Monday, March 30, 2009

To My Firstborn in the Wilderness...

When you were not quite three years old we sent you to preschool for the first time. That first week I cried myself to sleep at night, feeling like I’d failed you as a mother. I always thought I could be a total superwoman, running both the office and the house with a small child underfoot. Then as you grew more curious and mobile and independent, after awhile we realized that wasn’t fair to you. You didn’t need to be told “No” and “don’t touch” all the time. You needed freedom to learn and play and grow in a safe environment with more individual attention. You needed to make new friends. And make more progress. So I was entrusting my precious two-year-old to someone else’s care. And it broke my heart.

What happened for you there was remarkable. You were happy. You were social. You loved it. Sometimes you didn’t even want to come home. Our family also became more organized. I wasn’t so stressed. I was able to be more productive at work, so that the time we spent with you after “school” would be more quality time. We took family walks after dinner, and cherished our bedtime rituals. What I at first viewed as tragic eventually turned out to be the very best thing for our little family.

. . . . .

Ironically, sending you off to the wilderness last week felt very much like I felt when we sent you off to preschool for the first time. I know it's a completely different set of circumstances, but as we compared programs and put the final plans in place, I cried my eyes out. And I cried myself to sleep at night, once again feeling like I’d failed you as a mother.

Your teenage years have made you even more curious and mobile and independent, and we saw you frequently flirting with danger. You seemed to be unwilling and unable to tell yourself and your friends “No” and "Don't touch". I couldn't possibly keep an eye on you 24/7. Now, in a similar yet very different way, you need the freedom of the outdoors to learn and grow in a safe environment, with a different kind of attention than we can give. You need to make new friends. And make more progress. So I am once again entrusting my precious son to someone else’s care. And once again, it breaks my heart.

I think what can happen for you in the wilderness will be remarkable. You will be stronger, wiser, and, yes, happier. You already say how much you love it there. There's a power and a presence in the wilderness that is comforting like no other. There is an abundance of the spirit. I feel like this is the very best thing not only for you, but for our whole family. Despite the heartache, I feel peace. We are trying to make progress too, while you are away. And loving you throughout every mile of the journey.


And I will also be your light in the wilderness; and I will prepare the way before you, and ye shall know that it is by me that ye are led. 1 Nephi 17: 13

Monday, March 23, 2009

Out of all the people in the world, why us?

We were in the midst of yet another family crisis, and I was delivering the younger children to a friend's house so I could go home and deal with the aftermath. I tried to explain, as calmly and gently as possible, why I was dropping them off at a friend's house instead of heading home for Sunday dinner, and our nine-year-old spouted off this classic: "Out of all the people in the world, why us?"

Nobody wants to feel singled out in a crisis. We grapple to make sense of it all: Where did we go wrong? What did we do (or not do) to deserve this? I wanted to pat his little head and say, I know, baby. I'm feeling pretty dumped on right now too. It would have been easy to start wallowing in a pity party about why we don't deserve some of the tough stuff we'd been recently dealt. I turned his question over and over again in my mind as I turned the corner to our friend's house.

Then suddenly, on the way home, I turned it completely around. I realized that the same question could apply to how extraordinarily blessed we are: "Out of all the people in the world, why us?" Why, out of so many more deserving souls, have we been singled out for so many tender mercies and miracles? I created a mental checklist of blessing after blessing, and suddenly felt more cared for than dumped on. Blessings, large and small, ongoing and surprisingly sudden, abound in our lives: The right people in the right place at the right time, all the time. People suddenly inspired, out of the blue, to check in with us. Access to resources we never would have considered. And those are just the obvious ones. But in some ways even huger are the less-obvious ones: Health. Strength. Healing. Guidance. Inspiration. Peace.

Thank you, dear ones, for your emails, comments, and prayers this past week.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

—And Don't Tell Anyone You're My Mother (she said sweetly)

Ouch! That's not the worst thing anyone's said to me. But it's what my teenage daughter, The Princess, said as she reminded me about volunteering at her school today. Only it's better than that. Because the sentence actually began, "Remember, try to look pretty–and don't tell anyone you're my mom, okay?" I just laughed. And threatened not to go. To which she responded, "No, just kidding. I love you, Mom. But, yeah, don't tell people you're my mom, okay? Love you!" *smooch, smooch* Where did she learn this stuff, Hollywood? So I'm clearly not rich enough, thin enough, or beautiful enough to be seen with the likes of my daughter. And although I've been dressing myself for decades, she insisted on choosing my outfit.

Actually, the reason I'm able to laugh it off, rather than lock myself in a room and start rocking aimlessly while counting the cracks in the ceiling, is that I remember. I remember being 14 and wanting to grow up to be anyone BUT my mother. At some point I thought I wanted everyone to think I had one of those beauty-queen face-lift moms who drove a Mercedes and wore fancy clothes and big jewels. But the truth is, I'm not impressed by people like that. Not now. Back then, I just wanted to fit in. I maybe even kinda sorta wanted those people to like me. But instead I was mostly invisible.

A few years later my mom and my sister and I went into a consignment shop to sell back some of our clothes. And the snooty sales clerk looked down her nose at us and told my mother her beautiful Pendleton blazers were "a little dated". I wanted to climb right over the counter and show that lady a knuckle sandwich. But I behaved. Didn't she know she was talking to ROYALTY? In a few short years my mom had risen to positively heroic proportions in my eyes.

My husband spoke last week in a lecture series sponsored by the BYU library. And he said that, to prompt more honest storytelling and shed flattering facades, he often assigns his students to write about "the worst thing you've ever said to anyone." And I didn't have to stop and think about that one very long. Because I remember it so clearly. It haunted me for years. The worst thing I ever said was, "No." Which sounds pretty harmless. But it was a lie. A lie that hurt someone. And exposed a serious weak spot in my character.

Ms. Houston introduced her to the class. The new student's name was LaRue Hammler. (At least for our purposes it is. And it's a reasonable facsimile). She walked into my 7th Grade English class wearing hip-hugger bell-bottom jeans that looked like they'd been through a couple of wars, a halter top that managed to expose BOTH a roll of fat in front and acne all over her back, and long, dangly earrings that looked like miniature tie-dyed t-shirts. She sat down right in front of me. I cringed. Because I got a close-up view of the acne. But also because I recognized her.

She was in my Sunday School class a long time ago, when we lived in Bountiful. We only saw her a few times. They moved again before I ever really got to know her. But I was pretty sure this was the same LaRue. She turned around and grinned. "Hi" she said. "Remember me?" And then in a split second I summed up the situation, inventoried the clothes, skin and hair, and concluded it was not going to be good for my social standing to be connected in any way to this new girl. And I said NO. Can you imagine how hard it must have been for her to be transfered to a new junior high school mid-year, and then how relieved she must have been to walk into a new classroom and see just one familiar face? But I was so worried about fitting into this society of Mean Girls myself that I unwittingly became one of them. And turned her away. I made no effort to make her feel welcome or help her make friends. And I carried that burden of guilt for about 22 years.

One day I couldn't stand it any more. I was determined to make it right somehow. So the next time I visited my home town I made a few phone calls and tracked LaRue down. I apologized.
Then came one of the greatest ironies of all: She didn't remember me. Or the incident. Or at least she didn't admit it if she did. (Hopefully she hadn't spent years in therapy blocking it out!)

After a lot of heartache and tearful prayers, I was finally at peace. Perhaps one of the kindest gifts to surface was that in the process of carrying that burden with me from place to place for more than two decades, I had learned to become someone else. Someone who's less concerned with appearance and more interested in substance. Someone who would rather connect than separate. Someone who would always prefer to err on the side of inclusion. I love the way Mary Ellen Edmunds points out the foolishness of "spending money we don't have to buy things we don't need to impress people we don't even like." I'm so done with that.

So I don't mind being momentarily snubbed by my daughter. Because I remember. And I'm comfortable with who I am. In fact, after the event at the junior high today, The Princess took me by the hand and dragged me across the cafeteria to meet some of her friends and their mothers. So maybe she's not so embarrassed of me after all. Maybe she's already learned.

Look for this – and other entries on the subject of Mom – at Scribbit's Writeaway Contest for April, here.