A river of SUVs winds through the neighborhood streets. I wait amongst them in the pickup line outside my daughter’s school, impatient and watching the clock. I’m praying she’ll be near the front of the pack so I can get on with my day. Continue my to-do list.
Around me, car windows and bumpers showcase accomplishment. “Proud Parent of (fill in the blank),” “Marching Band Supporter,” or “Honor Roll Student.” Soccer ball decals, happy stick-people families, and philosophical snippets advertise our lives.
Today I’m not feeling it.
Like many days lately, today I feel overwhelmed on this parenting journey.
In fact, I’ve found myself lustily dreaming of running away and becoming Amish, or at the very least, a simple farmer in some distant place. Tuscany sounds nice. I’ve never been, but the photos look like we could live a simple life there. I’m craving something that feels real. Authentic. I’m longing for a place where bumper-stickered, Instagrammed, overly-selfied bravado disappears.
Life, after all, isn’t as simple and perfect as it’s often portrayed. It’s messy.
At least my life is messy.
It may not be social media friendly, but it’s real. There are as many lows as highs. Failure, disappointment, and heartbreak are as present as joy, laughter, and accomplishment. That’s real life, and I’ve discovered hiding that truth takes too much energy, like salmon swimming upstream, fighting against endless currents and obstacles.
I watch as kids tumble out of the school doors and climb into waiting vehicles stickered with their achievements, I wonder if our culture commends kids for slogging through the tough stuff. Aren’t the challenging times equally, if not more important, than the accolades?
My greatest life lessons came from the difficult, rather than the bumper sticker, moments. My navigational maps have torn edges and softened folds from all their use. No mother wants their children to suffer needlessly, yet I want my kids to have good maps. Trust they can find their way through the storms. Help them see they can light the way for each other.
Years ago, my friend Leona shared stories of her coming of age during the depression. She vividly remembered the difficulty, scarcity, and panic. She recalled her father, a commuter train operator, coming home sick more than once when someone jumped in front of his train. I watched Leona’s shaking hand swipe away tears as she muttered, “There was nothing he could do. He couldn’t stop the train. It troubled him so, but he didn’t dare quit his job because at least he had one.”
Sixty plus years later, her father’s sacrifice still moved her. It taught her difficult lessons of gratitude and resilience that shaped the rest of her life.
As my kids get older and life becomes more complicated—or perhaps more accurately—as I complicate life, I feel like I’m walking a tightrope. My toes clench the tiny wire suspended between supporting and protecting my kids and nudging them to navigate this unpredictable, complicated world.
I want them to feel loved, but not believe they are the sun around which we circle.
I want them to feel supported, but not insulated from difficulty.
I want them to know I am proud of their achievements, but even more proud when they do their best, miss the mark, and continue on despite feeling sad and disappointed.
Like Rome, character isn’t built in a day. Cheering each other during the process is far more important than high-fiving at the finish line. As an adult, I’ve learned it’s the day-to-day stuff that’s worthy of celebration. A friend of mine often refers to herself as a work in progress. Aren’t we all?
My reverie breaks when I see my daughter exit the school. We make eye contact and she smiles the little smile that says, “I’m happy to see you, but I’m not going to wave because that’s uncool.” She breezes into the car with youthful exuberance and a rosy glow, blowing some of my sour mood out the door with her. I’m happy seeing her happy.
Suddenly my endless “to do” list seems far less important; it will still be there when I return to it. The river of stickered SUVs flows away from the school and I float along with the rest. Right now, a simple moment of joy has won. It’s just me and my smiling daughter chatting about her day.
Perhaps becoming Amish can wait.