Riding a Bike

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

They say, “…it’s like learning to ride a bike!”

They’re wrong.

I don’t remember learning to ride a bike. I do remember lobbying for my first ten-speed. I accompanied my friend when her dad bought her a Nishiki; she got burgundy, and I got blue.

We rode those bikes for what seems like forever, at least until puberty and junior high took us down different trails.

I don’t remember the last time I rode my bike. I do remember riding a rental with a high school boyfriend and a crew of others at one of San Diego’s many coastal trails. I felt way too wobbly. How could I be so insecure on a bike after such a short time? Isn’t the one skill in life you never forget?

Was that it, the last time I rode a bike? Q14 has been chiding me for some time, the only one in our family without a bike, that I have to ‘learn’ to ride. Biking may be his favorite form of physical activity and I miss out on sharing it with him.

The guys rented electric fat-tire bikes. We met along a quiet, flat street. Guy lowered the seat to my height. He showed me how to engage the motor and the brakes.

That’s all there is to it, right?

It was both too easy and too difficult. The motor propelled me forward and distracted me from pedaling. I had to break before I could put my feet down and manually turn around to go the other direction.

Q14 shrieked as he whizzed past: “Look at my MOM learning to ride a bike!” My nephew aimed straight at me in a game of chicken as I begged him to stay out of my way. Q14 laughed and told me to watch him, to follow him, as he showed me how to turn. I stopped, and laughed and watched and said, “Ah, no thanks. I’d fall…”

I’m not a big risk taker. You laugh, too, because riding a bike isn’t a big risk (although the scars on my legs that haven’t faded since childhood might be evidence to the contrary).

This bike felt scary to me. Even on this short, flat street—not so scary and also scary. The frame seemed too big. The motor and pedals, too many things to manage.

Yet, the motor made the bike worth the rental. Worth the risk. We probably wouldn’t have rented regular bikes. And if the guys had, a regular bike wouldn’t have intrigued me into trying it.

I took a very small risk, and it was fun. Exhilarating, and just enough. They had an absolute blast and I can’t recall when I have seen that gush of unmeasured joy on Q14’s face.

I may need to rediscover how to ride a bike.

His Mother’s Voice

[Since I don’t post when I’m away from home, this week I’m going to post some of the content I wrote while on vacation…]

Trying to wrestle three teenage boys out of the vacation house and into the vacation isn’t as easy as it should be. Because teenagers: sticky molasses-stubborn.

When they finally realized we were willing to leave them behind—that they might actually miss out on who-knows-what but something—they finally began moving. Like sloths. No matter that we were trying to catch the tail end of a coastal sunset.

Eventually two of three had shoes and sweatshirts; I asked one to tell his brother that we were all going. I meant: Tell him the rest of us are leaving. I didn’t want him to be surprised when he looked up and realized he was ‘home’ alone.

Instead, I laughed when I heard my son yell, “Hey, we’re all going! C’mon, staying here is not an option!”

Those are my words. Because vacation is about togetherness, we stick together. Although sometimes we split up guys and girls or grandma with grandsons, only rarely do we leave someone behind.

So the reluctant one sped himself up. We didn’t make it to sunset, but coastal twilight was still something. The guys hit the sand and discovered the shore littered with kelp bulbs—nature-made salty water balloons—and commenced a ridiculous kelp fight. They ran and tossed and dodged and belly laughed and hollered and shrieked and played.

As they get older, I’m trying to lighten up. If someone wants to stay behind, then someone just might miss out. I don’t want to miss out, so I’m out the door. But in this instance, my son echoing my words nudged his brother toward an experience that has already created a fun memory.

Turns out, Mom is right sometimes. And—evidence—I am the voice in his head.

Milestones

Annie burst into the bar exclaiming, “What IS this place?”

“It’s the best little wine bar you’ve ever stepped foot in, but tonight it’s also a karaoke bar!” came my response.

Without a glance at the menu, she ordered a sauvignon blanc and a song list. Her two friends, obviously indulging Annie’s whim, didn’t even want water.

Annie danced in the heart of the bar. And when she sang, she did so as badly as you might imagine—off-key and off-tempo—and with so much joy we all laughed along.

She told stories, and laughed at her “L.A. friends, who think they’re really something, but they’re missing out,” danced some more, and completely whooped it up. She brought the party.

