“40”

We’ve all heard them. We’ve all laughed at them. We’ve all cringed at them…

“The best years of a woman’s life- the 10 years between 39 and 40.”

“The ‘I just woke up’ face of your 30’s is the ‘all day long’ face of your 40’s.” -Libby Reid

And the one that was on the t-shirt my mom gave my dad for his 40th birthday, “40 isn’t old if you’re a TREE.”

When I turned 30 it didn’t really faze me. It feels like it was just a few months ago, but I know that isn’t true because last week I turned 39. Steve Miller was right, “Time keeps on slippin’, slippin’, slippin’… Into the future.” Getting older doesn’t really bother me any more now than it did at 30. Getting older is a gift, something I feel even stronger about since my mother’s death when she was just 52. So, I celebrate the completion of my 39th year… up next:  the big 4-0! It seems fitting that I do something to solemnize the completion of another decade in some way, so I spent this week thinking about what that should be.

I thought about making a bucket list. I have one and I could publish it for the whole world to see. A few of my friends have marked such an occasions with ‘40 things to do before I’m 40’ check lists. Those lists make me nervous. What if I don’t do them all? Sometimes I have a hard time quieting my inner perfectionist.

I thought about making a goal. A friend of mine marked the occasion of her 40th by taking up running and completed a marathon that year. I admire her accomplishment and at one time I seriously considered the challenge, but over the last year I’ve been nursing a foot injury that has been stubbornly slow in healing. I think that one is still a few years out for me.

I thought about going back to school, but I don’t have that I absolutely must or I won’t be complete drive inside me about it. School is a huge commitment that would require finances, time and sacrifices that I am not sure are really worth it for the things I hope to accomplish in my life, and besides, I have a degree, so there’s a little of the “been there, done that” element to that option as well.

So what I have decided to do is write a collection of 40 letters to my kids. When I began this blog I thought I would do more of that here on this site, and as it turns out that isn’t really where things went. Yes, I have written a lot about things that I want them to know, but I haven’t really made Hannah, Rachel and Rylon prominent as my audience. So over the next year, along with the usual style of writing I have done, I will be writing a collection letters specifically written for the 3 precious gifts that are my children. Their questions, their innocence, and their love inspire me and have shaped so much of who I am today. I am humbled and privileged to be their mom.

My Muses

I also hope you will enjoy the ‘40’ journey with me. Thank you so much for being my audience. Your encouragement and enthusiasm have brought so much meaning to this journey. I am overwhelmed by your support! It humbles me to think that I might have the words that speak into your own stories. To God be the glory.

I couldn’t end without a few more quotes for the road…

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Even though our outward man is perishing, yet the inward man is being renewed day by day.” 2 Corinthians 4:16

“How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” -John Burroughs

“At 40, every time you suck in your gut, your ankles swell.”

With Love,

Vicki

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A New Chapter

About a year ago I wrote this: https://withlovemom.wordpress.com/2009/09/14/my-son-nemo-and-growing-up/ .  Boy I’m feeling those words today!

This is what I did this morning:

I took these pictures

Of my baby boy

Heading down the path

Toward a new adventure.

Did I really write all of that last year?  I hope Marlin swam away and cried…

Because, that’s exactly what I am going to go do.

Family Tradition

I grew up in a family full of tradition, rich tradition that had been passed from generation to generation.  Some of those traditions I still carry on with my own children, but there are some traditions that we have stumbled on all by ourselves.  One of my favorite traditions happened by accident, and at the time, not even by ‘happy accident’!  It all started on an important evening when I reeeeeeeally needed a babysitter…

When my husband married me 7 years ago he also gained what he affectionately refers to as his “Sparkle Girls”.  There’s a whole ‘nuther story to go along with the name, and I will tell it sometime for sure, but the point is, he was pretty in love with all three of us on the day he and I got married.  That husband of mine is a true gem, and without a doubt the man of my dreams!  My husband’s Sparkle Girls were 6 and 7 on the day he became their Daddy.   During our wedding ceremony, the four of us lit a common unity candle, symbolizing that we were all becoming one family.  Since the day they met, both of the Sparkle Girls and Daddy have foreged their own unique and significant relationship with one another.  It has been really beautiful to watch tenderness, respect, and love blossom between father and daughter over the last 7 years.

