Being the Bow

At our lake house I have a Kahlil Gibran quote in a frame flanked by photos of each of my two boys.  They are smiling from the pumpkin patch, young and sweet.  Gibran was a favorite of my brother’s, this excerpt especially, and after his passing it became even more special.

“Your children are not your children.

They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.

They come through you but not from you,

And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,

For they have their own thoughts.

You may house their bodies but not their souls,

For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,

which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.

You may strive to be like them,

but seek not to make them like you.

For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

You are the bows from which your children

as living arrows are sent forth.

The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,

and He bends you with His might

that His arrows may go swift and far.

Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;

For even as He loves the arrow that flies,

so He loves also the bow that is stable.”

~Kahlil Gibran

I have always loved the imagery in this piece:  God as The Archer, parents as the bows, the child the arrow.  The idea that He is ultimately in control; that as parents, we don’t own our children, but Life does.

One of those boys in the pumpkin patch will be starting college in a few weeks and “The Day We Say Goodbye” is marked on the calendar.  It’s a phrase that has permeated my summer.  It has dictated my mood, my interactions with people, my interactions with my son.  It’s like a cloud always hovering, darkening my days.  

Most days I can channel the sun, the clouds part, and I realize I am blessed, and I am grateful.  I know I am.  But some days I unexpectedly get this random glimpse of him at the age of three, or ten, or even right now, and my heart feels like it’s literally being torn from my chest.

Yes, I know it’s not “Good-Bye” in the permanent sense.  I will still be his mother; I will always be his mother.  But after “that day,” as we drive away, everything will change.  He will be embarking on a glorious adventure that will take him to places I cannot even imagine, within and without.  Places I “cannot visit, not even in my dreams.”  He will discover himself, apart from us. He will chart his own course.

More than anything, he will have the time of his life. He will create memories and friendships and relationships that will last a lifetime. He will expand his mind and world and, most importantly, he will discover himself.  He will set his course and even though it may change, and change often, he will be blessed with the opportunity to take charge of his own life.

And for that, I am so, so grateful.  

But along with the gratitude comes the realization that he will have hard days, and hard nights.  He will get sick. He will question himself.  He will be disappointed, by others and probably by himself.  He will meet girls and maybe fall in love with one (or two) of them.  Or maybe get his heart broken.  In the midst of finals.  

The conundrum is that while this breaks my heart, and his absence will be profoundly felt by all of us, I know it is what needs to happen.  It’s what every parent wants, for their child to fly.  On their own.  If I am honest with myself, my children are my gift to this world.  They have given me purpose beyond myself.  And I need to give this gift away, no matter how much I love it.  

I thank God for the blessing of being this young man’s mother and the opportunity to raise him.  It has been my greatest challenge, my greatest joy.  But for now, I will pray to trust The Archer and the mark He sees on the path of the the infinite, bending as much as I can and feeling myself held in His arms.  



Buckling Up

Sipping coffee, on a beautiful fall Sunday morning, overlooking a still lake that reflects the beauty of the season.

Just had myself a good cry.

My oldest recently turned eighteen and will be heading off to college next year. We have already had a few “last’s:” last first day of school, last Homecoming dance, last football game.

He is having a ball and enjoying every minute of this time of life. I’m thrilled. After all, he is young, surrounded by great kids I respect, he is grounded and comfortable in his own skin. He is happy.

It’s not him I’m crying for.

It’s me. It’s this getting older. It’s losing something I had, if only for a moment. It’s for regret for things not done…or done, but not recognizing the blessing it was.

When I look at photos of myself holding my boys, I wonder, did I waste time? With them or for me? What have I done with this life? Have I used and appreciated all the gifts and blessings God has given me?

Mind you, my boy growing up and leaving the nest is just one reminder of getting older. There are others all around, ones that I’m sure fifty-something women who never had children experience. It escapes no one. And despite what our culture suggests, the difficulty in getting older involves more than a mirror.

It involves loss. In my case, my parents, who left me far too soon and who, as I age, aren’t around to share these discoveries with. The landscape of our life changes. Friends leave us or we leave them. Our spouses grow older, too, changing with or in spite of us.

My son’s leaving, however, is like a New Year’s Day, or a milestone birthday, shaking me up. A date coming that heralds a big change. And I have to face it, prepare for it.

So for now, I cry when I need to. I’m grieving, I know. And grief takes time; it must be experienced. As Pema Chodron suggests, things fall apart and they come back together. Then they fall apart and come back together, again and again and again. This life is filled with endings and beginnings. I guess getting older means learning to expect this, to strap yourself in and be fully present for all of it.

Even if that means strapping yourself in to a comfy rocking chair and warm socks, sobbing into your coffee on a gorgeous fall morning. And not looking in the mirror.

Road Signs 

My son is a junior this year, so he’s not graduating and heading off to college, but he will soon. That moment is looming in front of me like a huge sign: not necessarily a stop sign, but maybe a yield sign.
I have several friends whose children are graduating this year and I can’t empathize with them, but I can imagine what it might feel like. Just maybe. 

Let’s get something straight, though: I’m not longing for the days when he was little. I’m not wishing he didn’t grow up so fast. I just want him to stay. Stay with me just as he is right now.

As a parent, you go through so many stages with your children, and it seems like after the angst of the teenage years (for them and for you), you come to a place where you really enjoy your children. You actually want to be with them, as people, not your kids. You enjoy watching them discover their gifts, seeing them blossom, interacting with other people. 

I know that once T leaves the house for college, things will be different. Things will change. But I want to think, I need to think, this isn’t a stop sign. I need to yield. I need to yield to the doubts I have about missed opportunities, missed wrestling matches, missed time. Yield to his blossoming, yield to life, yield to God’s plan for him. 

