Tomorrow our youngest child starts school. Again. This time it’s the last first day of high school. The light at the end of the child-rearing tunnel is shining brighter and bittersweet. I’m not crying. I’m more tired but also sleepless. I’ve been on edge for the past two weeks, and it’s because tomorrow our youngest child goes to his last first day of high school.
I find myself staring at him. I can still see his baby face, but it means looking up and past the facial hair. His laugh makes my heart smile. He’s been busy enjoying the final days of summer freedom, before he and his friends head back to classes, daily reminders that college applications are due, essays need to be completed, important decisions need to be made. He planned a night of s’mores at our fire pit. He had a dozen boys over for a LAN party. He helped organize a night of playing “hostage” and I bribed them inside after curfew with pizza. “Can my friends come over and….” Yes. Yes, your friends can come over because this is the last first day.
In many ways he has always been in a hurry. Even his birth story is one of hurry. He barely waited for my doctor to show up. I didn’t have time to change into a hospital gown or sign all the papers and get admitted before he was born. There are photos of me, breathing through my contractions, braiding our oldest child’s hair with #2 at my side, and hours later I’m in the same shirt holding #3.
The build-up to the last first day snuck up on me. Getting ready for the first day of high school doesn’t involve the same rush as elementary school. In our community the kids can go to the high school to pick up their own schedules, and smart phones make sharing your schedule a matter of a few thumb movements.
There are no lists of school supplies. There are no discussions about why you don’t get a new box of crayons every year, no search for the specific brand of watercolors (Prang), no required supplies actually except for the expensive calculator to do things that don’t factor into most people’s daily lives. In our home we don’t buy new clothes for back-to-school until the old clothes don’t fit, and I still have a shelf of folders and notebooks that can be reused. July came and went and suddenly August was here. We are so ready for this day that it snuck up and surprised us.
When he started kindergarten I was the parent with a big smile ready to sing, “It’s the most wonderful time of the year!” because it had been a long summer with a job, three kids, a husband working long hours. I was ready for his first day of kindergarten with an inappropriate level of giddiness, but he had other plans.
My sweet boy wrapped himself around my legs like a koala bear. It would take a teacher and the principal to slowly unwrap his limbs from mine and take him inside. I knew what to do and I did it. I turned around and walked away with the biggest lump in my throat and tears hot in my eyes. The eyes of less experienced mothers glared with judgment and horror as I walked away without turning back and while those of my peers looked with understanding, urging me to take a deep breath.
The principal gave him a magic penny and told him when he touched the penny it would magically signal to me to think of him. He knows now that I can’t help but think of him. As I steel myself for tomorrow I’m thinking I need that magic penny that will signal him to think of me.
There was a time when I knew everything about my children. I knew their due dates before they were born, remembered their birth weights and lengths. Two were born in the morning. One arrived at 12:02 pm just to be special. I knew what they ate, when they ate it, which side they had last nursed, when their diaper had last been changed.
Do you remember the fear and shock when the hospital just sent you home with your newborn? We did it three times and couldn’t believe no one asked any real questions except about a car seat and then double-checked the hospital security bands, which we thought was funny because our kids are all Cheeseheads (born in Wisconsin) so they were the only Asian babies – a full head of dark hair that caused nurses and doctor to gasp each time.
So 8,451 long days that were also 23 short years later my daughter and I traveled through Paris and Iceland in what felt like a dream and master class in parenting a young adult child.
Some things never change
We shared a bed through the entire trip, and I couldn’t help but listen to her breathing settle into sleep, watch her move around until she relaxed. She was the same. The infant, baby, toddler, preschooler, little girl, pre-teen, teenager and now young woman all wrapped up in one – still sleeping deeply enough to have once slept through a microburst that tore through our neighborhood. My instinct to cover her and brush her hair away from her face remained.
