Tis the Season of Endings


seasons

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings.  —Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

I have begun to refer to this past month or so as the “Season of Endings.” While it feels like this has snuck up on me, I have been staring down the barrel of this gun since last year. As the school year wrapped up in the spring of 2014, I telescoped out to the spring of 2015, imagining what it would be like to see both of my boys moving up and entering new stages of their lives. We’ve been through this before with the older one but it was a subtle ending, a minor shift of the universe as he ended his time in the secure blanket of elementary school and made his way to the middle school, embracing the roller coaster ride of adolescence and hormonal inconsistencies. It seemed like a small moment at the time because the younger one was still, seemingly, our baby and was providing a safeguard that we had a long way to go before our lives as parents would truly shift and our children would begin their not-so-slow ascent towards adulthood.

This year, both our boys will move up. The younger one finally leaving the pediatric nest of grade school and the older one beginning the final stage of his mandated academic career as he prepares to rise up to high school. I’m incredibly proud of both of them, shining stars in their own rights. And, I am surprisingly overwhelmed by how their rapid maturity and readiness to embark on their new journeys stands in stark contrast to my desire to push them back into the womb. They are navigating their journeys with confidence and competence that is equally impressive and humbling. As their mother, I struggle to strike the proper balance of nurturing support and respecting their growing boundaries. It’s an obstacle course that I trip over daily, rewarded with eye rolls, exasperated sighs and complete insolence. My older one has fine tuned his ability to tune me out and disregard my wishes while the younger one is watching carefully as his mentor blazes the trail.

For my older son, this year is transformative. As an athlete, he is moving into a much more serious period of his young athletic career. He has his eyes set on playing in college and is beginning to understand the implications and obligations that come along with that goal. He is constantly weighing his options, looking at potential outcomes and examining consequences. I wonder where he learned this and question if his father and I truly had the capacity to teach this to him when this was never ingrained in us. He is remarkable. He shared with me this week that the girl he had asked to accompany him to the 8th Grade Dinner/Dance was  just a friend because the girl he wanted to ask would be more than a friend and he didn’t want to get involved with someone who was going to be leaving for the entire summer to go to sleepaway camp. It took me a few seconds to process his comment and I had to quickly decide if I was immensely proud of the logical and mature thought process or if I was saddened by his lack of whimsy. Either way, I respect his decision and admire that he made one that he is comfortable with. I sensed no regret or disappointment. He had not settled. He made a choice and was secure in that. Wow. That just happened.

The season of endings is truly bittersweet. And, I have found, it is seeping into other areas of my life as well. As I prepare to celebrate my boys transition to the next stages of their lives, I am carefully trying to not overshadow their moment. However, I know myself well enough to realize that when life is changing beyond what I can control, I will look to control other types of changes in my life. I try to ease my discomfort with everything moving so fast and my inability to keep up with it all by focusing on the areas of my life that I can control and change at my own pace. Our lives – mine in particular – is always in a state of flux and I never sit still for too long. As I have often shared, change is both scary and exciting to me. I crave it and I try to control it. I dread it and I am wildly anticipatory of it. Like my boys, who are ready to move into new schools, make new friends and partake in new experiences, I grow antsy with the familiar, seeking out new experiences and interactions. I love the thrill of the new and the opportunities and adventures that come along with that. I love to reinvent and refresh and am always looking for ways to introduce that into my life. Whether it be a new job, a new friend, a new hairstyle or a new hobby, I am always trying to find ways to create new and interesting experiences for myself. And, like with the Season of Endings, I do this while struggling to let go of the old. I hang on, often far too long, failing to detach from what I have outgrown. My metaphorical closet is stuffed with clothes and shoes that no longer fit or are not in style.