So, back on that important evening when the babysitter bailed and I longed to go out to a fancy, romantic, child free restaurant with my wonderful husband and celebrate our first anniversary, I was not very happy that our Sparkle Girls would be tagging along.  I wanted it to be just the two of us, but instead a family tradition was born.

This year we celebrated our 7th anniversary, commemorating it as we have for every anniversary meal since that first one, out together, celebrating the anniversary of our family’s birth.  Since that first anniversary we have added a son to our family and as we gathered around the steak house dining table, I delighted in the presence of my husband and our 3 children as we shared celebratory meal honoring not only our marriage, but the bond of family it represents as well.  Not to worry, we have had and continue to have our time for celebrating our marriage all alone as a couple!  This year we will celebrate by taking a trip to Italy and Switzerland this summer, all alone, but for now, this is one family tradition we cherish.

What are some of the family traditions that you share with your family?  I would love to hear about them!  Please come out of the internet shadows and share them in the comment section!  Just click on the word “comment” below and follow the prompts.  Thanks!

Our Family in 2003

Our Family in 2010

The Best Part of My Birthday

I added another year to my age this week!  I don’t mind birthdays.  They are a sign of life and a marker that reminds me that the good Lord has blessed me with another years worth of days.  I also like the way my little family celebrates birthdays.  I thought I’d share with you about my favorite part.

The written words…

Somewhere along the line we decided that everyone gets to choose, for the birthday honoree, their own individual card.  This is the selection for me from my dream man and the kids for this year.  I especially love how each of my children take such care to write in the cards to add their own personal touch.  They even write messages on the envelopes!

This one is from my little guy…

I melt when I see the little pre school handwritings of my little ones.  You know, when you’re in the middle of those years when they are little and need you so much for every little thing… “Can you tie my shoes?”  “I want a snaaaaack!”  “There’s thunder, can I sleep in your room?”  and no trip to Target ever goes with out the inevitable question, “Can we visit the Toys Section?”  Wow, those years are challenging!  Not enough sleep, not enough time for yourself, everything you wear has the fingerings of slobbery graham crackers before you ever leave the house, and you’ve seen your precious little boy use your skirt as a napkin!   It feels like a time in your life when it will never be over and they will never grow up.  It feels like you will never again see the words, “Dry Clean Only” in the tag of a sweater and consider it a viable wardrobe choice.  It feels like you will never again be able to have an adult conversation with your husband where you don’t end up squaking, “What!?” like a jungle bird, at your sweet little blue eyed girl who has just interrupted for the 342 bajillionth time!  It feels like you will never be able to walk through a parking lot without experiencing the feeling of your arm being nearly ripped from the socket as your wiggly boy hop, skips, and jumps along, all while you grip his gooey little hand.  And every day you wonder, “Will the Family Room rug always be covered by all these toys?”

An then one day, they give you a give you a card, and the preschool writing has been replaced.  That little blue eyed interrupter has done it again! Interrupted the fantasy you have in your mind that she’s a little girl and she will never grow up and she will never not be your little baby girl.

Oh, she’ll tell you she’s your ‘Baby girl,” but that’s just to be cute and endearing.  She know’s all your soft spots.  And you melt.

And then she tells you how ‘prodigous’ you are …  And you can’t help but smile because she’s so stinkin’ cute.  And she’s becoming so stunningly beautiful that you know if you dare leave the table, the busy-boy at the restaurant is going to try and get her number…

And your other little blue eyed girl tells you she is finally beginning to understand who you are…

And that someday she wants to be the best mom in the world, too…  And you can’t help but see how wise she’s becoming.  She’s actually noticing all the effort you’ve put into raising her and she appreciates it!  And you can see that the next 4 years are going to go by so fast… and your little chrysalis is, very soon, going to open up.  And you imagine the amazing butterfly she will be.   What amazing butterflies that they all will be!

And you melt.

The written words are the best part.

And in case you were wondering, yes, my husband gave me one too.  He really is the man of my dreams!

