Figuring Out What’s Next

In a few days, we’ll move our oldest son into his freshmen dorm at university. I surely join all the moms who go before me in experiencing this tumultuous storm of emotions that includes pride, joy and happiness for him all while (mostly unsuccessfully) stifling tears.

He’s beautiful. He’s brilliant. He’s strong. He’s almost gone…

His being “gone” doesn’t really bother me that much. He’s going to school across town and it feels a lot like we’re sending him to summer camp. I know we’ll see him more often than some parents get to see their college kids who travel greater distances for an education. So it’s not his leaving (or maybe it is and I’m delusional) that’s causing my rumination.

It’s more the sense of coming change and a fear of the unknown that might be nagging at me most. I didn’t fear the future when I was young. I couldn’t wait to grow up.

I looked forward to getting a driver’s license and graduating high school and college. I dreamed of landing a good job, getting married and having children. This is it! I’ve been living my dreams all this time. Lucky me.

But I never dreamed of one day becoming an empty nester.

I know some people surely have or have had that very dream every damned day. Those of you who’ve been raising kids and maybe even grandkids for the better part of your life have likely dreamed of having the house to yourself for once. Finally!

But not me. I’ve never dreamed of growing older, of winding down or living a quiet life. So I’ll need to discover some new dreams. Figure out what I want to look forward to next. Get excited rather than feeling gloomy about this impending change. But until I begin to feel excited, I’ll need to learn to cope with what I’m feeling now–whatever the hell this (likely somewhat hormone induced) hurricane is that’s washing over me at the moment. I know it will pass. I’ve seen moms survive and thrive after their kids are gone. But if it’s helpful to anyone reading this to know of some things I resolve to do and not do during this particular time–they are:

  • Refrain from spending money as a salve for sadness. I truly am tempted to remodel rooms in our home and buy a new wardrobe. Such expenditures are fine and may actually be overdue, but I must not ignore the budget completely when I’m feeling blue.
  • On the flip side, I must be willing to spend some money on new dreams. The hubs and I have discussed our increasing freedom to travel and pursue new interests but we often squash those talks with fears of spending any money. What about all that college tuition? What if the car breaks down? What if we get laid off in our 50s and no one will hire us? We must not let irrational fears cause us to clench too tightly to that which does not ultimately provide real security.
  • Be mindful of the lure of social (or anti-social) drinking/eating. For me, alcohol magnifies rather than numbs my emotions. So it’s best not to overindulge when I’m feeling particularly prickly. But no matter how a glass of wine (or a cheeseburger) might make any of us feel, those of us experiencing life transitions would likely do well to continue the practice of moderation even though we may be freer to “live it up” or feel some need to “cut loose.”
  • I will not be tempted to attach strings to my love. Teens can be real self-centered assholes sometimes. But I will not seek gratitude or genuflection for every care package mailed, tuition bill paid or inspirational text message sent (and likely ignored). I’ll do those things in love because I love my kids, not because I need them to love me back in some particular way.
  • I will think less about myself and more about what I can do to add a little joy to the lives of others. It’s said that dwelling too much on one’s own predicaments can lead to negative emotions and depression, while doing for others improves mood and instills a sense of purpose.
  • I will remember Who loves me unconditionally, what is true about me, what my purpose in life continues to be no matter how many humans actually live in my house.

I have no idea how this new chapter in my life will eventually look for me. I’ll surely cling a bit longer to what was, and kind of still is, since we still have one more high schooler at home for a couple of years. That kid is about to get the full on “baby of the family” treatment which he will either love or hate.

And for those of you whose kiddos are still little, I won’t spoon out the tripe about “enjoy them while you can.” I always hated that. The truth is, it just goes. Some things stay the same for a while and then they just change. We can’t adjust the speed of it all or even control our reactions to the change. But we can support one another through each season with love and kindness–and hopefully no little judgment for excessive occasional whimpering.

 

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I’m a Time Waster

Most of us by the time we become parents start to develop a sense of nostalgia for the “good old days,” those days that seemed simpler and carefree. For me, it was waking up on Saturday mornings as a kid and eating cereal in front of the television for hours – and I literally mean hours. First, I’d watch Saturday morning cartoons and then I’d tune in to some feature film, often of the “horror” variety – or what was considered “horror” when I was a kid… grainy black and white movies about Godzilla or the Creature from the Black Lagoon. Outside of a few assigned chores, I literally did nothing all day. Imagine that. Having a day with nothing to do.

