It’s all grit to me

My youngest daughter started a new school last week. It is the second time in 8 weeks that she has started middle school. The only thing worse than starting middle school once is starting it twice. In my recent blog to the Instagram generation, which was directed to my daughters who will likely never read it, I referenced the challenges of being in an IB middle school. When I wrote that post, I didn’t know how much more challenging it would become in such a short time. We escalated from “this isn’t going so smoothly” to “I’m pulling her out” in less than two weeks.

In 13 years of schooling even the unschoolable, I have never once considered pulling a kid out in the middle of a school year, much less smack in the middle of a 9-weeks. I’m either getting harder or I’m getting softer. I’m really not sure which one made me do it.

But I did it. And she was happy I did.

I expected some raised eyebrows. I expected some level of judgment. What I did not expect was that the worst would come from my older daughter.

“You’re quitting,” she said. “She’s a quitter. You could have pulled her out of a couple of bad classes and just changed her schedule.” She delivered quite an impassioned speech. I chalked it up to hormones and flushed most of it where the hormones go.

But she didn’t let it go that easily. A day or so later, Lucy got in my van after school. We rode along quietly for a few minutes before she opened a new thread of the same discussion.

“We talked today about growth mindset,” she began. That sounded promising. I was all ears. “It has to do with grit,” she said. “Something some people need a little more of,” she continued. The emphasis on some people caused me to bristle just a little.

“Now, hold on a quick minute,” I argued. And then we went around the horn again about my reasons for pulling Jenna out.

And I’ve been thinking about it since then. And the thing is, we did quit. I allowed her to quit and I quit, too. But I’ve determined in the last 8 days that quitting isn’t a bad thing if you are quitting something that isn’t worth doing (smoking, punching people in the jowls, IB schools that rob your childhood). And of course, making that determination is an intensely personal choice.  

In just the last week, Jenna has started a new school around the corner from our house. She’s had new hallways to learn, new kids to meet, new teachers to adjust to. She’s had wrong schedules and then schedule changes. She’s had teachers question whether her mother actually turned in her field trip permission form through the office. She’s had the same teachers apologize to her when they found the form. She’s had a lot of stuff. It wasn’t a week without some growth minded grit, I can tell you.

On Monday, she walked the dog with me before we headed toward school for day 1 of her 3-day nature fieldtrip.

“I wish I was in Keller’s homeroom,” she said. “All my friends are in Keller’s homeroom. They are grouping us for the field trip by our homerooms.”

There was going to be nobody for her to ride the bus with. No one familiar to eat her packed lunch with. No one to make her feel safe.

“OK,” I said. “Well, let’s discuss this. Let’s try to make something out of nothing.” This is usually the point where the kids stop listening, 100%. But maybe today would be different. And here is the pep talk I pulled out of the poop bag dispenser and tucked into her backpack.

Every burden can be a blessing. I know this is true because I recently got it in a fortune cookie. Also, it’s in the bible. And I’ve lived it. But a person must be willing to be a conduit for the transition. Let it happen.

Do hard things, but make sure the hard things are worth doing. The hard things of IB middle were not worth the resulted suffering. The hard things of transitioning to a new school would be. This one is a work in progress.

Make it good. There isn’t always an exact right answer and an exact wrong one. And sometimes we aren’t even sure to which side the meter is leaning. We decide and we do the best we can with it. Whatever it is you decide—wherever you land—go and make it good.

Here’s where it got a little weird for her.

You are never alone. Even if you feel alone—even if you get on a bus with a group of kids you don’t know—you are not alone. God is on that school bus with you. Sit next to Him. Pray to Him. Let Him be beside you. Picture Him right there with you on that bouncing yellow school bus with the vinyl green seats. If you invite Him on your field trip, into your new school, He’ll come.

And then we put the dog in the house and drove to school. She had a glum look on her face as I tried to nudge her out the door and into a deserted teacher parking lot. Her eyes pleaded with me, clouded with fear and doubt.

“You got this,” I said. “And God has got you. Now go.”

And she did.

For the next 40 minutes, I kept busy in the house and prayed that all would be well on this field trip. It was a big leap into a new system. She would be facing it seemingly without allies. I prayed that God would do what I had told her He would. That He would be with her on the bus and everywhere. That she wouldn’t feel alone. And then I prayed specifically that He would show up in a big way, big enough to be quite obvious to Jenna. I knew He was going to be with her, but I needed her to know it, too.

Right then I got a text from Jenna saying that her permission form was lost. If they couldn’t locate it, she wouldn’t be allowed to get on the bus. That wasn’t the kid of action I was hoping for when I was praying. Not 5 minutes later, I got a phone call from Keller, who was not Jenna’s homeroom teacher, but was looking for her form. She asked me to send a text with certain wording, giving Jenna permission to be on the field trip and on the bus for transportation.

I sent the text.

