School

carrying the world

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I am most happiest in the morning.  The slotted rays of fall sunshine came through my blinds and I smiled.  And within thirty minutes I had to tell my son he was behaving like an a$$.

I’m just tired, he told me as he entered my vehicle; as we pulled-out of our driveway.  He is not a morning person and took out his frustrations on the one who will take it unconditionally; me.   I would normally rant or nag about how the new, fancy alarm clock STILL does not wake this son.  We live close enough to his high school that he could walk and be late.

When he yelled at me to leave him alone, I told him I would.  I had quietly waited for 9 AM to run my bank errand in my car, in the garage.

It’s tough, this whole letting go thing.  I don’t want him to fail but fail he must do.  I hate having access to my sons’ grades on the portal, receiving text reminders from the various teachers (seven in all between three different schools AND an elementary school principal).  I want them to be accountable for their own lives and not have mommy watch their back and micromanage them.  Technology has many advantages.  But I’m also realizing, this may not be one of them for me.  It’s information overload.  Yet I can’t NOT look, at the online grades.  I like having the access but am unsure how to take the information.  I heard the middle son tell his friend online,  We know when our Mom sees our grades online by the tone in her voice.   I do this every one to two weeks.

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On the short drive to the high school my radio was low and I quietly sifted through my thoughts.  As I sat the the traffic light to turn into the parking lot I said the words I wanted to say in a quiet voice.  I reminded him of his friends who had to wake early for an 8 AM SAT today.  These friends who will then join his eight hour practice after 12 PM and will finish at 5 PM  Then, these same friends will quickly go home, change and head to the annual Homecoming dance and won’t arrive home until the wee morning hours.   These friends carry a heavy academic load, on top of it.  These friends are in sports, outside service clubs and performance groups.   And these friends are probably more tired than he is.    Welcome to life, kid.

Yesterday my son shared that one day of the week his band period will be a study period; for kids to catch-up.  I heard the mom tell the story of the girl who broke down, who couldn’t figure out how to balance her life with a rigorous academic load,  extra-curriculars and a life.   Correction:  they have no life.

Is this what is becoming of our kids today?  And what will they become as adults?  Our kids, they feel the pressure.

I read books like, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That WayWhere You Go Is Not Who You’ll Be: An Antidote to the College Admission Mania Excellent Sheep: The Miseducation of the American Elite and the Way to a Meaningful Life,  The Organized Mind: Thinking Straight in the Age of Information Overload, Hands Free Mama:  A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!,  How to Raise an Adult: Break Free of the Overparenting Trap and Prepare Your Kid for Success.  Overkill, I know.  It is currently the stage I reside in as a parent and I immerse myself in information, hoping it will help me cope.

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I appreciate the educators who put the kids first.  The ones that don’t purposely make their classes harder to get into; to remember to give our children the gift of learning, just because and to actually teach them something versus teaching to the test.

These days our kids fight for multiple advanced placement courses, and fill every waking moment with admirable pursuits.  They are members of the local hospital student advisory board, work tireless community service hours to log in their time for college application resumes or, tutor peers; constantly giving of their time and talents.  But what about themselves?  When do they ever have the time to fill their own cups, to have time to think their own thoughts and discover their own dreams? 

These are luxuries that do not fit into their current lives; escaping into the online worlds of PC gaming and social media sites.  The streets are empty in my neighborhood.  Kids are on traveling sports teams, after school programs like dance, debate, prep courses or in service organizations.  They arrive home to complete their homework and crash on the couch at 1 AM.

Reality check. Am I not just like this son?  The mom who works full-time, who fills her weeknights and free Fridays with other volunteer pursuits?  The time arrived when I crashed and burned and swore to my hubs I would never put myself in that situation again.  Yet here I am, once again, involved in many “extracurriculars.”  But the thing I learned was NOW, I choose the things and pursuits I enjoy and advocate for.  I don’t do these things to build my “college resume” with awards or titles.  I am learning new things, meeting new people and expanding my points of view.  The extrovert in me loves having a purpose outside of myself; to grow.

But, as adults, we encounter the same things our teens do; in the workplace, in service organizations, in life.  Adult cliques, politics, those who do and those who don’t, those who want the glory.  There is always an alpha and followers and varying points of view.  It shouldn’t always be about personal gain.

We need to find the balance in all things that we do and remind ourselves why we do them.

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I set aside the project that has been occupying my time these past two weeks; hours lost in creativity.  I guiltily glanced at the ten year old’s sneakers, the ones that are falling apart.  When the younger two sons reminded me that I promised to take them shopping  I put my project away and went.  It IS my responsibility to make sure my family is fed, clothed and housed.  I dedicated the rest of my weekend to those endeavors busily chopping and dicing, laundry and house cleaning.  The sons followed suit and contributed with their chores; house cleaning a communal effort.  I need to practice what I preach and find my balance.

I shared an (Advanced Placement) AP article with my son.  I told him to find what he loves and to just do it.  It isn’t my job to coordinate his activities and his life.  It is my job to make sure he is responsible, advocates his views and allow him to discover who he is; away from me.  I can’t carry the weight of the world for him.  I must let him feel the weight of it and carry it for himself.  I continue to learn to slowly ease up on the reins and let go…

Carry on my wayward son(s).

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Family

tuning in on the road

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When the center line blurs, the Rascal Flatts song, “Life is a Highway” from the Cars movie, runs through my head.  It is on open roads that I long to hit the pedal to the medal.  It is this picture (below), taken four years ago, that I see in my mind.  It is still one of my sons’ favorite movies.  I think of all the adventures we could have on Route 66.  Life isn’t about the destination, but in the stops and misadventures in getting there; wherever “there” is.

