Today was very much like the day before my son was born. It was a fortuitous pleasant day in August–cool enough that you could go for a walk in the afternoon to try to get labor moving along without seriously regretting it.
Today, like that labor day in the past, was beautiful, with a stirring cerulean sky brushed with cirrus clouds.
Tomorrow, like his birth-day, will be hot and humid again.
I’m thinking tonight about that damp-looking, cone-headed infant boy, who got so excited when he saw my chest for the first time. No, I did not expect that reaction from a two-hour old baby, but that just shows how little I knew about how alert babies are and how inside that 8-pound-something body was a very distinct personality.
Before that moment when we met, he had just been kicks, and squirms, and my imagination–that’s all.
But now, for 21 years, I have had the joy of learning him–learning to care for him, learning to know him well, learning to love him, and learning from him.
He was not a red-headed girl with lots of hair. Thank heaven for that. He was a boy with lots of dark hair, and very long fingers, which his maternal grandmother observed when she arrived three days later with his grand-dad to meet him for the first time. “Look at his fingers!” she exclaimed. “He’s going to be a piano player!” She was right about that–and other things as well.
I think he was three or four when she gave me a copy of the book Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Kurcinka. That book, and the example and guidance of his co-op preschool teacher, opened the doors for me to learn how to walk alongside him as his mother. He demanded my attention and respect the whole journey through. Right from the beginning, he lifted his head and looked around intently, before we even left the hospital. He has never stopped looking around him intently, although thankfully his neck is strong enough that he does that on his own now.
He does a lot of things on his own now.
When your child heads out the door to the dorm at 18, there are many unknowns ahead. At that point, I’d say while your child is legally an adult (and FERPA is there to assist you in remembering that fact), there’s more of a sense that he can and will hop back into the nest on a regular basis. You know the future is there, but it’s protected somehow, as if there’s a golden fence around it.
21 is completely different.
We moved him into an apartment this summer for a job. We moved him back home end of July–but just for nineteen days. Last week, I moved him into an apartment again, this time for his senior year. It was nothing like the first time he left home for college nor was it like the second and third times. Now he had the plan, he set the agenda, and waved me off when we were done. No hand-holding necessary, nor should it be.
I don’t know how to describe how different 21 feels.
I know he is not coming back.
After twenty-eight years of being married, I learned something new about my husband–just when you think nothing else big can possibly be known. But the revelation wasn’t really about him so much as about me.
My husband is very flexible. He has always been willing to go along with my wild ideas, or my wishes, or my wanting to invite someone else over, or the camping trip I’d like to take.
I thought this was because–well–he’s flexible. He’s very easy-going, reliable, calm, dependable.
In short, a rock of peace.
I suppose that is probably the main reason, if there is one only, why I pursued him and ended up choosing him as my spouse, when he indicated his willingness to engage in such an intimate connection. I have benefitted from his character and the kindness that flows from it for years. I have known that at some level. But a few weeks ago, I found out that he is not as flexible as I thought.
I’m glad that the proposed weekend to which I wanted to add an activity was his birthday weekend. We planned to travel to his mother’s to retrieve our youngest two children from their time at Camp Grandma, and the Saturday of that weekend was his birthday. Of course his mom did not want to miss an opportunity like that! She set up a simple party with some family members.
The other variable in play was that I was hoping to also see my brother and his family. They live within reach in the same general area of the state we were traveling to. I thought it would be possible to do both. I started to make plans with my side of the family–all before actually talking with my husband about the weekend. I just assumed, as I have many times before, that my spouse would want the same thing I did, or at the least, be willing to do what was important to me. I mean, this is our big opportunity to connect with both sides of the fam, why wouldn’t we do that?
And that would normally have been what happened.
Because it was his birthday on the day we were talking about, and because I had been reading a pretty good book on marriage in the weeks before, this self-absorbed person actually had a rational thought.
I’d probably better ask dear-husband what he is willing to do. Would he like to extend our travels by some additional hours?
So, I asked him what he really wanted to do.
and I told him that I really wanted to know.
and he told me what he really wanted to do.