But so did her instinct to brush away my hand and look at me ever so briefly with a mix of annoyance and familiarity. I want to push away anything and everything, even if it’s a wayward cowlick, to make her way easier, more open, better, and her instinct is to push for autonomy and discern her own preferences. It is her journey and story she will perhaps one day tell but of which I am a beneficiary of. After all, her learning to push away is what got us to Paris. She had been planning her own trip to Europe when she asked me if I would join her in Paris.
Parenting a young adult means knowing when to push even if it means getting that look and when to wait for that invitation to join in. It’s so much less about the kind of directing I did as the parent of a young child. We were the parents who didn’t ask where our children wanted to eat. They ate where we ate. We didn’t ask them where they wanted to go on vacation. They went where we took them. We involve them much more now because our children are older with preferences, limitations, interests that are more defined, but it’s still so hard to figure out where that line is and how to draw it. But being in Paris with our daughter I knew that these were lines she had drawn to include me as both mother and guest and what an honor and privilege that was.
Some things have to change
I love my own mother very much, but our relationship is different from that of mine with my own daughter. My mother and I still have language and cultural barriers, while my daughter and I have the advantage of having both grown up in the Midwest. I could never quite get my parents to understand the concept of school dances, and I’m still trying to explain to them what a prom-posal is. (Can someone tell me why this is a thing???) The impact of assimilation is palpable in my parenting. My daughter was my Snapchat tutor and helped me find a great deal on my flight to Paris with a different search engine. In my parents’ generation and culture of parenting the parent is always the parent, the advice-giver.
My daughter has spaces where she is the expert, the lead, and it was exhilarating, freeing, and unnerving to live it out in Paris. She had spent part of a summer in Paris as a student so she had a sense of the city, the subway, the places she wanted to revisit. She had a plan, and she asked me about my preferences and expectations. More often than not she was the one leading the way through the streets and subway transfers. It was disorienting enough to be in a foreign city, but to see my daughter as the one leading the way was beautiful. Mothers of little ones, hang on. The babies grow up into grown adults who will forever be your babies. Your babies change and have opinions and questions, preferences (thank goodness we both love baguettes, cheese, and red wine) that you cannot dictate. The time is coming. It’s amazing.
It’s also scary. I’m sure none of my Dear Readers have control issues when it comes to parenting, but I do. I thought it would be easy to let go my tendency to pick up after my child when she was 23 but when you’re sharing a small space that messy suitcase spilling out over the floor is as annoying as the messy bedroom at home she will never sleep in permanently ever again. I thought I would know how to read the silence in our time together as intuitively as I learned to interpret her cries. Just kidding. I never could tell the difference between her hungry cry and her diaper cry.
But the chatterbox toddler who asked a million questions doesn’t always grow up to be the extrovert. Instead of wishing the questions would stop, I’m learning how to ask questions after I decide what it is I really want to know and understand about her young adult life.
It’s not easier. It’s different.
A wise older friend once told me, when I was in the thick of diapers and sippy cups, that parenting never gets easier. It just changes.
I felt that intensely as we tried to strike a good balance between being tourists and simply enjoying being in Paris. There were moments vaguely similar to those long days as I wondered if her silence was simply exhaustion, a need for introvert time, frustration with me, or hangriness. And then I had to remember that being the parent of a young adult means your child now has the vocabulary and capacity to answer questions. To be an adult. “I’m not ready for a meal, but I could use a snack. Do you want to keep exploring or join me for a snack?” “I’m fine staying here for another hour or so. Would you like to go ahead to the apartment?” Those were questions we asked each other. Mother to daughter. Daughter to mother.
And then came the goodbye. Somehow nine days that looked like more than enough time to spend together in Paris and Iceland snuck up on us, just like the long days sneak up into years that vaporize. The first day of school is both the best and worst day of the year for me as a mom who has had the privilege of working from a home office. The silence in the home after a long summer of a never-ending revolving door of children and their friends and their toys, electronics (my youngest son’s friends are known to bring their gaming PCs over for a night of gaming), socks, hoodies, keys, cars, drama, and heartbreak is both welcomed and lonely.
