The Right Turns At The Right Time?

I sent you a screenshot last night. You never responded, which in itself wasn’t that surprising. It’s Friday night, you’re cheering at a soccer game under the lights…I’m sure the boys were around, feeling the weekend and you certainly weren’t thinking about four years ago when you decided to move away – and were you making the right turns at the right time.

right turns
2013, first day at Sugar Bowl Ski Academy

You look so young here, and at the time I felt so sure you were old enough for this. I remember sobbing in the back seat of the Highlander right after we left you – big, heaving, snotty sobs that felt so alone and empty, even though your dad and sister were in the front seats pretending to not hear me. I remember thinking if this was the “safe” track for you, or if I should listen to Gretchen Rubin when she said in her book Happier at Home, “I know many people who started out on a “safe”, parent-approved track, only to leave it – voluntarily or involuntarily-after they’d spent a lot of time, effort, and money to pursue a course that had never attracted them…it’s painful to see your children risk failure or disappointment, or pursue activities that seem like a waste of time, effort and money. But we parents don’t really know what’s safe, or a waste of time.”

Four years later, I’m still thinking about that.

I caught a bit of your conversation the other night, in the kitchen while you were building tacos with your dad. He loves it when you ask questions and talk about times you used to spend together. To say that those are moments he’d like to repeat is just a mild way of us wondering if we’ve made the right choices – if you’ve turned the corners you’re supposed to turn if we’ve gotten in your way enough or stepped aside at the right or wrong times.

right turn
2017 with his dad.

Persistence. When that post popped up today, three years after my questioning why I write, I felt proud that I’ve kept going. My life is good now, truly. You’re on a much different path than the one we imagined for you as you stood outside that ski academy, hair freshly shaved short and your chest proudly pushed out as if you’d won – you made it, you convinced us, you got the scholarship and you were there.

I wonder now how nervous you actually were – how much your fourteen-year-old self wouldn’t actually admit to mom and dad about your decision.

But you were persistent. You never stopped pushing until you got where you wanted to be. Somewhere inside you there has always been a voice telling you what to do, when to pull back and when to turn.

I wonder what that voice is telling you now, in the middle of your final year of childhood –  a year of firsts and lasts and decisions you want to make all by yourself.

As you walked out the door with the boys last night, I reminded you (and your friends) to make good choices. “I’m 18, mom,” you quipped, and almost in unison, they said “17” right behind you.

“My parents always use that one on me – I’m 17, I’m not old enough,” the lanky kid replied. “I know when I’m 18 they’re just going to say that it doesn’t matter, you’re living in my house, blah-blah-blah.”

I closed the door, his words ringing in my ears. Of course! my mind echoed…you’re still learning, you don’t know how one wrong move tonight could change the course of next year. All that you’ve worked for, your whole childhood, gone POOF in one wrong move. Of course, your parents are struggling – watching you walk out the door with just a tendril of childhood left is terrifying in its finality, and bittersweet in its reality.

These boys…do they get this interlude between here and there? That these moments of senior portraits and soccer games, Winter Balls and college applications, semester GPAs and next steps – these moments transition both of us into places we’re sure and unsure of, tight-roping the season of being here and going there?

right turns
2014, right turns.

And just one year after we left you in that dorm, full of focus and your future I was watching you balance in a different way, unsteady on your broken leg yet persistent in your dreams. Then, as now, you were unphased by the new direction, sure and steady in your gaze forward.

You were testing, pushing, dreaming, feeling it – just like now. And just like then, a quiet understanding floods over me, a flicker of letting go and breathing in, out…and smiling as you whirl away.

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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The Only Thing You Shouldn’t Miss-According To Oprah & Me

The other night I sat at our dining room table, across from my daughter and her forever friend, A. It was late, and everyone else in the house had long since gone to sleep. As tired as I was, I couldn’t pull myself away from the moment – the chance to look across at them, remembering their fourth-grade sleepover faces and times before life threw boys and jobs and college and adulthood in their path.

I could see it in their eyes. They’re feeling the insidious creep of growing up, the heaviness of choices that at times seem overwhelming and exhilarating all at once.

