Trying Not to Freak Out Over My Baby Growing Up

Once, when our firstborn was an infant–just weeks old and snuggled into a forest green velour sleeper embellished with red and white Christmas decals–he was asleep in my brother-in-law’s arms. My brother-in-law, whose eldest children were teenagers at the time, stared into my tiny child’s face and said, “I can’t remember my son being this small.” I was horrified.

After 32 weeks of a tumultuous pregnancy involving two extended hospital stays, weeks of bed rest and near constant fetal monitoring until the forces of maternal nature could no longer be blunted, there was a disquieting birth. And my tiny child was whisked away to the neo-natal intensive care unit where he stayed until his little baby body got into the habit of regular breathing.

IMG_2511I cherished every second spent holding my newborn child, my gift and blessing, so fragile yet resilient, my joy. I could not fathom how any parent could forget. So whenever our baby would wake in the night, I’d rock him in the dark and sing to him–old hymns or Stevie Nicks songs–anything I knew by heart. And I would close my eyes and resolve to commit each moment to memory. I never wanted to forget.

Yet, like the lyrics to After the Glitter Fades, only bits and pieces of my son’s infancy seem to remain a part of my brain’s permanent record. Like my brother-in-law, I gaze upon our now 15-year-old son and can hardly recall him once being so tiny.

I have made every effort to be the best mother I can be. I am not perfect. None of us are.

Older women would tell me how it all goes so fast. But when our kids were in diapers and didn’t always sleep through the night or allow me five seconds alone in the bathroom, I would wonder, “WHEN is it going to go faster?!”

DSC00428_0070And then, after years of wooden trains and Legos, superhero costumes and storybooks, I stepped through a time warp. Now I have to reach up to hug my son, who was once a 5 lb. completely dependent baby boy. I’ve tried so hard to hold on and not forget, that now I have no idea how to begin letting go.

DSCN1565Other mothers tell of how they cried on their child’s first day of kindergarten. I didn’t shed a single tear that day. I was relieved whenever our son showed signs of being able to navigate the world on his own. Milestone after milestone always brought a sigh of relief; we were doing something right. The kid was going to be okay. But wait…

He is now a freshman in high school and we (probably) only have four years left before he launches into the world for more than just a day. So I promised myself I’d speak affirmation to him every single day until he leaves for college. But then, he aggravated me, like all teenagers often do to their mothers. I don’t remember what he did, probably left wet laundry in the washing machine, something trivial but maddening, and I went all loose canon bitchy mom in need of wine or hormone injections. I’d blown my affirmation pledge after a single day. And unlike when he was tiny, I don’t have much time left to make everything right. It’s all going so damned fast!

And now, those tears I didn’t shed when he was a kindergartner come regularly. I cry whenever I consider the mistakes I may have made as a parent. And I well up as I struggle over how to best parent a man-boy who wants to travel across the country on a summer mission trip but can’t find his socks. Is he going to be okay? Am I going to be okay?

I remember being pregnant and frustrated that my pregnancy wasn’t going smoothly. I asked my doctor, “WHEN will I stop worrying and enjoy this?”

She told me the awful truth, that I would never stop worrying but that there also would be joy. Admittedly, I worry less. I’ve gone from checking on an infant every five minutes to make sure he’s breathing to trying to envision a future with grown children. I remind myself to breathe. There is definitely joy. So much joy. And yet, I haven’t been this emotional since giving birth. Just like no one can describe the crazy mix of emotions involved in becoming a new parent, no one could have prepared me for what I’m feeling at this stage of life. It once seemed so far off, and now here I am with growing boys ever closer to being grown up. I hope to remember most of it.

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A Reason to Celebrate

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Photo by Sarah Dibbern

Our oldest son confirmed his Christian faith last weekend along with a group of thirty-some other ninth graders. Confirmation is not a path to salvation and is by no means a requirement to being a Christian. But these kids have been on a 2 ½ year journey together. A journey that at its core is a weekly foundational religion class but also so much more.

Confirmation may be familiar to some. Here on the tundra, many folks my age and older have memories of relatives traveling countless miles to congratulate this “achievement” and deliver a gift of religious meaning or cash, which most teens still appreciate.

Since I did not grow up in the Lutheran tradition, I was unsure how to properly celebrate this rite of passage. I asked around. It seems an open house with time-honored selections of buttered buns and casseroles are typical. But like many other religious traditions, the traditional confirmation party is fading in popularity.

