I wrote this a couple of years ago when my eldest was starting high school. I realize as I come upon it again, it’s just good advice for all new endeavors, be they school, work or whatever. So, to the graduates of the world, heading out into college or into the world, some advice for life, from this side of my own experience…
In no particular order…
1. Celebrate your newness. Remember that all your classmates will all be freshman and therefore also new to this whole scene. Some will pretend they know what they’re doing how could they? It’s all so new. So revel in the collective newness and celebrate the fact that you are all inexperienced. Wear it on your sleeve in a very exposed way. Laugh at your errors. Ask for help. Inquire where or what or who something is even if you think you should already know it. Don’t be afraid to look lost or confused or in awe. If you celebrate the fact that you are unfamiliar with this whole scene, you’ll allow others to celebrate it too and you’ll alleviate any teasing from upper classman because most of their teasing is about the fact that you are new. If you’re already wearing it, what’s to tease??
2. Form your own opinions. Whatever you decide to do, study, try, taste, or experience, someone will have a story to tell you about whether you should or shouldn’t do it based on the experience they had. Listen to the stories with your mind wide open. Then open your eyes to all the possibilities and come to your own conclusions. Look at all the people, all the classes, all the teachers, parties and clubs. Then make your own story.
3. Show your awe. If you see something amazing or hear something wild or meet someone mind-blowing, show your awe. Don’t hide behind a mask of coolness. Wear your awe. Share your awe. And you will allow others to do the same.
4. Don’t be afraid to say, “I don’t know.” When faced with something new – a concept, a big word, a book, a food, an idea, whatever – if you don’t know, say “I don’t know.” It leaves you open to the possibilities of learning more and seeing more and discovering whole new worlds. A cautionary tale to emphasize my point… When I was about 19, I was at a friend’s house and they were serving whole artichokes with butter. I had never seen anyone eat them before and while everyone else was super excited, I was afraid to expose my naiveté. Rather than saying “I don’t know” I said, “I don’t like those” and so I missed out on a chance to try something new and really delicious. While everyone else sat around the table drooling, and pulling leaves off these exotic plants and dipping them in vats of butter, including one other friend who admitted he didn’t know, I sat there feigning my disdain. It was years before anyone offered me an artichoke again. So when someone asks you if you know this answer or that or if you know about a certain band or scientific procedure or if you know how to tango or drive, don’t pretend to know, don’t pretend to not like it, simply say “I don’t know” so you can share in this new experience and gather the information you need to gather.
5. Eat well and eat enough. As you make your way through classes and homework and practices and socializing, don’t forget to eat good foods and eat enough. Eat the foods that make you strong and give you power to think and do. Eat the foods that will allow you to fully engage with the world, to learn the subjects you want to learn, to play the sports, bang the drum, and communicate and play in the strongest way possible. Sprinkle in some of the other not so good foods too for fun, but treat them like the luxury they are; not everyday sustenance but every now and again indulgence. Eating well will give you a distinct advantage in whatever you do.
6. Bring your whole self to the table. You are strong, smart, beautiful, creative, thoughtful, innovative and powerful. Remember that when you are dealing with teachers, peers, people you have crushes or want to befriend. When you come to the table, bring your whole amazing self. Don’t shrink to impress – a boy, girl or otherwise. Don’t lose your voice for fear it might seem like too much or too loud or too opinionated. Don’t diminish your abilities in order to make someone else feel bigger. If someone else feels bigger because you lessen, they are not someone you should be hanging out with anyway. As your mother, I realize this advice might come back to bite me when you speak up against something I say, but I’m willing to take that risk in the face of your being your strongest, most powerful self.
7. Choose real experiences over virtual ones. If you have the choice between hanging out with real people, going on real adventures, trying real things in real places, choose that always over a virtual experience. If, for example, you are given the choice between watching a movie and rock climbing, or going for a walk around the block with friends vs. a Facebook chat, choose the realness. The screen will be available always, but the real life adventure might not. You won’t remember the time you watched Hulu all night or got a high score on a video game, but you will remember the hike you took with friends when it started to pour or the meandering walk you took around the city with a dear, dear friend.
8. Be here now. Be present. Love the ones you’re with. When you are with friends, at a show or on a hike, in a class or sitting on the side of a mountain, ignore incoming texts and phone calls that pull you away from fully experiencing where you are and who you’re with. (unless it’s me of course wondering where you are and why you’re not home!) Don’t let the lure of virtual greener grass pull you away from being fully present with the people and places you are actually with.
