growing pains

Earlier this week Tess lost another tooth.
And there is something about gaps in my kid’s smile that tug at my heart.  A gap that will be filled with a tooth slightly too big for their five year old face. Adult teeth look so funny on a little kid and it takes years to grow into them. When I say Tess lost her tooth, I do not mean she wiggled it out and tucked it snugly beneath her pillow for the tooth fairy to trade out with a dollar bill. I mean she lost it at the bottom of the swimming pool.  She was excited about the tooth, but sad that she had nothing to show for it. I assured her that the tooth fairy would be just as happy to take a drawing of her tooth. That the exchange rate for real and drawn teeth were exactly the same.  She was not so sure and drew 3 teeth just in case. Or was possibly hoping for 3X the payout.

I remember snooping through my parents drawers as a kid and finding a few baby teeth. These baby teeth both fascinated and disgusted me. Even more gross than holding on to baby teeth, I had a friend growing up whose mother saved her umbilical cord after it fell off.  Those cords are smelly and scabby and I couldn’t wait for my own babies to lose theirs and have it replaced with a perfect little outie belly button. I do, however, understand the concept of holding on to things that should have long been let go.
Like baby teeth and things that tether us, we are meant to lose them so that we can grow. 
New teeth and new ties.

Like my daughter, I love to grow but I struggle to let go. 
She asks me at least once a week to measure her against the door frame. In the summer I read almost a book a day. My brain grows, but mysteriously my pants seem to shrink.
Sometimes at night my daughter wakes up crying and saying that her legs hurt. I rub them, beg her to get back to sleep and just tell her that she must be growing.
And that sometimes growing hurts.

The summer is coming to an end and I am finally getting around to cleaning out closets. The shorts and swimsuits my kids have worn this season will not fit again next summer so I add them to the give away pile. My son hardly notices, but Tess pulls out some of her favorite items saying that she loves the dress with the horses on it and that I can NOT give away her favorite dress. I tell her that the only way she can wear that dress now is as a shirt.  Sometimes growing means letting go of the things that used to fit you. But don’t anymore. As far as I know I have never woken up with aching legs. The only kind of growing pains I remember starred Kirk Cameron, but I know the kind that feel more like an ache in your chest. Or a fear so big you have to remind yourself to breathe.

I cleaned out my own closet this week as well and it is the same but for different reasons. Things that used to fit. But don’t. And sometimes even coming to terms with the fact that I will likely never ever fit into those jeans again and it is time to let them go. And of course it isn’t just my pants. There are people and habits that don’t fit anymore that I have held on to for far too long. Things I keep holding on to because they are easy and comfortable and I somehow convinced myself that it was a part of me. That these less than flattering traits were just who I am.  Not something I need to yank out and toss.  Partly because I don't have the patience to work at it or I worry a bit about the gap that they will leave. Habits and unhealthy relationships, like teeth are rarely easily lost. My daughter has wiggled and worked that tooth for weeks now until it was so loose she didn’t even notice when it finally slipped out and fell to the bottom of the pool. 
Like my daughter’s baby teeth. And her aching legs. 
Growth sometimes hurts, takes work and can leave a bit of an empty space until something more mature takes its place.

I am reminded how quickly she grows when I see a gap in her smile. Or pants that suddenly look more like capris. Or even when I am woken up at 2 am to rub her legs. Again.
And it will remind me to do the same.
To lose something.
To do the work.
To let go. 
To clean out more than just my closet.

Now, if only I could get someone to leave money under my pillows….

(This is my favorite band of the moment. listen. love.)


It is July, which means an inevitable camp post. I can close my eyes and hear the Loma Linda screen doors slam.  I can smell the river water mixed with vinegar ear drops.  I can feel the cut of the grate of the catwalk on my bare feet and the uncomfortable way the sheet always slips off in the night and you wake up stuck to your mattress.  These days I am way too old for camp but apparently it has found some way to infiltrate all my senses and my heart. Permanently.

I could not wait to send my kids.

I want him to have the same crazy memories and nicknames and stories about scraped knees, bathing suits ripped on the rapids, raccoons eating contraband snacks but mostly feeling like the summer was mine.  For three weeks in July I left my parent’s world behind for an unairconditioned dorm, sub par food and not nearly enough showers for the number of girls who needed them. In return I had thirty new roommates, inside jokes, new tan lines, a fully packed caboodle and a sense of who I was on my own.  Even more memorable than my summers spent as a camper were the ones where I donned a staff shirt.  All the fun of camp, except this time I got nights off, to ride the truck up the hill and break into the dining hall when I needed a midnight snack. 