During this Season of Endings, I commiserate with fellow parents who are bracing themselves for all kinds of new adventures as our children embark on the next leg or their journeys. We love them and support them with tears gently spilling from our eyes as the umbilical cord stretches just a little bit further, getting ready to finally split off. We watch our babies grow a little taller, talk a little deeper, walk a little faster as their little hands slip from ours and they assure us that they can cross the street on their own. We hold our breaths as they step out from the curb, trusting that we have reminded them again and again to look both ways and take care of themselves. We beam with pride as they take long strides in the crosswalk, making their way to the other side, waving proudly to reassure us that they did it. They made it all by themselves. And we weep a little more while feeling grateful and proud.

Each day that passes and I endure another element of the Season of Endings, I realize that we are quickly morphing into the Season of Beginnings. It’s a new road and a new chapter for all of us.

LESSONS


educate your child“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.” ~ Angela Schwindt

With two school-age children, mornings are a pretty tight operation in our house.  It can get a little chaotic preparing to get our two boys out the door to school but I am grateful for our morning hustle because it invariably offers unexpected discussions in the car.  Our routine for drop-off is simple.  First my younger son gets out at his elementary school and then my older son and I spend the bit longer journey to middle school mostly in silence while he usually plays with his phone.  I will try to make idle chit-chat with him that, far too often, results in eye rolling but, every now and then, he shares something that is, inexplicably and inevitably, discussion-provoking.  With a middle schooler, I get very few opportunities for conversation and, those I do, are almost always dictated by him.  He determines how much information he is going to share and when and how he does so.  Long gone are the days where I can sit him down with a snack after school and try to pump him for information about his day, his friends, his trials of life.  Instead, I sometimes get a stammering opening into a discussion that usually ends with him needing something from me (more often than not, his need involves cash).  I cherish those rare moments that he chooses to open up to me and I am very strategic about trying to capitalize on them whenever I can.

That morning chit-chat, with just the two of us, can yield openings to conversations that lend themselves to  moments of guidance on subjects that are clearly on my son’s mind.  But, with just a few minutes, they are sprints, no deep dives.  Whether he is conscious of it or not, he is very calculating about his timing.  He has five minutes in the car alone with me and, typically, he waits until we are about 3 blocks from his school before he opens his mouth.  Earlier this week, on the first day back at school after our weeklong spring break, at just about the exact same spot as usual, my son opened his mouth and what came out provided assurance that he is genetically connected to me.  If I ever had any concerns about him being switched at birth, watching him blossom into a teenager and hearing some of his rumination, confirm that they sent us home with the correct child.

“It’s going to really suck to see all those kids with tans at school today.”  The moment he said it, I knew where he was going.  I also knew that this had been on his mind for a while now.  “I’m really glad we didn’t go away like everyone else.  It would suck to have get back to reality today.  I hate the end of vacation so I am glad we didn’t go.”

Really?  Such intense rationalization at 12 years old?

My poor son. I, being the mother, reminded him that all of his close friends were home during spring break.  He then pointed out that it was all the rich kids – the kids from the other side of town – who had gone away.

“That would be so hard.  I hate that about vacation.  I’d rather not go.” He lamented.

Oh crap, he is not me.  He is my mother! 

I offered some basic wisdom to him, reminded him that we will, again, go on vacation and that, yes, going away can be very bittersweet because of re-entry but it is all worth it in the end.  Oh yeah, and take lots of pictures.  They will help you cope with the malaise that falls over you when you are back to your daily grind and cannot remember what it was like to be soaking in the sunshine on the beach or languishing by the pool.  The photos will remind you that, in fact, it was not just a wonderful dream.  You were there.

After I dropped him at school and tried to push aside all the guilt I often experience during these brief but meaningful discussions, I thought about our little chat.  I thought about his patterns of behavior and his need to share these little nuggets with me during our morning routine.  I reflected on his growing maturity and witnessing an observable shift to processing disappointment rather than having a temper tantrum (which, quite frankly, is what I want to do most of the time – thank goodness I have my children around to teach me appropriate behavior).  He mentioned only about one hundred times how he wished we had gone away for spring break.  He complained about how boring it was to stay home, especially when his parents had to work and were taking shifts to entertain him and his brother so they did not spend exactly 11 days in exactly the same indented spots on the sofa playing xbox.  I could see his point of view and, while I felt sad that he was wishing for a vacation (aren’t we all?), I appreciated that he was not too burdened by it.  But, of course, I wonder what goes on in that mini-adult brain.  I wonder what he sees through his lens.  He knows that he is not one of the rich kids – and that was the word that stung the most.  He feels lacking and I don’t ever want money to be the definition of happiness for either of my children.  My husband and I have struggled to shield my children from any financial woes we may have had at any point in time but, now, it is crystal clear that he knows.  He knows we are not rich.  At least not financially.

