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Posts Tagged ‘choices’

I got a new tattoo a couple of days ago, an early birthday present to myself. If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know that I have been adding to my collection over the last five years.

I’m up to 6 now, including the one I had covered up two years ago, and I love, love, love, my body art; it’s an expression of me and who I am. I went back to a shop where I went two years ago that had been recommended by friends. The artist who did my cover-up then was super awesome and I wanted to have him do this new one. Unfortunately, what I wanted wasn’t his style so he referred to another artist in the shop. After viewing the new guy’s work on Instagram, I felt comfortable that he would get it right and set up an appointment.

The tattoo turned out fabulous, just what I wanted, but it was the conversation we had that has been sitting on my brain for the past two days. I won’t tell you all of it, but the gist was that his family had not been supportive of his art when he was growing up. As with a lot of families, though, his family didn’t consider anything having to do with art as a “real” job. Now, this guy is talented. I wouldn’t have let him put his art on my body if he wasn’t. He loves what he’s doing, but I wonder what would have happened if his family had supported his dream, if they had encouraged him to follow his passion rather than quash it. He’s making his own art now, not in the way he originally wanted to, but it fits him at the moment. Still, he has “what-if” moments.

I immediately identified with what he went through. In my first year of college, it was made very clear to me that my aspirations of going into theatre would not be supported and financial assistance was withdrawn. I eventually took the safe route, managed college myself, and got a “real” job, but I often think about how my life would be different if I had been allowed to pursue my dream. Now, I think that Marty and I would still have met and we would have had the same kids because we were meant to, but I might have been happier, less prone to the bouts of depression due to work frustration. I might not have been wishing my life away every year, counting the days until my next break. Is this a grass-is-greener situation? Maybe. I honestly don’t know what would have happened if I had majored in theatre and gone to New York like I had planned. I might not have made it very far in that world, but I would have at least tried. I wasn’t confident enough to really strike out on my own so I put my energy into getting a safe job. Plainly put, I was too afraid to try it by myself. I wish I had been braver.

Now, Youngest Child wants to be a jazz musician. He’s excellent, really, a very good musician, and that’s not just mom-bias talking. I see me-as-the-artist in him, except he’s more confident in his abilities, more proactive in following his path. We are supporting his decision. He’s making contacts that will help him in the future, taking as many private lessons as we can comfortably provide for, and I’m driving him all over the metro area. Is it a lot? Sometimes, but you know what? When I pick him up from a performance or a lesson, he’s happy. He’s doing what he loves to do, he’s challenged, and he’s driven. As a mom, that’s the best outcome I can hope for. Will he make it professionally? I hope so, but if not, at least he will have had the chances and opportunities. (I have a sneaking suspicion that he’ll do well, though.) We made it clear that he will have to support himself as an adult, but he’ll figure it out. We’ll be here for advice if he needs it.

Society tends to look down on kids who want to go into the arts, but, ironically, we pay billions of dollars into the entertainment industry every year. The arts are so important: music, theatre, painting, sculpting, these things all take an enormous amount of talent, yet parents discourage their kids from going into them full-time. I get it, it’s hard to get insurance or job security in the early days, not to mention a retirement plan, when one is paying their dues, but is that more important than being happy with life? Some people are willing to work a job that isn’t their passion and deal with it fine and then there are the rest of us who find it difficult to fit into that mold.

What is the point of all of this? If you have a kid who is interested in going into the arts, let them try. If they’re terrible at it, that will be evident soon enough and they’ll try something else. Relax and be supportive of their dreams even if you don’t think they have a snowball’s chance in hell of making a living at it. Don’t make them wonder, “what if?” later on because you squelched their ambition. They may not get there, but they will have the memory that you supported them and believed in what they wanted to do and that, my friends, is worth a whole lot more. You might be surprised at what happens next.