I wasn’t exactly sure how much to say. I didn’t want to sound preachy or teacher-like. They both passed my 8th grade English class long ago.

So I listened. I hesitated, I looked in their eyes as they shared their fears and hopes, and finally, I took a breath and broke in.

Life isn't always a clear path ahead.
Life isn’t always a straight path ahead.

“I’m proud of you, you know,” I said, pushing my glasses to the top of my head. “It takes guts to listen to your heart. It takes a lot of courage to admit that the path you’re on isn’t the path that you want – that where you thought you wanted to go when you were 17 might not be the destination you want to head in right now. And that’s ok.”

They both looked down and back up at me. “Thanks, mamawolfe,” A. replied. I couldn’t tell if she was going to smile or cry.

“Life isn’t always a straight path. In fact, for most of the people I know, life was a curvy, squiggly, up and down and all around kind of a journey – especially in college. The idea that someone could know enough about themselves to make a decision about their future when they’re only 17 is crazy – you should know that decisions can be changed, courses can be altered, and if you listen to your gut and trust the journey, everything will work itself out.” My words hung there for a minute until the corners of their mouths started to turn up, their eyes met mine, and by the end, the three of us had exhaled.

I watched as they hugged and whispered goodbye, promised to see each other soon and that they would miss each other.

The only thing you shouldn’t miss

Later that night, after I’d tucked my girl in and kissed her goodnight, I was browsing online and came across Oprah Winfrey’s quote, “The only thing you shouldn’t miss is what matters to you”.

I know – you’re saying ‘easier said than done, Oprah’ right about now, aren’t you?

Of course, we shouldn’t miss what matters to us. Makes perfect sense, doesn’t it. Why would we spend our time paying attention to those things that in the long run really don’t mean a thing?

But why do we miss it so often, then? What does matter most, I wonder?

These are the kinds of things I think about when I’m taking my dog for long walks. Or lying under the air conditioner on a hotel room bed, alone. Or when my hands are immersed in sudsy, grapefruit scented warm water and I’m unconsciously scrubbing the remnants of last night’s pasta sauce off the Teflon coated pan. Definitely when I’m elbow deep in dirt and weeding in my garden.

One thing you shouldn't miss- spring flowers in your garden.
One thing you shouldn’t miss- spring flowers in your garden.

When I was in my twenties, what was mattering most to me? Did I even know?  I remember feeling like my two girls did tonight – the fear, the insecurity, the cold sweats and second thoughts and absolute stupefaction over what life had in store for me once I graduated from college.

I stumbled alone, crossing my fingers and hoping the Universe would reveal the shortcut I needed to take to get where I thought I should be. It wasn’t a straight line for me, either. The circuit was tumultuous, terrifying and exhilarating, for sure, and for the last 25 years, I’ve towed the line in teaching.

All along, I’ve been trying to figure out just what Oprah reminded me of – what matters most.

Maybe it’s turning 50 this year, or perhaps it’s been watching my daughter move away and my son battle health challenges that has cleared the path for me. Because today, more than ever, I’m realizing that the words I shared at my dining room table were words I needed to remind myself – “It takes guts to listen to your heart. It takes a lot of courage to admit that the path you’re on isn’t the path that you want.”

The passageway of my life is narrowing with age, but widening with perspective. I know now, more than ever, that listening to my intuition and trusting the journey is the route before me.

I know that like the crack of daylight at dawn, it’s the glorious moments of each day, the little extraordinary ordinary moments that offer a glimpse into the world, are what matters to me.

These are the only things you shouldn’t miss.

The only thing you shouldn't miss
Just an ordinary, extraordinary moment with my two babies- what matters most.

 

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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Inquiring Minds-What I Wish I Knew

I sure wish I had the guts to ask a psychic about what my future holds. It’s kind of funny, really- as a kid I was never one of those people who knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up. I didn’t have driving passions throughout high school- unless you counted my passion to get out of there as quickly as possible. In college I switched majors three times, and didn’t decide to become a teacher until the second semester of my senior year. I absolutely didn’t have life planned out whatsoever. I guess back then I was somehow OK with that. Young, naive, I’m not sure.

