Tagged Jennifer

Reading is magical. Reading transforms us. Reading transforms our kids.

The Magic of Reading with our Kids

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Reading is magical. Reading transforms us. Reading transforms our kids. So, it’s Friday night. I’m a freshman English teacher. I’m watching The Two Towers with my eleven-year-old daughter as we grade papers from the week. I’m physically exhausted and my brain is mush. I feel as if I’ve been run over by 166 wildebeests. (I do have 166 students; however, none of them are actually wildebeests.)

I know I’m scheduled to write a blog and I need to submit it in the next several days. I also know that my heart has been telling me to write about reading. So, I begin to think about reading.

Reading with my personal children.

Reading with the 166 wildebeests, er, students.

Reading by myself.

And here’s what I come up with.

We started reading to our children when they were born. My oldest daughter’s middle name is Scout. So, of course, during the 13 months of breastfeeding, we read To Kill a Mockingbird, among other books. I’d prop the baby on one side of the boppy, the book on the other side, and Harper Lee’s words flowed through us. Mother to child.

My husband read to her too. We didn’t have a digital camera back then (believe it or not)! So this is a picture of a picture.

David and baby Carlee reading

When the second one came along, so many things were different. I worked full time. We lived in a different house and town. We had a new circle of friends in our new place. But, the reading remained. As a working mom, I cherished and coveted our reading time in the evenings. My older daughter even got in on the act.

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Daughter #2 also carries a literary middle name, Arwen, the elf princess. She is 6 now and we’re currently reading Fire and Ice, the 4th book in the Spirit Animals series. Our evening talk now centers on what our spirit animal would be if we had one. She’s got a fierce nature like one of the main characters, Meilin, and has decided she’d need Jhi the Panda to balance her ferocity. She’s probably right.

spirit animals


At school each day, I teach 14 and 15 year olds about reading and writing. Some of them have home literacy experiences much like my children, but most of them do not. I find myself wanting to mother them in their literary lives. At times, we cover what I consider developmental gaps in their reading.

 

“Have you read Dr. Seuss? No? Well, we must. He’s the master of rhythm and rhyme and he teaches about persistence in the face of adversity and the perils of inflexible thinking.”

“Have you read Love You Forever? No? Well, we must. It’s the story of a kid whose mom loves him–no matter the stage of life he’s in or the difficulties he causes. And, what’s really cool is at the end, he loves and cares for her. The story comes full circle. He goes home to his baby and carries on this generational tradition of love. Loving your kids is powerful stuff, folks. It changes the future.”

“Have you read A Strange Day? No? Well, we must. It’s a beautifully illustrated story that relies on pictures to help convey the message that the actions we choose to take have a ripple effect that we can’t imagine. Yeah, you could do something today that might alter someone else’s world forever!”

 

We fill in these gaps while we read the required 9th grade material and prepare for state mandated testing. (Click the link if you want to try your hand at taking the English I STAAR test that my students took last year!)


Finally, when I get home at night, mush-brained and sore-footed, I sometimes manage to stay awake after reading time with my kids and read for myself. Currently, I’m reading Eragon, by Christopher Paolini, at the insistence of my older daughter. I love it because I can escape into a world of dragon riders, dragons, and unlikely heroes. One of my favorite passages that I just read the other day is this…

“But what does that [language] have to do with magic?” interrupted Eragon.

“Everything. It is the basis for all power.”

And I guess that brings me to my mentally mushed, wildebeest trodden-brained, Friday-evening point.

Language is power.

When we read and write and work the magic of language in our lives and the lives of our children, it transforms them. And us.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

It’s More Like “Girl Crash!”

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Yesterday my daughters, ages 6 and 11, and I were driving down the road on our way to a doctor’s appointment about 50 miles away. I flipped through radio stations on the way, stopping when something met our fancy. At one point I landed on a station and heard an unfamiliar melody sung by a smooth female voice. I stopped and listened.

Frequently I can listen to an entire song and focus so intently on the music, the voice, or the harmony line that I completely miss the lyrics. For whatever reason, this time I caught the words.

Music lyrics have power. How do you talk with your kids about music lyrics?

