Quaranteaming

With a 22-year old daughter living in Myanmar, my husband and I tuned in to the pandemic long before most. We leap-frogged over a lot of the concerns that are now consuming many a modern parent such as cancelled school and under-stimulated students.

This isn’t a claim that our experience makes us any more informed or entitled to anxiety than others. Nor do we have special dispensation to complain about how this pandemic has been handled by leaders. Rather, we feel a kinship with the world that perhaps is missed by those who have yet to settle into the reality that we’re all in this together.

Engaged in a virtual chase around the globe in pursuit of an invisible enemy, we tried to get ahead of the virus lest our eldest daughter get stuck in any number of unfavorable situations – alone, stranded, sick….Our focus was on formulating a plan to evacuate her from the opposite side of the world as the need arose.

The call to action came in the form of a letter distributed by my daughter’s peers who found themselves ill with COVID-19 symptoms. The terrifying description of their experience within a primitive healthcare system unleashed the parental panic I’d been harboring for weeks.

None of us were sure that our special-ops level of planning would guarantee my daughter’s safety. But after a stressful 50-hour trip, she arrived home, rattled by the experience of traversing the globe under extenuating circumstances.

Although she was glad to have returned to the U.S. through a rapidly decreasing window of opportunity, my daughter was loath to leave her second home, especially the people she grew to love. She struggled to hold back tears when she broke the news to her students that their time together was coming to an abrupt end. For although their country borders China, they had been sheltered from the chaos thus far. Even my daughter, who was acutely informed of the facts via her stateside connections, insisted until the bitter end that she was unaffected.

She wanted that to be true. We all do. But slowly, we’re coming to grips with universal vulnerability. This disease is not selective. Every human being on the planet is, or soon will be, embroiled in this war in some way. None are immune. Many feel defenseless. Each, I suspect, is struggling.

My family has decided to quarantine together at home, even though my daughter offered to isolate offsite when she returned from Southeast Asia. Quarenteaming, we’re calling it. If she, or any of my family falls ill to this disease, I want to be the one to care for them. This isn’t valiant, it’s motherhood.

With all of us hunkered down together, frustrations arise of course, but so do humor and moral support. For the most part, short tempers and sharp tongues are quickly checked by the newest dose of sobering news.

When the first case of COVID-19 was confirmed in my town, the local social media group erupted. Meanness and insensitivity dominated. One post demanded that the name of the infected family be revealed. The tone was disturbingly reminiscent of the infamous witch trials which took place in this same backyard in the 17th century.

Tension is high. But if we give in to hysteria and a compulsion to attack each other, we’re doomed to sink our own battleship. We’ll never win this war if we fight against our own team.

Life isn’t interested in blame. It’s also uninterested in assigning awards. This isn’t a competition in who’s doing the best parenting or homeschooling or good deeds. Life isn’t even asking us to be active or productive right now. What life needs from each of us is to shift our way of being, in favor of the greater good, and to apply the best of ourselves to what we now face. Because we’re all in this together.

Featured on Grown and Flown – Teen Friendships

I am once again delighted to contribute an essay to Grown & Flown, a wonderful website and blog about parenting teens and young adults. My current piece is about helping teens to navigate friendships.

If you’re interested, please find the piece here.

Thanks! Deb

Letter to My Elderly Father

Dear Dad,

Remember when I crashed the car and you didn’t get angry?  After you made sure that I wasn’t hurt, you laughed because the car was bent into a funny shape.  “Cars are replaceable. People aren’t,” you told me, and I instantly learned a lesson about values.

That single incident shaped me more than you know.  It shaped your grandchildren too because I adopted your parenting mantra:  ‘Don’t cry over spilled milk.’

We quote you a lot, you know.  Just the other day, when I was filling your medicine dispenser with the visiting nurse, I shared the sage advice that punctuated every task of my life, “Measure twice, cut once.”  You had an expectation of perfection and attention to detail that served you well.

