Monday, July 27, 2015

The Child Inside

As my son enters his junior year of high school, I am regularly reminded that he will soon be launching from our everyday lives into a more independent, autonomous incarnation.  This summer has been chock full of milestones: he got his drivers license, his first part-time job, and braces within a two-week span. His height and hairiness alone are constant reminders that a man-child occupies the bedroom down the hall. My son would like me to focus on the "Man" part of his identity (I.e., provide him with unlimited driving privileges and throw my support behind 17-hour video game marathons), and I have found myself praising his use of mature logic and a burgeoning understanding  of consequences of his behavior. (When a recent all-night gaming session was followed by 6 hours of herding grocery carts in 90 degree heat, my son assured me he "wouldn't be doing that again anytime soon.") Noting that the browser history on his iPad included "college scholarships" and "saving for a car", I feared my son's childish goofiness was being replaced too soon by a grown-up seriousness, a focus on planning his future.


And then last weekend happened. My wife, son and I met up with my best friend, Monica, and her daughter at the mall to shop for wedding attire for Monica's upcoming nuptials. I overheard the kids kvetching about how long it would talk them to save money for a car of their own, and compared experiences with rubber bands and braces. Listening to them, I was again reminded of the swiftness of time, of how quickly our children go from holding our hands in crowded stores to rolling their eyes at our fashion suggestions. But in the midst of my melancholic musings, Riley and Courtney decided to pretend the escalator was an opportunity to show off "surfing poses." (Mind you, we live in the Midwest--neither child has seen a SURFBOARD in real life, much less ridden a wave). They challenged each other to surreptitiously take candid photos of fellow shoppers, and they imitated the awkward contortions of store mannequins. Courtney teased Riley about his penchant for eyebrow waxing, and he blushed crimson when we busted him checking out a young lady exiting a dressing room.  We laughed all afternoon at our kids'  sarcastic jokes and goofy attempts to get me to try on outfits 20 years too young for me. Their playfulness reminded me that our childlike "parts" are never fully buried. No matter how old they -- or I -- become, the silliness, energy and lack of self-consciousness that speak of childhood is still available to us. If we can notice and celebrate the "child" in our growing children as a gift they never need to fully leave behind, we impart the lesson that adult-ness is not the "end-game" of living. And by keeping alive the child within US, we can ensure that playful connection with our kids and our world is but a decision away. Next time I encounter an escalator, watch out, because I call "SURF'S UP!"

Monday, July 20, 2015

Expecting the Best

A healer and energy therapist, Carol Tuttle challenges us to assume the BEST. Of ourselves, our circumstances, the motivations of others. That simple shift opens us to possibilities that anxiety, fear and negativity can never provide. When I invite a calm, productive day to unfold before me, I am much more likely to notice glimmers of grace: an effortless drive into the office, a blue jay perched in a tree above me on my morning walk, a Facebook shout-out from an old friend. Even when obstacles creep into my awareness, my expectation for positive happenings somehow cushion me from their sharp corners. I used to consider "looking on the bright side" to be naive, a Pollyanna-ish approach to a complex, sometimes scary world. But, as Tuttle suggests, if we assume the Universe is moving more and more towards operating on a higher energy level than ever before (I.e., more rapid medical and technological advances than in past centuries combined, longer human life spans, more people adopting lifestyles conducive to spiritual wellness), we can more genuinely embrace the belief that goodness and plenty ARE boundless. My capacity to love, to invest more deeply in my work and my relationships, even my physical activity levels are expanded when I turn my focus from what is broken, scary, and stuck to an expectant invitation to all that is lovely and nourishing and forward-moving to enter my awareness. No, I haven't forgotten that pain and trauma and loss and injustice exist around the globe, even around the corner. (I AM a social worker, after all!). But, time after time, I find that looking for the good, even inviting and EXPECTING its arrival, is a practice with no negative cost. Why wouldn't I choose to delight in my dogs' cute wiggling behinds as they chase each other in the yard, or flood my senses with the comforting smell and feel of my son's hair fresh from the shower? A driving teacher in high school, of all people, was a wise philosopher of sorts when he warned me, "You'll STEER at whatever you STARE at." In the past, I could easily drive myself into the chaos of depression, hopelessness and fear. But today, I'm choosing to steer toward joy.

Monday, July 6, 2015

"For Life and Death Are One" -- Khalil Gibran

I attended two memorial services over the weekend. Jim, a friend from church, died after a long illness, and my high school friend's mother, Marilyn, passed unexpectedly. Both of these beloved people were past 80, although their lengthy lives don't alter the grief of their family and friends. As I connected with old friends, church members, and family members of those who had passed, we shared stories about our loved ones. We laughed at old tales from our childhood, joked about church politics, teased one another about graying hair or faulty knee joints.

As the sharing went on, our memories of Julie's mom, of Jim's decades-long commitment to the church, gave way to queries about each others' kids: had they started college visits? who was anxious about the ACT? which parents would be delighting in their empty nest, and which would be caught off guard by sorrow? We provided updates about our own aging parents, fussed over Jim's widow and children. We pencilled in coffee dates that were long overdue. We updated cell numbers and email addresses, traded names of tutors for reliable referrals to orthodontists. Even in the midst of our breaking hearts, we couldn't resist attending to the daily tasks of living. As we wept, we were aware of the breath catching in the person beside us, could hear the signs of the mourner behind us. I realized that, as much as I tried to wrap my mind around the reality that I would not share space again with Jim or Marilyn in this incarnation, my heart was filled with love for the people around me, my mind with plans for the future. I was aware of a knee-jerk guilt for not mourning "more" for the souls who wouldn't be here for the next holiday, the missed hugs and family portraits. But equally present was the sense that, even in grief, our instinct needn't be to STOP living, but to look FORWARD. Despite the holes in our hearts, the space our loved one's one leave that will be forever gaping in our lives, we can choose to move ahead, to embrace one another, to honor those who are gone by loving and living with all that we have. Perhaps that's the truest, most honest memorial of them all.