I considered following the lower-key crowd, opting for a dinner out with just our immediate family and the grandparents. But that felt like minimizing the importance of what we want faith to be in our son’s life. A dinner out at our son’s favorite restaurant, which vacillates between the culinary mediocrity of Dairy Queen and Applebee’s, would be no different than what we do to celebrate his birthday or a random Friday night when I don’t feel like cooking.

Heck, high school sports teams have celebratory banquets at the end of every season, even less than stellar seasons. Rah, rah, some of you tried hard. Good for you!

And most high school graduates have catered parties even though attending school is the law for minors, and in most cases, obtaining a high school diploma should probably be the very minimum standard we set for our children.

So I opted to travel the old-fashioned route; a confirmation open house with abundant food and a sheet cake. Although I did use electronic invitations. Consider that my nod to current convention and admittedly, my own laziness.

DSCN1883Getting ready to host a party for 40+ people was a lot of work. My mother watched wide-eyed as I scurried around, setting out chairs and bowls of nuts, made several trips to the grocery store and chopped veggies and sliced cheese for what seemed like days. It was indeed all a bit exhausting. BUT, worth every bit of effort and here’s why…

  • It is my prayer that our son will cherish his relationship with God, lean on Him in times of trial and trust in His goodness throughout life. A memorable celebration conveys the significance of this hope.
  • Religion class can seem tedious and time consuming in a teen’s 21st century hyper-busy life. But if we’re going to hand out participation trophies for the most minor of life’s activities, a larger celebration for staying committed to something as vital as faith development is certainly in order. (BTW, our kids see our efforts to get them to certain activities and out of others, thus internalizing what we deem important. Just sayin’.)
  • People need community. We need to know we’re not alone, that we are supported by fellow believers as we attempt to live a daily life modeled after Christ the redeemer. Our son experienced a house full of people, all here for him, and all essentially saying, “We believe as you believe and we are your family committed to helping you walk in the way of truth, not just at church on Sunday mornings and during religion class, but all the time. We love you as Christ loves you and we’re in this together.”

DSCN1873I’m thinking we should celebrate that last point even more regularly. You are loved and that is something to celebrate!

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Aiming for Worthy Goals in the Comparison Game

Do you ever play the comparison game? The one where you measure your worth based on how you stack up compared to the people around you? If this were a sport, I’d most likely have a trophy case filled with dust-coated awards. We must know that much of our comparison game playing is useless as it only makes us feel badly about ourselves. What’s worse is making our comparison game about things unworthy of our attention.

I remember when the hubs and I first moved to the tundra and bought a house. We were eager to make a few cosmetic improvements, including new flooring. But before making a final decision about flooring, the owner of the flooring store suggested we visit a home of one of his satisfied customers. We did and their flooring looked great. But that wasn’t all that looked great. The entire home looked pretty great, i.e. better than mine–newer, bigger, and with amenities we could not afford. Worst of all, those very nice homeowners had the audacity to look several years younger than the hubs and me!

I pouted in the car on the way home. The hubs asked what was wrong and I lamented over how that young couple had a nicer home than us and how it seemed unacceptable since we were obviously at similar life stages. Had we fallen behind? Had we chosen wrong careers? Was life simply unfair?

“Shame on you,” he said. (seriously, that’s exactly what he said.)

When I raised my eyebrows at his remark, he continued… “No matter how nice a home we buy, there will always be someone with a nicer one.” In other words, there is no end to the path of dissatisfaction.

I settled myself, chastened. The hubs is a good man.

The comparison game can still be a struggle for me, albeit less so when it comes to counting other people’s money. We are fortunate in that our economic circumstance is mostly the result of conscious lifestyle choices and we don’t lack for any necessities and many luxuries. Plus, I no longer desire a bigger house to decorate, heat or clean. I’m not even much interested in cleaning or updating the home we’ve now lived in for over 15 years. These days, I’m not much into “stuff” as a measurement of my worth.

But I do believe there are some suitable measurements against which to gage our performance. For example, I follow the work of other editors and writers and when I discover something praise-worthy, like a beautiful web design or a well-written essay, I want to up my game. I want to do my job well, and hopefully, I will continue to get better by comparing myself to those who do it better.

Some of my friends are great cooks. Others exercise more than me, which isn’t hard to do, but is still admirable. Some folks seek lifelong learning opportunities, travel more, read more and volunteer more. I don’t feel it’s wrong to compare myself to these people–not to shame myself or feel badly about my chosen lifestyle–but to be inspired toward living a more useful life.

