Suck it up, Buttercup

 

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Photo Cred: HAIR, by John Barrett

She was crying as we pulled up to the school and she didn’t want to get out of the car. My daughter was having an “off” morning and I was trying to decide on the best course of action. Is there a worse way for a mom or dad to start the day than with a crying kid who doesn’t want to go to school? I was stuck in the frustrating in-between of wanting to push her out the door so I could get on with my day and wanting to crawl back in bed and snuggle her close, rub her back and shelter her from whatever was making her upset.

“Are you going? What are we doing here?”

“Do you think you can you suck it up and make it through your day? If I’m going to get a call from the nurse in 5 minutes, please just save me the trip back to school and we’ll turn around right now.”

” I know you don’t feel 100%– but you don’t have to feel 100% to make it through the day.” (Hell, I make it through all kinds of days hovering around 35% or so.)

Yeah. These are things I said. But if you’re a parent, I’m pretty sure you’ve said them too.

We circled the Drop-Off loop one more time while she was wiping the tears and checking her mascara in the visor mirror, all the while my heart complexly interwoven with impatience and heartbreak. I knew it was not her best day. I knew she was upset. And I knew she was upset with me, too. She thought I was being hard on her and that was making everything worse.

As we pulled up to the doors, my eyes were watching the clock. I knew in one more minute she’d be late and I’d have to cop a lame excuse note, but the tears were still coming.

Ticking clock. Cars behind me. Buses lined up to move. What do I do? Do I make my normally cheerful little freshman walk into school crying? Do I drive us back home? On any given day, I’ve done both.

Today? I made her get out.

“I love you. Take a deep breath. You can do this. I know it’s not your favorite thing right now. It’s not mine either. But in just a little bit, you’ll be distracted and moving on with your day. Go. So you’re not late. Hop out.”

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Many a day I’ve allowed less than sick kids stay home. Many a day I’ve coddled kids who didn’t feel up to doing whatever the day required of them. And the more time goes by, I’m not sure it was the right decision. In the moment, it was the easiest decision, but the easiest decision and the right decision are unfortunately not usually the same thing.

When you’re trying to raise up kids into strong-minded and responsible adults, it becomes more clear on the daily that you’re not doing them any favors when you allow them to lie down under the weight of their little world. It’s not reality. It’s not how life works. And it’s a mentality that won’t serve them well– or at all– in the Grown Up world.

A friend recently introduced me to the famous acronym, MTXE, coined and embraced by former Wichita State head coach Gene Smithson during his tenure from 1978-86, which stands for “Mental Toughness Extra Effort,” a mindset that helped the Shockers compile a 155-81 record with two Missouri Valley Conference titles and a trip to the Elite Eight over a span of eight years. I’ve started using it with my kids and there are days I want to write it on my own hand as a reminder.

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I think of my own life experiences, of things that have required Mental Toughness and Extra Effort in my own life (widowed at 26 with 2 small children, a tough marriage, a tough divorce, an accident resulting in a few broken bones and surgeries, to name a few);  Of the endless days I’ve lived through compartmentalizing personal pain, anxiety or fear so that I could fulfill obligations and responsibilities and be a dependable mother, employee, daughter, friend. I want to know I’m raising my kids with the mental toughness and fortitude that difficult life- or even just DAILY life- experiences require; That there is a way to be both aware of your feelings and in control enough of them as well, so you can face the day regardless.

I’ll be thinking of my daughter all day, aware that she’s struggling. And if the school calls and I need to pick her up, of course that’s okay. But I still won’t be sorry I made her get out of the car. And someday, even if it’s not today, neither will she.

 

 

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First Day Fears

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There’s something about the first day of ANYTHING that combines to be one part fear, one part anticipation and one part bravado. My friend and fellow blogger Christina Hubbard of Creative and Free takes us on her First Day journey as her kids head back to school. Christina and I met last year at a writer’s conference in Chicago. I was immediately struck by her inquisitive nature and her open gracious spirit. She is a mother. A writer. An artist. And her soulful, deep-waters writing helps make me a better person and a better writer.  A few weeks ago I was honored to guest post on her blog. And this week, I am honored even more so to feature her on mine…


 How First Day Fears

Can Find Your Faith

When You Can’t 

First day fears feel so wrong, like looking up at a sheer rock face we’re supposed to climb when we’d rather slide back down the rocky scree to safety.Inline image 10

I didn’t want the first day of school to come. I thought I did. Really, I didn’t.

I wanted to be the fierce Let’s-Do-This-Thang-Mama. Pretending to have it all together is like telling you I like to eat worms for breakfast. A complete crock.

I thought I was ready for the first day. As it turns out, I wasn’t. 

Let’s face it. I was a mess before the first day. I couldn’t even lead my son in to meet his teacher when we got to sneak a peak at his new classroom. So he would be less afraid on the real first day, I was supposed to be strong. I had planned to be brave, but I wasn’t. My husband took his hand and carried the torch for all of us.

I didn’t know how this would feel. No one told me I would flash back to my daughter’s first day of kindergarten and feel tidal waves of missing her again. It felt like a double loss—sending two kids off to a new school for the first time. I wasn’t prepared for the surging emotions, but I don’t suppose anyone is. I longed for the sending off to feel like embarking to a new land, like our recent roadtrip, but it didn’t.

We made it home that night. While I consoled myself with courage tips from Bear Grylls, my husband tucked in the kids. They fessed to being nervous too. There’s strength in the solace of knowing we’re not the only ones who are scared.

I love what Bonnie Gray says about letting ourselves feel at the gut-level:

“…There comes a time when it takes more faith to fall apart with Jesus than to stay strong enough to stop it from happening.” (Finding Spiritual Whitespace)Inline image 11

My husband and I talked into the night about why our decision felt hard even if it was the right thing. It’s ok to feel broken up, to admit we have no idea what we are doing. Before he shut off the lights, Bobby said, “It’s going to be ok.”

The strongest faith grows from the most broken places. Falling apart helped me believe my husband’s words fully. Falling apart helped me believe the words God had whispered for months: “Trust me. It’s going to be ok. I love you.”

Let’s skip the part in the middle of the night where my thoughts raced like a rat in a wheel. (I remembered I hadn’t put my little Jedi’s pencils into his pencil box. Will he be able to open the package by himself? Dear, Lord… I must have prayed it fifty times.)

What transformed all of our fears into fortitude was admitting we couldn’t summit this mountain alone—not without God or each other.

Our whole family walked into the elementary double doors the first day. We came nervous, scared, and unsure—AS ISThis is the adventure our family has been preparing for, the change we prayed about, the step of faith we took. By God’s strength alone, they walked tall and so did I.

We didn’t have it all together. We held hands for a while and hesitated for a minute. All the kids were being ushered into the gym. Clearly, it was time to go. Our hands released, and I exhaled.Inline image 8

My husband and I went for coffee and sat together marveling at our composure and theirs. Clearly, we had nothing to do with it.

God uses weakness to give us the greatest strength. He takes our tied up, twisted up fears and uses hard things to make us mountain climbers.

Go ahead. Fall apart. Hold hands. FAITH FOUND.

The first day of school happened. Today is a few days after, and I’m still not prepared or happy about it.

We did it anyway, with God’s supernatural strength—nothing else. We came to Him at the end of ourselves—clueless and vulnerable. When we admitted our helplessness, the first day became do-able. We admitted our inability and the pressure in the can released. Bear Grylls has it right:

Being brave isn’t the absence of fear. Being brave is having that fear but finding a way through it.

Take it from the guy who really does eat worms for breakfast.

Take heart, fellow climber, you’re not trekking alone.

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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.