A Letter to My Son on Your 18th Birthday

 

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This picture basically sums up our relationship.

Dear Son,

 You’re 18, officially an adult, with all its privileges and heartache.

It seems like just yesterday, you were riding your bike (with the training wheels) around James Street, wearing your superhero cape I made you (that lighted up) as well as a giant sombrero I brought you back from Mexico, wearing that giant grin–so much fun.

No, I don’t have documentation of this moment. I have so many regrets.

Confession: I never thought that tooth was coming in.

On the day that you turn 18, I want to tell you:

18 doesn’t change who you are overnight. You are still you.

Your life spreads out before you like an open road. It’s just that now, the training wheels are gone.

Now that you are a “real” grownup,  here are some things you are allowed to do:

You can move out legally. You can vote. You can take responsibility for your own decisions, your own body, even your own life (or someone else’s, if you become a husband and dad).

You can get married, or divorced.

You can join the Marines. I remember when you toyed with the idea of this, and even visited a recruiter. Do you remember your dad’s advice when he said, “It’s a man’s decision with a man’s consequence?”

As are so many things.

You can apply for a credit card. You can sign a will, or donate your organs. You can serve on a jury of your peers, potentially taking the life of another human being into your own hands.

You can file a lawsuit against someone, and you can be sued.You can take a trip without my permission. You can make terrible decisions, and feel the painful consequences. You can make wonderful decisions, and reap the rewards.

All. Of. The. Things.

Here are some other things you can do, no matter your age:

You can be kind, even when kindness is not returned.

You can help others, even when they cannot or will not help you back.

You can love with your whole heart, or reserve a bit of your heart out of fear.

You can make promises or break them.

You can take responsibility or blame others.

You can be truthful or be a liar.

You can give 100% of your mind, body and soul, or you can halfheartedly commit.

You can be someone others can count on.

You can give to someone in need, even if they cannot pay you back.

The choices are yours to make.

 

I don’t have any doubts you can do this: live this life you’ve been given to the fullest. You’ve always been good at tackling the hard stuff.

Only sometimes, the hard stuff will try to break you.

At some point:

You will be severely disappointed. You will feel crushed, humiliated, defeated.

People will gossip about you.

At some point, you will love and not be loved in return.

Someday, you will work hard, sweating and climbing, and cutting your hands on the side of the mountain. Sometimes, even though your desire is strong, things don’t work out.

You will lose, and it will sting.

There’s a temptation to give up. To stay home and hide. To say, “This isn’t worth it.”

Please, please don’t let it. Don’t give up. Step into the sunshine. Trust again, even if it’s a risk. Do the hard things, because difficulty shapes you. Don’t quit, even if others try to discourage you. Determination carves your character and teaches you that those who take shortcuts will only short themselves. Sometimes, the only reason the man on top of the mountain is there is because somebody else gave up first. Sometimes, showing up when you don’t want to is half the battle.

But you know what else?

You will also experience great joy–times of such success and pride, you’ll wish the moment lasts forever.

You will love — and be loved in return.

You will work hard–blood, and sweat, and tears–and you will complete your task. You’ll stand on top–experiencing the view you have earned–and you’ll bask in the moment.

You’ll do a job well, and know you gave your all.

You’ll face the life-changing moment, and you’ll nearly kill yourself with effort, and when you’re finished you’ll know you’re a bit tougher. You’ll stretch yourself to the very limit of your endurance, and you’ll push through.

But again, you’ve got to make the choice to keep going, even when you don’t want to. Especially when you don’t want to.

In other words, put on that sombrero and Superman cape and take care of business. And that cape of yours will float on the wind.

And you will know that you have lived.

Love Always,

Mom

P.S.: I’m really glad that tooth finally grew in.

A Letter to My Son on His Graduation Day: On Being a Good Man

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Tim McGraw’s “Humble and Kind”

Dear Son,

Didn’t we both think this day was never going to come? But here it is, and I am entirely unprepared for all the feelings.

Of course, we both know your graduation means the end of an era.

It’s the end of sack lunches and marching band.

It’s the end of school dances and football games.

It’s the end of me signing your report cards.

It’s the end of my making you eat your vegetables.