He did not feel like adding more driving, more events, and more craziness to his life.
So, we did not try to do it all in one weekend.
We enjoyed our time with our kids and his mom. We got a great several hours long visit with our nephew and his wife and two boys, who came over for the birthday party, more time than we usually get, and I got to know my niece-in-law quite a bit more. She’s a real gem. The next day before we left we enjoyed an incredible meal at the Olive Garden with the family and my brother and sister-in-law, provided by my mother-in-law, and that was a good time also. It was good to see my husband getting the time with his mother that he wanted and needed.
So, why wasn’t he flexible this time?
It’s not that he’s not flexible.
He’s so flexible, he probably has almost never gotten his way in our marriage. This time, because I stopped to ask, he got what he wanted and needed.
He has been flexible to help me. He has lived for 28 years with a person who’s so high-strung and particular that she does not handle situations well at all if they don’t go according to her expectations. He has been patient and calm and long-suffering because he knew that a) as my oldest puts it, I would have a snit if things did not go as I expected and b) he loved me enough to be willing to do what helped me be okay.
Sure, he could have told me 27 years ago that I was the most ridiculously self-absorbed, inflexible crazy person he had ever met. Maybe he should have. He could have told me that I was not being fair and that my almost always having to have my way was unacceptable. He would have been perfectly correct.
But I don’t know that I would have been able to hear it then.
He has spent the years loving me in myriad ways, making me more lovely. He has loved me so well that I can now freely chose another way to live.
I am the mother of three children ranging in age from 12 to 20. Over the years of being their mother, I have graduated from desperately longing for just five minutes where I could rest or read a book, or yes, go to the bathroom without extra bodies assisting me with those functions, to being able to leave the house with the kids in charge. But I still remember what life was like when I was stuck in the bathroom. We did not have family members living near us when my children were small, so my husband and I took turns getting out without them. We did have a wonderful woman from our church who came and babysat for me many times when I had doctor’s appointments. Grandma Judy used to bring a toy bag with her that always had interesting games and activities in it. She is still my now 15-year-old daughter’s favorite babysitter ever.
Now that the children are older, more mature, responsible and self-sufficient, I don’t have the same desperation to escape as when they were little. Thank God!
But there is a sense of relief and refreshment when I am not in charge of their well-being that is just as vital as ever.
I don’t go out with my husband that often, or as often as marriage gurus advise, but we get out a couple of times a year. I do insist on getting away for our anniversary for two nights. We’ve done one night, but that doesn’t really cut it. You’re just beginning to unwind and then it’s time to get up and pack your suitcase. Nope.
And I meet friends for lunch or an ice cream once or twice a month, so that is good as well. A mother needs to take some time, no matter how brief, every day to do something that she enjoys. Those breaks are vital, but those gatherings are short.
The value of a Mom’s Night Out pales in comparison to a week at Grandma’s. The destination is for the kids, I mean.
Now that, my friends, is a gift on a whole other plane.
When you can turn your children entirely over to another qualified human being in whom you have complete trust, and stop thinking about what your children need (Time, Attention, Food, Drink, Therapies, Medications, Special Diets, Better Curriculum, More Clothes, Help with Fill in the Blank), then you have been given a gift that is priceless: the gift of not being responsible.
You know it is not going to last, and you don’t want it to. There would be no words to describe my loss if they did not come back.
But I’m telling you, this week has been great. They’re happy; I’m happy.
I have not missed them.
I know, this is self-evident, right? We all know that you should not yell at your kids. And sorry, I don’t have a five step method for not yelling. But let me give you the motivation.
I used to get really frustrated because we were often late. Looking back it’s fairly obvious I just needed to plan ahead better. I would make some adjustments every time I had another baby, such as adding another five minutes to the pre-boarding ritual, but we were still the same amount of time late to events.
