Seventh grade begins in our house tomorrow.
A new backpack, stocked with new school supplies, is already cozied up by the front door. A new outfit is already laid out in the guest bedroom. And the FaceTime convos I overhear from the Curly Girl’s bedroom tell me she and her friends have big excitement about tomorrow. I’m grateful for that, as I am for the teachers my girl has already mentioned she’s looking forward to seeing–because even on its best days, middle school is mostly a landscape fraught with change and hormones and insecurity. Surviving it with our children’s mental and emotional well being as intact as possible is the goal.
But even in my gratitude, my heart fights fear and anxiety as a new year begins, despite my best efforts to focus on what’s good and true about this time in her life and this community we are a part of.
Because y’all…the world…it’s terrifying.
And so today, these are the things I am working to remember as a new school year begins:
- The days are So. Long. But the years? Well, you better not blink. Because just 10 years ago I was still living through sleepless nights and diapers with my stubborn girl. And now? Unthinkably, in just 6 years, she’ll be off to college. This in-between time, it is so precious, and I do not want to miss a moment of it. It’s sacred, this job of parenting, and the miracle of being her mother is the greatest thing I know. No matter hormones. No matter homework. No matter how dramatic the middle school hallways can be. No matter how busy our schedules get. This is pure grace.
- We do not have time for fear. If, for one moment, I gave in to the daily fear of what might harm her, what might destroy her, I’d never leave the house nor allow her to. The threat of school gun violence alone is enough to break me, never mind being a full time single mother, sexual harassment, car wrecks, mean girls and the general state of divided chaos our country is in. Any one of these things is reason to fall to my knees begging for a clear path through it all, some impossible guarantee of protection. Some days…some days are harder than others, and when I drop her off tomorrow at school, my stomach will roil, and my jaws will clench, and I will pray desperately for her safety. But I cannot–I will not–give in to fear. It is the work of evil, and I refuse to believe that evil has the final say.
- They really do know things we don’t. This is both unsettling and comforting. Our children have their own interior lives, their own ways of being that are not ours. And it’s tempting to try to control and direct every moment of their days out of our own baggage, our own experiences, our own assumptions. But their souls are full of so much fire, so much desire to live and grow, so much intuition that sometimes gets lost on the path to adulthood–mostly because our children know how to be real. And this terrifies us. We have to trust that sometimes, they do know things. Because the truth is that in the end, they do not belong to us. They belong to God. And God is at work in their lives in ways we cannot even begin to comprehend.
- We cannot keep them from sadness or disappointment or betrayal or anger. We can only stand with them in it and help them find healthy ways through it as we do. Our job is not to keep them from personal pain–it is to give them enough strength and compassion to face it.
- They need us. Y’all–I know that when they are slamming doors and screaming, “I hate you!” (So sorry, mom!), and insisting on their own way and pushing us away with all their adolescent might this is so hard to remember. But I promise you–they need us. They need to know we aren’t going anywhere and there is nothing they can ever, ever do to separate themselves from our love for them. This is the God’s honest truth and we must not forget it.
When the Curly Girl was very young–still small enough for me to take her up in my arms, but old enough to have her own mind, I stepped outside one night to see the moon. It was full and bright, so bright that it made the spring tulips in my front yard look as if they were under a spotlight. Everything glowed in its merciful beams. My heart swelled, and before I’d even really formed the thought to do so, I ran upstairs and I swept my sleeping daughter up out of her bed, her curls stuck to her full cheeks and her eyes popping open in wonder and surprise at my actions. “I need to show you something,” I whispered to her, and I carried her down the stairs and out the front door and I said, “Here, sweet girl, here is the moon.” And as she grinned, and pointed with her own chubby finger, mimicking me, I told her it was so gorgeous I had to show her, and I promised her it would always be with her, that she could always look to the moon for constant presence.
In retrospect, I think I needed to show her something beautiful. I think, even then, I knew the world would beat up on her, as it does on all of us, and I needed her to know, in her then-tiny bones, that no matter what, there was still beauty and grace and love and light at work.
And so today I pray, for her safety and well being, but also for strength and resilience in the face of whatever comes. I pray she knows how beautiful both she and the world are, and that while life is full of difficult things, and sometimes we think we cannot bear it, there is, always, around us a “grace that keeps this world” and the same grace keeps her, too. No matter what.
And I pray that I will remember…so that she will, too.