As mothers, those days seem long gone, as if there will never be another day with nothing to do again. Because cleaning a house when you have kids is like stringing beads on a rope with no knot. Right?

It is true that when we were younger, we had fewer responsibilities. But, after reading Patricia Hampl’s The Art of the Wasted Day, I think she might be onto something when she points out that as we’ve grown up, not only do we have more responsibilities, we’ve likely internalized the idea of the American pursuit of happiness. The key word here, she says, is likely not happiness but pursuit. Americans are strivers. We crave accomplishment and not just a little.

I was recently watching Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee with Jerry Seinfeld, an episode with Tina Fey. They went out to have coffee and a Cronut – a pastry that’s a cross between a croissant and a doughnut invented by New York City pastry chef Dominique Ansel of Dominique Ansel Bakery.

They joked about what if an American had invented the cronut. That it would be “blown-up” with hundreds of storefronts across America. Endless cronuts made available everywhere via fast food franchises. But, because the inventor of the cronut is French, Fey says, he’ll likely instead take 70 weeks of vacation and won’t care if he ever makes another cronut again.

I laughed. But isn’t that how we really are sometimes? If something is good, then lots of it must be better. Americans are always in search of how to wring the most out of everything, including our time. We must not waste time.

Hampl tells a story of her first confession as a young catholic schoolgirl. How she studied the catholic catechism about possible sins she might need to confess. She was very concerned to learn that listed on the list of potential sins was daydreaming. Now I am not catholic and I cannot confirm or deny such a concept but I did find a few thoughts about it online. What I found were mostly things that make sense like we probably shouldn’t daydream about lusty stuff or breaking any of the 10 commandments, which makes sense. But I also read a line on a Christian forum that said, “Daydreaming and unprofitable thoughts lead us away from the Lord.” Hmmm… I thought the term “unprofitable” was interesting. It could likely be interpreted a variety of ways, but it spoke to me in the same way that too many of us view life – as one long to-do list. Hampl says, “For the worker bee, life is given over to the grim satisfaction of striking a firm line through a task accomplished. On to the next, and the next. Check, check. Done and done.”

I am this way. I get an almost perverse satisfaction from checking things off of my to-do list. As if in doing so I’m actually solving any of the worlds problems.

Hampl says, “The essential thing required of the American dream has always been that it must remain a dream, vivid, tantalizingly beyond reach. Just the dreaming of it, which costs nothing, absolutely nothing except every cent of our imaginative attention, inflates the soul. Fills it rather than fulfills it.” Whoa!

She talks about the Latin term known as otium cum dignitate or honorable leisure.  I looked it up. This is what I found from a blogger named Daniel Dendy:

Otium cum dignitate was the advice Cicero gave for how an honest person should live. The word “otium” does not mean ‘idleness’ but instead the advice was to pursue an ensemble of non-political and non-paid activities (I’m going to also insert unprofitable) that allow for the “humanistic” development of an individual.
In other words, Cicero advised that one should dedicate him or herself to study, writing, intimate and cultured conversation, meditation, finding time for family and friends, and of course some time in the countryside. Together with “otium”, Cicero also recommended a strong dose of “dignitas” which was very important to people of his time. Everything was to be done with a sense of measure and moderation. It’s a lovely philosophy of living to try to pursue especially when put in the context of today’s hustle and bustle.

I remember when my first born was an infant, that struggle to shift gears from what a workday looked like compared to what a mother of an infant day looked like. Not getting to finish tasks that I’d started or feeling like I needed to put my sleeping baby down instead of cuddling him because I had so much to do. Just sitting here seemed like wasting time.

Then, years later, when my kids were in school, a friend asked me to babysit her infant for a few hours once a week. I agreed and little Ella was brought to me in her baby carrier. I remember holding baby Ella while lying on the couch watching Regis and Kelly. Not caring a lick about having to accomplish anything else. Why didn’t I treasure those moments with my own kids? Why did I always feel so guilty about “wasting” time? Time passes without regard of what we do with it. My house is no more or less clean today than it was then. I can give no account of anything extraordinary I accomplished because I put my baby down and stopped “wasting time.”

