Monday, December 22, 2014

Ending 2014: A letter to my oldest

My dear First Born,

Well it’s been quite a year, hasn’t it, Kid? When you woke up on January 1, 2014, you probably didn’t imagine that the next 365 days or so would pan out quite like they have, huh?

Yeah, me neither.

A year ago, we were in quite a different place, you and me. Things were rough. Real rough. You “hated” me, as you told me on multiple occasions (though I never in my heart believed it,) and though I loved you like only a mother could, I sure didn’t like you very much. I had exhausted every parental and maternal means of trying to control, fix, change and/or bend you to my will (aka what I thought was “right”,) but to no avail. In turn, you pulled further and further away from me and into a world where I just couldn’t touch you anymore. 

Those were some dark days, Dude. I look back and I don’t know how we survived them. But here’s the kicker. We DID. And as this roller coaster of a year draws to a close, I want you to know something that I’ve probably told you a hundred, thousand times, and I hope one day you’ll truly hear my words and believe what I’m saying.

My son, my beautiful, beautiful son - I’m so proud of you. I’m so incredibly, thankfully, indisputably, undeniably PROUD of you. I’ve said it so much I wonder – there has to be a better word than proud. A BIGGER word than proud. There’s not, really. I even looked it up. There’s no better word to explain how my heart swells when I see you and talk to you and see pictures of you and learn more about what you are discovering about yourself.

I told you before – you were my first. My experiment in parenting, if you will. You got the short end of the stick on that one, Bud, because I had NO idea what I was doing. I made some missteps that’s for sure. I did a few things right and a whole lotta things wrong. But you stuck with me, didn’t you? And you managed to go and grow up on me, didn’t you? And now look at you. 

You’re stunning. Simply stunning – inside and out. You’re everything I dreamed a son would be and a few things I never imagined. You made me realize that there’s no cookie-cutter kid – there’s no “right” way to be or “wrong” way to be. There’s just an authentic way to be – and that is you – always has been. Trouble was, that authenticity wasn’t accepted too readily, so it kind of got discombobulated and a little lost along the way.

Now I hope you see that who you are – this authentic, wonderful you – is the foundation of everything you need to succeed in whatever you choose to do with your life. And I hope you’ll have the confidence in yourself to never waver from that authenticity. Because I see the real you, Son, and it’s amazing. Truly amazing. 

As I look at recent pictures of you, I see an incredibly handsome, complex, pensive young man. But I don’t have to look very closely to also see that blond, bright blue-eyed inquisitive little boy – the one I’d say smiled “with his whole face.” Because you do. And I’ll never tire of seeing that smile – or that face. 

We started 2014 at the bottom, Son. My hardest tears I cried for you, and my greatest happiness was because of you. But you and me, we’re ending it on an uphill swing, and I see nothing left but the top, don’t you? Sure, we may slip a little here and there. But slipping's OK as long as we can regain a foothold or have someone to catch us. And you have people to catch you - even if it's not me. And honestly, it probably WON'T be me. But that's OK. You'll be OK.

And as we end this indescribably difficult yet incredibly powerful year, I want to tell you, “thank you.” Thank you for letting me love you so much. Thank you for finally telling me you love me back. Thank you for letting me hug you for as long as I want to because I need to, and for letting me hold your face in my hands to tell you how beautiful you are. Thank you for doing the work. You've worked so damn hard and I know I don’t even know the half of what you accomplished. I know there is progress I haven’t even seen. And I know you still have a long way to go. So do I. But we'll both get there.

I know life won’t be easy for you. I know you’ll have your ups and downs. I know you’re gaining tools for your toolbox and that you’ll learn when you need to pull them out and use them. But know this – and I’ve told you this before, too. I will always, always be your biggest fan. I will always, always be rooting for you on the sidelines. I will always, always be proud of you, and I will always, ALWAYS love you. You will always be my first, and you will always be my blond, blue-eyed baby boy.

To the moon and back, 

Thursday, December 11, 2014

What I Fear Most

Last night I received a very good piece of advice via a kind of unconventional means.

I was listening to a live webinar on my phone, hosted by a renowned author whom I greatly respect. I had gone so far as to message him about a phenomenal book he wrote, but he of course never replied. There were probably hundreds of people on the call, but at the end he said he could take a few questions, and all of a sudden I heard him saying, "Amy from Illinois has a question. Hi, Amy." Wow. So I got to talk to this amazing author and the advice I received changed the course of my thinking as only someone whom I respect could do.

He said simply, "Don't be ruled by fear." Of course, there was more, but in my starstruck daze I don't remember it all verbatim. But what he said resonated with me, because he was right. I was being ruled by fear.

Now, in this context, he was talking about parenting. About not being afraid to do the right thing, bring up a subject that may cause conflict or put my foot down when I need to. Because, see, that became pretty tough for me - the repercussions were unpleasant and sometimes downright frightening. So I quit doing it. I quit out of fear. But he reminded me, because I had forgotten, that fear impedes progress. Fear keeps you from doing not only what you think you SHOULD do, but what you really, really WANT to do. And it's really nothing more than that. If you let fear get to you, it can not only impede YOUR progress, but that of your kids as well.

All those excuses we use day after day. How many times have you said things like:
"I'm not going to discipline my kid for breaking curfew because I want to have a good day today and just keep the peace."
"I'm not speaking up in that meeting because I don't know if what I have to say is significant."
"I'm not going after that job because I'm afraid I'm not completely qualified."
"I'm not going to broach that subject because I'm not sure of the reaction I'll get."
"I'm not going to go up and talk to that person because he might think I'm crazy, or worse yet, boring."

So what happens when we let fear rule our decisions? Nothing gets done. No progress is made. You don't do anything proactive, say anything proactive, or BE anything proactive. And the thing is, what you see as fear can be mistaken in someone else's eyes. To them, you might appear indifferent. Snobby. Passive. When in fact you're none of those things. You're just being ruled by fear.

The same thing that makes me not have those tough talks with my kid - for fear he'll lash out, or we'll have a bad night, or my best-laid plans will be ruined - is the same fear that keeps me from trying new things. I'll give a million excuses why I don't want to show up at a new church or social group when in fact I'm just terrified of walking into a roomful of strangers. Funny thing is, I've conquered that fear on more than one occasion, only to realize that 1) others felt the exact same way and 2) everyone was welcoming and understood how hard it was. And as far as parenting goes, worrying that my kids will go off the deep end if I discipline them - because it's gotten out of hand before - isn't doing them any favors. I need to work to find a way to overcome that fear and stop it from getting out of hand. Because kids are like wild animals - they can smell fear a mile away.

My son is learning about feelings. So much so that a couple of weeks ago I happened to say something to the effect of, "That made me so mad," to which he corrected me and said, "No, Mom, you CHOOSE to be mad." Interesting concept coming from a 17-year old boy, but he's right. I did choose it. I chose it because it was easy. Fear is easy. It's the excuse that is lying at the bottom of the barrel of excuses. But if you think about it carefully, you can choose NOT to let it rule your life and your decisions.

So the advice I received is my advice to you. Don't be ruled by fear. Don't let that ambiguous emotion of what "could, should, might" keep you doing what you want or need to do. As Wayne Gretzky once said, "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take." Don't be afraid to take that shot.