Urban Living

In the Name of Adventure

I think God laughs when he makes a woman the mom of all boys. He takes a Barbie-loving, bow-wearing, pink-bedroom dwelling, sensitive-hearted girl, and grows her up to a woman who gives birth to testosterone.

My friend John used to say our house had so much testosterone it must flow out of the faucets. I’ll confess, as much as I thought I wanted a little girl, and had to mourn the many things I would never do (read: buy baby dolls, plan manicure dates, and shop for prom dresses), I am delighted God gave me four boys.

Oh believe me, when they were younger I would call my friend Heidi and say, “Talk Girl to me! I can’t take another armpit fart or soda generated burp so loud it rocks the foundation of our home.” Heidi has three boys and she knows how stinky and loud and gross they can be. She also knows what I know: Most boys have an insatiable desire for adventure. (Ask her about her son Jack, sometime.)

So yesterday when my boys asked to go to the lakehouse, I was much obliged – mainly because as much as they love adventure, I love spontaneity. I was eager to ditch the laundry, put off the taxes and leave the house cleaning to another day. We packed some food, grabbed a change of clothes, and loaded the car and a couple of bikes so two of the boys could ride in the morning.

When we arrived, one son quickly unloaded his camera gear and staged his tripod at the end of the dock so he could do long exposures of the clear, star-filled winter sky.

The other three ran to the basement playroom to bounce on the stack of mattresses and kick the soccer ball to at one another. After a late dinner, the three older ones competed in a friendly game of Poker while the youngest watched a bit of the Kentucky versus Florida basketball game.

Poker didn’t last long because the oldest had to check on his camera. The two middles thought it would be fun to take out the kayaks and sneak up on him from the water. As they told me of their plan, I went through a common struggle of all mothers. Do I let them? Or do I not? Is it too dangerous, or just another great adventure?

I let them go — after I laid out the parameters: you must wear a lifevest, not just have it on the kayak. You must stay right next to one another in case one of you gets in trouble. You must be within earshot of the lakehouse. They agreed and bounded outside – on the mild February night – to retrieve the kayaks.

Since their oldest brother saw them launch the kayaks from our small, sandy beach, their sneak attack was foiled. They maneuvered the kayaks around the bubbler which keeps ice from forming around, and therefore damaging, our docks and headed out into the partially frozen lake, guided by the moonlight.

The oldest aimed a second camera toward them and captured them kayaking in the moon’s reflection on the water. After a few minutes, as I walked downstairs to check on the kayakers, my oldest son met me at the bottom of the steps to show me the extraordinary shots he had taken. Seeing that they were safe, I retreated back upstairs to my blanket and cushy chair in the great room to start another episode of Parenthood. Just as Crosby runs into Jasmine on her date with the pediatrician, the kayakers burst into the room to tell me I “have to come down and kayak.”

“It’s amazing. We kayaked through ice,” one said with stardust in his eyes.

“It sounded like the Titanic,” the other described.

As much as I loved their excitement, not one bone in my body wanted to move from that  oversized, luscious chair to put my feet in freezing water and get inside a one-woman boat in the middle of winter.

So why did I find myself kicking off my shoes and peeling off my wool socks to step into that icy water and get inside that bright yellow vessel only a few minutes later? When I posted to Facebook that my boys were kayaking on February 7 by moonlight in Indiana, one friend said, “You’re the coolest mom around.” While it was a sweet comment, I didn’t let them go to be the coolest mom around. And I wasn’t joining them to prove it either.

I went kayaking with my sons because they asked me. And when an opportunity arises to live into a unique experience, especially when it’s an adventure to share with my sons, I seize that moment. I grab on, hold tight, and see where the ride takes us. Tonight it took us through the dark waters of Grandview Lake, illuminated by the (almost) full moon, into a layer of thin ice which, just like my third son said, sounded exactly how I imagine the Titanic sounded as it entered the frigid areas of the Atlantic.