(Side note: it’s also the end of my paying for your car insurance. I’ve been meaning to tell you).

It’s also a marvelous beginning.

I am so very proud of you, not just because of your academic accomplishments, but your character. You are kind, sometimes to a fault, and you’re always the first to ask how you can help someone.

This is rare, not just for your generation, but for the world we live in.

We live in a world that says:

“Me first.”

“How can I get what’s coming to me?”

“I deserve the best.”

“Look at me! Here I am, being awesome again!”

It’s difficult to rise above these urges.

As you leave high school behind and move to greater things, don’t for a second underestimate your power in this world.

Power begins with choices.

You’ll be making your own decisions about your career, your love life, and what kind of person you want to become. Yes, I know you think you’re all finished growing up, but believe me when I tell you, this is only the beginning.

Because you’ve managed to overcome much of this “me first” mentality, many will try to take advantage. Please don’t let them. It’s difficult to balance kindness and self-respect, but it must be mastered. It is part of loving yourself and embracing maturity.

Another part of maturity is responsibility. We hear so much about what it means to “be a man.” Many inflate masculinity to the point it becomes vulgar: a caricature of itself. They point to their conquests as a mark of manhood. They brag about pushups and athletic prowess over intelligence and sensitivity.

I’ve known many weak men, many selfish men, many corrupt and vulgar men, and a few truly good men.

Do your best to fall into that last category.

I know your dad has been a positive role model to you, and you are fortunate to have him. You were also lucky enough to have known your Papa, my daddy, for a few short years (not nearly, nearly enough). You’ve also been fortunate to have met good men in the form of family, teachers, coaches, and pastors. But, before you leave my nest, I want to make sure you hear this from a woman’s perspective.

On Being a Good Man

A good man knows when to apologize. He knows when to own up to his mistakes. He knows when to dig in, and when to let go.

A good man also knows how to treat a lady. It’s not just opening doors, although that is a good start. He is a good listener, even when the topic is not personally interesting. He knows how to be authentic, true. He loves when she is unlovable. He takes up for her even when she doesn’t deserve it. He is on her side.

He is intelligent enough to listen to other’s opinions, understanding how and when  to disagree respectfully and without insult, but he is also able to not internalize the negativity.

A good man knows how to help others, not just when he will receive accolades, but even when he knows helping will not benefit his own agenda. He helps others when they are too proud to ask. He helps others who don’t know how to ask. He does not expect or demand to be “paid back.”

A good man lets his moral code guide him. He listens to his conscience. He doesn’t cheat others or himself. He doesn’t lie to others or himself. He never steals from others; he only takes what he earns or is given freely. This goes for money, time, or love.

Speaking of love: a good man doesn’t force his intentions, agenda, or affections on anyone else. A good man doesn’t have to try too hard to be loved. He knows what “no” means, and he respects the word and the connotations behind it. He never pushes his advantage. In this way, he earns love and loyalty. When you become a husband, your heart becomes one with another. If you treat your wife as if she is part of you, most of the time you will do the right thing, though nobody is perfect.

When you are on your own in this world, you will be tempted in every way. A good man knows when he is in over his head, and when to look away or walk away. He knows when he’s crossed the line and when to ask for forgiveness. He’s not too proud to admit he’s failed, and he’s not afraid to dust himself off after falling.

A good man is not afraid to love with his whole heart. He understands to love this way is to open his heart for potential pain. He will almost certainly suffer, because it’s difficult to go against the grain of this world. He doesn’t let the hurt scar him, because he sees the good in others and gravitates toward this goodness. To display courage doesn’t mean you haven’t been wounded. It just means you have determined to not allow these wounds to  be fatal.

Not all good men will be fathers. Although I hope this gift comes to you when you are ready; it might not. Nature makes no sense regarding who she lets father a child.

Some men want to be dads more than anything, and for whatever cosmic reason cannot.

Some men father children who should not be allowed to take care of a houseplant.

Many men are given charge of children but don’t know (or choose not to) to guide them. It’s really not that difficult to be a good father. You just need to show up and take care of business. You love with your whole heart. You do what it takes to pay the bills and put food on the table. Nobody is perfect; you will make many mistakes, but if you love your kids that is what they will remember. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself.