Those summers drained me the way only loving well can.  I took my job seriously. Sort of.  I mean I loved my campers and didn’t want any of them to sneak out, get hurt or do anything illegal.  Mostly my goal was to show them a good time. To throw dance parties in the alcove, to ambush other dorms with water guns and toilet paper. To run things that didn’t quite belong up the flag pole and occasionally share my heart in the circle of girls at devotionals that almost ended with someone playing a song and no less than a half a dozen girls in Micheal W. Smith tears. As I grew a little older, I focused just a more on the heart than the fun.  I shared my doubts and my faith and loved them as best I could….and then I turned the lobby into a slip and slide or helped short sheet someone’s bed.  

Maturity has never been my biggest attribute.

This past week, I drug my own footlocker out of the attic. Emptied it of all the mixed tapes, letters and beanie babies and started filling it with athletic shorts, t-shirts and swimsuits.  I had fought with my husband for years to send my son to camp and he finally caved. Just one week at a camp relatively close by.  My husband worried about his asthma, his swimming abilities, his introvertedness, how small he is and I just worried that he might never change into any of these clean pairs of tiny little boxers I was folding neatly into his trunk.

Yesterday we drove east to drop him off.  Counselors were ready, cheering and welcoming at the gates. My son was nervous in the back seat. Tess spied and horse and immediately starting asking if she could stay too.

And suddenly it got real.

We unloaded his footlocker. Dropped off packages and inhalers and nailed the swim test. It was like some scene from Lord of the Flies. Boys were flying on giant swings, playing gaga ball, putt putt and basketball.  The parking lot was clearing out, Owen wanted to try out the swing and it was clearly getting time for anyone over the age of 21 to disappear.  And suddenly my memories of being a camper and a counselor were drowned out by the fact that now I am a mom.  The girl who helped us unload our footlocker told Owen his counselor’s name was Mullet.  I spied him on the basketball court and very uncooly interrupted the game to introduce my son. I quickly mentioned his inhaler and that it was his first time here.What I really wanted to say was..... This is my son.  My kid. Guard him. Protect him. He might get scared at night. Don’t let the other kids tease him. He is sometimes hesitant to try new things, but if you are patient and push him a little he will do it.  He is funny and smart but if he has been in the grass he will need to take a shower at night or he won’t be able to breathe.  Like him.  Pretend to be interested in Pokeman. Compliment him. Laugh at his jokes even when they don’t make sense. Remind him to brush his teeth and please please just keep him alive until Saturday.

But I didn’t say those things. I hugged him hard. (my son, not his counselor) and walked back to the car and drove the two hours back home in an unusual quiet convincing myself that Mullet sounded like a perfectly responsible name.

About midnight I was wishing for a full bottle of Xanex. And I am not usually an anxious girl. But I pictured all kind of horrible scenarios. I prayed and hoped he was having an amazing time because I was not sure I’d survive the week.  And if you know me that is crazy talk. I usually don’t worry ENOUGH about my kids, I hardly recognized this girl tossing and turning all night.  I wondered if parents of my campers had felt the same way when they dropped off their kids.

I thought about the difference I suddenly saw in my students when my son finally went to kindergarten.  You see, I love what I do and my content and take it seriously. I want to teach well.  But, when I packed my sons lunch that first day and sent him on his way I prayed mostly for a teacher who would like him, love on and encourage him more than what she actually taught him. My job and my students suddenly looked different.

As a counselor I wanted my kids to have a memorable summer. As a teacher I wanted my students to learn my content, but as a mom I want my son safe and loved.

People mostly refer to God as a father. And if you force me to pick a pronoun…I usually even use He, but…In my restless state last night….while praying and wondering if it was too late to take another Tylonal PM I thought that maybe God as a mother might be the more powerful image.

I mean no one ever mentions “Papa Bear”…it is the “Momma Bear” you have to look out for. It is a love that is fierce and protective. The momma bears who send their kids out into the world. To kindergarten, or camp or college and lose sleep worrying if they will have someone to eat lunch with. If they can tie their shoes or if they will remember to separate their lights from their darks when they do laundry.
A constant tension between loving them ferociously and still wanting them to be who they are supposed to be and have their own experiences.  

And it is so hard. My son is only 9.
He is tiny. He has bad asthma. He is afraid of the dark.
I want to keep him close and safe and most of all alive.
But I also want him to fly down ziplines, bellyslide through the mud and take a few trail rides.

I’m not sure how God the father would handle this, probably with a little more sleep than I seemed to be getting.   But I think I have a better picture of God the mother. The mother God, who loves ferociously and protectively and still finds a way to let go. A God who gives choice and experience and lets us become whoever it is we are meant to be. And one who loses sleep and pursues us when we start to become who we shouldn’t.