But now, I’m realizing  I’d rather not know all the details about my future. I understand that to let grace happen, I need to trust that for now, things are happening as they should be. Teaching for 25 years has challenged me to both plan ahead and practice flexibility. I’m consciously trying to live in the present, which for a type-A-control-freak like me takes tons of energy. I’m realizing that being a teacher plays well into my style, but the negatives of always having a “lesson plan” can be super detrimental to other parts of my life. If becoming a mom taught me anything, it was that we can’t control other humans – no matter how hard I tried to get my first born to follow my lesson plan, she always had an idea to do it her way, and that’s exactly the way it should be.

inquiring minds choices

OK-I’ll be honest – as much as I’m realizing it’s best not to “future trip”, I’d love to just have a teeny, tiny peek into what might be coming up next for me. I’ve been feeling these stirrings in my heart for the last few years- and I’ve been trying to acknowledge them and allow for openings in my work life. Teaching is hard, and it’s getting to the point where I just can’t imagine continuing like this until I retire. I’d love for someone to ask me to write a book. About anything. And pay me, so I could back off from teaching 120% and just teach part time- or not at all. One thing I know, is that I can’t last teaching like this until I can retire at 65. I’ll have nothing left of me.

So I push myself to talk to new people, figuring that I never know what serendipitous moment the Universe might be offering me. I’m a natural-born introvert working in a very extroverted job, so my favorite icebreaker question is “What are you reading?”  I’m one of those people who connects with people through books. When I go to someone’s house for the first time, if I don’t see stacks of books I get worried. I’m most comfortable scanning bookshelves for something to share in common with a new friend; their book titles will show me their values and interests and let me know if we are like-minded. And if I realize their books are just for “show”- well, that’s a real deal breaker.

So for now, I’ll skip the psychic and trust the marvelous mystery of the Universe. I’ll shorten my life lesson plan to just the next week or so, and be sure to build in moments for grace to step in. Heck, we never know who the person we’re standing next to at a lacrosse game might turn out to be, or where the person holding the door open to the next opening in life might show up. It’s always best to be alert, watch out of the corner of my eye, and see what these folks have to say. Grace shows up once in awhile in the most extraordinary ways, and I’m ready to see what the future holds.

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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What Parenting Battles Are You Fighting?

He said to me the other day, “Mom, I don’t get it. Sometimes you’re totally chill, and then sometimes you want to know everything. You need to trust me. I’m not crazy, you know.”

That one got me thinking. Am I that inconsistent? Or is he just smart enough to see what’s really going on beneath the surface?

Parenting is sort of like going to battle without a plan. We start off as new parents overjoyed with the idea of life ahead, and for the most part, joy is the overriding emotion of my parenting experience.

And then life happens. Infants turn into toddlers, then third graders, thirteen year olds, and suddenly the teenage years smack us over the head when we weren’t looking. The skirmishes begin in full force.

Let the parenting battle begin-and parents, you’d better be ready.

Some days the plan of attack is subtle, but not without strife, to be sure. Get your homework done before video games, complete your chore list without complaining, and study for finals. That’s the easy stuff.

It’s the harder issues that lead to full engagement, wondering if a ceasefire will ever be possible. The ones that leave you with the ache in your gut. The ones that make you dive for the parenting handbook and leave you breathless with worry. The ones that you just need to ride out and trust that things will work themselves out.

Yesterday’s choice wasn’t one of those legendary philosophical decisions. For many people it would have been quite simple. It was normal kid stuff, things that maybe some parents don’t even blink at. But I do.

It really was about teenage decision making – trusting that his frontal lobe was keeping up with his intelligence. This is something I’ve been taking into consideration this year, now that he’s 15 and full of confidence.

Last summer, I had finally come to a place where I felt ok with him living away from home. I felt comfortable with his community, with his coaches, and with his friends. I felt like he was on a strong, health path. He was young – but he knew what he wanted.

Then came the phone call last August, when he broke his leg and I changed my ‘chill’ attitude. Suddenly, he was vulnerable again, and I fell into mamawolfe mode and all the doubts, the ‘proof’ that ‘things happen’, and now I’m caught in the mental battle of how far to let him go, how do I trust that he will be safe.