About 5 minutes after that, I got another text from Jenna saying that she had inexplicably been put into Keller’s homeroom with ALL of her friends. She didn’t use the word inexplicably. That’s all me. And it wasn’t inexplicable at all. It was exactly what I had prayed for. There was no reason to put her in that homeroom. It wasn’t her homeroom. But there she was, boarding a bus with her friends.

“I’m going with Abbey,” she wrote me.

“REALLY??” I texted back.

“Mhm,” she responded.

“Guess what that is?” I texted her. “That’s GOD. That’s a direct answer to our prayers today.”

She sent me a couple of winky faces.
I’m still not sure what to do with those guys.
I can’t even believe that was only Monday.

Driving out of the neighborhood this afternoon for Carpool #1, I thought again about all of this. I caught my inner critic whispering, “Did I do the right thing?” And then I pushed back at her, reminding myself that there is no one way. No one right thing. Nothing is perfect. I struggle with this constantly, because I’m a destination thinker. I think that if I just do A and B, the perfect C will occur. And if I get D, it’s because I forgot A or did B wrong. I’m trying to be a journey thinker, because if I haven’t arrived yet, the chances are, there’s no one place to go. But I do need to keep going forward.

Even though my inner critic will likely continue to ask all the wrong questions, I can strike back with an occasional right answer.

I don’t know much about much, but I do know this:

The right hard things are worth doing and I’ll do them until they get easier. I can make good of almost anything. No matter what decision I make, what bus I ride, and what posse does or doesn’t surround me, I am never alone. And that’s good enough for me.

Unfinished Business

I’ve been thinking a lot about my job.
I’m a parent. I don’t get paid in conventional dollars. But I do get paid in something. Sometimes it feels like sentiment. Sometimes it feels like a sentence.
But it’s a job, man.

I used to have a steady, good-paying job writing software manuals. And I was decent at it. There were stretches when it was a lot to handle. I can remember being assigned new projects writing about software I couldn’t use. And typically the people who programmed that software were too intellectual to explain it to me.
Deadlines loomed. In those deadlines, I was known to become a tad overwhelmed.

But that was different than parenting. When I had a work project to learn and write up and edit and polish—and when the project felt borderline impossible—I could close the door to my office and spread all my papers out on my desk and pull up my emails on my screen and sit there until I figured it out. I can’t do that now. The difference in my former work and my parenting work is that my former projects were never out walking the streets while I was trying to figure them out and finish them up.

My current projects are out on the streets.
And I’m nowhere near finished with them. I need them to sit still while I read a few more books. Sit here. Don’t go anywhere. I need time.

I’ve been a parent for 18 and a half years now. I’ve been a parent of 4 for almost twelve. I’ve witnessed and participated in—some might even say caused–a few catastrophic moments during those years. There was that time a kid did unspeakable things with their diaper and its contents. There was seaweed eating. Stingray tank licking. The roach in the sliding glass door track. That one week when the potty-training nightmare refused to poop. The summer of childhood constipation. Jaundice and the light suitcase. Being pregnant on July 4 two years in a row. Many, many stomach viruses, often following a big meal of hot dogs. There was colic. Projectile vomiting. Croup. A baby allergic to every food tested except chicken, lamb, and white potatoes. Making the grueling decision to have one repeat the first grade. Having teen boys suffer broken hearts. Failed classes. Difficult job interviews. Stand-offs over medications. Wrangling the before-church Easter photo.

Those things were hard.
Some days we agonized.
But they weren’t the hardest. They were nowhere near the hardest.

The hardest time I’ve lived as a parent is now.
Right now.
(I didn’t say worst, I said hardest.)
Two boys in high school. Two girls in middle school. Three schools. Kids in 6, 8, 10, and 12.

Crying babies in the night made me a zombie-like shadow of myself. Stomach viruses were hard. And gross. Croup was terrifying. But I knew what to do. I knew to run the shower and hold my boy in the steam until he could breathe freely again. I was a champ at cleaning up any fluid that escaped any body. I knew what they needed and I had the energy and the means to fix it.

Now, I don’t always know what to do. Am I too lenient? Too harsh? Too reactive? Do I hug them or drive over their iPad? Is this problem a temporary thing or a symptom of a larger issue?

I spend a lot of time shrugging at Todd while he gives me his best simmer down speech.
I spend a lot of time trying to catch the pieces that are falling around me.

I spend a lot of time praying.

And I spend a lot of time trying to connect that prayer with the moving pieces. Trying to connect the kids to each other and to me and to the God that hears and answers our prayers.

This parenting thing is a confidence-shaking, low paying, high stress gig. But it comes with some pretty big perks. Sometimes those perks send me texts out of the blue telling me they love me. Sometimes, those perks get along with each other and laugh like hyenas at something they won’t share with me. Sometimes, they help each other with homework. And in those moments, it’s not so scary to have my unfinished business out walking around.

I don’t have it figured out. I’m pretty sure I’ll never figure it out. But it seems important to keep trying.

So I will.

An actual attempt at a fall photo for the Christmas card. Nailed it.