I was singing along to the radio on my drive to school Friday morning when a bumper sticker on the car in front of me stopped me mid song. “Remember who you wanted to be.” Hmmm. Had I become who I wanted to be? I thought back to my childhood dreams. I used to play school with sister Cathy in the back porch bathroom (I have no idea why we chose a bathroom in a very large house as our classroom). Maybe I had become who I wanted to be: a teacher. But, then I remember wanting to be an actress/singer for about four years, but then I met my future husband, who was more talented and had way more drive, and decided that I didn’t really want to make the sacrifices to become a singer and actress. The more I think about this bumper sticker, the less I think it’s about our chosen professions. If you allow it, this bumper sticker has the power to make you crawl into a hole, full of regrets, unfulfilled dreams or dreams deferred. What I believe it calls us to do is to be introspective, to “process” as a good friend often reminds me to do. If I asked all of my 125 students what they’d like to be doing in 20 years, I would speculate that 95% would say they want to be a famous athlete, actress, singer or anything that would bring riches and fame. Most would not mention wanting to just be satisfied with a simple existence or to be a good father, mother, or friend to others. Why would they? We have set them up to have extrinsic goals: get good grades or you won’t get into a good college, work hard at your jump shot and you will make the travel team, practice singing and participate in more plays or you won’t get a bigger part. We place our kids, at a very early age, on the treadmill of life and dangle carrots in front of them. I’m as guilty of it as most parents, and I don’t think there is anything completely wrong with it. If we don’t tell our kids to work hard and set goals, then they will never cut the umbilical cord. They’ll become adults like the character Chaz from Wedding Crashers, yelling for Mom to make them some meatloaf! What I do know is that it takes years of introspection to understand that who we really wanted to be had nothing to do with the salaries we make or the prestige of our jobs. I can assure you today, on what would have been Tony’s 47th birthday, that in his last few months, his regrets had nothing to do with unfinished songs, awards that were never won, or money. He once told me in a private moment that the kids and I had given him everything he had ever wanted and needed: unconditional love, abundant laughter, and a peaceful place to set down his guitar. Look at your life today as a spectator. What are you grateful for right now? What do you wish you had more of today? Love? Peace? Laughter? It might be right there and you are ignoring it. If not, do something to find it, and when you find it, do everything to cultivate it and let if flourish. It takes a little work, but it’s worth it in the end. And then you will have everything you want and need. After all, this is who you really wanted to be.
I am decompressing this morning from an amazing trip with the kids to Duke University. First, I’ve decided that I would like to go back to college and this time to a smaller setting than Virginia Tech. After hearing about opportunities to live in student learning groups (you can form your own group based upon your interest in anything), focused studies with professors, choosing not only a minor but also a “certificate,” it’s easy to see why the students at Duke don’t want to graduate. They take advantage of every opportunity that comes their way. Although Lauren and I decided we are not nerdy enough when the engineer tour guide talked about taking a class in the Future of Drones, Aaron was so excited. At one point, he said, “I really regret not applying for early decision. I will be disappointed if I don’t get accepted.” Hmm. It was time for our talk. It has been on my mind for a month or so. First, you have to know my son. This is the kid who was curious from the time he could talk. He collected anything and everything from bird feathers (no one got lice), marbles, buttons, fossils, Pokemon cards, rocks, dead bugs (or that is what happened to them when they were placed in what Tony called “The Death Chamber”). Not only would he collect them but then we would have to get books from the library to identify them. This all started before the age of 5. The only way I got him to jump off the board was to promise him not ice cream, not a toy, but more books. I know. Weird. For two average intelligence parents, Tony and I marveled at the sperm and egg that created him. My father used to say, “I hope I live long enough to see what Aaron grows up to become.” Unfortunately, he didn’t and neither did Tony but everyone has had high expectations of Aaron’s future, including himself. Last month, as part of professional development, I had to watch a 3 hour webinar from the Jason Foundation, established by a father whose son committed suicide. One part really stuck out at me. It was the story that a father told of his son. From the time the boy was small, he would say, “I’m going to go to Princeton just like you and Grandpa.” The father encouraged him by buying him t shirts, keeping up with the school’s teams and even making visits to the campus. When he became a senior, he applied because it was the only place he had ever dreamed of going. He was not accepted. He left a suicide note to his father saying “I’m sorry I disappointed you.” As the father said, “I didn’t really care if he went to Princeton, but I never told him” Ugh. This is why I needed to have the talk with Aaron. So the moment was right as the three of us had dinner together back at the hotel. I told him the story of this boy. I could tell from the look in his eyes that this story was hitting home for him. I told him that even if he didn’t get accepted to Duke, that it was ok. He had some amazing options available to him and for the first time in our lives, we needed to give “fate” a chance. He looked relieved. I then told him that if he got into biomedical engineering and it was impossibly difficult or stressful, that it was ok to switch majors. He could still do cancer research as a biochemistry major. And as much as I love the ideology of youth, I gave him permission to not drive himself into the ground to find a cure for cancer. If it were easy, someone would have already done it. I saw a sense of relief in his eyes. I know he won’t take advantage of this talk to drop out of school, live in my basement and play video games because he is a very driven kid. I just wanted to give him permission to remove some pressure from the years of expectations we have placed upon him. We all want our kids to be successful and happy, but I haven’t always been successful or happy so why place this burden on my kids? We want our kids to have a better life than we did, to take advantage of the opportunities we missed, but part of this journey of life involves missteps, heartache, disappointments, and unfulfilled dreams. These are the things that make us stronger, more resilient, and more appreciative of the love and joy we find. I can’t rob my kids of this by smoothing out their paths. He may get accepted to Duke and he might not, but no matter what, Aaron will be ok. Permission granted.
