The Gods Are Here, In This Almost Empty Nest

“The Gods Are Here”

This is no mountain

But a house,

No rock of solitude

But a family chair,

No wilds

But life appearing

As life anywhere domesticated,

Yet I know the gods are here,

And that if I touch them

I will arise

And take majesty into the kitchen.”

Jean Toomer

The Gods are here, in this almost empty nest of mine.

Hovering over my family, my son frequently ticks off the months left he has until his birthday, the day he officially becomes an ‘adult’.

There’s less than four left; we anticipate with a mix of excitement and uncertainty. He for the former, me for the latter. More than some I know, less than others.

Yesterday he announced there were seven months before he would know officially where he’s spending his college years. Unofficially, he’s hoping for a location 2, 467 miles from home. Exactly. Yes, I checked.

The Gods are here, in this home. I surround myself with their comfort.

We watch “Blackish” together. It’s one of our few remaining ‘things’ we do, just the two of us.  That, and gardening. For anyone out there with a teenage son, you understand the joy of having a ‘thing’ to do together. For most days, we parallel, a mix of school and jobs and eating and homework. We say good morning and goodnight, and as ‘life anywhere domesticated’, we have our own strange daily routine. It works ok. I find myself forever on the end of wanting more, but swelling with pride as he feels his footing in wanting and doing more for himself.

A few weeks ago, “Blackish” hit home with their episode about their oldest child receiving college acceptances and struggling with a decision of the heart v. head. It’s the kind of struggle I’m all too familiar with these days: how hard to tug on the line, how much slack to release. How to truly sit with the situation in front of me and decide where I fit, how I respond, when I share my opinion and when I just listen.

“This is no mountain, but a house”, I remind myself. This is “no rock of solitude”, but a “family chair” to sink into. These are the small moments of life that slip in and out sometimes without notice, sometimes with great emotion surfacing at the most strange and inopportune times. This is my job, as a mother, to remember that it is my place to create the soft place to land, the cushion to spring into and out of and to trust the solid foundation that brought us this far. This is ‘life appearing’ whether I like it or not, despite my protests and preparations. This is my holy place, our landing space, our creation. I can trust in the sturdiness of our structure. I can close my eyes and remember the majesty of their first words and milestones. I breathe in the scent of their baby soft skin, fresh from the bath. I hear the whispers and the whimpers, the laughter and the squeals of excitement. I remember it all even when I didn’t think I would need to.

gods are here empty nest garden

I will arise, I am confident. I will take majesty, just as it has been given to me in all the extraordinary, ordinary moments spent gathered in this kitchen, this garden, this home.

I know the gods are here, in this almost empty nest. I will touch them here, I am confident. Here, rooted in this family, this place, this home, this life appearing and disappearing in front of me.

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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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on the cusp of adulthood

Just Like The Orlando Victims – On The Cusp Of Adulthood

“Mom, does it cost money to get checks?”

I received this millennial-surprise text from my daughter today – honestly, I didn’t even know millennials used checks. I thought that was sort of taboo for the digital generation, but apparently not.

She turned twenty this month, and is spending her first summer in an apartment – not at a camp or on vacation or in her bedroom at home. No, she’s all alone. Not even her boyfriend is around. She’s working two jobs, buying groceries and lugging her laundry downstairs. She’s paying her bills (by check, apparently), having dinner with friends and watching chick-flicks in the movie theater. All these normal, ordinary activities, that today make me pause and worry, just for a moment.

Despite her fierce independence, she’s still learning all these things as she’s balancing on the cusp of adulthood.

In these last days after the Orlando shooting, I’ve been waking up sad every morning. I can’t escape the news, the stories, or the sadness I feel when I think about all the posts I’ve written about shootings and gun violence. I just can’t shake it; today I could hardly leave the house. I just wanted to be quiet, be with my son taking the dog for a walk and planting peppers in our vegetable garden.

As I did all these peaceful, normal activities today, I started thinking about my girl, sitting in the reception area of her workplace. She has a job “in her field” during the day – not making much money, but earning invaluable experience. She’s the first person people see when they enter; she’s responsible for helping things run smoothly, for writing, designing, and event planning.  She works in a restaurant, too- seating customers, making them comfortable, being the first smiling face they see for their dining experience. She’s perfect for both jobs. She’s doing all the normal, adult-like things – just like all the young people in Orlando were – never imagining that it would be their last time.

on the cusp of adulthood
She’s on the cusp of adulthood

She’s on the cusp of adulthood, figuring out what kind of job she wants to look for when she graduates, figuring out who she is.

My son, just sixteen and finding his first job this summer, is testing out adulthood. He’s been hired at the karate school he’s been going to since he was four years old. He’s so excited to be employed, so eager to teach and learn and surround himself with mentors. He’s further from the cusp, but closing in.

Last night, just before bedtime, we heard the list of victims of the Orlando shooter – most on the cusp of adulthood themselves – all spending an evening together, in a place they felt safe and relaxed. All full of life and possibilities and hope for their future. All killed by someone who felt powerless and hateful.

I understand the feeling of being powerless. Each time I learn of gun violence I shiver and feel it washing over me. I write and talk and listen and try to use my voice to make change, but still, change eludes me. I fight the feeling of hate, searching the dark parts of my soul for a way to understand. But still, it often eludes me.

