The Privilege of Focusing Elsewhere

sunset

By Jana Greene

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat, so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion. And they woke him and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ and he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” –  Mark 4:35-41

Yesterday as a super weird day. Ever feel ‘off’? Ever feel ‘unhinged?’ That was me yesterday, all day.

I woke up upset about the state of the world – the terrorist attacks in Paris, more specifically.  Then I got more and more upset about how improperly people were responding to it.

People I love dearly, suggesting we all basically sit in a giant circle around the globe and sing Kumbaya until mean people stop being mean. Honestly, that makes no sense to me. You’d think you would catch on to the ineffectiveness of that plan already. It’s not working.

Then I wrote about it on this blog, and poised my finger over the ‘publish’ button on WordPress. It was a stellar piece, really. Full of common sense and righteous indignation, and I really wanted to post it. I wanted to post it and share it so that I could stick some facts and impassioned logic in the faces of people who are just NOT getting it. People who make me wonder where the world would be if we applied tolerance liberally to the Nazi regime. (Spoiler alert: The gentiles among us would all be speaking German and the Jews would all have been murdered years ago….)

I am related to some very dove-ish people, they are hopelessly and unrealistically optimistic. I love them dearly, even in their perceived wrongness.

Finger poised over the ‘publish’ key, I decided to shut down the computer. I was simply too sad to even post it.

Now, although I reserve the right to publish it later (and probably WILL at some point) God had other plans for my spirit yesterday, plans put into motion by My Beloved. That man is a saint in sinner’s clothing, I’m absolutely convinced of it.

“Lets take a ride,” he suggests. Understand that I am alternately glowering and crying, slamming things around. I don’t feel like a ride. I feel like crying, and can you not plainly SEE this? But I know the plans he (my husband) has for me, and they are entirely good, always. So I ride along.

While we are driving down to Southport, a quaint little harbor town nearly an hour away, I am on my phone texting madly with my adult daughters. They are not upset enough at the right people my liking about the whole Paris thing, and I am going to MAKE THEM SEE the light. I am also having an internal conversation with God, who keeps insisting that maybe it’s time to trust Him with my daughters (and, um….everything else.)

But when a woman is high on anxiety and low on estrogen, there is no reasoning with her. In a group text, I reminded my kids about 9/11 and how dangerous it can be to try to reason with terrorists, worse even then reasoning with their hormone-depleted mother. They took offense, naturally, but I could not stop. I was going to make my point, dammit, for their own good.

It went abysmally, the whole exchange. They reminded me that they are adults and have their own opinions. I sometimes forget that.

MEANWHILE, as I’m furiously texting 90 words per minute, I am SOBBING. Absolutely just losing it. My poor husband.

Why is everything so SAD? Why don’t my kids GET IT? By the time we got to Southport, I’ve blown through an entire box of Puffs Plus. Little balls of snotty tissue littered the lovely leather interior of the car.

My Beloved pulls the car over at a little ice cream stand and insists I eat some ice cream. I look like a frog from crying hysterically and you think I want ICE CREAM?

Okay, I do want ice cream. So we sit out on the patio and I eat Mint Chocolate chip whilst crying. The kid at the counter looked so confused. I fought the urge to remind him to call his mother and be nice to her.

After the treat, My Beloved drove down to the water, and when we got out of the car, this happened:

sunset 3

It took my breath away, the calmness. I didn’t welcome it at first. I still wanted to hold on to my hysteria because the world is upside down (as if that HELPS turn it right side up?)

But then I just rested my eyes on the whole scene in front of me. You would never know that the world is on fire, if you were sitting at this little spot by the sea. And then came peace.

You have to LOOK for the calmness, it won’t come to you first.

The truth is that while I am very upset about terrorism, I am also upset about everything else changing in my world. From job loss to depression to major surgery to empty nest syndrome to becoming a grandparent….things are weird and different and I’m scared of all the change.

It’s chaos, if I’m looking around me.

Today I told God that I was SO over this planet and everyone on it. And what is the DEAL with humanity being so freaking hateful and disregarding human life and Lord God, do you even SEE what is going on here!?

“Teacher, do you not CARE that we are perishing!?”

And then this happened. In the midst of being so OVER everything, because that’s where He shows up. Smack dab in the middle.

sunset1And this happened too.