Clue one that I needed to hear was the day when we were heading out to co-op and about to be late again. Guess what happened to the kids on the way out the door? My oldest son–probably about eight years old at the time–moved so fast to get out of the way of his crabby mom he literally knocked down his little sister, who then fell sideways onto the stairs which were close to the door in our tiny two-bedroom house. Had carpet, but no, she hit the wood.
So my baby girl has an injury on her face because I am a grump and can’t control my emotions when I’m displeased with circumstances.
I wish I could say that this was an effective wake-up call. It started the process, yes. But it was not enough to fully reform me.
Over the years, there have been any number of incidents in which one child, usually the oldest, would attempt to correct or direct the other siblings. When I would investigate further to find out why he was being so bossy, invariably, the bottom line was he wanted them to do what I wanted, so I would stay happy, so there would be no yelling.
The classic example comes from a camping trip at spring break. We are in our pop-up on a warm night in Florida with the fan blowing on me (because yes, I’m the big baby who needs the fan more than anyone else in order to be able to sleep). It’s dark and I’m sleeping, but eventually I begin to register seismic events in the camper. Slowly, vibrations that I know are not being caused by my husband, because he’s the solid peaceful log next to me, invade my world. I pretend there are no vibrations a few times and doze back off, but eventually I realize that ignoring whatever it is the kids are doing is not going to work this time.
There is not only movement but conversation at the other end. I finally ooze upward, turn on a flashlight, and ask what on earth is the matter.
My youngest child who was 7 or so at the time, was not able to sleep because of bug bites from the sand flies. But, his brother started their explanation by highlighting his attempt to keep the younger child from waking me up. He knew the consequences could be dire–but wait a minute aren’t moms supposed to take care of kids at night when there’s a problem? I thought my kids knew this. However, the fear that the roof of the camper would blow off short circuited getting actual help.
Thankfully I am at least decent in a crisis, even a sleep crisis. I told the others to relax and gave the youngest my anti-itch protocol of liquid antihistamine, Calagel applied to the bites, and time with mom, a favorite book and the fan. Within 20 minutes he was calmed down, and I tucked him back in on the kids’ end of the camper. Yes, I did put the fan on him, and somehow I managed without it.
Fast forward to this summer, five or so years later. We took my oldest son to his summer job and moved him in to his apartment. Something he said that day made me realize there was a possibility that the way he handles conflict is based on cross-examining himself to be sure he isn’t doing anything that would piss Mom off.
I realize now, as a mother with almost 21 years of experience, and as a mother who has loved her kids well in many ways, that my typical short circuiting has meant that my kids have developed in the light of my temper. Sure, I don’t lose it nearly as much as I used to, but what I have already done has had a long-term effect on my children.
I don’t know how much counseling they will need to get past their fear of making others angry, but I don’t want them to have needed any.
I wanted my kids to live their lives based on what they believed they are meant to do and be, not based on what they hope will keep the peace.
I wanted my kids to live their lives from a foundation of trust and hope, not out of anxiety.
I share my faults with you because I want you to know that hindsight is a truly powerful teacher.
Maybe, you can benefit from mine.
I’m writing this blog entry to myself, mainly, but maybe it can set you free-er too.
And I am also writing this in the knowledge that I could be extremely wrong in the lecture I’m about to give myself.
It is good for your children to participate in clubs, such as scouting, and sports, such as soccer. It’s definitely great for your child to take music lessons. I’d vote for piano lessons as the starter as I think they provide many benefits–learning to read music, confidence, not to mention all the benefits to the brain and fine motor skills. And I like piano because you can get pretty pleasing results after very few lessons–if the piano is in tune, of course.
As your child grows older, he may want to partake in activities friends of his enjoy. There is no shortage of sports she can play; there are dance lessons of all types. There’s fencing. There are clubs centered around gaming. There are clubs centered around computer programming and robotics. There is a wonderful plethora of options for kids to benefit from.
Then in high school there’s homework, time to socialize, sports, after school clubs, work, and of course volunteer hours.
All good: no complaint there. Volunteering is for sure one thing I did almost none of as a teen but should have.
Yes, I’m asking the question.
Where did the down time, the free time, the daydreaming time go?