My son is hopefully making his own memories this week. In all my free time not sleeping, I pray that he finds God the father and God the mother in the woods of East Texas.  And also that he doesn’t lose his inhaler and remembers to change his underwear at least once.

for what it's worth

I woke up the day after my birthday and knew.
For months I’ve been wondering what I need to do next, or what to be when I grow up or what happens now. But that morning, with the smile lines and gray hairs showing through, looking every bit of another year older, I knew. 

So before putting on real clothes I began searching for graduate programs.
Which is a little bit silly because I already have a graduate degree.
But I figured everyone now has a Masters, I might as well have 2.

I applied to one school before my kids even got out of bed. I was looking at signing up for the GRE and trying to pick a program. I texted, emailed, called and made appointments with an advisor.

But it wasn’t really what I was looking for.

The next day, I did a little more research and stumbled upon a program that was more me.
Unfortunately it will take a whole lot longer to complete and people would get to call me doctor if I got in. I applied to my second school in as many days. One I have gotten into before but thought that never in a million years would I actually go to. I tried not to think about how much I was dropping in application fees, I sent more emails and asked more questions and seriously wondered if I had lost my mind.

A few told me that I had, but the ones closest to me where not surprised. They were actually relieved that I was looking into the longer rather than shorter paths.

Getting in wasn’t something I worried about. I have a solid resume and get at least a dozen emails a day asking me to apply to some kind of graduate program or another. I figured anyone would be happy to take my money. Until suddenly the director of my dream program emails me back and lets me know that I would be a perfect candidate, but that she should warn me that it is very competitive. That only 45% or so of applicants get in.
In other words, I better bring my A game.

I send my transcripts. I start filling out my application and asking people to be my references and now I am starting to sweat.

“What if I don’t get in?”

And this is no normal application. It requires several writing samples (which by sample they mean several pages each) with original ideas and the ideas of others. And to be sure to site my sources. I am being graded on grammar and citations.
Grammar! This can not end well for me.

Again, I hear the refrain of “What if I don’t get in?”  play through my head.

I download and read a half dozen books that aren’t my usual summer reading. I start watching keynotes and Ted Talks from experts on topics that I am going to write about.  I spend most of my drive to the beach answering the writing sample questions. I type for hours as my husband drives. Pages and pages of reflection while my son asks over and over “when are we going to get there?”

And when I finish I feel really good. Like I usually do when I get my thoughts out.
I feel like I nailed it and they will be stupid not to let me in and I do not crack open my computer the entire rest of the trip.  I can edit when I get home.

So this is a good time to tell you that I do not edit. I usually give something a quick skim and capitalize a few letters. Maybe even drop a few “to be” verbs if I am feeling extra ambitions and hit publish or send.  I love to write. But that is where I stop. Apparently there is a whole lot of work that goes into editing.  Like weeks worth of work and it is a lot more than just cleaning up some bad grammar and correcting the words that I misspelled.  It is all the extra work that takes something good and makes it better. This is the kind of boring effort that I usually don't put into anything. Not just my writing.

Most of my samples were too long. I was working on word/character limits and I needed to make them fit into the neat 1000 word text boxes that I was provided.  They needed a clear thesis and not just some rant where I actually figure out what I am saying 723 words in. I wrote. And rewrote. I emailed it out to English teachers and I made their suggested corrections. I read more. I scoured blogs and watched keynote addresses.  I had friends help me. I sought out people smarter than me. I deleted. I moved things around.  I even watched a boring youtube video on how to correctly do APA citations. And I struggled. Less with the writing and more with myself. The more I looked at my words the less good I felt about them. The more I started to hear,  “What if I don’t get in?” in my head as I trimmed and cited and rearranged.  The more I put in to this, the more I had to lose.

Yesterday afternoon I finally clicked on submit. 
A little text box popped up asking me if I was sure I was finished. That I would not be able to make any changes.
And I hesitantly clicked OK.

I leaned back into the couch and waited for the huge wave of relief and accomplishment to hit me. The cheesy mom voice telling me that I had given it my best and that should feel good about it. No matter what some review committee decides. 

That feeling never came.
Instead I fought some crazy urge to cry. 
Of laying it all out there. Truly my best efforts and having to wait four months for someone to tell me if it is good enough.
If I am good enough.

I sat there on the couch for a long time. Frozen. Watching really bad TV. Trying to convince myself that this isn’t what it is all about. 

In or Out. 
Yes or No.

My validation is not going to ever come in the form of an acceptance letter.
My worth is not going change if I am rejected.
Even if my best is not good enough that I still am.

And part of me thinks I should just type those last 3 lines over and over until they really sink in.