Jesus

And then I say, “Okay, God. Now you’re just showing off.” But I’m not crying anymore.

My Heavenly Papa spoke to me.

“Hey you,” He said. “Get over yourself and look at this! Isn’t it incredible? I’m here, never left. Stop flailing about in worried hysteria. I’m still Me. This is to remind you where your eyes belong.”

I just love Him so much.

The world was still crazy when we drove back home. Real messed up. I tried not to watch the news at all. I was still hormonal and unhinged, but a little less weepy. I texted my children to ask them to please forgive my harsh tone and my expectation that they think like me. It’s unrealistic. If you’ve never asked your children to forgive you after a blow-up, it’s very humbling.

And they texted back that they love their mom and forgive her, just as they always do when I mess up. Just like I always do for them when they mess up. We try really hard not to let the sun set on our anger, no matter what. And this day, the sunset was absolutely spectacular (literally and figuratively.)

“Peace!” Jesus says. “Be still!'”

And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.

Here’s a little insight: You cannot control a SINGLE act or reaction that another person exhibits. Not even a little bit. Don’t say I never taught you anything here at The Beggar’s Bakery.

But you can refocus your eyes. Even when it feels like God is sleeping.

Although pretty sunsets and ice cream don’t ‘fix’ what’s wrong, they can be a catalyst to changing your thinking, even for a while.

You have the right to look for calm in the midst of a crazy chaotic world. You have the right to use up a whole box of tissues in one sobbing sitting if you need to, but God gives us the privilege of refocusing on Him.

It’s a privilege.

Teacher, help us to be still.

Amen.

Mom, Re-purposed

birbs

By: Jana Greene

On my youngest daughter’s last high school theater performance, I sat in the front row to watch her take her last bow and had the sharpest pang in my heart. My husband and I had sat in that same theater through the band, chorus and theater productions of our three daughters seemingly hundreds of times through the years. On this last event, I had come by myself. As the crowd filed out of the theater, I just sat in the chair and felt tears well up in my eyes. The Drama teacher and her troupe of performers were packing up the last prop in the darkened room when I finally stood up and – much to my own surprise – loudly questioned to the empty theater, “What’s a helicopter mom supposed to do NOW!?”

It was a very sincere question, one that I would wrangle with for the next few years as the kids left the ‘nest’ one by one to pursue their own lives. Just as they should.

Being a Mom is a full identity, right? RIGHT!?

Except that it really isn’t and never should have been in total. When God created us and poured the emotions and and love into us, I’m not sure anymore that he expected us to pour every drop of it back out without leaving anything for our own spirits. I don’t think ‘wife’ and ‘mom’ is our only identity, even those roles are a huge part of who we are.

It’s not that we didn’t want our kids to grow up. Oh how we did! During the teen years especially, God prepares you to let them go by allowing the obnoxiousness and rebellious quotient to replicate exponentially in your child. Yes, they ‘grow up so fast’ but NOT FAST ENOUGH when they are full of attitude and angst. But what they say about kids ‘coming back around’ on the other side of the teen years is SO true, I am happy to report.

I am not asking them to move back in. PLEASE LET ME BE CLEAR ABOUT THAT.

I am just asking God to re-purpose me as a 47-year old woman whose kids have become awesome and independent young women.

Mother Identity Crisis is also known in more polite circles as “Empty Nest Syndrome.” The subject doesn’t get a lot of play in the media because it isn’t a hot topic. It pertains to middle-aged women and the grunt work they did with hearts a-burst with love who have lost their some of their purpose as the children grow up and need them less.

It isn’t a subject that graces magazine covers. It’s not the subject of Lifetime Channel movies.

It isn’t ‘sexy.’

But it needs to be addressed because the women who make up this demographic are a huge part of society and are walking around like shells as they try to explore who they really ARE now. All we really hear about as we near our fifties is the message that we are past our prime, and too many of us believe that.

I flatly refuse to be past my ‘prime.’

I had many ‘jobs’ when my kids were growing up, but never a ‘career,’ and that was purposeful. I wanted to pour all of my emotional energies into my kids and did so as I do every other thing – obsessively. Who needs hobbies when your whole life is about making sure these offspring have dance lessons to chauffeur and field trips to chaperone? Who has time for exploring interests when the 2nd Grade classroom needs a “Room Mother” (now THERE’S a calling for you!)