But when your child no longer lives at home, no longer has clothes in her bedroom dresser or closet the goodbye doesn’t get easier. It changes. I thought saying a mutual goodbye at the airport, where we were both headed to our respective homes would be fine.
It wasn’t easier. The tears welled up, and I took a deep breath. We both took a deep breath and said goodbye.
I am taking a trip of a lifetime next month. My daughter called me up and asked me if I would meet her in Paris and could we tack on Iceland.
“YES!” I screamed with no hesitation. “Oh, wait. Hold on. Let me talk with Dad (my husband, her dad, not my dad).”
I’ve never been to Europe. My miles and money went to Paris a few years ago for Bethany’s study abroad, and I have all sorts of ridiculous fantasies about traveling abroad and a clean bathroom and a perfect paper planner. Her question, while it could’ve waited for a few days, felt pressing, urgent, and important. I didn’t ask my husband. I told him. I told him our young adult daughter asked me, her mother, to meet her in the City of Lights, and I told him I wanted to go.
So we said yes.
But getting to yes also meant making some other decisions about how this almost empty nest stage of life would be, what needed to stay and what needed to be let go. Before deciding on this trip to Paris was one other decision to be made that had been hanging around like the last dumpling at an Asian gathering. I didn’t want to touch it. (Yes, I’m looking at you, Asian American/Canadian Lounge at Urbana18. Y’all know exactly what I am talking about.)
Before saying yes to Paris, I knew it was time to say yes to a different invitation into uncharted waters. I said yes to leaving InterVarsity. My last day will be February 15.
Milestones are a chance to shift
This month my staff career with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship/USA turned 21 years old, barely legal and ready for new things. I sent out the following words in an email to a few colleagues after I had given official notice:
There has been a cost that I no longer want to carry, do not feel called to bear, or have the influence to change – a funding system that was designed for white men in a completely different cultural context, the human sexuality rollout that left our LGBTQ staff vulnerable and inconsistently asked for belief and behavior, and an affirmation of women in leadership that falls short of calling the Church to do the same.
As I’ve wrestled with those concerns I’ve also sensed that it’s simply time to leave and explore options to write and lead in another context. I do not have another job lined up except for the two yoga classes I teach on Thursdays. I am asking God what the invitation is for this next stage of leadership and life with the privilege of stepping away from IVCF without a plan.
I tell people I am a product of InterVarsity’s training and development – my deep love for scripture and manuscript Bible study, a commitment to mentoring and discipling, integrating my values into action. IVCF has been one of the few spaces in the Church that provided a Korean American married mother an opportunity to learn and be mentored by the likes of Jeanette Yep, Lisa Espinelli Chin, and Paul Tokunaga. I can only hope I will have left staff with a fraction of their wisdom.
I don’t know
That’s still my answer to the question, “So, what’s next?” I do not have a job lined up. I have not talked with an agent or a head hunter. I’m looking for a new spiritual director, preferably a WOC. I’m looking at the first three months as a sabbatical and, in some ways, a detox and untangling of my identity from an organization I’ve been a part of as a student, volunteer, and then employee for almost half of my life. I don’t know what’s next in terms of employment, but that’s OK.
For having worked most of my adult life in ministry I am finding that question funny because in it is an implicit request for certainty, and as a person of faith the older I get the less certain I am and the less certainty I require. My children are young adults. They have taught me that humility, failure, and uncertainty are essential and critical in parenting. My husband and I have been married for almost 26 years, and that friendship and relationship has taught me the same. We screw up on the daily, and more often than not I am not sure how we will fare the “till death do us part” part of our vows.
I don’t know what my next job will be. I know that uncertainty is a privilege and one I do not enter into or carry lightly, but I am carrying it.
