Same Old Song, Different Dance

Last week Elena and I found ourselves sitting across from a cheerful fellow. Eager to shake my hand, he introduced himself as the man who would see us through to Elena’s graduation from high school. He’s her high school counselor, and we were there to schedule her freshman classes. He must be completely immune to the look of panic in parent’s eyes at this first introduction. I can assure you it was there, and it didn’t phase him one bit.

Preparing for high school as a parent

I’ve long been a fan of the mantra “The days are long and yet the years are short.” Lately, however, I feel a strong urge to change it up a bit: “The days are short and the years are even shorter.” I’m not upset to find myself here, in my 40s with a high schooler. It’s how this parenting thing works, after all, and it’s much better than the alternative of not making it to this point in one piece. I just want to make sure we get through this next phase in one piece, too. I want to do it well, ensure smooth sailing, and make sure we don’t want to claw each other’s eyes out when it’s all said and done. Basically, I want complete and utter control of the situation, which isn’t how this parenting thing works.

Parenting a teenager feels like learning choreography to a dance where the moves keep changing. Up up left back. Repeat. No! It’s up up left front! God, mom! (Cue eye roll and annoyed sigh.) Even when you get it right, you’ll end up wrong a few beats later. When you get the moves right you’re elated. We’re doing it! We’re making it look so easy – isn’t this fun? And then you say something in the wrong tone, or they do something super boneheaded, and you’re stepping on each other and falling on your asses.

Parenting teenagers

I was enamored with parenting books when my children were small, and then they all but disappeared from my nightstand. Now they stack up and tumble over, their titles an insight into what’s plaguing my soul and turning my hair grey: How to Hug a Porcupine, The Secrets of Happy Families, Unspoiled, Untangled. I used to be obsessed with picky eating and crafting the perfect sleep schedule. Now I want to shout at my old self: It doesn’t matter!!! Who cares if they eat peas or took good naps? It matters that they don’t end up in jail or dancing around a pole. Where’s that book, hmm?

But there is no book that will magically get me through these years. Nor is there a magic formula, a sure-fire method or a guarantee. She’s her own person, who will make her own choices. We’re her parents, who are doing the best we know how. There’s only one guarantee: she’ll screw up and so will we. We’ll love her and embarrass her and remind her that we have her back. She’ll love us and embarrass us and say awful things about us to her friends behind our backs. That’s how this parenting thing works.

I hated junior high and truly enjoyed high school. It’s where I found friendships that still endure, first love, and opportunities to pursue passions that still bring me joy. Elena’s face lit up when the counselor suggested an alternate class for her, one that speaks to her love of creating and performance. She’s a good kid, and I feel pretty sure that she’ll find her own way in high school. I also feel pretty sure that it will be completely unlike the way Mike and I experienced high school, or what we imagined for her.

Parenting teenagers

By the time I walked out of that meeting with the counselor, my panic was gone. I can’t believe we’re here, for sure, but at the same time I’m so glad we’re here. When we’re not tripping over each other, we’re having a good time. I enjoy her company and she makes me laugh. She’s going to be leaving us sooner, rather than later, and that will probably suck. And then we’ll move on to the next phase and wonder if we’re doing it right. Same partner, different song, completely different moves. That’s how this parenting thing works.

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What We’re Doing in 2016

Mike was the first person to notice them. Walking by the printer, he spied them fresh off the press.

“This year I will” he read … “Oh no, are these for us?”

They were indeed! Cute New Year’s resolution printables courtesy of Pinterest, one for each of us. Sigh.

“You’re going to make us do those, aren’t you?” Elena was the next to notice, after I’d cut them out nicely and arranged them on the kitchen counter. Sigh.

Eli lived in New Year’s resolution ignorant bliss, until I whipped them back out later that evening as we waited in a barbecue restaurant for our food to arrive. He stared at the blank page and grimaced, as if we’d told him we were all having the ribs and he could have some tofu. Sigh.

So maybe they don’t enjoy self-reflection as much as I do, but in an attempt to humor me they rallied and reflected. And I have to say, they all put great thought into their resolutions. I’m hit or miss when it comes to making big changes when the new year rolls around. For me, I feel more compelled to make changes when the school year starts. That feels like the beginning of a new year to me. Still, I thought it would be fun for us to try coming up with some resolutions together and to share some individual goals with each other. As an Obliger, I know how important it is to have outer accountability when it comes to meeting inner goals. I suspect I’m not the only Obliger in this little family. Here’s what the members of the Six family would like to accomplish in 2016:

This Year Angie Will:

Start a new habit: Aim to get 10,000 steps at least 5 days a week
Read a good book: Harry Potter (finally!)
Learn a new skill: Periscope
Go on a visit to: My niece’s house. We’re always talking about visiting, but are terrible at making it happen.
Break a bad habit: Failure to floss on a regular basis
Look forward to: Our trip to California
Try something new: Cooking ahead and doing meal prep at the beginning of the week

This Year Mike Will:

Start a new habit: Walk Gus more often
Read a good book: Finish the Harry Potter series with Eli
Learn a new skill: Household DIY projects
Go on a visit to: Hocking Hills, Ohio (Our friends went last fall and it looks like a fun and quick family getaway)
Break a bad habit: Skipping family meetings (we’re all guilty)
Look forward to: Going to see Twenty One Pilots as a family (we have 4 tickets to the Indy show this summer)
Try something new: New food (It’s going swimmingly so far, can’t you tell based on Mike’s helpful editorial comments on my suggestions?)

