"You can make anything by writing."

-- C. S. Lewis

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Too Tired to Think of a Title

This “parenting a teenager” thing is serious business, isn’t it? I’ve sat here for several minutes trying to process exactly what it is that I want to say, but I’m coming up empty. This, after months of longing to write it all out but never finding the time, experiencing fleeting moments of clarity and a string of words that articulate perfectly what I’m thinking (but always at work or while I’m driving and never at a time when it’s actually convenient to write). The feelings, emotions, epiphanies, and visions that I experience regarding this single child are deep and plentiful, layered and wide. I could fill a novel – but stream-of-consciousness style, with no particular plot, no apparent climax or finale. I would call it “My Experiences in Parenting Are All Over the Place and Change Daily" or "I Don't Know What I'm Doing.”

Part of it is that we don’t really know who we’re parenting exactly. I mean, she’s still trying to figure that out herself. She’s coming alive -- she’s quirky and light and lively and melodramatic and headstrong and spacey and opinionated. There’s no better example of this than when we’re shopping together. There was a holiday dance at the school last Friday (adorably called “The Snow Ball”), and choosing a semi-formal outfit proved to be a real adventure, mostly because she doesn’t have a clear understanding of what “semi-formal” means. But maybe I don’t either. I lugged an armful of knee-length dresses into the dressing room at Target, and she said, “Paisley patterns are you, Mom; not me,” and I flashed back to my own middle school years when I, too, was resistant to my mom’s suggestions, yet so desperate to fit in with my friends, afraid to launch out and set my own fashion trends based on what I thought was pretty. Apparently it was paisley.

“Keep an open mind,” I said. “You keep an open mind, too,” she shot right back at me, teenager-style. Eventually we settled on black – plain and simple – because I’d read that every girl needs a “little black dress” that she can dress up or down depending on the situation. She likes it but claims it’s too formal. It’s not, of course. Because it’s from Target. ;-)

It seems like everything is an argument these days. I could say the kettle is black, but she would say it’s a triangle. And looking back, she’s kind of always been this way, I suppose. It’s exhausting. So many simple conversations spiral out of control over semantics or details or tone of voice. How many times do we hear, “I know!” or “I am!,” to which we end up channeling our early 1990s parents, with, “Well, you don’t know or else you’d stop doing it!”

There are other moments, though. Like when Ryan was scrolling through the channels and came across “Fiddler on the Roof” (which, of course, we own and have watched three dozen times). “Ryley!” he called. She came bounding down the stairs two-, three-, four-at-a-time and plopped down on the sofa, a stupid grin plastered to her face. Then, for the next three days, she belted out the songs and even dug out my “Fiddler” soundtrack CD for

For being one person, she is certainly the source of a lot of noise! Ryley can’t empty the dishwasher without blasting Panic! At the Disco from her iTunes, or Twenty-one Pilots or Michael Buble from Pandora or Spotify. She’s performing as Gertrude McFuzz in our school’s spring production of "Seussical," in which she has four (!!!) solos, so we hear a lot of that around the house, too. 

Then, in November, she learned that she was selected for Colorado All-state Middle School Choir, which is a huge accomplishment! So now we have five more pieces to rehearse and memorize before the first weekend in February. We are so proud of our girl….I am so glad she loves music and has finally found her “thing” – her long-pursued talent. I could listen to her sweet, strong alto singing all day long.

But back in September, she had toyed with not auditioning for these things….just helping with stage crew for the musical and not worrying about the difficult audition for all-state choir. How different would our school year (and her life experience) have been if she had just fizzled out on these opportunities before they even began?

School is difficult. Just this last weekend, she had three big projects due on Monday alone, with another project and two presentations due yesterday, three big final exams happening today, and another essay due tomorrow (for which she's forgotten her notes at school). I get overwhelmed just looking at her homework assignments, grateful that it’s her and not me. I think I still suffer a little bit of post-traumatic stress disorder after the marathon that was “getting through college.” I’ve already paid my dues, right? It’s her turn.

Not exactly. I truly believe that behind every well-put-together child is a parent pulling the strings, providing the choir outfits and participation fees and homework support.

Sometimes, late at night, when I’m quietly doing dishes at the sink while she writes an essay at the kitchen table, I think to myself, “Across our suburb, across the country, other moms are also staying up tonight helping their kiddo with a creative writing portfolio or Googling the ‘equation for y intercept.’ Or saying, 'You know what? Close the math book, and go to bed. It will be okay.'”

Because having a child at an academically-demanding school feels like having a second job. Back in October, I came to the realization that though we needed more money and needed me to take on more freelance work, my family needed me more – my presence and my help. In Proverbs 31, the “the wife of noble character” is praised for selecting wool and flax and working with eager hands, making and selling linen garments, securing trade deals and buying fields and planting vineyards, all while the lamp burns late into the night. But my big epiphany has been that sometimes in this modern society, spinning wool or planting a vineyard also means learning 8th grade physics at 11 p.m. or just being in the same room as your baby fills out her history study guide until midnight, just so she’s not alone. You’re so tired, but you fight sleep, knowing that you're doing what’s best. Sometimes it means running down to the thrift store in the middle of the Broncos game on a Monday evening to buy a $1 cane for your husband and his injured back. Sometimes being that quintessential “Proverbs 31 woman” means knowing how to invest your time in creative ways, understanding when to snap the laptop shut, and canceling potential freelance projects, trusting that God will provide for all your needs.

In the midst of volleyball and play practice, choir auditions and D.C. trip fundraising, podiatrist appointments and contact fittings, car repairs and Ryan’s ruptured disc (resulting MRI and physical therapy), his unrelated car accident and losing his car to the body shop for more than a month….in the midst of all that and more, my family needs me more than we need the money. They need all of me – not the muddled, distracted version of me. They need the stability only I can bring. After all, that’s why God put me here, planting my own little vineyard called the Moore family.

Most nights over the last few years, I've defaulted to my freelance work on my laptop on the downstairs sofa while Ryan has graded papers at the desk across the room. Meanwhile, Ryley is left to her own devices with her heavy backpack dumped out and spread out across the floor in our living room upstairs – within ear shot of us, but away from the distraction of the television we have on in the background.

But last weekend, on a whim, Ryley took the love languages quiz, and we discovered that she gives and receives love in “quality time.” I’d never thought of her that way before. I mean, that’s my love language, too, but it had never occurred to me that some of the forlornness she feels and the hours it takes to get her homework done is because she has been “banished” from us. She feels lonely and thus loses momentum and motivation.

That insight inspired me to try something new during the Crazy Weekend of Multiple Projects. I pledged to be her right-hand person. I stayed with her in the front room and just remained "available." I tried not to push my own agenda; I let her tell me what she needed my help with. And you know what? She got her work done in a timely manner, and she was less combative about it. Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles! It was a relatively peaceful weekend, all things considered, and we didn't even have to burn the midnight oil. Normal bedtimes were kept. Now, is it always practical or even in her best interest for me to be present during every homework marathon? No, of course not. But sometimes she just needs somebody to be there, supporting her.

And sometimes she just needs help prioritizing… “Hey, sweetie, so you have an A+ in Algebra, so maybe since it’s already 9:30, we skip these last two difficult problems and move on to English, which could use a little more attention.”

“Wait. Are you telling me not to finish my math homework?”

“No, not exactly. I’m telling you to use your time wisely.” :-) Who knew I'd ever advocate for not finishing homework? Crazy how people change. ;-)

At the very base level, we are always on her side. Whether being on her side means disciplining her or defending her, her dad and I will always be in her corner. She’s a special kiddo. She’s ours. Definitely not perfect and many times a little mouthy, but overall, she is a really good kid. We might get on her case, and she might perceive it as coming down hard on her, but we always have her best interest at heart. She doesn’t see that or have the capability of understanding that right now. But I trust that someday she will. I'm sure my parents thought the same about me at one point!

Maybe we’re on to something with this whole love language revelation, though. I’ve been asking God for wisdom, and maybe understanding this aspect of her personality is the key. She just likes to be with us.

“Someday when I’m grown, I think sometimes I’ll just drive over here for a hug and a long talk,” she told me one time. My drive would be about 850 miles, but that’s how I feel about my mom and dad, too. :-) A hug and a long talk do wonders.

So that's the gist of it -- my thoughts on parenting after 13 years and 4 months. We don't have it all figured out, by any means, and just when we think we have, we fall flat on our faces, Ryan and I. We offer each other regular high-fives though, whenever one of us does a particularly good job. We need that kind of encouragement and comradery. :-)

Christmas break starts tomorrow afternoon, and I'm not sure we've ever needed it more. I probably say that every year, though. :-) Here's to Hallmark movies and cozy fireplaces and toasty mugs of hot chocolate -- passing around the coffee and pumpkin pie -- and doing absolutely nothing. 

The vineyard planting and cloth-spinning can continue in January. ;-)