Before she left she asked for one more song, a special song she sang to her kids as they grew up: Que Será, Será. I smiled, because my mom had sung it to me, too.

I couldn’t have told you Doris Day sang it originally, but I knew the words:

When I was just a little girl
I asked my mother, what will I be
Will I be pretty
Will I be rich
Here’s what she said to me

Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be

When Annie got to the third verse, tears filled my eyes:

Now I have children of my own
They ask their mother, what will I be
Will I be handsome
Will I be rich
I tell them tenderly

Que será, será
Whatever will be, will be
The future’s not ours to see
Que será, será
What will be, will be

While I haven’t sung this song to my own children, in my own way I encourage them to have faith, that God knows the plans we don’t. I regularly repeat to them another of my mother’s lessons: “You do your best and let God do the rest.”

What will be, will be…

C19 finished one year at the only college he ever wanted to attend, and it didn’t go the way any of us had hoped. He gave up what he had thought would be his dream major and came home. He’ll work and attend community college as he pursues whatever will be next for him.

Q14 graduated middle school last week. We are so proud of his tenacity, because this so-smart kid can’t seem to figure out how to “do school” well. And yet, he loves school. He enjoys his friends. He adores band. He has a curious intellect and genuinely wants to learn. And learn he does, he just doesn’t perform accordingly. Our frustration increases as no teacher or learning specialist we’ve met so far has been able to determine why, or how to help him.

And yet, these young men are all caught up in the fabulous work of becoming. C19 matured so much in his first year of college. He advocated on his own behalf in several situations. He sought healthy outlets for stress. He joined a sports club and made friends. He determined who he didn’t want to be as much as who he might like to be.

Q14 composed his first piece of music. He went on a nine-day trip to Europe with peers and teachers; and he endured a migraine in a foreign country with as much grace and peace as one could possibly have under the circumstances. And the weekend following graduation he was thrilled to go on his first backpacking trip.

So we sing: que será, será, whatever will be, will be. Because God only knows what will be. And still we trust that these kids, with their gifts and talents and challenges, with their twists and turns on life’s roads, will be just fine.

 

[photo credit: Steve Bartis]

Travel Bug

My parents took me to London when I was thirteen years old. Real estate clients/friends of theirs held a wedding reception in London; my dad flew for Pan American Airlines; off we went.

As the daughter of an airline captain, this certainly wasn’t my first trip. Yet London captured my heart. Before we returned home, I declared my intentions to my parents: “I will come back here and study during college!”

So I did. It was every bit as wonderful as I remembered–and then some. Our ‘home base’ for the trip was Hengrave Hall–then run by nuns, now apparently a premiere UK wedding venue–in Bury St. Edmunds, Suffolk County. I was 21. At 21, my dad was in the Air Force, stationed in Bury St. Edmunds. Life is funny that way.

At thirteen years old, C19 fulfilled a life goal of traveling to Costa Rica with students and teachers from his middle school. The kid had been clamoring to go to Costa Rica since he read a picture book about the rain forest at age four–how many of us get to check off bucket list items at such a young age? Having experienced my own life-changing trip at his age, how could I say no? 

Through the almost daily emails we received from his teacher (“Your son keeps trying to touch the animals!”), we knew he was having a great time. And his trip led to us spending Guy’s sabbatical summer in Costa Rica as a family.

Today we dropped Q13 at San Francisco International Airport, entrusting him to the care of three middle school teachers and three parent chaperones as they travel to Europe. Specifically, London, Normandy, and Paris. That’s right: I was thirteen when I first visited London, and my thirteen-year-old son will be in London for Easter weekend.

This parenting gig gets easier and harder, all at the same time. A mom with whom I’d never spoken before got teary as she reflected on letting her oldest child venture out: “But you’ve done this before…!” Yes, I have done this before. A few times, actually.

Still, I have had sleepless nights recently. Technicolor stress dreams work through my out-of-control feelings, my fears of letting my youngest leave my nest. Tossing-and-turning and oh-just-get-up-already! nights, just to make lists rather than pointlessly swat at the bitey-itchy mosquitoes to-do’s that buzz my brain.

True to character, he would not could not settle down to pack until the night before, when we discovered that of course he had lost one shoe from his pair of sneakers (in his locked PE locker?) and his new rain jacket (not sure when he even wore it?), a replacement for the identical rain jacket he lost last season. I can only imagine what he might lose along the way, and I’m so grateful the chaperones have hold of his passport.