It was an eery sound at first, the scraping of the kayaks against the thin ice. But eventually we stopped paddling and sat under the star-laden sky where the pieces of broken ice clanged together, sounding like wind chimes powered by a gentle breeze. It was beautiful, and – quite frankly –  beyond words.

Fear can cripple us all, and when I think of the potentially dangerous things my sons do, the things I allow my boys to do, I could become paralyzed. I could wring my hands and shout “NO!” at them when they want to ride bikes in downtown Indianapolis traffic and down rugged mountain paths. I could insist they ski and snowboard on the marked trails and avoid going in and out of the trees. I could ground them when they find ways onto rooftops to capture the urban landscape. But I don’t. And sometimes I wonder if I’m crazy for allowing it all.

But I know it’s in their blood. They were created for exploration and adventure. In the book Boys Should be Boys, by Meg Meeker, M.D., she says:

Too many of us parents obsess about healthy diversions that active boys like to do, while not recognizing what is truly dangerous for our boys – like popular music, television and video games that deaden their sensibilities, shut them off from real human interaction, impede the process of maturation, prevent them from burning up energy in useful outdoor exercise, divorce them from their parents and lower their expectations of life.

All of my boys have listened to questionable music and become engaged in video games. They enjoy shows like “The Walking Dead” and “Criminal Minds.” They are not immune to pop-culture, but thankfully they are not consumed by it either. They live lives engaged and passionate for things they love: photography for the eldest, cycling for the second, woodworking for the third, and anything sports related for the youngest.

I have no magic parenting skills and I certainly fall short in my call to parent well. It is by the grace of God, and I believe through the meager prayers I utter and those of my dear boyfriend, who nightly prays specifically for each one, that they have invited me into their adventures, if not physically at least in the recounting of their exciting endeavors.

Through these adventures, they are discovering more of who they are, their strengths and weaknesses, their limits and abilities, and perhaps even birthing new dreams. The lessons from obstacles they face and the pleasure they seek carry over to their daily living and their relationships. I learn so much from each of them, and even though some of these activities cause my heart to stop now and then, I am grateful that they allow me in, that they continue to invite me to play – even if it doesn’t involve Barbies or painting our nails.

Categories: Parenting Boys, Urban Living | Tags: , | 2 Comments

My Job Contract Should Have Come With a Warning Label

When I was handed my job contract as director of enrollment at a local high school, it should have come with a big, red WARNING stamped across each page.

The top ten warnings should have read:

1. Warning – You will no longer have only four children. You will gain at least 650 more.

2. Warning – You are not simply enrolling students into a school, you are admitting them into your life.

3. Warning – You will build relationships with said children, and with their parents, grandparents and siblings. They will entrust you with intimate details of their lives. Treat them with care.

4. Warning – When you leave the school campus, your job will not end.

5. Warning – Your private life may not be so private any more. You will see students at the grocery store, the mall, concerts, and even on vacation.

6. Warning – Because your son goes to this high school, you will have students entering your home from morning until evening. Some of them may set up semi-residence.

7. Warning – You will never sleep the same again. Students will infiltrate your dreams and wake you from worry-filled nightmares.

8. Warning – High school students will surprise you, disappoint you and exceed your expectations, often all in the same day.

9. Warning – When tragedy or disaster befalls one of these 650 students, your heart will break into a million tiny pieces.

10. Warning – There is no end to this role. You signed up for it. It will last a lifetime. Long after a student graduates, moves away or passes on, you will find their names engraved into your heart.Image

Categories: A Day in the Life, Friends and Family, Urban Living | Tags: , , | 3 Comments

The Day Reason Kicked Panic’s Butt

It’s been a seven year tradition: our annual ski trip with two other families. Typically, we ski two days and then visit the local shops or hang out at the rental home one day. This year, we headed into the town of Harbor Springs, Mich., to browse the shops. The first store we walked into was a Paris-inspired boutique with lovely home accessories, clothing and handbags. My friends oohed and ahhed over the cute centerpieces, candles and clothing, while I barely made it two feet inside the doorway. On the table at the entrance was a book titled, “Notes to my Son Before You Go,” by Vesna M. Bailey.

