One of the most common and yet most rewarding parts of parenting is to take note and celebrate the amazing traits that God gives our children. Seeing your child have something amazing in her personality that she can offer to the world…a world that often seems to be in need of strength, compassion, love, forgiveness, patience, understanding…the list could go on and on, gives us reason to hope and believe, which I am always in favor of despite the odds and statistics. I know that human beings have all of these qualities in abundance to offer the world, especially if we can keep clear minds and hearts, but as the years go by and life happens, it can be hard to keep our best qualities shining.
Last night, as I drove home after taking in Moonlight Yoga under the full blood moon at Terranea Resort (simply amazing!) with Lauren, who turns 18 today, I was thinking about how I could honor the amazing kid that she has been from day one to the adult (legally) that she becomes today with my words. It’s become a tradition for me to write something to each of the four of them on their birthday's that they can hang on to in the years to come.
One of my standard lines to someone when their jaw drops that I have four kids (because frankly, by modern day standards, it just sounds like a lot!) is that there are so many of them because I thought raising kids was like raising Lauren. I’ve often joked that she has raised herself, while helping to raise the other three at the same time, setting the bar high with her example, and the physical work she puts in. She inspires with her drive and work ethic, and sets an unparalleled model for her younger siblings that they have the fortune to think is normal. While all of these traits have made our family a richer, more blessed place to be because of the kid that she is, last night, I arrived at the three traits, as I listened to her talk about real world issues that weigh on her heart on the way home from yoga, that I admire in her most.
EMPATHY - It’s so much different than sympathy, and yet difficult for a deep soul to absorb without letting your energy to be depleted. Lauren, you feel so sincerely what other people need, and yet seem to intuitively know how to retreat to protect yourself and not become jaded. This is such a hard lesson to learn for most empaths, but you have wisely figured out that a long drive with your music or a nap on the beach by yourself can restore you in ways that heal your soul and continue to let you be a light to the people around you. You feel, you give, and you let go of control of things that are not yours to hold in ways that make such a mark on the people that cross your path. As your mom, I couldn’t be more proud, but hope I have protected you enough from all you take in. This vision comes naturally to you ,and your soul is ever so much older than 18 today because of that.
STRENGTH - Because of the empathetic gene that you have and life circumstances, you have been challenged, as we all are at some point, to handle situations that as a parent, I would rather have you not have to wrestle. One of the greatest challenges of parenting though is to sit back and observe and support, rather than swoop in and try to fix. I have watched you take in situations in the world where extreme pain and human imperfections are at the forefront, all without losing your optimism and zest for life. You know how to balance what keeps you strong, taking care of your body, mind and spirit in a way that not only benefits you but the people who are in your life. You have a knack for seeking out what fulfills you, setting goals based on that and using your strength to make your own dreams come true. Because of this strength, you ask so little of me, and reward me with so much…but know, no matter how strong, everyone needs a soft place to land, I will always be that for you, don’t ever be afraid to ask or think you will disappoint. It’s simply not possible.
FORGIVENESS - Although it’s hard to rank these qualities, and the abundance of other wonderful traits you possess, your ability to forgive others and love with a full heart is amazing. You seem to take life like you would a volleyball game, point by point, never getting down and always believing that you and the people you love will win in the end, even if not in the moment. You are quick to forgive a slight and yet always wiser in your words and actions for what you have experienced. I am always amazed at what that kind of life can be attained with that attitude and resilience that you have learned from a young age. In the words of my new favorite Dierks Bentley song "You Can't Bring Me Down"
“But its true what they say about forgiveness, once you find it man, there ain’t nothing that can hold you back…” this couldn’t be more true in my book and you exemplify this every day.
LT - I could write a novel on all the things there are to celebrate about you, maybe someday I will. For today, know that you are more loved and respected that even you could ever imagine. I hope you feel it, covering you in every step of your day. You are and incredible creature and you are never alone…we are here for you always, you don’t always have to strengthen us, we are here to do the same for you.
I love you forever! Love, Mom
A mouse ran across the top of the TV set and neither of us even moved. They were irrigating the field behind our house outside of Firebaugh, a farm town on the westside of the San Joaquin Valley that many have never heard of. Every time they irrigated, the mice made a bee line straight inside. Not sure that it’s something you are supposed to get used to, but we had. That night my sleep was disrupted when the crop duster barreled down on the field behind our house, looking like it was going to fly straight into the bedroom window, as the cotton was sprayed in the dark, avoiding the heat of the day. When I awoke again the next morning though, the hydrangea that I had purchased at a silent auction we had attended in a cantaloupe shed was on the porch, I had a flag flying, and an oven that would bake cookies…and I was content.
Time passed, and we wanted civilization. We missed restaurants and going to the gym, so we moved 40 minutes east into town. We bought the big house in the tract on the river and couldn’t afford the furniture to fill every room. We made friends, pinched pennies, bought dogs, ate too much pizza, and Lauren was born. My favorite room was the balcony… and again, I was content.
