It was a simple color-coordinated bag left on a doorstep with Halloween cheer. I shouldn’t be surprised by the generosity and giving spirit of others. It is November, after all. Thanksgiving lurks around the corner.
But I always am.
It used to be that I always expected good from others; my naivete exposed as I maneuvered through the adolescent years into adulthood. I was taught that family would always be there but soon realized as an ombudsman that most of the abuse complaints from our clients were perpetrated by family. In criminal investigations the spouse is always the first suspect. When wills and testaments were read; rare that siblings did not contest the deceased’s estate. I have learned to expect the worst in most situations; always questioning. Never believing.
It is the kids around me that make me pause. To look at my perspective in a new way.
I listened to a dear friend share her daughter’s experiences from Halloween; her former bff ditching her to be with friends who intentionally wanted to exclude. She is learning of the cruelty of adolescence; the pecking order. Boys have entered the picture and rivalries have begun to surface. I observed my own son watching from the sidelines appearing detached, unsure how to proceed. Yet another friend’s son questioned how he fit in; our children seemingly lost and searching for their own identity. Their group. Their clique.
For the third Halloween in-a-row our neighbor opened up her home and cul-de-sac to host a “block party;” which my other very pregnant neighbor and I unofficially, “co-host.” Families converge and sit in her driveway amongst hay and pumpkin decor sharing potluck items as approximately fifty kids invade her home. She is a gracious host inviting all to partake as adults watch the sugar-craved, costumed children buzz about with energy; waiting to trick-or-treat. It used to be that I, too, enjoyed throwing parties and being hospitable. But my inherent laziness, the busy-frenzy of life is insidious. I hit the “easy” button. Why not just sit at home and pass out candy?
The priest; tempted by the devil, produced three phantom spawn offspring. BIG LOL.
And so the she-devil whirled around in activity organizing food trays, lighting pumpkins, greeting guests. Occasionally I would stop and stare at the blinding flashes of light from cameras as people took pictures of families and children. I found myself looking in from afar as groups of adults posed and smiled. I preferred to be on the other side of the lens; the photographer. As I surveyed the scene some sat alone and so, pitchfork-in-hand, quickly went to draw them closer to groups; introductions made and connections noted. Groups sat together; friends and families with history.
So it was surprising, today, to hear the various stories from different parents how our adolescents all strived to find their place; wondering if they belonged. The dear friend’s daughter slighted by her former bff and friends, the other friend’s son who questioned how he fit in and yet another friend’s son who arrived late, stating aloud how he had no relationships with these people any longer. The art of socializing, with grace, is learned. And so I noted the sullen face of the girl, the questioning gaze from the boy who I had to direct to his peers he’s known since kindergarten. I sought my son, sitting alone and quiet wondering where to hide; the other teen sitting along the brick wall with his father gazing at the crowd.
It is my job, as a mom, to teach my kids social graces. And thus, I must fight the urge to take the path of least resistance and push through the harder road. I need to invest time in being hospitable. Because it is only in observing the adults surrounding them that they will learn this art; to host. To give generously. To open homes and arms and wallets and talents without expecting anything in return.
Yesterday I had stood in the back of my son’s classroom amongst other parents; assisting with a classroom party. The table of boys could be heard, reaffirming that they were the best. They had the best stuff, the best carved pumpkin, the coolest clothes. I looked at the other parents as I heard these boys throughout the morning, continually repeating this mantra. It is this mentality that pervades our society, particularly our sons. Those with the best clothes and most toys wins. They were the cool ones. Some of the boys at the table were quiet; their silence acquiescing their agreement. I was glad my son did not sit at this table and swallow this b.s. I was grateful to the teacher that eventually called this table out; leveling the field. It is not always their way or the highway when it came time to choose the next activity. The classroom of kids were asked to vote.
Later that evening adults came into focus; some feeling similar to the adolescents wondering where they fit in. The family with the most cars, the biggest home, the most friends do not win. We were a community of people celebrating All Hallow’s Eve; sharing food and drink as princesses, bushes, phantoms, super heroes, bees, ladybugs and fairies excitedly ran amuck. But I realized that we are not that far removed from our kids with cliques and rivalries, including and excluding. This is not something we ever outgrow; our need to belong to something bigger. To have better. To beat the odds life has thrown at us and end up on top.
It was in this moment that I truly appreciated the complexity of relationships in my life. My eyes turned to the group to which I, myself, belong; moms and dads in this same season of life with kids. I’ve often wondered if kids were not our common denominator; if we would be friends. For I, the only child, am unaccustomed to compromise and having to get along. As I stood amongst the entanglement of arms and flashes of light; the light bulb turned on in my head. There is never a perfect friendship. It will always take work to be in relationships; that time must be invested in preserving them. I knew, then, that should anything ever happen to any of these women, or even to myself, we would figure it all out together. This gift is something no amount of money could ever buy.
And so my parenting aligned with my thoughts. My boys will figure out how to maneuver their paths as long as they have transparent parents who allow them to see the real, day-to-day messiness of relationships. It is not easy. It takes work to engage with life instead of watching or blogging or texting from afar. Instead of being the best, the most athletic or popular it is enough to just be. There is someone out there who will accept them just as they are. I am fortunate to know I belong somewhere. As I watch my sons “look in” I hope that they realize that they are part of the jigsaw puzzle of life. Though some of their edges are smooth; others jagged, there is always a unique place for us to fit and connect. I hope someday they can look deep within and know where they belong. Most importantly, I want them to pay it forward, generously; humbly.