Make It Through May

People who have children or work in education know that May rushes by with the excitement level of unmotivated children working on their last school projects of the year. Yep, it’s the end of the school year, and the long, languid days of summer sit just beyond our grasp, waiting for us to shed our sweaters and bake in the sun. However, in May we’re still half-sweatered, trying to keep our minds in the groove of school while the weather teases us with warm days interspersed between cold; thunderstorms shocking us back into the reality that spring isn’t always as sweet as we think it is.

Somehow Andrew and I both managed to get ourselves jobs that culminate in a flood of papers to grade and grades to check and transcripts to send out and graduations to plan while at the same time we parent three children who have the same types of things happening in their lives. We have quintupled the effects of May!

Spring is Still Here

Strangely enough, this May has been pretty easy compared to some of our past Mays. The first graduation I planned in my job at the college felt like I was planning a royal wedding. So much stress! I could barely keep track of all of the details. By the time those students walked across the stage, I was so exhausted and so happy for them and for myself that I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. Whew! That was done. Every graduation since then has gotten easier, and this year’s graduation felt smooth and comfortable.

The professor and the registrar at graduation this year.

Not only that, but my kids are older and manage their own lives pretty well. The two oldest both drive, so there’s no more rushing to get them to school, dropping everything at work to go and pick them up, or waiting in the parking lot for late-night practices to end. Nowadays I just wait at work for the text from Alex saying he’s there to pick me up and take me home. They have busier lives, but they keep their own calendars and keep track of their responsibilities and study for their finals without me reminding them to, and THANK GOODNESS they do all of that!

Summer’s Coming!

While it’s nice to have an easier time of it now that I know my job and my kids are older, I don’t think I’m quite at that summer time of life where I can throw my sweaters in a drawer and run into the warmth to have unlimited fun. My kids are teenagers, but they still need me. My job is more familiar, but I still have to do it. I’m not free, but I can see some freedom peeking around the corner at me.

Hannah graduates in a year and Alex the year after that. Emma won’t be too far behind them. I can see how moms might panic, feeling the approaching change of responsibility and not sure what it will mean. It might be tempting to feel like grasping some of their childhoods and pulling them back in or adding responsibilities somewhere in life, just to maintain homeostasis and avoid the stress of change.

Then I think no way! What am I thinking?! That would be like a mom whose baby starts sleeping through the night thinking, Maybe I should wake him up once in a while so my life is really hard. This sleep thing seems wrong. Nope, no one says that. I’m at the time when I can sometimes relax, read a book, write in a blog, and do some things I enjoy instead of rushing around like crazy every May. Once in a while, I see a break in the responsibility and the sun shines through to me.

In the meantime, I have a band parent meeting to attend tonight. Better make supper!

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Two Years is Too Long

Two years ago, I stopped writing.

I didn’t stop writing altogether. I just stopped blogging. I had a few reasons. The most obvious was that I started working on a master’s in counseling. Because of the amount of writing I do for class, I don’t do as much recreational writing.

About the same time, I started working part-time as an on-call chaplain at a hospital. I love it, and the amount of exciting interaction with new people has made my other, desk job more attractive.

Those two reasons aren’t really at the core of why I stopped, though. Two years ago, our country had just undergone a divisive presidential election. I had a lot of thoughts about that election, and it took so much of my mental energy to process it that I did not feel I had much to offer otherwise. I debated whether to write about politics or social issues. The world had so many bloggers pouring out their opinions that I didn’t think I should add my own, but that’s all I could think about when I sat down to write. I stopped blogging for a while to process it all.

This weekend, Rachel Held Evans passed away, though. She was an important voice for Christian women, and her loss has made it evident to me that we cannot be quiet. I don’t have to blast everyone with my opinions, but I can make a thoughtful blog post once in a while. This is my thoughtful blog post.

In the Last Two Years

In two years, a lot happened. My children grew up! Hannah got her license and recently became drum major of the high school band. She’s finishing her junior year now, took a college course or two, and she has a job. She teaches little kids to do computer coding. She’s probably smarter than me. I need to admit that now.

About two weeks ago, Alex grew up in one week’s time. One weekend he got invited to the prom, the next Monday he got a job, and that Friday he turned 16 and got his license. One very eventful week!

Emma is in seventh grade, was part of the high school novice winter guard team (think: twirling flags) and is in drama club. She plays the flute in band, and her teacher says she is “teeming with potential.” I think that’s a compliment, although in a way it sounds like something involving a swarm of mosquitoes.