My husband is worse than me when it comes to his need to be (or maybe just feel) busy. It took him years not to resent seeing me sitting in a chair reading a book. In his mind, reading is a waste of time because you’re not really accomplishing anything that can be measured. Sort of like daydreaming… or rocking a baby.

Some people even feel guilty about their hobbies. Speaking of hobbies, I remember once being invited to a card making party. I’m not a “crafty” person, meaning I don’t particularly enjoy crafts, not that I don’t appreciate the process or outcome. But during the presentation by a lovely woman who demonstrated lots of fancy papers, stamps and tools to make homemade greeting cards, I leaned over and whispered to someone, “Seems like a lot of trouble for something that will end up in the trash.” There was an audible gasp. I don’t know why, in room full of crafters, that I was surprised to learn that throwing a “crafted” item away is also likely to be on the list of sins one might need to confess.

But if everything we do or make has to be accounted for, then technically it’s not a time waster and therefore we can justify spending time doing it. Right? Does my throwing a lovely greeting card away detract from its loveliness? Or the joy someone had in making it? Or the joy of receiving it? Really?

My mother-in-law loves to do Sudoku puzzles. But she feels guilty about it. She even said to me once, “I wish I had something to show for the time I spend doing Sudoku like someone who enjoys knitting, or cross-stitch” or card making perhaps… because then, they have something to give away so it’s not really wasting time, right?

But you see, tending to things or creating things without any real goal or accomplishment in mind can be good for the soul – therapeutic you could say. Whoops! By saying it’s therapeutic, I’ve gone and given it a goal without even meaning to. I guess what I’m trying to say is, you need not do only things, that by doing them, you accomplish some “thing.” Hampl notes the importance of just being present, of slowness, of patience – things that only look like wasting time.

She even gives mention of monastic life. I’m not asking you to live it – I’m not nuts. I’m only asking you to think about it for a moment. To imagine, as Hampl says, “no grit of social maneuvering, no sharp elbows of ambition, loving instead the things of the earth with our focus on the immediate growing world, the daily round of life. Time’s seasonal shape. Monastic life is, among other things, profoundly domestic. A lot of bread baking, honey gathering and wine making.”

Granted, most of us don’t have time or desire for a more domestic life.

I’m a mom. I clearly understand that we have enough domestic duties already – many of which I assure you, you need not do as often as your mother told you. I believe it was comedic writer Erma Bombeck who said her theory on “housework is, if the item doesn’t multiply, smell, catch fire, or block the refrigerator door, let it be. No one else cares. Why should you?”

So when Hampl mentions monastic life, I think she’s referring more to the essence of care and tending that is more like gardening than farming – more like life in Eden before we became soaked in the sweat of our brow.

I didn’t love all of Hampl’s book. But I appreciated the thrust of her message and wanted to share it. So, I’m here to affirm you that it’s okay to sit still. To play with your kids instead of unloading the dishwasher. It’ll get done. Trust me. One way or another, it all gets done. Plus, I agree with Hampl in that, in an effort to not waste time, I’d prefer not to waste my life. Which leads me to conclude with another of my favorite quotes:

“A clean house is the sign of a life wasted.” So go ahead, embrace the Sabbath day by doing big fat nothing. Bring European siesta culture to America. Start a time wasting trend, and stop feeling guilty about it.

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I May Be Feminist Failure

photo from Betty’s Vintage Musings

While killing time, probably doing laundry or simply staring at the laundry piles and willing the clothes to fold themselves, I flipped through the television channels and landed on Megyn Kelly’s new program–Sunday Night with Megyn Kelly. Whatever you think of Kelly, I was intrigued by the topics featured on the show, specifically the discussion of research about young girls and how after age six, they shift toward believing boys to be smarter than girls. What?!

With the guidance of researchers, Kelly’s staff recreated some experiments. Kindly school-teacher types would tell young girls a story of a really smart person without revealing the person’s gender. Then, they showed a series of photos depicting women and men and asked which the children believed was the smart person in the story. Time after time, the girls pointed to a picture of a man.

The staff member would then simply show photos of men and women and ask the girls to point out the “smart” ones. Over and over, the girls decided the men were the “smart” ones.

Of course, lots of social and psychological input creates this type of output. But surely my teenage sons are more evolved–having been raised by an educated, independent and outspoken woman such as myself.