I just kind of lost myself in fray, and it seemed a noble thing to do at the time.

It WAS the noble thing to do at the time. Nothing makes one feel successful like cutting peanut butter sandwiches with heart cookie-cutters and packing a lunchbox with a note that says “Your book report will go great! I love you!” I’m not being snarky…things like that did indeed make me feel successful. Making my kids happy was tantamount.  I would do it all over again in a heartbeat.

But mothers of youngsters take note – you will need to remember who you are at your own core one day. Take that pottery class. Pursue that degree, if you wish. Read books that aren’t only about Very Hungry Caterpillars and the adventures of Junie B. Jones. Listen to music not sung exclusively by puppets and cartoon characters.

Super importantly, go on date night with your husband. Your relationship with him needs to stay fresh for the day your children take up residence in their own lives.

A dear friend of mine has four children, all of whom are peering over the edge of the nest – the nice, fluffy, safe nest their mother has feathered all of their lives.

“So here we are,” she says. “And my life is still revolving around planning my celebrations around the fleeting loyalties of my offspring.”

She and I often compare notes about MIC and the challenges of this new season. Mainly, figuring out who God created us to be outside of the “mom” role.

“God is doing a new thing in my life. GOD IS DOING A NEW THING,” She recently mused. “Maybe I need to stop doing the old things and expecting them to fit in my new life?”

I think she is on to something there. Our kids still need us, but in brand new ways. They need us to do the new things, and  to trust in who they grew up to be.

But Lord Jesus, help us with ALL OF THESE FEELS!

Letting go is HARD.

Lord, help me to consider things not from the perspective of an ‘Empty Nester’  (with the emphasis on loss and hollow space) to being FULL and purposeful.

I’m not sure what that fullness looks like yet, to be honest.

But I know that I want to set a precedent for my grown daughters to know what a fulfilled woman in mid-life can be, just in case they have daughters of their own to pour into, who will – as it should be – leave their own nests one day.

I know that the Lord wants abundant life for us in this season. He wants His daughter to know her own interests and ministries outside those of her children. He wants us to be able to enjoy our marriages, which were so often put on the back burner in the interest of feathering those nests.

Re-purpose me, God. My kids are grown but you are nowhere near done with using and blessing my life. Take the front row seat in my life.

In each new season, re-purpose me.

The Good Place (or ‘They Don’t Stay 14 Forever’)

This young lady gave me quite a time in her younger years, oy vey!
This young lady gave me quite a time in her younger years, oy vey!

By: Jana Greene

It’s not often that I write a blog post based on inspiration from another post,  but I got so excited about this one, I had to share. I laughed, I cried…..you get the picture. Consider it Blog Inception, if you will.

Here is the link to the Chicago Tribune story:  Raising a Daughter? Handle with care, especially when she is 14. 

You see, the article hit a nerve with me. As the mother of two now-grown daughters and one grown bonus daughter, I can relate. My husband and I blended our family when our oldest girls were 14, and my youngest was 11. What could POSSIBLY go wrong?

So much could go wrong, and a lot of it did.

I chose the picture at right of my Firstborn for this post  because it was a goof-ball, on-the-fly, authentic moment between my 23 year-old daughter and I. It captures us.

Well, it captures us NOW. A few years ago, she and I were in a completely different space. It took a lot of fighting, ‘tough love’ on my part, and major frustration for both of us. It took time, prayer and patience to get to The Good Place.

There’s no manual on raising children, and certainly no map that leads you to The Good Place.

Look at your baby daughter’s tiny face (isn’t it THE most beautiful face in the world!?) and repeat after me:

“My child is not an extension of me. My child is not an extension of me.”

Now, keep repeating it for the rest of your natural-born life, and try to accept it. She will inherit many of your mannerisms and outlooks, but she will also shape-shift the ever-loving shit out of your preconceived notions for her life.

Like, you have no idea. Your preconceived notions you have about who she will grow up to be? They are just that – notions.