Yes, I’m scared
No, I’m not totally OK with all of this uncertainty. Why do you think I am still searching for the perfect paper planner system (right now I’m loving my very basic bullet journal)?? I am a planner. I like making lists and checking off to-do items. I love setting goals. I love the friendships and community I have had the honor of being a part of on staff, and I will miss seeing colleagues who have become friends. I’m scared of losing friends and losing a sense of identity. I sat on making this decision for a LOOOOOOOOONG time, in part, because of the uncertainty and the privilege to say, “I’m quitting” without a plan to replace that income. It feels incredibly selfish, and as the daughter of immigrants all you know and are told is about the unselfish sacrifices our elders made/make for us to live better lives.
And just to drive the point home even my parents were worried about my non-plan even though for the past 21 years they haven’t been convinced that working in ministry where you are required to raise your own salary is a real job that one could really quit. How do you quit a job that isn’t a real job? See? It’s weird.
But I quit, with some financial planning because I’m not that selfish or stupid, and I’m scared. I’m scared my dreams are too old or faded. I’m scared I’ve become risk-averse and practical. I’m scared my imagination is too limited. So why did I quit? Because I’m scared of being stuck because of my fear.
My Dear Readers, are you stuck? Are you scared of staying stuck? If you could “do” anything or make a career change what would you do? If you’ve taken that scary leap of faith, what advice do you have for us newbies who are free falling?
Motherhood has been a journey often marked by numbers, which has been challenging for someone who took “math for bushes and trees” in college.
How many weeks pregnant?
How many weeks old is the baby?
How many feedings? Hours of sleep in between feeding?
How many children? How many years in between said children?
The days seemed longer than 24 hours, and even though I love my children sometimes more than myself there were so many days, weeks, months, and years when I felt like I was drowning ever so slowly in feedings, diapers, wipes, bottles, sippy cups, apple slices with not a hint of the peel, gummy fruit snacks, playdates, reading logs, worksheets, permission slips, practices, auditions, performances, races, teacher-parent meetings, juggling, juggling, juggling….
And then I woke up this morning and wanted to stay in bed scratching my mosquito bites until they bled and oozed because it was a release. I woke up knowing next Monday is the start of a week that seemed light years away and now it’s here.
We will have one child at home. Granted, he will probably hit 6-feet soon, but he still gives the best hugs and has a laugh that fills the house with joy and warmth. It’s just that his older siblings will be moving on because we are headed for that light at the end of the tunnel.
Damn that tunnel.
I’m not complaining. Our son, Corban, is headed to college to explore his options, and he is excited, nervous, honest, naive, wise, and ready. Our daughter Bethany is headed back to NYC to pursue a career in dance and do the starving artist thing with all of our blessings. #runmyson and #flymysweet are doing and becoming what parents dream and hope and pray for. Oh, and #eliasneedsahashtag
I’m being honest. I am full of joy, worry, regret, hope, fear, and dreams. I am looking back at 21+ years and a bit freaked out at how slowly and quickly it all went. HOW IS IT POSSIBLE THAT IT HAS BEEN 21 1/2 YEARS OF MOMMING??? HOW???
No, I don’t want to go back. No, my uterus doesn’t want another baby. I just want things to slow down a bit. Bethany and Corban are in a hurry to grow up, and as a grown up I know a thing or two about adulthood being overrated. I want another week or two or three of summer. I want a few extra late nights around the table with all three of my children eating me out of house and home laughing about something I didn’t quite catch. I want more time with all three of them. Together.
I’ve already asked my neighborhood girlfriends to look out for me. I can feel the tears on the edge of my heart. They are good tears. I am sad and joyful. I want to feel all of this deeply without drowning. I want to celebrate and mourn and not forget Elias is still home with us. It is bittersweet in the best possible way. God has been so gracious and good. I just can’t believe it’s almost here.
You can’t force your children to like each other, but you can give them space to learn.
This year dropping off the oldest at school for her second year took on a different level of planning, and in the end it was a mom and daughter road trip to Long Island.
I knew the drive would require a new level of stamina and patience. Fourteen hours and 850+ miles is a lot even for the two of us. I knew we would laugh and sing and eat and need some time to decompress from being with each other non-stop. I knew we would both need our alone time. I knew the last two nights we would be sharing a bed.