Getting to Yum seasonal new food suggestions for winter

This Year Elena Will:

Start a new habit: Draw every day
Read a good book: Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
Learn a new skill: Something art related
Go on a visit to: California
Break a bad habit: Going to Taco Bell (cut down to no more than twice a week)
Look forward to: Hopefully going to a Ryan Ross concert
Try something new: Skydiving (!)

This Year Eli Will:

Start a new habit: Brush teeth in the morning without being asked
Read a good book: Finish Harry Potter with Dad
Learn a new skill: BMX tricks
Go on a visit to: California
Break a bad habit: Leaving lights on (praise Jesus if just one kid could figure this out)
Look forward to: His first concert (Twenty One Pilots in July)
Try something new: The ukulele

This Year Gus Will:

Start a new habit: Letting my owners clip my nails without freaking the freak out
Read a good book: The Ultimate Guide to Dog Training
Learn a new skill: Wipe his own muddy paws before coming in
Go on a visit to: Barkefellers without getting kicked out for “aggressive mounting”
Break a bad habit: Chewing the most expensive socks we own while overlooking the cheapo Target ones
Look forward to: Finally catching those squirrels
Try something new: Watching the nice old lady walk in our cul-de-sac instead of barking as if she’s an ax-murderer

Just kidding, Gus can’t write … yet.

We also came up with a few family resolutions. We’d like to start having family meetings again once a week. We fell out of the habit over the summer, but have missed that valuable connection and opportunity for communication. We want to work on a big jigsaw puzzle – the kind you get started on a table and leave out for people to work on as they please until it’s finished. And finally, we have a goal to play each and every game we own. We’ve amassed quite a collection, some of which the kids have either outgrown or that we don’t enjoy as much as we thought we would. We’re on a game buying hiatus until we complete this fun task.

Did you or your family make New Year’s resolutions this year? If so, do you talk about them together or keep them private? I promise to report back at the end of the year and let you know how we did with ours!

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Sixteen

sixteen years

Photo credit: Julie Setmeyer

Tomorrow Mike and I will celebrate seventeen years of marriage. We’ve officially hit that mark where we’ve been together longer than we’ve been apart. That’s crazy! And also: we are getting old.

I feel like every year I reflect on marriage and write some riff on how marriage is hard, how Mike and I have to work at it to make it good. Just like parenting, some years and phases are more difficult than others. This, however, was not one of those years. Year number sixteen was good, friends.

I want to bottle this year and repeat it every year forward. It feels as if we moved into this new home together and unpacked more than just boxes. We unpacked years of judgement, comparison, and doubt and set them to the curb with the rest of the worldly possessions that didn’t seem to fit in this new house. And in the place where those things lived there was suddenly room for good and beautiful things.

I wish I could say “Do this one thing and watch the sparks fly all over again!” But marriage seems to be like an intricate puzzle, and who knows which piece will be the one your own marriage is missing to make everything fit just so. But if I had to point to one thing that was different for me, that seemed to shift the pieces into place, it would be this:

Look at your spouse the way others see them.

It is so very tempting and easy to view them through the lens of the eternally disappointed roommate. You look at your spouse and can only see the things that drive you mad: the dirty clothes on the floor, the honey-do list that doesn’t get done, the thermostat you can’t agree on, the pet peeves and petty disagreements.

I dare you, the next time you are out socially with your spouse, to step away and watch them in the presence of others. Listen to how the people he or she works with talks about them. See your spouse through your children’s eyes.

I made a conscious effort to do this over the last year. I saw a man who is the life of a party. If it’s fun, he’ll make it epic (at least until 10 p.m). If it’s dull, he’s your lifesaver. I saw a man who makes people smile and laugh. I saw a man who gets up at the crack of dawn five days a week and goes to work at a job that is both physically and mentally demanding. I saw a man who works outside on the hottest and coldest of days and never complains. I saw peers and clients praise him for his problem-solving skills, for going above and beyond what was expected. I saw a man whose kids think he’s the coolest dad they know. A dad who will snuggle, read, play kickball, take them to concerts, teach them, and above all, love them fully and without restraint. I saw a man who wants nothing more than to provide a good life for his family, to make his wife and kids happy (okay, so maybe the kids would be happier with less kissing).

Six Family Photo

Photo credit: Julie Setmeyer

I don’t know about Mike, but I feel like I fell in love all over again this year. I opened my eyes and saw the guy I want to be married to for the rest of my life.

Happy Anniversary, Mr. Six. I am so very happy to be your wife.

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