I know, I know. You cannot imagine those cute little pouty lips spewing forth “I HATE YOU!” but it’s almost a certainty that they will. If you have one teen daughter, buckle up for a wild ride. If you have two, buckle and strap yourself in. If you have three teen daughters, you may want to consider just super-gluing yourself to the seat. Any more than three at a time? Girl, I got nothing….yeah.

As your sweet baby grows:

You will wonder where you went wrong a million times. You will want to pat yourself on the back a million times, too.

You will wonder why it’s embarrassing to her that you breathe so loud in front of her friends. You find yourself saying, “I’ll try to breathe quieter,” only to be met with eye-rolling.

You will be certain that aliens abducted your sweet lovely little girl and replaced her with a clone with a nasty attitude.

You will blame yourself when she makes bad choices, and your heart will bleed each time she suffers consequences.

Missing your little girl, you will be tempted to despair.

But I’m here (as the mother of three adult daughters) to tell you STOP IT. Do not despair!

Fourteen is the brutal pinnacle of challenge for both parent and child (it HAS to be or you would never want her to become independent. The teen years prepare you to let them go. OH HOW THEY PREPARE YOU!)

These daughters of ours? THEY COME BACK AROUND, emotionally. They try and they test, and deduce and rebel, but they come back to you and a whole other relationship blossoms in The Good Place.

It’s all part of her figuring out who she is.

She got some attributes from her father, and some from you.

But she is 100% her own girl.

She will not be your mini-me. She will be her own maxi-she.

All of my daughters are out of the nest now, and it’s strange and wonderful that they are making it on their own, in their own ways. They are my favorite people to spend time with, honestly. We have so many inside jokes, and the same twisted sense of humor. I still kiss their foreheads, and sometimes we snuggle on the sofa watching funny YouTube videos when they come over, and drink hot tea. There were many years I could not IMAGINE these simple things would ever be so.

And really, if we hadn’t gone through the “14” era as mother and daughter, I don’t know that our relationships would be as close as it is now.  I don’t know that we would BE in The Good Place now, and that would be a shame. I would do it all over again to be at this place with them.

(I suppose it’s like having been soldiers together in the same trench. War was hell, but now there is a common bond that most folks cannot possibly understand. Yeah, raising teen daughters is a lot like that.)

My darling, strong-willed daughters and I talk almost every day. We don’t discuss politics, and sometimes avoid even talking about religion, as we disagree. We’ve learned to accept one another – a sign of maturity for both of us. I raised them to be passionate people, I just always expected them to be passionate about the same things I’m passionate about. It doesn’t work that way, trust me.

Guess why they have different ideas and opinions? Because they are not an extension of me, of course.

Make no mistake, they are 100% their own person. And they absolutely ROCK at being uniquely who they are.

I love that.

One Stitch at a Time – A Veteran Parent looks at Hanging Tight

Stitch
My kid made this, on her first try ❤

By:Jana Greene

I wrote this after posting a synopsis my daughter’s birthday events on my personal Facebook wall. After reading my own post, I thought about all of my friends whose children are going through the lurch-and-soar adolescent and young adult years…

The parents who tense up every time their sullen child walks through the room. The parents whose baby birds are royally screwing the nest up but not quite flying yet. The ones who cannot possibly foresee their kids losing the attitude and sass. The ones whose hearts are breaking. The ones up all night praying that their babies will ‘come back around.’

It occurred to me that one single Facebook post about a blissful evening with one’s grown-up children over-simplifies the experience, waters it down. It was kind of nauseating, really, without any back-story. So I am writing this for the battle-weary parents out there who thought it couldn’t get any worse than the terrible twos (it can, and it does, I’m sorry to tell you. Each year of your child’s life you have less and less control.)

But…

Take heart! One day you will really genuinely LIKE your kids and look forward to having them all in one room! Crazy, right? But you will!

What a difference a couple of years can make. Just wrapped up the family birthday party for my precious Firstborn, turning 23. She came over early so we had some one-on-one time before the party. I love spending time with my daughters.

“Mom, will you teach me how to cross stitch?” she says, out of the clear blue sky.

So I do, and we talk and stitch, catching up on things. I tell her that cross stitching is not complicated. It is just making little x’s. And then continuing to make little x’s until you see the bigger picture.

“If you veer off the pattern, improvise,” I told her. “Get creative and make something beautifully original from it.”