I knew it would be difficult to say goodbye, despite knowing in my heart of hearts she is exactly where she needs to be doing what she is meant to do learning things she must learn away from the safety net (bubble?) of her home and family. I knew we would do some last-minute shopping so I could leave knowing she would not starve to death. I knew I would want to do whatever she wanted to do just so that we could have a little more time together.
I thought I knew. But I didn’t.
I knew I would be exhausted from the drive and sleep soundly, but I was so attuned to her presence I found myself listening to her breathe and move. In the dark of the night she was a little girl again, taking a nap in her four-poster bed after a full day of kindergarten. I didn’t know she would sound the same. I didn’t know that the sound of her breathing would still keep me awake, just like it did when we she was an infant and we were paranoid first-time parents.
I knew moving her into her dorm without the help of my husband would be physically exhausting because even after all of these years dorm furniture remains ugly, heavy, and unwieldy. I didn’t know she would ask for my opinion so often and that she would take my advice to maximize the view. Her room has a sunny window with a great view of Manhattan (if you squint and it is unusually clear); she’ll wake up to that view every morning assuming she opens her eyes. That? I don’t know.
I knew that last day was going to be quiet. We had spent the previous three days in each other’s company, sharing every amazing meal, sharing a room and then a bed, sharing toiletries and coffee. We had spent the summer together learning to be together as mother and young adult daughter. We had not come close to doing all the things, eating all the foods, finishing all the projects we had planned, but we knew we had all summer. I didn’t know the summers get shorter every year mirroring the shortened summer days. I didn’t know that I could be simultaneously excited my sons – in high school and middle school – had finally started school and be utterly annoyed that college classes started two days before the Labor Day weekend when we all could’ve traveled together and said one big goodbye.
I knew saying goodbye is part of the deal, even if it is only until Thanksgiving, but I didn’t know how fast 19 years would go by. I knew I would cry because love, excitement, hope, anticipation, and sadness always do that to me, but I didn’t know she would cry, too.
I don’t know what the year holds for her, but I know she is where she needs to be.
Dress shopping for my daughter was easier than expected. I will take full credit for spotting the dress and encouraging her to try it on back in February and then ordering the correct size on the spot. It was thrilling and bittersweet to see my 18-year-old baby girl coming out of the dressing room with the confidence, grace, and beauty of a young woman.
Now, I’ve been searching the inter webs for comments or a response from the young woman’s parents or the prom organizers addressing the specific allegations – that the young woman’s dress was cause for concern and she was dancing in a provocative manner. If, dear readers, you find something, please let me know.
But in the meantime, let’s take our blindfolds off. Shall we? The young girl isn’t the problem. Her dress isn’t the problem. Her dancing isn’t the problem.
We grown-ups are the problem. Why?
When other grownups need to write policies that regulate the length or style of clothing that generally apply to girls there are some of us who think some of those policies ought to be common sense. And then we realize if it were truly common, written policies wouldn’t be in school handbooks and then require signatures. Take the following excerpt for example:
School Dress Code and Student Appearance
Student dress and grooming are basically the responsibility of the student and parent. While respectful of individuality, the staff and administration of — feel certain guidelines are necessary for the successful operation of the school. Under the guidelines of promoting a positive educational setting, the following rules of dress and grooming have been established:
Dress which is extreme, exhibitionist, or of immodest fit or style to the extent that it interferes with the instructional process will not be allowed. Fishnet shirts, see-through blouses, spaghetti strap tops, and clothing that expose a bare back or midriff cannot be worn to school.
Coats, jackets and snow boots are not appropriate classroom attire.
Headwear is not to be worn inside the building unless it is a “Hat Day”.
Articles of clothing with suggestive or inappropriate slogans, weaponry or acts of violence, and/or depictions of drug and/or alcohol use are not allowed in school.
I’ve not recently seen fishnet shirts, but it was a style in the 80s so don’t be surprised. And that bare midriff thing keeps coming back (and it didnt look good then so why would it look good now?).