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It is just recently that I’m learning to apply the brakes; to slow life down.  I look in my rearview mirror as the scenery flies by; hair unfurling in the wind.  It is when I am most happy.  All thoughts and problems are let go…my mind clear.

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Long road trips are when my favorite memories are made.  These days the voices are deeper, louder; the arms and legs cramped and intertwined in our back seat.  Tempers flare as the miles are logged but eventually, as the majestic granite cliffs and towering redwoods come into view; the car quiets.   The scenery unfolds before our very eyes.

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The windows come down, the music turns off and the rush of wind blows into our lungs.  It is no wonder that we feel compelled to return to this area, time and time again.  This, from the girl who absolutely had NO CAMPING blood in her small town veins.

As usual, the plans changed.  What was originally a group family trip, on my side, became a solo adventure; the only last minute takers…my childhood girlfriend and family who I’ve known since aged four.   It was in seeing her, with her young sons, that released an avalanche of memories of the past.  Of family camping trips.

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The passage of time is swift; currents pulling every which way.

I watched as our teenager chose to sit alone; enjoying his solitude.  This son, whose temperament is like my own, and I continued to butt heads and the light bulb turned on as I read Stephen R. Covey’s book.  A dear girlfriend gave this tome to me two years ago and I had gotten stuck on page 97.  I am 3/4  within its pages and I could swear Mr. Covey (rest in peace) was directly talking to me.

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“Why do people shout and yell at each other?  They want to be understood.  They’re basically yelling, ‘Understand me!  Listen to me! Respect me!'”

~Covey, Stephen R.  The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Families.  Golden Books.  1997.  Print.

Empathy.  It is something I constantly drive home to my boys to learn.  As a mother of young sons, my words nor actions, were ever questioned.  But alas, I am called out.  I had forgotten how to be empathetic to my own sons.

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Empathetic Listening.  I was not listening to my son’s heart; nor interpreting his body language.  It is a skill I am most adept at when it comes to other people and in the workplace.   But within my four walls it is forgotten.  I reflected as I watched my girlfriend and husband with their three and five year old sons.  Being tired.  Overwhelmed.  A solitary military dependent wife with three kids and a deployed husband.  I was guilty of ignoring their voices or pretending to listen.  As they grew older I had to listen more intently to their words but it was selective.  I’ve learned to be more attentive and finally; empathetic.  It only took me 371 miles and thick black smoke of a campfire; tearing my eyes amidst testing toddlers, that I could clear the air and finally see and hear.  Because really, when I look at my teenager…it is the first picture that I always see.

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But this is one that sits before me now.  The one whose heart I need to hear.  No longer do the lub dubs pitter-patter near my ears; they sit far away.  With headphones on.  And so, on this camping trip I began to make the concerted effort to hear; to seek to understand.  It is easy when your children’s personalities complement your own.  Much harder when you have to look at your very own self reflected in the hormonal pubescent teen towering above. 

As we dropped off our beloved canine; my mother-in-law told my hubs to drive safely during our camping trip.  As he walked away my father-in-law teased her as she fretted.  The kid can drive.  It’s not like he can’t land an airplane on an aircraft carrier at night or handle being shot at while flying it.  She sheepishly explained that she sees her son as an 18 year old; leaving for the Navy.  And I understood.  I see my boys as young toddlers; unwilling to acknowledge the passage of time.  It is a young child trapped in another body.   Invasion of the Body Snatchers, perhaps?

Lorde.  We live in cities you’ll never see on screen
Not very pretty, but we sure know how to run things
Living in ruins of a palace within my dreams
And you know, we’re on each other’s team
I’m kind of over getting told to throw my hands up in the air  So there  “Team.”  Pure Heroine.  CD.  Lava.  2013.

The song above is on repeat on my car stereo; written by Lorde, a 17 year old teen,  of her friends and family in New Zealand.  I finally tuned into the words.  I want my family to know we’re on each other’s team and that I really am tired of throwing my hands up in the air.    My four walls, my ruined palace of broken tile and disrepair, may not be perfect but our family is healthy; happy.  My idyllic perfect home needs to be let go; the focus on the inhabitants that share the roof with me.  I need to sit quietly and tune in.  To listen.  With Empathy.

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I would awaken like clockwork, each morning, from vivid dreams of my childhood mixed with the present.   I find myself crossing bridges as I transition from one stage of my life into the next.  Recent events have made things in my life very clear; accentuating where my focus needs to be.  I continue to step out of my comfort zone to explore new territory.

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And hiked within three feet of bears.  I motioned to the group to stay quiet as the bear padded across our trail from the adjacent river.  I am learning to stay completely still and to become aware of my surroundings.  This is the joy of camping; to be plucked from the every day, first world trappings and to become attuned to the vast world around us.  Nature.  The Milky Way.  My nine year old named various constellations to my amazement.  My hubs reminded me that his third grade class had just recently visited a planetarium before schools end.  The stillness of the night had me craning my neck to the panoramic view.

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I have traversed many roads and trails with my family and know that this time of parenting will transition as these sons continue to walk independently away from me; to climb their hills and run their races.     I want things to remain the same; to carry them with me a while longer upon my back.  It is hard; the letting go. 

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Mist Falls, 2003.  Yosemite.

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We return to this same Sequoia tree as we exit the park; estimated to be 1650 years old.  We have taken pictures at various angles throughout the years (2006, 2012, 2013 & 2014) and I am reminded of Shel Silverstein’s book, The Giving Tree about a mother’s unselfish and tireless giving nature.  Its redwood trunk is massive; the branches towering high overhead.

And I hope it’s not too late to tune in.  I need more road trips.

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