Watching my wild and zany offspring – the one who only a couple of years ago required some painful (for both of us) Tough Love – the one whose Edgar Allen Poe “Nevermore” tattoo is still healing on her arm – navigate a sewing hoop with a needle and floss? It was darling, I tell you. She is adorable, and I’m not just saying that because I am her mother.

We’ve been through some tough times in our relationship. We are so similar it can be annoying to both of us. And where we are different, we are SO different. My children and I still disagree on TONS of things. So many things that it could easily cause a rift, if we allowed it. I refuse to allow it.

Kids go through all kinds of phases, but here is the big secret: So do we, as parents.

My younger daughter arrived to the party, and we all get louder and more animated, as has always been the case. We aren’t a quiet, staid family. By the time the boyfriend of the birthday girl arrives, my husband is home, and I serve a roast and mashed potatoes – very June Cleaver of me, even if they were Bob Evans frozen mashed potatoes and cheesecake from Costco.

The evening continued as a dinner for grown up people who love each other …  not like a tense and drama-laden mandatory occasion to get together and sing happy birthday because that’s the thing to DO on one of our birthdays. Honestly, when the girls were all teens, I dreaded birthdays, because someone always had her knickers in a knot for every family occasion. Somebody was PMSing ALL the time, myself included.

It occurs to me how VERY much I like my kids (I love them of COURSE)….but I just really like them as human beings, too. These beautiful, interesting, hilarious, passionate, and loving people I got to give birth to because God somehow determined in his Mysterious Ways that I was up to the challenge. And challenging it has been, but so, so precious is that honor.

Peace. No fights. Just love, and inside jokes and warmth. And cheesecake, of course!

We sang a haphazard version of “Happy Birthday” and she opened presents. The wrapping on the gifts had been chewed on my two very naughty kitty cats who shall remain unnamed. Also, one of the gift bags was old. It’s probably been in circulation since 1997. But no matter.

Parenting is like cross stitching. You just make one ‘x’ at a time. Some of them are messy stitches, but if you never saw the back of the fabric, you would never know. To the casual observer, it might appear to have been easy work, raising kids.

Everyone has messy needle-work on the side that doesn’t face the world. That family down the street in the big house, the family that participates in activities together every night of the week and whose kids go on mission trips? The “perfect” mom you see at preschool whose very presence makes you feel disheveled and less-than?

They have knots and tangles, too.

And you know what? God LOVES that side. He loves us, messy stitches and all.

One of my dear friends has a daughter approaching “Magical Seven.” The age of seven is – in my humble opinion – the pinnacle of parenting because at that age kids are still sweet and think you hung the moon. They are just delightful. After I posted about my Firstborn’s wonderful birthday evening at the house, she asked me if I had any advice on weathering the adolescent years. Is there anything you can do to prepare?

My kids are 20 and 23, and 23 (I’m blessed extra by having a Bonus Daughter), and I will not even PRETEND to have the actual useful answers. But I HAVE learned this:

Hang tight. Love hard. Don’t be afraid to make a hard bottom line and stick to it. Don’t be afraid to say ‘I’m sorry.” Pray lots. Laugh tons. Find common ground, it’s always there. Never give up hope! Remember that she is not an extension of you…a part of you, yes; but not an extension. Her mistakes will be her own, and she will make them. But she WILL BE OKAY and so will you. And before you know it, she is calling you out of the clear blue sky to ask you to meet her for sushi or to see a movie. And while you are lunching with this young woman, you will be astonished that there was a time that she was so sassy and downright mean to you. She may even say, “Hey mom? I’m sorry I was such an asshole.” And you will say “I’m sorry I was an asshole sometimes, too. I made a lot of mistakes.”

Because that sort of thing can totally happen, and did to me.

I’m so grateful for all we have to do as mothers is keep making little x’s to the best of our ability until we see the bigger picture. Sometimes the finished product doesn’t look at all like the pattern but is even more beautiful. We make it complicated, but It isn’t our masterpiece to make.

And if you, as a parent, veer too far from the pattern? Improvise. God will make something beautifully original from it.

A Farewell to Car

carBy: Jana Greene

I usually do not entertain the follies of loving inanimate objects, but I fell for this one and I didn’t see it coming. She was regal, I tell you. And not just because she was, well… literally a Buick Regal.

