soar

The Challenge of Teaching Our Children To Soar

I’m struggling with the challenge of teaching our children to soar. I think about it every day, way too often than is healthy. I think about it at home, at work, and when I’m alone in my writing room, trying to clear my thoughts and start the day.

“The light here leaves you lonely, fading as does the dusk that takes too long to arrive. By morning the mountain moving a bit closer to the sun. This valley belongs to no one—except birds who name themselves by their songs in the dawn. What good are wishes, if they aren’t used up…”

I wake up early every day, determined to clear my mind and write down my gratitudes. That’s the only way I can make it out of bed, the only way I can face the day surrounded by eager minds and developing humans. I sip coffee, make breakfast, and give him a fleeting hug as my boy heads out the door of his senior year.
I watch the sunrise, glowing pinkish orange over the rooftops across the street. I’ve lived in this house longer than any other place. I’ve birthed my children here, hosted their birthday parties, cooled their fevered bodies and hugged away tears. I’ve cried my own, plenty of times, wondering if I was going in the right direction, over-contemplating when to push and when to pull back.
“We guess at what’s next unlike the mountain who knows it in the bones, a music too high to scale…”
I’ve always wondered why parenting came without a handbook. When I first started teaching, long before I was a mom, I scoffed when parents asked ME for advice – what did I know? I was 23, inexperienced and armed with gut instinct and life experience. I taught by intuition, a bit of training, and copious amounts of courage. I stumbled, I failed, and I succeeded every once in awhile in showing my students how much I cared.
And then parenting happened to me, and I began to see the real challenge of teaching our children to soar.
“Black like an eye bruised night brightens by morning, yellow then grey—a memory. What the light was like. All day the heat a heavy, colored coat. I want to lie
down like the lamb—down & down till gone—shorn of its wool. The cool of setting & rising in this valley, the canyon between us shoulders our echoes. Moan, & make way…”
I wasn’t one of those girls who dreamed about mothering – or teaching. I escaped in books, in quiet, in pushing me back and feeling my way through the maze of young adulthood. I graduated, I got a job, and got married. I had children.
My son told me the other day that he learned in his Psychology class that we either parent exactly like we were parented, or we rebel and parent differently. I’ve never really consciously thought about it, but it makes sense. We look for the light, for the way through the tunnels and towards the joy. When our children are small, we challenge them to soar in the direction of their dreams, all the while keeping hold of the kite string of connection. We’re there to clean up-pick up-wrap up-hold up whatever they stumble on and lift them up with pride when they jump.
My kids taught me how to soar. They somehow made mostly good choices and learned from their mistakes. So have I.
“What you want—Nobody, or nothing fills our short journeying. Above even the birds, winging heavenward, the world is hard to leave behind or land against—must end. I mean to make it. Turning slow beneath our feet, finding sun, seen from above, this world looks like us—mostly salt, dark water…”
When Lily left for college I knew it was the right thing, but I wasn’t sure I would make it. She didn’t waver about her decision, and despite the total chaos happening at the time, she jumped into her new adventure. I, on the other hand, didn’t. It was hard to leave behind the idea of hands-on parenting; realizing that this time she was on her own, soaring, dipping and diving 650 miles away without me watching. My brain and heart duked it out daily, agonizing in isolation while she figured out how to be on her own.  I couldn’t quite reconcile how to shift from full-time to no-time parenting with her, and thinking about how to avoid smothering the one child left at home. Time pulsed on, somersaulting me through the next four years.
Until now.
“I chase the quiet round the house. Soon the sound—wind wills its way against the panes. Welcome the rain. Welcome the moon’s squinting into space. The trees bow like priests. The storm lifts up the leaves. Why not sing.”
This senior year is different. There aren’t any track meets to cheer at, or piano recitals or prom parties. This child is testing his wings before closing the door on high school. He glides in and out of the house, ‘adulting’ and reveling in being 18.
He makes his own dentist appointments.  He can write his own notes to excuse school absences. He doesn’t even need me at the doctor anymore.
Sometimes I’m not quite sure how I’m doing in this challenge. Teaching our children to soar is as unique as a snowflake landing on my sleeve; I’m struggling to notice every exquisite detail before it disappears into the memory banks of parenting. I’m watching my students navigate starting high school and time management. They’re practicing independence from their parents and their teachers, caught up in the backdrop of school shootings and anxiety and wondering if they really even matter.
The challenge of teaching our children to soar rises up with the dawn and ebbs, but never entirely leaves. I usher in the dusk of the evening from my desk or behind the handlebars of my bike, trying to transition – but never quite feeling I’m there. The parenting storm shifts the leaves underfoot, swirls and tangles my hair as I smile.
Maybe the real challenge of teaching our children to soar is teaching myself.
poem excerpts from Book of Hours BY KEVIN YOUNG Source: Poetry (November 2007)

