From Parenting to Guiding: The transition into college

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The night before we caught a 4 hour flight to Indiana for the first year of college, I found myself waking up at 3am. The last 18 years played like an old reel to reel film fluttering in my mind. “Is he going to pay attention enough to his surroundings? Did I have enough conversations with him about hard work and self discipline? Did I share enough and role model well enough how to treat women with respect and kindness? Did I do enough? Did I do too much?” The memories of car ride conversations and obstacles overcome with consequences and second chances continued to cycle through my mind as I struggled to get back to sleep.

The day of culmination of 18 years of parenting dropped in on me like an anvil. As I asked myself “Is he ready?” I realized that I was really questioning whether or not I was ready. The emotions were deep and full; a cauldron brewing with excitement for his journey knowing that this next phase brings enormous personal growth and adventure (and a whole lotta fun), mixed with the sense of relief and accomplishment that together, he and I made it through all of the emotional, financial and educational struggles (#WeDidIt), topped off with a stabbing pain in my heart that the primary focus of my energy and love for the last 18 years was gone, just like that.

We both made it through that long goodbye in August 2017. We had an agreement to Face Time every Sunday and then during the week, if he wanted to talk, he would call. I would give him space. That took some self control to avoid calling at 7:45am to make sure he was on his way to 8am class, or check in on his nutritional habits and healthcare maintenance. Putting my phone ringer on and checking it throughout the night just in case he needed me, was a bad habit that admittedly took quite a while to break. By week 5 the Face Time conversations came in the middle of the week with the challenges of long hours, adjustments to a different environment and just plain homesickness…all normal first year growing pains. I had to practice acknowledging the challenges, resisting the temptation to hop on a plane and make it better, and empowering his ability to work through them on his own. I reminded him of how capable he is, when he is questioning himself. I encouraged him to take a deep breath and tackle what is most pressing, chipping away at them one problem at a time, and ask for help from the new resources surrounding him. I learned to upgrade my parenting of a teenager to guiding a young adult.

The year came and went with a wealth of new experiences, challenges and successes…for both of us. The summer was wrought with its own adjustment to a more responsibly independent young adult living under my roof requiring a new set of rules and agreements. And then as quickly as it came, we were on to year two goodbyes. This time I wasn’t concerned with whether or not he was prepared. This time I walked away with a gentle pang in my heart that I just miss him. #UnconditionalLove.

I don’t give a F—

I recently had a young, hopeful colleague come to me asking for advice. I eagerly said, “sure”, assuming it was some deep knowledge or expertise I possess. What she asked, made me laugh, and take stock of where I am in my journey.

She straight-faced said, “I need to know how to not give a fuck.” . . .

It wasn’t exactly what I’d expected, but it gave me pause for reflection.

Settling deeply into my 50s (ugh), I am learning to ignore the weight (literally) of the force of gravity and obvious changes to my body, while recognizing that those changes have no effect on my mind and spirit. It’s funny how your teenage years feel so recent, and yet are undeniably decades in the past. And all of these changes and realizations and acknowledgements have led to that one defining statement: “I Don’t Give A Fuck.”

Much to my mother’s chagrin, that “F” word has too easily flowed from my mouth for far too long. I maintain that it has always been with profound purpose and emphasis. And in my more seasoned years it has become my personal check-in. I listen to peoples’ opinions about me, politics, social justice issues, excuses for their choices or what the Kardashians did for summer fun, and I ask myself if that person’s statement holds truth, insight or weight in my life. And if not (which is more often the case) I find myself taking an internal reflective moment and determining…”IDGAF”, and then freeing myself and my life for things with value.

It’s freeing! I spent years upon years, heartache upon heartache and failure upon failure concerned about what other people thought of me and continuously altered how I lived in the world to please someone else…mostly everyone else. During those younger years when I didn’t trust who I believed I was, I let everyone around me play a role in who I became. I believed them more than I believed myself. Even when I knew better. And every time I tried to be someone other than myself, I failed. I’m not exaggerating. I made colossal mistakes and choices. But I kept trying, because I wanted to be something/someone, other than who I really am. For some reason, she wasn’t “good” enough or pretty enough or smart enough or athletic enough or…or…or…the list goes on, and it changes over time. New failures get added to the pile. Some personal beliefs get tossed, others put in their place. But the list seems to stay…

…until wisdom wins.

