Sixteen

16If you weren’t a sixteen year old boy and embarrassed by me, your uncool mother, I would dance in the car like I used to and you’d join me.  We’d purposely embarrass ourselves and laugh at the reaction of others.

If you weren’t sixteen you wouldn’t hide in your bedroom.  You’d seek me out to share stories and jokes and music with me – like old times.

If you weren’t sixteen I’d compliment you and you’d believe me.  You’d hug me and not get antsy when I say ‘I love you.’

If you weren’t sixteen you’d admit that you get scared sometimes and would look to me for comfort.  You’d ask my opinion and not have to pretend that my words of wisdom mean nothing.

If you weren’t sixteen, you wouldn’t wear a perma-scowl to appear less sensitive than you are.  You’d allow yourself to feel.

But you are sixteen, like I once was.  I know what’s underneath that tough exterior of yours – the same generous heart, humorous spirit, and killer personality that I fell in love with so many years ago.  When you’re not sixteen anymore, these hidden gems will resurface.  People will marvel at the man you’ve become.  “Who knew?” they’ll remark.  A knowing smile will cross my lips, betraying my secret.  “I knew.” I will say.  A mother always knows.

 

4 Things I Want My Daughter To Know About The College Search

CollegeDear Principessa,

I can tell by the glossy look in your eyes that you are lost in worry.  The prospect of college is daunting.  You wonder if you are smart enough, prepared enough, or brave enough.  You perform the tricks that your educational system demands but question its effectiveness.  You compare yourself to standards and graphs and peers and end up feeling like a bruised tomato in a tossed salad.

Take a deep breath and know that all is well. Contrary to popular sentiment, the decisions you face are not as dire as you’ve been led to believe.  It’s okay to be confused.  It’s okay if you choose a college or a career and change your mind.  That’s what growing up is all about – figuring out who you are and how you want to contribute to life.  If you’re like most people, you’ll never stop questioning yourself.  Nor should you, unless you seek complacency (SAT vocabulary word alert – learn it.)

Try to remember these things:

  1. Stay In Your Own Lane – Don’t worry about what your peers are doing. Who cares if they’ve taken more honors classes or applied to more colleges? Focus on you and the life you’re driving, lest you crash. Distracted driving in life is as dangerous as in a car.
  2. Do Your Best – This advice is often misunderstood. Your best in any given moment is not the same as your best ever. Current circumstances determine your performance. If you’re tired or stressed, your best will be different from a day when you are on top of the world. That’s just the way it is. Roll with it.
  3. Open Your Mind – Believe nothing. Question everything. Explore, discover, and reveal life as you see it. Don’t take the world’s word for it about the way things are. See things through your unique eyes. Believe that they can be different and that they aren’t always as they seem. Am I making myself clear or do I have to reference Albert Einstein?
  4. Let Your Heart Sing – Your heart has a song that was composed just for you. I know because I’ve been listening to it since before you were born. No one else can play its music – it belongs only to you and it’s always in perfect pitch. The more you tune into your heart’s song, the better the world can hear it. Go ahead, let it sing, the world has been waiting.

You asked me if I would be disappointed in you if you made certain choices about college – choices that might not be in line with my own desires.  Are you kidding?  The only thing that would disappoint me would be if you made choices based on ‘shoulds.’  It would break my heart to watch you trudge through life, defeated and demoralized, because you didn’t care about yourself enough or know yourself enough to hear your calling.

I want three things for you, my daughter: Joy, Success (by your own standards), and Love.  I want you to love your life.  I’ve wished these things for you from babyhood and promised myself that I would help you find them.

You, Dear One, are a magnificent specimen of life.  You don’t see it yet, but you will, in glimpses or grandiosity, and I will be right here cheering for you.  I will always be your biggest fan.

Love,

Mom

5 Things I Want My Son To Know About Dating

mother's day tea. (2)Dear Beagle,

When you were in preschool we had a special date called “Mother’s Day Tea.  You and your classmates worked for a week to create invitations, place settings, and snacks.  On the day of the event, dressed up in your Sunday best and wearing a necktie for the first time, you sat patiently waiting at a pint-sized table for two.  I was outside the classroom waiting anxiously for my name to be called.  “Mrs. Dunham,” the teacher announced, which prompted you to stand up, push your chair in gracefully, and walk to the door to take my arm.  You led me to my place as if on official business, and asked me to join you for a bite.  I graciously accepted the tiny chair you pulled out as I fought back tears of joy.