Last night my friend Jen texted me to see how I was doing. We shared our difficulty with getting out to face the day in the midst of such suffering, and at the end of our conversation she typed something that has etched in my mind- something that helps me make today just a bit easier. She said, “Me too…and thank God there are so many more loving than hating people in the world. Blessings ”

I know so many of us feel this, too. As I type tonight, I’m catching the filibuster happening for the last ten hours in Congress. I’m halfway listening to the pundits process every political proclamation, and I’m feeling sad, wondering how many more on the cusp of adulthood will have to suffer before we can come together and make policy that will help mothers like me, and Jen, breathe easier through the night.

So many more loving people in the world. Yes. I’ll breathe that in, hold it close to my heart.

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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“Boyhood” and All Those Blurry, Emotional Parenting Moments

my boys

I was chatting with an online friend the other day about the German plane crash and all the scary situations going on around the world, and she confessed that by the end of the day, she just wanted to step away from everything. I could completely relate. At times, the news absolutely sends me into such a state of sadness and worry it becomes overwhelming. To think of the suffering of families who are in the midst of loss and terror triggers that emotional part of me, completely overriding my logical side that tells me statistics are on my side, that my family is safe, and all will be well.

Being an emotional person can be seriously challenging – especially as a parent.

It’s taken me years to switch my thinking about how I process the world around me – to realize that my ability to feel strongly is actually something to be grateful for.

Strangely enough I don’t often cry while watching movies or reading books – unusual for me, because in ‘real life’, just seeing a person suffering, people living in poverty or a child hurting or being bullied sends my emotions flowing quickly and freely like a river with no end.

So on a lazy Saturday afternoon, when my son and I popped in the movie “Boyhood”, I had no expectation that I should have a box of tissues by my side.

Maybe it was that this year I’ve come full circle with parenting little ones. Maybe it was that we were spending the afternoon at Tahoe watching movies instead of skiing. Maybe it was that I was tired or hungry or relaxed or….maybe it was that the movie was just what I needed to watch.

Maybe I needed to remember all the moments – the fights in the back seat of the car, the collections of rocks and sticks and bird bones, or the blur of walks and play dates and bad haircuts and tears and friendships and families and attempts, through it all, to be the best mom that I can.

Yes, the tears flowed when Patricia Arquette (who absolutely deserved that Academy Award) reminded me that when they leave the safety of our family nest, that it’s time for us to not only remember all those moments, but create what comes next. Do you remember her last lines in the film? They were awesome, emotional, and struck my heart. Fighting tears, she reminds us that motherhood is a series of ‘milestones’, and despite knowing that the time will come when our children leave home, it’s never easy – especially when they’re happy about it. Her words echoed my own, written as my daughter left for college.

She reminded me that motherhood is a series of choices – some that work out in the moment, and some that we don’t see for years to come. She reminded me how lucky I am to have those slips of time, ordinary days that add up into an extraordinary life.

For an emotional mom like me, those choices typically occur after great agonizing and then a magnitude of moments second guessing my decision-and then it stops. Real life is in front of me. Life happens, the news reminds us that life takes us full circle whether we like it or not, and that the moments we have in each day – those bits of time that might seem insignificant or overwhelming or just simply there – are our lives. And when the children graduate and move on to their next adventure, so must we.

So take a moment – step away from life for a moment – go ahead and put “Boyhood” on – snuggle up with someone you love, and keep a box of tissues handy.

I sincerely hope you need them.

photo credit: Innocent hands via photopin (license)

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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Friday Photo: Grown Don’t Mean A Thing

L and C 2015

“Grown don’t mean nothing to a mother. A child is a child. They get bigger, but grown? What’s that supposed to mean? In my heart it don’t mean a thing.”

~ from Beloved

by Toni Morrison

Life changes when one of your children moves out of the house. Yes, the obvious things sting at first: an empty seat at the table, a bedroom that looks more like a hotel room, and a serious reduction in the laundry load. Over time, I’m finding, it’s the little things that get under my skin, that erupt when I least expect it and I find myself grasping for anything to hold onto – anything to feel safe and ‘normal’ again.

The holidays felt like that – a fleeting, ephemeral run of moments in which my heart would palpitate with the idea that things might be different this year, that our traditions and joys and moments we look forward to might be vanishing into distant memories.

I’m not ready for that quite yet.

It was an exercise in holding on and letting go, an endeavor of wills to choose from what was, what is, and what the ‘new normal’ will be. I struggled to figure out how to find a moment when the four of us could be together to decorate the Christmas tree. I waited to make the treats we love until she was back under our roof. We never did find time to hang the outside lights, drive around at night to view the neighborhood decorations, or do a full fledged day of Christmas shopping.

Thanks to my talented sister, though, we managed to get a Christmas card photo. That’s something that in normal circumstances is challenging at best, but when one child is 650 miles away, it becomes nearly impossible. In all the turmoil, excitement and confusion of the holidays, this photo is my greatest gift. My children. Bigger? Yes, definitely. But grown? Not really. Not yet.

I’ve got one more day with my girl before she leaves to her new home. She’s grown, moved away, and is creating her own version “normal”, but that doesn’t really mean a thing to me. In my heart, she’ll always be my first baby, my girl, the one who introduced me to motherhood. He’ll always be the little one. Moments strung together, like a tangled mess of discarded Christmas tree lights, cement their place in my heart. Flashes of what was, what is, and what will be light my way through the darkness.

No, grown don’t mean a thing.

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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