The song was Girl Crush, and I suppose I was somewhere in the middle of the second verse when I clued in to the fact that this song was about Girl A who envied Girl B because Girl B was with a boy that Girl A wanted. I think I had just gotten to the following part.

“I want to drown myself

In a bottle of her perfume.

I want her long blonde hair.

I want her magic touch.

Yeah, ‘cause maybe then

You’d want me just as much.”

I’d like to say something really intelligent and insightful came out of my mouth at this point, but that would be a lie. Instead I blurted, “That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard!” and clicked to a different station. Then the 11 year old voice in the back seat said, “No kidding! I was thinking the same thing.”

Whoa, I didn’t realize she’d been listening, taking all of that nonsense in. The immediate image that came to mind was of the Sirens. You know, the sultry crooning mythological creatures who lure you with their sweet song until you’re shipwrecked on their island and you meet your ultimate demise. We were lulled by a pretty song and drifted lazily along until we snapped to and saw the sharp rocks ahead.

                        “I got it real bad,

                        Want everything she has…

                        I don’t get no sleep.

                        I don’t get no peace.”

 

No! No! No! Hell to the nah!

I’ve got an eleven year old girl in the backseat. She starts junior high next year. I don’t want her drowning herself in anything, much less some other girl’s identity. My mind started racing, processing all the things that were wrong with this picture.

I want my daughters to be able to admire and respect other people without desiring to become them. It’s a good thing to be able to appreciate another person’s talent or beauty, but recognizing that another person has some positive attributes should happen in conjunction with recognizing your own talent and beauty. “They have it all, and I have nothing” is a messed up equation. It’s not balanced and we aren’t studying that kind of math. The idea of shape shifting into someone else’s image so you can be “good enough” or “acceptable” is not where we want to go.

Not to mention, the attributes that are touted as desirable for adoption in the song all had to do with physical appearance or sexual prowess. And, the tone of the whole darn thing was acquisitional. (i.e. “How can I acquire her long blonde hair, her magic touch, her whisper, so the guy will want to acquire me?”)

Yuck! I don’t want my daughters to view themselves as a commodity to be marketed. Likewise, I don’t want them to buy in to some caricature of masculinity that suggests men only chase blondes with magic fingers and throaty whispers.

I get that the song probably wasn’t written with an 11-year-old audience in mind, but that song wafted through the speakers of my Kia Sorento carried on the waves of a Top-40 station. I guarantee when she walks into junior high in a few weeks, 90% of the 6th grade will have heard it. I wondered just how far the song had burrowed into her brain, so this morning I asked her if she remembered the song we heard on the radio yesterday. Her response: “You mean the one about the girl wanting to drown herself in some other girl’s perfume and steal her blonde hair?”

            Yep, that’s the one.

So, here’s what we’re gonna do. My husband and I can’t shield her from the reality that our society depicts and encourages images of people and relationships that we find to be inaccurate and unhealthy. We can use some of society’s distortion as a starting point for a conversation in which we share our perceptions about healthy women and men. We can ask questions about the underlying assumptions that would inspire a person to create a song like that, and then we can share our foundational beliefs about people’s worth and identity.

My hope is that conversations like this when my daughter is 11 will prevent her from polluting the airwaves with songs like this when she’s a young adult.

For everyone facing Father's Day without their Dad

My First Father’s Day Without Dad

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Father’s Day is approaching, and it’s a first for me.  The first one without my dad.  I know many of you reading this are in the same boat due to many different storms.  Mine was a surprise attack.  Literally.  A heart attack that no one suspected.  It swooped in, off the radar, no alert or warning, and left me floating here in this sea of life without the man who for many years redirected my sails when they got off course.

For everyone facing Father's Day without their Dad

I’m a teacher, and encountering the fatherless is a daily occurrence for me.  Recently one of my students wrote of his experience adrift in the Dadless Sea.  He told of floating along making frequent stops on islands where he would meet a new man, hoping he and his mom could drop anchor and stay, only to find out that they had only tied temporarily to that shore.  He painted an image he had seen many times as a younger kid of other boys walking to their cars after a football game, dads holding their sweaty shoulder pads, laughing and joking together as they relived the victories and defeats of the game.  There was a visceral yearning coursing through the veins of his essay.  I mourned his loss as I mourned my own.

