Friends with younger kids have said, “I can’t relate to what you’re going through” aka, “Let’s change the subject.” Other friendships strained as friends with younger kids couldn’t understand why, as kids got older and one might think moms should have increased freedom, instead my priorities shifted and I had to be home all the time during off-school hours for the random moment when the kids might feel like talking.

Somehow, Big Kid’s peers have always seemed to be perfect, compliant children. Those kids never hit, or bit, or ran circles around—and obviously, knocked into—the littles (of the same age) who weren’t yet stable walkers. They never talked out of turn in class or wreaked havoc for Sunday school teachers and Scout leaders. Or, you know, worse. Because, teens.

Maybe they didn’t, maybe they did. Maybe their parents a) didn’t know or b) wouldn’t talk about it. When I talked about it (because we work hard to foster a relationship in which our kids tell us the truth, ugly as it sometimes may be), I received looks of pity, shame, even anger. Which made me want to talk less. And increased the loneliness.

Renegade Mama asks why we aren’t supporting the hell out of parents of teenagers. We should be. I try. Lord knows I need it, as do others. But we won’t get anywhere if we’re trying to hide our fears, our disappointments, our own and our kids’ imperfections. We won’t be receptive of nor forthcoming with support if we’re pretending.

These teens, they’re like unicorns: mythical, beautiful, colorful, magical. Parenting them can be maddening beyond belief, and as magical as they are. They spook easily, but I bet we’ll catch more of their majestic colors if we, as parents, stop spooking so easily.

Parents of teens, if you’re down to tell the truth, I’m here for you. We need each other. Let’s do this!

C’mon, Get Happy

Since we wish one another “Happy New Year!” thinking about happiness seemed like a good place to start 2018. I compiled a list of questions to guide my reflections, and even invited a few friends over to discuss them together.

Pick your favorite question and respond in the comments. I’d love to connect with you!

  1. Share a happy childhood memory.
  2. Which of your possessions make you feel happy? Which don’t?
  3. Describe your perfect happy day.
  4. Do you think others perceive you as happy? Why or why not?
  5. What changes have you made in life to increase your happiness? What changes could you make?
  6. Name 5 things guaranteed to make you smile.
  7. “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” –Dr. Seuss
    What memory does this quote remind you of?
  8. Name some things you do regularly that increase your happiness. What do you do occasionally that increases your happiness?
  9. What obstacles get in the way of your happiness, and how do you handle them?
  10. When have you felt happiest recently?
  11. “Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” –Jim Rohn (American businessman)
    How are you designing (or not) your present happiness?
  12. What happiness do you add to others’ lives?
  13. Who do you admire for their happiness and why?
  14. What do you think is the key to your happiness?
  15. How do you balance what makes you happy now with what will make you happier in the long term?
  16. Why is it sometimes hard to do things you know will make you happier, and easier to do things you can expect to bring unhappiness?
  17. “There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.” –George Sand
    Who loves you toward happiness?
  18. Is happiness the same as joy? How would you define each?

Thankful Thursday – Growing Happy

Where did I read it? Magazine, blog, online news article…?

Anyway, last weekend I read, somewhere, that those who study these things have shown three significant factors that affect brain chemistry to increase the feelings of happiness:

Gratitude
Laughter
Good people

Gratitude: find three unique things for which you can be grateful each day.

I unearthed my misplaced gratitude journal beneath a stack of mislaid papers on my too-messy desk. What an inconsistent adventure this year of gratitude has been… I started out strong, but I easily let life get out of control and let other things get in the way. I miss a few days, write for a few days; miss a week, write for three, miss a month, and so on. Well, I’m back at it, and I will say I look forward to recording my three thanksgivings each day and I do feel happier for having done it. It helps me remember life’s little moments, the funny things my kiddo says, the flower I noticed on my walk, the simple evening ritual of tea and book and a solid bedtime.

Laughter: always the best medicine

Way back when toward the beginning of our relationship, the Indigo Girls sang a line that rang true of one of the gifts Guy has given me: “And the best thing you’ve ever done for me is to help me take my life less seriously…”

I tend to be a wee bit dramatic. I lead from my heart. I can be impulsive and feel easily overwhelmed. And early on we recognized that my inclination to take life too seriously could be balanced by Guy’s easy-going, life-embracing stability. Like his bouncy hero, Tigger, he makes me laugh. 

I need to intentionally seek out cheerful people and opportunities to laugh. Silly sitcoms and light-and-fluffy books scattered in-and-between educational and moving programming.

Yesterday, just before I was to lead a meeting, I caught the giggles and it spread to my co-workers on either side. I’d gain control, and one or the other of them would burst out laughing again. It took a while for us to calm down. I am grateful for those minutes of gut-clenching hilarity.

Good people: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” (Helen Keller)

In this season of life, I notice that I am just not in a party mood. I don’t want to make small talk (I never want to make small talk, but on occasion I am grudgingly willing). But I still need my friends, connection, good people.