So, first I went after “the little one.” He’s fifteen. I asked him if any of the girls in his grade, those he is friends with, are smart. He had to think about it. Finally, he offered that a few girls are in the same classes as him and get the same grades as him. To clarify, I asked, “So you think these girls are as smart as you but not smarter than you?” He confirmed that this is indeed is his belief.

Then I asked him which of the adult women in his life he thinks of as smart. Again, he had to think–hard. He finally offered up a couple of names.

“What makes you think those particular women are smart?” I asked.

His response boiled down to particularly good manners and an unlikeliness to suffer fools. Okay. Fair enough.

Finally, I asked him who was smarter, his Dad or me. (I know. I know. I was asking for it. But I went there anyway.) Without missing a beat, the kid said, “Dad!”

Why? “Because everything useful I’ve learned, I’ve learned from Dad.”

Ugh. Okay fine you little ingrate. You’ve only spent over 75% of your life in my company. But what-ev’s.

On to the “big boy.” He’s nearly eighteen. When asked if he considered any adult women in his life smart, he said, “Well, that’s hard to know because most of them are stay-at-home moms.”

At this point, only the restraint of this kid’s guardian angel likely held me back from calling down a lightning bolt to smite my own firstborn child on the spot. But I somehow couldn’t entirely blame him for what is likely my failure. WTF have I done??!! Have I unleashed yet another generation of misogynist Cretans into the world? Can this be undone? If so, how? Lord help me.

I began by explaining to the “big boy” that his mom has a college degree and also attended grad school. That I SACRIFICED a promising career in finance in order to care for him and his brother.

I’ve worked as a magazine editor for several years now. But apparently, my flexible schedule and the fact that I’m the household grocery-getter and meal-preparer still slots me into the “at home” “sub-par” “less smart” categories created in my son’s 1950’s mindset.

I told him that most of the women he knows (all those “stay-at-home” moms) also have college degrees and many also SACRIFICED lucrative careers in order to care for their own ungrateful children. And still others juggle working outside the home or patching together enough side hustles to keep the creative energy (and car payment money) flowing.

He was surprised by my indignation. Apparently many high school girls he knows make comments about their goals being a couple of years of college, then marriage, kids, and… “stay-at-home.” What?! At a highly ranked public high school in 2017, in this hyper competitive world of achievement and accumulation, I’m surprised this remains a goal for enough young girls to seem to be “many” in his mind.

As a teenager, I never dreamed about staying home with kids. Raised by a single, working mother, I was taught to never “need” a man–but to be able to take care of myself. I dreamed of toting a briefcase to important meetings while a nanny took care of the kiddos. Why I chose not to continue on that path is fodder for another post. But suffice it to say, I’ve never considered this choice as a feminist failure.

The fact is, being “smart” has nothing to do with whether a woman works full time!

Being “smart” likely requires some level of education and demonstrable ability to hold a conversation without over-using the word “like.” But moreover, being smart is about being curious, having a desire to learn and master new skills, managing one’s life and future goals based on healthy choices and making useful contributions toward a better world.

I thought I’d done a pretty good job of raising smart and evolved young men who might help make the world a better place. Turns out, they may be “smart” but they may also have been socialized to support the patriarchy. Gasp! (I blame their father.)

Or maybe, just maybe, my kids were being smartasses in order to turn my crank. This is entirely possible. And In that case, it’s as my mom always says, “It’s better to be a smartass than a dumbass.” True that! Love you mom!

 

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“Logan” is a Bloody, Beautiful Film

The hubs and I went to the movies last night to see Logan. Obviously, I have something to say about the film since I’m writing a post about it. I actually have lots to say. I’ve been processing what I saw since stepping out of the theater. My analysis may contain spoilers. You’ve been warned.

First, speaking of warnings, I experienced a bit of shock at the door of our little town theater. Taped to the window of the box office was sheet of paper–a home computer printed sign that said,

“Logan is rated R for strong, brutal violence and language throughout, also brief nudity. For this reason, no one under age 6 will be admitted.”

Age 6!!! What??!! Clearly, a sign had to be posted because some ass hats were bringing their young children to see the film.

Let me be clear. This film is NOT appropriate for children under 17. This movie depicts violence reminiscent of Quentin Tarantino’s Kill Bill, which I liked BTW. I’m not against violence in films per say. And the violence in Logan didn’t “bother” me. But in places, it did shock me. As it should. We should be shocked by violence. The whole point of violence in “good” movies is to depict how shocking violence is. It’s not a video game or a comic book. In real life, violence is destructive, awful and is only taken lightly by sociopaths.

