Mercy Me! I've got work to do.

Mercy Me — I've got work to do! making the world a better place – starting with me.

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How to parent your teen — the manual that made it in the trash

My son turns 13 years-old on Black Friday. Could there be a more ominous sign than that? While hoards of shoppers are waking up at 3 a.m. to suffer through lines and duke it out for deals, my sweet baby, ever so dear, will be entering the darkness that often accompanies the teenage years.

As if he is already rehearsing for the big day of black, my house has recently been filled with a cacophony of slamming doors, woeful sighs and whispers under the breath that I am pretty sure do not include any sweet nothings. It sounds like a coarse symphony that does nothing to evoke my sympathies.

I called a friend a few weeks ago and in a prayerful plea, asked in the name of all that is holy, all that is sane, and all that is merciful, to lend me every parenting book she owns.

She brought me five.

The small stack of books sat in my office and my younger son asked me why I had so many teenager books. Before I could even formulate a response, he answered his own question — obviously remembering his brother’s upcoming birthday.   “Oh yeah, it’s going to be a long seven years…,” he said prophetically.

Seven years? Why do the terrible twos get all the notoriety? That’s one measly year and they are still small enough to be restrained.

As I read, I began strategizing, thinking of systems to implement and solutions to employ. I realized that, if necessary, doors could be unhinged. He would inevitably realize that not loading the dishwasher would be to his disadvantage.   And, I felt hopeful that discussions could be facilitated without anyone actually dying.

Ah, I was going to be the most brilliant teenage mother ever.

I started writing a sort of manifesto for the teen years. I clicked away at the computer thinking to myself that I was doing the holy work of writing the instruction manual for parenting that I always wished I had.

Although my business interests have never evolved passed retail and at that, only on the paying side of the cash register, I had ultimately written my first business plan.

It read like a contract, with caveats and consequences included for clarity. It featured equations for various if/then scenarios and it clearly proved that my naiveté is boundless.

I actually believed that what I had written would be embraced – that is until I proudly emailed a trusted friend with the teen manual, which I intended to present to my son. She is tactful to a fault, so when she suggested that my glorious parenting plan would evoke a middle finger response I was stunned.

Really?

I reread my work. It was so beautiful. It had italics and bullet points and fancy words like parameters, privileges, outlined and occasionally.

I guess I could see where it was kind of bossy pants-ish, but it did include a smiley emoticon and an I love you.

I signed it not with the slang, Yo mama, but with the sincere, sweet, your mama that was so obviously me.

Later that night, with my two-page, single-spaced manifesto by my side I sat down and spoke with my son. Maybe it was because I was lulled by the soothing sound of the dishwasher that my tween ran without my mention, but I was uncannily calm. We talked about grades, basketball and ways he could earn extra money.

We didn’t hold hands, or hug or do anything that would invoke Norman Rockwell to paint us, but we talked. I didn’t boss or dictate either, yet I didn’t digress from making my expectations clear.

When we finished talking, he kissed me goodnight and there I sat – the manifesto, a mostly-read parenting book and myself.

I thought about ripping up my beautiful plan I had written about how the teen years would unfold in our home, but I didn’t have the energy to be so dramatic.   I simply folded it into a little square to put in the trash.

I guess what I realized is that maybe the reason children don’t come with instructions is because parenting isn’t meant to be precise. It might be insightful to read some books, or even to write your own plan about how you intend to parent, but often intentions and plans don’t really have much to do with raising children.

Like the rest of us, children are unique and, like it or not, have plans of their own. They will make their own path in the world and it’s our job to guide them as they do. It is a delicate balance between letting go and holding on. Sometimes it’s letting pieces fall where they may, and sometimes it means picking up the pieces and starting over again.

Maybe parenthood could best be described as prayer – a combination of something we hope for, ask of, praise, repent, and offer thanks. It is an active petition that is said every time we discipline, praise, share affection, or just sit and talk. The prayer does not end, like love, it endures time, tantrums and even teenagers. It is an offering of the best of ourselves so that someone we love can become the best of their selves. It is sacrifice, surrender, forgiveness, and humility.PatanganFamily2014_107

Parenting may be described as more gut-wrenching than glorious, but it is no doubt the most Holy work we can do.

While my son may turn 13 on a day dubbed Black Friday, it’s no coincidence this falls the day after Thanksgiving. After all, he has been a blessing everyday of his life. He is a prayer and a gift.

