Taking the Long View

images-73

One of my kids recently had to do something really hard. They had to go make something right that they had kind of screwed up. This is no easy feat, no matter how old you are. Making a mistake is so much easier than making amends. But making amends is so powerful. So much better. So freeing.

And so as my kid was going out the door to go do this thing– and just DREADING it, I looked them in the eye and said, “You are GOOD. YOU. Are. A good, good soul. You’ve got this.”

And then I cried at my desk. Tears of gratitude. Tears of compassion and humility and overwhelming love. Motherhood, personhood, is so raw and exhausting at times.

And what I’m learning right now is that it takes decades to build a person. Decades.

We expect so very much from ourselves and from our kids. And yes, it’s good to have standards and expectations; of course we should. But our character, our true selves, our best selves, our real selves…those things are built over a lifetime. An entire lifetime. And yet we expect things from each other that we just haven’t had the time and life experience to develop.

 

0a58ece506c058ecdcc318b09fb15578

Rialto’s Drift (USA) by Patrick Marson Ong

As a mom, this moves me deeply and challenges me to see my children in a different light. I expect so much of them. Self awareness and emotional intelligence are a high priority for me personally, but at 43, I’m just barely there. And it’s hard, conscious work all the time. I’m not sure how I can possibly expect the people in my house who have the distinct disadvantage of less time and less life experience (and let’s be honest- less therapy) to be even close to that.

So I’m learning to take the long view. Nobody needs to be perfect right now. Or tomorrow. Or next week. (Or quite frankly, next month or next year. Mercy.) Nobody needs to get it all right, right now. We need to keep stumbling forward. Making tiny strides and picking each other up with lots of empathy towards how hard it is to grow up and adult. Lots of forgiveness. Lots of grace. Lots of Love. Lots of acceptance. Lots of quiet conversations about who we are and who we want to be and if our actions today are helping us get there.  Lots of laughter at ourselves and with each other as we’re  trying to figure it all out. Over decades. Over a lifetime.

Because here’s the thing about the short view: It’s incomplete. It’s underdeveloped. It doesn’t tell the whole story. It’s unfair. It’s unforgiving. It’s unrealistic. It’s impossible. It’s an exercise in frustration– with ourselves and with each other. It’s harsh and uninformed.

It’s true the longview takes a long time– a lifetime– But since that’s all we’ve got, I’m going to stick around for it because I can see in the distance it’s going to be beautiful.

images-72

Advertisements

Effing the Whole Thing Up and Still Being Awesome

Elliott Erwitt New Rochell, NY, 1955 (busy mom)

Some girlfriends and I were sitting around the dining room table, drinks and appetizers scattered between us, ruminating as usual over love, life and relationships. And despite it being Girls’ Night, and despite our best efforts, the conversation inevitably steered itself toward our children. Toward motherhood. Toward parenting. To our fears and failures. Our triumphs and trials. Our daily insecurities of, as I like to say, “Effing the whole thing up.”

The conversation wore on and a common thread remained: Each one of us is hard at work trying to keep our kids from pain. We’re all trying desperately to keep our kids from screwing up. From making a mess. From making the same mistakes we did.

It’s scary. And tiring.

But more than that?

It’s impossible.

In her new book, Carry On, Warrior, Author, Blogger and Speaker Glennon Doyle Melton  (on whom I have an enormous girl and writing crush) says this:

My most important parenting job is that I teach my children how to deal with being human. Because most likely, that’s where they’re headed. No matter what I do, they’re headed toward being messed-up humans faster than three brakeless railroad cars.

There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human and that is this: Forgive yourself. 

Oh. I love this. I want to frame this in my kitchen and stitch in on my pillowcase so that every time I’m tempted to think I could possibly ever possess enough power and persuasion to keep my kids from making mistakes and screwing up their lives, I pause. I pause to remind myself that while I’m responsible for healthy coaching and boundaries and discipline, there are, in fact, limits to my reach. As well there should be. We’re separate from our kids in the best of ways. It’s how we belong to ourselves and not our parents. It’s how we learn our own truth and feel our own feelings. Think our own thoughts. And really, become our own person. Big, messy mistakes and all.

And isn’t the struggle how we all learn to become?