 

 

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I just closed another show yesterday and it was a good one. If you ever get the chance to see You Can’t Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, do it. Written in 1937, the message is still relevant today. I won’t got through the whole play for you (but you should!), but I wanted to share with you something that resonated with me. When I say resonated, it hit me right in the gut the first time I heard it. Hard. It coincides with what I’m going through right now, life decisions that I’m making. Here’s a little speech from Grandpa Vanderhoff in Act III to help you understand. He’s speaking to Mr. Kirby, a businessman with indigestion and anxiety whose son wants to marry Grandpa’s granddaughter. Mr. Kirby is against the match because Grandpa’s family, the Sycamores, are not the typical family. They don’t hold regular jobs and happiness is their main goal rather than the “American Dream” of making money. They’re not rich, but they’re really a happy family. Grandpa understands that Mr. Kirby is unhappy with his life, even though he is incredibly successful, but Mr. Kirby won’t see it. After learning that Mr. Kirby had originally aspired to be a trapeze artist and a saxophone player as a young man but put those dreams away when his father “knocked it out of him”, Grandpa tells him this:

“Where does the fun come in? Don’t you think there ought to be something more, Mr. Kirby? You must have wanted more than that when you started out. We haven’t got too much time you know- any of us.

“How many of us would be willing to settle when we’re young for what we eventually get? All those plans we make… what happens to them? It’s only a handful of the lucky ones that can look back and say that they even came close. So… before they clean out that closet, Mr. Kirby, I think I’d get in a few good hours on that saxophone.” (Hart and Kaufman)

I’m at the point in my life where I need the few good hours on my proverbial saxophone. I need the fun. I need to not wish my life away. I feel like I’m on the brink of change, I just don’t know what it is.

Maybe you don’t know either. Maybe you recognize that your life isn’t going the way you want it. It doesn’t mean that you’re not grateful for being employed or whatever, just that  you recognize that you need to make some changes in your life because it’s not your path.

I’m working on my path.

I’m curious. Are you happy? Or have you realized that you’ve been sacrificing your happiness for something else? Share if you’d like, support is good. Comments are welcome.

Much love to you all.

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I was cleaning our bedroom yesterday, not just the weekly maintenance of taking water glasses downstairs or popping stray socks in to the hamper, but get-out-the-Pledge-and-dustrags-and-Swiffer type cleaning. True confession: I’m not a fastidious housekeeper. I really hate taking time out to clean, although I like a clean house and am a bit of a germaphobe, so I compromise with myself. I keep the kitchen, living room, and the main bathroom consistently clean, but the bedroom, while everything has its place, does not get the dusting and floor attention it deserves. Every couple of months or so, it finally gets to me enough that I dive in and do it, but there is a healthy accumulation of dust in the meantime. I really am okay with it, though. Life’s too short, although my husband and our kids would tell you that I always worry about cleaning. It’s all about perspective, right?

Anyway, I also usually do a purge of clothes, shoes, and costume jewelry at this time of year which involves going through all of the drawers, the closet, and such. I also go through the little drawers on top of my dresser where I keep treasured letters and cards that I have received over the years, including a letter that my father wrote to his father in March of 1973. I know that it’s there, but every time I go through that drawer, I pull it out to read. It makes me feel close to him and every time I read it, I gain new insight into his thoughts.

The letter was written at a time when my dad was trying to find himself. From other writings of his that I’ve read, I knew he felt like he didn’t quite fit, that he struggled with what was expected of him, and what his feelings were. To me, he sounds a lot like me.

The letter comes from California. He was nineteen at the time and had left home to go and live with his oldest sister, my aunt, in the land of peace and love. He had dropped out of high school, despite having a high IQ, had been honorably discharged from the Navy after only a few weeks, and really didn’t seem to have a direction in life. He and my mom had been dating on again, off again and things weren’t certain. He tempered his emotions and discontent with other substances, especially weed. He wasn’t getting along with his dad and wanted a fresh start out on the west coast.

The letter is dutiful in the beginning, telling his father all about what they have been doing in California and what the weather was like. Then, a tone of regret as he tells his father that when he gets home, he would like to talk to him, really talk to him, even though they had had their differences in the past. An attempt at reconciliation. He goes on to say that things were much better between him and my mother (A good thing, or I probably wouldn’t be writing this) and then delves into the environmental requirements of cars and lawn mowers in California, a much more comfortable subject for him.

It’s all very cool to read and sentimental, but the thing about this particular letter that floors me every time is that at the time he wrote it, he had just over a year to live. That’s it. On March 22, 1974, one week and three weeks later, he would lose his young life in an impaired car accident. Did he know that? Of course not. And that’s what brings me back to that letter again and again, forcing me to think about things that I would rather push to the side.