Of course, I know the years ahead won’t be easy, but I can’t help but feel excited about all that awaits.  The spectrum of joy, discovery and promise that lies ahead is sure to be anything but black.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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5 Things I learned from my middle-schooler about life

I don’t think I ever learned in school a fraction of what I learn from my children. Childbirth alone was an education – even with the epidural.

From their birth on, my boys continue to enlighten me. Recently, my 7th grader switched middle schools and in doing so taught me a few new lessons about life.

  1. Change is okay. You know that song by Davie Bowie, Changes? Ch ch ch ch changes – turn and face the strain… Well, first off it turns out I have been singing it wrong my entire life. Who knew? I thought it was “strange” not “strain!”

 

After all, change is strange. My son had been at his school since pre-school and only had two more years left before he would graduate to go to high school. He loved his friends. He did well academically. I did not see any reason to change.

But he did.

He was open to the experience of an academic magnet school, to be the new kid, to start over.

Starting down a new path is probably one of the bravest things we can do. To risk the unknown is scary. To walk away from the safety, the comfort and the convenience of our situations to try something unfamiliar can be daunting. But by allowing the possibility of failure we also allow for the greater possibility of success.

Ch ch ch ch changes…

  1. Listening is really important. While we did not consider the magnet option until the beginning of the summer, I could hear the need for change throughout the past school year.

 

Only I didn’t listen.

When he talked to me about being bored at school, I thought he was just being a typical adolescent. I was not as open or as patient with him as I should have been. I thought the problem was with him. Rather it was with me.

We all go into situations and conversations thinking about our own point of view, and often are not very open to hearing anything, which doesn’t support that. However, listening to another perspective with the intent to understand is often more enlightening than interpreting conversations into our own viewpoints.

  1. Pigeonholes are for desks, not for people. I assumed my son would never consider leaving his school because I thought I knew him.

 

After all, he is my child and we have spent a considerable amount of time together.

I would have told you that he would NEVER switch schools. And, that he would be traumatized from that kind of change.

But I saw him from my own perspective, which is colored from my own experiences. I would have been devastated to switch schools at his age so I assumed he would have too.

One of the greatest things about life is that we can start over. We don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. We can start anytime we want. We tend to get stuck in our labels and in our self-defined regimens. Worse still is that we pigeonhole others.

We fail to see the multi-dimensions of our neighbors and ourselves. I am a mother, a Christian, a writer, a friend, a wife, however I am not singularly any of these things and together I am more than the sum of these parts.

Free yourself and the people in your life from the constraints of what you think you know. If you want to change, then change.

Fly free, little pigeon.

  1. Fight for what you want. Once I realized that my son needed something different than what I planned for him, I dedicated myself to making sure he had it. It wasn’t easy. There were forms, rules, bureaucracy and waiting lists. So, I made phone calls to guidance counselors, principals, county school administrators. I showed up uninvited and unannounced – I asked questions and asked for prayers (from the people working in the public school office no less — they probably prayed that they would never have to see me again.) I did everything I knew to do that remained in the bounds of sanity.

 

But the truth is, it was out of my hands once I turned in the application. Still, I couldn’t be complacent when my child wanted this so badly; when he felt like it was what he needed.

So I fought.   Often, it really isn’t about winning or losing. It’s about knowing you did all that you could. It’s about showing someone else that you believe in them; that they are worth it to you; that even if you don’t prevail, you persevered.

There is really no losing that kind of fight.

  1. Endings are really just new beginnings. I hate when things are over. I get nostalgic and weepy. I cry until my eyes burn and my head aches. I don’t know if that is normal, but it’s just what I do so I try not to beat my self about it.

 

So of course, this was no different.

But I realize he couldn’t embrace all that awaited him and remain where he was. He was indeed giving up a very special community of friends and teachers, a place where he had been loved and cherished, a place I knew he would miss.

Still, at the moment of his goodbye he was on the cusp of a new beginning.

Sometimes in life we have to let go of something so we can make room for something else– new experiences await, new friendships, new ideas. The possibilities are endless and they begin with an ending.

So those are the most recent lessons I have learned as a parent. I am all the wiser for what my son taught me and only hope to be so brave as “I turn and face the strange… ch ch ch changes”

I really think “strange” sounds better than “strain.” I think I am just going to keep on singing it wrong.

Sorry, David Bowie.