[Side note~ I vividly remember being about 17 years old and actually shouting at my mom, “LET ME MAKE MY OWN MISTAKES AND LEARN FROM THEM!” Whew. Let me just say, make my own mistakes I did. Repeatedly. I did a very, very fine job making the mistakes I so brazenly declared I NEEDED TO MAKE. Jury’s still out on the whole “learning from them” part. Some things only become a WTF in hindsight.]

But as difficult as parenting can be, this I feel like I can do.

I can teach my kids to be human and to forgive themselves.

Every day. All the time. For the rest of forever.  And I’m learning it myself right now so that I can model it for them: Learning to be totally okay with the perfectly imperfectness of life.  Accepting that it’s messy. That I’m not always sure of myself, and I don’t always have it all together. And that’s okay. I’m carrying on anyway. And forgiving myself a thousand times a day because I’m human. Kids will learn to be gentle and gracious and compassionate to themselves when they watch how it’s done and then feel it extended to them.

Glennon goes on to say, “We have to forgive ourselves…and then oh my goodness…find ourselves sort of awesome, actually, considering the freaking circumstances.”

And so there it is. Considering the freaking circumstances, whether you got where you are today by your own fault or someone else’s, or just because life can be so damn hard, forgive yourself. You are exceptional at being human and even if you’re effing the whole thing up, you’re still actually sort of awesome. Forgive yourself and start all over again tomorrow.

frankl quote

Fail. Regroup. Repeat.

images-13“Your child will follow your example. Not your advice.”

Every time I see this quote my knee jerk reaction is always the same: A moment of panic followed by screen shots of my life flashing before my eyes. And it’s never the highlight reel. It’s always the cutting floor. The scenes I wish I could delete and pretend never happened. I used to read it and think about how far I had to go. How much better I needed to be. That I wanted to be a perfect parent for them.  But here’s what I want now: To be real. To be fully human; Which means flawed and messy and trying my hardest– but not perfect. Perfect isn’t real. Or true. Perfect is exhausting. A cruel task master. Perfect does not help my kids or anyone else in my life. Perfect makes my kids feel alone. Unworthy. Unacceptable. Unloved. Rejected. Abnormal.  Perfect does nothing to help them grow and develop and come into their own. To love and enjoy life and other people. An expectation of perfect teaches my kids to perform instead of participate in life. It creates a fear of failure. Of even trying. A fear of never being good enough. The expectation of perfection for any of us creates an atmosphere of shame where we need to hide our true, imperfect selves. Barf.

If I’m living way up in my ivory tower, polishing away so that my kids have an “ultimate example” to follow, then what I am NOT is a safe harbor for them; For their mistakes, their struggles, their confessions, their true selves. Instead, I’m a judge. I’m a critic. I’m a master of performance and image and they become my slaves. And sometimes it means I’m silently holding them to a standard I have yet to meet. They need to see some cracks in my facade. They need to see me mad, watch me cry, hear me swear, hear me pray. Struggle with life in all it’s pain and glory. All in the same day. And listen- please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not talking about inappropriately allowing my kids to see parts of my life that are not meant for their young hearts and minds. But I AM talking about allowing them to know parts of me and my story that ARE appropriate and relevant to them: The 22 and 16 year-old NEED to hear me tell them that their bodies will want to have sex long before their hearts and minds are ready. They need to know there are times I’ve had too much to drink and how that went down. They need to know if I’ve ever used drugs and how I feel about it now. They need to hear about my young and foolish love stories. It’s how they come to know the real me– and it’s during these honest, awkward, sometimes embarrassing conversations that I come to know the real them. (Although the 11 year-old was once heard saying, “If you girl-chat me right now I will jump out of this moving car.” Um. Ok. So I tread a little lighter with her…)

Before our kids are barely a few months old, somehow parents latch onto this anxious notion of hoping and praying that our kids “turn out” right.  And suddenly the drive for perfect parenting, that will in turn produce perfect kids, is born. But what does that even mean? For a kid to “turn out” right? That he doesn’t go to jail? That he goes to a great college? Perfect SAT scores? If he works at McDonald’s, did he still “turn out”? I’ve got news for you: We are all, each one of us, authors of our own story. There is no “turning out”. . .I have my story, you have your story, and our kids will each have their own story. Some chapters will be better than others. There will be nail biters and page turners. Chapters we want to re-live, chapters we wish we could burn. Chapters we only dream of that never quite materialize. But our stories are life long, epic tales. If I were to judge mine right this minute, I quite possibly have not…turned out.