As a parent, this is what we raise our children to do, isn’t it? This is why we send them to the best schools, make sure they study, say “please” and “thank you,” and brush their teeth. We’re preparing them to fly. But it is so damn hard, this letting go.

I think, “Isn’t this why I brought him into this world? To become a person who contributes to society? Falls in love, has his own family and successes?” But then I remember, we wanted to have a baby. Now we have a man. 

I pray for all of my friends who will be approaching that signpost. I pray for your yielding. And I pray you will be there for me a year from now with a shoulder and a box of tissues.

Lingering at the Door

There’s a definite chill in the air.  The football field and basketball courts are eerily quiet, the only players on the tennis courts are middle-aged women, apologizing for bad shots and waiting patiently for serves.  There are no children on the church lawn, readying for a game organized by the camp counselors.  Everything is suddenly different.

I sent my sons off to their first days of middle and senior high today, and am painfully aware of the passing of time.  Neighbors down the street recently dropped their youngest at college, and if the past decade or so has been any indication, we will be there in a blink.

I’m thrilled for my oldest, who is entering that period of life that most of us remember as the “glory days.”  When you are not quite an adult but no longer a child.  When your body is at its absolute best, when you might experience that first love, and you still have the security of your parents’ home, with no mortgage payments or taxes to pay.  At the same time, this will be the time when he sets the foundation for his life, when bigger choices will be made, and when his subconscious will store that angst of forgetting to study for a test or find a classroom, the stuff of recurring adult dreams.

As a parent, I almost feel that at this point, my job is done for him.  The groundwork has been laid, for the most part (although I do wish he’d keep his room a bit neater), and all that’s left is supporting him in his endeavors and giving nudges when needed.  I get to enjoy the man he’s becoming.

Time is a funny thing.  Yesterday I wanted to soak up every second with the boys, knowing it was limited.  Somehow, the dishes could wait, the laundry could stay in the piles in the basement, dinner was whatever they wanted, as long as we ate it together.  Any of us who have experienced the pending death of a loved one or said a long good-bye to someone knows the feeling: saying good-bye makes everything more poignant and forces us to say and do those things that are truly important.

“The best things said come last.  People will talk for hours saying nothing much and then linger at the door with words that come with a rush from the heart.”  ~Alan Alda

If only I could remember that feeling every day, and recognize that the passing of time doesn’t just happen when I say good-bye, when I look back or when I celebrate a new beginning; it is happening every second.  Why wait until I’m at the door?

Everything is different now.  My kids are older.  I am older.  I am blessed to be able to look back and be pleased with what I remember and what I’ve done (except the room thing).  But I also have the benefit of this moment.  With practice, I will learn to use it wisely.  One of these days, I will get it right.

“Time is getting shorter

And there’s much for you to do,

Only ask and you will get what you are needing

The rest is up to you.

Plant your love and let it grow.”

~Eric Clapton

A Letter to My Teenage Son

I am the mother of a teenager.  Recently, at the end of a summer vacation during which my boys had obviously spent way too much time together, I became concerned about his behavior and how he was reacting to his dad and I and his younger brother (he is a teenager, after all).  From this experience, this letter was born and from this letter came an honest discussion, a hug and an “I love you…”

My Dearest Son,

First of all, let me say that I love you beyond any mere words that I can write here, and my wish for your life is that the world sees you as I see you.  I know you have much to offer this world, that God has provided you with this life to use those gifts wisely.

There is a saying I’ve seen that goes something like this:

People may not remember what you said,

They may not remember what you did,

But they will always remember how you made them feel.

You have your life ahead of you and will encounter many, many relationships with people: some will last a moment and others a lifetime.  And each encounter you have with another human being provides you with the opportunity to create something beautiful and positive.  By the same token, it also provides you with the opportunity to be angry, vindictive, self-serving, and hurtful.

I’d like to think that the encounters I’ve had in my 47 years have been mostly in the former.  Of course, I have had bad days (or months, or years) when I’ve felt downtrodden and bitter, but for the most part, I am painfully aware and sensitive to my interactions with others.

It seems to me that parenting takes place a great deal by example, which is why it surprises and pains me so to see that lately you have been choosing the latter.  It pains me, and it worries me.

Right now, you have a place to live, you are provided with food and clothing and whatever you need to survive.  You have friends.  Some day, however, your friends may move away, and you will need to make new ones, you will be required to get a job, and keep that job.  You may want to get married and start a family.  And to survive in this world and be successful, you need people.  Now, by “successful” I’m not talking about having a house with a filled three-car garage and vacations to anyplace in the world.  I’m talking about the success of knowing you’ve made a difference.

When your uncle died at the young age of 43, I chose this poem, said to be written by Ralph Waldo Emerson, to be part of his funeral service:

To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people
and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics
and endure the betrayal of false friends;
To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child,
a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded.

I know at the tender age of fourteen it’s impossible to imaging dying or looking back on your life, but I’m sorry to say that no one gets out of here alive.  God-willing, however, you will have the benefit of looking back at a long healthy life and the feeling that you have, indeed, succeeded. I know in my heart of hearts that your uncle did succeed, even if he drove a dilapidated used car without so much as an AM/FM radio.  He impacted people, whether it was the cashier at the 7-11 or his little sister.

My prayer for you is that you realize the power you have whenever you open your mouth, when you hold the door for someone, or resist the urge to belittle and criticize.  Trust me, regret is a terrible thing.  You can’t take back what you’ve already put out there, and you can’t change how you once made someone feel.

Make it good.  Make it positive.  Make a difference.

I love you to pieces.