My heart gushed with emotion that day.  Watching you learn the timeless lessons of hospitality thrust my mind toward the day you would be taller than me, dressing in man clothes and shaving in preparation for your date – which wouldn’t include me.

You had perfect manners that day, Beagle.  Any girl would have been proud to be sitting across from you.  My hope, now that you’re dating, is that you retain the sense of importance in this ritual.  You’ve got the basics, but there is so much more about relationships that I want you to know.  Here are the top five:

  1. Don’t be careless with another person’s heart and don’t let them be careless with yours.  You are playing with two hearts.  Protect them both with gratitude, for the risk of incurring hurt is high when you take each other for granted.  Be kind, be gentle, be aware.  Honor the validity of your partner’s feelings even when they differ from your own.  Love is a two-way street.  It’s not about taking and using, it’s about giving and receiving.  Listen to what your own heart is telling you and act on it with a mix of caution and abandon.  And most of all, be brave.  Because at some point your heart will be broken.  But it will heal and find the capacity to love again.  That’s what the heart does so well.  And if it’s you that departs first, let her down with dignity and you will preserve your own.
  2.  Love the one you’re with.  We all want to feel special to someone.  We want to know that the person we’re with has hand-picked us from the pack of possibilities.  At first we are fixated on the other, blinded by love.  But as time wears on, eyes may wander and observations may surface.  If you find yourself distracted by the ‘greener grass,’ it’s time to re-evaluate.  Take stock of your feelings and sort them out so you can make clear decisions.  Perhaps it’s time to move on, perhaps not.  But if you decide to stay, put your whole self into it.  Intimate relationships require and deserve focus.
  3. Don’t kiss and tell.  This is a no-brainer.  If you want your relationships to succeed, you must honor sacred ground.  No matter how much your ‘Boyz’ pressure you for information, keep it to yourself, even after the relationship has ended.  Back away from the desire to brag about your progress with a girl.  Respect the secrets you discover about each other and, dare I say, with each other.  You will never regret the practice of becoming trustworthy.
  4. Be yourself.  Partners in relationship have a way of highlighting each other’s warts, especially when the shine of newness has worn off.  When one chews too loudly or the other does that thing she always does, it’s easy to be critical.  We start to snip away at each other like tailors trimming and binding to make a perfect fit.  Sometimes we agree to give up parts of ourselves and we become altered versions of the whole person we were born to be.  True, we all have some ‘fat’ to trim; we could give up some bad habits that serve no one.  But each of us is perfect and valuable and worthy as is.   Better to find a person that fits the clothes than alter the clothes to fit a person.
  5. Take responsibility.  Relationships possess a level of risk, both physical and emotional.  Don’t let those risks run away with you.  Think before you speak.  Think even harder before you act.  Know what I’m sayin’?  Let me spell it out…If you don’t want to become a teen parent, protect yourself.  Don’t assume your partner is taking care of business.  Or better yet, abstain.  Enough said.                                                                                                                               The most important piece of wisdom to remember about relationships is this: YOU ARE RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR OWN HAPPINESS.  Don’t try to blame your witchy girlfriend, or her angry mother, or her crazy friends.  No one makes you unhappy.  Happiness is a matter of choice and perspective.  If you love, respect, and care for yourself, happiness will not outrun you.

Beagle, you know how much I adore you.  You’ve long outgrown my cuddles, but I hope you’ll never outgrow my love.  I want the best for you and for all the people who are lucky enough to meet you in this lifetime.  So listen to your wise mother.  And bend down and kiss her once in a while.  She will always be your first love.

“So there’s this boy who stole my heart.  He calls me Mom.”  -anonymous

Getting Noticed

trophyIt’s awards season at school and not every child is receiving an award.  This is great news for families with high achievers but not so great for the remainder.  Or is it?

Sure, it’s fun to be on top, to be part of that crowd, to be selected.  We want to be recognized and appreciated, deserving or not.  When we’re overlooked, it can be deflating, as if our ‘doing’ wasn’t enough.  The problem is that the not doing enough feels more like not being enough, which is a slippery slope to travel.

Winning can be treacherous.  It’s addictive, like caffeine.  If we become praise-dependent, we are in danger when the winning ends, (as it eventually will) because the high goes with it and takes a chunk of self-image along for the ride.  We recover,yes, but do we ever stop seeking the reward?  If you love coffee, do you ever stop being wistful when you smell that aroma?