Ruining your life is actually kind of hard to do. This thing called life is pretty resilient. And so let this now be my example: Fail. Regroup. Repeat. Fail. Regroup. Repeat. I don’t have all the answers. Nobody does. So say no to the bad things and yes to the good things– and when you get the two confused, double back and fix it. Choose all over again. Make a thousand mistakes and own every single one of them. Say you’re sorry. Be brave. Be kind. Live hard. Love God. Love the people around you. THAT is life abundant. THAT is living. And the bottom line is this: YOU ARE OKAY. Today. Just as you are. You are okay. You are on a life- long adventure and so am I. It’s okay to not care about sports. You don’t have to be good at everything. But it’s okay if you are, too.  It’s okay to like things that no one else likes. It’s okay if sometimes you’re cranky. Or cry for no reason. To wrestle with jealousy. And temptation. Or if you sometimes have weird thoughts you don’t really understand. It’s okay to be a Yankees fan. (Just kidding. No it’s not. Please be anything but a Yankees fan.) Fail. Regroup. Repeat. I hope that’s my example.

“I hope you live a life you’re proud of. If you find that you’re not, I hope you have the strength to start all over again.” F. Scott Fitzgerald

 

 

An Open Letter to My Daughter’s Bullies. Including, But not Limited to the Mean Girls.

On my best days, I pray for you. I feel bad for you. I wonder what your home life has sown into you that is now reaping such ugliness. I wonder if your mom and dad know the things you say and do.  Maybe you only have one or the other? Maybe they are the ones you have learned this from? Or would they be shocked and disappointed?  I work hard not to judge them. Would they say things like, “This is not how we have raised you”?

I wonder who’s been mean to you. Have you been bullied too? I remind myself that hurting people hurt people and you are simply acting out of your own pain. I feel a spark of compassion for whatever pain you carry and I feel strangely curious about your internal life–Are you mad? Are you sad? Do you know you’re being mean? Is it on purpose? Do you ever feel guilty? Do you ever feel bad? Do you ever think of my daughter and wonder how she feels? Ever?  You didn’t have to be her best friend–just friendly would have been enough. But either way, it’s your loss. She would’ve had your back. She’s loyal. She’s kind. She’s true. She’s brilliantly clever and creative. And funny. But apparently those qualities aren’t trending these days.

On my worst days, I hate you.

I hate what you’ve done to my daughter.

I hate the way you’ve made her feel.

I hate the things you’ve said and done– all the eye-rolling, the smirks, the huffs and the knowing looks between you and your friends. The outbursts of laughter at her expense. The way you have excluded her. The way you have made someone so beautiful and shiny and precious feel so ugly and dull and worthless. The school day memories you have stained with a thousand tears. Hers and mine. It’s petty and wrong and right on your level-but it’s human:

There are moments when I want you to be bullied

and excluded and hurt the way she has been.  

I don’t understand you. I don’t understand how on earth you have been tricked into thinking your behavior is okay. I wonder where your parents are. I think things like, “The apple must not fall far from the tree” and I wonder if anyone has ever told you, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” And I think about karma. About what comes around goes around. And I think, I hope  you get what you deserve. And then I stop. Because I wasn’t raised that way. Because that isn’t the person I want to be. Because I can’t be the mom I need to be if I’m too busy being bitter and wishing you pain.

But truthfully, most days I don’t have time to let you take up too much space in my head.  The day my daughter came home from school sobbing, literally falling through the door and choking out the words, “I can’t do this anymore”, we decided to home school her. That’s right–even though we pay school taxes in one of the most highly ranked districts around, we home school her. You go. She doesn’t. You’ve made the price not worth the cost. The suicide of a local boy last month and the deaths of other kids your age are stunning reminders that for now, we have done the right thing. We have made the right choice.

We are not hiding our daughter from the reality of life–we are protecting hers. I know you are not the first or last mean person she will meet, but we are giving her a reprieve from you.

The school can potentially keep you from being mean by imposing rules and consequences, by  initiating expensive anti-bullying campaigns and promoting clever anti-bullying rhetoric, but they can’t make you be nice. And there’s a big difference. They can’t make you like her. It’s not their job to sow love and kindness into your heart so that your life will reap goodness and mercy and grace towards others. But along with reading, writing and arithmetic, that is my job. And I take it very seriously.