 

Often children are our best teachers.  What have you learned from your miniature-guru?  And, perhaps just as important, do you think strange makes more sense than strain?!  Ch ch ch changes…

 

 

 

 

 


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The 10th circle of Hell – school supplies shopping

Dante wrote about the nine circles of hell; but I discovered the 10th – school supplies shopping.

I admit, I used to enjoy it. After all, the limitless possibilities of a blank sheet of wide-ruled notebook paper are boundless. But, there is a downside to the scavenger hunt to find plastic folders with prongs, binders by the inch, and a pencil bag for the 72 mechanical pencils on the list. (Am I shopping for a small village or a 4th grader?)

School supplies shopping means summer is over.

I had many reasons for waiting until the day before school starts to go, and every one of them began with the word denial. Admittedly, denial is a beautiful place to live. Every time I turned away from the school supply ads that bulked my Sunday newspaper, I felt as if I stretched my summer a little further. I wasn’t going to let those same marketers who put out Christmas decorations before the Halloween candy has even been bought steal one day of summertime bliss from me and my boys.

But on the eve of the first day of school, reality beckoned.

So after an hour in the office supply store searching for all the notebooks, pens, highlighters and calculators – making sure we had the right colors and the right quantities of each, I was kind of over the limitless possibilities of a blank piece of notebook paper.

We had crossed out most of the items on the list. We still didn’t have a pencil bag. Apparently, all of the pencil bags which are not glittery pink or SpongeBob Square Pants had been sold to the moms who shopped for school supplies right after the last sparkler burned out on the 4th of July.

While the thought of driving across town to another store to find just the right pencil bag that my son could live with for the next 9 months of the year seemed outside the bounds of sanity, I agreed.  After all, when you invest in 72 mechanical pencils and the lead refills that are required, you’ve obviously seen crazier.

I was almost out of the school supplies circle of hell, and I was comforting myself with thoughts of soft-serve ice cream at the McDonalds across the street. I estimated that I just had to get through 10 more minutes of indecision until my son finished picking through all the fun-shapped flash drives in the bin, deciding which surfboard design he liked best.

Meanwhile, the store salesman came over and asked how we were doing, and unlike most people, he actually waited for an answer. I had so many thoughts at this moment that had nothing to do with the appropriate responses of fine, good, or woo-hoo we are about to buy 72 mechanical pencils and a flash-drive that looks like a surfboard!

Instead, my mouth felt like it had been sealed shut with non-toxic Elmer’s glue and I couldn’t seem to make a suitable response.

I stood there frozen thinking of all the things I wanted to tell him about the lengthy school supply list and the skimpy selection of pencil bags. I wanted to tell him about our amazing summer — how we stayed out on the beach until the sun went down and the moon came up;IMG_2241how we played Monopoly as a family and I lost every single game, but had a really fun time anyway and even got the get-out-of-jail-free card twice; IMG_2291how we watched all the Harry Potter movies and ate popcorn and stayed up too late; how my son went to sleep away camp for the first time and I survived; how we found kittens in my neighbors yard and became so smitten that we now have three cats; IMG_1438how my boys have grown so much taller since the last time they had to use a mechanical pencil;IMG_1740how my husband and I went on long walks and I told him how badly I wanted time to stop and the togetherness of our family to remain; IMG_1773and how we went to so many cool places, but what really made it all so wonderful was the precious time we had with one another at the slower pace summer allows.IMG_2224

But since I didn’t want to have a breakdown in Staples, I just smiled really big.

It was kind of awkward.

I never could get any words out, so he just spoke to my boys whose mouths seemed to work better than mine and then he went on his way. Alas, my son had picked out the surfboard-shaped flash drive that two months from now will be lost either somewhere in his room or in his locker.

I liked the design he had so carefully chose and hoped it would remind him of our lazy days at the beach.

Summer has become such a sacred time. There’s no juggling overloaded schedules and we are not in such a mad rush to get out the door, or finish assignments or participate in the myriad of weekdays extracurricular activities that fill the calendar.

Everything seems to stop in the stillness of summer, and what we learn are simple but important lessons about who we are as a family. I know summers with my children are finite, and I guess shopping for schools supplies every August is too.

So as the cashier is handing over the ribbons of receipts, it is a bittersweet moment.  I am thrilled to walk out of the warehouse of mechanical pencils and highlighters in neon colors, but I am sad to see summer end. I picture myself riding out of the 10th circle of hell on my son’s surfboard flash drive and onto one of the 1,000 sheets of blank notebook paper I just purchased.

The possibilities are limitless.IMG_1697