She’ll Wear Blue

Entering the auditorium for freshman orientation, the screen at the front of the room reads, “Welcome Class of 2014!”   The year is a little piece of trivia that I had stuffed away in the back of my mind years ago when I finally decided what year she was going to start Kindergarten and haven’t thought a lot of it since.  My first born has an autumn birthday so it was up for debate, but in the end I decided to keep her home for a bonus year and it has proven to be an excellent decision.  Making that decision seems like a lifetime ago and yesterday all at the same time.  How is that possible?  I feel the knot of emotion tighten in my throat and steady myself.  I don’t want to be ‘that mom’ and it would be so easy to ‘get all emotional’ right now.

As we find our seats in the auditorium of the high school, I have that surreal feeling like I am living someone else’s life, because this one, I am certain, could not be mine, given my daughter is still, after all, just a little girl.  Isn’t she?  Yeah, I know…  not really.

Truthfully, over the years I have not given a lot of thought about the day she will graduate from high school.  She has always been fairly ‘easy’.  Nothing has ever really thrown me for a loop with her.  It’s just been an assumption that some day these high school days too would come.  Now, as I listen to the guidance counselor begin his ‘This is how much high school has changed since you were in it you old parents’ spiel, those thoughts of the next four years, those mysterious school years that, like ‘Kindergarten’, are given special names and not just a number, have my heart beating just a little bit faster!  Not because I don’t think she is prepared or capable, on the contrary, I’m proud to say she is a far better student than I was in every way!  No, it is because this man giving his shtick keeps talking about how fast it will go.

I find myself thinking back to when I graduated from high school.  One of my favorite photos of that night is of my father and me.  We are standing together in the stadium, he in his navy blue sport coat and tie, a proud smile and misty eyes, and me, wearing my emerald green graduation robe and mortar board hat, my entire face beaming and in my hands a bag of confetti.  The moment seems like yesterday and then I am pulled back to reality.  The guidance counselor scrolls through his Power Point presentation and the photo in my mind transforms.  This time the picture is still of me, but now I’m the one grinning with pride and misty eyed, and the beaming graduate is now my lovely girl… and thanks to the image on the screen a new piece to the unknown puzzle comes in to view.  She’ll wear blue.

Class of 1990, my how time flies!

Excuse Me While I Rant! My Perspective on Haitian Adoption

A friend of mine posed the question; “I’m thinking… why are people so anxious to “help” the children of Haiti by adopting them, removing them from their culture, their country, their language and their homes? Wouldn’t it be better to help rebuild and invest in the children there, so they can develop into the country’s future leaders?”

The comment got me to thinking about the current crisis in Haiti.  While I’m sure that my friend has the best of intentions when asking this question, I found myself having a pretty strong reaction to it.  It’s a busy morning for me here, so pardon my unedited and hardly proof-read response.  I just couldn’t not write anything about it!

Perhaps it was a slight leaning toward the vilification of adoptive parents.  Or maybe because it conjured in me the idea that Haiti, even before this crisis, was a delightful place to raise a child.  I am going to attempt give words to these strong feelings, for my self, but so that I can be a voice in some very small way for the orphans of Haiti (and all over the world for that matter.)

By now it should be obvious to all of us that Haiti is in a crisis beyond any of our imaginations.  Before the earthquake, Haiti was already the #1 most impoverished country in the western hemisphere.  Number 1.  So lets not kid our selves here, with an 80% poverty rate, and an abject poverty rate at over 50% (pre-quake) there are a lot of very practical needs of Haitian children that are not being met.

People all over the world have opened their wallets and given money to the people of Haiti.  That is a wonderful gesture of good will and very generous, but in the end some problems need more than our collective paycheck, and they need it now.  While my children all went to sleep in their own beds last night with full tummies and a hug from their parents, it is heartbreaking to me to think that there are children in Haiti, and around the world, that don’t have that.  I think prospective adoptive parents are looking at the situation in Haiti and from a really practical, tangible standpoint have stepped up.  Not only have they opened their wallets, they have opened their homes and hearts.  That takes guts.

It will be years before any of the money being funneled to Haiti becomes anything tangible for these kids, and while it’s a great story, “Earthquake Victim Child Rises From Rubble Of Haiti To Become New Charismatic Leader!” it is not going to be the case for most of those children.  Sadly, the odds are not in their favor.   It is likely that without parental support from people who are emotionally and financially dedicated to them, they will become the next even more impoverished generation, and on top of that they will be parentless.  I find that extremely sad.