Violence in films of this nature appropriately shocks me. It would traumatize a child. So get your shit together people.

Okay. I got that part off my chest. Now let me move on to the beautiful parts of this film. And it is beautiful, IMO.

First, it brims with nostalgia. It’s set in the future. But visions of family farms and prayers at the family dinner table, westerns on TV and antique furniture are some of the Americana on display­–harkening us back to “simpler” times contrasted with self-driving semis and factory farming.

The character of Charles Xavier is the elder in the film, at an advanced age when a deeper appreciation of these simple things in life can mean the most. Reminding us not to wait until our days are nearly over to count our blessings and be still in moments of goodness and grace.

But we delude ourselves if we believe the “good ‘ole days” are the best of days. In the movie, a fallen, rusted water tower becomes a tomb. A symbol (at least to me) of how we can become trapped into believing the past was a safer place. Safety is an illusion. Life is a bitch and mostly always has been.

Xavier’s old age and the advanced middle age of Logan himself are also powerful realities in the film. Getting old is painful. Both characters experience physical pain along with the agony of a lifetime of accumulated regrets. Logan also carries the heavy load of caring for Xavier–a common mid-life experience that many theater-goers with elderly parents can probably relate to. Xavier is both a burden and an occasional source of glorious wisdom. Aging brings humiliation. Logan must help Xavier to the toilet. But love brings humility. In love and honor, we lower ourselves to “wash the feet of others.” The relationship between these two in all its figurative father/son frustration, humor and anguish is really quite beautiful.

All along, a child is watching. If you don’t already know, the plot of the movie is about Logan (a “mutant” comic book superhero, or anti-hero if you prefer, known as Wolverine) being saddled with a young girl who happens to be a “mutant” like him. He is charged with spiriting her to “safety” as she’s being hunted by LOTS of corporate, militant, bounty hunter, evil scientist type bad guys.

This is where we see how the endurance of our hardships as we age is palliated with purpose–preparing children how to live, to be better than we were, with better opportunities, and hopefully, fewer hardships.

As I tell most young mothers, children are not born civilized. That’s our job as parents. To teach kids what kindness, restraint, good manners, respect and gratitude look like.

Laura, the child in the film, like most children, already understands love. She wants to be loved and be bound by love to a caring adult. This isn’t something that needs to be taught, but it does need to be nurtured.

The film also depicts the dark side of human nature. That children innately understand violence, revenge and anger. Without a loving adult (or too often with a broken, violent, angry adult in charge) children learn prejudice, hatred and rage. These things grow like a cancer to consume a person’s soul. The fictional adamantium injected into Logan that “makes” him into Wolverine seems symbolic for this kind of destruction: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual.

But caring for a child and for her future is why his character pushes on. It’s why we often push through. It’s why my mother did. It’s likely why your parents did and why many grown-ups are driven to be their better selves–so the young might be better off than we were. In this, we offer hope for the future.

This movie is more than an action film, although there is plenty of action. As most good movies are, Logan is a redemption story. Doing something meaningful with our life, even if life has been pretty shitty to us up to now, has a lasting effect beyond our lifetime and possibly for generations to come. To impart goodness, care and love unto others, even at great cost to us, has redeeming benefits that chips away at evil and shines in the darkness. Sound familiar?

My kids often roll their eyes after seeing a movie with me. (No. I didn’t take my kids to see Logan.) I typically leave a theater searching for scenes that I can link back to the bible for the sake of educational conversation. The redemption plot of Logan doesn’t require much linking. It’s clearly biblical.

Jesus’ sacrificial love for all, should we accept and internalize it, will transform our lives for the better and spread like a cure for the cancer that is hatred and spiritual death. That’s my take-away from this movie. I liked it. A lot.

*It doesn’t hurt that I’m also a big Hugh Jackman fan. Whatever.

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A St. Valentine’s Day Epiphany

fullsizerenderOccasionally, I have these parenting epiphanies. Like on Valentine’s Day a few years ago when our then middle grade sons quietly removed the little containers of candy I’d stashed in their lunch. Or later, when I offered a suggestion to a high school teacher about how to best handle our older son when he’s stressed. “Mrs. Johnson,” the teacher said, “if your son requires special treatment from me, it’s probably best he ask me himself.”