As I have survived and thrived and repeated that pattern throughout the years, I’ve come to realize that none of my failures have killed me. And when I began to learn to own my failures; honestly and without shame, I learned that every failure offered me greater strength, courage. . .and wisdom. The truth, as difficult as it can be to acknowledge and address, is the only path to becoming who we are meant to be. When we own our truth, we free ourselves from someone else’s projection of blame and shame upon us. When we own our mistakes, admit that we’re doing the best we can and we want to do better, we free ourselves from the projections that we are less than, or incapable. We give ourselves permission to learn and grow and space to be human along the way.

So my response to my colleague was that her perception was a bit off. It’s not that I don’t give a “F—“. It’s that I so deeply care about truth and possibility that I don’t have room for games and manipulation and disguises in my life anymore. Wisdom has taught me that I don’t have time to figure out what someone’s agenda is or what someone wants to take from me in order to make themselves feel or look better. I don’t have room for someone trying to step on me to get something they think they deserve that I don’t. Wisdom has taught me that I am better than my worst mistake, that there is an abundance of all of the important things in life. And that I matter, no matter what.

So what IDGAF about, is anyone trying to get in the way of my living my life.

Falling Silent

 As a chaplain with children in juvenile hall, you get used to the stories of how kids get caught up with the “wrong people”. How they make poor judgment calls all in the name of figuring out who they are in the world. But you never get used to the damage, the pain, the indelible marks of a short life riddled with abuse at the hands of someone who is supposed to love them. I never ever will understand how we can incarcerate a 14-year-old girl for prostitution as if she chose that career path and that broken arm she had when she was arrested. I can never erase from my mind the countless stories of sexual and physical abuse that many of “my girls” endure before their pain turns outward in anger, just hoping someone will care they are alive.

“I feel like I’m drowning.”

“What did I do to deserve that? “

“I’m mad at myself because I ‘fell silent’.”

These are the voices of young women who should have a bright future ahead of them, but instead are stuck in the quicksand of the remnants of abusive relationships. Repeating the patterns over and over again, letting the boyfriend back into their hearts because he cried and apologized, promising to never do it again. Choosing the “same guy” with a different name who is going to treat them the same way, eventually leaving them with the guilt that they brought it on themselves. That they must deserve to be treated this way because everybody does it to them.  The words of disdain, of hatred, the punch in the face or the choke around the neck are stifling. So stifling that the next time some guy starts to go down that path toward abuse, with red flag warnings at every encounter, they fall silent. Their throat closes as if no words can come out. They just don’t know how to fight it off.

Enough years of this pattern and every man has control over them without even knowing it, or putting forth an effort to suppress them. They feel it in every job interview; that they will never be enough. They hear it in every flippant remark by a male friend who thinks he’s just joking when he calls her a bitch. They sense it in every aspect of their lives. And they fall silent.

In that silence their insides are crumbling. There is an illness that is literally eating them alive. Sometimes they can fake it with a smile, suppress it with straight As and a college scholarship, or create the demeanor of someone who has it all together. But it never goes away. Many times they learn to live with it…until someone sits across from them and invites them to say the words, “I have the right to be me”…and they fall silent. I fell silent too.

Life is Short. . .

I made a collosal error this week. I forgot how short life is.

I thought I had time. I thought I could get there this week.

The truth? I didn’t have the courage to look death in the face of a high school friend who was dying. I could write a list of ten reasons why I couldn’t make the 35 minute drive to see my friend, Sally McDonald Demers before she passed away yesterday. And all I can come up with now, is the reality that I didn’t have the courage to make it happen. I had the privilege of seeing her at our high school reunion last Fall, when she was smiling and laughing, and not letting on that her cancer had returned for a final battle. Perhaps that’s how I’m choosing to remember her.

I’m not crazy about sharing all of the details of my life, my mistakes, my shortcomings, my failures. But sometimes, when I find wisdom within the muddy moments, I think it’s ok to put it out there.

So, my lesson today is simple. Life is short. Seriously. That’s no joke. It’s not a “saying”. It’s not an old wives tale. It’s for real. A few years ago I wrote a personal quote/motto on my Facebook page that says, “Life is too short to take it for granted, and too long to NOT do what makes you happy”. It’s my reminder to cherish even the mundane moments of life, and to be courageous enough to make changes if I’m not happy. It’s a reminder that even on my darkest days, the toughest times, take a good deep breath and realize, it’s all ok, because I’m still breathing. Which means I can get through this, which means, I have something to learn which is why I’m still here. So yeah. . .deep breath. Laughter. Gratitude.

Thank you, Sally.

Hypocrisy

I’m considering beginning every blog post with “As I get older. . .”, because there is glaring truth in the wisdom that comes from age and life experience.

So…as I get older, I am becoming less and less tolerant of peoples’ BS. Maybe my BS is meter is just sharpening over time, but I feel smoke coming out of my ears as I watch people spew blatant lies and warped perceptions.