In a few days, you’ll walk across that stage, and you’ll move the tassel, signifying the end of childhood and the beginning of adulthood. You’ll leave childhood behind and take on adult responsibilities. You will make mistakes. you’ll fall and get up again. You will encounter great joy and indescribable pain. You will love.  You will lose: sometimes big and sometimes small. Some losses will be devastating–people you love. This, my son, is enough to make us want to give up.

I wish I could protect you from this, but I cannot.

I know you. You will, as Maya Angelou says, rise. You will stumble, and maybe fall again. But when you stand–you will run. You will fly.

You will not just fly–you will soar.

You’ll make your mark on this world.

The world has been changed by many men, both good and evil.

You will strive for the good, the pure, the authentic.

And you will be a good man.

 

 

 

 

5 Mistakes College Freshmen Make

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Hello there! It’s your favorite professor! I noticed you signed up for my composition class and that you are a freshman. Welcome! I want you to be successful! I want you to like school! I want you to thirst for that fresh water from the Fountain of Learning!

But–I have my worries. I’ve seen it before. Sadly, many of you (as many as a third of beginning students) will not make it past this semester.Why do some students thrive in the freedom college presents and others simply sink? I have a few theories I want to share with you. Here are 5 students who will probably not survive their first semester of college.

  1. Students who don’t understand financial aid. This is a huge problem, especially among first generation college students. The FAFSA (the federal financial aid form) is long and complicated, and it’s difficult the first couple of times. The solution: ask for assistance from your financial aid office, or better yet, from someone who has filled out this hellish thing. It’s really important to get it right the first time. Best case scenario if you make a mistake: you have to submit a correction and then wait approximately 100 years for the government to correct it. When you’re waiting to pay for classes, every day counts. Don’t fill it out half-heartedly.
  2. Students who are unprepared for the amount of study time needed. Many students simply do not set aside enough time to complete assignments and to study. College is NOT high school–most students can’t simply absorb the information in one sitting. Good students know that each class needs prep time, study time, and homework time. It’s a lot of time. This is just how it is.
  3. Students who are late or miss too much class and get behind. For the first time, Mama isn’t there to wake you up–it’s all up to you.Sometimes, that bed is so comfortable, so inviting–and before you know it, class time is over. Missing even one hour of valuable instruction can be enough to cause you to be behind for weeks–even the whole semester. I tell my students to think of college as a JOB. Not just any job, but a job they care about. You wouldn’t be late or miss work because in the real world, you would be fired and out the door.
  4. Students who don’t understand social graces. Many students who wouldn’t dream of being rude to their pastor or auntie don’t think twice about sending a rude email or texting through class. Manners matter, and impressing your professor with being polite and respectful might mean a letter of recommendation later on when you’re competing for a job, internship or scholarship. People matter.
  5. Students who don’t talk to peers or the professor. As social media explodes, our world is becoming increasingly isolated. Many students don’t want to leave their comfort zone and talk to their fellow students. They don’t want to open up to their professor when they are struggling with the material. Instead, they suffer in silence and quietly give up. They stop attending and fail or drop. It’s sad! I force my students to talk the first day of class. I make them introduce one fellow student, and I have them  exhange contact information with their neighbor. I pair them up frequently so they get used to one another. Studies show that successful students network. They work together. They form study groups.

I’m really glad you’re in my class. Put your phone away and look me in the eye. Let me help you get used to academic writing, surviving in college, and how to interact with others. Welcome to college! Let’s do this!

 

When Your Son Asks: Remembering Our Deliverance

Mancub at age 10 sleeping on the way home from Arkansas.

I want my kids to remember me with a soft kind of fondness–that perfect balance of light and hope, discipline and humor, friendship and love. A warm and fuzzy mama–but at the same time tough as the lady who delivers our mail. Have you seen her? She can bench 400 pounds, I know it!

I want my kids to think of me as a good example, someone they want to imitate.

One problem: I’m far from perfect. I screw up fairly often. At least as much as Donald Trump says offensive stuff on TV. I mean well, but …

I was reading through Exodus (actually, that’s inaccurate. I’m so lazy I have somebody else read Exodus to me, on an app. Because there’s an app for that). Anyway, this scripture refers to the story of the deliverance of the Israelites from Egypt. I just love the first sentence.