Your standards perpetuate through those who have had the benefit of learning from you.  I don’t have the skills you had for building and fixing absolutely everything, but I try because you raised me to be capable and I still want to make you proud.

I suppose you were preparing me for the time when your own body declined to the point that you could no longer help me.   You wanted to make sure that I could care for myself. Now I’m caring for you. I don’t blame you for resisting my help. To do otherwise would be an admission of defeat or loss, and that isn’t your style.

It hurts you, I know, to sit out of life and let others do the work you used to do.  You want to feel useful and be productive. You want to contribute in the ways you did best.  But the body has its own plan and yours is begging for mercy.

Somewhere deep down you know that you’re losing your battle with age and illness, but you’ll fight until the curtain closes and never concede to the wishes of those who love and serve you.  I admire that tenacity (aka stubbornness) and recognize a bit of it in all your kin. It’s a signature of your culture and, perhaps, a result of your personal history.

Soon enough we’ll have to say goodbye.  No matter how much I prepare for it, it will destroy me, at least for a while.  How can it not? You were this girl’s hero.

I’ll try to be brave, Dad, like you taught me. “Show ’em what you’ve got,” you’d say, which always made me straighten up a little taller and believe in myself, because you believed in me.

I would claim to loathe the practice of sugar-coating life – of pretending, once someone is gone, that it was all sunshine and butterflies.  But now that we’re nearing the end of our time together, I’m hard-pressed to care about the ugly parts. Somehow, the struggles seem to enhance the story, and I wouldn’t want to cut out one bit.

It’s okay to be afraid, Dad.  I want to give you comfort and reassurance that all will be well.  To let you know the ways in which you are unforgettable; how much your life has meant and will continue to mean.

Every time I see a fish tank, I recall a sweet memory of you pacing back and forth in front of it to calm sleepless babies.  When I hear someone whistling, l remember how you always whistled while you worked and it makes me smile because no one whistles when they’re angry.  And when I see someone in need, I ask myself how I can help, because that’s what you would do.

As a parent, I question if I’ve done enough for my kids.  In case you wonder that too, Dad, put your mind at ease. You gave me everything you had to give, and it was more than enough.

Your life was modest but your legacy is immeasurable.  The inheritance you left us consists of intangible wealth – a toolbox of resources to build a solid house atop the foundation you set.

Thank you, Dad, for being part of my life.   I love you, and I always will.

Deb

A Letter To My College Graduate

Dear daughter,

Sometimes I gaze at you – a beautiful, kind, mature young woman on the doorstep of adulthood – and I wonder what I did to deserve you.  I recall the work of child-rearing sharply enough – the disciplining, advising, nurturing and consoling.  But how it amounted to the miracle of you is a mystery. 

You exceed any dream I could possibly have had.  When you were born I tried to imagine who and what you would become, how I would support you, how I would fail you, and why life chose to put us together. But none of my predictions came close to describing all that unfolded.

I find myself wanting to reflect on our years together the way one wants to re-read a favorite story over and over.  Even the strenuous parts capture my attention in a way that they didn’t the first time around because I know where the story is headed and how crucial every morsel is to the overall theme.

I see how the world is better because of you.  I see how the future needs you.  And I see that despite my efforts to show you, you don’t fully realize how valuable you are. 

Graduation is an opportunity to indulge my desire to love you out loud.  In concert with mothers everywhere, I proclaim my pride along with my gratitude for having had the privilege of raising a child.

Life must be smiling at itself for the job it’s done in creating you, us, all of it.  Especially the love that perpetuates between us, filling the world with wonder.

As you make your way into the next chapter, far from my reach, know that there is nowhere you can go that my love can’t follow.  I will be right here, holding a space in my heart that was carved out just for you.

Try not to begrudge the loss of the familiarity that you hold so dear.  Keep moving forward in the way that you do, with a zest to experience everything, knowing that nothing is meant to last forever.