Three years ago I submitted a piece of writing to be published. The topic was on worth. 
That essay is far too private to ever go here. It is honest and raw and I think some of my best work. At first, the publisher loved it. Raved and said was perfect for the collection.  
In the end it was left out.  Rejected.  And I felt like I had been too.
I haven’t submitted a single thing since then to anyone.

I tell my kids all the time to try their best. That I don’t care if they score or win or make perfect grades. That I care more about their effort and not giving up.  And suddenly I wonder if I have been making that sound too easy. Giving our best at anything or to anyone is incredibly vulnerable.  It takes away all excuses and all layers of protection.  It takes away every single bit of control.  

This morning, I am back on my couch. The books and laptops have been put away and I am left with things like trust. Humility. And a handful of verses on where worth really comes from.  There is still a long time to wait.  My application may be finished, but apparently I still have a lot of things to learn.

ready for battle

My son appeared in the doorway decked out in his uniform and shinguards. His hair flopped in his face and asked, “Dad, who am I battling today?”
Me and my husband both laughed a little and I made a mental note to do a better job of limiting his video game time. 
He looked confused and asked another question, “It is a game right?”
My husband finally responded and said, “I don’t know Owen, I haven’t looked a the schedule yet. And this isn’t Pokemon, just ask who you are playing against.”

He was completely satisfied by this answer, however, I was not going to let a moment for complete cheesiness pass me by. I decided to impart a life lesson on my son which he absolutely did not want.

I told him that he was in fact battling someone today. In that really cute almost too big uniform with socks that went well over his knees.
So again he asked who?
I told him he was battling himself.
He looked at me like I was crazy, which by age nine is a look he has had a lot of time perfecting. I can not imagine what the teenage years have in store for me. I told him that regardless of what team he played against, he was trying to be better than he was the week before. He was battling to try his hardest. Play at his best. Keep going when he was tired and to get back up when he is knocked down. (Which is often). I told him that he can not always control the scoreboard, or the calls, or the opponent, but that he can always do his best to win the battle. 
Even if it means losing the game.

My son is the littlest. 
On his team. 
In his grade.
Of his friends.
He isn’t just little. He is tiny. 
Less than the 2nd percentile for height and weight.
In College Station they have a name for fans who don’t stand up at the game. Who try to leave early when the scoreboard doesn’t look promising. They call these fans two percenters.  For my son, he is a different kind of two percenter. One that I have a whole lot more respect for. The kind that has to take twice as many steps to keep up. That is much more easily knocked down. The kind of faces opponents who literally are twice his size.
That kind of two perecenter might feel like he is going into battle every game.
But I watch him game after game….get back up.
Then run over to the sideline and take a puff on his inhaler.

(start praying for his junior high years now...and FYI …urban dictionary has an additional definition for the phrase two percenter… so you might want to be careful how you use it…don’t say you weren’t warned).

My daughter just finished her first year on the soccer field. This past season she scored in every game. Sometimes four or five goals in a game. Her team was undefeated. I cheered and hoped that I remembered to bring snack on my assigned Saturday.
She learned a little bit about the game, and I learned that as girly and prissy as she can be…
that she grit in her after all.
However, she only knows what it feels like to win.
My son’s team lost every single game.  They lost every single game last season too.
Man, I hated to see those kids look defeated every week.
I still cheered from the sidelines, hoped I remembered snack and prayed my husband wouldn’t yell too loudly. And when they scored (which was usually by my son...and still incredibly rare) the sidelines cheered like they had just won the World Cup.
My son learned something incredibly important.
That losing really sucks but it isn’t the worst thing.
Quitting. Not trying. Not showing up. Those are worse things.
We all like to win, but failure is a much better teacher than success.
It still sucks though.

The last few weeks the US has exploded with World Cup fever.  I am an ex soccer player and fan, but am not quite as devoted as my husband who regularly watches games on Telemundo. I’d also rather spend my Saturday mornings running or drinking coffee than getting up early to watch the English Premier League in any language.  For the World Cup, however, I have been happy to force myself to watch all those really hot fit guys sweat it out for 90 minutes on the pitch. You know, just to make my husband happy.  It also helps that they like to take their shirts off. The US team lost while my family watched from the nosebleeds at Cowboys stadium, because Jerry Jones has the biggest TV of anyone that I know. My daughter just wanted popcorn, and pretzels and cupcakes. My son spent the first 80 or so minutes playing a game on my phone.  But he watched in desperation during the second overtime as the US failed to put another one in the net.  When they finally blew the whistle 121 minutes later…he looked up at me asking if they really lost.
Yes. They really lost.
Just look at your father over there crying in the bleachers.
But the battle. That is a different story.

Then again, maybe a girl wearing red and blue face paint is hard to take seriously.

So, who are you battling today??