We humans enjoy praise and approval.  Sometimes, a simple pat on the back is all we need to stay motivated.  How many times have you heard a person complain about being unappreciated by a boss or a spouse?  A little recognition goes a long way.  The problem is, there’s no guarantee in life that you’ll be given due accolades.  The truth is, it’s no one’s job to approve of us – except us.

When Principessa lamented that she had been passed over for an award which she felt she had earned, her perception was one of bewilderment and frustration.  “What do I have to do to get noticed?”  Therein lies the problem.  When the self-satisfaction in a job well-done is dependent on recognition, we suffer.

“Go ahead,” I advised.  “If you want a ‘doing’ award, then DO.”  Do the parlor tricks where you hit a ball 90 mph or block the most goals, or get the highest test grades.  Practice as hard as you can.  Stay up late studying.  Worry yourself silly.  Pile your efforts on top of your talent and go for it.  Teachers and coaches will notice you with a certificate and a handshake.  You may even get a scholarship, which will make your parents extra happy.  But none of these things guarantees your success.  You may have more choices for college; colleges like people who achieve on paper and in the field.  It’s a bonus if you end up being a good kid too.  But these admirers can’t promise you happiness, or even a good career.

There will be no awards for most mature teen.  If there were, you would win.  There is no prize money for most honest and loyal.  You’d win those, too.  Heck, I could list a hundred things you do ‘better’ than your peers.  But the point is not to feel better than.  Your job, my dear teen, is to figure yourself out – how you want to contribute to the world and who you want to be. If you never win an award in the process, smile and say thank you for the not noticing.  While all eyes are looking in the other direction, you are working on humbleness and self-motivation. Without the complication of external feedback, you are free to explore yourself and develop your own unique purpose that is not dependent on another’s opinion.

You don’t need people telling you you’re doing a good job at life.  There is no such thing.  There is no good life or bad life.  There is only life, full of limitless potential.  What you do with that potential is your choice.  What others think of your choices -the way they do or don’t take notice – is their business.

Principessa, I admire you.  I don’t tell you all the time because I don’t want you to rely on my admiration.  My words are of better use in helping you find what will sustain you for the long haul.  My job is to nurture your passions and  help you discover the greatness  in yourself, for yourself.  Because when all the award ceremonies are over, you still have to live with you, even when no one is watching.

Unsticking the Stuckness

oh-the-places-youll-go“I feel stuck,” she whined.  “It feels like everyone is moving forward without me.  This one is dating, that one is achieving, and I….I am going sideways.”

Principessa is in the Waiting Place –  that frustrating place in the Great Balancing Act of Life.  I remember when the Waiting was a place I loathed.  I too, was a teen itching for excitement and forward motion.  These days, as a parent, the ‘nothing is happening’ place is a welcome reprieve from the ordinary chaos.   It represents safety and calm.  Not so for an eager teen teetering on the edge of the nest.  She is percolating with frustration and worry.

I ask Principessa to look at the bare-limbed trees outside.  They are resting.  Months ago they dropped their leaves in order to preserve energy for the Spring revival.  The trees didn’t worry when they lost their leaves because they knew that their season to shine would come around again.  They just had to be patient.

But it’s hard to believe in seasons when you’re a teen.  NOW is where it’s at.  I. Want. It. NOW.  Which is just another version of ‘I’m not enough as I am.’ Whenever I hear this ‘not enough’ story, (including from myself,) I follow with the question, “Not enough for whom?”

We could spend a lifetime chasing ourselves with a stick, slinging accusations and pointing out failures, which is essentially what we do when we entertain self-criticism.  We think that comparison keeps us motivated to achieve.  We are convinced that without ‘not good enough’ we are in danger of falling behind.  In truth, the only purpose it serves is to keep us in a perpetual state of anxiety.

Long ago I read this bit of wisdom:  Perhaps the question is not, ‘How can I be who I want to be?’ but rather, ‘How can I want to be who I am?’  Loving the self is tricky business.  Contentment is often confused with complacency or vanity.

I remind Principessa to stay in her own lane and keep her eyes on the road.  If your attention is on the person who’s passing you and you’re worried about falling behind, who’s driving your life?