When we grownups think that regulating clothing choices is a solution we need to remember objectification of girls happens across the globe, even in cultures and countries that require women to be fully covered from head to toe. We grownups forget that excusing boys for being boys tends to allow those boys to age but never mature. We grownups add to the complicated message when we cross that line between staying in shape and being fashionable and trying to go back to our gilded youth and live vicariously through the vocabulary or closet of our teenagers.
MILF and DILF are not compliments. It’s the other side of the same coin as the ogling dads, people. And it’s gross and INAPPROPRIATE.
We grownups are the problem when we make decisions that put other children in danger. What kinds of decisions?
We would also like to alert parents to a law that states, adults who rent hotel or motel rooms for underage drinking parties risk fines and possible jail sentences. Parents arranging such parties are also liable for any accidents caused by students as a result of attending this type of party. (From a note to prom parents at a certain high school but certainly not the only school needing to remind parents to be parents.)
I’m not dumb. I know teenagers drink. I tried it in high school. I didn’t have the tolerance for it like I do now, and I was far more terrified of the consequences. I think the fear and respect for authority my parents instilled in me kept me out of some fun but definitely out of more trouble than was worth that missed fun. I just don’t think adults – PARENTS – should be turning a blind eye or allowing this to happen because it isn’t better that your kids and their friends get smashed in your house. No. It’s illegal.
So, as I head into this prom weekend as a first-time prom parent I find myself back in high school with the same mindset that made high school miserable but got me to a healthy adulthood.
Make good choices, parents. Make good choices.
I had to go to prom because I was the junior class president. I’m sure I told you that I was that over-achieving kid in high school. I wasn’t lying. Tea-length teal dress. A geek, but a stylish one. Got it from my mom, pictured here with me.
Elias was four years old when he didn’t fully comprehend the racial slurs thrown at him across the hospital room.
The teenage boy in traction on the other side of the curtain was in pain but had refused to take his pain medication. How did I know? The curtain wasn’t soundproof. We could hear him complaining, arguing with his parents, moaning in pain, asking for candy but refusing to eat the hospital food (who could blame him). I learned from his mother that he had been in a horrible car accident. The young man was lucky to be alive after a bowling ball left in the passenger area of the car became a pinball upon impact.
Our families didn’t interact much except for exchanging knowing looks as we passed each other in the room or the hallways. They were focused on getting their teenager healthy and stable. We were doing the same with our four-year-old. We simply exchanged stories and then went to our sides of the room until the teenager decided to call my son a chink and suggest our family go back to where we came from.
I had asked the other mother if they would turn down the television that was on at the same volume it had been on all day long. Elias was exhausted having started fasting for a round of tests the next day, and Peter & I were spent.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but would you mind turning down the television volume a little bit? Our son is a bit restless tonight and the noise is making it difficult for all of us to rest.”
The other mother asked her son if it would be OK to turn down the volume as I walked to our side of the curtain. His response?
“No. I can’t sleep when that baby’s whining and crying. Tell that chink to shut up. They should all go back to where they came from. What are they doing here anyway?”
I waited for the other mother to correct her son, but she didn’t. She said nothing. Instead her son continued to raise his voice. She said nothing. Nothing.
So I did.
I don’t think Tiger Mother is what you think it means.
I walked over to the other side of the curtain and said to no one in particular, “I can’t believe this.” I left the room and headed to the nurses’ station where I asked demanded to speak with the shift manager to request demand a room change. As I was explaining the situation, including the racist slurs, the other mother came down the hall asking me to understand her son was in pain and is tired and didn’t know what he was saying and that she didn’t know where he learned to say those things.
We are two days away from Halloween, and there are adults in blackface thinking Trayvon Martin is the perfect costume. They are posting photos of themselves dressed up like bloodied Asiana flight attendants and pilots. And when we see these adults doing stupid, racist things I know I am not the only one wondering ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?! Don’t these people have friends who pull them aside and tell them in no uncertain terms, “THAT is NOT a good idea”?!?!?!?!?