Like during a recent dinner date with three of the loveliest friends I could ever ask for; I asked each woman what she was currently reading. I love books and believe a person’s choice of reading material to be insightful. (This is also a good conversation starter.)

One of the women talked about how she is trying to read the bible more. Not books about the bible. Not bible studies. Just plain old digging into God’s Word. Not alone at night before bed or during the early morning hours, but daily at times she would most likely be seen by her children. She spoke of wanting to leave, at the end of her life, a worn and dog-eared bible and memories for her children of regularly having seen their mother immersed in a biblical search for understanding, guidance and encouragement. What a legacy–better than any financial success, career accomplishment or dedication to any particular beauty or fitness routine.

I willingly and humbly compare myself to this woman. And I do not measure up. But I pray that one day I will.171587210

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What Kind of Friend Are You?

moms-and-babiesNot long ago, I wrote a post about being a big talker and how I desire to be a better friend and conversationalist by being a better listener and developing genuine interest in the lives of others. But because I’m still a pretty big talker, I have more to say on the subject. This time, it’s about being prepared for what you might hear when you show interest.

I learned this lesson, and something about myself, years ago when I attempted to connect with another mother I met at a mom’s group. We were laundry laden, puke stained housewives whose most connective commonality was a need for social interaction and some brief play-date distraction for our toddlers before naptime.

She invited me over. On the designated day, I packed the kiddos into the mini-van and schlepped my mom gear to her house, which was equally strewn with toys and layers of protective coffee table corner bumpers, cupboard locks and electrical outlet protectors. We set the urchins free to discover the cultural mores of sharing while we sipped coffee and chitchatted about how cute they were.

I imagined the rest of her life, much like her home, mirrored mine. But I inquired anyway in order to make conversation. Whoops!

She began by telling me her husband was between jobs; that their home was leased and they were facing the possibility of having to move in with parents if they continued to struggle to make the rent; that their financial distress was causing her husband to become despondent, and her to become fearful and frustrated. Wait. What?

I was shocked, completely unprepared to hear her tales of woe. Worse, I was attempting to befriend this woman in order to get my own needs for companionship met. I was not prepared, and honestly not much interested, in bearing anyone else’s burdens at that time. (I know the face you’re making while judging me. I’ve made it myself plenty of times.)

Anyway, the moment passed. I surely found some seemingly polite way to escape being a real friend and limit future conversations to superficial meanderings about potty training or thumb sucking.

My point is not to highlight what an insensitive baby wipe I can be; it’s to share what I’ve learned… that not all friendships are meant to be equal. That before entering into a relationship, we should honestly consider not only what our own needs are, but also attempt to evaluate what the needs of the other person may be, and then ask ourselves, “Am I equipped to be this person’s friend?”

The same is true in reverse. Before we begin detailing our struggles to anyone who read a blog post about being a better listener, we should ask ourselves, “Is this person capable of dealing with what I’m about to say?” By capable, I mean in a mentally healthy place, having demonstrated a bit of wisdom, isn’t currently overwhelmed by personal challenges and appear to actually give a fat frog’s fanny. Hint: if your friend frequently changes the subject or shuts down completely whenever a conversation delves into unpleasant territory, this is not a person prepared to hear your laments. And that’s okay.

I’ve come to believe friends tend to fall into a few categories and it’s helpful to thoughtfully identify what the purpose of each relationship truly is. Some people are our friends in the deepest sense, equal partners in a mutual to-and-fro of emotional support, laughter and companionship. Others are simply acquaintances that we should not burden with personal struggles, and still others are people we are mostly meant to hear, support and pray for without expecting them to meet any of our needs in return, because for whatever reason, they can’t.

Maybe if we give the real purpose of our presence in someone’s life more thought, we won’t be caught off guard and miss an opportunity to be the kind of friend we ought to be.

