Lessons learned

tying-shoes“Mom, I HAVE to learn to tie my shoes!”

The car door had scarcely closed behind him before Nathan was simultaneously ditching his backpack, buckling his seatbelt and telling me everything about his school day. I know the day is not far off when my inquiries about his day will be met with a sullen “fine,” and absent any clarifying details, so I’m trying to embrace the flood of information while it lasts.

“Hold up buddy, slow down. What’s this about tying shoes?”

“The kindergarten teachers sent a letter home and everything. I HAVE to know how by Christmas. They won’t tie them for us anymore after that!”

“Okay bud, I’ll teach you how to tie your shoes in plenty of time. I promise.”

Yes, I promised that I would teach him.

Usually, Jon is the teacher in the family. I suppose it’s because of his patience —I can only endure so many slow or misguided attempts before I take over and do it myself. I am a taker-over. It’s not my most charming quality.

Jon has taught Nathan how to brush his teeth, climb trees, shoot basketball and button shirts. He taught him how to help take the trash out and clear the table after dinner. He teaches things that I don’t even think about teaching until after the fact. If you’re thinking it sounds like Jon would make a better stay-at-home parent than me, you’re not the first one with that thought.

But I was determined this time. I would be the one to teach Nathan how to tie his shoes. I showed him the time-honored “Loop, Swoop and Pull” method. He nailed the loop on his second attempt, but the swoop and pull were lost causes. Undeterred, every single morning we headed to the bonus room a full 10 minutes before we needed to leave for school so we could practice tying shoes. I didn’t want us to be rushed; my fledgling patience didn’t need any additional tests.

Loop, swoop, pull. Loop, swoop pull. Nathan, biting his bottom lip in concentration. Me, biting my lip and fisting my hands to keep from taking over.

After two weeks, he finally did it. I held my breath, lest his loosely formed knot fall apart but it held. His whole face lit up and his eyes met mine. My grin matched his.

“I did it, Mom! I tied my shoe!”

“Good job buddy! I knew you could do it!”

We high-fived and I quickly double-knotted the laces so we could head out the door.

Usually when Jon gets home in the evenings, the kids rush to him to tell him about their day. Not that night though. I was first in line, triumphant with my news.

“I did it, love! I taught him to tie his shoes!”

Jon smiled, amused at my phrasing.

“Good job love. I knew you could do it.”

Then he turned his praise to Nathan, and Nathan ran to grab his shoes and show off his newfound skill – the one I taught him.

Of course, I learned a lesson, too. Instead of letting Jon be the patient one, I dug deep and found that I can be, too. It doesn’t come as easily, but planning does — so I’ve learned to out-plan my impatience. I’ve built time into our routine for Nathan to tie his own shoes and for Ellie to climb into her carseat by herself. I’m taking over less and letting them take on more.

It’s not the first time that motherhood has made me the student, rather than the teacher. I think that’s the hardest part of this gig, really – having to learn on the job. Every single day pushes me to be better, to confront my weaknesses and find a way to parent around them. It is a refinement of the most complete kind, this role.

I fail often. I’ve learned to keep trying anyway.

Maybe that’s the biggest lesson of all.

 

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The Scenic Route

When I was younger, my dad and I would take a ski trip for my birthday every year. It wasn’t anything fancy; just a Red Roof Inn and a couple of days on the modest slopes of Western Carolina. For all my awkwardness and lack of coordination, I’m actually a pretty decent skier; we always had a great time.

One year – my 13th birthday, if I remember – we decided to try out a new resort. We weren’t certain of the best way to get there, but my dad was confident we could find it without trouble. This was before there was GPS or Google Maps, mind you. Although, even if we’d had them, they likely wouldn’t have worked in the backwoods of North Carolina anyway.

Dad had taught me how to read a map though, and I sat shotgun, playing navigator, in his rear-wheel drive Lincoln town car. The directions indicated we needed to take Beech Mountain Road; Dad spotted a sign for Old Beech Mountain Road, and we assumed that’s what the map meant.

It wasn’t.

Before long, the paved road had given way to a gravel one, covered in ice and snow from a recent winter storm. Steep drop offs lined both sides, and more than once we took a wrong turn that lead us off the road entirely.

