Words to Kori Jane about Junior Year

You are 16.  A high school junior.  In fact, you have just started the second semester of your junior year.  We were warned that junior year would be brutal, and that right about now you would be ready to throw in the towel.   You are no doubt just as sleep deprived, over committed, under nourished and overwhelmed as all of your other high school junior friends.  A typical day for you begins at 6:00 AM when you rush off to Chi-Fil-A for an early morning study session before the first bell even rings.  Between classes you continue cramming for an upcoming quiz, or you are busy responding to the never ending stream of texts, emails and social media messages from family, friends and teachers alike.  During lunch you head to the school theater where you either have student directing responsibilities or you are busy rehearsing for an upcoming performance. I hope that you usually find time to swallow a few bites of the lunch I pack for you.  For years I made you pack your own lunch or you’d have to eat from the school cafeteria, but that was before the demands of high school consumed your every waking hour. Nowadays I have no concerns about you not having enough responsibilities, and instead I now worry that you have too many.  I also worry that you are not eating or sleeping enough, nor are you able to really take enough time to think about who you are or what life is all about. The least I can do is throw some food in a bag in hopes that you get enough calories to make it through another day. After school you almost always have additional school commitments- making up a test, a club meeting or most often another theatre commitment.  Once you finally get home you will only take a break from homework long enough to join your family for dinner, however the days of you leading our dinner games or our long heated dinner debates have been replaced by your desperate pleas to be excused within minutes of taking your first bite. While I’ve no doubt that you love your family dearly, you simply have little time to invest in meaningful relationships just as there is just no time for you to invest in your favorite interests and hobbies- no more craft projects for me to clean up, no jewelry making, poetry or short story writing,no reading for pleasure, no more political and ethical debates or family game nights, and no more kitchens covered in flour and eggs from Kori’s gourmet cooking and baking night after night.   And the only singing I regularly hear coming from your room is your stressed out attempts to hit the notes that might guarantee you a role in the next school musical. Afterall, everything depends on being cast and the competition is brutal. I’m not sure when high school extra curricular activities became more intense than most full time adult careers, but here we are. Sometimes I wonder if I am seeing your lifelong theatre passion dissolve into nothing more than overwhelming theatre pressure. Most of your theatre friends have been in private voice lessons, dance classes and have acting coaches on top of their daily tutoring, sessions with their college consultants, and test prep classes. I wonder how other families manage the price tags and time commitments involved, but perhaps the outside help they receive somehow lessens the stress and pressure they are under.  Being that I was a first generation college graduate that started at the local community college, I still struggle to understand everything that goes into college planning and admissions. We’ve dabbled some in SAT Prep and voice lessons for you this year, but I have yet to understand the value they have added to your already stressed out schedule.  

On a good night you will hand me your phone by 11:00, and turn out lights within the hour.  I know you hate turning in your phone each night, but I am so thankful that you are forced to disconnect- even if only for 6 or 7 hours while you attempt to get some good sleep.   Sometimes I wish someone would make me turn in my phone at the end of the day so that I too would disconnect from the onslaught of social media posts displaying your friend’s college visits or college acceptances, the school district texts and emails about the endless upcoming events and reminders, the news stories and blogs that tell me stress and busyness is the key to success, and the online shopping and brainless entertainment that allows my mind to disengage from the stress and pressure of the day. 

Of course while just laying there in your bed trying to doze off you are likely worrying about GPAs, SAT scores, what to wear to an audition or school dance, college applications, future careers and of course cast lists.    A day in the life of a high school junior in 2020 is NUTS!

I realize that I am painting a rather depressing picture of your life, when in reality you are anything but depressed.  You are truly thankful for your quirky family and your large but close knit group of friends. You recognize and regularly express gratitude for the abundant comforts and opportunities you have been given both in and out of school, and you find a deep abiding joy in your faith- even in the day to day chaos.

