Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Category: birthdays

Halfway to Launch

Nine.

Not four or five, the way he is forever etched into my memory (as my early parenting years seem to be sticking like  a case of PTSD and I’m perpetually believing that my children are 4, 3, 2, and newborn). Now my biggest is nine.

In case you’ve not done that math before, the average age of a student at graduation from high school is 18. This means I’m at the halfway mark. Half over; gone. Half to go. We’ve accomplished so much, come so far, and yet we have that distance again – and this next half will be even tougher. We have the exhaustion of this first leg coupled with brand new terrain. For the oldest kid, that’s always the toughest part – learning to roll with the new conditions. Figuring out how to navigate new things; social relationships change, what he believes to be true about himself changes.

It’s in this second leg that he will begin to unwrap what it means to love someone outside his familial tribe. He will switch gears, not just learning how to learn, but absorbing the ways of the world and synthesizing it into his own unique viewpoint as the basis of his operating mode. He will press into the boundaries of independence, and it’s his job to begin to explore. The expanding nature of the universe requires that he will go places and take steps that I never did. I can translate my wisdom and experiences, but they will not be the same.

In many ways, it would be easier if he would just do the same as me. I could tell him exactly how to step; his feet could fall into stride with my own footprints. I could ensure his safety this way, falling into any holes first. My head says this is the safest way to go about getting through this second half of childhood. But I know this isn’t the existence I want for him.

My heart says to teach him how to spot a hole, how to step mindfully, and send him in his own direction. I love my life, but do I really think that repeating it is the best thing this world has to offer him? I’ll welcome him to trail along, if that’s what he wants; a life of small-town living and tending to home-things is on the menu from which he can order. But if he’s feeling like a big city dream, then I want to give him the tools to take that route. If he yearns to be an adventurer, literally sailing or exploring, then I want to teach him the baseline skills to make it happen.

My job isn’t to pull him along on a leash. Of course, that’s the easiest way. And a little bit of the first half of childhood is exactly that; keeping them close so they can learn the ropes. They get familiar with the routes and explore from a governed distance.  Then we remove the leash but bring it along, giving a bit more distance. Our voice is always near and they circle back often. Finally, someday, we open the door and send them out; they return when they want a break or are hungry or tired or lonely. They know how to return home.

launchThis second half of childhood will be a lot less leash, yet still taking the trek with him. Honestly, this is harder on me than him, feeling the weight of this useless leash in my pocket, watching with worry, wondering how far is too far? can he hear me from here? does he have his eyes out for this turn?  

The analogy isn’t perfect; I’m raising a human, not training a puppy. The ultimate goal of training a puppy is to have an obedient dog, one that stays with you forever. That’s not the description of a grown man, able to contribute to society both in meaningful work and in living a life that radiates peace, joy, and love to his family, community and greater world. This will take far more nuance than running familiar routes and giving firm commands.

We were intentional about the methods we engaged for parenting our children for the first half. Now that he’s able to tie his shoes and pack his lunch and do his laundry and walk to the park by himself, I find myself having to think critically again about how to engage this second half.

This half has much more to do with trust: trusting myself (and JJ), that we’ve laid a good foundation of love and acceptance. Trusting him, that he’s in tune with the goodness of his birthright and living from that place more often than not. Trusting the world, that we can gracefully allow others to make mistakes when it’s safe to fail. Trusting my community to love him and accept him, even when he’s not perfect.

So here we go. Staying close, walking free, in this year of nine.

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The Secret to a Happy Birthday (and maybe life)

It’s my birthday week, yet it’s also October.  Because it’s not a “big” number, the celebrations this year are low-key: Drinks with the girls, dinner with the hubs, pumpkins with the kids – such things are perfectly fitting for 37.

For not the first time, I declared my own birthday celebration with a few friends. I made a FB event and invited handfuls of friends to join me for wine. Some of them can make it; some cannot. Amid the apologies from the ones who have to miss out, I shared with a few of them this secret: I don’t take it personally.

You see, I only invited people who I already know like me. I do not question their love. Their attendance, or lack thereof, is not a statement about me or even our relationship. It’s a reflection of their state of life right now.  I want to be a good friend, one that understands, rather than being someone who wages an imaginary competition for their attention.

Life is so much easier – so much better – when I recognize how little is actually about me. Sure, I put my name on the birthday invite, but how a person responds isn’t about me. I don’t have to take everything personally. 

My friends, when I stop taking it personally, I am free. When I stop using others’ actions as a measuring stick of my own worth, I can feel infinite amounts of love. My identification with love, my knowledge that I am loved, comes from something bigger than birthday attendance.  Sure, it might be a way I can feel love, it can be an experience of love, but it’s not the source. So even if only one person could join me on the Friday of the Birthday Weekend, I can still feel secure and feel love. Love doesn’t come from people, it comes through them.

So as for me and my birthday, I’ll feel the love of some friends from afar; and I’ll see the love of other friends from across the table. I will find the source of love by turning my attention to it rather than expecting others to fulfill it. And I’ll feel free to accept love in all it’s forms of delivery.

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the moment you know

i had a brief “moment” today while my niece celebrated her 3rd birthday with her family. it was a typical 3-year-old party with food, presents, princesses and wrapping paper everywhere. no hats this time, thank goodness. oh, and a candle (which she loved) on a birthday cookie.

there was a moment as we lit the candle and sang (albeit quite poorly) “happy birthday” that she was just looking around at all of us who were watching and singing to her. it was brief, but the moment was there. she was smiling and giggling and then all of a sudden she felt the need to nuzzle into her daddy. she knew. she knew she was loved, and it was a little bit too much. all those people, all those presents, all that awful singing with her at the center and you could see in her eyes the “wow.”

oh, the experience of being so loved that you feel you must hide.

sometimes birthdays seem silly. and i’m sure we’ll go to no less than 462 parties in the next 10 years. but for the chance to celebrate another year that God has given us the gift of knowing someone special, i’ll start appreciating the birthday party routine a whole lot more. for my kid – or for any kid – to know that they are loved because people chose to spend a saturday oohing and ahhing over princess bracelets and singing off key just to celebrate that “one more year” – it’s all worth it.

in some ways, celebrating a birthday is almost just as much for us as it is the birthday boy or girl, if we choose it. they may get the presents, but we get the joy of their presence for yet one more year.

(yeah, can you tell it’s october by the tone? only a few more days until november.)

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