A couple of days ago my oldest daughter and I were talking about my dad as we drove down the highway to pick up the younger one from cheerleading camp.  I spoke of Father’s Day and wishing there was a way to ship a gift across space and time to heaven.  I chuckled at the thought of all these heavenly dads and granddads receiving ties, coffee mugs, and fishing gear from their earthly kids.  You know how the owls deliver mail in the Harry Potter books?  Well, in my mind’s eye, I could envision doves swooping in on the heavenly host, dropping the gifts, little parachutes deploying, and all those clichéd items finding their recipients.  We laughed.

But in all seriousness, I told her that I was sorry that she had only had a grandfather for a short time in her life.  I think back to hammering, sanding, and sawing in the garage, memories I built with my granddad. I’m sorry she won’t have more of those moments.

This is what she says in response. “Be that as it may, Mom, things are still pretty good.”

And, you know?  She’s right.   This boat I’m floating in isn’t leaky; it was built to withstand the storms.  I had a great sailing instructor.  And, these are some friendly waters.

Thanks to my daughter, I’ve now got a killer idea for a Father’s Day present, or at least, a pretty darn good way to honor Dad.  While I’ve still got time on earth here with my family, we’re not running from life’s harsh realities. We’re not hunkering down in a storm shelter, hands over our heads, ducking the forces of nature. Instead, we’re thanking God for all the grace we’re given and choosing to see and share the good.

My dad had the foresight to write his own obituary about 10 years before his actual death, so we weren’t saddled with that daunting task.  In it, he eschewed the notion of head stones, grave markers, and things of that ilk.  They were fine for others, just not for him.  He hoped that we, his survivors, would be the markers. Listening to the words of my daughter, I think I get it.

So for all of you who are sailing towards this Father’s Day without a dad, my hope for you is that you’re able to say, “Be that as it may, things are still pretty good.”  And for all of you dad-type guys out there, look for the kid walking off the football field with his mom.  Walk over to him, punch him in the shoulder, carry his sweaty shoulder pads and say, “Good game, son.

Teacher Appreciation

Life Lessons I Learned from My Teachers

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Teacher AppreciationIt’s May.  If you’re a teacher, you know exactly how many days are left until the end of school.  You might even know the total hours, how many more bus duties you have to attend, or how many more bleach wipes you’ll need to clean your room because your school’s custodial staff went AWOL one day last week.  Fatigue has set in. It feels as if you are the base acrobat with all of your students balanced on your shoulders in the shape of an inverted pyramid and your goal is to carry them all through the remainder of your state-mandated testing and curricular content to the last day of school without dropping any.

After a late night of grading research papers or after scraping a partially fossilized raisin from your classroom floor 2 hours after the last bell rang, you might find yourself wondering, “Does any of this matter?”  “Am I making any difference at all?”  “Will they remember anything I’ve taught?”

Take heart, weary teacher.  It does.  You are.  They will.

I had the privilege of having an awesome public school experience in my day, staffed by many talented, hard-working, intelligent, and caring teachers.  I learned a lot and credit them with all kinds of things, but I’m pretty sure they have no idea of the lessons I carry with me today that I can trace directly back to them.

So, in honor of them and in honor of you teachers who are still in the trenches, here are few of my favorites.

Lesson # 1

Don’t underestimate yourself.

I think my second grade teacher may have literally hung the moon.  For sure, she was the bright and shining sun of our classroom and we all willingly fell into orbit around her. Second grade was listening to her rendition of Ramona the Brave, writing my pen pal from her hometown in a state far away, and vying for the honor of having Tex (a longhorn puppet situated atop an empty Pringles can) sit on my desk for the day.

One day she stepped in front of our little desks holding a sheet of paper pressed tightly against her chest and announced, “Students, one of you made a perfect score on our recent quiz over nouns.  There were absolutely no mistakes.  It was excellent work.  Would anyone like to guess who it was?”  Many of us guessed names.  I racked my brain, “Who are the smart kids?  It’s probably one of them.”  I started forming guesses in my mind of who might be able to accomplish such a feat.  Finally her eyes shimmered as she looked my way and said, “Well, Jennifer, it was you!”