9. Be nice to the school support staff. The custodians, the lunch ladies, the crossing guards, and all the other support staff do A LOT of work for not a lot of money. Be nice to them. Learn their names. Say good morning. Find out something about who they are and what they like. Pick up garbage in the hallways. Put your tray away neatly. Give a wave. Treat them like fellow human beings who are walking this same earth as you and working hard to make your world run a little smoother. And not that this is the only reason why, but they will be the ones to let you in the school after hours when you accidently leave your study notes in your locker.
10. Join something. Whatever it is, join something. A club, a team, a squad, a support group. Whatever it is. High school is about learning and most of the learning takes place outside the classroom. By joining something you’ll learn about your own desires, abilities, working in a group, creating something amazing PLUS, you’ll meet lots more people than you would if you just go to class and then go home. You might forget a lot of what you learn in US history but you’ll always remember that bus ride home from the county tournament or the night you stayed up all night with friends to get the yearbook to the printer in time or the way that kid in your Spanish club could make you laugh like no other.
11. Give a hearty handshake and look people in the eye. Whether you are being introduced for the first time or greeting someone for the thousandth time, greet them with a hearty handshake and look them in the eye. The connection made can be just seconds long, but when done with intention and intensity, it can be the most connecting thing you can possibly do.
When you meet a new person, hold their gaze for an extra second. When you come home from school in the afternoon, look your parents in the eye and give them a big hug, look at your siblings. Linger there for just a second or two longer until you feel that essential connection made. It might be uncomfortable at first but it will soon become a part of you and you will be remembered more, you will get the part or the job, it will energize you and the person you are greeting and you will create a human bond that can significantly increase your serotonin levels thereby making you happier, healthier, and cooler too.
12. Listen to your gut. Whatever you decide to do, wherever you decide to go, whomever you decide to hang out with, whatever parties you decide to attend or groups you plan to join, before you do anything, listen to your gut. Is there a part of you that’s questioning your decision? Give that place a little time and space. Sit in the decision. Tune into what your body, mind, heart and ego are saying, then follow that feeling. Listening to your gut will help keep you out of harm’s way more often than not. It will bring you to the right people, places and things and it will let you have more fun than you ever dreamed possible. Which is definitely one of the goals of high school.
So learn a lot. Have fun. Make good memories and don’t forget we’re here if you need us.
Midway through our last full week of school I came upon some photos from the beginning of the school year. Seriously? That much physical change has occurred in all four of my (not so) little people? Faces went from kid to teen. Bodies stretched out a few inches. Hair grew. Shapes shifted. And that’s just their external selves. On every level, physical, mental, and emotional, the expansion, if laid out in graph form would be off the charts. From not knowing to knowing. From strangers to friends. From uncertain to certain and vice-versa too. As if I, their mother, connected to but outside of their being-ness, could even begin to fathom the changes brought on by these past 9 months. Like a gestation of a whole new being.
We are ready for summer on many levels, and for the break from the routine. We look forward to turning off our alarm clocks or at least setting them to a more humane time. We are ready for a pause from the onslaught of information and from the hustle and bustle that is the scene of the school year – socially, academically, mentally, physically.
In these last couple of weeks of school, I’m going to make an attempt to mark the here and now as a keepsake. Because even though I think I’ll always remember us as we are in this very moment, apparently, based on the shock I felt looking back to September, that’s not true. Who we are keeps changing, morphing, growing, expanding and it’s hard to see where we were in the face of the present day.
I’m going to create a ritual that will capture this particular moment, knowing that we will never be right here right now ever again. And knowing too that it’s fun to reflect and collect our year’s souvenirs for posterity’s sake. My goal these next few weeks, whether one-on-one, or as a group, is to inquire with my children about their year. Because here’s what I want to know…
- What were your highlights of this school year?
- What do you know now that you didn’t know going in?
- What was hard?
- What was easy?
- What are you appreciating about your own sweet life?
- What do you love?
- What were the highs?
- And what were the lows? Knowing too, in retrospect, that even the lows have brought their own rewards.
Then I’ll tuck it away. And we’ll have ourselves a summer. Full of expansion in its own right and of a totally different variety. And maybe I’ll be reminded with a passing glimpse, to do this periodically, to look back on the recent past with the lens that only hindsight can provide. And years from now, when all are gone, we’ll have a snapshot of all of these successive particular moments in time.
