I hope she does 1 and 5 (but let’s wait a few years for 5), 3 is coming soon, I figure she’ll do 4 in a year or so and hope she’ll never do 2, 6 or 7.
My oldest child graduates from college tomorrow.
I can hope, pray and plead, but the decisions are now theirs. I can influence, advise and guide, but I can no longer control.
A few weeks ago, around the time of her 18th birthday, Sara Ann placed these things on my kitchen table. No more denial about this graduation thing. It is going to happen. It’s now three months and a few days until we move her into the dorm at Hendrix on August 17. Until my life changes more drastically than it has since September 20, 1988, when I became a mom for the first time.
One of my favorite songs, While My Guitar Gently Weeps, by George Harrison, has a line that says,
“with every mistake, we must surely be learning …”
I think that sums up parenting pretty well. And I’ve made my share of mistakes.
What have I learned? I’ve learned that many of the things that I thought were Really Big Things are really … not. Such as:
Potty training Really, we make this so much harder than it needs to be. Early potty training does not equal higher intelligence. No toddler who doesn’t want to use the potty is going to do it consistently for little pieces of cereal. I promise by the time they hit puberty, you will have forgotten about the potty.
How clean/messy they keep their room When they go to college and get a room of their own, they will either do better at it or learn to live as a slob.
Grades in middle school Middle school demands that a family shift into survival mode. It’s the bridge between elementary school playmates with squeaky voices and classmates with facial hair and raging hormones. Boys are icky vs. Ohhhh, he is hott*. It’s a time of transition: socially, academically, emotionally and physically. More than anything, they need a safe environment, free from undue pressure.
What they wear Beyond basic decency and modesty, let them express themselves freely. My two girls’ styles are as different as night and day; one can spend an entire day in stilettos on concrete and the other is all about Tom’s and Chacos. And both are absolutely beautiful in their own way. Their style is not an expression of you and it’s not their job to impress your friends with how nice they look.
Shaving I’m speaking about girls here; I know next-to-nothing about boys and shaving. Let them shave when they want to shave. The main thing about shaving is talking about it. I shaved, I need to shave, Omigosh it’s been a week since I shaved! This is just not important enough to let them feel excluded about. It’s hair. Let it go.
The most important thing I have learned in 21 years of parenting is savor every moment. From the first step to the first date, there is joy in every milestone. Take a million pictures, even when it seems silly. You’ll be glad when you look back at them and you won’t remember how much they complained.
Be there with your whole heart. Shop for school supplies and prom dresses. Be the one who always drives them places and listen to them laugh with their friends. Let them mess up your house and stay up all night, even if they keep you awake. Watch them fall in love and hold them when their tender heart breaks for the first time.
Welcome each new phase; in every change is a glimpse of the adult that you’ll someday know as friend rather than child. The one who just might give you grandchildren.
*This is not a typo; two ts means he/she is really hot. Which is just like cute, but scarier.
My Christmas tree doesn’t look like much anymore. In fact. there are no gifts under the tree at all. There isn’t even a tree skirt; the dogs just keep playing with it and doing their business on it, so what’s the use?
These days, the girls’ Christmas lists just include money and gift cards so they can shop for themselves. I don’t fight mall traffic or stand in line for Beanie Babies, Tickle Me Elmo or Furby. There are no packages hidden under drop cloths in the garage. I haven’t wrapped one single gift this year. No reason to charge the video camera to record the excited faces on Christmas morning.
Sound kinda depressing?
Not at all. I’ve traded frenzied shopping, lists and lines for time. More time with loved ones, especially my girls, whose time with us slips away too quickly. More time to relax and enjoy the season, to pause and reflect on why we celebrate Christmas.
Yesterday I did nearly half of my shopping in about 15 minutes’ time. That must be some sort of record, right? There are a couple of gifts to buy, but I won’t be stressed, hurried or frazzled. I’ll enjoy the cool weather, the decorations and the Christmas carols on the radio.
I’ve learned to embrace the changes that come with each new season of life, even as I look back misty-eyed on years past. It’s not like that anymore, but it is like this. And this is amazing.
How have your holiday celebrations changed through the years?
I turned 51 a couple of weeks ago. I like birthdays. And no cancer survivor in their right mind complains about getting another year older.