Last night he went to bed with a book he’s read previously, a ‘familiar friend’ to calm him. This morning he admitted he read until 3 am, caught up in the story, surely, but also…anxious.

Of course he is. As am I. But he’s also ready for this adventure, including the misadventures that create travel memories. Travel at a young age changed my life, which affects my inclination to allow my kids to follow travel bugs down their own winding paths. Their travels have, in turn, changed not only them but also me.

I can’t wait to hear his stories. I can’t wait to see how this trip might lead to more. I know he just left, but I can’t wait to get him in my arms again. Even though that will mean letting go…again.

 

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!

Do a Good Turn Daily

My friend Tracy works for an in-town start-up company-charity called Sydney Paige. Founder Courtney Brockmeyer left the corporate world to spend more time with her darling daughters, Sydney and Paige, to indulge her passion for education, and to model for her daughters how one person can make a difference.

Sydney Paige is like TOMS shoes: buy one-give one. I buy a pair of TOMS shoes for me, they donate a pair to someone in need. You buy a Sydney Paige backpack for your child, and they donate an identical backpack to a child in need. All good!

Tracy emailed that they needed volunteers to pack backpacks for homeless children in San Francisco. Kids in our area are always adding to their volunteer hours, and parents appreciate opportunities to teach our children solid hands-on lessons about using our time and actions to do good, be better, and love others.

I mentioned it to Tween; he replied, “Yah, maybe…” (he is loving long summer days of video games and bike riding and swimming with friends…). His Scout patrol leader made it a requirement, so we both signed up.

We arrived at Courtney’s garage to walls of boxes and volunteers hiding behind each corner. Our first task: to write notes of encouragement that would be stuffed along with age-appropriate school supplies in each backpack. Tracy explained: “Some of these kids aren’t told they are loved. Some have parents who think school is a waste of time. We get to tell them they can do it, that school is important and so are they.” Tears!

On index cards in brightly colored markers, we wrote encouragement like:
Shoot for the stars
Reach for your dreams
You can do hard things
Keep going!
(Tween wrote our fav): My love for you is bigger than the ocean and stronger than the waves

We opened boxes of backpacks, took them out of the plastic, and unzipped the main pocket. We assembled color-coordinated stacks of school supplies, and then we stuffed. For an hour and a half, we worked diligently until additional volunteers arrived to take our place.

My initially-reluctant Tween hugged Tracy and said, “This was SO great! Call my mom anytime you need help. Seriously. I’ll help anytime.”

In the car he said, “I kinda feel bad about leaving.” I almost turned the car around. Instead we had a heart-moving conversation about volunteering and new opportunities he might pursue this school year.

Two days later we received another plea: 12,000 backpacks were arriving at the warehouse ten days early. Could we help?

We spread the word: Tween had one available friend and Teen had three. Eight of us showed up at the warehouse to rearrange boxes to create space, unpack supplies, and write more notes. We would have given more time, but three of our eight were leaving that afternoon for nine days of work at a Kids Alive International orphanage in the Dominican Republic; their travel schedule made for a narrow window of opportunity.

We volunteered because helping others is the right thing to do. Because we want to teach our kids that a little effort goes a long way in the world. Because our kids brought other kids and the good multiplies. Because our kids are Scouts and, as the Scout slogan says: “Do a good turn daily!” It wasn’t hard, though it wasn’t necessarily convenient, either. Still, it was important.

We helped Sydney Paige and, in turn, Sydney Paige donated 24 backpacks to Kids Alive. This isn’t always the way the world works, but it should be. Good comes from good. Invest your time wisely. Do a good turn daily.

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Orientation

Orientation [awr-ee-uh n-tey-shuh n]
noun 1. the act or process of orienting; 2. The state of being oriented; 3. An introduction, as to guide one in adjusting to new surroundings, employment, activity, or the like: New students receive two days of orientation; 4. Psychology, Psychiatry. The ability to locate oneself in one’s environment with reference to time, place, and people. Synonyms: direction, location, adaptation, assimilation, bearings, coordination, familiarization, position, lay of the land, sense of direction, settling in.

I awoke with vague dream recollections: three of my former professors (college? grad school?) had pulled me aside to say that I needed to go back to school. Apparently my Ph.D. awaits me, in some area of study at some school.

Do I have college-envy? I’ve heard other parents of college-bound kids say that college visits evoked similar responses in them, that they wish they could go back to school at this stage of life.