Because if there’s one thing I’ve learned, in parenthood, in personhood, is that no year, ever, is at all like the last. We just continuously expand into our own truest selves. And while I can’t stop time, I can capture a little piece of it as a small souvenir.
Recently I did a post about these last few weeks of school. In it I had a list of things I was going to do to make them feel more sane, more productive, more connected and easier overall. One of the things on my list was to “schedule spaciousness” and someone wrote me to ask what that even meant.
In no particular order, here are 7 ways to schedule spaciousness…
- Give your schedule more space. Whether it’s 2 minutes or 20, give yourself and the people in your home enough room to breathe between activities. Whether you’re picking up at school then getting to the dentist, or leaving the house for a party, or going from work to home, factor in a few more minutes than you think you’ll need for seeing, connecting and enjoying the people you’re with. By planning in the ability not to rush, you will feel happier and easier too. And just think how much more pleasant you’ll be in traffic!
- Do one less thing than you think you can do. Need to get everyone out the door in the morning? Need to get everyone to the table or to bed? Decide to schedule in a few minutes of just sitting. I’m talking 2-3 minutes if that’s all you have. Leave the last dishes or the email or whatever is the thing that you scurry to do before you move onto the next. And if 2-3 minutes feels like too much, take 1. Just 1 minute of standing, breathing, witnessing, or even drinking a big glass of water, can give you the pause you need to connect with yourself and a bigger connect with the people in your home.
- Put Family Time on the calendar. Be it a few hours on a weekend, or an entire day, write it on the calendar so it doesn’t get taken up by other events. We schedule everything else, why not schedule that too!
- Decide not to rush. Sometimes the feeling of rushing is more about the feeling than about the actual clock. When wrangling so many little people, it can feel like panicked rushing is the only option and if you don’t create a feeling of hurrying that nobody will get anywhere. Try some morning to just let go of the clock and simply move through the necessary steps of getting out the door. I speak from my own experience on this one. When I am rushing and rushing those around me, things spiral in a counter-productive direction. When I let go, and we just move through the steps, we actually seem to speed up.
- Pause before you RSVP. Whether you are invited to a party or a committee. Before you respond, pause. And determine the cost vs. gain for you and for your family.
- Examine your commitments. Look at your calendar. Assess what’s on there. Meetings, parties, events, etc. Then ask yourself, “Is this working for us?” Ask weekly. Or monthly at least. If it is, keep it going. If not, find a way to make a change.
- Decide to be done. You will never really be done. So decide to be done. At various points throughout the day, simply decide to be done.
Like right now! I’m done!
I want to age like sea glass. Smoothed by tides, not broken. I want the currents of life to toss me around, shake me up and leave me feeling washed clean. I want my hard edges to soften as the years pass – made not weak but supple. I want to ride the waves, go with the flow, feel the impact of the surging tides rolling in and out.
When I am thrown against the shore and caught between the rocks and a hard place, I want to rest there until I can find the strength to do what is next. Not stuck – just waiting, pondering, feeling what it feels like to pause. And when I am ready, I will catch a wave and let it carry me along to the next place that I am supposed to be.
I want to be picked up on occasion by an unsuspected soul and carried along – just for the connection, just for the sake of appreciation and wonder. And with each encounter, new possibilities of collaboration are presented, and new ideas are born.
I want to age like sea glass so that when people see the old woman I’ll become, they’ll embrace all that I am. They’ll marvel at my exquisite nature, hold me gently in their hands and be awed by my well-earned patina. Neither flashy nor dull, just a perfect luster. And they’ll wonder, if just for a second, what it is exactly I am made of and how I got to this very here and now. And we’ll both feel lucky to be in that perfectly right place at that profoundly right time.
I want to age like sea glass. I want to enjoy the journey and let my preciousness be, not in spite of the impacts of life, but because of them.
With a few big events behind us, like the Austin Maker Faire, a few house guests and getting our house on the market, I am ready for some solidly intentional days. I want to make sure that events, practices and obligations created are events, practices and obligations desired.
My goals for these next few weeks…
- Each day do my own work first.
- Ponder each invitation before saying yes. Be they meetings, parties, or other. Not always easy for me, especially when faced with so many exciting things!
- Schedule in spaciousness.