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Holding Your Breath in Denial by Jane Dibbern

Let me introduce you to today’s guest blogger–my friend, Jane Dibbern. Jane has been a mentor of mine for many years and I wrote about her in a blog post titled, Chicks I Dig. I love Jane’s ready laughter and willingness to dish about episodes of Downton Abbey or Mad Men. But more importantly, Jane is a teacher gifted with biblical wisdom; a strong-minded leader with a heart for women, parenting, strengthened relationships and a healed world. I thank her for sharing a bit of her wisdom here, in her own words…

photo by Angela Johnson

photo by Angela Johnson

Growing up, I lived in towns that sat beside the Mississippi, Missouri and Ohio rivers. When you live in a river town you spend a lot of time on bridges. Back then, bridge decks had metal grids. That meant you could see the river running below and your tires made this humming sound of danger as you drove across. Because of that, bridges made me a bit anxious. To combat the anxiety, I decided that as soon as the car hit the bridge, I would hold my breath. In my 5-year-old brain, I thought if I held my breath, I wouldn’t weigh anything and that would mean there would be less weight on the bridge and the chances the bridge would fall into the river would be lessened. Okay, I was an anxious kid, alright? Anyway, for many years I held my breath every time I crossed a bridge. Even today, when I drive across the Wakota Bridge over the Mississippi River, I wonder if I should hold my breath.

I think I held my breath because I wanted to deny feelings of fear. Denial gave me a sense of control. I was able to rationalize and then justify my breath-holding decisions. Denial is easy to slip into. We want to believe all is well and not acknowledge or face our problems. There is a great term for that. It’s called idealistic distortion, meaning we believe it is easier to hold our breath and hope that we’ll get to the other side. The only problem with breath-holding denial is that the bridge is still there, the river still runs underneath and holding my breath only leaves me breathless, not weightless.

So what things do I deny? Many things. My pride drives part of my denial. But if I pretend my marriage, my kids, my work, my house, and my family are all under control, then I am a fool who is almost out of breath. As a Christ follower, it’s not easy to admit the days and weeks that slip by without a single glance at God’s Word, or that sometimes I have negative, judgmental opinions about people. What if my friends knew that some days I get too busy to pray?

I believe the biggest driver of denial is fear. Therapy taught me to think differently about fear and to catch it before it makes me want to hold my breath (or deny its existence). I’ve had to learn to be brave and courageous and learn to ask for what I need from the people around me and from God.

photo by Angela Johnson

photo by Angela Johnson

From God’s Word (Bible), I’ve learned strength and trust from the Psalms, boldness and confidence from the writings of the Apostle Paul, and encouragement and forgiveness from Jesus; something I’ve also learned from family and friends.

“Therefore we will not fear, though the earth (or bridges?) give way, and mountains (bridges?) fall into the heart of the sea (the Mississippi?) though its waters roar and foam and mountains quake with their surging.” -Psalm 46:2-3 New International Version (and Jane)

Oh yeah, about those fears I had about rivers; listen to this~

“There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her (a bridge?), she will not fall ; God will help her (Jane) at break of day.” Psalm 46:4-5 New International Version (and Jane)

Okay, theologians, I know I may have stretched scripture a bit, but if those verses helped me breathe and face life without denial – I think God is probably okay with that.

Think about the denials in your life next time you cross a bridge. Don’t hold your breath—instead take a deep breath, say no to denial and trust the bridge.

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Genuine Friendship vs. Being a Big Talker

Photo credit: Sarah Dibbern

Photo credit: Sarah Dibbern

Twenty years ago my ears were opened to the possibility I wasn’t a good conversationalist. I wouldn’t have believed it had it been said straight up–as I’ve always been a talker, someone who can fill most any awkward pause with a random story, quip or observation. But I’ve learned something that maybe you’ve known all along; genuine conversation should consist of more than the sound of our own voice, whether it’s out loud or rambling inside our head while others are talking. Real conversation involves intentional listening, questioning and a genuine interest in the lives of others.

How did I discover I wasn’t doing it right? Welp, I was at work and had wandered into a colleague’s office to share a story. He seemed to welcome the interruption and smiled broadly at whatever I was saying. I carried on, holding court for several minutes until I finally said, “I’ve been talking so much and you haven’t said a word.” His frank response, believe it or not, was, “People like to talk about themselves; so I let them.”

Imagine the gobsmacked expression on my face. My temptation was to be insulted and defensive because I believe my banter to be entertaining and even informative. But the truth is, I want to be more than a verbal performer. I want to be a better conversationalist, colleague and friend.

Getting beyond small talk…

It may seem like a no-brainer, but for people like me, who’re apt to plunge into any conversational lull in an attempt to keep things moving–try not to monopolize a discussion. Whether you’re talking about family, fashion or current events, be sure to pause and ask about others’ thoughts on a topic or switch the focus completely to another person by inquiring about what’s going on in their life.