But today, in the midst of the chaos I noticed something (or someone rather) that woke me from this junior year trance that we are stuck in.  I saw something that took me back to memories of my own high school worries and chaos. Worries about getting a job at 16 to help my parents pay the mortgage, and worries about whether or not Dad would show up sober while often hoping he would not show up at all.  Today I was also flooded with memories of the stories my own mother told me about the worries and chaos of her high school years. Worries not about what she would eat, but rather if she would eat. Worries about whether her family would be relocating forcing her to be the new kid once again, and worries about how she could avoid any one noticing that she was wearing the same outfit for the third time that week.  Then I remembered her brutal junior year when she found herself pregnant and forced to actually throw in the towel, no matter how much she longed for a brighter future.      

Kori, this morning we slept through our alarms, or perhaps in the rush of getting to bed the alarm was never set.  Either way, we woke you up with only minutes to spare, so instead of packing your lunches I rushed around helping to get you and your brother out the door.   As you ran to the car with me chasing after with water bottles, I promised to bring you both lunches to school later in the day.  

In an attempt to supplement the fast food in your diet, I  boiled some eggs, sliced a perfectly ripe avocado and a juicy green pear, and toasted a grilled cheese.   Avocado still green and sandwich still warm, I walked into your high school expecting you to be waiting at the table just next to the front doors like you often are on the days I deliver lunch.  But it was not you sitting at that table. Instead it was a timid (dare I say petrified) looking girl sitting alone picking at her school lunch tray. Due to overcrowding in the cafeteria, students often seek refuge in other corners of the school including the front lobby.  In fact on this muggy January Houston day, the other tables and benches in the lobby were overflowing with groups of students laughing, talking and eating together. I could not help but notice her, and wonder why she was alone and what her story was. As I waited for you, I tried to catch her eyes so I could smile or even say hello but she was determined not to draw any attention in her direction.  There was something tragic about the look in her eyes as she stared at the half eaten chili dog and orange slices on her white styrofoam tray. Something about that look in her eyes caused me pain and made me wonder what her story was. Was it much like my story? Or maybe it was like my mom’s story? Was she new to the school, or had she just not found a place to belong? Would this be her only meal today?  Was she scared to go home or maybe was without a way to get home or even without a home to go to? I tend to think that she was not worried about cast lists or test scores. I wanted to ask her, to tell her that life would not always be the way it is today. I wanted to tell her that junior year will eventually end- that high school is really not the end of our story- that in fact it is barely the beginning.  

And when you had still not shown up to collect your lunch after several minutes, I decided to move a little closer to her table in hopes that our eyes just might meet.  I realized that some old lady’s attempt to cheer her up might be even more humiliating than allowing her to sit alone in silence trying to be invisible. So then I just started hoping that you might notice her when you finally showed up to gather your lunch.  I hoped you might notice her and share a smile or even a brief conversation.

But alas you rushed into the lobby, out of breath from running all the way from the theatre.  You smiled at me with your genuine grateful smile, and profusely thanked me for bringing you lunch.  You were there just long enough to inform me that you were in between practicing scenes and needed to get back to work, but not without first telling me that you loved me.  I love you too Kori- more than you will ever be able to comprehend.  

I hope someone loves that girl the way I love you.  I hope that she finds a place to belong. I hope that she will look up from her tray long enough to notice that there is more to life than whatever she is walking through right now.  This is still only the beginning of her story.

And I hope you know how much I love you.  I hope that you will forever remain thankful for the comforts and opportunities you have that are not common to all of us.  I hope that you will be the one to help others find their place of belonging. And I hope you will look up from your busyness once in a while and notice that there is so much more to life than whatever you are walking through right now.   

It is tempting to believe that life begins and ends in high school- that cast lists and score reports, college acceptances and event invitations determine not only our happiness today but our future success. Rest assured that junior year will end.  Life will not always be the way it is today. High school is not the end of your story, nor does it really determine what tomorrow holds. And as CS Lewis once said “there are far far greater things ahead than any we leave behind.” Believe that, live it and share it with the stressed, the hopeless, the hurting, the broken and the lonely all around you.    Lord knows that I am forever changed because someone looked up long enough to notice a floundering, lost high school girl, and because of that I found hope and a place to belong for all of eternity.

