16 Candles & Other Musings

IMG_20130127_104042                       Well. The big birthday has finally arrived. My baby boy is turning 16. I feel as if I’ve been anticipating this milestone since the day he was born. Remember the Disney film Sleeping Beauty?  Princess Aurora’s parents spend years anxiously awaiting their daughter’s 16th birthday because it has been proclaimed that, before the sun sets on her sixteenth birthday, she will prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die. Okay, that’s a bit dramatic…and I’m pretty sure my son wasn’t cursed at birth, and even if he was, I’m confident that there are no spinning wheels in the nearby vicinity. So, we’re safe in that sense. However, I do feel a teensy-weensy bit apprehensive about this upcoming birthday. Why? I can’t quite put my finger on it, but I think it has something to do with the fact that I am seeing him now at the age I was, right before he came into my life. I’ve heard other young moms talk about the coming of age of their children and how their up most concern is that their child doesn’t share a fate similar to their own. In other words, they wouldn’t want their child’s potential to be cut short by an unplanned pregnancy, especially in the teen years. I can relate. A few months ago my son’s (then) girlfriend called me unexpectedly in the wee hours of the morning. The second I heard her teary voice on the other end of the line my mind reeled with hypothetical questions…”Had my continued contraception/sex talks been adequate enough? Had I been too lax on my monitoring of his comings & goings? How far can a parent go to prevent their teen from becoming a parent?” Thankfully, a pregnancy was NOT the issue she was calling about, but in those few seconds I realized how fast our lives could change. I’ve been there before, of course, but not as a parent. That morning, after hanging up the phone, I gained a new sense of appreciation for my mother, and the grace with which she handled herself when I came to her with my news 16 years ago.
                       Anyhow, it’s a peculiar thing to watch my son, as he meanders through the kitchen in the morning in search of a bite to eat…as he curls up on the couch doing normal teenage things like watching movies, texting  friends, or catching up on required reading for school. In the past, these little moments haven’t caught my attention as they do now. But now….now, I am seeing my son as I was, 16 years ago, pre-parenthood. It’s impossible for me to watch him swoop his little sister up for a piggy back ride, kneel down to un-tuck the pant leg that’s caught in her boot, or coach her to take that last bite of oatmeal, without considering that I was more or less his age when I was doing all these things for him. Its humbling in a way that takes my breath away.
                    I think its safe to say that every mother who has ventured into parenthood as a teen hopes that their child will not follow in their footsteps when it comes to early parenthood. I’ve heard others say they would not want their child to repeat their mistakes. That always gives me pause.  For  mistake is not quite  the way I would describe my eldest son. Yes, his birth changed the course of my life, but not necessarily in a negative way. My stating this is in no way an endorsement of teen parenthood. It is a difficult road to travel. Isolating, at times frustrating, and some would say limiting, especially in regards to mothers. But consider this: Parenthood at ANY age can be described as such, and all the while there are countless wonderful aspects to it as well. There is hope in our story, and as his 16th birthday approaches, I want my son to know that. 
                 Yes, my options were limited because I was raising him. I didn’t get the chance to experience college in the traditional “move away from home, live in the dorms, join organizations and party” sense. I didn’t travel the world. I couldn’t take part in many of the twenty-something rites -of-passage that our culture deems so valuable. But what I did do, was help guide a precious little soul into adolescence. And I stand back now, in awe of the person he is becoming. Mark my words; Elijah will a leave positive imprint on this earth. Perhaps not with fanfare and wide-spread recognition, though if he sets his mind to that he is perfectly capable of it. More importantly, with his gentle, thoughtful, old-soul of a spirit, he leaves, and will continue to leave subtle but significant impressions on the lives of all he touches. Beginning with me. As January 27th approaches, I’ll be contemplating new beginnings, a supportive family network, strength in the face of adversity, relentless hope, and the beautiful little baby that made all these concepts a reality in my world one winter night, so many years ago. 
                                                                                                                                                            Happy 16th Birthday, Elijah. I love you with all my heart.

A little child shall lead them…

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“A Little Child Shall Lead Them”
  -Isaiah 11:1-10

 
In any given year, Winter Break is typically the highlight of the season. Two weeks off of work for me and school vacation for the kids, it is our time to celebrate, rejuvenate and reflect on the year that’s past. This, in addition to the holiday traditions; tamales, cookie making, light viewing, carol singing, parties, and family gatherings galore, make for an enjoyable end to December.  Festivities aside, one of my favorite aspects of the holiday season is the emphasis on the nativity. Sure, I was raised Catholic, and therefore feel a special connection to the story of the Holy Family…but in all honesty, it’s the story of Mary’s journey that really moves me. Here’s this young unwed mother who, after much soul-searching (and a visit from an archangel), bravely carries her baby to term against all odds. Impoverished and shunned, she gives birth in the humblest of all conditions and in doing so brings forth one who become sone of the worlds most heralded prophets. Regardless of your beliefs or religion, you’ve got to admit the story has some appeal, especially to a former young mother such as myself.
 
A few weeks before Christmas, I found myself sitting in a church service next to my 15-year-old son  who was flipping through a pamphlet inscribed with a bible verse from Isaiah 11: 6-10 which begins..”A little child will lead them…” In an instant, I remembered the days during which I grappled with the new-found discovery of my pregnancy at the age of 16.  A time during which I prayed for an angel to guide me, a prayer that I quickly realized had already been answered. The little child within me WAS my angel. He guided me during those early days–motivating me to walk with purpose and integrity—and he continues to guide me now.
 
A couple of days after that church service, a gunman walked into a school in Newtown, Connecticut and killed 26 people, 20 of whom were children. When I first read of the tragedy, it was in a report accompanied by a picture of a teacher running with her students, hands grasped, faces drawn, and it was unclear who was leading who. I was at work at the time, and the sounds of the kindergarteners in the room next door to me brought me to tears. By the time my own students arrived in the classroom, it was all I could do to keep composure. That afternoon, I relied on their presence to renew my faith in mankind. The horrendous nature of the days events were made more bearable by the children in my care, who constantly exhibit compassion and empathy toward one another, as well as unabashed love toward me and my staff. Without their energy, the afternoon would have been much more grim as details of the slaughter continued to be reported.
 
In the days that followed, my own community experienced its own rash of gun violence that left several dead, many wounded, and countless lives forever changed. In all, the last few weeks are a blur of many raw discussions, tender gestures, and fleeting moments during which I was reminded of how precious life truly is, how nothing is guaranteed, and how petty all the usual holiday stressors really are. Many tears were shed, often alone and out of sight from the children, but laughter was in abundance as well. As is often the case when there are children present, grief and sadness cannot take hold for too long before joy comes bubbling to the surface when you least expect it…a giggle brought on by some silly mishap, a spontaneous smile when a neighbor comes to the door bearing homemade cookies, and an infectious hum instigated by the memory of an all-too familiar Christmas song…
 
This season, though its hardships were plentiful (both personal & otherwise), I was lucky to be surrounded by an abundance of family & friends, and by children. Lots of them. And it is because of their company, that I was prompted to mediate upon the importance of being child-like. I am indebted to the young ones in my life who have led me to live in the present, focus on  beauty, and live free of grudges. Because I’ve found that in my darkest moments, it is child-like innocence, trust, faith, & love that lights the road ahead and ultimately leads us to light.