All that life wants from you is to say ‘yes’ to that which draws you out and brings you joy.  May you find what you desire, and be alert to the surprises that await you.

Love,

Mom

If You Love Something, Let It Go

They say that if you love something you must let it go.  If it loves you in return, it will come back to you.  I didn’t realize that I was counting on this when I sent my daughter off to college 4 years ago.

In theory, I had launched her into the world and was glad of it.  But I failed to see the strand of hope that tethered me to her like the string on a kite soaring out of reach. 

When my daughter announced that upon graduation she would travel 8000 miles away to teach in a third world country, the tension on the line that connects us tightened, begging me to release my remaining grip.

I indulged in sadness just once, crying briefly, then it was done.  I had never been so forlorn about something that I endorse 100%.  But history has taught me that my fears are poor predictors of reality, and that time spent on worry is always wasted.

It seems like yesterday that I left a teen daughter trembling at the entrance to Girls’ Leadership camp – a place she hesitantly agreed to attend for the summer preceding High School.  My homespun girl needed to build courage and independence in adolescence.  It was my job to help her find it, not to wait for a time when she felt ready.

As maturity set in for her, I ceased having to push her off the platform of certainty. Our roles reversed and it was I who felt reluctant about my daughter’s ever-expanding adventures.  Like tearing apart velcro, I could feel the ripping each time she ventured farther into the big wide world. The beauty of velcro is that it can be joined and separated over and over and remain just as strong.

In time, I realized that I wasn’t losing a child to the world.  Rather, I’d gained a scout through whom I would experience places and people I wouldn’t otherwise encounter. I would see life through my daughter’s eyes and share in her world no matter the miles between us.

I used to believe the adage that parents give their children wings to fly.  In truth, children are born with wings and the instinct to use them.  Flying isn’t taught but allowed.  We can give nothing more than freedom.

When the fear of flight rises, it may take all the determination one can muster to release the restraints that bind us, and our loved ones, to the ground.  It’s not until we truly let go that we can enjoy the reward in soaring.

Parenting is a noble prospect, rife with opportunity for personal growth.  As we raise a child, we raise ourselves.  Our mission, if we accept it, prompts us to evolve into far greater beings than we ever imagined, or wanted to be.

Unconditional love insists that we surrender our parental fears in order to fulfill a commitment to those who follow our lead.  When we cooperate, we find that life has a way of unfolding in the most natural and perfect way. 

Despite inherent uncertainty, there is peace waiting for us.  We have only to release our grip on what we think we know in order to see life smiling at us and saying, “Trust me.  I’ve got this.”

When Your Boy Becomes A Man

Beagle called Husband with an announcement.  “I’m my own man now.”

Without missing a beat, Husband replied, “Oh, good.  I’ll send you the man-bills.”

Husband was referring to the hefty expenses that he and I shoulder for college attendance, an off-campus apartment, and a vehicle.

Beagle clarified that he qualified for man status because he acquired a dog. 

For countless reasons that don’t need to be spelled out for the mature reader, I was horrified.

When Husband and I recovered from our shock, we breathed a sigh of relief that Beagle is practicing fatherhood on a canine instead of a human baby.  Let’s be realistic, the news could have been entirely less welcome and the outcome, more life-altering.

I could have seen this coming.  Beagle had threatened to take the family dog with him to college and he insisted on caring for her when we travelled. He loves dogs and is adequately versed on basic pet care.  For what it’s worth, he has kept his fish alive for 10 years. (A fish that remains in my house due to its need for an unreasonably-sized tank.)  But a dog of one’s own at college is a different beast altogether.

These are the occurrences that give a parent the chance to make good on vows to support a child.  It’s easy to promise lifelong unconditional love when gazing at an innocent newborn who hasn’t crossed any lines.  But can we show up for our kid when circumstances and choices challenge us?

