As a writer who educates three middle-schoolers at home, I have little time to stare at a blank screen in the mornings. If the words don’t come when I need them to, if I can’t get things down in the early quiet, I feel the Pop Rocks of Panic start to fizz somewhere under my left lung.
Because, for me, the words I write are proof of life, as melodramatic as that surely sounds. I don’t make actual things for a living, like some people do (if you don’t count that one season when I made three human beings in 32 months). In fact, most of the work I do in a day’s time seems to evaporate into the ether with no real proof that I did it.
Except for the words. This morning they won’t come, and my breathing’s a little shallow.
Writing is a lot like homeschooling, which, in turn, is a lot like trying to catch fish with your bare hands. You keep grabbing moments, waiting, calming your breath, lunging again (don’t be so clumsy this time), repeating the whole thing–while trying to forget about how ridiculous you must look.
When I don’t catch any fish right away (write any words worth keeping, or successfully explain, say, certain biological concepts), I have to trust that it’s the trying, the not-quitting, that equals success, at least in the short run. Even if it seems like nothing is happening at the moment.
So, yes, the cursor is blinking, and the kids have knocked on my bedroom door, signalling that it’s onward and upward.
But it’s OK. I’ll bide my time.
I’ve noticed that fish often come when you’re looking the other way.
“My sister stands beside me on the pool deck. We aren’t watching our kids play-fight in the water. Our eyes are on the adolescent bird sitting at the base of an oak tree a few feet away. We can hear his mother squawking at him from a bush nearby. He’s fallen from her nest, and she can’t carry him to safety because he’s almost her size. But she can’t leave him alone, either, because she knows better than any of us that the woods are full of raccoons, that her life’s work might end in a half-eaten lump of sorrow if he can’t get to a low branch somehow. There’s nothing for her to do but to wait and to sing…”
I yelled at my oldest son during our Bible reading today because he wasn’t paying attention–again. It had been building, my frustration at his vacancy, and it finally bubbled over into a scalding lecture on listening and respect and responsibility. My words multiplied, crowding each other over the sharp cliff of my anger. Lemmings, all of them, dead on arrival.
My son’s face grew cloudy, then distant. I was losing it during Bible time. The irony was not lost on me.
After the fracas was over (and, so help me, I was more than a little right. He doesn’t pay attention half the time), we hugged each other. My temper had cooled and things had gotten clearer: He doesn’t listen and I take it personally. I think about my life and I wonder if I’m doing a good enough job with these kids. Are they learning what they need to learn? Are they growing in character? Will they like me when when they’re grown?
Will I like them?
My son threw his arm around my shoulders. He’s already taller than I am and he likes to prove it on occasion.
“I love you, Mom,” he said, his voice high, then popping low.
“I love you, too, babe. You’re gonna kill me, but I love you.”
And just like that things were OK again, at least until next time.
In the meantime I’m asking God to help me stop yelling at my kids when they act like middle schoolers–and I’m asking him to help my son become a better listener (I’m helping God a bit by threatening to take away the XBox if I don’t see improvement).
Parenting isn’t for cowards. And homeschooling? Sheesh. So while I have lots of things to be thankful for this season, the one that stands out the most is grace. I’m thankful for grace. For hundreds of do-overs. And for sons who throw their lanky arms over my shoulders and say I love you.
I’m a writer who likes fresh beginnings and well-timed endings. Middles? Not so much.
When I think about the middle of, say, a novel manuscript, I imagine a hammock creaking under the weight of a couple of lemonade-sipping kids or a dad who really ought to be mowing the lawn.
Creative writing instructors refer to these in-between pages as the dreaded “saggy middle.”
They teach rookies and published authors alike how to push through their own saggy middles with enough energy and forward momentum to keep readers engaged until the end.
We moms all have superpowers of one kind or another. We can tell our babies’ cries from others’. Later we can sense when our kids have had a bad day. We can carry a toddler on one arm, groceries in the other, and a human infant in our womb, all at the same time.
[To wit: I was at the pool the other day and I watched an enormously pregnant woman in a maternity swimsuit push her toddler up a mulched hill in a stroller. Sure she had to stop halfway to catch her breath, but that was only because she was doing something amazing.]
Nothing really brings mom superpowers to the fore, though, like discovering our kids are in dangerous situations. In these cases even the most mild mannered moms become ninjas ready to destroy the opposition.
When my three children were babies, my powers were focused on keeping them physically safe. Now that they’re older and better able to make commonsense decisions (like looking both ways before crossing the street and not sticking their hands in fire), my focus has shifted to keeping them mentally and emotionally safe. My superpowers have developed along with my children’s needs. These days
- I have X-Ray vision. I can see when my children are feeling alone or are riding an emotional roller coaster (ah, middle school, we meet again). I’ve been known to say to my kids, “Oops, honey. I just peeked into your soul again.” They roll their eyes but I can see that they feel relieved to know that someone understands them and will ask them the questions they need to answer. (I can also see if they’re lying but that’s another post for another day).
- I have fire power. Well, not really. But I can–and do–put up firewalls on my kids’ internet access. I keep our desktop computer in the living room so that the kids have to use it in a common area. This cuts down on lots of temptations of various kinds. We have a no-handheld-internet-devices-in-bedrooms rule. If, and when, the kids get older and want iPads, or phones, or data plans we’ll cycle back and talk about internet safety issues in more depth.
- I can become invisible. This one’s a more recent talent. I find that my kids and I talk a lot about how to talk to adults, how to answer the phone, who to give information to (or not), how to answer the door, etc. At different points they’ve had to practice these skills on their own. Even when I’m in the house, I’ve learned to stay silent as my kids navigate conversations with grown-ups they haven’t met before or answer the phone to take down information. I may not be invisible but I might as well be. Although it’s hard for me to acknowledge, it’s the one power I’m going to need more and more of as they grow and mature.
All moms have “superpowers” of one kind or another. It’s just the way we’re made. Most of the time we use them to keep our kids safe or to help them make good decisions.
What are some of your “superpowers” and how do you use them to steer your kids in the right direction?
It might be the weather. It may be our ages around here (puberty. the end). It could just be me (I can never rule this out). But whatever the cause, we’re in a communication swamp at our house these days. I find that I say the same things over and over to my kids, in the same, um, strident tone, and I get the same results–languid compliance with a dash of resentment. I see it in my kids’ eyes. They are tired of my reactions to their reactions. I’m sure that they can see it in my eyes, too. I’m tired of the push-back I receive when I ask them to do things they’ve always done.
The thing is, it feels like a full-on cycle at this point. I say, Get such-and-such done. Somebody whines and moves s-l-o-w-l-y to get the aforementioned thing done, all the while muttering about why the task is meaningless. I take a deep breath, feeling my heart begin to race, muttering to my own self that this kind of flak is for the birds and I don’t deserve it. Then I say, in a scarily-calm librarian voice, that I expect compliance because this is right, that it has always been this way in our home, that I will not put up with disrespect, that I don’t give them that much to do, that this is ridiculous, that I am going to tell their father about this, etc, etc. When I pause, feeling my heartbeat (now in my eyeballs), I see the withdrawal, the retreat, in my kids’ faces. I see their squinting, their down-turned mouths. I am sad suddenly, sad and tired. I feel tricked by my own emotions–again.
This communication quicksand has got to dry up. We love each other, and we’ve got to find a way to move through this new phase of life/parenting/growing. Right now we’re in a flare/remission cycle where every other conversation has the potential to cause an outbreak of hives. There’s got to be a better way to go through middle school. But I can’t think of exactly what to do at the moment.
What I do know is, as usual, we all need grace. Every moment of every day. And He gives it.