But it isn’t just in that moment because those adults didn’t just decide a week before Halloween that blackface or wearing a name badge reading “Ho Lee Fuk” would be HILARIOUS. No, those adults learned long ago that those racist acts were OK, even funny.
Which is why I, as an adult, hearing racist slurs come out of the mouths of children, especially this particular 14-year-old boy’s mouth, and then NOT hearing his parent correct him bothered me so. I did understand the young man was in pain, which is why I was hoping he would take his pain meds. I did understand he was tired because my son was tired, too. I wanted to go back to where we came from – Libertyville, Illinois! But we were stuck in Ann Arbor because my four-year-old baby almost seized to death. I did understand. But I told the other mother that what I didn’t understand was how she could hear her son say things like “chink” and not correct him. I told her this wasn’t about the noise. It was about the racist slurs.
Again, she said nothing. It broke my heart because the other mother could no longer claim ignorance. She knew and said nothing.
When your kids say something racist, you correct them or you stay silent and give them permission.
It’s not easy. Parenting isn’t easy. Talking about race and racism isn’t easy. But if parents and adults don’t say anything, don’t help lead and correct and answer questions, none of us should be surprised when adults show up at a Halloween party looking the part of a racist fool.
I am grateful for the folks who are genuinely surprised to find out that I have a child headed to college next fall. I married young, and got pregnant a few years later. And, I have some awesome genes on my side. But I try to keep up with the kids, and when we started on the college search journey I started documenting things on Instagram with the hashtag #flymysweet. I can’t believe we are already here.
My firstborn child and favorite daughter started her senior year in high school last week. (She’s my only daughter, by the way, but I heard somewhere a secret to parenting is to make each child think she/he is your favorite. Our 2nd born is my favorite older son, and my youngest is my favorite last child.)
We have begun the road of “this is the last…” Last week was the last first day of high school, and tonight is the last first home football game of the season. She is the co-captain of the varsity dance team. She looks cool driving my minivan to and from school. She is on track to finish all of her college applications before the November 1 Common App deadline. She decided she wanted to take 8 dance classes, work a part-time job, be a student, be part of the youth group, and sleep & eat. Not necessarily in that order. I’m proud. Proud of her choices. Proud of her ability to explain her choices and advocate for herself when her parents don’t want her to drop that AP Gov class. Proud that she is starting to come in to her own.
It’s breathtaking, really.
But lest you think I’m a helicopter parent who has hovered around her since she forcefully made her way out into the world or a lawnmower parent who has cleared the path clearly and tidily for her, you are wrong.
This isn’t about her.
It’s about me.
Learning to let go. To trust the work I’ve done as a parent. To trust she has not only heard but really listened to the things we have told her, whispered to her, yelled at her, prayed for her. To trust God in a way I’ve understood intellectually, but find much more difficult in the flesh and blood sort of way. I’ve told myself over and over that this isn’t about me, that her dancing, performing, laughing, succeeding, failing, loving, losing isn’t about me.
But I have been so very wrong, and arrogant, and naive.
Most days I still feel as incapable and confused as I did when they handed all 6 lbs., 11 oz. of her to me like I was so supposed to know what to do. As if the football hold would be instinctive despite the fact that I had never actually held a football in my life. As if a few hours with her would kick start that instinct to know the difference between a hungry cry and a sleepy cry and a “I pooped all the way up my back” cry.
It’s about our entire family learning to launch our first one out into the world as part of “us” but on her own.
It’s breathtaking. Thank you God. Thank you for granting me the privilege for watching the last firsts.
Next week at my son’s middle school I am going to be a writer.
It’s career day, and for years I’ve signed up my husband, a dentist, for career day presentation duties. I help out lost children in the halls.
But this year I’m trying on the “writer” label out for size. It’s not completely new. I fell in love with writing after getting my first attempt at a high school sports story returned to me decorated with red marker. My favorite color is red, and I must confess there is a competitive streak in me. I am my own biggest competition.