We don’t know when our last day will be. We have no clue. When my father wrote that letter, he had no idea that he wouldn’t live to essentially grow up, that he would never see his only child born, that he would never be able to fully repair that relationship with his father, that he wouldn’t marry my mother as he had planned to do. Those plans would never happen and it was terribly tragic, leaving so many people with holes in their hearts, including me, who never got to meet him.

My point is this: we all have plans, every single one of us. I don’t mean plans like redoing the kitchen or taking books back to the library, I mean real plans, like telling someone that they’re loved, or forgiving an old hurt, Plans like making a wrong right, or at least taking responsibility for it. Plans like letting someone know that you were wrong, asking for forgiveness, or maybe letting someone know that they touched your life in some way.  Maybe you need to make a life choice that involves taking a risk in order to be happy. You know, the important things, the things that you would deeply regret if you didn’t do them.

I don’t mean to imply that we should try to repair bridges with everyone who hurt us. There are definitely people who are toxic, who are the sources of trauma, who would hurt us again and again, physically or emotionally, and we should stay far away. I would never reconcile with my abuser or let him into my life in any way. That kind of situation is better left to trying to internally forgive and move on to bring closure rather than to make sense of what happened or connect with those involved. But there are other situations that can be fixed or at least improved.

New Year’s Day is coming up in two more days, a day of resolutions and new beginnings. Maybe, instead of halfheartedly resolving to quit smoking or to lose weight, we can resolve to try and heal an area of our lives. What have you been putting off that keeps whispering in your ear every now and again?

Many of us, myself included, don’t like making the first move on anything. My anxiety issues make me prone to obsessing over the worst possible outcomes until that seems worse than what I had originally intended to do, so I usually don’t. But what if we knew that we only had a year left, unlike my father? Would that spur us on to reach out, to make that connection to say what needs to be said? Maybe it would, maybe it wouldn’t. The thing is, we just don’t know how much time we have on this earth. We’re not promised tomorrow, whether we like thinking about it or not. What would be your biggest regret if you died tomorrow?

I haven’t put the letter away just yet because it’s been sitting on my mind this whole time and I knew I needed to write about what was inside. It’s sitting on my dresser, my father’s handwriting, the paper he touched and folded into a makeshift envelope staring at me. As I’m getting ready to click “Publish” on this post, I feel that urgency draining away and I’ll be able to return it to its accustomed spot in the little drawer, but I know that my mind will wander back when I think about him and out it will come. Even though he’s gone, my father is still teaching me life lessons.

Wishing you and yours a very Happy and Blessed New Year. Peace to you in 2018.

 

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As many of you may recall, I posted a (lengthy) post about a year ago on why I was leaving teaching, and one not too long ago about how I have used this past year to rest my mind and to figure things out.

Long story short: I’m teaching again. I wasn’t exactly looking for this opportunity, it fell into my lap with a message from a friend. When I read the description, I was intrigued and one thing led to another. I will hastily add, however, that I am not teaching in a traditional classroom. My students come from some pretty bad situations. They have a lot of issues and are not living with their parents for one reason or another, so they live at our facility until they can go home or into foster care. Sometimes they’re with us for weeks, sometimes for years and the people who work with them, my new coworkers, are some of the toughest, most caring individuals I have ever met in the short time I’ve been there.

I’m not looking at my new situation with rose-colored glasses, I know that there are going to be some grueling days ahead, but where I am, I can teach for the child, not for the parents or for a test. My job is to nurture and to teach these boys what they need, not push them to impress the state or to please an overbearing parent. My job is to help them trust, to provide boundaries, and a soft place to fall when they need it in addition to their academic lessons. Don’t other teachers do these same things? Absolutely, of course they do! There are teachers I know who have the biggest hearts for their kids, going above and beyond what’s required of them, but they also have those other pressures to deal with that I found unbearable.

There are tradeoffs where I am, though, too. We deal with daily behaviors that are cause for suspension at other schools, but somehow, I’m finding those a little easier on my psyche than the dread of sending home report cards or math tests.

Did I make the right choice? I think so. I’ve given up on thinking that my path through life is supposed to be a straight line. I’m starting to believe that I am put where I’m needed, where I can do some good for whatever length of time, and I hope that’s the case here. My goal is to make a positive difference in these boys’ lives, to be a safe person for them.