Ahhhh…

Yes.

They are growing up.

No more kiddie candy or sandwiches cut into heart shapes in their lunch. And no more trying to stand between them and discomfort. Big boys must learn to navigate the world without mom trying to smooth every path.

But many moms like me don’t see it coming. We think we have more time because sometimes parenting young children feels endless. It’s not. You’re sopping up spilled juice and begging a kid not to wipe boogers on the wall and then… you’re sitting in a chair sipping coffee while your teens make their own lunch. They drive themselves to school. They navigate their own world without you–pretty well I might add. It seems the hubs and I have done a lot of things right.

But this week I had another epiphany. It’s clear that I did something not quite right when they were younger and another thing particularly well.

Here’s the deal. Our younger son, a freshman, is struggling in an honors English class. His older brother took the same class with the same teacher, and although he had similar complaints about the class, he was able to pull off a decent grade. So I question the younger, “what gives?”

His response is telling. In his example he tells about how the class read The Odyssey as part of a unit on Greek mythology. “Some kids who do well on the tests,” he said, “are those who’ve read all of the Percy Jackson books as a kid.”

If you’re unfamiliar, the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan follows the adventures of a boy who discovers he’s a demigod son of Poseidon. The books are beloved by young readers who also happen to absorb a lot of foundational information about Greek mythology.

Our older son read every Percy Jackson book.

Our younger son read Batman comics.

They are both good readers who do well in school. Parents are told it doesn’t matter what kids read as long as they read. I believed that. And it’s probably true up to a point. But like adults who don’t read newspapers or many books, some people lack a depth and/or expanse of knowledge that serves as a building block for understanding other information. I now believe it does matter what children (or all people) read. And for a hot second, I thought I’d failed our younger son.

But then, I attended an art exhibition about Martin Luther and the Reformation at the Minneapolis Institute of Art. While there, I overheard a young boy around 8 years old ask his mother about a painting. The boy discovered this oil on canvas illustrating the decapitated head of John the Baptist and said, “Mom! Is that real? Did that really happen?”

“No,” she answered. “It’s only a painting.”

That’s the moment I was assured I’d done one thing right. You see, when our comic book loving boy was around that same age, we bought him an illustrated bible called The Action Bible. The artwork is similar to comic books but the stories are firmly biblical–and not the shortened, most loved, PG rated versions of bible stories–but the entire bible in graphic novel form. He’s read the whole thing at least twice.

So here’s what I’ve learned:

  • Quality is as important as quantity when it comes to reading material for kids.
  • We’ve got limited time to teach the foundations of our values before our kids launch.
  • One of our kids will have to work harder to make sense of some literature.
  • But both of our kids know the bible and its precepts–that love exists, that God is love, that we are called to love God with all our heart, mind and soul and to love our neighbors as ourselves. That the one thing that really matters… is a faith that expresses itself through love.

Today is Valentine’s Day. The older son checked his lunch and removed the candy I’d stashed inside. But the younger one didn’t peek. So I get one more small opportunity to show love in a “goofy and embarrassing” mom way. I’ll take what I can get and thank God for helping me to not screw this whole parenting thing up completely.

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Why I “Pressure” My Children to Achieve

Newsflash! Parenting is hard.

I’m the mother of teens and in many ways, parenting has gotten much, MUCH easier. So I’m not talking about hard in the way that sleepless nights are hard or not being able to have two minutes to yourself is hard or being smeared in baby vomit and diaper dootie is hard. Those parts of parenting are crazy hard–physically and mentally exhausting.

I’m well past that kind of hard. In fact, life with teens has been mostly “easy”. Our boys can bathe and dress themselves, cook for themselves, walk, bike or drive where they need to go, and on most days, they’re pretty darn fun to have around.

shocked-mom-faceBut our oldest is getting to that almost a grown-up stage and I have little idea what’s going on in his brain. Sometimes, when he does confess what he’s thinking, my eyes widen with fear and I’m sure I’ve done everything all wrong.

For example, while on a ski trip to Colorado in February, more than one restaurant server admitted to spending their lives skiing by day and waiting tables by night. Our son said, “That actually sounds like a pretty great life.”

Another time when I must have been talking about the importance of doing well in school so he could get a good job, our son said, “Not everything is about the money.”