My words of wisdom barely hold the teen tears at bay.  In a final attempt at rescuing Principessa from herself, I gather her in a cuddle and begin to read to her for the first time in many years.

Somehow you’ll escape

All that waiting and staying.

You’ll find the bright places

Where Boom Bands are playing.

You’ll get mixed up, of course,

As you already know.

You’ll get mixed up

With many strange birds as you go.

And will you succeed?

Yes! You will, indeed!

(98 and ¾ percent guaranteed.)

Kid, You’ll move mountains!

I felt Principessa’s body lighten.  “I never understood this book when I was little.  Now I do.” she said quietly, then leaned in for a kiss.

Thank you, Dr. Seuss, for getting the job done.  You were a genius!

The Sweetness of Clarity

Today I was blindsided by chaos.  I imagined it would be a mostly ordinary day – kids to school, Mom to work, and husband on a rare business trip.  Silly me.

The drama actually began late last night when teen daughter waged a war against chores and chicken for dinner and all things parent.  Poor husband sought consolation, “Can you believe her?! ”  To which I responded with my go-to justification, “She’s a teenager.”  When rational explanation fails, this single fact makes it all better.  Teenhood is not a permanent condition.  Doors were slammed, lights flicked off, and sleep was welcomed.  Tomorrow would be a new day……A day that began too early.  Midnight to be exact.

Like Cinderella who transformed at the stroke of midnight, dear son turned into a vomiting machine. This, as you fellow parents know, is a game changer.  Instantly, my day went from busy/manageable to crazy/juggling.

As it were, I was scheduled to drive my usually-bus-riding daughter and a friend to school for the Architecture Fair.  SHOOT!   This is the event that husband was supposed to attend to fulfill the ‘at least one parent should show support’ thesis.  But he is away on business which means I should go. But when? How?

The phone rings, breaking up the rapid-fire problem-solving in my head.  It is friend, wondering if we’ve forgotten her or are we just running late?  Scrambling to the car, bagel in one hand, trifold display in the other, we settle into a comfortably illegal pace on the highway when teen daughter exclaims (too hysterically) that the written portion of her project has been forgotten at home.  Would I go back and get it after dropping her off?

I gaze at the Heavens with a ‘You’re kidding me, right?’ look.  Is this level of chaos all in one day really necessary?  Daughter gives further instruction on the location of said paper.  It’s beside the computer which, by the way, “crashed when I was trying to print off another copy.”  Lovely.

I am torn.  Yes or no?  Go out of my way, taking more time than I have, in order to save my daughter?  Or help her to learn responsibility by suffering the consequences?  She was, after all, a beast last night.  She wasted valuable project preparation time with her tirades.  I’m not feeling especially generous toward her.  But there are other factors to consider too: a younger child in tow who needs to be at a different school momentarily, a son who clearly shouldn’t be left alone, a dance carpool commitment (of all weeks!) and oh yes, a job that is expecting me.  My mind is on a spinny ride at the amusement park and I want to get off.

When Chaos arrives like it has today, Clarity eludes me.  She loves a game of Hide and Seek.   Sometimes it’s easy to find Clarity.  She’s like a small child who hides in the same obvious spot every time she plays the game.  Other times she gets sneaky and hides somewhere in next week or next month – so far away that I have to give up searching for her, knowing that eventually she’ll return to me.  So I keep the door unlocked.

Today, Clarity jumps out at me from behind the phone.  Grandpa calls and would LOVE to drive  45 minutes to spend part of the day with a sick child so mother can take care of the rest of the world. Mercy abounds!

This one monumental gesture of kindness lights a spark in me.  My cold and confused heart warms from the gift it has received and it feels like giving too.  It feels like calling work to say that business is never more important than children.  It feels like fetching and delivering the forgotten school report.  It feels like completing the child chores that were left undone last night.  It feels like attending the Architecture Fair to support not only it’s own child, but the others whose parents didn’t hear their hearts today.

My heart is rewarded with immense gratitude in the form of bear hugs when I arrive back at teen daughter’s school.  It is further elated when it returns home from a brief stop at work to find that, without prompting, the dishwasher has been unloaded by the very same teenager.  The heart knows this path.  It gives generously and without expectation and ends up receiving.  The mind is not as smart.  It would have me judging and measuring out gifts, and calculating retribution.  I really should learn to consult my heart first.  It would save me, and my mind, a lot of trouble.

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