In the meantime, send some good thoughts and prayers to land on the boys and the workers who love and care for them, would you? They can always use a little more.

 

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(This post will have absolutely nothing to do with anything political, of that I can assure you, so any readers who have previously disagreed with my political views have nothing to fear. Or to fight about. Not that my feelings have changed in any way, but it’s very soul-sucking to have to argue and defend all the time, especially after the Christmas craziness and play rehearsals kicking into high gear. I need a break. Just wanted you to know before you started reading.)

I was inspired by a meme on Facebook today. It asked the reader to judge the year based on the difference in where you were as a person at this time last year to where you are now. I know, I know, it’s a Facebook meme, but this one got my attention because I made a major life decision at the end of last year and I’ve been asked a lot about it recently this holiday season, mostly by people I haven’t seen in a long time. Having to answer these folks has made me think about the place I’m now, as compared to last year, and this is what I’ve come up with.

At this time last year, I was kind of a mess, mentally and emotionally. I was at the end of my rope as a teacher; depression and anxiety were a daily struggle that I was having a tougher time fighting as each day passed. I made the choice to take a pay cut, leave the profession that I had acquired several thousand dollars in student loans to go into, and went to work as the office administrator for my church. At the same point this year, I can say with certainty that leaving classroom teaching was one of the best decisions that I could have made for myself. There were parts that I loved: interacting with the kids one-on-one, light bulb moments for the kids, some silly moments, my teaching assistant and friend, Nicole, the hugs and pictures. But the bad had outweighed the good for me. There were plenty of times that I cried all the way home or in the shower from certain interactions or from work situations that seemed hopeless, all the while putting on a brave face during the school day so that I wouldn’t be seen as weak or soft. I was cranky at home, snapping at the kids for small, stupid things, constantly on edge. I was always defensive, feeling like I always had to be on my guard. I felt constantly defeated, that nothing would ever be happy again. I felt trapped.  I know it sounds pretty dark, and my thoughts did get fairly dark, but that is a very common depression symptom and it was true for me then. I want you to see the state of mind that I was in, how ugly it was.

There are teachers who deal with those circumstances just fine, Mr. Marty Man being one of them. He can leave work at work, talk down any outraged parent, and deal with horrible behavior without so much as an eyebrow twitch. My parents-in-law were good at that, too. I’m just not built that way. I internalize the criticism, take it home with me, dwell on what was said, and dread having to deal with the situation again. Like for days and even weeks. Parent-teacher conferences and report cards were a nightmare. While I always gave the grade that the student earned, I knew which ones would turn into a big deal and what would be blamed on me with personal attacks on my personality and teaching ability, even though I always felt that I did my best, but it didn’t matter.

On the other hand, there were absolutely fantastic kids, parents, and extended families, some who still stay in touch. There were some good times, really good times. When I first started student teaching, and then for a long-term sub assignment in the same school (6 months!), I loved it. My cooperating teacher was amazing and the school had a close supportive staff. I enjoyed teaching for that first year and if it had kept going that way, I may have stayed in. For whatever reason, the circumstances changed and it all began to fall apart after that. I know that I was able to reach some kids, that there were kids I could help, but ultimately, I felt that I wasn’t an effective teacher. It’s a horrible feeling. Kids deserve the best, even if they’re obnoxious and difficult to like. I do believe that, from the bottom of my heart, but I found it really hard to put into practice another reason to leave the profession. I’m not good with sassy and difficult. Kids deserve a teacher who can see past that and there are some children who aren’t as easy to love as others. I hate typing this, admitting it to the world, but it’s true. Difficult kids need love, too, and being a classroom teacher isn’t for everyone.

My family has noticed the changes since I left teaching, my kids especially. Mama has a much longer fuse than she used to, the snappiness is much reduced, and I’m much calmer, less prone to black depression holes. The depression holes aren’t gone, but I have more energy stores to deal with them than I did before. They don’t last as long.  I’ve been spending a lot of time with my beloved theatre this year and not feeling torn in five different directions with all of the work at home hours. There is a lot of guilt, I do admit, about the decrease in pay and I’m not sure quite how that’s going to pan out in the long run, but for this moment, this very moment, I’m okay where I am. Why is that a good thing? Because I hadn’t felt that way in several years.