Most people willing to raise an orphan are not able to uproot and move to the child’s home country in order to provide them a home.  And to back up a little bit, we are talking about adoptive parents who are not looking for healthy, white, newborn, “perfect in every way” babies, and we are talking about kids who have been through horrific trauma, are sick (HIV is rampant in Haiti), and poverty stricken.  I’m wondering which is worse, living in abject poverty without parents, or learning a new culture and language?  I know many adoptive parents, in fact, embrace their child’s native culture and earnestly try to teach them about it.  I think about how I have grown to love my husband’s family and traditions because they are a part of him, whom I love and adore, and can’t imagine an adoptive parent not embracing the culture of a child they love and adore as well.   Adoption isn’t a neat and tidy solution.  These parents have signed up to get down and dirty and they have their work cut out for them.   They certainly are doing more than many of us rubberneckers!  Many of us gawk at our televisions and send $10 text donations, while they have signed on to a lifetime of support for one person, possibly even a group of siblings, and have agreed to be forever changed by the events in Haiti.  I hate to say it, but it is likely that I will be as changed by the events in Haiti as I was by the events in Indonesia in 2005…

In the 10-20 years that Haiti is rebuilding the buildings, those adoptive parents will be building people, and hopefully they will be instilling in them a pride of where they have come from.  Hopefully because theses Haitian children raised with the love and support of parents, raised with stability and security that comes from parents committed to them, hopefully they will naturally have a compassion and heart for their native country and people, and they will become citizens of either country that are positive influences for us all.

Around the time my first daughter was born I heard a quote from a man named Ed Cogar that has stuck with me and I have thought a lot about it in regard to the orphans in Haiti, “It is easier to raise a child than to repair an adult.”   I applaud the parents who are stepping up in the most tangible way for the orphans of Haiti and around the world.  I believe they are most heroic.

Saying Goodbye

As I made my way past the crowded waiting room, I hoped that I was first to catch the door when the privacy curtain receded.  I had enlisted my husband in my plan.  He would guard the door while I was inside, so that I could steal time alone with her.  Getting time alone with everybody’s favorite patient was challenging, there were always people visiting!  As much as I was thankful for their tangible support, I was growing weary of their constant presence.  I wanted some of those precious and few moments for myself and I didn’t want to have to shoo someone away so that I could get it.

Precious and few.  Those words rang in my head with the urgency of the obnoxious beep a 4 am alarm clock, all too early, and imploring my immediate attention, even in my disoriented state.  There was no way of knowing how long we had with her, but we all must have sensed the critical timing because the visitors were always there.  They came to her bedside in steady stream, like the flow unconscious thought, one blending seamlessly into the next.  Unaware of when they arrived, where they would be on their way to, how long they planned to stay, many with the stunned blank faces of grief.   Friends from church and from her neighborhood, friends who shared her hobbies, friends from work, friends who were like family and friends who were also family.  On the way home from work, after church, before heading to the store, just because they were in the neighborhood… each one stopping for “just a minute.”

I understood why they came.  They were drawn to her light.  They were drawn to her strength and peace.  They were drawn to her hopeful anticipation of heaven.

So many visitors came to see her while she was sick that she was rarely alone.  I was happy that so many people were expressing their love and support of her and the rest of our family, but I would be lying if said I loved having them around all the time.  The truth is, I needed some time alone with her, some time to say our goodbyes, because when all of this was over, all of the visitors would go home to their mother, daughter, son, husband or wife and I would not.  Even though I had my own family, as a daughter, I would be going it alone.  As the clock marched on at merciless pace, I grew anxious. These were my precious and few.

The door opened and as I stepped into her room my husband assumed his post on the other side.  I drew a deep breath.  My mind was full of questions that I had come to attempt to answer.  How do I tell my mother I love her in a way that will satisfy my soul when she is gone?  How do I thank her “from the bottom of my heart?”  How do I say goodbye?

Inside her room it was finally quiet, nothing to distract us, nothing to intrude.

“Hi Mama,” I said, “Hope you don’t mind, I’m stealin’ some alone time.”  She smiled at me with tired eyes, and looking so small and fragile in her hospital bed, as she raised it to a sitting position.  It somehow seemed inappropriate when she spoke with such care for me.

