And Then I Wept
I remember my "tween" years, and they were.....interesting. In some ways, it was the beginning of me becoming me. I started participating in activities and interests that would spark life-long loves. And I would do it all with a mullet perm and a brace-filled smile. There was even a green-haired season, right in the middle of the teased bangs season, in which I had to dye my light blonde hair pitch black for a role in the "King and I." The bottle said temporary, the green/black hue of my hair said otherwise. It was an awkward, clumsy, emotional, and strange stage of life backed with bad hair and a Coke-Cola shirt I wore way too much.
I thankfully survived and the mullet perm did not. Today my husband and I have a twelve-year-old and a fourteen-year-old, and so many memories have resurfaced as I watch them toggle through life with one foot in kid zone and one in adult zone. I'm aware every day that this season they are in was not easy for me. How in the world am I qualified to parent it?! Other than to help with hair? I adore them with every single fiber of my being. But that doesn't make this season easy. If anything, that immeasurable love makes it more difficult. I enter each day with great caution and great prayer. Sometimes I find myself holding my breath, sometimes I'm breathing into a bag, and often I'm reaching for wine. What a crucial season of growth but what a tough one. They are juggling hormone changes, growth at speeds I simply can't believe, and social pressures that seem to be far greater than anything in my green-hair days.
In the spring of this year, the kids were wrapping up their 6th and 8th grade years at one of our town’s two middle schools. Unlike elementary school where I knew their teachers well and communicated frequently, I had worked hard to make sure the kids were now speaking for themselves as much as possible. School has become much more of an island uniquely theirs, and I love that but what a strange feeling. Letting go, even if gradual, is so tough for me. Before working outside of the home, I had been home with Lydia and Levi for ten years, and oh how I loved to plan our days. All of life was a lesson and an adventure, and as an Enneagram 7, I thrived on planning every detail of each excursion. While it was the most stretching season of my life so far (a topic for another day), I always cherished knowing they were tucked nice and tight under my wings.
As we closed up another school year, I was feeling so grateful for another good year and so grateful for a break around the corner. Where temporarily, I could again tuck them safely away. It was May 25th, and everything had started normally. My husband and I were each at work, we’d gotten both kids on the bus, both had food for lunch, both had their iPads, and one had his trumpet. Chances were good that at least one had a house key and one had a charged phone. This, my friends, is a victory never to be underestimated.
All was well. And then Andy and I received a text. A text you dread and pray will never pop up on your phone. It went out to all parents within our school district, and it said there had been a shooting at the other middle school.
I physically went numb. Before I could think, my phone rang, and it was my husband. I said, "Andy...."
And then I wept.
I laid my head on my desk and wept. And he said, "I know." And then he let me cry.
Yes, we knew that our two were not in the same middle school, and that is important to point out. But our friends' children were there. This was happening in our town. What was going on?! I began texting friends saying, “Tell me your babies are okay!!!” My phone began to fill with updates, videos of parents running frantically across the school lawn, and pictures of blockades in rooms at the high school. What twilight zone were we in? All of life seemed to freeze, and immediately, our community felt a slice in time. Just like that, our town’s history was divided in two. A before and an after.
Soon there was a new threat at the high school, right next to where our kids were, and the whole district went into lock-down for several hours. There was no leaving the classrooms, and at the time, no phones were allowed into the classrooms at the middle schools. Students had to share phones to send out updates to parents. There is absolutely no preparing for moments like this in life. thought of my two tweens, and thought of their budding independence and emotional stability. Could they weather this okay? Were they calm? Were they terrified? My mom diagnosis method requires seeing them, looking into their eyes, hugging them, and talking to them. All I had was silence and my own thoughts. How would this shape our kids? There was no doubt that it would affect us all.
I felt absolutely powerless. My plan A, B, and C did not account for this. My hands were empty and I could only place everything in God’s. I thought back to Sunday, when our pastor had asked all of us to get on our knees in prayer for our schools. I thought of the news, of Santa Fe, of Florida. And now us.
I had to get closer to the kids, so I went to pick them up. It was a hot day, and I stood under my umbrella for shade. All of us in the line that wrapped around the building were very quiet. We were not there to get in the way, but we ached to hug and see our kids. Our neighboring town had trucked in bottled water for everyone, and my eyes brimmed with tears at their generosity.
Time would run out before the buses had to stick to their schedule and head out with the kids. Security was at an all time high, and it was consuming much time to release children individually. I found myself driving through town and heading home without the kids. I simply could not get to them, and it felt so foreign. I began thanking God for those around the kids. When I couldn’t do a single thing, they were surrounded by amazing, loving teachers and administrators who were superstars that day. It was powerful for me to see this! My gratitude for our kids’ village grew tremendously that day.
When they did arrive home, Andy and I hugged them tight and held them long, but we worked hard at not adding drama to drama. Is that not the theme of parenting tweens? Stay calm, stay cool, even if on the inside you're for SURE anything but calm. On the inside, I was moving our family to an island. Pronto.
I want to hide these sweet, growing adult babies so much. I want to keep them in our home, let them become weirdos if they must. At least I’d know they were safe!
But that, of course, is not the answer. Sending them to school the following Monday was not easy. In truth, I dreaded it all weekend. But you know who did not? Our kids. These two, growing, giraffe-legged young people were cool and calm. I again attribute much of that to their teachers, who must have shown them great resolve and calm within the schools. A gift that cannot be measured.
Scars are there, however. When a new threat arose just a week ago, and we were not certain about school on Monday, our Lydia was nervous about going. And an ache pulsed within me. I prayed for words. I looked at her in the eye and this was what I told her.
"Lydia, I can not make promises about tomorrow. I can not tell you that everything will be fine, because I can't know that. But listen to me! YOU can be brave. You ARE brave. I will be brave with you. In this life, we get to choose fear or we get to choose bravery. If we choose fear, fear wins. We have to hold on tight to God who holds our tomorrows. He will give us what we need, when we need it. You are SO brave. I know this, now I need you to know this."
Parenting in today's world takes such grit. Parenting tweens takes a special pot of perseverance and determination. Sometimes I can only drop to my knees, when the weight is starting to feel too heavy. But we can take heart! I do believe that. And we can be brave! And fear can take a hike.
Jenessa has been married to her college sweetheart, Andy, for nineteen years. They have two kids, Lydia and Levi. She works for an engineering design firm in Indianapolis and enjoys spending time with friends and family in her spare time.
Jenessa loves to write and recently started a new blog, Coziness of the Soul, that taps into her Danish roots and how to enjoy the little things in life. She loves Jesus, Family, Caribou Coffee, and Disney, in that very order. :)