So, on the occasion of this New Year, I toast to change. I toast to scary, freaking difficult decisions, and I toast to dreams that turn into goals.

Saluti.

 

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The ugliness has begun. Threats and assaults have increased towards mosques, non-European-looking Americans, LGTBQ folks, and women in general since the election; many incidents invoke Trump’s name. It’s exactly what we were headed toward, yet here we are.

I’m not playing a sore loser card, the Electoral College has spoken. Not the will of the people according to the popular vote, but according to the rules of our system. That’s how it’s written and that’s not the issue I’m taking on. Now is the time to deal with what we have and go from there.

I voted against that man, not against a party, not for a party, not for Hillary Clinton in particular. I voted against vulgarity, hate, and intolerance. I voted so that my gay family and friends wouldn’t have to worry about their marriages being dissolved. I voted to show my nieces that women should never have to put up with sexual harassment or assault, especially from men in power. I voted so that survivors of sexual assault and abuse, myself included, wouldn’t be triggered by the President of the United States. I voted to show my amazing boys that the behavior exhibited by Donald Trump is reprehensible and wrong. I voted so that my Muslim and Jewish friends can freely practice their beliefs without having to worry about being harassed and threatened because the freedom of religion, a Constitutionally protected right, is one that we should hold dear. I voted so that my Mexican friends know that I stand behind them. I voted against a billionaire who has never known a layoff or a hungry day in his life, but told the working class that he could relate to them.

Donald Trump won the election. God, help us. Those of you who know me know that I don’t take God’s name lightly. This is my actual prayer: God, help us. We are now seeing the very worst of many people in our country on both sides and so far, it’s not getting any better.

So what to do about it? For starters, I began wearing a safety pin soon after the election. In case you’ve been living under a rock, a safety pin is a sign that the person wearing it will stand up for you if you are being harassed by hateful actions. Thankfully, I have not had the occasion to do that yet, but I am prepared, even though confrontation makes me queasy. I will do it because I will be a part of the solution. I will do it because I am a Christian and we are called to love our neighbors. I will do it because this onslaught of sickening, disgusting, venom frightens me and I will stand up to it. It’s something small that I can do.

Not everyone is on board with the safety pin thing, though. There was a meme going around on social media recently that irritated me. It is a picture of that brave officer who shot the attacker at Ohio State this past Monday. It says, “Your safety pin didn’t save anyone, this cop with a gun did.” Well, yeah, and those two things have nothing to do with each other. A knife-wielding maniac is a job for police officers and I am so very thankful that we have dedicated, wonderful people to protect us in these situations. Our police officers and other first-responders deserve our respect. The pin that I wear is not a means of defense, it’s a sign that I will help you, however I can. What makes me angry about a meme like that is that it insinuates that wearing a pin equals weakness. It absolutely does not. Inserting oneself into a potentially hostile situation with the intent to diffuse it takes a lot of courage, the very opposite of weakness. There is nothing weak about standing up to bullies. The more people that stand up to the recent ugly events will make them happen less and less, whether they wear a pin or not.

What else can I do, besides wearing a pin? I can write letters to my representatives, I can donate to organizations that work for equality, I can blog. I can hope that people who voted for Trump also actively work to quell the bad things that are happening.

In short, I choose to deal with the outcome of this election with love. Will it make a difference? I hope so. I hope I’m strong enough to help my family, friends, and neighbors who may need it in the coming months and years. I hope that we, as a country, make it clear that hate is not tolerated, no matter who we voted for.

So, I choose to respond with love.

I choose love.

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My baby turns Thirteen tomorrow. He was almost two weeks late and beat the East Coast/Midwest Blackout by two hours. He was born purple, his umbilical cord tied in a knot and wrapped around his neck twice, but recovering immediately. He wanted his mama from the first moment and stays close to this day, but not too close. That would be completely uncool. I’m really not ready for this next stage, but it’s not my rodeo. Well, it kind of is. He is my son, after all, but the experience of becoming a teenager is his and his alone.

Thirteen has been seen as a rite of passage for a long time in many cultures, marked with parties, bar and bay mitzvahs, a step toward young adulthood, but also a time of confusion. Body changes, pressure to do well, and the desire to prove oneself can make turning thirteen more difficult than it needs to be.