It’s kind of like a lopsided baseball game — even though the winning team is far ahead, they still try to cross home plate one more time. You can certainly win the game without the insurance runs, but they do make the victory a little more secure. At 51, I’m 11 runs ahead, which is a pretty nice lead.
A few random birthday reflections:
My family doesn’t even try to put all those candles on my birthday cake anymore; i just get the big number candles. I think they believe it would be dangerous otherwise.
It’s fun to watch my younger friends freak out when I tell them I finished my masters degree before they were born.
It’s cool to see the look of surprise when younger people realize I know how to work a computer and can type a text message just as fast as they can.
It’s good to have an excuse for being absent-minded and scatterbrained, which I’ve always been anyway. Now I can just remind people that I’m old. My kids buy it completely and leave me alone about the forgetfulness.
Every year is better than the last. The body may be falling apart, but my mind is full of the kind of lessons you only learn from experience. When I can remember them. See above.
I have a great life and am grateful for each and every one of these years. I love having adult and almost-adult children, especially when they turn out to be people you’d spend time with anyway. Marriage is better after 23 years than after one — anyone can be married for a year; 23 is a grand slam — and I’ve always wanted to hit one of those.
Note: I do know that baseball season is over. It’s the only sport I know enough about to make an analogy. And it’s only a few months until spring training starts.
I watched it from our deck of my family’s house overlooking Greers Ferry Lake. Sara Ann was about to begin her senior year in high school, my last school year with a child at home. Prelude to the empty nest.
Between the uncharacteristically cool breeze, the natural beauty and the chardonnay, my mood was reflective as I thought about the beginning of the end of this part of my life. A life defined by semesters, school days, spring breaks and Christmas vacations. The end of my girls’ lives as children as they move into adulthood — college graduation and the beginning of a bright career for Elizabeth, high school graduation and off to college for Sara Ann. A beginning for me as, for the first time in 21 years, I explore my own priorities and interests apart from motherhood. The end of rules and curfews. The beginning of years of friendship with my girls.
I love pictures of sunsets. This particular sunset marked the end of an amazing day, but as sure as it set over the lake, the sun rose again on the other side of the night. When you look at the photo, unless you know the exact location and directional orientation, you don’t know whether it’s a sunrise or a sunset. So I realize it is with life — every end holds within it a new beginning and there is beauty in both.
Though I know this transition will not be easy and I approach it with mixed emotions, I cling to the idea that, for us, the sun is rising.
In this post I began this discussion of the hill I refuse to die on. This is the rest of the list.
Noise Teenagers are loud. As long as they are inside my house and not disturbing my neighbors, I don’t care how loud they are — I’m just glad they are safe at my house. They can raise the roof for all I care.
Bedtime I’m a night owl myself, so unless it’s a school night, I don’t care how late they stay up. They like to have friends over and it’s a badge of honor to stay up until sunrise. What the heck?
Messiness Teenagers are either messy or miserable. If you invite them over, they will mess up your house. So what? The time will come when there are no teenagers around and your house will only be as messy as you are.
Planning. They do not plan. They may say they are going to dinner at one place, change plans at the last minute and not eat dinner at all. They are spontaneous and decisions are made via text message. Go with the flow. Just make sure your teen lets you know where they are at all times. I strongly advise learning to text if you don’t already.
Thong underwear. Ick. Yeah, I know. If she really wants a string up her butt, I’m not gonna fight it. Besides, they take up much less room in the washing machine. Just don’t pick them up by the string. I don’t have to explain that, do I?
For all of their complications and weirdness, they are some of the most enjoyable people you will ever know. They are honest, idealistic and blissfully unrealistic. If you can be patient, flexible, non-judgmental and willing to laugh at yourself, you can have a blast with them. If not … prepare to be driven out of your mind.
Life with teenagers requires some flexibility. No, as the parent you really don’t have to bend, but if you’re wise, you’ll figure out which things are deal breakers and which are not. Fighting with your teen over minor issues will ruin both your lives. Is that really what you want them to remember about their last few years at home? Pick your battles. Here, in no particular order, are the issues I consider minor in the grand scheme of things.