In contrast to a man’s manifestation of Middle Aged Crisis – a sleek, beautiful car with a sexy prowess – I love this car because she is crinkled and bockety, and full of memories.

I got the car when I first met my husband. It was several years old by then, but looked brand spanking new (if you didn’t know your makes and models, which I didn’t.) It had quite literally been driven to and from the grocery store by a little old lady. Shiny and green – my favorite color, even! –  it came to replace the ancient Honda with the trash bags in the windows that wouldn’t roll up that had been driving since the transmission of my old minivan fell out. A single mom, I hadn’t many dollars. I was practical to the core.  It was a fine set of wheels and driving it felt like piloting a chariot of Heaven on a cloud, comparatively.

I was so grateful.

A year later, I was newly married. I drove that wonderful chariot to work every day,  and shuttled teenagers to malls, skating rinks, and church functions. Our daughters were 11, 14 and 14, respectively. In later years, my husband and I chauffeured many a date in that car. The rear-view mirror had been adjusted countless times to watch sheepish couples and their awkward hand-holding in the backseat.

Two out of our three daughters learned to drive at her helm, and she has the scars to prove it. Her exterior is a bit scraped and battered. Her front end crunched in, banged out by hand. The hood at the nose end is still crinkled in, like she has a permanent grin in spite of her trials. I like that about her. I can relate the crinkled-ness.

It was sturdy, and safe.

What the first daughter didn’t Christen with bumps and dents, the second daughter plastered with bumper stickers. Oh lord, so many stickers. Stickers for every cause that makes me shake my conservative head and say aye carumba.

Somehow, this Regal Lady carried it off, like an old Hollywood legend who has become saggy and wears too much lipstick, but nobody has the heart to tell her she isn’t fabulous. (Because she still IS.)

She has been ferry and barge.

She has been parked in apartment complex parking lots, the sun baking her paint.

The plush foam around the steering wheel is gone in places, and there are stains on the seats.

I swear I’ve nearly punched a hole in the floorboard of the passenger side, hitting the ‘invisible break’ during seasons of Driving Permits.

Her trunk has held nearly ten years of nostalgia…

Fishing gear.

Office supplies.

Suitcases for Mission Trips.

The earthly possessions of an angry child moving out of the house after a big fight with her mother.

Empty soda cans and CookOut bags …

and memories. So many memories.

I poke through the interior to make sure nothing of value is left in her pockets and under her seats. In the side compartment, there is a straw wrapper, a paper clip, and a single earring. Of course there is.

I took her tags off today. She won’t pass inspection again, it’s time. There were only three screws holding her metal tag in place, one stripped so bare that it turned to rusted dust in my hand. I stripped her of her legality, and took liberties to remove a couple of the bumper stickers that had adorned her rear window. I felt kind of bad doing that. It felt like she could feel the band aids being pulled off slowly.

A chariot of Heaven driven on clouds deserves better.

I left the owl air-freshener from my daughter’s driving time on the rear-view mirror that says “Life the Life You Love.”

The Regal, meaningful as she is, is not sound to drive anymore, and the cost of replacing her parts is more than the sum of her value. Her innards don’t turn, twist and fire like they should. I don’t know much about mechanisms; I only know that she lasted so much longer than we imagined. She can’t keep her drivers as safe anymore, so she’s got to go.

After taking off the license tag, I sat in her passenger seat for a while in the driveway, just because. And I cried a little. I don’t care if the neighbors think I’m crazy. Their children are still small and don’t drive cars; what do they even know? This car is worth crying over. Can’t they see that she is still so fabulous!?

I’ve never really loved a car before, but I do love this one. It feels right to love her for her decidedly low-key, un-sexy prowess.

Yes, she is crinkled and bockety. But sturdy and safe.

She carried memories regally.

The Bravest Man I Know

quiver          “Children are a gift from the LORD;
            they are a reward from him.

Children born to a young man
are like arrows in a warrior’s hands.
How joyful is the man whose quiver is full of them!”

– Psalms 127:3-5

My husband has a full quiver of arrows, if the psalmist’s analogy is accurate.

When I met him seven years ago, it was love at first sight. I was a single mother of two adolescent daughters, and he was a single father to one. His girl was the same age as my oldest … on the cusp of 14.

