The Parent Path

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The best way to keep children at home is to make the home atmosphere pleasant, and let the air out of the tires.
― Dorothy Parker

As graduation day nears, as the young man marches forth to accept his diploma, I know. I know it’s time. I know he’s ready. I know this summer will be fraught with weirdness as we negotiate a new normal – one that involves an adult man-child and the expectations of a family that still operates according to an odd set of unspoken but agreed upon terms.

I’ve been examining my grief. It’s a helpful thing to observe one’s own emotions without attaching a positive or negative value. My grief, nonsensical at times as grief tends to be, is not borne of fear or loss. My grief seems to be consistent with the ordinary pain of change, infused with a touch of nostalgia for what was.

I have penned plenty about my parenting. The early years were not easy for me and few things rival the difficulty I experienced with toddler and newborn, aside from my mother’s death when I was a child. The truth is, those things that take you to the end of yourself are the things that bring the best kind of pride. This is true of my parenting.

And yet, the hardest years, the best years, result in a human being that must leave. This is the design. But what do we do as parents, with our own growing up, with our own formation and rewiring? Does it go to waste when they launch?

So, what do we do when it is no longer appropriate for a mother or father to supply what mothers and fathers supply? Where does all of this go? We have an endless stream, it seems, of adoration and words and planning and anticipating. We are gifted in remembering the mundanity of odd dates and nonsensical facts. Gifted in anticipating all the horrid tragedies that might occur and planning for every eventuality. We know how to stop and appreciate a fresh bloom or the scent of a memory. We know how to nurture. The mothers and fathers who feel are the mothers and fathers who know. They know the odd way their child’s eyes glass over when they’re sick, they know the odd tone in a voice that needs to spill, they know the twist in their gut when things aren’t adding up and an investigation must ensue.

And tell me. What happens to these skills I’ve developed, the sixth sense I’ve honed? What happens to the gut rumbles and the swirling middle-of-the-night thoughts that crack open the aforementioned investigation? Where do these priceless nuggets, the hidden gems of knowing go when the children disappear? It seems too great a set of skills to squander.

And yet, I’m tired. It is time to release and watch what happens. It is time to see if the man-child will flop or fly, sink or swim. I shrug my shoulders and send him off, into the world to figure it out. I’ve used far too many words as it is, he seems to know everything anyways.

Last week I attended and co-facilitated at the She is Called Conversation in Denver. Fifty women, some mothers, some not – all in touch with their unique beauty and femininity – descended into one room. A holy power displayed itself as our entire femaleness was brought to the table to be examined and celebrated and empowered. And the power of this strength oozed through the created spaces, palpable and heavy, altogether too much to contain for the force and wonder of it all.

This overwhelming, curated beauty will change the world. My work of parent a piece of this beauty, a slice of this offering, for the work is not complete. The world needs mothers. The world needs parents – not to fix, but to nurture, to smooth, to hold accountable with the highest of motivations. Love. This, offered to us by the One who entrusts us to the work of Love and Light in the world, through our being. Not our doing, our being ourselves.

The parent path only exacerbates what already was. My work of mother, of honing these unformed beings, has shaped me deeper into my own becoming. The work of mother and parent curates what is already there – growing wholeness, beauty, and the fiercest fire.

So what do I do as my fledglings fly one by one by one? I dive deeper into who I already am and I continue the work of mother, of parent. I continue the work of Light and Love. I continue the work of being – exactly as I was made to be.

The path of parent is not linear. The path of parent goes round and round and upside and downside and through and over and in. We become, we shed, we realign, and we press into the spaces that need our touch, our questions, our curiosity, and our nurturance. We partner with the need in our communities and offer hope into our spaces. We take our hardened edges, entrusting them to the smoothing of compassion and mercy. Through empathy we seek to understand and find the intersections – where light seeps into the cracks of our community’s connections.

The path of parent is one of pouring out and filling up. Emptying and filling on repeat.

The path of parent demands reverence. The mistakes, the successes, the failures have all intertwined themselves into a beautiful milieu of humanity that pulsates with life. New life with shared purpose, building anew our communities and spaces.

May we believe in what we know, what rumbles in our bellies. May we with confidence look upon the successes and failures and mistakes and believe in homecomings and second chances and redemptive resurrections.

Love.

The Parent Pain

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Through the blur, I wondered if I was alone or if other parents felt the same way I did – that everything involving our children was painful in some way. The emotions, whether they were joy, sorrow, love or pride, were so deep and sharp that in the end they left you raw, exposed and yes, in pain. The human heart was not designed to beat outside the human body and yet, each child represented just that – a parent’s heart bared, beating forever outside its chest.
Debra Ginsberg

In 2007 I trained for a marathon with the express goal of qualifying for the Boston Marathon. I knew I had to run a sub 3:45:59 for my age, so I trained and plotted for this eventuality. One never knows how the marathon distance will go – latent injuries may crop up, a nutritional issue, dehydration, unanticipated weather. So one may train to a tee but race day will deliver it’s own set of circumstances. Sometimes overcoming is an option and other times not. I hit the race in Fort Collins with a hefty set of nerves, but I knew I was prepared and strong. I was well tapered, the weather cold and perfect, my nutrition and hydration were dialed in, and my body felt as good as it was gonna feel.

As the miles clicked along I stuck to the presumed pace, keeping tabs on my heart rate and breath. I knew I could do quite well, that a qualification was possible but it would be close. This particular marathon began twenty-six miles out of the town of Fort Collins in the foothills. It is a solid qualifier because the first fifteen miles are comprised of a hefty downhill grade through the river canyon. In early May as the fresh snowmelt raged below, the scenery invited relief through beauty, to offset the growing and gnawing aches. My primed legs turned over at a generous clip on the asphalt roads, allowing the downhill to do its work.

Things turned at mile sixteen, as they often do in a marathon. The roads went flat exiting the canyon, and by mile 20 – the final 10k – the race meandered along low-populated bike paths. Absolute boredom was mixed with absolute pain and willpower. Each mile, at this point, a slog. The race was small, so few people provided company along the concrete, barren path. I closed my eyes and counted to 100 over and over and over again, ticking down the final miles. I knew I was still on track to qualify but it was tight. I had no room for margin.

The final mile into downtown was a gift. People lining the roads with enthusiastic cheering, music blaring, my family. I crossed the finish line at 3:44 – a handful of seconds to spare.

I qualified for Boston!

I qualified and I cried. The effort exhausted me. The desire overwhelmed me. The weight of it all overtook me. I cried. Eric was at the finish and held me in my sweaty mess as I wept.

And the pace of parenting continues on, marching to the end of the road. And all the sleepless nights, and miles and miles of pacing across floors with sick baby, and plodding through stores, and to and from school, and hiking mountain peaks, and learning how to ride a bike, and back and forth to the potty and timeouts and kitchen for snacks – the pace of parenting adds up. Teenagers exerting their will. Toddlers exerting their will. All of it takes a toll, but yet we still slog – through the beautiful vistas and the boring bike paths – all of it adds up, the measure of each day determined by full bellies and clean diapers and too many screens.

The relief of it all intermixed with the grief of it all. The end of a life as we know it with the child is real and imminent and altogether remarkable.

And grief is never wrong. Grief is total, demanding attention, demanding release, demanding our entire being. Rarely is grief invited, she just shows up, ushering us into the memories and the truth of the new realities of both loss and change and new.

Grieving in May is a cruel joke, in my opinion. It just doesn’t make sense. Finally spring after the long winter, burgeoning color in abundance, a season of gratitude and wonder and new beginnings…and yet, grief. Change demands grief. New beginnings demand grief. Always.

And so I do. I grieve. I cry at a moment’s notice. The tears spring forth without invitation and I am relegated to weeping my way through middle school orchestra concerts and hikes in the mountains and random conversations at the gym. My tears know no appropriateness, they just flow, and I am ushered by their journey, through the canyons of snowmelt, plodding along, carried.

My child is ready and so am I. We have paced well and the end is near. And while it’s all good and the qualifications have been met, the celebration of our life together, the accomplishment of his journey and mine requires too many feels for any given day. And so I let it happen, for the marking of the next chapter as a mother is usually done with tears.