It must have been a funny sight when my jaw dropped to the desk and my blond pigtails shot straight out from my head.  I remember the mental progression from, “But I thought it would’ve been one of the smart kids” to “Oh my, maybe I am one of the smart kids.”   She thought she was teaching about parts of speech, but really she was teaching about parts of me I hadn’t realized yet.

Lesson # 2

Take pride in how you present yourself.

            “Come on, now, that’s bush league.  We don’t do bush league around here.”  The baseball metaphor was totally lost on me, but I quickly figured out that when my band directors scolded us for being “bush league,” it meant someone was being lazy or sloppy.  I carried white shoe polish for my marching shoes.  We lined our hat buckets up in straight vertical and horizontal lines in the stands so that when we took the field at halftime our vacant seats looked sharp.  Concert season brought pressed black taffeta symphony gowns and tuxedos.  While traveling, our busses were to be kept clean and our manners to the general public were to be impeccable. As visible representatives of our school, people would form opinions about what kind of school we attended based on what they saw of us.  That idea was frequently reiterated.

My band directors might not have anticipated that I’d hear the phrase “bush league” echoing in my memory all these years later, but I’m glad it does.  And, I suspect that the same thing resonates with a good number of my former classmates.  It’s a reminder that we set standards for ourselves based on who we want to be and what we represent.  We set a standard of professional behavior when we face less than professional people at work.  We maintain a standard of a polished appearance and speech when presenting ourselves publically.  We are poised confidently with the knowledge that when it’s “go time,” we know how to look the part, act the part, and be the part.

Lesson # 3

Music is magic.

It’s magical to buzz around the cafetorium stage in your home made bumblebee costume or to sing of “Goin’ to Texas” with the rest of your 5th grade class to celebrate the state sesquicentennial because your music teacher was crazy enough to tackle multiple grade-level musical productions each year.

My fifth grade social studies teacher and his guitar are solely responsible for my ability to quote the Preamble to the Constitution, but don’t ask me to do it without singing the song.

Direct object pronouns in Spanish?  A breeze when you set them to the tune of Barry Manilow’s Copa Cabana.

T.S. Elliot poetry is pretty cool in its own right, but discovering that Andrew Lloyd Webber used it as a basis for his musical Cats and then getting to listen to the music in class?  Even better.

Watching the school’s performance of Annie Get Your Gun and The Pajama Game from the orchestra pit with an assortment of student and adult musicians is pretty exhilarating.  Definitely the best seats in the house, even if I was desperately trying to keep pace with the infinitely more talented adult musicians.

Somewhere between the bee buzzing and the humming along with Mr. Mistoffelees, music’s magic took up permanent residence with me. My teachers connected art to academic content and then academic content back to art.  They shared their outside interests and talents with us and wove them into our daily activities.  Possibly they were trying to soothe our savagery.  But one thing I know for certain is that when you sing and dance and play with kids, it goes directly to long term memory.

Lesson # 4

For some roads there is no shortcut.

As a high school freshman I took Honors U.S. History taught by the head football coach.  Many athletic director/head coaches don’t teach academic classes due to their other responsibilities, but he loved history and we were his one class a day.  His delivery method was somewhere between drill instructor and auctioneer.  After a while you got used to the shouting and the breakneck pace.  The man knew his stuff.  He started barking biographical stories, statistics, and facts the second we hit the door.  We scribbled madly, our hands several sentences behind our ears.  But our brains held on as tightly as they could because he was fascinating.

When tests came around, nothing less than his level of knowledge would satisfy him.  He insisted that we know the big picture and the tiny details.  I began the year laboriously studying for his exams, rewriting my notes, and retelling his lectures to my dad, who was a history buff himself and could critique my comprehension.  I did really well, and then I got cocky.  Surely that level of preparation wasn’t necessary. I listened in class and took decent notes.  I decided to just glance over my notes the night before the test.  I’d be fine.

WRONG!  When he passed back that test, he flicked it onto my desk like you’d dispose of a rotten grape.  No words, just a shake of the head.  An F.  He and I both knew I’d earned it.  He set a standard of excellence in his class that required his students to demonstrate complete mastery of the subject matter.  Mine had been shoddy, at best.  When I got home and told my dad what had happened, his only words were, “Well, I guess that didn’t work out how you thought it would.”

I’ll confess, it’s been more than 25 years since I took that class and I can’t recite the number of Americans killed on D Day or tell you the exact date that the Treaty of Versailles was signed.  But, I can tell you that there are times in life when there are no shortcuts and my attempts to circumvent difficulty aren’t going to lead me where I want to go.  Life requires what it does.  You face the challenges that are put in front of you, and sometimes they’re harder than you anticipated.  Sometimes there’s no alternate route, no short cut, no pre-blazed trail.  I’m grateful that this gruff and gritty man cared about us enough to teach the tough stuff.


So, to all you tired teachers, you matter.  You make a difference. You count!  (Really…keep on counting, you’re almost there!)

Tune Into Family. Finding Connection in the Age of Media Devices.

Tune Into Family. Finding Connection in the Age of Media Devices.

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Tune Into Family. Finding Connection in the Age of Media Devices.The four of us are sitting on the patio of a local burger joint on a Friday afternoon.  The hectic pace of our school and work week has slowed to a pleasant stroll and we greet the weekend with a toast to free time.  The sun warms our backs, thawing the last chill of winter, and promises a summer ahead of road trips, hiking, and family adventure.  There is nothing else on the agenda today except this juicy jalapeño cream cheese burger and a movie later on.

As I’m ruminating on the divinity of weekends and sinking deeper into burger bliss, my oldest daughter leans over and says, “Check it out, Mom.”  She indicates an approaching family.  A mom, dad, and two kids walk toward the entrance of the restaurant in a straight line.  The mom is texting on her phone; the dad is talking on his.  One son is watching a movie on his device with ear buds connecting him to the action.  The other is playing a game on his device, twisting and turning it to defeat his electronic nemesis.  Their synchronization and coordination is impressive.  They manage to navigate a busy parking lot and uneven stairs up to the patio, communicate with the hostess, and find their seats without looking up from their devices.  It was so well-choreographed and mechanical, it could’ve been a scene from a satire parodying “The State of the American Family,” only there were no cameras and the celebrity guest-host never shouted, “Live from New York, it’s Saturday Night!”  This was a real picture into another family’s way of being and it was different enough from our own to garner my daughter’s attention.

After our meal, we pile back in the truck and make the short drive to the local movie theatre for opening night of Home.  In one scene of the movie, the alien Boovs who have overrun the planet Earth speedily walk in a systematic pattern while manipulating their personal devices.  The protagonist, Oh, wants nothing more than to celebrate the arrival at their new home with friends, but much to his dismay, his attempts at connecting with his device-wielding fellows are rebuffed. Again, my daughter leans over and nudges me, “It’s like the family at the restaurant.”  I tend not to ignore moments of synchronicity such as this.  It was eerily similar.

Since that day, I’ve reflected.  My children’s world is different from the one I grew up in.  My world was different from the one my parents and grandparents grew up in.  “Time stands still for no man.”  Yeah, I get it.  Technological advancements come and amaze (or bewilder!) us all.  Then they ride back out of town into a dusty sunset of obsolescence only to be replaced by the newer, faster guy in shinier packaging.  Yes, I know it’s a testament to human ingenuity.  I know people’s lives are improved in countless ways by the ever-turning wheel of progress.  But still, I pause.

I think I’ve managed to distill my reservations down to two categories.

First, I’m nostalgic.  I believe in wearing watches, not checking the time on my cell phone.  I like writing notes to friends and relatives on paper, cool paper.  Paper that feels nice and cheers my heart when I send it and hopefully feels the same coming out of a mailbox full of ads and bills.  A “thank you” or “get well” text just isn’t the same.  I’m glad that my daughter knows that before there were cell phones, there were home phones.  And before individual phone lines, party lines!  Albeit, she is aware of a party line because of a Doris Day movie we watched together and not because of any real experience, but I like it that that little piece of “before now” is a part of her awareness.  I hope she values an old black and white movie as much as the newest 3D blockbuster and that she appreciates a Benny Goodman tune as much as Katy Perry.  It gives her some perspective about her place on the historical timeline and connects her to those who have gone before her.  And that brings me to my second point.

It’s about connectedness.  In my mind, technology shouldn’t hinder community or connectedness.  When we’d rather peer into the lives of our “friends” by viewing their status updates on Facebook than invite them over to dinner, there’s a problem.  When we slavishly respond to texts, emails, and calls on our phones rather than attending to the people in our presence, we’re missing the boat.  When we pacify ourselves and our children with the blue light of a screen, we’re running from something we really ought to confront.  When we hold a device in our hand more frequently than the hand of another human, we’re losing touch.

Our Friday night outing steeled my resolve to keep technology in our family in its proper place.  Sure, my family has access to computers and iPads.  We need to be technologically savvy enough to participate in the world.  It’s our reality.  However, our reality is also that we crave love, attention, and human interaction, eye to eye, hand to hand.  I hope we celebrate the arrivals of weekends and homecomings together, turning off our devices and tuning in to each other.

Photo Credit:

Family Eating Outside

Navigating the Teenage Gossip Mill

Drill Before You Spill: Navigating Teenage Gossip

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Teenage Gossip: Help Kids Respond to the Invitation to Disclose Personal Information

There’s a George Strait song that goes something like,

“Do you love me, do you wanna be my friend?

And if you do, well then don’t be afraid to take me by the hand if you want to.

I think this is how love goes, check yes or no.”

Navigating the Teenage Gossip MillSeems harmless enough, right? A girl lets a boy know she is interested and would not rebuff his advances.  The ball is now in the boy’s court. He’s been invited to spill.

A few years back, my work as a school counselor landed me in the middle of one of these situations, but I didn’t anticipate the content of the note I was handed. It read something like this,

“Dear Girl Who Sits In Front of Me,

I think you’ve been sexually abused. Have you?

Check one: _________ yes       __________no”

She’s just been invited to spill.

Earlier this year my daughter recounted to me the following conversation.

photo (1)

 

Friend: Do you have a crush?

Daughter: Yes.

Friend: Write his name on your wrist.

She, too, has just been invited to spill.

 

Some version of this scenario is playing out right now on a playground, in a cafeteria, or on a cell phone near you. Watching my own child navigate the trickiness of personal disclosure was eye opening. I think I had assumed she’d be able to interpret the nuance of different requests for information and the motivation behind them – fodder for the teenage gossip mill or genuine care and concern.

Sometimes I’m a really clueless mom!

What I’ve found is that adult ears hear a different tone in each of the preceding three examples. We recognize the relative innocence and hopefulness in the first one. We hear the calculated manipulation and motivation to hurt in the second one. And, in the third one we hear the seemingly innocuous dare that will most likely lead to the crush no longer being a mystery.

Tweens are just beginning to refine this sort of perception and need some help deciding when and how much to share.

Understanding and Managing Teenage Gossip

So, my daughter and I worked together and came up with this.

Drill Before You Spill:
(to be used in the case of another kid pumping you for information)

1.  Who’s asking?
If you get an anonymous request, stop now. This is a definite no-spill situation.

If it’s someone you know, go on to #2.

2. What is my relationship to this person?

If it’s a casual acquaintance, zip your lips.

If it is a close friend or family member, go on to #3.

3. How much do I trust this friend or family member? Has he/she proven to be reliable and loyal in the past?

If the answer is no, stop the flow.

If the answer is yes, continue to #4.

4. How bad would it hurt me if my information still somehow got leaked?

Sometimes even the most trustworthy and well-intentioned friends or family members let things slip. If an accidental spill outside your inner circle wouldn’t hurt your feelings, cause uncomfortable embarrassment, or spark a long chain of questions you’d rather not answer, then go for it.

If your infkeep quietormation is so private that the thought of people knowing it makes your stomach turn over and beads of sweat start to roll down the back of your neck, keep quiet.

