June 2, 2020

I'll Always Believe the Best About My Children

I love the scene in the movie Apollo 13 where astronaut Jim Lovell’s elderly mom learns that her son's ship has a problem (as in, "Houston, we have...") and that getting it and himself and his crew home is going to be tricky business.

Mrs. Lovell asks her granddaughter, "Are you scared?"—and then tells her, without qualification, "Don't be. If they could get a washing machine to fly, my Jimmy could land it."

There is just no fan club like the mom fan club. It’s not that moms think their kids can do no wrong; it’s just that they believe their kids can do so much right. 

Our love is not blind, but it is bold. Mom love allows us to see what is possible from a slightly removed position that delivers us from the distraction of too many details.

For instance: my college-bound daughter plans to major in dance, but first, she has to audition for the program. The central piece of her audition is a solo in the style of her preference, to the music of her choosing, set to the choreography of her imagining. On the way home from our campus visit a few months ago, she played me one of the contender songs. I listened and could see her movements in my mind with no trouble at all. Passionate. Strong. Sure. Uninhibited, but not sloppy.

"I'm already crying, just thinking about it," I told her. "It will be incredible."

But my daughter isn’t so sure. She has the benefit (or maybe the curse) of knowing all the ins and outs, knowing the struggles, knowing what looks easy but is in fact so hard, knowing what could happen, knowing what she wants to happen. 

I, on the other hand, have the luxury of looking in from the outside and seeing the big picture, seeing the results, seeing the output without the intrusion of too much information.

Later in Apollo 13, when the world is waiting to see just how lucky or unlucky 13 will turn out to be, Mrs. Lovell is visited by astronauts Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong. They are introduced to her by Lovell's wife, and this proud mother asks them, "Are you boys in the space program, too?"

If all the world's a stage, a mother is aware there are other performers, but for her, the spotlight always follows her child. 

This is the gift we give our children: love that does not demand the impossible but believes what is possible. Love that does not excuse wrong but expects right. Love that does not overlook limits but sees past them.

I’ve heard countless stories (you probably have, too) of grown children who triumphed over challenges or setbacks in early life and testify as adults that “nobody else believed in me, but my mom did. I’m here today because of her.”

I don’t want to be the only person who believes in my children, and I’m thankful I’m not, not by a long shot. But if this is a club, I am privileged to be its founding member, and I'll gratefully take my place as its president, for life.

May 21, 2020

I Already Know What My Children Will Remember About the Summer of 2020

I already know what my children will remember most about the summer that's still stretched out ahead of us, waiting to unfold.

I'm not being presumptuous, naive, or cocky. It's just that I know what my teenager and young adult remember most about past summers, and they are things we can still count on this summer.

Thank goodness.

Every year, at the end of the summer, I pull the mom card and require my family to sit around the dinner table and recount their favorite memories from the past few months. (It's similar to Thanksgiving's "go around the table and say something you're thankful for," but without the pumpkin pie chaser. Not everyone considers this a loss.)

We've done this dance enough years now that I've seen a pattern emerge: the memories my children cherish most are always born in simple moments spent together...moments that are not being cancelled. They're made of sweet, gentle commodities that at their core are not in short supply.

I am not so cold-hearted nor so "glad half full" as to blow off all that will not happen this summer as if it's just some dandelion gone to seed. Our children are in mourning for what they will not do, even before they haven't done it. Summer camps, festivals, fairs, vacations, gatherings...all of these remain uncertain at best. If they do not happen, there will be no replacing them, no making up for them, no waiting on next year for them. Whatever might happen where they are concerned in future summers, they are, for this summer, lost. And those losses must be acknowledged and grieved and allowed to count.

I am also not being so foolhardy as to think there will not be some realities that will unfold that will create memories we'd just as soon forget.

But when I look back on nearly two decades' worth of "my favorite memory" tellings around the late-summer supper table, I see pieces of what can still be..what we'll want to have been.

Lazy naps on porch swings.
Ice cream runs. (Many.)
Family movie nights with the summer breeze blowing in open windows.
Sparklers on the lawn.
S'mores. (Remember: if you only eat one, it's just a "some." Don't settle for some.)
Camping (backyard or beyond).
Late-night laughter.
Late mornings.
Bike rides.

Sometime in August, God hear my prayer, my little family will gather around our kitchen table or out on our enclosed front porch with all the screened windows open (like outdoors, but without the bugs) or back at the picnic table by our barn (outdoors, with the bugs), and I'll make my annual momnouncement: "Okay, let's go around and share our favorite memories from this summer!"

And (God hear my prayer here, too), I know what my people will say: that for all they might have missed, they've hit the things they love most, again and again.

April 25, 2020

When the Show Doesn't Go On

Oh, band, orchestra, choir, theater, and dance students, we are so sorry. 

The show, they say, must go on. But for many of you—especially for the members of the class of 2020 and your families and fans—it hasn’t.

We see your instruments parked in corners, your concert black dresses and tuxes hanging in the closet, your tap shoes silent for the moment, your highlighted scripts unopened.

That solo you finally won, that coveted role you finally landed, that tricky step you finally mastered, that impossible note you finally hit...

We can understand how all these might feel stuck inside you. And we, the literal and symbolic members of an audience that would have filled a now-empty auditorium, are so sorry. Our hearts break for you. 

And yet our hearts also hope for you. They hope, because we know your life show will go on. 

It may go on on a different stage, but somewhere, somehow, you will make an entrance. You will sing your songs and play your notes and dance your dances and deliver your lines. You will take a bow, a curtain will close, and your audience will rise to its feet and applaud. 

And when we cry, "Encore! Encore!" you will reach down and play, sing, speak, and dance the strength, grace, perseverance, and determination you are tuning right this minute. You will give that encore to us. And more importantly, you will give it to yourself.