Earlier this year, we had a discussion with both of our children about money.  We explained that this was going to be a tight year for us all because I am involved in a start-up business and I’m spending a good chunk of the year without a salary.  Any money we have is going towards supporting us during the phase.  This means no vacations this year.  There will be no disposable income for eating out several times a week or for mindless shopping at Target.  Every dollar is accounted for and earmarked to help change our lives, hopefully.  We have explained all this to the kids and, to the best of their ability, they understand.  But, they are young and they also remember wonderful spring break trips and beach vacations.  (They, of course, do not remember how miserable they were on some of those trips and how much they tortured us but that is for another day.)  We have been very honest with our children, not because we want to burden them with any of our challenges, but to allow them to understand that this is temporary and that we have a bigger plan in mind.  We want to teach them about decision-making and hard choices and show them the silver linings that come with that.  We never want to deprive them and probably have been over-generous with them to compensate for our own lacking childhoods.  Our main goal is that, when it is time for them to leave their childhoods behind, they will feel that they were loved deeply and provided with a solid foundation.  They will remember the vacations and they will appreciate, at some point, all of the hard work their parents put in so they could live a pretty nice life but I want them to also understand the struggle.  There is no entitlement in life except for the entitlement of self-worth.   Everything else comes at a price.

I am watching my son, half a year away from turning 13, begin to process life.  I am trying to crawl inside his head to see how he puts the pieces together in his mind.  When he says things to me that seem so far beyond his age, so much more wise than I expect my little baby to be, I am startled and overjoyed.  I love that my children are growing and maturing.  I love that I can have intellectual conversations with them and explore the world with a whole new dimension.  And, at the same time, it breaks my heart just a little bit.  I realize that, with this maturity, comes a transparency.  We can no longer whisper, spell things out or use code words because they know.  They get it.  They understand what we are talking about.  And, with sons, they are not about to let you know they know what you’re saying until they can strategically use it against you.  They are not inquisitive about the travails of life.  They do not ask for guidance.  At least my kids don’t.  Not until the road is dark and they cannot find a light to show them the way will they reach out, arms outspread, and say “Mommy, help me.”  My son, already an inch taller than me, stands tall and proud and locks it all up inside.  Then, every now and again, perhaps because he is slumped down in the car seat and not on the top of his game at the moment, he will exhale and a little gem will come slipping out.  Sometimes I get a little periscope to see inside and catch a little glimpse of that maturing mind.

I learn from my children every single day.  They show me what it is like to be happy and fulfilled young people.  Their lives are not perfect, by any stretch of the imagination, and I die a little bit inside every time I see another piece of their innocence lost.  I struggle with not solving their problems and letting them learn and figure out how to navigate the increasingly challenging waters of life.  Yet, they teach me how to love and be loved.  They remind me why I get up every day.  They fill my heart with love and then have the capability of breaking it, with a sneer, a disapproving glance or the infamous eye roll.

This morning?  Not a word.  Some groans and a hasty goodbye when it was time for him to get out of the car.  But, you know what?  I’ll take it.

DISBELIEF


dont believe in santaLast night at dinner, my younger son who is nearly two weeks away from turning 9, declared, in his usual snide and sarcastic way that he no longer believes in Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny (and likely other mythical creatures that he could not remember to rattle off at that moment).  My husband and 12-year old son took great joy in this proclamation while I sat, head hung low, realizing that yet another milestone had been crossed in my child’s life journey.  One that, with him being my baby, I certainly was not ready for.