Our kids live in an environment that is saturated with a constant flow of status updates and tweets. The teenage gossip mill is relentless. They read, hear, and see people sharing both the inane minutiae of the moment and their deeply personal existential struggles.

In a world that sometimes blurs the lines between personal and private, our kids need to know that they own their information. Any attempt to expose or bring to light something they’re not ready to share should be met with resistance.

Kids need a safe, responsible, confidential adult with whom they can share personal information. If you have the privilege of being such an adult for a child, you are in a great position to be able to start a conversation about how to respond to an invitation to spill. How do you talk about the teenage gossip mill with your kids? What would you include in the “Drill Before You Spill” for your family?

Parenting is Learning to Let Go

Parenting Is Learning How to Let Go

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Learn to let goI stand in the Narthex of the century old church, red velvety plush carpet cushioning my white satin heeled feet.  The penny is in my shoe.  I have something borrowed and something blue.  I look at him and he at me, and we know.  This is the last time we’ll stand in this spot together.  This is not a walk we’ll take again.  We savor it, drink it in, flood our memory banks as insurance against any future drought.

We link arms, and as the last echo of Pachelbel’s Canon fades into the rafters, the double doors swing open and our walk begins.  Down the aisle we travel together.  We pass the neighbors we’ve had since I was five, the ones who give a cursory knock at our garage door and holler, “Hey neighbor!” as they make their way through the laundry room into the kitchen.  Further down the aisle we travel together.  We pass my high school chemistry teacher, the one who greeted me at 7:30 a.m. when organic chemistry gave me fits.  We continue down the aisle together, approaching the altar.  I look left and right, scanning the pews and see the faces of my own personal geology layered like a stratified rock formation exposed in a canyon wall.  They each made deposits during their era, shaping, molding, marring, building me.

We arrive.

We arrive at a place we always knew we’d reach, but didn’t know it’d be June 17, 2000.

We arrive.

We’re here in the presence of our friends, family, God.  He releases my arm, pats my hand, and nods at the pastor.

“Who gives this bride in holy matrimony?”

“Her mother and I do.”

And with that, I let go of my dad.

Throughout the course of our lives, we take many different walks with our kids.  Some are simple, some laden with significance.  Whether a mundane walk to the mailbox or one of life’s rites of passage, the walks mean something.  It’s how we first entice them to move toward us, arms outstretching, toddler feet plodding.  It’s how we come alongside them when confusion creeps in and together we put one foot in front of the other.  It’s the road, the trail, the car ride, the journey that provides us with little daily opportunities to coach and guide.  It’s intriguing to conceptualize parenting in this way: We travel together, you and me, until our paths diverge. For now, I lead.  I navigate this part of the journey.  But as the old adage goes, I prepare you for the path, not the other way around.

Return with me to the Narthex of that old church.  Again, I travel down the aisle, only this time it’s somber maroon leather heeled feet walking a lonely road.  I move forward in a single file line, arms and hands empty.  The drought has come and I’m immediately reminded of the day we walked this aisle filling our memory reservoirs.  Again, I pass the faces of my bedrock.  They sit in the same layered formation.

I arrive.

I arrive at a place I always knew I’d reach, but I didn’t know it’d be October 8, 2014.

I arrive.

I’m here in the presence of our friends, family, God.  I take my seat, place my hand on my grandmother’s shoulder, and smile at the pastor.

“We’ve gathered here today to celebrate the life of Raymond Payne Jones.”

And with that, I let go of my dad.
Death of a parent

One day our kids will let go of us.  The day will come when we’re not listening at the other end of the baby monitor.  We’re not just down the hall.  We’re not peeking out the window into the front yard.  We’re not reachable by phone or text.  They will face a path that they must navigate alone.

So for now, we build.  We build skills, endurance, capacity.  We introduce them to people, ideas, and beliefs that will outlive us. We engage their minds, ignite their imaginations, inspire their hearts.  We plant the seeds of love, compassion, and grace.  When we mess up, we try again.  When we hurt, we repair.  We empower them to be the heroes of their life stories.  We believe in them and their unique contribution to our world.  And, we walk, thankful to be on this road.