 

 

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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embrace change

Being Brave Enough To Embrace Change

“Just where you are – that’s the place to start” ~ Pema Chodron

The next six months are a countdown in my life – or a count up, depending on how I look at it. That’s the issue right there, actually: am I brave enough to embrace change?

Ever since Lily went away to college Cam has been watching me – aware of my shifting focus from her to him, noticing my changing routines, a slight twist towards examining myself as the mom of a college kid, and as a result of his observant mom-study, he declared that he “realized how hard I took it when Lily left, so he needs to start preparing me now.”

Way to play on my anxieties, kid.

I suppose in his wisdom there’s some truth to his strategy. I DID take it hard – I knew it was coming, I tried to prepare, but it wasn’t until I was sitting in her convocation freshman year that I could start to verbalize what I was feeling.

I don’t expect a repeat next August when Cam moves across the country. Yes- he’s moving to Boston, just about as far as he could go from California. He was accepted early decision to his dream school, and without hesitation, he committed. Done deal, he’s going.

Early decision is kind of nice, except for the fact that instead of starting my empty next visualization in May with most of the other parents-of-seniors, he kindly gave me five extra months of it.

The silver lining? It made choosing my mantra for 2018 quite simple: EMBRACE CHANGE.

embrace changeI’ve been procrastinating on actually writing about the impending change for months. I guess that’s a strategy – avoidance, right? If I don’t think about it, it won’t happen…except, he’s 18 and reminding me daily that he’s an adult and that I should get used to it. As the days pass, he’s less and less patient with me, and I’m finding myself more and more often in my upstairs writing perch, candles lit, gazing out the window and wondering if I’m actually brave enough to break my own heart….as a mother.

Now logically, I know there’s no choice. My heart will break a little more each day, the cracks carefully covered with smiles and hugs and making his favorite meals. I’ll play along with the ‘when I”m in Boston’ talk, and remind him that roommates don’t like people who leave their wet towels on the floor. I’ll grin when he comes in for a hug now and then, and compliment him when his room looks clean and he goes out of his way to fill the gas tank. I’ll be grateful that he texts me from his girlfriend’s house, and rest easy knowing that at least her parents are getting to see what a nice young man he’s becoming during all the free time he spends hanging out with them, not us.

And I’ll let go of what’s no longer serving me – the story of all the things I thought I would do when he was little, the trips we never took, the books I never read aloud. I’ll let go of all that part that tells me what I should have done…and try to hang on to what I did.

I was recently listening to Cheryl Strayed talk about her writing and her reflections on motherhood, and she shared a story about making decisions as a mother that really resonated with me. No one prepares us for motherhood; we do the best we can with what we have, and hope that everything turns out ok. Along the way, we learn to navigate the rough patches, smooth the hurt feelings and wipe away the tears.

She reminded me of one of the most important lessons that motherhood has taught me: to do things that scare me and to let my kids do them, too. Making decisions for our children is a hard habit to break, even when we’ve been practicing for years. Sometimes when I tell other parents that my kids both chose colleges outside of California they tell me that they would never let their kids move so far away. I hear all sorts of excuses, but really, all I can think is how could I forgive myself if I never let them fly?

I have to be honest – I KNOW I’m brave enough to embrace change. I’m sure I will survive. I made it through Cam’s adventures at the ski academy, and Lily moving to Utah. I know that like all those other times when I couldn’t imagine what it would be like to have a child that was any older than they were at that exact moment – that just like then, I’m going to find that with change comes joy just on the other side. With change comes a new opportunity to push away what isn’t working and amplify what is.

