"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis


Monday, April 4, 2016

Parenting: A Thickening Plot

When I was a young mother, someone once told me that parenthood is a constantly changing journey….Once you think you’ve got it all figured out, baby throws a new challenge at you and you have to figure that one out too. For instance, when baby-proofing the house, you start when the baby starts crawling, somewhere around six months. You remove anything small and swallow-able from the floors, and you generally rearrange things for the safety of baby. You even make room for a play pen. Then, once you’re satisfied with your baby-proofing skills, baby throws a new one at you by learning to pull herself up. Suddenly the coffee table is no longer safe, and the prized super-trendy Zen garden and marble-filled glass vases from your twenties have to be carefully packed away out of reach (and, in our case, lost). A month or so later, baby starts walking, then running, and it’s been a long time so I don’t remember exactly what we did to baby-proof, but it seems like our d├ęcor was pretty bare bones for quite awhile.

When you’re tired and sleep-deprived, you see 18 years of sleepless nights stretching out before you as your inevitable destiny. But one day, she sleeps in. And then all of a sudden, she’s capable of getting breakfast for herself, even if she awakens before you do. 

One day you wouldn’t even imagine letting your kiddo use a public restroom by herself, but then the next day it seems logical.

The page turns, and a new chapter begins. But with that new chapter, the story progresses, and the plot thickens.

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Ryan and I have talked about this a lot recently. We knew when she was a baby that we would hold her to high standards. We knew we wouldn’t be popular with her at times. Back then we couldn’t picture the exact scenarios—I mean, Instagram, Facebook, and Snapchat didn’t even exist yet. But we knew that whatever the situation, parenting would not be easy. As every generation of parents has had to discover for themselves, the road to a healthy, well-adjusted adult is bumpy and washed out, unpaved and unmapped.

But I’m not sure we understood how much our own childhood insecurities would have an impact on our parenting decisions. We each remember being the kid who wasn’t allowed to watch certain shows (Smurfs) or read certain books (Sweet Valley High). Sometimes we weren’t allowed to go to movies with friends or go on class trips. It’s never fun to feel left out – to be the only one who can’t participate in a conversation. But our parents knew what was best for us. I once had to leave a get-together with my girlfriends early because I had a piano recital the next day. After I left, the girls TP’d the house where the boys were and dumped a toilet on their front porch, which prompted the guys to egg the house where the girls were staying. The night has notoriously been called “The Night of the Toilet,” and I missed all the excitement.

Ryley is a bookworm – an avid reader who loves Percy Jackson books and Star Wars books but who is not allowed to read Harry Potter or anything by John Green. Her friends are absolutely befuddled by this, and she is absolutely embarrassed. “How can you be such a bookworm and NOT have read ‘Harry Potter’?” they ask. She can’t explain it without sounding like a weirdo. She is allowed to watch Doctor Who and PG-13 comic book movies, but half of the live action shows on the Disney Channel are banned for her. I know she would love Glee, but the decision on that one is still up in the air. In fact, Ryan and I don’t always agree. Some of the sci-fi stuff gets a little too weird, in my opinion, and the Rys are always teasing me that I all too often call things “demonic.” I would be more apt to let Ryley watch an episode of Friends, but the occasional sexual talk is bothersome to Ryan.

To an outsider it would seem that there is no method to the madness. But we have our reasons, and we are constantly re-evaluating her maturity – emotionally, intellectually, spiritually, and otherwise. We don’t forbid things without good reason. We discuss and pray and ask for God’s wisdom.

But that still didn’t stop me from bursting into tears with her when we handed her a big fat NO on the subject of Instagram.

Her little heart was broken. In a group of friends where she already feels like the oddball out, not letting her have Instagram means she can’t see the funny pictures they all post, and she can’t share in the inside jokes and silly conversations. Her friends are hilarious and intelligent and witty. I get it. She lives only in the real world, while her friends are able to participate in this sort of underworld. She arrives at school a step behind everyone else.