“Sure, honey.  How are you getting along with all of this?” she asked.  “Are you doing all right?  Randy? The kids?  I know this has got to be such a hard time for you…”  Her voice softened with emotion.

With a plan, I pulled a chair away from the side of the bed.

I asked, “Mama, do you think you’d be able to sit up for a little bit, or if you need to you can lie down?”

“I’m fine sitting just like this,” she replied.  “What are we doin’?”

As she patiently waited for my reply, I took the pink basin from her bedside table and walked to the sink in silence.  Standing at the sink, I filled the little pink basin with warm water and I looked at her reflection in the mirror as she lay in the bed behind me.  The woman in the bed, though battle damaged with IV’s, catheters, and bags, was still my beautiful mother.  Her head on the pillow, still capped with wonderfully thick short brown hair, her eyes still blue as sapphires.  A smile was wide on her face and brimming with hope, and I wondered how she sustained it.  Even in her weary body, she sat with poise, straight, with the same beautiful broad shoulders of a swimmer and her hands folded in her lap.   A plush pale blue robe draped over her shoulders and one delicately shaped ankle and stockinged foot extended from under the crisp hospital bed sheet providing her famous “vent” to keep her from getting “bed hot.”  A trait I have also inherited.  With my now full basin of water and a towel, I rejoined her sitting next to her on the bed.  The spicy sweet fragrance that came from her, the mother of my childhood, was the smell of her perfume Youth Dew.  All the essential elements of “her” were still there.

“Vicki,” she said, “are you going to wash my feet?”  How did she know?  It seemed the only fitting way to express the love and gratitude I felt for her presence in my life.

“Yes, if that’s all right with you.” I said in a near whisper, and she bowed her head to say yes.  She moved both of her feet from under the sheet and I slid off her socks.

On my knees before her I began.   The litany of praise for her as my mother, mentor and friend poured from my heart and out my mouth.

The litany of thankfulness for the sacrifices she made to be a stay at home mom instead of putting a career first, to go without a something for her self so that I could have anything from braces to a prom dress.  For all the times she would have liked to spend a week away with my Dad and instead sent me on a school or youth group trip.  I thanked her for sending me to college and seeing to it that I lived in the dorms even though I could have lived at home.  The water and the cloth were now a channel of respect and admiration.

The litany of humility and gratitude for her forgiveness even when I was too stubborn to ask for it, for the times I didn’t respect her as my mother or even as someone who had traveled the road before me, when I was insensitive and selfish.  Even for the time that an 18 year old me I told her I wasn’t going to waste my life staying home with my kids like she did, the cleansing and warm restorative water carried the pain between us away and was replaced with a river of peace.

The litany of praise for the wonderful example she was to me as a mother and grandmother, the beautiful example of what a good marriage can be like, the way she strove to live with Christ as her example.  All gifts that cannot be given without intention and vision, and I wanted her to know, with my basin beside me, that I was aware of that.  I wanted her to know that I admired her authentic faith and her extravagant love.  With my water I wanted to honor her and I knew she understood.

It was a gift to be able to, in my own way, get to say goodbye to her in that sacred moment  that day, even though she was still with us for more than a month.   Watching Cancer scavenge the life out of her physical body was excruciating, but more bearable knowing that nothing between us was left undone.  When the night came for us to sing to her heaven’s lullaby, as she stepped to the other side, I knew that there was nothing left incomplete, nothing that had not been washed clean.

Herding Cats!

It’s Christmas time, so I’ve spent a lot of time in the mall.  This year has been especially fun because I have enjoyed the company of my 2 teenage daughters.  They even got up and came with me on Black Friday.  I thought for sure I’d scare them off with a 4 am departure time, but they were up for it and even seemed excited by the prospect of being out shopping at a time any sane person would be home sleeping in bed!  It was a lot of fun and they brought a new energy to the ghastly early morning hour.  I loved having them along!  As we shopped, and I was continually looking for which way this one went or where that one took off to, it occurred to me that shopping with teenage girls is a bit like herding cats!  I may have an idea of where I’d like to go, but they’ve got a mind of their own!  There’s just no containing them!  Have you ever seen a cat chase a flashlight on a dark wall?  That’s pretty much what watching my teenage girls shop a Hollister store looks like.  Have you ever watched a cat pounce on a kitty toy, or follow a dangling string?  Oh yes, just like them in the accessory aisle of Charlotte Russe, or the Tee Shirt tables at Aeropostale!  Like cats they can squeeze past any obstacle, like for instance, their shopping bag laden mother.  They have extremely keen eyes, and can be very finicky, “I don’t know why, I just like this one better…” and have highly selective hearing, “Yes, dear, but that one is twice the price!”  And where new shoes are concerned?  They always seem to land on their feet!  Yep, I tell you it’s just like herding cats!

