parenting advice
from a 24-year-old son

A few weeks ago, I called my son Jack for advice.

I’d been invited to California to speak to parents of teenagers, and I was just starting to think about what I could say that might actually be of practical use, especially to parents whose kids are giving them cause to worry. It occurred to me that the best person to consult was my own son, whose challenging adolescence is still fresh and raw in my memory.  (I imagine it’s pretty vivid in his memory as well.)

At twenty-four, Jack is sober, self-sufficient, and making a difference in the world.  Working full-time as a mentor in a residential treatment center for troubled teenaged girls, he’s been able to transform his own youthful experiences with addiction and recovery into a gift to others who are struggling.  Had he not walked this walk himself, he couldn’t extend his hand so whole-heartedly to the young people in his care now. He’s received extensive training on the job, first during a year-long stint as wilderness-therapy counselor and, for the last seven months, as a team member at this therapeutic facility in North Carolina.

But I think he’d  agree that his effectiveness at work is as much a product of his own first-hand knowledge as it is a result of his training.  In fact, it’s both, in combination with his innate curiosity, his sense of humor, his gift for listening deeply, and his calm demeanor, even when things get tense and crazy.  Jack isn’t attached to being right and he doesn’t get flustered, the way we parents so often do. Yet when he speaks of the young women with whom he works, I hear the pride in his voice, especially as he describes moments of growth and change and healing.  I couldn’t be prouder of him.

And as it turned out, Jack really was the perfect person for me to call.  “I figured you might have some thoughts about how parents can stay connected to their teenagers,” I said.  “I do,” he replied.  “Every single girl I work with has some kind of conflict with her parents. I think about these kinds of things all the time.” [continue…]

joy, tempered

img_1303I’ve just flicked on the white Christmas lights – there are bright, tiny twinkles on the porch, on the tree, around the fireplace. Earlier, I ran some errands in town and bought groceries at the store where the guys behind the counter know every customer by name. I stopped in at the local bookstore to sign a few copies of my book for special orders. Back home, I filled the birdfeeder and stood outside for awhile, watching the sky change color and waiting for the hungry chickadees to come close. I sat in the kitchen with a cup of tea and ordered a couple of final gifts. The day flew by. It was good, full of reminders of what I love about our life  in this small New England town. And now dusk is falling, along with the temperature; by tomorrow morning it’s predicted to be below zero. Our son Jack, home for this week, is off playing basketball with a friend. My husband is still at work. And there is time, just enough time, to write a few words before I have to start making dinner.

Usually I would relish this moment – a brief pause in the midst of life to gather some thoughts about the meaning of the living. And yet, I’ve been hesitant to write lately. [continue…]

choosing love over fear

img_1151-1“The world is violent and mercurial — it will have its way with you. We are saved only by love — love for each other and the love that we pour into the art we feel compelled to share: being a parent; being a writer; being a painter; being a friend. We live in a perpetually burning building, and what we must save from it, all the time, is love.”   ~ Tennesee Williams

I wonder what would happen if we were all to commit ourselves, over these next months, to small gestures of love, healing, and reconciliation? Would the national mood of distrust and divisiveness change for the better?

What would happen if we took our cues from the graceful, forceful words spoken yesterday by Hillary Clinton and President Obama, and by the President-elect as well, all of whom encouraged  Americans to come together now, and to do whatever we can, wherever we are, to repair our torn social fabric?

What would happen if those of us who grieved the results of this election chose today, and in the days ahead, to transform that grief into renewed determination — determination to create a kinder, safer, more tolerant country, one in which to be a citizen means to uphold our deepest national values of freedom and dignity and respect for all Americans?

What if we were to stake out this small territory as our first patch of common ground: a respect for our imperfect yet precious democracy, manifested by an insistence, from both sides, that the President-elect    start making good, right now, on his election-eve promise to reunite the country?  [continue…]

happy reports

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The other morning, I snapped the leash onto Tess’s collar and headed out for a walk. We followed our old route, down the hill from our house, onto the bike path toward town, and home again. Nothing too ambitious, yet this was the first time in two years I’ve taken this particular four-mile walk without feeling pain. It was also the first time since having both of my hips replaced last winter that I felt confident enough in my new hardware, and in my healing, to risk having Tess lunge unexpectedly or pull me off balance. I’m strong enough now to hold onto her, strong enough to hike back up the hill without pausing to catch my breath, strong enough to do the whole loop in under an hour. And so it is that a daily ritual I once took for granted has been transformed into an experience that feels special, one I’m grateful for.

IMG_8921So much of what I’ve struggled with, and written about, over the last couple of years has had to do with loss and grief, what Jack Kornfield so evocatively calls “the storm clouds of the heart.” Sitting alone in a quiet room, finding words that both pay homage to the richness of human experience while also acknowledging how vulnerable I often feel in the face of that experience, has given me a way to come to terms with some of the inevitable challenges of growing older — the illnesses and deaths of dear friends, concern for the struggles of a young adult son, life chapters ending, intimate relationships transforming, elderly parents facing their mortality, a body that’s showing the wear and tear of nearly six decades of hard use.

I’ve sometimes wondered whether “ordinary days” would ever return. Or if in fact the best days were behind me now and my own “ordinary” would forever more be tinged with sadness, a kind of constant, chronic, low-grade grief, like the slight limp I’m learning to live with as result of having one leg that ended up being an eighth of an inch longer than the other.

The answer, it turns out, is no. [continue…]

expectations

IMG_8239Before we can change anything in our life, we have to recognize that this is the way it is meant to be right now. For me, acceptance has become what I call the long sigh of the soul. It’s the closed eyes in prayer, perhaps even the quiet tears. It’s “all right,” as in “All right, You lead, I’ll follow.” And it’s “all right” as in “Everything is going to turn out all right.” This is simply part of the journey.
Sarah Ban Breathnach, from Simple Abundance

I was pretty confident I would be a kind of poster child for hip replacement recovery. I’m relatively young, not overweight, in decent shape for someone who’s been slowed down by advancing osteoarthritis for two years. In all that time, despite encroaching pain, I did my best to keep exercising. I continued my daily yoga practice, albeit a modified practice using blocks and a chair and bolsters. I waited a full year to see a highly recommended surgeon at one of the country’s best orthopedic hospitals. I scheduled my surgeries for 6 weeks apart at the end of 2105, so I could begin the new year with two new hips.

And I figured that if I followed instructions to the letter, did my physical therapy religiously, and didn’t push too far or too fast, I’d soon resume my old, normal life. Some people had warned, “This is major surgery.” But others said, “It’s no big deal.” Those were the ones I chose to believe. I was nervous, of course. But this had already been a long road. (I wrote about that here.) And within a few days of my second surgery, I had myself convinced I would negotiate this little patch of rough ground easily and soon be back on course with my life.

Yes, that’s called an “expectation.” And you’d think I’d know by now that getting attached to an expectation is a good recipe for disappointment. [continue…]