Ask questions and actually listen to what you’re being told. If people don’t open up right away, be patient. Some folks need a few seconds to build courage and those seconds of silence only seems painful to a talkative person. Plus, be sensitive to whether your opinion or response is invited or if your friend simply wants to talk about what’s on his or her mind. Shockingly, I’ve learned not everybody cares what I think about what they say. Sometimes people simply want to talk. And in my wise friend’s words, we should let them.

Questioning forces our active interest in others, and the deeper a relationship, the more important reciprocal interest should become. Sometimes I practice not volunteering information about my life unless I’ve been asked. This seems like a good way for me not to monopolize any given conversation. But I’ll warn you–by doing this, I’ve discovered that some people don’t ask. Maybe they’re so used to windbags like me freely offering up information that the need to question doesn’t occur to them, or maybe, {gasp} they don’t really care. I know that seems a harsh assessment, but it’s why I’m trying to be better about questioning and listening, because I do care. Well… not about everybody or everything. But I’m working on it.

Try not to interrupt even if you think you have something important to say. I never realized how bad I am about interrupting until I lived away from my hometown for several years. Then during a return visit, a bunch of relatives got together, and at the end of the evening, we attempted to play cards. Oh, how I remember the many members of my beloved family chiming in to give instructions on how to play the game, each louder than the last so as to be heard without actually waiting for anybody else to stop talking. I became overwhelmed by a layered cacophony of boisterous know-it-alls competing to be heard. Don’t get me wrong. I love my family. But it was in that moment I recognized a learned behavior I must work to reign in. Well, unless I have something really important to say, which of course I often do. I suppose discerning the importance of our words is probably best left for another post.

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It’s Elementary: Thoughts on education…

photoIt’s official. Summer is over. The kiddos are back in school and I’m back to espousing my mental musings here and there. This week, education is at the forefront of my mind. I’ve attended open houses, met teachers and reviewed curriculum pertaining to my children’s education. I’ve also read some interesting articles about the future of higher education, and I’m beginning to prepare a presentation about how certain elements of education have impacted me. I suppose, growing up in an urban environment with a single working mother who didn’t have the time or inclination to hover over my homework is why I’ve been asked to reflect on such things. Some thoughts about what’s as important as the 3 R’s…

Instill Confidence over Cynicism:

I was never taught that my gender, economic situation or rather smallish stature would impede my success. I was never told the deck was stacked against me even though at times it may well have been. That naiveté was most likely a blessing in my younger years. I’ve been the only female in some classrooms and conference rooms only to reflect on the curiosity of that fact afterward. I don’t come from money and didn’t attend an exclusive university. But since I wasn’t taught to lament inequality, I’ve rarely felt intimidated or unable to compete. In fact, my confidence has often been a few steps ahead of my ability–which is not all bad since faith inspires action.

Provide Access to Information:

My mother and grandfather, the most influential people in my life, were readers. They modeled curiosity about the world and often read for pleasure. Both accumulated stacks of books on varied and interesting topics. Also, a public library was within walking distance of my childhood home. Access to information is a vital education component. Today, access for young people should include digital as well as print material. And parents, let your children see you reading a book, newspaper or essay on your phone, instead of only utilizing technology to check Facebook or email.

Seal the Cracks:

My high school counselor was paying attention. When I hadn’t applied to any colleges by senior year, she called me into her office and practically insisted I do so. I applied to only one school, was accepted and became the first in my family to obtain a bachelor’s degree. (Well, technically, the second if you count an uncle on my father’s side, but you catch my drift.)

Now, I’d always been a good student and enjoyed learning but college was not discussed or even on the radar screen for most kids in my community. So that one visit to a high school counselor’s office most likely impacted the trajectory of my life more than anything else in my high school career. She couldn’t possibly know that, and I don’t remember her name to thank her. So instead, I’ll encourage any educator reading this post–what you do, sealing even the smallest of cracks that a kid could fall through, makes a difference!

Be Patient and Teach Patience:

In this era of instant gratification, reinforcing a long-term view can help young people overcome most short-term setbacks. But patience and humility are intertwined, and humility has only begun to develop later in my life. A healthy dose of humility may have helped me be a better learner, less concerned about appearing to have all the answers, softened the edges of overconfidence. That said, humility also might have helped me ruffle fewer feathers along the way. Something I’m still learning…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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