Love,

Mom

Words to Lacey about Teenagers

About six weeks ago you turned nine years old!  Almost double digits!  For months I had been planning to sit down on the 30th of September and write you a lovely birthday letter about how precious and unique God has made you.  I even started it at one point but never got past the second paragraph.   This should not come as a huge surprise to you since all nine years of your life you’ve gotten the leftovers and hand-me-downs, and you learned early on that it is up to you to keep up and make yourself heard!  So is the life of the baby of the family- especially an eccentric, creative, busy family such as ours.  Thankfully you have no problem keeping up or being heard.   

So here I am writing some words to you on Thanksgiving Day which also happens to be the week of your sister Hallie’s birthday- it is not at all the words I have been composing for you in my mind the last several months when lying in bed at night.  It is not the words that I have prayed for you over and over, nor is it the things I’ve treasured about you in my heart that my mind has not yet found words to express. 

Nope- sorry to have to tell you this, but it is a word about your siblings- Kori Jane age 16, Cade age 14, and Hallie who turned 13 this week!  And now that Hallie is a teenager, we are on our own kid.   There are now officially three teenagers sharing a roof with us.    That means we are surrounded!  Surrounded by a swirl of activities and events, football games, school dances, parties, friends, extra loads of laundry, theatre rehearsals, SAT prep, tutoring, and mountains of homework.  We are surrounded by competing sounds from various technological devices- tic tocks, youtube videos and Netflix shows- as well as the sounds of moods swinging, feet stomping, doors slamming and music blaring.   In many ways it is very similar to having a house full of toddlers except the smells and sounds have changed dramatically.  The music is much more tolerable for one, but the parenting hours are actually much expanded.  They do have a bedtime, but it’s more of a goal and not a rule which means that the last words I speak before I climb into my own bed are often- “go to bed.”  And the first words I speak are “get up- you are late!”  There are the sleepless nights too, however it is not due to teething, croup, a wet pullup or a monster under the bed, rather it is due to wishing you could mend a freshly broken heart, wondering if they are safe at that new friend’s house (while tracking them on their phone), knowing they will make mistakes but hoping it’s not a mistake of the lifechanging sort, and praying that they know how much you love them even though that very day you spoke a plethora of words you wish you could take back.

I know that being a kid surrounded by teenagers is not always easy although you must admit it has its perks!  Like the fact that Kori was not allowed to watch SpongeBob until she was 7 years old, but it was your favorite show at the age of 7 months!  And maybe you are exposed to more colorful language than I’d like with so many of your sibling’s friends coming and going, but how many kids get to have a bunch of teenagers dressed up like the Descendants show up to their birthday party.   So, you’ve never been to the weekly library story time (or been to a library at all for that matter) and you were not in dance, gymnastics, soccer and t-ball by the age of 3.  You have however always had someone to teach you how to do a cartwheel, read you a book, kick the soccer ball around the yard, play pretend with you, go on a bike ride or snuggle up with a movie.

One thing that has not been easy for you recently is that there are a growing number of times that you feel alone in our house which is always full of activity and people.   A growing number of times when you realize that being the baby is no longer enough to guarantee the attention and affection of your older siblings.  I distinctly remember a couple years back on your brother’s 13th birthday when you burst into tears at the realization that he was now a teenager.  One teenager was more than enough for you after watching Kori and her entire world grow and change.  Your exact words were, “he’s never going to be home anymore, and he won’t ever want to play with me.”    We tried to explain to you that your oldest sister has always been ready for the next adventure, and even as a child was always on the go.  As she was growing up and becoming more independent, being on the go meant being busy with friends and activities more often because she had more freedom to do so.  We assured you that while Cade was most certainly growing and changing, we doubted very seriously if your introverted brother would suddenly cease to be a homebody.  But still there were and are changes happening in your brother- his body is clearly changing, his voice is changing, his interests and moods are changing and there are certainly an increasing number of times that his bedroom door is closed and he is not ready and willing to drop everything to play with his sisters. 

The reality is that there are physical changes, chemical changes and emotional changes going on inside of all three of these complicated beings called teenagers that live in your house.  And believe it or not these changes are even harder on them than they are on you!     So, I have a few words to share with you sweet Lacey as our home is now being overtaken by teenagers.  Afterall, I have a feeling that we are both going to need each other to survive!