I’m Living!

I had this surreal dream once while my mom was dying.  In the dream she was healthy, and pink in the cheeks. The yellow tones of jaundice were nowhere to be found on her face and she was dressed in her everyday clothes, not pajamas.  She was sitting at her kitchen table with one of her brothers, her sister, and one of her sons and they were doing something she absolutely loved to do at family get-togethers:  they were playing a board game.  She was happily laughing, her loud chuckle filling the room, and they were all acting as if there wasn’t a care in the world.  All the while, as they played their game, every wall in the house was engulfed in flames.  Chaos had erupted all around them, stray flames were licking at her feet, but she played on.  As she noticed the flames, she would stamp them out and continue laughing and playing.  With her back to the walls and the others across the table, it felt like the walls were closing in around her, and yet she still chose to play that silly board game.  The dream really spoke to me, and from then on I resolved to be a much more active participant in her living than her dying.

To live while you are dying must feel something like the scene in my dream.  There are only moments left, only so many more times you can extinguish those insistent flames, before the fire will win out.  In my dream my mom was intent on living despite knowing she was unable to defeat the death that had come for her.  It was time for me to help her make that happen.  For weeks she had been talking about her desire to live past Christmas, the problem was, none of us were quite sure how to accomplish the ‘living’ part.  We had gone so quickly from ‘no cancer’ to ‘dying of cancer,’ that we completely skipped the ‘living with cancer’ chapter of the story, and it was clear that if there was going to be anything to write in that chapter, the time was now.   We needed to get on with the living part.

My sister, sister-in-law, mom’s best friend Joy, and I arrived to my parent’s house with a plan involving some of mom’s favorite things:  her grandchildren and Christmas shopping!  In her prime, mom practically elevated Christmas shopping to an Olympic level!  She was an avid Black Friday shopper and would go to the ends of the earth for that perfect something she knew her loved one wanted.  When I was in high school I asked for a pair of navy blue penny loafers for Christmas and she delivered, driving some 60 miles to get the only pair left in my size in the region of Nordstrom stores!  She loved to spoil us on Christmas morning, and she was good at it!  Sometimes she even knew what we wanted or needed before we did.

Mom was pretty excited about the shopping excursion.  Her only request was that we not tire her out, so we set a time limit of 3 hours.  My dad was much less excited.  He reminded me of when I was a new mother, preparing to leave my newborn baby with a babysitter for the first time.  He hovered over her and recited every detail of her care, “Did you pack all of her medications?  Do you have The Notebook?  Make sure you put the break on the wheel chair before you set her down into it.  Don’t tire her out, she gets tired real easy.”  He checked and double-checked that all of her necessities had been loaded before he gently and reluctantly placed her in the front seat of my van.  With a firm, “3 hours,” he shut the door.  We were on our way to do what living grandmas do; we were on our way to Christmas shop for the grandkids!

At the shopping mall, I carefully I loaded my precious cargo into the wheel chair, all the while my dad’s voice echoing in my ear, “Make sure you put the break on the wheel chair before you set her down into it.”  It was no small feat, talking him in to this scheme and I wanted it to come off flawlessly.  The only damage done on this day was going to be to dad’s credit card, so with her safely installed in the wheel chair we were off on our Christmas shopping spree.

She was very thoughtful about what she bought each of her 9 grandchildren.  She decided on clothing for each of them, wanting to buy nothing to sentimental.   Gifts of clothing were a grandma specialty of hers, and with glee she had flooded her grandchildren’s closets over the years.  With a smile spread wide on her face she directed each of her ‘elves’ to help her reach the clothing racks.  This time she wanted to choose things that she could see them wear right away.   Cautiously, I wove the wheelchair through the maze of hanging clothes.  It was a bittersweet moment for both of us.  We were finally enjoying something we had loved doing for years and yet trying not to think about how this would be the last year we would Christmas shop together.