I wear my mantras on my wrist, daily reminders of the words I promise myself. Courage. Trust the journey. Be here now. And now, embrace change. I trace my fingers over the letters, I twist and bend and alter their position but always, always the words are right there to remind me that yes, I am here and yes, I can.

Being brave enough to embrace change isn’t easy – but it’s worth it. I’m going to trust in that.

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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Christmas Presence, Lights and a Mother’s Love

When you love someone,
the best thing you can offer is your presence.
How can you love if you are not there?

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

“Where’s the tree skirt, Mom?” His voice rang in a booming blend of anxiety and excitement at the idea of digging into the boxes of Christmas decorations. Unusual for my boy lately, but I’ll take it.

“Check the bottom of that one – it should be there. We’ve opened all the rest,” I called back, my attention drifting back to the white lights that we not cooperating with my attempts to twist them around the evergreen garland.

“It’s not here, Mom. I’ve checked. Are you sure you got all the boxes out?” His voice rose a note as he moved towards the closet.

“I’m sure. I’ve been through them several times. I took them out by myself – remember?” I hope my exasperation was at just the right level – it seems lately that if I wait around for him to help with something, it would most likely never get done. At least not on my timeline. Eighteen means he’s trying on his independence, figuring out how much adulting he can do while still living ‘under our roof’.

“MOM – it’s not here!”

presence
Our tree, minus the skirt.

Wow – just a minute. Hold on while I finish – better yet, why don’t you HOLD this while I twist – it would go so much faster if we worked together.”

His long fingers gently grasped the garland as I wrapped over, under, over, under. White lights twinkled back as we tediously wrapped the greenery around the mantle, dodging brass reindeer placed to hold stockings above the fire.

“Can we just look upstairs? I love the tree this year – but it really needs the skirt.”

My mind raced back to last January. In my rush towards a fresh new year, life sometimes is jumbled. I don’t always take the time I should to put things in place, I know, but last year, turning the calendar to 2017 wasn’t something I was joyfully anticipating.

But why is it always like this? We sweep the little things away in confusion, hastily pack memories, thinking our presence is more important somewhere else, or it’s too much to deal with once school starts. I’m sure it’s folded and nestled in tissue and newspaper somewhere, knowing that next year, there’d be more time. Just pack it up, box and store and then next year, I’ll deal with it. I’ll be more present then…

And now it’s next year.

I stand aside as he pulls down box after box, filling the closet floor with half-open cartons of memories. “Oh shoot- I should get those out this year,” I quietly mumble, one more reminder of my growing list of ‘should dos’. That one’s labeled “Cameron’s ornaments”, and in the recycled cardboard diaper box next to it, “Lily’s ornaments”. At least I got that part right. Someday, those boxes will shift to their own closets, ready to add childhood moments to adult trees.

“I can’t imagine it would be up here, Cam,” knowing at this point that tree skirt must have disappeared into a jumble of ‘I’ll do it later’ or ‘I’ll just stick it here for now’. But undeterred, box after box is hefted down.

“Good catch, Mom!” he cheers as I narrowly escaped serious injury.

I’m done. I’ll wrap a damn sheet around the tree stand at this point.

“I found it!”

Digging underneath a jumble of lights, Grinch t-shirts and ornament adorned bathroom towels, he pulls out the green and red velvet skirt his father gave me when we moved into this house twenty-three years ago.The gold stitching and tassles are still intact.

Following him down the stairs, breathing a sigh of relief, I watch as he crouches down under our fir glowing with lights like tiny stars under a supermoon. He pulls and tugs,  gently trying to coax the skirt into position.

“How does this fit, Mom? It’s not big enough.” I sense the exasperation in his voice. I’m sure he’s done, ready to move back into solitude in his man cave.

“Just pull it a bit in the back – like this.” I’m down at his level now, tugging from the back as he smoothes in the front.

“That looks awesome, Mom. I just wanted to go all out this Christmas – since it’s my last one at home.”

“Don’t say that,” I whisper to myself as he plops down on the couch, throws his feet onto the chair,  gently stroking his dog’s ears.

I can’t imagine doing this next year without his presence… and once again, the poem repeats in my mind:

When you love someone,
the best thing you can offer is your presence.
How can you love if you are not there?