Before this school year began, I decided to clear space once a week to share intentional conversation with someone. And, for the last two months, I have had coffee or tea or a walk or lunch with someone who would not have appeared across the table or shoulder-to-shoulder if I hadn’t scheduled it. In practicality, it’s been an easier decision than I’d anticipated. And it has deepened friendships and added so much joy to my life, and hopefully to theirs as well.

Today over lunch with a friend with whom I haven’t talked in far too long, I took it one step further. I decided to share these happiness points, and to ask what she would include on her gratitude list. Not surprisingly, it took the conversation in even deeper, more vulnerable and lovely directions.

Gratitude + Laughter + Good people = Happiness. Easy enough.

Thankful Thursday – Neighbors

Our dog has been sleeping on two beds.

A few days ago, our neighbors drove away in their cars and rental moving van, all loaded to the max. They took their funny cat and sweet black lab.

Of course they did.

But over nine years, our neighbors have become our friends. We borrowed onions and bought each other flowers. We enjoyed regular parties with the other neighbors on our court. We celebrated holidays and occasions. We sat on each other’s front porches to shoot the breeze. We shared meals and drank wine around the fire pit. We walked our dogs together.

We actually co-parented our dogs.

Their dog and our dog have been besties since puppyhood. Neighbors took a board out of our shared fence so the dogs could be together constantly. Jessie (their dog) is an early riser; most mornings she came over to wake Izzy (our dog) and tank up on water, which she seemed to prefer at our house. They had morning play time with Guy before we all went to work and dogs went outside.

Unless someone was working at home–between our houses, that happened often–in which case dogs stayed in. In the evenings, dogs followed Neighbor room to room, begging with anxious eyes, until he took them onto the hill, the open space behind our homes. When he wasn’t home, our boys were enlisted to doggy hill duty, despite the fact that dogs (usually) had already had a walk or two that day.

Most nights dogs slept on their own beds in their own homes. But we had an extra bed for Jessie since she was at our house so often. Our dogs even had regular spontaneous sleepovers, more often than my kids and their friends!

This week has been different. Izzy doesn’t play with toys; she played with Jessie who played with toys. We should probably clean up all the toys scattered around the floor. Tween spilled some dry cereal, and we don’t have Jessie as our doggy vacuum cleaner (Izzy’s picky that way). I thought I heard Jessie chomping on a bone; nope, just Tween making some odd racket in the next room.

Izzy keeps asking to go outside. She looks toward the fence separating our properties, the one that used to have an opening through which her friend appeared. She turns around and flops by my feet. She follows me from room to room. We stacked Jessie’s bed on hers, and so she sleeps on two beds, our princess puppy.

We’re excited for our friends in their new adventures. Change is hard. Change can be good. Change brings new opportunities. In Jessie’s absence, we’re keeping Izzy busy– she’s been out on the hill, on a run, and to the dog park twice. Good for her, and for us.

And today we have new neighbors. They have little kids, which makes for different sounds drifting through the windows. We also have new neighbors on the other side; a mom and three daughters, one of whom turns out to be a school friend of Tween’s, are moving in to the house below us.

Maybe, with time, our new neighbors will also become friends. Now, if only they had a dog…

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High School Graduation

Tonight I feel seventeen.

Tomorrow is graduation day. One more project to go: for English, a self-expression slide show of my life—my people, my friends and classmates—set to U2’s “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For.”

We’ve been together a long time, but high school isn’t it. We still haven’t found what we’re looking for. It’s here, and it’s out there, our next step.

If I searched high and low in my mom’s house, my old house, I might still find the old slide projector reel filled with images of me and my peers growing from elementary school through junior high and then high school. We took different paths through adolescence, so I had to work harder toward the end to gather pictures of the people with whom we began. Still, I found them. For a time, at least, I had them.

On my final day of high school, I blared my U2 cassette tape through the boom box speakers in synch with my slides, blasting the darkened theater with familiar sound. Even the classmates who knew us only for a stretch of that time appreciated what came before and after. We were. We were little, we were middles, we were grown. We made an impact.

My presentation ended the class period. Lights up, and we were free until we reassembled in graduation gear. For a few hours, we felt oddly untethered to anything and anyone. We knew it wasn’t entirely true, but we felt FREE.

We went home. We weren’t the same. We might even have been a little crazy. Girls did hair and make-up. Boys did…what? I’m not sure.

When we came back together we were uncomfortably not the same, dressed as we’d never been before. We had worn jeans and shorts and T-shirts and skirts and blouses and dresses and collared shirts–even ball gowns and tuxedos–but we had never before worn caps and gowns.

Here we are, about to be, graduates.

Halt.

Tonight, my son is the soon-to-be-graduate. He is eighteen. He has one last final to go, sadly not the feel-good presentation of my last day of high school, but a hard-core final with a graceless teacher who least likes him.

Still, this is his night, his weekend, his now and not yet.