Perhaps what irks me the most is the hypocrisy of religion. There is nothing more hypocritical to me than a people who claim to be “Christian” but can’t seem to remember a single thing about Jesus’ life and teachings. Our beautifully humble new Pope, Pope Francis, has spent the first part of his papacy laying the ground work for how a true leader of the church models the behavior of a true Christian. He has shed the pomp and circumstance and grandeur of past Popes. His first actions have been going “to the back of the line” so-to-speak, to reach his hand to God’s most forgotten and marginalized.  And for this, he has been criticized. Huh?

Have you seen Jesus? Have you read any part of the New Testament? Do you remember the story of Jesus going into the temple and overturning tables at the hypocrisy and misuse of that sacred space for profit and personal gain? Have you heard the story of the Good Samaratin, the prostitute, the leper, the tax collector??? Any of these stories of Jesus NOT turning his back on ANYONE ring a bell? Is there somewhere in the Bible where it says that Jesus died for everyone…except….?

I struggle every day to be more like Jesus. To be more like Mother Mary. In the smallest of ways I have to say to myself, “If I am going to claim to be a Christian. And I am going to claim to love and follow Jesus then I have to step into that commitment with both feet.” The most extreme example is with the death penalty. If I claim to be a Christian, which means I believe that Jesus died for everyone’s sins, then I have to believe that I do NOT have the right to kill ANYONE. Does it mean that there are circumstances where I would WANT to kill someone? Of course. But I don’t have the right to do it. Nor do I have the right to “hire” the government to do it. I just don’t. I believe in the depth of my soul that when we inject a killer to kill him, we become the very thing we despise. Punto.

I have to believe. . .

Every day I interact with young people who are struggling to get through another obstacle life has thrown in their path. These are young men and women, some still boys and girls, whom I’ve come to call my children because they are; spiritually, emotionally and universally. I read their brilliant prose on FB where they brazenly lay out the raw, brutal reality of lost childhoods, broken promises, painful mistakes they’ve made that are cut into the story that is their life, unable to be shaken by a joint or a rum and coke or a college degree. And every day, with every story, every cry for help, I am helpless. Maybe not completely, but sometimes when my heart is breaking a little too much too often, helpless is how it feels. I help where I can with support, guidance and love, and resources where I have them. But I know the truth is that ALL of the work is theirs. It’s that way for all of us, but somehow witnessing young people experience the journey of life in such profound ways feels more difficult than anything I have personally ever had to endure. Recognizing that they have to find their own strength, their own courage, their own fight (yet again) to pick themselves up and walk out of the darkness of their surroundings and experiences, I am pained by the acknowledgement that I cannot go get them and carry them out. If I do that, I get in the way of whatever lesson it is they are trying to put behind them. Whatever healing is meant to happen. And so I sit, with all of my friends and fellow ‘parents’ who are able to see the Light in all of our children. We sit together, at the opening of that proverbial cave, with candles. Encouraging, guiding, willing them to get up and keep moving. If they could only see us. If they only knew how enormously valuable they are to us. I have to believe they can do it. I have to believe they will. My heart needs to believe it.

February 28, 1996

I try to teach my teenage son that every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow. . .

The part I leave out right now, is that sometimes the pain of that growth is so debilitating that your heart is begging for another way to “learn the lesson”.

Seventeen years ago today when my dad died suddenly at 56, it felt like someone took a knife to my heart and twisted it. I had a conversation with him on the phone at 9:30pm on a Tuesday, and Wednesday morning at 8:30am my brother called me to tell me he died. That was it. That was the end of the book. I didn’t get a do-over, I didn’t get a warning. Just over.

My dad died when I was 30 years old, and it threw me for a loop. The kids I work with experience a much greater agony at 2, at 9, at 14. I’ve heard children tell stories of holding their best friend in their arms while they bled out on the street, or watching their father gunned down in front of their home. I remember the gamut of emotions that followed my loss. I can’t even imagine the emotions that follow in acts of senseless violence. And people wonder why children kill. When I meet a 14 year old killer I don’t look at them as “an adult monster”, I want to know what happened to them in 14 years to give them the pain of a 40 year old.  Because only in recognizing the brokenness, can we find healing.

My son will never know his Pop-pop, and God-willing, he will never know violence up close and personal. But he will benefit from all that I learned from my dad. Most importantly, he will benefit from the lesson I learned from his passing:

Love the people you have in your life, so if and when it’s time for you to depart from one another, you can more easily get to that place of peace where you say, “We had a great life together.”

I had a great life with my dad.

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