How can someone develop fully as a human being if she is constantly on the go and nothing, but nothing, ever shuts off?
Is it truly necessary for your child to be fully immersed in several activities at most times of the year in order for her to get into college and have a future? I don’t know. Maybe it is. Maybe things have gotten so competitive because there are so many people on the planet that my ideas are just naive. Maybe my daughter will be omitting a key that would have gotten her into the door of a better college that would then have opened a further door, and someday I’ll be sorry.
And maybe you and your kids love your lives the way they are. If you love what you’re doing, don’t stop doing it.
But if you don’t, just imagine what you could do with the time you free up if your family drops one activity. It might be interesting to drop them all for a month or two in summer.
Perhaps that is an impossible dream. But, what if you could back off? What would life look like outside of a minivan?
An art form you dropped years ago.
Volunteering for a cause you care about.
Time to spend building connections with other people.
No longer being too busy and too tired at the end of the week to get together with friends.
Wouldn’t that be great?
For most of my adult life, I have been a member of small churches. During the last five years, we ended up making an unprecedented shift to both a different denomination than the one we’d been part of for twenty-five years, and to a church much larger than any we had attended before. It didn’t start out large as it was a church plant, but it rapidly grew to several hundred and went on up from there. It’s now at about 700. To me that is huge.
I didn’t expect to be a member of a church that big, of course. Starting from a small group one doesn’t know what to expect. It just kind of took off.
Now that I’ve experienced both, there are some differences I’ve noted.
In a small church, there are always financial challenges, of course. If the pastor says he will eat beans if he has to, you know two things. One he’s an amazing man, but two, you have a financial problem.
If there are personality conflicts that cause big problems, they are front and center in a small church.
It is hard to find people to fill all the roles that need to be filled. There are only so many adults who can be elected deacon or elder.
One of the main difficulties with a small church body is it can be quite problematic to get the needed momentum to pass the boundary of awkward into do-able. People who want to just blend in are not going to be comfortable attending a church where they stand out. Many people who are looking for a church may have expectations about size, programming, dynamics and so forth.
The good point of a large church are that there are lots of people.
There are people to volunteer in the nursery, there are people coming in who are interested in serving, although, honestly, in big churches as well there can be problems with motivating people to serve. Big churches can have financial problems, too, but I think it is less likely, barring some disaster in leadership, which thankfully I have not experienced.
Big churches are more likely to have vibrant children’s and youth programs, as those can more easily be funded and fueled, and there are more kids there to keep the momentum going.
But I’ll tell you what I miss.
I miss being in a body small enough that I know everyone. That takes a small body, as in 50-100 strong.
In that setting, there are few enough people that over enough fellowship dinners, service days, and nursery work, you get to know people well. It creates an intimacy that is often missing in the general culture.
A small church united in a common cause is a force to be reckoned with. When someone has a problem, it is noted, and people draw in around the sufferer to help.
Over time, devotion of that sort creates a very strong bond. Family would not be too strong of a word.
That’s what I miss.
Lately, I’ve found myself asking a question about relationships in my day-to-day reaching out to people and inviting them into my life and into my home. I like to cook, and having people join our family for dinner has always been something I enjoy. I like to spend time getting to know people. I like making them feel welcome, that they are important to me, that they are included in our mutual community, whatever that context is. And this context is what I’m used to.
Despite having been hospitable in this particular way for over twenty-five years, recently it seems that dinner invitations are not as well received as they used to be.
So, I’m asking myself, what’s different? I find myself wondering if there are new social rules about how to initiate further contact with acquaintances and friends. If there are new rules, I’m afraid that I don’t know them.
Perhaps there is another way that relationships are supposed to be nurtured in 2016? Maybe people I know from work or church or kids’ activities are not comfortable being invited to someone’s home? Am I supposed to meet the other mom at a Starbuck’s first, before I invite the whole family to dinner?
I don’t know and I would like to. The last thing I want to do is be overbearing when my intent is simply to invite.
How is relationship building supposed to happen now? Let me hear from you.