Then we decided that the house was too big, and I wanted to stay home and raise kids, so we moved again. The house was smaller, it had a pool though, and we painted rooms ourselves, and had Luke. Friends gave us a recycled play set, we made more friends and invited them over. My favorite room was back to the patio…and I was content.
Property values rose, and we made some money selling our little house and found an adobe ranch style with a bigger pool and bedrooms, so we moved again. Kate was born. We bought a new play set, re-landscaped the backyard, went to dinner with friends and sat on the new patio…and I was content.
Then, way above average financial success happened, and my dream house was up for sale. It was house that my dad had almost bought when I was twelve and that I had cried when he didn’t. It was my happily ever after house. Matthew was on the way and we moved into the beautifully landscaped estate, complete with pool and guest house, beautiful blond hardwood floors and spacious rooms. My favorite room was still the patio, and I sat on it every morning, organizing my thoughts and feeling the pull of the simple life that I desperately wanted, that gave me contentment, but that seemed to be slipping away.
Was it the chaos of having four kids under seven? That had to be it I told myself. As I worked harder to achieve that simple life I so desired, my optimism was slipping away. We seemed to need more trips, more plans, more of anything but the mundane, but in my heart, what I wanted was to take care of my kids, exercise, sit on my patio, write next to the garden of hydrangeas, and chat in the evening. That "boring" life was escaping me.
Seven years passed and in part, because of that tension that I didn’t know how to identify then, we moved hours away and relocated full time to a walk street, ocean view in Hermosa Beach…great neighbors, beach access, tons of friends to come visit and amazing opportunities for the kids. My favorite room was the balcony, I tried to rise early and seek peace that I could tuck away and use over the course of emotionally tumultuous days. Sometimes it worked and by the end it didn’t. I wanted to be content, but that feeling was gone.
What I know today, is that a house doesn’t make a home, the people inside it do. Memories are made through experiences, possessions don’t hold our memories, our hearts and minds do. My peace and contentment come through gratitude for my health, ability to put a roof over our heads, food on the table and relationships with people who get me. I am beyond grateful that I have all of these things today. Some would say that through all of these moves we were chasing happiness. I choose for my lesson to be that the state of my heart will reflect the state of my home, no matter where it is, and my heart is content once again with the little things…and the big things, and maybe another hydrangea, will come out of that.
I haven’t had time to write much this past week, just a few notes here and there as I’ve been watching my kids play volleyball in Phoenix and enjoying every moment of it. My thoughts in these times are usually all about the gratitude I feel for the opportunities that they have to play and be coached at levels that were never available to me. I love sports, they brought my timid heart to a place that helped me believe in myself and see my own strength and resilience. Always a little behind in the struggle, learning things in my own time (I consider myself a late bloomer) and now getting to put all of this together and attempt to impart it to my kids, in the best way I can, all without a National Championship, a CIF title or really much of anything but an all league mention from a league I guarantee you’ve never heard of. What I know because of that though, and what is so hard to teach in the moment to kids who know the taste of success from an early age, is that while winning feels so good, the lessons we learn in the downturns, our ability to bounce back and trust in our own good intention and process is what takes us the farthest in life.
Society today is so often looking for the easy win, the answer that makes us feel good in the moment, but that chase for comfort leaves us unable to handle the unease of life that inevitably comes our way. So often these days, when we see our kids struggle, the answer seems to be "quick fix it, there has to be a way to avoid this uncomfortable feeling!" The more discomfort I have encountered as an adult has given me the ability to see so clearly that one of the biggest lessons to teach my kids is how to work through discomfort and disappointment on their own. It's not always easy to do and definitely doesn't feel good in the moment. My goal though, is to raise a champion in life, not just on the court, and those lessons don't always come with accolades and medals in the present.
The real heart of a champion is battle tested and scarred from brutal losses. When the work is put in, in the hours when no one is watching, when others are sleeping, when you’re diving on the floor, drawing blood, clawing and scrapping for every last ball, willing it not to hit the floor and you come up short, in the moment nothing hurts more. But for me, sports have always been a metaphor for life. I have learned more about how to handle the highs and lows of my life with lessons that I have learned on the court or in the pool. As EE Cummings said:
“It takes courage to grow up and find out who you really are.”
Sports has helped me to do that. I’ve learned a few things along the way and I’m reflecting on them today as I watched my son experience the toughest sporting experience and defeat that he has ever had. Here are my takeaways in a nutshell.
My biggest takeaway from this volleyball vortex that I have been swirling in is that as brutal as it is to watch my son in pain, the thing he needs to hear from me most is how proud I am everyday, regardless of results, because I see passion, work ethic and his ability to see a picture of the world that is bigger than himself...and that is the real heart of a champion.