Last week Guy and I accompanied Teen to his college orientation. As we walked across campus I thought: “This is the exact right place for my kiddo, but I would have gotten lost here.” Something like 30 of my private, liberal arts college would fit on his university campus.

I do feel a tinge of envy at this exciting stage in his life: for all the things he will learn, experiences he will have, friends and mentors he will meet. But that’s far from my only feeling…

He is our first-born. I am grateful he’s found his place, and anxious for him to transition well. After helping him maneuver life for eighteen years, it is so hard to let go, to cheer him on from a distance, to know that he will succeed and he will fail and somehow it will all work out.

His departure will change the day-to-day reality of our family’s operational structure. I will carpool Tween to places Teen has shuttled his brother. We will redistribute his chores. Our grocery bill will decrease. I will miss him like crazy, and sometimes I will (quietly) exult in the new quiet his absence will create. We will hope that he will fit in time to communicate on occasion beyond “Dad, I need money!” (To which we could respond, “So do we!”).

None of us understood why the college required orientation prior to the days just before classes begin this fall. In fact, Guy almost didn’t sign us up for the parent-family track. We’re both college graduates—how much can have changed? Teen just wanted to register for classes online and spend every minute of summer with his friends at home. Turns out, we didn’t know how much we didn’t know!

We dropped Tween at sleep-away camp on Sunday and left for college Monday. Teen was quiet (tired?), then visibly angry (“I’m not carrying that bag!”), sullen and snapchat-focused, dismissive (“Stop trying to be funny!”), and finally, candid: “I don’t want to go to college!”

He does want to go to college. He knows this is his school, his program, his time. He knows that, even though his friends will mostly attend schools on quarter-system and it seems now that they have longer summers, they will leave eventually, too. He doesn’t want to be the one left behind. He just doesn’t know how to manage the biggest transition in his life thus far.

Thankfully, Session 1 of parent-family orientation addressed the emotional transition in which we currently find ourselves. The Associate Dean of Students referenced William Bridges’ book, Managing Transitions. Here’s the model:

And here’s the synopsis: It isn’t the changes that do you in, it’s the transitions. They aren’t the same thing. Change is situational: the move to a new site, the reorganization of the roles on the team. Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about.

At any given moment, any of us can be at any stage of transition: not necessarily the same stage, and it can all turn on a dime. I had been feeling so excited for Teen’s new beginning (less so for ours, but it has its highlights as well); his fear and anger evoked in me both sadness that he was having such a difficult go of it and a panic that he might ditch the opportunities before him.

With a travel day on either side of the two-day orientation, over four days we watched Teen ride an emotional roller coaster, moving at break-neck speed through All the Big Feels related to this transition: loss, grief, loneliness, anger, denial, resistance, despair, excitement, hope, doubt, fear… We saw him wipe away embarrassed tears, endured his angry barks, listened when he overflowed, all in snippets of time that our orientation tracks intersected.

We asked if he wanted our opinion (sometimes yes, others no). We asked questions he sometimes answered. During one conversation I admitted that I, too, had been on the verge of tears throughout the day. He responded, “But Mom, the difference is you will never lose me. I will always come home to you. But things will never be the same with my friends…”

We encountered so many moments confirming his choice of school, from conversations with staff, to the presentation by his major advisor, to watching him make friends. And our conversations with other parents confirmed that our experience was far more common that we could suspect. One dad said, “I am so grateful for that transition presentation, because I’m watching my son live it out before my eyes.” Yup, us too. Another dad said, “To look at people, they seem like they have it all together. But when you talk to other parents, you realize that we’re all dealing with the same things, the joys and fears, anxieties, situations…” So true.

Teen had a great roommate for the dorm overnight. At a different stage in his own transition, they talked from 9:30 pm to 1 am, helping Teen process in ways his parents could not. That next day Teen was like a different person, calm, tip-toeing into the excitement of all to come. But later that day he talked with friends from home, one who was freaking out and another who was currently at his own college orientation. They’re all on this crazy ride and they’re jostling each other this way and that.

Back home we are orienting to the present moment, enjoying summer and friendships and down-time. The college shadow looms, but for now he wants to stand firmly in the sun. And that’s fine. Orientation introduced us to new surroundings both physical and emotional. We’ve done a lot of healthy processing of emotions and details. Settling in will take time.

 

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