I don’t love my child only when he makes super-smart decisions.  And I don’t intend to bet against him.  But I will draw boundary lines and muster up the conviction to stand by them.  This is Beagle’s dog, not mine.  He will make his mistakes, discover his limitations, and hopefully experience the joy and satisfaction that comes from caring for another.   I’ll be at a distance, cheering him on, and watching as my boy unfolds into a man.

Why I Raised My Kids To Be Mediocre

When my son was in elementary school he was invited to join the Math team.  Invitations into this circle were reserved for those who excelled in the subject.  Assuming that anyone on whom such an honor was bestowed would be thrilled, I enthusiastically congratulated him.

“I’m not doing it,” he told me in a tone of utmost finality.

“Just because you’re good at something doesn’t mean you enjoy it,” he explained.

What followed on the heels of the recognition of my son’s academic prowess was unexpectedly negative.  He had been outed as smart – a label that repelled him.  He would spend the next several years trying to undo it.

It wasn’t the ‘smart’ part that my son minded.  He just didn’t want the responsibility that came with it.  Grown-ups expect a lot from little achievers.  Once a child proves that he can rise to the top, the pressure to remain there is immense.

I know this because I, too, was labeled a ‘smart one.’ Rare was the occasion that my academic report card didn’t prove my potential for a great future. It was thrilling to my second-generation blue-collar parents to brag about my achievements and the future they dreamed for me.  “She’s going to be a doctor,” my father would tell people, without ever asking me what I wanted for a career.

I decided that I didn’t want my own children to become puppets who performed for their parents, teachers or coaches.  Nor did I want them to depend on recognition.  Which is why I raised them to be mediocre.

It wasn’t that I didn’t want them to excel or work to their full potential.  Rather, I wanted them to know that it’s okay to be just okay; and that they can have a full and successful life even if they never become ‘the best’ at anything.

If I had encouraged my children to stay up late studying, worry themselves silly, and pile their efforts on top of their talents, they may have won more recognition from admirers.  But none held the promise of happiness, or a good career, or even a college acceptance. 

What happens when we give children opportunities for relaxation and playtime no matter the amount of homework?  They learn to balance their time, get their work done, and still leave space for the things that sustain their souls – a practice many adults have abandoned to their detriment.

What happens when we forbid them from comparing themselves to their peers or siblings, and we teach ourselves to do the same? They learn to encourage others, instead of envy them, thereby preserving faith in themselves.

When children are groomed to detach love from performance, and they have no fear of judgment from the adults they look up to, they’re excited to try new things, even if they don’t excel at them.  They’re unafraid of failure and more apt to take positive risks.  And they make better choices for themselves – ones that will lead to fulfillment of their unique purpose in life.

My college Junior texted me an observation.  “I’m so relieved that you don’t bug me about grades or my schedule or things that are going on because you trust me.  I have friends whose parents harass them on a daily basis.”

As parents, we sometimes fear that if our children don’t adhere to our metrics for success, they’ll fail at life.  We think that they can’t or won’t survive without our interference, and we condition them to believe the same. Secretly, we also may worry that they’ll embarrass or disappoint us because we believe that the way our kids’ lives look reflect on our own success as a parent.

So we formulate plans for them as if it’s a roadmap with an indisputable delineation of paths.  Do this and you’ll arrive at success.  Do that and you’ll be a worthless bum who can’t support yourself and will end up living under my roof until I die.

The truth is that when children are intrinsically motivated, instead of by the promise of glory, or the threat of a dissatisfied adult, they’re more able to sort out the pieces of their own puzzle and not be tempted to throw it in the trash. 

If children learn how to slice up the pie chart of life in a way that sustains them for the long haul, but not necessarily in a way that impresses others, they’re more likely to enjoy the journey and less likely to resent it.  When no one asks them to take on the impossible task of being the best, children end up being self-reliant, successful, and anything but mediocre.

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: