In Times of Challenge

The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.

– Martin Luther King, Jr. –

In the big picture, my life is pretty awesome. I live in a country where I have access to everything I need. I experience equal rights as a woman and a voting citizen. I have a family who brings me happiness. I have my health, a house to live in, plenty of food – fresh, wholesome food at that – electricity to keep me cool in the hot valley summer days, friends, and a job that provides me with enough money to make ends meet.

So when I find myself in times of challenge, holding a pity-party-for one, I need to take a serious reality check. Does this ever happen to you?

I’ve written extensively in the last few months about the angst I feel with my daughter graduating and leaving for college. The pain is real. The emotions are, at times, excruciating. I feel like part of my world has been ripped up, tossed around, and thrown back onto the ground in shards and pieces that do not resemble anything that I have experience with.

Life is very different for me right now.

Life is very quiet. I’m certainly not used to that.

These are most certainly my times of challenge.

Graduation is over. The graduation party happened. I managed to take her shopping, help her pack, and then leave for the weekend – not the timing I would have planned, but it certainly helped to rip the metaphorical band-aid off quickly.

familyWhen I came back home, she was gone. She took her gear, her skis, some sunscreen and hopefully a wide brimmed hat, and headed off to work at Mt. Hood, Oregon for the rest of the summer. She left her room in its typical state-towels draped across a chair, dirty clothes strewn about, faded flowers in a vase, bed unmade and makeup on the dresser.

The tears trickled down my cheeks at the sight of it all.

I tried to pull all my mantras together to remind myself that it’s not that bad. That this is what we prepared her for – what we prepared ourselves for. It’s her time in life to head out and tackle one adventure after another. It’s times of challenge that create our stories.

And then the dishwasher started leaking. I tried to ignore it – maybe someone spilled some water on the floor. Maybe it was the dog…but as the water seeped up from the linoleum in a continuous stream, I knew we had a problem. And when the plumber couldn’t fix it right away, and when the dishwasher was in the middle of the kitchen floor, and the fans were going full bore to dry everything out asap – that’s when my pity party began. All my feel-good self talk about times of challenge came out in foul language as I lugged wet, stinky rags to the laundry room.

Oh wait-did I mention that’s when my son got strep and an allergic reaction to his meds?

And the AC couldn’t keep up with the smell of 60-year-old wet floorboard? And the replacement part sprung a hole? And the linoleum started peeling up?

So I did what any 21st century mom would do – I popped a cold IPA, lit a candle, and wrapped myself up in my own pity-party-of-one.

And in a moment of quiet, my reality check came to call. First world problems, she whispered. She reminded me of gratitude, and perspective. She reminded me of my friends in Nicaragua who avoid these challenges by simply having a dirt floor and no indoor plumbing. She reminded me of myself at 18, a woman no where near as capable or confident as the one who lives – or lived- down the hall. She reminded me of my 14-year-old summer, the one that I can’t actually remember much about besides how important my friends were.

And then the message came that no one wants to hear: one of my former students, while celebrating his college graduation, had tragically died. He was a quiet, sweet boy I remember well. His death wasn’t due to reckless behavior,but the shock tipped me over and consumed my thoughts. His parents, his siblings…his friends. His life, on the brink of a new chapter. Like an overloaded circuit, I shut down. I was angry at myself, at the universe…at a world that can so quickly pull our center out from  under us in a cruel, gritty display of reality. At a universe that would so painfully remind me of my own life.

Northern Mockingbird (Mimus polyglottos) taken...

Reality check. Oh yes, she reminded me, I have comfort and convenience in my life. I have many blessings and I have two children I can touch and hold and cherish and watch as they tackle life’s challenges. I have deep gratitude for all that I have been given, and all that I have worked to create. Shut down that pity party, she screamed.

So I tossed the empty IPA bottle in the recycle, blew out the candle, kissed my boy goodnight , texted my girl I loved her, and listened to the mockingbird singing outside my window. It is dark. Tomorrow will come. The pity-party has ended. Times of challenge will ebb and flow – they’re our ultimate measure of gratitude, after all.

And you, dear reader? How do you pull yourself back to reality in times of challenge? I’d love to hear from you.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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4 thoughts on “In Times of Challenge

  1. Laili says:

    Jen-
    Been through the experience of having my oldest leave for college a year ago. I would say that it was not as hard as I thought and not nearly as hard as her returning after her first year of college only to learn that so many values and ideas that we have instilled in her have now been questioned, challenged and tossed to the side (hopefully not permanently).

    I do have some very close friends who have lost their spouses or their children or had serious health issues. All of these experiences are constant reminders to me that the struggles I face in life are so minor compared to what they have been through and frequently keep me from having pity parties when I feel like I may be headed in that direction! Best of luck to you!!!

  2. Laili says:

    Jen
    I know exactly where you are right now. I was there a year ago! My daughter leaving was not nearly as hard as her returning after her first year of college only to find that the values I had worked so hard to instill in her are now being questioned, challenged and some even tossed to the side (hopefully only temporarily!).

    I have had several close friends in my life who have experienced the tragic loss of a spouse or child. Going through this with them and seeing their strength which has gotten them through these times is always an inspiration and a constant reminder to me of how fortunate I have been with my own life. If there is one main thing I have learned in my profession is how amazingly resilient human beings can be!! When I feel a pity party coming on, it only takes a minute for me to think of them and reign it in. Best of luck to you! You will get through it!

    1. Laili, thank you for sharing your thoughts here. I’m glad to have you ‘one step ahead’ of me – I can use the advice! And yes, yes, yes, thinking about the life experiences of others definitely helps to put things into perspective. Thanks for your encouragement.

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