If you know anything about teenage girls, you know about age 14. Brutal on both child and parent….14 is parental boot camp. Fourteen is a fiery raining down of arrows.

When we were dating, my Beloved swept me off my feet with romance – but really wowed me with his fathering abilities. His daughter was his heart….and because she was – he melted mine. He was so committed to her and to the job at hand – being the best Dad he could be.

“Love at first sight” morphed into  “I thee wed” in a year. In taking vows with his wife, my husband went above and beyond in assuming the daily fathering duties of his new wife’s daughters. The carpooling, trips to the dentist’s office, and buying the school supplies. This previously single father of an only child tripled his “dad-ness” factor overnight.

All three daughters lived with us in our “blended” family, all the time. Often, we wondered if the family-mixer was on “puree” instead of “blend.”  The girls were at the mercy of our love for one another. After all, our daughters hadn’t fallen in love with one another, but were arrows in the same quiver, nonetheless.

If parenting teenagers is walking through a minefield, step-parenting is navigating a minefield during a hurricane while under nuclear attack, without even having had the benefit of boot camp.

INTENSE. For all of us.

Through the usual growing pains of our daughters’ having boyfriends, breakups and broken hearts (and yet more boyfriends) – he offers advice and more importantly, sets the bar for how they should expect to be treated by the way he treats me.

Through graduations and awards, he lets them all know he is proud. He has sat through three times more middle school band concerts, chorus performances and class plays than he ever imagined when he was the father of one child.

He could have shirked some of this extra-mile “reward,” and still have been the bravest man I’ve ever known. He could have done much less and still have been a good father. But in true warrior style, he gave it his all. And still does, to this day.

He has been through 14 three times now, and not only survived, but learned to smile. Our daughters are all young adults – one is a married woman herself now.

Our little pureed family – which surrounds him in chaos, estrogen-laden crisis and drama – is strong. Because my husband is strong, and committed to the job.

How joyful also is the man, and the family who loves him.

The bravest man I know.

 

To My Beloved husband.

I see what you do, every day.

Valor, quietly: What “Father-ness” really looks like

“Fathers, be good to your daughters
Daughters will love like you do
Girls become lovers who turn into mothers
So mothers, be good to your daughters too.”

– John Mayer, “Daughters”

I used to be a big fan of greeting cards – Instagram-esque images on the front, the oh-so-eloquent sappiness that makes up the text inside. But these days, I’m finding that Hallmark doesn’t always capture the essence of occasions. Here in my sepia years (not near ‘golden’, mind you) mass-generated greetings don’t cut it.

Looking for a Father’s Day card to recognize my husband, I hovered over a card on the rack that pictured the quintessential daddy-daughter image: A black-and-white picture of dancing feet – a little girl’s bare feet perched upon her father’s leather Oxfords. I love that image.

Isn’t that what father-ness looks like?

What does it look like, as a reel – instead of a snapshot? It is a no guts, no glory endeavor. Father-ness also looks like a million other little acts of devotion.

It looks like canceling long-awaited plans to attend a chorus concert/band performance/theatrical production that a child forgot to mention until the day of.

It looks like children whom he has advised can “tell him anything” will, in fact, tell him anything.

It looks like forgoing something he wants – or even needs – so that the girls can have what they want and need.

It looks like giving 100% in the little things, like positive reinforcement for clean dishes and put-away laundry.

It looks like giving 100% with little or no notice for big things – like weddings. Moves. Driver’s licenses.

It looks like unselfishness.

It looks like knowing a child’s favorite birthday cake flavor, and going to all the grocery stores in town until you find it.

It looks like making taking the time to hear their points-of-view of his kids  (even when they make no sense, even when they are “wrong”.)

It looks like insisting that they treat their mother/step-mother with respect, even in the sassiest teen years (such a mouthy time!)

It looks like openly loving God, while respecting the truth that each daughter is on her own the journey to discover that God is real.

It looks like praying on behalf of each one of them, every day.

It looks like midnight runs to the skating rink, and dropping four other loud, yapping, excitable teens off at their own houses, so their parents don’t have to make a midnight run. Sometimes, it looks like four or five loud, yapping, excitable teens having a sleepover at his house.