Parenting can sometimes be downhill – some of us get easy moments or easy kids – but those miles catch up to us afterwards. And sometimes parenting is uphill, the kids that challenge us at every turn, we have strong muscles from all the fight and press. And sometimes parenting is just plain boring – distractions and willpower employed to maintain sanity and internal peace. It’s all there.

And now the finish line for us is near. And the tears flow.

Find me, I’ll give you a hug. We can weep together, for the weirdness and the wonder and the beauty of it all.

The Parent Pace

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Parents can only give good advice or put them on the right paths, but the final forming of a person’s character lies in their own hands.
Anne Frank

I have run nine marathons. I have trained for and completed a full Ironman. I know what it means to pace myself. I recognize the importance of managing heart rate and effort and nutrition and expectations to get myself across the finish line. Sometimes I met expectations, sometimes I exceeded them, sometimes I fell far short. All attempts taught me something about managing my body and my effort. I know to start out slow and pick a point at which to pick it up. When I had a coach, we measured my effort based upon lactate threshold and heart rate training. And in order to be competitive the effort demanded I operate within a tension – taking a risk and pushing beyond what I thought possible, while remaining attentive to my body’s data.

I loved the training and the challenge. I often compared my times to other women of similar ability and strove to push myself farther and faster in an attempt to match their accomplishment. I learned a great appreciation for my body and for the power of effort and the power of recovery.

And while these pacing lessons served me in the act of achieving in physical competition, they have served me more in the act of living, specifically in the act of parenting.

The importance of maximizing effort and energy when effort and energy are demanded is a key component in sustenance. There are times to double down and dig in heels and times to let go and just be. There are times to let some things slide and other times to make the point – again. There are times to speak and other times to listen. There are times to yell and scream and point and other times to walk away. All of it matters. All of it requires intuition and discernment. And none of it will be done to perfection. The work is strategic. No-one can anticipate difficulty or tragedy or trouble, but we can view what is before us and make a rudimentary plan, a plan that is fluid and breathable, elastic. I believe this is the beauty of wisdom.

And how much do we hang onto as parents that isn’t ours to hang onto?

As I observe my eldest march ever closer to the end of his life with us as we know it, ready to embark and leave our home, I am once again reminded of the imperative that the primary goal of parenting is to work ourselves out of a job.While I know we will always be his parents and we will always carry concern and cash, the first ones present in any major crisis or celebration, our influence is minimal. This has been true for awhile now. This steady march, this countdown is a reminder to let go.

This is our last act as parents of this child as we know him. This job description has an end date.

Brooks has not been our easiest child, nor is he fully cooked, but this final year has proved to us that he is ready. He is aware of the expectations and responsibilities before him. As we have removed ourselves more and more from G.P.A. and test scores and scheduling and family demands and curfew, I have also removed Brooks from being an extension of my value and worth as a mother, as a human. He has been the main factor in determining my unnecessary expectations and smashing them to bits.

His job is to become himself. His job is to go into the world and learn and navigate. His job is try things on and reject or include. While I still hold my job title of Mom it now comes with a caveat: …but he’s in college and he no longer lives with us.

This tension of parenting a young adult, not yet fully formed, demands risk. The entire grand experiment could fail miserably, but I’ve seen enough to know it’s time. And oh my word, I guarantee I’ll be a wreck, for eighteen years feels simultaneously far too short and far too long. The paradox of parenting. But I’m in the final stretch – the finish line is just around the bend. I can hear the crowd cheering, the music is pumping hard in time with my detached feet. My chest burns, my heart pounds. I have paced well. The tears of relief and gratitude and wonder track my salted cheeks. It’s time.

I guess the universe delivers that which serves us most. And I was dealt a remarkable boy who made me, me. I am grateful for the work of parenting Brooks – from Day One he defied expectations and forced me to tackle my presuppositions and the affirmation of me. He has brought me to the end of myself while also being a great teacher. I am who I am because of this child. None of it easy. All of it good. I have not the vocabulary to describe my gratitude.

Three more weeks to graduation.

I have paced well.