Watching my son check his boarding pass to confirm his seat assignment filled my heart with nostalgia last Thursday. Just a few days away from his eighteenth birthday, he has become all of a sudden, more of a man than a boy. He has been away from his sister for about four years. Free to speak uninterrupted, he has in fact, found his voice. Now he uses it more than I like, but for the most part, he has used it well.
We were, the three of us, boarding a flight to Alabama, where my daughter anxiously awaited our arrival. My husband and I have waited for this day to come, like all of our kids’ milestones, with bated breath. We had for the last 22 years, worked hard to make good choices about my daughter’s upbringing, often cautioned against trying to live through her and pressuring her too hard. But over the years of learning to parent, learning to depend on the advice of those that have passed this way before us, family, friends, neighbors, priests, teachers, doctors, we have grown solid in our own confidence that even if what we have done has not always been right, it has always been well intended.
We have taught our children that in fact, the most we can ever do when making judgments about our own choices, and the choices of others, is to trust that the intent of the action is most certainly rooted in a benevolent goal; a goal who’s intent is never to harm, but to do well and good by another. Many a discussion about how someone was being mean to someone else as evidenced by their behavior had been ended with a simple, trust their intent. They most likely were not trying to harm you as much as they were trying to protect themselves from harm, we would coach. And so it would go, the complaint met with discussion only to end with “trust intent.”
Needless to say, there have been times when finding the lesson or looking for the benevolent intent has been challenging. Nevertheless, it has at the minimum taught us to review the information at hand, ask the right questions, and then decide, not necessarily on a course of action, but how we want to feel about the situation. Managing about how we feel about situations has at the minimum allowed us to continue to function despite disappointment, anger or heart ache. I’ve been told I keep too much inside. I prefer to think of it as Response Maintenance. We can’t always say or act like we want…sometimes you just have to manage the feelings, and move on.
My daughter’s struggles with her learning style have always veiled the brilliance beneath. She has struggled to find her confidence when she has been constantly forced as per normal course, to compete heavily against others, as well as against herself. Over the years she has continued to surprise us as to just what she has dared to do despite her lack of ability to prove to others that she in fact knows what she is doing. I guess she has had it right all these years… she does what makes her happy.
She chose to compete in a history paper writing competition at the age of 13. Not remarkable in and of itself, but you will surely understand what I mean when you learn that for her undertaking she chose to write about the maltreatment of physicians caught in the cross hairs of both Chechen rebels and their Russian counterparts. When she told me that this is what she wanted to write about I had to Google Chechnya. More impressive yet, is the fact that she contacted one of those doctors, and through a translator, interviewed him to ensure that she could cite a primary source. Her paper made it from her school, to district, to region, to the State level competition. I just stood there with my mouth and heart agape. My love for her endless.
At 15, having never had a singing lesson in her life, she chose to audition for her school choir which outlined in the recruitment documents, their preference that those who wanted to participate be well experienced in signing technique and music theory. Sure that she would not get in, I prepared for an afternoon of consolation and sympathy. I was so worried that she would react poorly that I asked my own mom to come along to see if that would help ease her inevitable disappointment. Grandmas seem to make everything better. I should have known that should make the intermediate choir (not the beginner’s level choir open to all students) and that later she would take a music theory class to help her continue to progress. I remember the night of her senior high school performance when she sang her solo and knocked it out of the park. She continued to sing for a couple years at her college, until coursework and other interests took hold. The voice of a determined woman is hard to ignore.
When she said she wanted to row crew instead of taking a regular PE class I thought, oh man, she’s not that great of a swimmer and she was only effective at soccer because she had grown taller than the other girls her age and was awesome at being a thug on the field without getting caught. But she rowed anyway, and despite heavy course loads, long and exhausting training sessions I almost exploded with pride when she and her friends rounded the bend on the Sacramento River in her first race. Injury prevented a longer career, but my doubting self was starting to get the hint. This girl, despite her own self doubt voiced only to us at home, was braver than anyone I knew other than my own parents who despite language and financial barriers pushed themselves to obtain their education as adults, even as they pushed their children to do well in their own endeavors. I can’t imagine doing both.
So this weekend, as we sat on a plane flying toward Mobile I thought back on all the improbable choices that this girl has made over the years and have come to the conclusion that once again, she accomplished if not the impossible, then most certainly the improbable; alone. She discovered early on that she was interested in a Jesuit education around history and perhaps the study of law. She researched schools all over, and decided that she wanted to participate in a summer leadership program at Birmingham Southern University. That summer trip was all it took. The south took hold of her and to date, hasn’t let go. She chose to go to Spring Hill College in Mobile.
Four years later, she has graduated. She has an apartment in Mobile and is contemplating whether to continue in the Masters degree program where she was accepted, try a different school, or work. Yesterday, Mother’s Day, I worried about what the future will hold for her.
Having cried after leaving her at her apartment I am faced again with the reality that she will be fine and that my worry, no longer contains doubt. More importantly, I don’t want her to think that my worry means I am doubting. I am not. I simply miss her and want the best for her.
She has taught me so much over her 22 years of life. Running head on into the winds of the world despite her struggles and the opinions of naysayers. This will continue. I know that whatever it is she wants to do, she will face it head on, determined to show us how big her brave is.
Thanks for being my friends.