~ Thich Nhat Hanh

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 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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turning 18

He’s Turning 18

The thick envelope arrived in the mail yesterday, blue lettering screaming “OPEN IMMEDIATELY” and “YOU”VE MADE IT”!

It might have just as well said “REMINDER: THE END OF CHILDHOOD IS HERE”.

It wasn’t the college admissions response – we have another month or so for that one.

Instead, as I slit open the “TIME SENSITIVE” stamp reminding me to ‘celebrate these moments’, out tumbled direct, glaring evidence that he’s turning 18, an adult, and the 12 years of education-under-my-roof is about to end.

I’d actually have been more prepared for the college response – that’s one I’ve predicted, played over and over in my mind. I know next year he’ll be living somewhere east of the Mississippi, far away from mountains and the Pacific Ocean just a hill-hop from our house. There was no box checked on his Common App shouting, “Yes, you should stay within driving distance from your mother” – only ambitious dreams of east coast living beacon to his 18-year-old self.

And that’s ok. This is my second time around for college birthing; it’s not a huge shock.

But as the four rectangular glossies shouting ‘Graduate 2018’ tumbled from the envelope, a different kind of jolt hit me. My boy, my baby, my 6-foot-something little guy smiled back at me in sixteen different poses, tuxedo-clad and cap and gown gleaming. His gleaming white teeth, no longer hidden with silver and turquoise appendages blared a smile so bright and proud I did a double take. That’s my Cam, smiling with glee and excitement to celebrate his accomplishment. He’s turning 18, he’s graduating, and it’s time sensitive.

on turning 18
18th birthday celebration!

When Cam was little, he would talk to anyone. His spirit was contagious – no plumber, stranger waiting in line, or colleague at work was immune to his charm. He always had some sort of quip or question and if that didn’t work, he’d shimmy up the nearest pole/wall/tree branch to get their attention. But it in the quietest way possible. Cam has never been a loud type of ‘look at me’ kid, instead choosing a stealth-like approach to scare the crap out of parents who had no idea what he was capable of, while his dad and I took deep breaths and accepted who he was.

Turning 18 has changed nothing, in some respects.

At the beginning of last summer, he talked his way into an internship at a venture-capital firm. Three times a week he’d throw a crisp dress shirt over his sinewy frame, lace up his one pair of non-athletic shoes and take the bus over the river to downtown, take the elevator up to the 26th floor and join a group of entrepreneurs decades older than him for a day of research, listening to start up companies pitch their ideas and business lunches with the CEO.

And he got a promotion.

All fall he huddled in his room, balancing school work and an after-school job with writing and rewriting college admissions essays, focused on what he deemed ‘the reason he went to high school’. This kid is ready for his next step. Only occasionally would he peek into the kitchen as I chopped chicken for enchiladas or sat down next to me in the study, interrupting my grading or writing or laundry folding – all of which I gladly abandoned for the chance to get a glimpse into what’s going on in his world.

Shortly after turning 18, he announced he’s moving into a new phase in life and would appreciate only ‘on-demand’ parenting from this point forward. “What exactly is on-demand parenting?” I asked, to which he responded, “You know – when I need parenting, I’ll ask for it.”

Ha. The fact that he doesn’t think he’ll ever see a time when I might have something to add BEFORE he needs it is so typically Cam, so typically 18.

On turning 18
On a recent trip to Big Sur, CA.

We’ve debated curfews and weekends away with ‘the boys’, tracking his whereabouts on his phone and exactly what he should be required to do on his own now that he is suddenly an ‘adult’. He’s smart enough to remember what I was like when his sister left for college and says he’s preparing me for his departure early so it ‘doesn’t hit me so hard’. Somehow I think that’s not possible.

Twenty days from now his first college decisions should start rolling in, more envelopes with not only answers but evidence of the passage of time, the passing of childhood. And just like this week, I’m sure I’ll watch with an eagerness only the mom of an eighteen-year-old knows as he slides deftly open the envelope to reveal his future. I’ll be prepared to hug him tight, either way, to remind him of how proud I am of the adult he’s become, and no matter what, this is only the beginning of the next plot twist of his life.

And as soon as he leaves the room, I’ll likely shed some tears and head back to my writing to start the next part of his story. I hope you’ll ride this one out with me – I’m going to need 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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