Time is funny. So slow, so fast. How can my little Christmas elf baby be the six-foot-something rugby-tough-guy almost-graduate? The years have been long, and not long enough.

Tonight friends threw a graduation party for their son and his buddies, including our guy. We swapped stories with parents with whom we’ve walked short- and long-lengths of this journey. Oh, how these kids have extended the high school drama! Nothing like giving your parents heart attacks in the last few hours…

I drove home alone, the long way, on purpose. I rolled down the windows, cranked the stereo, punched the gas pedal. I let the wind rush through my hair, felt my skin energized by its chilling flow. I’m no longer seventeen, but I remember. My adult (responsible) Honda Civic is no match for my once-upon-a-time ’67 Mustang, my ultimate cool car. That long-ago night, I knew I had great friends and I also knew, poignantly, that those friendships could not last forever.

I see it. He feels the same, and everything in me aches: for what was, and what is, and what has been lost. And for this boy: for what is, and what will be, and what will be lost.

This is the beginning, and this is the end. And it will come around again.

Overwhelmed

I received a rejection slip! Of course I’m disappointed, but here’s the catch: all creative ventures involve risk. I took a risk. It didn’t pan out the way I’d hoped, but I took it nonetheless. I am creating, and putting my work out there, and it’s a step in the right direction. This post just didn’t meet their needs at this time, which also means I get to post it here instead. Create, and recreate, and all good. What are you creating, and how’s it going?

Bristling like an electrical storm, Teen blustered into the house—door slamming behind him—and tossed his gangly body onto the couch beside his dad. “Hey, did you know the wage gap is a myth? That women get paid less than men for the same work is just not a thing!
 
We stared in response, so he kept spouting facts he’d heard in a video on social media. He thrust his phone in his dad’s face, insisting he watch it, too.
 
Parents want their kids to think critically. At eighteen years old and soon off to college, it is good for him to take account of the world and wrestle with his place in it. But a two-minute video by some guy not much older than he is cannot be his only information source.
 
I left the room, returning armed with a book—Overwhelmed: Work, Love and Play When No One Has the Time, by Brigid Schulte (2014: Sarah Crichton Books, Farrar Straus and Giroux, New York). Earlier that afternoon I had finished the section on Work.
 
Schulte offers solid reporting and not by any definition a feminist manifesto. Yet as I read one story after another, I felt affirmed and discouraged that sexism—in the workplace as one societal microcosm—still runs rampant. My kid may be right, that women and men with comparable education, experience and skills receive comparable pay for comparable work. But nothing is ever that simple.
 
For example, researchers at Cornell University put together four nearly identical resumes: half with male names and half with female; half signaling parenthood through PTA involvement and half indicating childlessness through charitable volunteerism. Nearly 200 college students ranked fathers as “best worker,” more employable and promotable and better management training candidates than men without children, while mothers ranked at bottom, considered significantly less competent, intelligent and committed than women without children (79). To test this “motherhood penalty” and “fatherhood bonus,” they confirmed their research by submitting resumes to entry and mid-level positions and found that fathers were called back at a higher rate than nonfathers, while mothers received half the offers of nonmothers (80).
 
As I tried to explain ‘my side’ to my ever-argumentative child (oh, the responsibility of speaking on behalf of the women he will encounter in life, begging him to trade grace for an arrogant hard line), he asked, “But Mom, when have women had it better?”
 
To which I replied, “Maybe they haven’t. But, Son, look at me. I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t.”
 
Over a post-yoga iced tea with a girlfriend, I relayed this story. She gave up her hard-earned career to be a full-time stay-at-home mom who employs her work skills as PTA president. I have cobbled together full-time motherhood with part-time employment plus freelance writing. We each have made choices that feel sacrificial. Even at our best, we both feel we will never be able to do it all well.
 
Schulte defines overwhelm as “a product of lack of control and unpredictability and the anxiety that both produce” (280). Who can calculate how many factors in a women’s life fall into “lack of control and unpredictability”? On any given day, I can only control so much: what time I get out of bed; how I fuel and move my body; the ways in which I interact with others; the work or home projects I tackle before the interruptions come. Because the interruptions come, hard and fast, predictably unpredictable: sick kids; forgotten lunches, forms, homework; overlooked deadlines, and immediately-required answers; bad news, local and global, or worse, from loved ones.
 
No wonder we feel overwhelmed! So how to squelch the rampant anxiety? Schulte includes pages of suggestions in the “Do One Thing” appendix—working smarter, not harder; time chunking; practicing gratitude; remembering that play, too, can be useful. For those too overwhelmed to read a book on feeling overwhelmed, this appendix alone is worth perusing.
 
Thankfully, my friend and I have found our way to a straight path. Exercise and togetherness. Swapping stories and encouragement. Expressing gratitude that, though we may not do it all as well as if we only did some, we have opportunities that others have not. Cherishing the truly precious moments in the mess of parenting (that an eighteen-year-old wants to spend an evening discussing real-life issues with his parents is not to be taken lightly!).
 
And taking time to read good books.

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