It means rolling with the punches, constantly – without harboring resentment, or bestowing guilt on the children.

It looks like valor, quietly.

It looks like giving away his life’s treasure to her new husband on her wedding day, and making that day as memorable as possible for her.

It looks like buying class rings that he knows will be worn once, and then sit in a drawer. And it means never mention a word of the expense again.

It looks like treading the fine line to deal with a daughter’s choice to date the over-cologned, greasy haired, lip ring-wearing, juvenile delinquent, junior Bad Ass (completely unworthy of her,) without being overbearing (thus increasing the boy’s appeal ten-fold.)

It looks like buying feminine hygiene products when necessary – without embarrassment. Without missing a beat.

It looks like stick-to-it-ness when going through the drudgery of parenting, honestly – the day-in, day-out homework inquiries.

It looks like having stunt-man like ability to roll off the drama.

It looks like learning – and accepting – that all three daughters respond differently to different situations, that “one size” rules, privileges, and relating does not fit “all.”

It looks like honoring our daughters, even when their behavior is not honor-worthy.

It looks like standing in a darkened window with a notepad in-hand to write down the license plate number of a boy who has picked up a daughter for a date. (Date my daughter? Be ready to be properly vetted. ) Note to daughters: Yes, he did this – and with enough forethought to make sure the dining room lights were off before you left. Better visibility.

It looks like shuttling kids to doctor appointments, play practices, sleep-overs, and SAT tests. And back again.

It looks like listening to Christina Aguilera, when he’s in a Robert Cray kind of mood.

It looks like being the practical parent; not always getting to be the fun parent. It looks like school supplies instead of frivolities, in leaner times.

It looks like treating your wife exactly the way you want your daughters to be treated by their husbands.

My Beloved’s flesh-and-blood daughter was born with the privilege of calling him “Dad.” He has raised her most of her life. She is a married now, still Daddy’s Girl at 22 years old.

“Most people experience just having a mom raise you – or even both parents if you’re lucky – but I always just had my dad,” she recently told me. “He is the one person who told me what he thought and then let me make my own decisions without judgment…always dropping everything to help me, and giving me the biggest hugs, even when we don’t see eye-to-eye. He has given me a life to be proud of, always giving me the best advice and showing me how to better my future. “

For my own two daughters, My Beloved came on the scene when they were 10 and 13; the first and only man I dated as a single mom that my daughters immediately gave the stamp of approval (I only dated a couple, I swear!)

“Mom didn’t really have any boyfriends before my step-father, but she did go on dates occasionally,” my youngest, now 18,  says. “Being the grumpy child that I was, I did not like any of them, but something about him was different. He didn’t just care about mom; he cared about my sister and I – and he went out of his way to show it. A few weeks into his relationship with my mother, he surprised me with a necklace of my favorite animal – a penguin. It had a gold chain and crystal eyes, and came in a penguin-shaped case. It wasn’t my birthday or anything … he just wanted to show me that he cared. I hoped that he would be my stepfather, and I am so grateful that it happened!”

My eldest, also now 22,  came to appreciate that he put in the time with parental grunt work: “A lot of things stick out to me when I think about my step-father,” she says. “He took time to come to all my school events and basically ‘owned’ us all from the get-go. One of my favorite memories is recent – just last month – when he came and sat with you during my tonsillectomy even though he didn’t have to….even though I was pretty out-of-it, and wouldn’t have known if he had skipped it. Waking up and seeing that he was there, that meant a lot to me. That’s just who he is. He is really that person.”

What does Father-ness look like, really look like?
So much better than a Hallmark card; so much deeper than Instagram-esque imagry and sappy sentiment. Off the rack; a reel of a million little acts of devotion. And some really big ones.

It looks like love.

Footnote from My Beloved’s daughter, Lynzee, who is leaving to be with her husband stationed in Japan in just a few days:

“Dad…
I’m not a very adventurous person. But you always told me, ‘You’re never going to see what the world has to offer you unless you put yourself out there and try new things.’
So now that I’m an ‘old married lady’; I have a chance to go to Japan for three years. Even though I haven’t left yet, I already miss you.
Thank you for working so hard. You’re always my secure place to call home. You are an awesome dad, and I love you.”