For years I was a bonafide newspaper reporter. My business card proved it. The bylines are saved on yellowing newsprint. A few digital copies still remain out in the inter webs. I was a newspaper reporter.
And then there was this “writing project” that I had the honor of participating in. At one point I had to come to grips with the fact that even if our ideas could become a manuscript it had “a snowball’s chance in hell” of making it to print. And then hell froze over, and someone started calling me and four other amazing women “authors”.
Even then it felt a little phony to call myself a “writer”, but it was the start of a journey back and forward to discover, identify, clarify, and claim that elusive thing many of us refer to as our “voice”. It’s the way we sound when we speak, write, laugh, argue, persuade, listen, dance and simply “are” – and it’s all the same. It’s a hint of the woman I know deep down inside God has created me and “my inmost being” and for those of you who know what I’m talking about know that it is simultaneously exhilarating and frightening. It can point you to God’s faithfulness and goodness just as your false-self with all our insecurities and just plain ickiness.
It’s figuring out the gifts, talents, strengths and weaknesses that you have to share, do and express because that is what God meant for you to share, do and express. And then you have to own that.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to “own” it, as silly as it seems since I am writing all of this down.
As a woman, wife, mother, writer/blogger, speaker, aspiring crafter, amateur baker/gardener, laundress, chauffeur, seamstress, cleaning lady, personal shopper, diversity officer at a non-profit, middle manager and an evangelical Christian, I have several ways of answering the question, “What do you do?”
Would you let your teenaged daughter dance around dressed up like a geisha?
Or would you, as an adult, show up at a pilgrim feast dressed up in a generic Halloween “Indian” costume and let your “interpreter” speak stilted English to help portray a version of the first Thanksgiving feast?
Or would you be OK with your kid putting on a rasta hat complete with dreadlocks and say, “Give me all your money!” in an attempt to win a goofy group ice breaker?
These are the things Peter and I are discussing tonight as we have no stake in any of the amazing football games that were played earlier today. These are the things that keep me up at night because these are our realities as parents who are trying to raise three children in what some describe as a “post-racial” world.
Last week I saw a high school poms squad compete with all of their heart and dance skills dressed up like geishas. I snapped a photo, which I promptly posted on FB, and I sat there shaking my head. Their final pose was “hands meet at your heart in prayer” and bow. I expected a gong. They weren’t honoring the artistic skills and training of the geisha. They were demonstrating their modern dance team skills while perpetuating stereotypes and cultural appropriation.
But it wasn’t my daughter’s squad at the high school where my taxes go so what does it matter, right? Let it go, I tell myself. But I can’t. Or, I don’t think I should.
It made me think of our elementary school’s traditional pilgrim feast. I sat through two of those cringing at the construction paper feathered headbands the children had made for us parents, wishing I had the courage to say something appropriate after having experienced the first one, extending the benefit of the doubt and then having an even worse experience the second time. The man dressed up as the Wampanoag chief Massasoit wasn’t dressed as a Wampanoag chief. He was wearing a very nice Halloween costume. But I didn’t know what to say. I know it’s hard to believe I didn’t walk myself into the principal’s office two years ago, but it’s true. I don’t always know what or how to say things, especially when it’s clear this tradition was very, very old.
Let it go, I tell myself. Don’t ruin the tradition. But I’m having a tough time sitting here with myself.
And then Peter comes home after a fairly good weekend away at a retreat with our second child when he shares about an incident. The kids were asked to create commercials to promote their candidate (playing off this exciting election season), and one child put on a rasta hat with fake dreads and yelled out, “Give me all your money!” It was just enough to make Peter wince and talk to me about it at home…and show me the photo that he snapped.
Let it go, I tell myself. But maybe Peter and I shouldn’t.
Surely we aren’t the only ones who have seen things like this in our children’s schools and surrounding communities. What have you seen that made you uncomfortable, left you baffled, or made you angry?