The Long, yet Swift Road to Here

Sadie KindergartenSadie GraduationIt happened. In what seems like just a blink of an eye, my kindergartner is now an eighth grade graduate. Sure the road to here was long and winding. It was sometimes difficult to navigate and there were big potholes to avoid. Certain days the views were tranquil and beautiful and awe inspiring; other days they were chaotic and messy and disordered. There were tears of happiness, pure joy and pride along the way. Tears of sadness, frustration and disappointment clouded many days too. But now looking back, it was really quite swift and the middle part is mostly just a blur.

Some days it seemed like we would never arrive at the end of the road. Nine years of travel on the same path sometimes seemed like being on the Ohio Turnpike I used to drive on my way to and from college–same scenery, same rest stops, same old same. Other days, I didn’t want this path to end. It was so familiar and comforting, like the smell I encountered each time I walked through the door of the house in which I grew up. Its shoulders were lined with the faces of friends and those who became like family. In the rough moments they cheered on she and I; in the good times they celebrated with us. Yet among those faces were also some who didn’t understand us, who judged us, who were frustrated with us. There were some who gave her a label and would never let her outgrow it, no matter how much she changed or thrived or succeeded. They were the ones who especially made this place feel too small now.

Just as a baby in the womb is unable to move about freely at the end of its mother’s pregnancy, this place started to feel confining and unable to contain the very life it had nurtured and fed and kept safe for so long. Towards the very end, it became overwhelmingly apparent that she needed to transition to a bigger space where her growth will be allowed to continue. Yet, as obvious as this was, the unknown ahead remained terrifying.

During the last days in this place, its toll on her was costly. With every milestone nearer to the finish line, it reminded her that some of her hopes and dreams for the journey would never be realized. It reminded her that time with the people with whom she had shared her life the past nine years, for better or for worse, was running out. It reminded her that the place she knew, the second home she visited each day after leaving the first, would no longer be a part of her daily experience. Most of all, it made her face the reality that the transition to the bigger space gets closer with every minute of every day.

The bigger space will have exponentially more than ten times as many faces as this place. It will be bustling with potential; potential friends, potential experiences, potential successes, potential growth. Yet it is unknown and she, with her anxiety disorder unextractably intertwined with each one of life’s moments, instead sees it in her darker moments as offering potential loneliness, potential disappointment, potential failure, potential decline.

I too feel this anxiety encroaching on my sense of relief at crossing the finish line and my pride in her accomplishment of never quitting with the challenges of ADHD making academic life a most arduous feat. There is a pure joy that accompanies the experience of seeing a child rise up against the struggles of life and choose not to quit, even in the face of overwhelming odds of academic structures stacked against her success. On my difficult days, I draw strength from her resolve and determination. It is amazing. Yet the bigger space with its new doorways and new faces and new structures seems so alien. As her mom, I am feeling afraid that I won’t be able to guide her. It feels as if I am taking her to a foreign country where even I, the adult, am unaware of where to go, how to speak the language and even what currency to use.

The first day I dropped her off for kindergarten felt somewhat the same, but this place wasn’t so big and frightening. The faces were fewer and I worked across the parking lot, ever near to my beloved child. I could run over from work if she got hurt or was feeling sick or forgot her lunch. I could spy her in the hallways when I had business that brought me to her building. I could sit near her class and pray with her each week at school Mass. I could protect and love and advocate for her in a heartbeat. And each day, as we traveled to this place, we were together. Sometimes we talked, sometimes we didn’t. Sometimes we laughed, sometimes we cried. Sometimes we sang along to the same song on the radio, sometimes we fought with ugly words. The bigger space where she will go each day will be far away from where I go each day and we will no longer travel there together.

There is a certain fearlessness that lies deep within my girl, despite her multiple diagnoses. As the night of graduation drew near and the finish line was within sight, she was asked to lead the music for the Mass which preceded the ceremony. Without hesitation she accepted the invitation. In front of all of her classmates, teachers, friends, family and strangers alike, on her own, in front of the microphone, she led the entire congregation in song, beautifully, with grace and poise. Though she did not receive any special academic awards or outstanding student awards or other accolades reserved for the chosen few whose talents and hard work earn them such rightful recognition, she was given the opportunity to offer what she could. She did so in a way that was unique and magnificent. It was her chance to shine and she did not shrink from it. She crossed the finish line of the long, yet swift road to here with her head held high.