- Put family time on the calendar.
- Play outside more. And really just play more in general.
- Turn my phone off at random intervals.
- Schedule a couple of “spend nothing days” each week. Not even for the money but for the freedom from consuming. And the freedom from the many demands for impromptu spending.
- Write a note to my children’s teachers telling them how much I appreciate their love and devotion.
- Do one creative thing everyday.
- Eat outside more.
- Find a way to celebrate a school year completed by each and every one of my children.
Last night I was struggling with a knot in a pair of shoes. Pulling. Tugging. Trying very hard and getting seemingly nowhere other than really, really frustrated. Finally, in my I”M FREAKING OUT IF I CAN”T GET THIS UNTANGLED AND IT”S TAKING WAY LONGER THAN I ACCOUNTED FOR AND…insert your own expletives here.
In retrospect it was a small matter but at the time it was taking all my energy, both mental and physical. It was silly really that I was getting that worked up over a knot. Ridiculous that I was giving it so much energy. And even more absurd that I was working up a sweat.
Finally I paused. I put the shoe down and went to do something else.
Later on, calmer and not in a panic of momentary overwhelm, I picked up the shoe again. I grabbed both ends and pulled. Not hard but hard enough.
And the knot came out. Easy as that.
The struggle. The freak out. The panic. It did nothing towards my cause.
The pause. The letting go. Then the returning with a new state of mind?
Yes, that was just the thing.
Lesson learned. From a shoe.
So either I’ll learn to pause when things feel out of control, or I’ll switch to Velcro.
The other day I was walking with a friend. We were going on and on about all the marvelous things happening around us and all the marvelous places we had been that week and all the marvelous people we had met. And it dawned on me, that that feeling I was having of being so completely blown away by the pure beauty of all these things, was exactly the parenting tool I needed to put in my toolbox.
I needed to marvel at my children.
Not in the bragging way that the title of this blog post suggests. Not in the oh wow they’ve won an honors award or created a prosthetic hand for science fair or even passed all their classes. But in the way of just simply marveling. In the true sense of the word based on the definition I found…
The past couple of months have seen great changes in our household. We moved and everyone knows that’s a big deal – even if it is just 3 miles down the road. We had a couple of lovely long-term house guests – and even though that’s fun, it’s still a big deal. And, the number of screens in our house tripled by way of smartphones, laptops and tablets too. Needless to say I was more than a little bit distracted by life’s big changes and so screen usage was, well, let’s just say it increased significantly. And not just screen time mind you, but everyone on their own screen, small and big, with headphones on so in order to communicate you had to wave your hands wildly in front of their dazed eyes. WHAT THE?
While it worked for a little while and admittedly gave me what I needed personally in some regards, (leave-me-alone-I’ve-got-stuff-on-my-mind-tend-to-yourselves-can’t-you-see-I’m-busy?), it did not give me what I wanted as far as family life was concerned.
Then last week’s ice day off from school was sort of the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back as we had an entire day of individual screens for all members of the family, plus headphones. And when even my 14 year-old said he was needing some parameters set around screens after that crazy day, I knew it was time.
I need some ideas and funny enough, I went to my own book, because I knew I had done this before! And I knew I had even written about it… “As our kids have gotten older and the number of screens have increased, we felt we were heading down the slippery slope of obsessive screen time…” So now, just because the kids were older still and the screens had multiplied again, didn’t mean we needed to necessarily recreate the wheel.
So I opened to Chapter 52 SCREEN FREE, which isn’t about really being screen free, just partially screen-free in various times and places. And there were some ideas I knew I could implement again – things like screen free zones in the house and screen free hours during the day and a day or two of complete screen-freeness during the week. We’re going to start today and I think we’ll start with a little smart phone holding tank for all the tiny screens in the family. We’ll put them all together so they can keep each other company for those few hours of the day after school and before dinner.
And when the pre-teens come over this weekend to hang out and maybe even sleep over? I’m going to follow the lead of another mom I know who decided that pre-teen gatherings at her house would require each participant checking their phone into the resident parent. So that when they were all together they would be really together, body, mind and spirit.
That’s what I’m going for. Not totalitarianism, just a little more time when we can all be together body, mind and spirit too. Them. And me.
*If you want to do something official about your screen time, The Center for Commercial Free Childhood hosts an annual screen free week, during which you can create your own campaign at home, at schools or in your community.