Watching the news sure doesn’t help – just last night I reminded him that if we listen to the stories, none of us should walk out of our house, light a firework or travel to a big city for the 4th of July.

Terrifying, if you think about it too hard. Terrifying to think about the battles going on in our world, let alone within the mind of a teenage boy full of hormones.

teenage boy skateboardingAnd this is where my angst set in, where I struggled with the parenting battle lines. What do you stand up for, what do you let slide? When do we trust that all those years of hand holding and teaching and boundaries pay off in their solid decision making? Where does the intersection of our own fears and our common sense lead us, when we come to a four-way stop and need to decide what is best for our child?

When do we let our kids just be kids, and push away all the fears – rational or irrational – and trust that everything will just be OK?

This is perhaps one of the most formidable parts about parenting – the struggle between throwing down the gauntlet, honoring the change in our children, recognizing the growth they’ve made from preschool to high school, and taking that deep breath, holding it for just a second, and releasing it with a quiet, “yes”.

Because when you think about it, the most indomitable parenting battles are really within ourselves, aren’t they?

what parenting battles are you fighting

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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Choice: It’s What Makes Life Full of Possibility

Choice.

If I had to choose one word I’ve used over and over in parenting and teaching, it would be choice. I learned early on as a parent that simply saying ‘no’ over and over had no lasting effect; if I really wanted something to happen – especially with any sort of chance that it would happen the way I wanted – I needed to give choices.

Embed from Getty Images

It went something like this: “What do you want to wear today? You can choose either the red leggings and boots, or the red dress with tights.” Or with my son, “I haven’t decided what to make for dinner tonight –  would you rather have pasta or chicken?” Now, when they don’t respond to my texts or block me from some sort of social media, I feel 100% comfortable saying, “Ok, you can keep me blocked/don’t respond to my texts  and pay the monthly charge for your bill, or you can respond and I will continue to fund your phone.” That one always works.

Choices like these gave my kids a voice, and practicing that on something simple when they were little meant when they were teens, and we had to grapple with the big stuff, they were used to the process. They knew what it felt like to make good – and bad – choices. They understood logical consequences, and sometimes even unintended ones.

As parents, we are obligated to teach our children about choice from an early age. Kids need to know that their life is full of possibility, and certain choices will make doors open and opportunities appear – or disappear. Teenagers are bombarded with choices to make, some small, but at 15, 16 and 17 many are huge and can have lasting impact on their future. Should I post that online? Do my homework or go to bed? Drink and drive? Text and drive? Have sex? The list is endless, really. How do kids know how to trust themselves, how to weigh options and make good choices if they’ve never had any practice?

Giving my middle school students choices has really evolved for me over the years. As a beginning teacher, I felt insecure offering too many choices-I was afraid that if I didn’t set down the rules, chaos would break loose. In reality, when I started giving kids more choice about what they did and how they did it, management mostly became a breeze. Oftentimes I’ll give choices about what they need to do for a particular grade, or what order they need to tackle different parts of a task. As long as they get to the end result that I’m expecting, giving them choices about how they get there allows students to learn how to manage their time, how to push themselves (usually – but not always) and to take a route for learning that makes most sense to them.

Last year, when my daughter was navigating the stressors of senior year and college applications, I found myself repeating and reminding her that all her hard work paid off in all the choices she had between colleges. I tried to keep mum on my strong feelings about one school or another, and let her not only weigh the merits of each college, but also let her listen to her heart and choose the school that felt right.

Ultimately, I think choice is what makes humans stronger. Choice builds character, empowers people, and provides a barometer of how we navigate the world. Having choices teaches us how to be decisive, how to weigh options, but also to listen to ourselves and trust that we can follow our instincts instead of following the crowd. Sometimes, just knowing that we have choice – that every day we choose how we approach the world, how we treat other people, how we spend our time and what we work for – is enough to make the day just a bit brighter, just a bit kinder, just a bit more full of possibility.

This post was inspired by Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas, a novel where former Olympic hopeful Dan destroys his swimming career and his attempt at redemption after prison. Join From Left to Write on September 30th as we discuss Barracuda. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.

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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