As I have aged and have learned to cope pretty effectively with my own anxiety disorder, I often commiserate on the opportunities I missed earlier in life because of my fear. So many of my friends, in their twenties, traveled to foreign lands with a positive anticipation and desire to explore that goes hand in hand with a healthy sense of adventure found in youth. They were expanded and changed and made better by the journeys on which they embarked. I, on the other hand, stayed in place, dreading any change that would upset my sense of grounding and foundation. Yet more recently, after reading the novel, Wild, by Cheryl Strayed, I felt the desire stronger than ever to go on a crazy adventure, unprepared, but open to what might be. I recognize within myself for the first time a dose of the fearlessness which my daughter has embraced at a young age.

Reflecting on the long, yet swift road to here I see that we are in the waiting room of summer before we will be ushered into the bigger space. It has dawned on me that perhaps, the journey of the next four years on which we are about to embark is just the crazy adventure for which I have been longing. Now I have a choice to make: A) I can choose to stay in place, dreading any change that will upset my sense of grounding and foundation. B) I can tap into the fearlessness within and choose to stay open with positive anticipation and a desire to explore. The road ahead may seem foreign and I may feel entirely unprepared to travel it myself, let alone be her guide along the way, but it may be exactly what is needed to be expanded and changed and made better.

I’m going with B. I guess we’re gonna have to figure it out along the way and write the next chapter of the guidebook, together.

The Accolade of Hardship

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No sooner than one day after my recent wrestling match had ended, (you may read about it here: https://eyeswideopentothesacred.wordpress.com/2014/05/19/blessed-brokenness/), I was the lucky recipient of another seriously challenging morning with my daughter. Due to an additional infraction involving the use of her very favorite iDevice, she was informed that it was to be gone from her life for many days. Reception of such earth-shattering news in the life of this teen didn’t go so well. As I have now learned in the classroom of my life, the brain wiring of persons with ADHD may process emotion differently. Sometimes, one strong emotion may flood their brains so much so that it crowds out any other information which might allow the person to modulate emotion and the behavioral response to it. On Tuesday, this meant that there was severely intense anger leading to some severely intense and negative behaviors. In the moment, knowing that it is harder for my girl to process emotion didn’t actually help things. By the time I made it to the car to start the drive to school and work, I felt as if all of my emotional energy had been spent for the day, and it wasn’t even 7:15 a.m.

Days like this often times find me heading to morning Mass, a place where I experience quiet, time to reflect and listen, time to regroup and be fed. Right now it is the Easter Season in my Church. It began on Easter Sunday and lasts for 50 days. Our daily readings regale us with so many interesting stories of what life was like for the followers of Jesus after His death and resurrection. Most of these are found in the Book of Acts. So this past Tuesday, we were all listening to one such story of the disciple Paul and how he was stoned by the crowds, dragged out of the city and was left for dead. As a person who is quite overly dramatic, at least in my own head, I could kind of relate to Paul. I too was feeling beat up. And like me on this particular morning, he wasn’t beat up to the point of being actually dead. His friends gathered around him, got him up and took him into the city to continue doing the very thing that just brought him to death’s door. I could relate to this too, because at 2:15 p.m. every day it is pickup time. In approximately six hours, I was going to have to re-engage with my kid, with the uncertainty as to what more might unfold.

The very next words in the story about Paul seemed to me as if they were almost shouted from the pulpit, which they weren’t. But they jumped out at me and resonated more loudly than the rest.

“It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships
to enter the Kingdom of God.”

After hearing this, I think I almost laughed out loud, which is entirely not cool at this part of the Mass and is akin to one’s cell phone ringing loudly during the priest’s homily. These words, they were strangely comforting. I mean, I hate hardship as much as anyone else, but on this very hard morning, which I had survived without losing my cool, I thought to myself, “Awesome! At least I am headed in the right direction!” The rest of that day, and every day since, I keep hearing those words repeat over and over in my head and in my heart.  

Friday night found my daughter and I attending the eighth grade graduation at her school. She wanted to say goodbye to these kids in the grade above hers, who she has shared daily life with for the past eight years. This was an incredible class of twenty kids. They were leaders, in the classroom and on the playground. Their reputation as good, solid, smart kids was well earned by their behavior, their demeanor, their respect of their elders and the way in which they treated the younger students. It was good to gather together to celebrate their commencement. When it came time for the part of the ceremony where special accolades are awarded, I had no idea what strong feelings of protectiveness were about to flood my being.