I cannot believe we’re just about in the home stretch now. In a year, Hannah will graduate and leave for college. Soon after, Alex will follow. At least we’ll have three more years after that with Emma. Of the three kids she’s had the most time alone with us…she’s probably been the most bored of the three. At this very moment, while the two older ones are out galavanting around somewhere with friends, Andrew is lying on a recliner, wrapped in multiple blankets, watching a movie on his laptop with ear buds in, I am writing this, and Emma is silently playing her Nintendo Switch. She seems happy, but maybe she’s just resigned to spending her evenings with the geriatrics.

Anyway, I hope this is the beginning of blogging again. Two years has been too long!

The Holiday Rush

It's the requisite holiday concert band picture. I barely recognize my own boy in that sea of blue and khaki!

It’s the requisite holiday concert band picture. I barely recognize my own drummer boy in that sea of blue and khaki!

It happens every year about this time. Between the end-of-the-semester crazy time at work and Christmas preparations, we have all sorts of school programs, band concerts, piano recitals and now, since we have teenagers, finals to worry about. Add to that list cold weather and ever-increasing darkness as the winter solstice creeps closer and closer and the fact that, for whatever reason, in the winter I like to hunker down with a blanket and a knitting project and binge on Netflix until the wee hours of the morning. It’s a recipe for disaster. I sometimes find myself in the midst of a sleep-deprived, caffeine-fueled afternoon scurrying around to try and get as much done as possible at work before going home to get as much done as possible before going to bed. 

Not only do I feel this, but I’ve managed to pass it on to the next generation. My daughter sometimes comes to me at almost 14 years old and laments that she’s tired and doesn’t have time to study amidst all the band practices and concerts of the season and conflicting advice wells up in me. Part of me wants to tell her to let up and give herself a break. Take some time off. Don’t put too much stock in those finals because it is, after all, just junior high, for crying out loud! Another part of me says no way. That’s when she learns how to juggle so much and be productive in a safe environment. I mean, if she tries too much and fails at some of it, she’s just in 8th grade. That failure affects nothing in her future but may teach her a valuable lesson. Besides, she’s got the energy and enthusiasm of youth on her side.

I look around and see that we are not alone in this. In fact, I’m surrounded by a lot of college people who are staying up later and working harder than I am, and I realize I’ve actually learned some things about holiday time management that I didn’t know at their age.

So which one is right? Isn’t that the question all firstborns like my daughter and me struggle with at some point? The longer I live, the more I think it’s both. Let up and lean in. Don’t do too much, but do all you can. And how in the world is that even possible?

  1. Prioritize. Yeah, I know. That’s what they all say. But seriously, I ask myself this all the time: What will I wish I’d done now when I look back at this time in 20 years? Work harder to do some job with excellence or take time off to play with the kids? Since I stumbled upon this technique of imagining my future self talking to my present self, I have used it relentlessly in decision-making, and I have been amazed at how helpful it has been in helping me focus on what’s really important. It also leads me to the next point.
  2. Pay attention to now. That may sound contradictory to saying look at the future and work toward it, but it’s not. If you’re like me, it can be easy to get too caught up in memories of the past or fears of the future. I can’t do much about past events, but if I’m worried about the future I can affect that by what I do right now. I just realized this morning that our oldest daughter has only five Christmases left before she goes off to college. That’s five, people! The Christmases and birthdays as a solid family unit don’t stretch out endlessly before us anymore. They’re limited. How do I make those count? Not by making the perfect gingerbread house or buying the best present ever. By being present with her right now. I want to decide what I think is important for my kids’ futures and do the things in the present moment that work us toward that goal. That’s not just true for people with kids. We can do that in all areas of our lives. What do you want to remember about this time of your life? Work to be present for it.
  3.  Lower expectations. In school I used to want to have an A in every class. Not just an A, but the highest A. Then I realized that if I implemented suggestions 1 and 2 above I would not get the highest A. I began to lower my expectations because there are more important things to do than study, and studying all the time will not help me be present any more than studying less. If I want a perfect house, I have to sacrifice more important things (like my sanity) to get that. If good enough is really good enough, I have more time and energy to devote to the things I feel are higher priorities.

    Yes, that is indeed my youngest wearing a turkey headband. I’m lowering expectations, remember?

  4. Give up control. This is a big one. I used to be pretty type A. I wanted a schedule. I wanted things to go according to that schedule. I thought if I could list it and plan it I would be happier. But then I moved overseas. There nothing happened the way I thought it should, and every day became an exercise in accepting what I don’t understand. I remember standing at a bus stop and seeing a trolleybus roll up. It had its destination written on a card at the front, but it was in a language and an alphabet I didn’t know at all. I just said to myself “what the heck?” and got on, not knowing where it was going or if I’d get where I needed to be. Guess what. It went somewhere. With me on it. I don’t even remember if it went where I wanted to go or not, but I remember that moment because it was a moment of surrendering control. I’m still alive, so it must’ve worked out ok, right?

So now you’ve heard my ideas for getting thru the holidays. What are yours?