It’s these types of statements that make me think… um, yes, not “everything” is about money. But if you’ve ever been broke, if you’ve ever cried yourself to sleep at night wondering how you’re going to pay the rent, suddenly, it’s ALL about the money.

Granted, I’m not talking about luxury or excess. I am talking about shit’s expensive! Rent, utilities, food, clothes, entertainment, vacations, skiing for goodness sake! It’s all expensive. And yes, your dad doesn’t go to work each day vibrating with positive energy because he’s living his dream. He likes his job and his work benefits the world. But it’s difficult work and he certainly wouldn’t do it for free. It’s about the money.

Where I grew up, people worked in factories. Hot, loud, monotonous factories. These were considered dream jobs by the way. Why? Because of the money. Because these jobs offered folks a way to obtain hearth and home and maybe a lake cabin and a snowmobile. But today, those jobs are gone, gone, gone. Wanna live anywhere close to a middle class life? Guess what kiddo? You’re gonna have to eventually think for more than a hot second about the money.

Some say this is too stressful on young people. All that pressure to perform in high school to get into college. Welp, part of life is learning how to manage stress, how to solve problems and how to work for what’s important. I’m no Tiger Mother in the true sense. I let the kids quit piano lessons. There was no math camp or traveling sports teams. They’ve mostly been able to pave their own way. Ultimately, we’ll let them decide their own futures too. But that doesn’t mean they won’t hear from us about what their decisions now mean for the future. It’s time. It’s time to get serious about the groundwork for what is to come. I know that’s a lot to ask of a seventeen year old. Fine. Don’t know what you wanna do? No problem. Just work hard and get a degree in something “useful” and then let fate take it from there.

broke-trans-300x225For now, my kid doesn’t seem to appreciate my style of parenting. But I’m pretty sure he’ll see the light one day when he’s sick of being broke.

In the meantime, I don’t need anybody fueling my kid’s thoughts of me as some kind of pressure monster. Like when a pastor recently told a group of teens something along the lines of, “if your parents are causing you stress with pressure to perform in school, you should know that you’re good enough just the way you are.” Okay. Yes. Of course all humans are created in the image of God and are good enough. Of course I’m not asking my kids to earn my love or God’s love. I’ll always love them no matter how they perform or what they achieve. As human beings and my beloved offspring, they are most definitely good enough.

But as productive members of society, they’ll need to dig a little deeper. Video games and afternoon naps are not even close to good enough. In fact, I’m curious if that pastor ever asked a teenage boy what he’d do with his time if not pressured by their parent to do his homework or study for a test. Because I know the answer. Most parents know this answer. That’s kinda why we pressure them. Cause we know the answer and it’s not good enough.

lazinesshomerWe are created to serve and glorify God. Sloth does not serve or glorify anyone–the self included–even though it can feel good. Trust me. I know. I fight the urge to laze about almost daily. But I want to live a useful life and I believe our kids should too.

God created my wonderful children with certain gifts. And I do try my best to discern what those gifts are and help them move in those directions. But no direction is unacceptable. No choice is a choice. So I’ll continue to “pressure” (their word, not mine) our children to be the best they can be–not because they’re not good enough. I love them for who and what they are and have worked alongside their father to provide them a loving and nurturing home. But one day, they’ll likely want a home of their own. That means at some point they’re going to have to come to terms with what things cost and the “pressure” associated with achievement because… as vulgar as it sounds, it’s very much about the money.

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Talking to Teens When Tragedies Happen. Oh, and Cell Phones…

It’s been a week of heavy lifting in the realm of parenting teens. Most days, the biggest concerns in our lives seem to be getting everybody out of bed and off to school on time, making sure their sports uniforms are clean or at least baptized in Febreze and stopping those perpetually hungry teen boys from gobbling up fistfuls of granola bars right before dinner.

But this week. This has been one of those weeks when sh*t gets real. When I have to find a way to have hard conversations and break my kids’ hearts with reminders about evil that lurks. They act unaffected by news stories, like they’ve got everything under control. Teenagers. Growing and grown­­–on the outside. Still vulnerable and unsteady on the inside like fawns on wobbly legs. It’s my job to help strengthen them. I must do the heavy lifting and point them toward the source of true strength. Encourage them to guard their hearts. And insist on the importance of thinking clearly about our values–that they might live in such a way, loving one another, that others will know to whom they belong.