Over and over, the same four to seven kids were called up to receive award after award testifying to their academic superiority, and justifiably so. They are brilliant. They tested in the 99th percentile in our state; four earned the highest overall scores of hundreds who took the entrance exam for a local Catholic high school and these four received a full year scholarship to go there. This one earned the best score in a math competition held for the entire group of eighth graders enrolled in public and private schools in this town. These other ones received a composite score of 85% overall in national standardized testing. All of these students worked hard and achieved excellence. They earned these accolades. But I couldn’t help thinking, what about the rest? What are they feeling right now?

What about the boy whose smile and positive spirit could light up even the darkest corners of a place without joy? What about the girl who volunteered to be outside school every single day, in the heat, in the cold, in the sunshine, in the rain or in the snow. She memorized the names of every single student in the school, from kindergarten up, and as she opened their car door when they arrived at school, she greeted them by name, as well as the parent who was dropping off their child. What about the girl who is the oldest of six, who helps with her younger siblings at home, while maintaining an “A” average, but isn’t recognized in a class with many who maintain an A+ average? What about the ones who struggle academically, the ones who are challenged to overcome obstacles of hardship every day and never quit? What about them? These children, they too are extraordinary in their own right. Each and every child deserves accolades.

I woke up Saturday morning, unable to stop pondering my experience of the night before. Why did all of this bother me so much? Over the past 13 years, as I’ve grown into my role as a mom, I’ve come to recognize that many things in this world which seem to incite passion within me, lead me back to the raw desire to protect and advocate for my child. And upon further reflection, this is exactly where the passionate response led me-to what I affectionately refer to as my “Mother Bear Response”.

Most days of parenting offer us all a glimpse of our children, in all of their glory and in all of their imperfection. And on most of those days, with a love that God has placed in my heart for her, just as she is, I stand in wonder and awe of her soul. I think about the miracle it is to me that someone who is faced with such hardship in accomplishing things which come so simply to me, perseveres day after day and never throws in the towel. I think of someone whose academic performance, which seems average in a class of super smart kids, is brilliant to me, because it comes at so high of a cost. I think of someone who if judged merely by scores on an entrance exam, standardized testing or math competition would seem so ordinary. This reminds me that I need to begin to prepare her now for next year, for that day when she is gathered with her classmates on Graduation Day. I need to teach her that just because she doesn’t hear her name called and just because she isn’t asked to step forward to receive an award, doesn’t mean that she isn’t extraordinary in her own right. I need to remind her that because of the hardships that come with being her, and the way in which she navigates them, she is and continues to become someone who is actually quite extraordinary and empathetic.

In the year ahead, I need to retell to her the stories of the things she does that humble me and find me thanking God for the gift of witnessing her life each day. Like the night when at the school Christmas Program, in her quiet, fearless way, she sought to be next to the girl who had just found out the day before that her dad had been killed in a tragic accident. Not being one to avoid such sadness, the concert found my daughter holding this girl’s hand, trying to comfort her as they sang Christmas Carols together. Like the Palm Sunday afternoon when she wove a palm into a cross to give to her Papa Ed in the nursing home. Even though he couldn’t speak, when she walked into the room, his eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. She showed him the cross, told him she made it just for him and pinned it on his bulletin board. Little did we know, it would be her last gift to him as he died a short time later.Or like the day at school when she unknowingly hurt the feelings of a kindergartner, by winning the prize stuffed fat cat in the Magazine Drive. When she eventually found out this girl was crying because she was disappointed that she didn’t win it, my girl searched for a duplicate fat cat on the internet, bought it with her own money and gifted it to the young girl.

As Graduation Day for the Class of 2015 grows closer, I must remember to tell her that no matter what she witnesses that night, it does not define who she is or who she isn’t. No matter how much the ceremony shines light on the goodness of some, goodness that is rightfully celebrated, it doesn’t mean that her goodness doesn’t exist. While she will never fully understand in this life why it is that by some of the standards of the world she may just seem ordinary, I must remind her that she is extraordinary. Though the road to extraordinariness is one that requires frequent navigation of obstacles and difficulties, I must remember to tell her that God has deemed her worthy to travel on this way. He has called her by name to come forth and receive the accolade of hardship; a gift to be used to travel to her ultimate destination at the end of her life, the Kingdom of God. Like it says in the Book of Acts, its entrance exam requires undergoing many hardships, but the good news is that I have no doubt this is one entrance examine she will most certainly ace.