After mom finished making her selections, she and I headed to the parking lot while the rest of the group waited in the long checkout line.  We were approaching the 3-hour time limit, and I was determined to follow my dad’s instructions to a ‘T’.  The others would rendezvous with us at the van once the purchases were made.

Outside the air was misty and cold, but neither of us seemed to care as I maneuvered the wheelchair to the outer parking spaces.  The pavement was a little slick and I could feel the wheelchair pick up speed on the gentle slope of the parking lot.   Evidently mom could feel it too, because I heard her say under her breath, “Faster!”  It took me by surprise, and I wasn’t sure I heard her correctly, but then she left me with no question, “Faster!” she commanded in a louder voice.  It reminded me of being a backseat driver as a child!

“Mom, No!  I can’t…” she wouldn’t hear of it, “Faster!” mom insisted, and with excitement my feet picked up the pace.  Soon I was running through the dark and misty parking lot and we were both giggling like children absconding with the forbidden!  The more she commanded, the quicker my steps, the gentle slope almost carrying her away, and then she began again, “Let go!” she urged.

“No,” I said trying to keep the little wheelchair under my control.  “If something happens to you,” I panted as I slowed down, “Dad will be so mad!”

“Faster!” she prodded me, and I picked up the pace!

“Let GO!” she begged.  “Mom, this is dangerous…” I said, my voice trailing off.  “I don’t want…” sensing where I was headed, she cut me off.  “What the worst that can happen?” she appealed, “It could kill me?  I’ll take my chances!”  Excitedly she pleaded, “Let go!

And so I did it.  I gave in to her relentless requests and I let go.   As the rented wheelchair wobbled on the pavement, she arose her tired hands in the air, and with pure delight she exclaimed, “I’M LIVING!”

Excuse Me While I Rant! On Being and Doing

Last night Parent-Teacher Conferences were held at the Junior High where my daughters both attend school.  Both of my girls earned great grades, all A’s and one B for both, and are reportedly “a joy to have in class, helpful, ask great questions, and are dependable and hard working.”  Both of my girls were also lightly teased by their teachers for talking “just a little” too much.  Hmmmm… imagine that?  It was one of those nights where I was so proud to be their mom!   All in all it was a great night, but despite their glowing reports I didn’t leave the school without heavy concern.

The order of the night was to meet each teacher and discuss the progress and concerns of our students.  Teachers were seated at their own tables and in typical arena style parents took turns having their individual meetings.  Since there are few concerns about the girls’ academic progress, I decided to take the time to ask each teacher for more specifics about the content of the classes that my daughters take from them.  It was an interesting view into the world of today’s 7th and 8th graders.

It was at one of these tables, with a teacher that was new to our school this year, and seemingly new to her teaching career, that all of my internal sirens started wailing.  It wasn’t her fault.  The phrase “Don’t shoot the messenger” comes to mind here.  She teaches my oldest in a class called Framework for 21st Century Learning.  This class title has intrigued me and I have been curious about what content the teacher is going cover.  As I learned last night, the class covers a lot of basic life skills like balancing a budget, how to manage debt, and write a resume.  It was when she began talking about writing resumes with 8th graders that my “lizard brain” began twitching.  The earnest young teacher began explaining about the variety of aptitude tests that my daughter was taking in class and how after taking all of these tests my 14 year old daughter would be prepared to enter high school with a very good sense of what classes she should be taking to prepare her for her future career or further education.  It was all I could do to keep my emotions from totally popping on this well-intentioned teacher.  Ahhh, she had no idea who she was talking to!  Let me give you a little back-story…

I grew up in a very traditional (even though it was “blended”) family in an age where the times for women, well, they were a-changin’.    My mom went to a year of community college until she married my father, whom she had met the first week of school.  I was born literally 9 months after their wedding, and my brother almost 2 years after that.  On occasion she took jobs to supplement the family income, but they were certainly not considered a career.  My parents divorced, and for the brief time mom was single she worked a J-O-B to put food on the table.  After she married my dad she was a full time stay at home mom until I was a senior in high school.  My dad was a 3rd generation paper mill worker.  He was a faithful and reliable union employee who put in a very respectable 40 sum years.  He once corrected me when I referred to his job as a career.   It was a job, and nothing more.