Weight Barring a serious health issue, never mention weight, especially to a teenage girl. If they have an extra pound or two, I promise you they are more than aware of it. To point it out to them is to add insult to injury. My girls have never struggled with weight, but I did and I remember once my mother mentioned it to me. Bad idea.
Language I never tolerate the Lord’s name taken in vain, but words like crap,sucks,piss, the occasional damn or hell do not freak me out. Even on occasion, in a time of great stress, something stronger — as long as it’s around close friends and/or family and not in public. The teenage years are arguably the most difficult of life; the pressures are greater at younger ages than ever before. If they are otherwise walking the straight and narrow, sometimes it may be wise to allow them to let off a little steam in a safe environment.
Hair Length, color, style. My youngest daughter has twice dyed her hair: the first time it was fuschia; the second time it was a purple streak down the back. She had fun, it’s gone now. No harm, no foul.
Piercings We’ve done more ear piercings that I can count, including cartilage and one belly button. It’s not my taste, but both my girls are clean-cut lovely young ladies; my 16-year-old just likes to pierce her ears; my 19-year-old pierced her belly button as a reward for straight As her senior year. It’s not a moral issue.
Sorry if some of these offend, but I’ve got two bright, warm, loving and morally upright kids, so it’s working for us. And if you want to be offended again, come back for Part Two later this week.
Disclaimer: This post in no way constitutes professional advice and is not endorsed by the Surgeon General, American Psychological Association or Dr. Phil. I do, however have a sister and brother-in-law who are psychiatrists and they probably agree with me on most of these points, so it’s all good.
This past Sunday, Mother’s Day, I celebrated my 20th anniversary of motherhood. It began about this time of year in 1988 — my first pregnancy. While lying on the couch one afternoon, I felt a strange fluttering in my abdomen, which I immediately recognized as life.
Some highlights of my 20 years as a mom:
My husband talked to my stomach throughout both pregnancies. My girls knew his voice and quieted to it at birth.
The first smile, solid food, step, word, hug, kiss, I love you. The first day of school, first day of middle school, first day of high school, first love, first kiss, first heartbreak.
The sex talk.
Many, many meals together around our kitchen table.
Being excited for her as she prepares for college while my heart breaks at the thought of her leaving my home.
My youngest daughter wraps her foot around mine when we snuggle, and says, yeah girl, when I call her. She knows that she can invite her friends over first and ask later.
My oldest daughter takes my hand during church, looks into my eyes, pulls me close to her and smiles. She sends me text messages and tells me she can’t wait to come home from college and hang out with me.
I miss the tiny shoes, huge hair bows, sticky hands, dirty faces and the innocence, but I love the conversations, lunches, shopping, text messages and the time when a daughter becomes a friend.
This photo was taken in the summer of 1994, when my girls were two and five-and-a-half. They are now 16 and 19. Time flies.
About 19 years ago I read a magazine article that talked about how we often wish our children’s lives away. I can’t wait until the first smile, can’t wait until they can sit up, crawl, walk, talk, or the biggie … use the potty. I stuck the article on my refrigerator as a reminder to savor each moment. Though I’ve long since lost the article, its truth has stayed with me through the years.
A guy I know from Twitter reminded me of that old magazine article. The other day I realized that as of this writing, I have exactly 16 more times to drive a child to school and pick her up — ever. Next year, she’ll drive herself to school and I will be through with carpool line forever.
Though there are many things about child rearing that aren’t particularly enjoyable, I’m never ready to leave them behind. Nothing particularly fun about carpool line. Sitting and waiting, then fighting traffic. Potty training wasn’t such a joy and being awakened in the middle of the night by a screaming baby certainly was no day at the beach.
Though I’m often called sappy and overly sentimental, I’m glad I’ve allowed myself to dwell in some of these moments for a bit. Yesterday it was pacifiers, strollers and carseats — today it’s boys, cars and college — and tomorrow’s empty nest will come far too quickly.
In the last couple of weeks I have been awarded the highest honor ever bestowed upon me. (Please pardon my messy desk.)
My youngest daughter’s friends are at our house a lot, and I frequently drive carpool to various places, so I’ve gotten to know them pretty well.