The cover had a beautiful black and white photo of a young boy, standing on some drift wood at the beach. Inside were more stunning photos along with words that the author had both collected from various sources and written herself. Her goal, she said, was to impart wisdom to her son before he leaves home.

My mind went to that place. You know the place. That place where you start to compare yourself on the universal meter of mothering perfection and realize you are nowhere near the perfect mark. You panic, realizing you have not imparted the wisdom or advice that this author has so painstakingly shared with her son. Then a deeper panic sets in when you realize you have only two more years to come up with all of the inspiring, motivating, loving, guiding words to bestow on your child.

And you have nothing. If he were in front of you at that very moment, you would probably stutter or perhaps you might mutter something like, “Don’t forget to put on clean underwear,” or “Treat others as you want to be treated.” But nothing near the definition of wise or inspiring fires across your synapses. And YOU ONLY HAVE TWO YEARS to come up with something good. With words that will really mean something. With catch phrases, meaningful quotes, life-saving advice.

I clutched the book to my heart as I walked, panic-stricken, around the store. I hoped that if I hung on tight enough, the words would pour off the pages and into my bloodstream right up to my brain where I would store every bit of information. Then I would be able to share it piece by piece with my boys. Yes, I would buy this book, read it cover-to-cover and recite the words to my boys until I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were ready to leave home – prepared to be Godly, kind, healthy, well-adjusted, peaceful, strong, joyful leaders of the universe.

Then something happened in between my friend trying on a blue and white striped sweater and her decision to buy a gigantic handbag. I loosened my grip on the book, walked over to the table where I found it and put it down.

Reason had kicked Panic’s butt. Reason told me that I didn’t need someone else’s words to help prepare my boys to leave home. I wasn’t failing as a mother just because I hadn’t written a book of clever phrases or gathered famous quotes.

What my boys needed was what they were getting. What they are getting: Love, prayers, stability (yes, even post-divorce), and tradition to name a few. After I put the book down, I headed to the next store with my head held high. I’m far from perfect in the realm of motherhood, but I am confident that with all the mistakes I make, I’m doing some things right.

Things like providing experiences that will be remembered far beyond the words I may recite to them from a book I picked up one vacation. No, instead I want to impart pictures of grace, love, laughter and belonging in their minds.

IMG_5339So, for example, over Christmas break when they asked to go sledding one night at 9:30 p.m., I said yes. So we donned the snow pants, the boots, the hats and gloves, and threw the sleds in the back of the Suburban. And when the house looked like it had vomited Christmas gifts and wrapping paper after two weeks at home, I let it go until it was time to restore order before heading back to school. And when they asked to take a road trip to the lake with their friends, I set aside my day of reading and writing and loaded the car with warm clothes, junk food and a few friends… because these are the times they’ll remember.

These are the memories we create so that one day, whether any of us actually writes them down, or we simply store them in our hearts and minds, we will write our own book. A book that will serve these boys far beyond the time they leave this home. A book that will not be a generic, store-bought version of nice quotes and generic photos but a book born of personal experiences and treasured stories.

Categories: A Day in the Life of Us, Friends and Family, Parenting Boys, Urban Living, Vacation | 2 Comments

I Never Imagined

I live across the street from a crack addict. He confessed to the media that he was smoking crack the night his van collided with a motorcycle, killing two people. After he served a short stint in jail, I saw him sitting on the front porch of the apartment complex where he lives. On my way to work, I stopped and boldly stated that I was surprised to see him. He told me if it weren’t for the witnesses testifying that the motorcycle crossed the center line and hit his van, rather than the other way around, he’d still be sitting in that jail.

