As we wander towards re-opening this and that in our world, I like so many others wish for a one right way to do this. I want the answers. Mask no mask? Travel is it say is it not safe? I can turn on my computer and find more than one article that supports both sides of the question. It’s all a little overwhelming.
Back when the boys were younger we created a family mission statement. A place that we could return to time and time again to make important decisions from. It hangs on the wall in the kitchen and has stopped me more than once from launching into a decision that might harm those I had committed to live so intentionally alongside.
I’ve started to wonder if I can create a similar sort of place to move from when it comes to reentering the world with a pandemic still very much at play. I know I don’t want to make decisions based on individualism but instead want to consider the community around me. Before engaging in an activity, I can ask “could this put my community at risk,” and if the answer is yes, then it is time to either get comfortable with the discomfort of missing out or get creative in finding solutions that keep each of us safe. As a white woman this sitting with discomfort is unfamiliar so it’s going to take practice, commitment and patience.
There is going to need to be a level of humility as well. The rate at which information is changing means that what I do to make a difference today may not be the right thing to do tomorrow. I can get all caught up in my own shame spiral, stamp my feet and cling to outdated information. Or I can return to my original commitment to the health and safety of the community I live in. Similar to the family mission statement, I want to return here to ensure I am living from that same place of intentionality.
I realize that just like life before the Pandemic there will be individual choices. Each one of us will read, will learn and will decide what to do based on our personal experience. I hope I will be able to be patient with my judgment of others. Because maybe they are still living on last month’s information. The rush to judgment is my go to especially when I feel fearful or judged myself. I am hoping with the lessons of the past months and the rapid rate that things are changing at that I can invite in curiosity to lead toward compassion in hopes of connecting across divided lines for the common health of the community.
It’s never before been more true that I don’t know anymore than my sons about what the right move is, or when the right time to do it will be. As a good friend reminded me the other day, “we are writing the manual,” parents have not lived through a pandemic like this before. I hope as they continue coming to me as a sounding board that I can guide them toward their own internal compass by exposing mine with an honest commitment to untangle the broken systems that have brought the world around us to collapse under the weight of a tiny virus. In the best case scenario it will give them a roadmap to grow from, at the least, I’ll be proud of who they see in front of them.
Anyone who has ever read anything I’ve written about being a mom knows that we are a gaming family. If my boys were reading this they would say they are gamers and I kinda of pretend to be one. So it’s know surprise that when life got out of control challenging, I turned to the world of games to find some footing. It started by picking up Jane McGonigal’s SuperBetter (which I think everyone could benefit from reading) and thinking about how I could bring a game into our day to day lives as a way to stay connected in these uncertain times.
It started with writing a few quests on a white board and an angling it so it was the first thing people saw when they stumbled out of bed. With in the first day I started to see the benefit would go beyond what I had imagined. My youngest son immediately began to find ways to hack through the game. Taking my words literally and turning them to his advantage so that he could get as many points with as little effort as possible. Which upped my game in writing the quests the next day. Which of course made the players up their game. Only four days in and I love how each day the game expands ands stretches based on the previous days questing adventure.
Our super powers include fighting viruses, alchemizing everyday materials, sniffing out bullsh%% and conquering games. Our creativity it stretching both in what we create and how we are creating. We are expanding our resilience. More than that though, we are having fun together as the unit that we are and in doing so reminding ourselves of all the ways that we can do hard things together.
The first time we made an extra bubbles bubble bath was quite by accident. We had moved into a new home and the tub had JETS. This was new to us. We’d played with them at a hotel once but never with the freedom of our very own tub. One night the boys were enjoying a normal bubble bath when they called out to have the jets turned out. I turned the nob and much to their delight the bubbles around them began to grow bigger and bigger until they it was only their heads poking out above the bubble cloud.
I do remember thinking what a mess this could make and reaching my hand toward the the dial. As a mom of two young boys there always seemed to be more mess than there was time. But as I listened to the two of them laugh from deep in their bellies I knew this letting the bubbles grow was worth it. I could almost see them years later remembering back to those big bubble baths they used to have when they were both able to fit in a tub together (and honestly were willing to bath together.) The time passes quickly and already when I look back it’s never once the clean up part of the moment that I remember. It’s always the joy, the laughter with hope that they might one day remember to say yes to someone who’s looking to have a big adventure no matter what mess it might bring.