Have grace on them!  There are a ton of changes happening that we can see, hear and smell- we can easily observe them growing taller, stinkier and hairier all the time!  But these are nothing compared to the changes we can’t see.   Think about the happy caterpillar who is content to explore the safety of his little butterfly weed, happily eating aphids and leaves day after day while never once thinking about the world beyond.  That’s what its like being a kid content to explore the tiny world that has been set before you, and never bothering to question what lies beyond the safety and security of the home where you were born.  Then suddenly everything changes- the caterpillar finds itself in the most awkward and uncomfortable of circumstances- suddenly trapped in a cocoon and completely out of control, going through miraculous changes both internally and externally, having no clue what lies ahead or what they will be, and finally realizing that the world is much bigger than they had ever fathomed.  As much as you want to spend all your days on milkweed journeys with your siblings, they are no longer caterpillars.  It is not that they do not love us or the homes where they were born.  It is just that they are in that awkward and uncomfortable stage of life- a stage where they are rapidly changing, constantly feeling out of control, starting to realize how big the world is and wondering what they will be when they finally spread their wings.  True they are no longer caterpillars, but they are not quite butterfly’s yet either.  And just as we see Kori Jane fighting to emerge from her cocoon and open her beautiful wings – we see Hallie at the beginning of her transition.     I know it is hard to not take it personally when they appear to be ignoring us all locked away in their cocoons, or when they suddenly seem more interested in the world and the people beyond our cozy little milkweed plant.  It’s hard not to get angry and annoyed when they respond to us in unexpected, unusual or unkind ways.  And it’s hard not to be confused when they suddenly begin to question and contradict all the things that you continue to cling to with childlike faith.   But they will not always make you so sad, angry, annoyed and confused, and I promise you that they still need us more than they realize and love us more than they show. So have grace on them Lacey-lots and lots of grace!    

They’ll be gone before we are ready! Your nine-year-old brain can’t yet fathom how quickly years fly by.  Your nine-year-old brain is not thinking about the world outside our milkweed home, or where butterfly’s go when their wings are fully formed and strong enough to fly.   My 40 something brain is actually still struggling to fathom that in less than two years’ time the first of my babies will be taking flight.    I still remember with clarity the day each of you were born.  Kori Jane’s appearance into this world is one of only a few times I’ve seen tears in your Daddy’s eyes.  When Cade was born, I immediately fell in love with that cone-head even as Daddy whispered in my ear “you just gave birth to an alien.”   Hallie made her arrival 13 Thanksgivings ago and took us all by surprise when she came out a girl.   And Lacey, the looks on your siblings faces the first time they laid eyes on you will be forever etched in my memory.  It seems like only yesterday that you stole their hearts in a moment but in reality, that was nine years ago.  Yet in nine more years you will be the one spreading your wings and taking flight.  So let’s make the most of the years to come as together we treasure each moment- even the stinky, confusing, and frustrating ones- knowing that all of the moments are fleeting.

You’ll be a teenager before I am ready!  And as much as I’d like to believe that my sweet little Lacey Bug will never need deodorant, wear a bra, take drivers ed or the SAT, be embarrassed by her mom or roll her eyes in disgust at Daddy’s rules, the reality is that you will be one of those alien teenagers long before I am ready.   Before we know it, you will begin growing wings of your own.  You will feel awkward and out of control and you will need grace- lots and lots of grace. Ideally, we will have made most of our parenting mistakes on your siblings, but realistically we will just be too tired to reinforce all the same rules.  I just hope when that time comes that you will remember that you need me more than you know, and that I love you more than you can possibly imagine.

Don’t forget to have grace on me!  If you think that having teenage siblings is hard, just wait until you have teenage children.  You feel things you have never felt before- you hurt in ways you have never hurt and experience a deep joy you never knew possible.  Some days you want to kill them and the very next day you are begging God to keep them alive.   You helplessly watch them learn things the hard way and fight the urge to help them struggle out of the cocoon.  You find yourself saying and doing all the things you swore you’d never say or do when you became a mom.   And then you wish you could take half those things you have said or done back.  It’s hard and the very hardest part is yet to come.  So have grace on me Lacey as I watch your siblings learn to fly.  Have grace on me when they start flying away and have grace on me when I’m not quite ready to let you spread your own wings and fly away one day. 

I love you Lacey!

Mommy