When I lived in the suburbs, I never would have imagined a.) living across the street from a crack addict, and b.) stopping to chat with said crack addict on my way to and from work.

The thing is, Donny is a really great neighbor. When I woke up to the first major snowfall a few months after moving into the city, it was Donny who was traipsing up and down the street with his shovel, digging out one car after another. He didn’t ask for money or a return favor. He just did what a good neighbor does.

When I couldn’t start my car, he was the first one to come over and ask how he could help. When my dog escaped from the backyard, he helped chase him down and bring him home. And whether I am coming or going, I can always count on Donny’s loud, robust voice, shouting, “Hey Neighbor!”

Living in the city has opened a whole new world of experiences for me and my children. I am not going to advocate a friendship between my children and Donny, but I do expect them to be polite and say hello when he speaks to them. Knowing him has demystified the whole notion of drug addicts in the city. While I hope and pray that Donny finds freedom from his addiction, I will not run or hide from him because his sins may appear scarier or heftier than mine.

Waving Their Rainbow Flags

On the same note, I will not shun the couples in the two homes directly across the street, just because they are homosexual males. Discussing our weekend plans or talking about the Colts game with these couples is no different from talking about it with our heterosexual, married neighbors in the ‘burbs. Again, knowing these couples has demystified what it is like to be in community with others who have a differing lifestyle. Building relationships, even if limited to quick chats, allows us (me and my boys) to move away from judgment and into a supportive and caring experience with these neighbors.

Meeting Lamont

Tonight as I was driving my son to soccer practice, my car died at an intersection not far from our house, but not in the safest area in the city either. I texted my boyfriend an S.O.S. before calling AAA. He helped push the car to an abandoned lot and then took my son to practice. As I waited for AAA, several people walked by, but I never feared for my safety at this corner where prostitutes are known to solicit business and the occasional shootings take place.

When I called my friend Laura to have her take my two younger boys home so they wouldn’t have to wait, she sounded a little skeptical about leaving me alone at that intersection. I told her no one had bothered us so far and I would be fine.

The minute she drove off, a neighborhood boy-turning-man, appeared from around the corner. He sat down next to me on the curb, but I still wasn’t afraid. Even with the sagging shorts and stereotypical gang-style clothing, he didn’t come across as aggressive or intimidating. When I asked him what he was up to, he looked at me with big, innocent eyes and told me he was walking to his friend’s house. We sat in silence for a while until he spoke: “I thought something must be wrong because I never seen a car parked here like that before.” Image

(Lamont watching my car getting towed)

“That’s about as far as we could push it since it’s so big,” I said.

“Is everything okay?” he asked, flashing a gorgeous, bright smile.

“Yes. The tow truck is on it’s way,” I told him.

“I thought something must be wrong because I never seen a car parked here like that before,” he said again.

It was then that, although it seemed a little strange, I knew I had nothing to worry about. Lamont was simply hanging out.

He kept sitting on that curb as my friend Laura came back to keep me company and as the tow truck driver rigged up my car. When my boyfriend returned to take me home, Lamont continued sitting. Perhaps there was nothing better to do than sit with a random lady at the corner of 22nd and College on a pretty, summer day. Whatever the reason, I stopped speculating and just let the experience exist as it was. Not all strangers in semi-dangerous neighborhoods are out to take advantage of or hurt me. While it’s smart to be cautious and aware of my surroundings, when I create an environment of openness and trust, I am likely to get those very things returned to me.

Living downtown has caused a great shift in how I see people, and how I live my life. I value diversity and experiences much more than I ever could have in the suburbs where we all looked the same, drove the same SUVs, went to the same churches and frequented the same restaurants. I have the Donnys, the Lamonts and the gay neighbors, with whom I share a diverse neighborhood and a vibrant city, to thank for that shift. You all have made me a more loving, caring and accepting woman.

Categories: Urban Living | 4 Comments

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