“Who do you think brings all those presents every year?” I asked defiantly.  I was determined to disprove this and console myself that there was still a faint glimpse of fairy dust floating around in his brain.

He smiled so wide that his eyes were squinting and he tried mightily to hold back the giggles.  “Um, uh, I don’t know,”  he stammered, surely seeing in my eyes that I simply wanted some evidence that he was not growing up rapidly right before my eyes.  “Just kidding!  I believe!  Of course it’s Santa!”  He laughed through the words and I knew he was just humoring me, understanding on some level of my irrational maternal need to keep my child young and innocent.  Or, just maybe, there was still some wonder in his mind as to whether or not that chubby, red-suited, bearded fellow shoved himself down our narrow chimney each Christmas eve.  Yeah, not likely.

“Who do you think eats the cookies and drinks the milk we leave out?” I jabbed back at him.  He grinned again, realizing that his mommy was not about to give up the good fight.  “Well, maybe it’s Buddy!” He was assigning blame to our beloved dog who steals food off his plate every morning as he dawdles through breakfast not swallowing up his english muffin or waffles fast enough while the dog stands guard waiting, hoping for a merciful bite.  “But,” he sighed dramatically.  “It probably is Santa!  Don’t worry, I believe!”

He went on to share, however, that he did witness, one Easter eve, as he mistakenly wandered into the kitchen after bedtime, two baskets and some candy laying out on the table.  “I know Daddy was making those baskets up for us.”  And when I challenged him further on the Tooth Fairy, my beloved husband could not resist but to sarcastically point out that my son invariably ends up with the exact same amount of cash that resides in my wallet each time he safely and securely tucks his newly displaced tooth under his pillow.  Both my children laughed hysterically at his comment and I knew, right there, that the jig was up.  I wondered, however, why my young son still carried on, with such painstaking effort, the rituals that we had taught and replayed time and again with the Tooth Fairy or with Santa or the myriad other false icons that we suggested brought magic into our home.  Why was it that, just last week, he spent five minutes finding the perfect spot to place his tooth so that the “Tooth Fairy” would find it?  Did he realize it was me sneaking into his room, after he had fallen asleep (and before I had fallen off and forgotten to replace his tooth with the required cash that lay waiting in my wallet) and wanted to ensure I had an easy extraction of the tooth so as not to have to move his head around too much and risk waking and blowing my cover?  Was he, in fact, carrying on this tradition to make me feel better to ensure that his position as mommy’s baby and devoted child was not tarnished as he watched me struggle through the transition to having a teenage son with his older brother?  Was he that masterful?

Knowing him, perhaps.

Quite simply, his superpowers of being a child who wants to protect his mother’s innocence may very well have trumped my efforts to be a mother who wants to protect her child’s innocence.

This morning, as I was dropping my kids off at school, I was reflecting on the conversation from last night and the subsequent conversations I had with my younger son trying mercifully to break him down and find out what he really believed.  I realized that, right there, at the dinner table last night, we took a giant step forward.  We moved from being a family with young children with whom we had to devise elaborate fantasies to protect from the truthful realities of grown-up life to a family with nearly adolescents who were beginning to understand the ways of the world.  They had vocabularies that explained their feelings and ours in ways that surprised me on a regular basis.  They had developed a sophistication that I equally loved and dreaded.  They were growing up.  While I relish the fact that my older son still asks me on a nightly basis to tuck him in (despite the fact that the request comes from a voice that is getting lower and lower each night), I realize that in four years he will be getting his learner’s permit and the next big declaration – if I am lucky enough to be clued in – might be that he has kissed a girl or, heaven forbid, that he has had sex.  We are entering a new frontier, friends and I am hanging on by my fingernails to the old one.

Several nights ago, before my younger son burst my bubble, he and I were in my bedroom reading and having our nightly chit chat.  “Mommy, this is my favorite time of the day,” he casually mentioned in between sharing stories of the other kids in his third grade class.  “I hope we do this always.”

Me too, pal.