It should have been scary. We should’ve fretted about being lost forever in the woods of Boone, North Carolina, or at the very least we ought to have worried about sliding into a ditch we couldn’t get out of.  I can’t remember being afraid though. We laughed and joked as we slid around one corner and then another, eager to make our way off the mountain to an audience who would appreciate our tale of conquering Old Beech Mountain Road.

Eventually, we ended up at the ski resort, nearly two hours later than we had intended. As we checked in and got fitted for our gear, the guy adjusting the bearings for my boots to snap into the skis asked how our morning had been so far. I told him about Old Beech Mountain Road, and he laughed as he said, “Oh wow. Y’all really took the scenic route to get here, didn’t you?”

Dad and I took three or four of those ski trips before our little tradition petered out. Twenty years later, the only one I can remember in any detail though is the one with Old Beech Mountain Road, when we took a wrong turn, got a little lost, and ended up with one hell of a story.

***

I am not a New Year’s resolutioner. I don’t use a daily planner. I don’t set goals. I don’t make lists or plans for my accomplishments for the coming year. This is strange, I think, because I’m a pretty Type A person in every other regard. I mean, I organize my grocery list in order of the aisles at our local store (they’re actually building a brand new Kroger, and the thought of learning a new store layout and having my list be a hot mess for awhile is killing me).

I suspect there are a couple of reasons for my non-resoluting ways. The first is that I’m a contrarian. Frequently, the expectation that I would do something because it’s always done that way is all the motivation I need to never, ever do that thing. This is not my most attractive trait, but it is perhaps my most honest one. I am rarely motivated by external pressure; in fact there’s nothing that causes me to stiffen my back and jutt my jaw more. My get-up-and-go has to come from within.

The second reason is actually even less complimentary of me than the first: I’m scared. I’m afraid of putting my dreams down on paper. I’m uncomfortable declaring that “This is the Year That I Do X!” because what if it’s a year of nothing but Y? I’m terrified that if I sit down to make a list of all the things I wish to improve about myself, I’ll never stop writing.

I’m an endless fixer-upper, you see. And I never was very good with tools.

***

A friend once told me that, when it comes to answering prayers, God rarely takes the quickest and most direct route. He is not a genie granting wishes, but rather, a Father invested in growing the character and shaping the legacy of his children.

I’ve found this to be true. Whenever I have faithfully, deliberately, and trustingly prayed for something specific, the answer has never been a simple one. Sometimes a yes has looked a lot like a no, until the threads come together and I see the tapestry He’s been weaving all along. Sometimes a no has been a devastating blow, until he leads me out of the woods and around the corner to a sight more beautiful than any yes could have brought.

This has, unsurprisingly, left me skittish about praying. I am a poor meanderer. I like my beaten paths. I have a hard time slowing down. God’s way is frequently not my preferred way, and I have the arrogance to argue. I am efficient while God is omniscient, and I’m foolish enough to confuse the two.

***

My friend Erin lives on the island of Oahu; her husband is stationed at the Army base there. A few weeks ago, she was telling me about a drive she took up to the North Shore. She explained that the fastest way to get there is an inland highway, but there was also a second, longer route. That one hugged the rugged coastline and offered amazing, postcard-worthy views.

“When you have the time, it’s kind of a no-brainer,” she said. “You always take the prettier route, even though it’s longer. It costs you nothing but time.”

Her words have been rattling around in my brain ever since. I’ve thought about my need for speed, and how I rarely take the slower route anywhere. I like being efficient, and feel like slowing down to enjoy the view rarely fits that bill.

But who wants to look back at the end of her life and say, “Wow, I sure lived efficiently?” When my grandkids spare me a moment to listen to one of my stories, I’m not going to regale them with tales of met deadlines and moments that unfolded exactly according to plan. I’ll tell them about Old Beech Mountain Road, and how the scenic route always makes for the best stories.

Maybe I’ll never be a New Year planner. But perhaps this could be the year I learn how to pray. Really pray. Not like purchasing groceries from a list organized by aisle (I’ll take one successful career, two healthy kids and no unexpected expenses this year, please Lord. And no thanks, I can take my own cart out to the car.), but like I’m ready to trust the Navigator. 

Take me on the scenic route, Father. I’ve got the time, and I’m ready to enjoy the view.

After all, I always did love a good story.