In a moment of frustration I said to my husband the other day “this parenting of teens business is all about do this for me, get this for me, help me here, now back the fuck off and leave me alone. ” Pardon the cussing but I was in a heated moment. When I can take a moment to breath and re-center myself I can pull back a few layers of what is going on.
I truly believe that this whole business of parenting is a long series of letting go. Whether it is letting go of expectations, or letting go of societal stories about what should be happening or the hardest for me the letting go of the child themselves. When they are little and needing so much of my day I show up to help them meet their needs. All hands on deck. Now that what they need is for me to pull my hands back and trust in their independence it’s challenging me. And when I am challenged my tendency is to fall back on to those patterns I learned growing up in my own childhood. So I turn first to blame. Clearly it is their fault, they are ungrateful, they are insert other words that toss about blame. When blame begins to feel bitter on my tongue I switch up the outdoor motion to focus on me because clearly I am the victim of something here. My feelings are hurt, I am not being heard, I am not being respected. And on goes the misplaced emotions.
All of these big emotions are happening. The responsibility for them though does not lie within my children. Just as when they were younger, the owner is me. This reminder they bring to me is that there is another layer of work that needs to be done so I can continue to show up and parent from a place of intention and not a place of reaction. Sigh. Though the work of taking responsibility for my own reaction can feel hard loosing the connection and trusted role I have in my boys lives would be devastating. So I do take the step back. I untangle all the feelings to trace them back to their roots so that I am able to let go of that which is holding me back from showing up with both joy and support in the lives of the human beings that are before me. When blame and judgement want to be the leaders of the party I am reacting from stories that are woven from the past and missing the chance to witness the actual moment in front of me.
It is true that I am faster at returning to my center these days. It is also true that I can get knocked of course without warning. Which is why I surround myself with that sort of friends who won’t take sides in an argument, who will ask gentle probing questions and will continue to hold the well being of my children and our relationship as highest priority. One tip that I am certain I will visit again was the sharing of the story that essentially pointed out my reaction might just be the feeling of boundaries being crossed. There is some deep food for thought with in that. Even deeper than my own boundaries, is to ask could the reactions I am witnessing from my children be because I am trying to cross their boundaries. And if that is the case might I bow down in gratitude to a journey which has allowed them to know the edges of their boundaries and defend them with a confidence I’m still myself building up.
So yes, this phase of letting go of the children launching toward adulthood may feel as though it will pull my heart straight out of my chest it holds the most magic if I can stay present. If I can be grounded in my intention, within all the circumstances, I up the odds that I will, for all the adult time, still have a seat, in the front row of these awesome human beings lives.
I find it hard not to get all wound up in the bounty of emotions that seem ever present at this time of year. I love where I am while wishing with every fiber in me that I was somewhere else. I adore the people who surround me and ache for those I can no longer wrap my arms around. I”m certain this will be the best year yet while scheming on ways to teleport back to that one in 2006, where it most definitely was the best of them all. I look forward to sleeping a few extra hours on the the big morning while secretly wishing an over exuberant younger brother will burst into my room jump on my bed at the butt crack of down and shout “wake up wake up it’s Christmas!” I celebrate that I will pile teenagers into the car and spend the day chasing waves while pining for a time when little boys put Santa hats on and wrapped and unwrapped their own toys for days in advance prepping for the big reveal. On yes, these shorter days beg for the kind of reflections that stir up the old to mingle with the new begging me to drop into the messiness of it all in order to capture this fleeting moment before it too becomes a mix of distant memories.