Stanford~

With teen boys who will one day go off to college and live with a freedom they’ve never known, this story cannot be ignored. My sons must hear me say out loud and with conviction that women should be highly valued even when the culture says they’re not. Even when the culture says women must be thin and pretty and sexy, and that they’re less than… we will reject this premise and we will value women. This is part of our ongoing conversation about relationships, sex and what being a “real” man looks like. They may not want to hear me rant about misogyny or inequality because hearing parents talk about sex can cause a gag reflex in most teens. Too bad. It’s got to be.

A friend told me how he asks his son’s friends, who think because they’re physically strong that they are truly strong, “Are you strong enough to go against the crowd? Are you strong enough to stand up for the weak?” *click here for a more poignant conversation by Ann Voskamp on the topic.

Writer Anne Greenwood Brown spoke about the courage and conviction of the Swedish cyclists who stopped the Stanford rapist and held him until the police arrived.

Not only were those cyclists brave, they were shocked and horrified. A news account mentions how one of the Swedes cried multiple times while giving testimony to police. I want my sons to be horrified if ever they witness evil being done to another human. I hope and pray they too would defend the weak and vulnerable like those cyclists did.

Brown took it a step further by making t-shirts that say “Be a Swedish Bicyclist.” I think that’s pretty terrific!

courtesy Anne Greenwood Brown

courtesy of Ann Greenwood Brown

When I told my boys about the t-shirts and the tagline, I asked them, “Would you be a Swedish bicyclist?” They nod in affirmation. I hope that’s true.

Orlando~

I remember Columbine. The horror of that day, watching the television news in disbelief and with profound sadness. And yet, somehow I knew. I knew it would happen again and keep happening. Because once an event like that gets the desired result–to terrorize and in a twisted way, be memorialized–more lunatics would begin to plot their own personal day of infamy.

In fact, I wish the news would stop proclaiming that the Orlando shooting is the “worst mass shooting in American history” because surely someone out there is evil enough or crazy enough or both to accept that as a challenge.

My heart breaks. Safety is an illusion. I’m sad to have to tell my children this awful truth.

But I’m reminded of a chapter in Nadia Bolz-Weber’s book Accidental Saints. The chapter is called, the Slaughter of the Holy Innocents of Sandy Hook Elementary and in it, Weber attempts to reassure her Lutheran congregation after a horrific school shooting of Christ’s redemption and His solidarity with suffering. She talks about how King Herod ordered the murder of children in an attempt to kill the Christ child.

Evil is not new. It didn’t begin with Columbine. And sadly, it will not end in Orlando. Evil has been with us since shortly after the beginning of our human story.

BUT! In this story, Christ enters into this broken and broken-hearted world, knowing full well how much the place needs fixing. He’s fixing us, if we’ll let him, one by one, heart by heart. Teaching us to trust, to pray, to be kind to each other, to forgive and to live at peace. I tell my sons that it’s part of our job as Christians to bring peace, joy and comfort to the world while we wait for restoration. To bless the suffering and broken-hearted until evil is forever vanquished. We must shine a light in the darkness. Be good. Do good. Point to the source of goodness with how you live your life.

Cell Phones~

Speaking of lights in the darkness. Let me finish with comments about those glowing blue screens. I should have done this before, when we first bestowed those tiny Pandora’s boxes into the palms of our children’s hands. I should have insisted they be phone free overnight.

So now, after those smartphones have become like permanent appendages that seem to cause our boys to take the longest dumps in recorded bathroom history, I’m prepared to pry those devices from their clenched fists like priceless pearls from an oyster. Let ‘em scream, “It hurts. I’ll surely die.”

They will not die. And they need not respond to text messages, Snapchats, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter or any other damned digital demon in the wee hours of the night.

No plotting. No drama. No endless conversations about the latest Jordans. It stops. Maybe it never started. But with our youngest about to begin high school and informing us that he now has a girlfriend, late night access to a cell phone is bound to become a source of temptation if not serious frustration.

So, for the summer, I’ve asked our boys to turn in their phones at 10 p.m. They are not pleased. But I feel strongly that I’ve erred by letting this go on up to now, believing they were sleeping whenever I was sleeping. #afoolnomore

That’s it. It’s all I’ve got. This is the best parenting I can do this week. I’m tapped out. Tired. So turn off the news. Turn off the cell phone. Say your prayers and get some sleep. Those kids will likely need us again tomorrow.

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