I was a young girl coming of age in the 1980s, an era when women were entering the work force in record number.  The opportunities that a college education could afford me were exciting and I had dreams of  ‘having it all’.   Title 9, Rowe Vs Wade, the Feminist Movement, like it or not ladies, we were the children born of that labor.   Despite this, it wasn’t all ‘Woman Power’ on the home front.  Now, I want to be clear that the home I grew up in was not an oppressive environment for women, there were just not a lot of opportunities for exposure to what was really out there.  As I prepared to enter college I was excited to one day pursue a career and I think my parents, particularly my mom, were excited too.  Although they never said such a thing, it felt like the acceptable career choices were for a woman to be either a nurse or a teacher.

Since I was the weak stomach type, I was forever being encouraged to become a teacher.  I have great respect and admiration for teachers.  In many ways I see myself as a teacher.   I loved the coursework for my Human Development degree, but being a teacher of little children in the formal sense of the word was a career I quickly ruled out once I became a student at Warner Pacific College.  It took me at least a year to divulge that information to my parents.  They handled it well, but I was constantly being asked what I was going to “do” with my Human Development degree, and honestly I didn’t have a clue.

I was discovering that College was a perplexing environment!  On the one hand I was attending a Liberal Arts College exploring Human Development through the lens of an institution that heavily engaged the Humanities.  This was an environment where I was discovering and exploring all sorts of things about people and life in general, the Human Condition and the correlations between all disciplines.  On the other hand I was learning that College is not Vocational School.   I was learning to be a thinker and not do a specific skill.  This was confusing to me.   I had come to College with the preconceived notion that much more of the latter would be happening. The focus was about who I would be, not what I would do.   I have come to understand and believe this is so much more important.   I am forever grateful for that experience because it has irrevocably changed who I am.  It now really bothers me on a guttural level that as a society we place such a high value on doing and not being.

So this is the place I was coming from when I met my daughter’s fresh-faced teacher across that table.  As we spoke I could see the chasm of differing opinion opening up between us.  She began to explain to me that after each student had taken all 6 of these aptitude tests they would have a direction on which to plan their high school career.  Seriously.  From the tests of 13 to 14 year old 8th graders.  Don’t get me wrong.  I think aptitude testing can be a valuable tool for identifying interests and talents in specific areas for people who have had a wide exposure to various experiences.  When I was the same age as my daughter I was certainly not prepared to take tests that would gage talent and ability, and future success in specific areas.   These test that are being taken while she is still in Junior High could affect the trajectory of her educational career!  Furthermore, I would have to say that I don’t think aptitude testing should be the focus of educating kids this age anyway!  Shouldn’t they be allowed to explore, discover, and (dare I say) mature a little bit before they are shoved into the press that will sieve out any creativity, or desires to experiment with something new?

I guess this is what happens when society has a system in place where it is of utmost importance for each one of us to become the sharpest cogs in the wheel, when it is most important to be very knowledgeable and smart about one certain thing in a very quantifiable way.  Science is like that, math is like that, philosophy, character, and thoughtfulness are not, but it does not make their discipline any less valuable.  I shudder to think of our community, our nation, and our world without all of those things.  All of those things work together to bring out the best in all of us.

Somewhere along the way I once heard someone described as being “An inch wide and a mile deep.”   When we become so focused on only the things that we are good at or have a natural aptitude for we loose creative problem solving skills, we loose patience for those who don’t think the same way we do, and we become myopic and ego centric in our views.  We become an inch wide and a mile deep. That’s not the hope I have for my children’s education.  Quite frankly it isn’t the hope I have for anyone’s child.  When we put kids into a funnel that drains into a specific bottle we limit their exposure to so many things and we change who they can become.  I see this as such a colossal tragedy.  It’s a big world out there, shouldn’t they have more than a short 14 or so years to find their place in it?  Shouldn’t we be more concerned about who they will be than what they will do?  I sure think so.