I can’t help but wonder sometimes about this world we are tossed into that makes us believe as parents all that we are is wrapped up in who our children became. Setting up all sorts of adversarial barriers right from the get go. A crying baby in a public space subjects a new mother to dirty looks and shushes as though she has already failed the world by making it louder. When the only darn mechanism that child has for communicating is crying. Then onward to toddlerhood where that same parent is given all sorts of side eye for a curious child climbing on this, asking about that and trying out their independence. Clearly this parent is failing as she has yet to drive all that creative curiosity on out of the child who is meant to fit quietly into adult spaces. When by design this child has nothing but exuberance and energy to fuel their unending desire to learn about this still rather new to them world through all five plus of their senses. Then when launched into childhood the parent better have that child ahead of the game no one really know the rules or what winning entails. Reading early, polite behaving, sitting still for all the hours except those hours spent prepping to be an elite athlete. When by design children were built for wide open spaces of time to explore through play this big world that is built for such a short time on fairytales and imgingary friends. The parent already shamed into believing they have failed for not head starting their child into a future no one can even see yet. And then there are the teenagers who by some false analogy have become the enemy of each and every adult in the world. Deserving of eye rolls and “you pour thing” with the mere mention of having one in the house. Parents brain washed into believing each of their children turns into demon on the doorstep of adulthood. Coerced to believe they best have a set of harsh rules, strict standards and FBI level servialliance lest they loose their child to the evils of experimentations that ensure a future of poor decisions and failure. When these precious human beings, at this ripe time are by design launching farther out into the world, experimenting with all sorts of this and that’s. They are meant to push back in order to find their own edges to stand firmly with in as a well adjusted adult. All of this with a misplaced promise of the a prize at the end of a high functioning adult to wear as some badge of honor on a coat most people can’t even see. But at what cost I? Lost childhoods, angry words, misplaced expectations and forever gone opportunities for loving moments. I’ll take my chances of ending up with that misplaced, poor decision making failure for all the right now moments covered in messy mistakes, late night cuddles, sideways conversation and loved built memories. Because the truth is, not all children get to be adults.
I’ve been in a couple of situations lately that have left me with some food for thought. I often walk around in the world with a pretty solid confidence in the choices we have made in regards to the boys education. When people ask me what grade they are in or where they go to school I asnwer with “oh they don’t go to school.” Which 99 percent of the time is followed up with “Oh you homeschool.” I smile and nod and leave it at that most of the time because explaining the nuance of what we are up to is more than most casual interactions call for. In my mind these random people walk away still with an image of my boys in their mind. Naive of me. Yes quite possible. I’ve lived in a rather sheltered bubble for a good portion of my life. Recently though I’ve had some deeper conversations where people have shared with me more about what hearing those words does in their mind. And it’s left me questioning and exploring the labels I so easily attach to other people and what misintrepetation about them I may be carrying about in the world.
In the first instance, I was in an environment that was created for conversation of the honest, open and potoentially vulnerable sort. One woman revealed she was under the impression that everyone who homeschooled was doing so under religious influence. Another admitting to believing those who are homeschooled lack the skills required to interact with their peer group and the world at large. In the other instance a woman approached me with curiosity. She wanted more information on homeschooling in the teen years and I launched into a ten minute explanation of what it is we do to support learning day in and day out in our home. At the end she said “ever since I met your boys and they seemed so well adjusted and happy I’ve been curious about how you did that while homeschooling.” I know she was curious and her intent was well meaning but it still made me wonder what she thought about my children before meeting them. I do wish I’d been quick enough to ask that question.
With this new information pulling at the edges of my mind I am going out into the world with a more cautious approach to how I take a label and apply it to any one person. Wanting to take a step further to ask the follow up question of “and what does that mean to you?” so that I might not walk away thinking I know something about an individual based on a social construct built outside of their individuality.
Welcome you fabulous human being tasked with raising up another human being. Is your heart about ready to burst with all that love? Or is it the fear that’s winning out today? Well this here is a little pep talk for you.
I know the world out there can set you up to believe someone else knows what’s best for your child. From diapers, to feeding, through nap schedules, school choices all the the way to the teen year transformations. I am here to remind you or perhaps even tell you for the first time, that you are the only expert their is on your child. You know their favorite sleep postitions, snacks and what outfit helps them shine brightest. You know what brings that special twinkle to their eyes and what will help mop up the tears. You know best.
So in today’s very first pep talk I am handing back to you all the parenting awesome that lives inside your heart space. Asking you to lean into your own wisdom to find the best way to show up for your unique child, especially when the world tries to hush that part of you. Go ahead love a little harder, laugh a little longer, trust a whole lot deeper your inner parenting rock star.
The youngest of the two threw the door open and met me arms wide open in the driveway. He held me tight and the whole entire five days of my absence spilled out his mouth. He found me on the couch and wrapped himself around me. He took me for a walk to keep the chatter of his mind spinning out into our shared experience. He explained how when I’m around he’s less bored and better fed.
The oldest was too fatigued to move from the couch and had me bend to him to receive a well held hug. He noticed it felt like I had never actually left. He yawned, stretched and returned to his room. He asked me to cook him a pizza. He took the remote from my hand and put on hockey. Then asked “hey mom did you know,” more than once so he could catch me up on all the stats I missed while I was away.
Love is indeed a language we all speak in our own tones. It’s the paying of attention that allows for proper interpretation. I am well loved by both these human beings.