Last week we had a big party for my daughter’s birthday, and about 23 of her best friends were in attendance. At some point, they always use my computer to get on facebook. One of the girls stuck a note on my monitor that said “Emily loves Mrs. Beth,” and “your Ro-Tel dip is yum yum!” then another friend followed suit with “Austin loves Mrs. Beth,” with a heart. The girls spent the night, and when I came downstairs the next morning to check my email, they had placed colorful sticky notes all over the front of my monitor, all with their names, declaring their love for me.
I haven’t really done anything spectacular for these kids; I make them welcome in my home, cook for them, drive them around and just hang with them and talk and listen. It isn’t work; they are great kids and so much fun to have around. But I don’t think it takes that much to make them feel loved, valued and cared for — listening to the things that bug them, letting them vent when they need to, encouraging and accepting them as they are.
Yes, teenagers can be difficult at times. But it is this tangible encouragement that keeps me going and I cannot help but smile when I sit down at my computer and look at my notes.
And the Ro-Tel dip: simple and cheap. Just throw two cans of Ro-Tel tomatoes and two pounds of Velveeta into a crock pot, turn it on and watch the feeding frenzy in an hour or so.
Lillie Ammann, writer & editor, on her blog A Writer’s Words, An Editor’s Eye poses an interesting question about finding the right balance in life. I’m honored that she tagged me for a response, but I’m not sure that my answer will be as meaningful as perhaps Lillie had hoped.
I love gymnastics — in fact I used to be a pretty good tumbler myself. Believe it or not, this photo is of me in my younger days, practicing my back layout in the high school gym. I thought nothing of throwing myself through the air upside down, in fact I enjoyed it more than anything else during those years. As easily as I could throw a backflip on the floor, I never tried it on the balance beam. The thought of having only a four-inch strip of wood to land on made something I could do in my sleep seem terrifying. I never had faith enough in my own ability to plant my feet exactly where they needed to land.
It took a lot of concentration and energy to walk that thin line between standing and falling. I knew that if I fell, at worst I could be seriously injured; at best I would be embarrassed. I believe that trying to maintain balance during difficult times is a lot like walking a balance beam; there is a lot at stake, and if you don’t keep your focus, you will surely fall. In this difficult time of our lives (my husband’s position was eliminated at the end of last year and he’s still searching for a job), I’ve simply tried to keep the focus where I know it should be and keep from falling on my head!
How do you achieve balance in your life?
My time decisions are really easy, given the fact that I know my youngest daughter will leave for college in just three years. She is in school during the day, so I leave that time open for church and volunteer work, meetings, Bible study, and just time for myself. After-school time is hers, and evenings are for family time, unless there is something very important that just cannot be scheduled any other time. She has an active social life, so my husband and I plan our own social outings around that.
What is your biggest challenge in balancing your life?
Wanting to do everything. I have such a wide variety of interests, I am often in danger of spreading myself too thin.
What are your priorities?
This one is easy. 1. My faith 2. My family 3. Friends 4. Professional development/career goals
How have your priorities changed over time and why?
The only time I can say my priorities have really changed was when I first got married and again when I had my first child. Becoming a wife and, later a mother, completely took the focus off of me in my life. When I was single, I spent every spare dollar on clothes, going out, whatever I wanted. Then I got married and had my daughter a little more than a year after that. Suddenly I didn’t care what I wore, but it mattered a lot that she had beautiful clothes. Sad to say, It was the first time in my life that I actually thought about someone else’s needs before my own.
Basically for the past 13 years I have pretty much focused on #1 and #2, doing the best I can with #3, and, for the most part, working #4 in around #1 – 3. I know that I’ll have time when my youngest daughter (now 15) goes to college in a few short years.
What advice can you share to help all of us balance our own lives?
I’m probably not the one to give advice on that; my life is in a bit of turmoil right now with my husband’s job situation. But my faith is literally sustaining me right now, and my focus has been to keep things going here at home so we can ride out this storm. I’m giving my 15-year-old as much of me as possible, as it has been such a hard year for her with her sister leaving for college and my husband’s job loss — trying to keep home stabilized and provide safety and security for her.
I guess my only advice would be to go back to priority #1 — keep your faith strong, and it will sustain you through anything, and keep you balanced when your circumstances are out of balance.