On the flip side, by not allowing Instagram, we are doing her a favor….When the school day ends, so does the friend drama. She can come home and enjoy her evening in a stable environment. She doesn’t have to see any of the pictures that her emo friends post showing the horrific scars from where they’ve cut themselves. She doesn’t have to see any of the melodramatic conversations regarding self-harm, suicide, or sexuality. She doesn’t have to read any more of the cuss words that she hears all day long. She doesn’t stumble across inappropriate content that will haunt her and spark her curiosity.

We can’t protect her from everything. I realize that. The 21st Century world is absolutely SATURATED with sex. And Ryley is INQUISITIVE. She knows way more about the world than I ever knew at her age. Thus far, we have created an environment where she can ask us anything, and we answer her honestly. But what happens when the middle school culture has advanced way past her age and maturity, and suddenly the answers are too heavy for her 12-year-old shoulders?

Self harm is all the rage among her classmates. Seriously, it’s become “trendy.” The girls disassemble their little pencil sharpeners, use the blades to cut themselves, and then hide the blades inside of markers or chapstick tubes so parents and teachers can’t find them. Ryley overheard one girl approach the “queen bee” and say, “Hey, I need some advice; I tried cutting, and something went horribly wrong.” It makes me sick. Our school administrators have been doing an excellent job getting  these girls into counseling, but it’s like a wildfire that’s gotten out of control. Some of them are for sure doing it because they have inner pain, and they want to have some control over the pain. But others are doing it because all the cool kids do it. I’m not sure which one is worse.

So with all this going on, why would I want my daughter subscribed to a site where she can become even further inundated with this darkness?

Some of Ryley’s friends wear long sleeves to hide the scars on their arms. She wears long sleeves because someone told her that her arms are too hairy…her beautiful, perfect, unscarred arms with their little dusting of blond peach fuzz.

It’s time for the mothers to get involved. I have just recently proposed to the administration that we hold a mother/daughter meeting for 7th graders, where we can come together as a community and get to know one another better. If moms knew each other…if we could organize get-togethers over the summer and work together to create a positive environment or even outreach opportunities for our girls, I think we could eliminate some of the “emo” depression. I believe that regardless of race, religion, or family background (one friend told Ryley, “Your family is abnormal”), we can all find common ground in the fact that we love our daughters and want them to be kind, successful, and happy. Only good can come from it.

In the meantime, we’ve been trying to get her more involved in our church youth group so she can make some more Christian friends. Yesterday, on the way to a church laser tag event, she was trying to think of a good laser tag name for herself. She wasn’t sure if she should do anything Star Wars-related, because her youth pastor has preached that Star Wars is bad. We told her not to worry about it and to just be herself.

“But,” I added, “between games, don’t forget to talk about ‘the Lord’!”   She giggled. :-)

It turned out that lots of kids chose Star Wars and comic book-related names. And in her silliness with her church friend, she chose “TheDorito.”

As a Christian, I’m finding that the only way to help our daughter navigate these challenges is through constant prayer – for her and others. Sure, she doesn’t cut, but Ryley has a lot of other hang-ups and issues that affect her and her relationships. Whenever we remember to, we pray for her classmates, and we pray for her to have opportunities to be a light. We pray for ourselves that God gives us wisdom to make the right decisions that will protect that light from becoming snuffed out by the world.

If or when this mother/daughter meeting idea takes off, I know it’s inevitable that the chapter will eventually turn, and the story will progress in other ways. That’s just the way the world works. Just when we think we’ve got it figured out, the girls will outgrow the cutting and move on to other kinds of drama. But whatever that drama is, at least we’d be facing it as a community.

Best of all, we know the Author of this story, and despite the plot’s twists and turns and all the many intriguing characters that are woven throughout, we know He is famous for His amazing endings. And we can trust Him with our girl.