After Aaron decided to go away on a church retreat this weekend, I decided that Lauren and I would attend a two-hour seminar Saturday afternoon at Epic Yoga entitled “Living in Grace.” It was led by Katherine, a guidance counselor at a local private school who also happens to teach yoga at the studio. The workshop was advertised on the studio site: “In this media crazed world, we are often told what parts of our body need fixing but seldom are we told what parts of our body deserve celebration.”
You may or may not be surprised that it is National Eating Disorder Awareness month (February certainly has become a partying, indulgent month with Groundhog day, Super Bowl, President’s Day, Black history, Valentine’s Day which also happens to fall on National Condom day…hmmm..go figure) I had grandiose plans that we would attend this workshop together, Lauren would learn to love the body she was given and we would have a nice shopping trip afterward, followed by a heartfelt talk over a healthy dinner.
It was a great workshop, and one of the things that I struggle with as a parent is modeling an acceptance of my own body to my teenage daughter. I feel there is a very thin line between making healthy eating and exercise a part of your life and not becoming obsessive about it. When Aaron and Lauren reach for something unhealthy to snack on or one of them wants to make a late night run to Sonic for ice cream, I ask them to check in with themselves on whether they’ve had enough fruits or vegetables for the day. Is this Mommy Dearest parenting? I am not sure, but what I do know is that my kids have both heart disease and cancer in their immediate family, and they have no choice but to be aware of how they treat their bodies. As I told Lauren tonight at dinner, there is no magic pill to swallow or a secret two-week plan; it comes down to eating mostly healthy, energizing foods, and everything else in moderation. I make exercise as much a part of my life as brushing my teeth or taking out the trash. It’s part of my routine. For many people who don’t exercise or eat mindfully, this may look as obsessive behavior on my part.
So, here’s what came up for me today during the workshop. I’ll admit that there is a part of me that still feels like that short, insecure,chubby little seventh grader who was sometimes mistaken for a boy. I admit that I remember every negative thing that was ever said about my appearance, including a comment from one boy who turned around at the water fountain in middle school one day, looked at me and declared to his friends that Sarah was an “ugly skank.” I’m glad he didn’t see the tears welling up in my eyes as I slipped into the bathroom to have a good cry. I think all of us, at some point in our lives, would have to admit that we have some deep insecurities, whether it’s over body image or something else. The insensitive comments that others make maybe are intended to strengthen us and to help us be mindful of our own words to others.
What I did tell Lauren is that eating healthy foods and keeping in shape keeps me feeling energetic and young and when I feel this way, I’m a better Mom and have the energy to give more to others in all aspects of my life. What I didn’t tell Lauren is that I check my weight a few times a week. If it’s creeping up, I adjust my eating, cut out wine, but I never starve myself. I also didn’t tell her that I sometimes jump up on the bathroom counter for a closer inspection to make sure I’m not getting a flabby behind! Do I like it when people compliment me on my appearance? Absolutely. But I think I carry myself with a positive aura which stems from me feeling good about myself. That’s what they are really seeing, not the fit Sarah, but the mentally healthy and happy Sarah who loves herself. I truly believe you can’t love someone else unless you love yourself first.
Was this the monumental day that I hoped it would be? Time will tell. While I had her attention, we even talked a little about how she’s doing dealing with the loss of her Dad. We both got a little teary, but these are private conversations between us, and I’ll keep it that way. All in all, this was a good day to be a Mom to Lauren, but tomorrow we may have to do some behind-the-wheel practice and today will all be for naught!