I remember Thirteen and it wasn’t that great of a year, but then it was also a year where some exciting things happened. I remember being really jazzed to become a teenager. I have a late birthday and was always one of the youngest ones in my class, so turning thirteen and catching up with my friends was something that couldn’t come soon enough for me. I wish that I had had the gift of hindsight back then, to see that Thirteen was not all it’s cracked up to be. I still wasn’t an adult, much to my dismay, and I still had a LOT to learn.

It was during that year that I made the colossal mistake of calling one of my friends a bitch, and not even to her face, but in a note to a mutual friend. I wasn’t quite that brave and it was my first stab at speaking my mind. I didn’t even write out the whole word. If I remember correctly, I wrote, “B_T_H.”. In fairness, as I look back, she kind of deserved it, but that was not the best decision I ever made. Of course, I was ratted out by the mutual friend and popular opinion rained down on me for the rest of 8th grade, only letting up when we went to different high schools the next year. I learned a hard, valuable, lesson on social niceties and never wrote anything like that ever again.

Thirteen was also the year when I fell in love with the discipline and opportunities in marching band. I am a proud band geek, through and through. Thirteen was my first year of Band Camp, and it will be for Youngest Child, too, next summer. Band Camp was definitely a rite of passage. I had always loved music, I still do, but the late nights, early mornings, sweat, aches, heat, and sky-high diving platforms into the lake made me confident in my abilities. I met new, life-long friends (“Hi, I’m George.” “I’m Ringo.” “I’m Paul.” “I’m John. I’m dead.”) who knew nothing about the “bitch” incident and when they did find out, didn’t care. I found people who didn’t think I was weird, people who I fit in with. I was lucky that way. I loved everything about Band Camp and marching band and still do, even all these years later. I’m so glad that my boys have been through band and it makes me smile to see those friendships continue to grow.

Thirteen saw my first “real” boyfriend, whom I took to my first Homecoming Dance, and I am still friends with him to this day. I won’t elaborate too much, but it was an exciting time for me and that experience began teaching me how to gauge and handle future relationships in a good way. I always expected the respect that I was given with that first dating experience. I don’t like to think of Youngest Child dating at the moment, but the Italian mama in me does want him to find a nice girl someday.

Thirteen allows you to start forming the person that you will eventually be. That wonderful new ability to think abstractly makes you question ideas and beliefs that you’ve always had, in both good and bad ways. Boundaries are pushed, limits are tested, and while it drives parents crazy, it’s actually a good thing. It’s good practice for making adult decisions one day. As for parents, Thirteen means we can’t be with them every second, we shouldn’t be, and that we have to trust that they will make the good choices. Sometimes they won’t, and that part really sucks because we think we failed, but it helps to breathe deeply and to keep going. (A nice glass of wine at the end of the day doesn’t hurt, either.) Every day is a new day, a fresh day, and they need to know that. They need to know that they are loved, mistakes and all, and that we are the people they can count on, even if we overreact at first. We’re both going to screw up, parents and Thirteen, and if we understand that from the get-go, it’ll be easier to forgive ourselves and each other when it happens.

I hope that Thirteen is kind to my boy. He’s been through some storms this past year and I think we’re on the right track, but Thirteen can be tricky. I want him to be happy, but I want him to choose wisely. There’s  a reason why Thirteen was celebrated as a rite of passage; you’re not a little kid anymore and people really start to hold you responsible for your actions. People can eye teenagers with distaste and suspicion, myself included, and sometimes with good reason. Teenagers can be horribly obnoxious and even threatening. There’s something about the infusion of hormones, I think, that entices you to do stupid things sometimes. (Getting kicked out of JC Penney in Southland for jumping on the elevator rings a bell. Group mentality.) It isn’t fair, to be sure, especially to the kids who are amazing, like Oldest and Middle Children’s friends, but it remains and that’s something that Youngest Child will encounter as he turns Thirteen.

What do I wish for Youngest Child this year? I wish him wisdom. I wish him grace. I wish him some of the best memories he’ll ever make, and the friends to make them with. I wish him the fortitude to withstand peer pressure and to remember what we’ve taught him. I wish him love and acceptance. I wish him love. I wish him love. I wish him love.

In the meantime, I now have three teenagers and will appreciate all prayers and good thoughts.

Happy Birthday, Youngest Child. It’s gonna be great.

 

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