14 “In days to come, when your son asks you, ‘What does this mean?’ say to him, ‘With a mighty hand the Lord brought us out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. 15 When Pharaoh stubbornly refused to let us go, the Lord killed the firstborn of both people and animals in Egypt. This is why I sacrifice to the Lord the first male offspring of every womb and redeem each of my firstborn sons.’16 And it will be like a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with his mighty hand.”

When your son asks you, “What does this mean?”… how well we know this feeling, mamas. How well we know that frightening reality that somebody put us in charge of these precious human beings as IF WE WERE GROWNUPS. Grownups with answers. Grownups who hold those memories in the palm of their hand.

Sometimes, I sweat bullets when my son asks me questions. They used to be so easy.

“Hey Mom. How do you make instant oatmeal?”

“Hey Mom. Can you watch me go down the slide?”

“Mom. Mom. Mom. Mom. Why doesn’t the dog eat at the table with us?”

Lately, the questions are much more hard core.

“Mom, how does God feel about transgender people?” (This one’s easy: LOVE)

“Mom, I think my friend is in trouble. Can we help?”

“Mom, why does God let bad things happen?”

I don’t know all the answers. But I don’t ignore the questions. We look it up. We talk about it. I want to be the one, along with my husband, that is able to answer those “What does this mean?” questions.

In this verse, God is instructing the Israelites in the importance of remembrance. There’s no way these children, or grandchildren, or great-grandchildren, will ever know the sound of the cries of Egypt as they woke to find their firstborn children dead. It’s just too horrific. Over 400 years of slavery, of the Pharaoh killing the baby boys–the Jewish mothers hiding their babies, shushing their cries.

And the angel of the Lord passed over…

There’s no way the children would remember the unreal feeling of freedom. What? We are free? We can go? The feeling (and then, the eventuality) this freedom can’t last– that the Egyptians would change their minds and maybe call for the blood of the Jews to rectify Pharaoh’s hasty decision. The absolute miracle of the Red Sea parting down the middle as thousands of slaves left forever. The smell of the sheep and goats (and all those people) and the heaviness of the hastily packed possessions–the sheer terror and doubt that any of this was real. But they were told to try to make them understand–the importance of storytelling and ritual. Unleavened bread eaten in haste as we planned our escape. This is what it means, Son. This bread–it is a symbol of our deliverance.

I’m fortunate (NOT gonna say #blessed because I HATE that) to have never been in this kind of bind–this kind of slavery. But we all know a type of bondage.

Addictions.

Debt.

Disease.

Abuse.

Pain.

Crippling fear.

Anxiety.

God is not JUST the God of the past. He knows us. He knows you. HE has the answers.

I don’t always know what things mean, but when my son asks me, I’ll tell him.

I’ll tell him that we are free.

 

 

 

 

 

5 Things I Want My Son to Know

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I know what you’re thinking.

How could you possibly sum up everything you want to teach your kid into bullet points? That’s crazy. That’s insane. Get this woman a padded room.

Be honest–doesn’t a padded room sound pretty great sometimes? It’s quiet, it’s comfy–nobody’s talking…

Okay, back to reality.

You’re right. Life lessons are complicated and people can and do write obnoxiously long books about them. Here’s the thing, though. We are busy! We have so much going on. Lessons and ball games and concerts, deadlines and grades and buying toilet paper and washing underwear and taking the dog to the vet (somebody has to). The list NEVER gets shorter, it just changes with age (like me).

It’s like the old joke about how to eat an elephant…one bite at a time.

Since I’m not a child psychologist or Oprah or anything, I just have to do this a bite at a time. If I wait for that “perfect moment”, inevitably it will never come. So here’s my best shot–5 things at a time. If you want to see the previous blog about this, click  here.

5 MORE Things I Want My Son to Know:

1.How to be a good dad. This is complicated, for sure, and when I think about things my own dad did that made me love him I think that 90% of it was just being there. He worked a lot (so did my mom) but as he grew older he noticed that sometimes just showing up was support enough. My dad wasn’t perfect, and he made lots of mistakes, but what I remember the most about him was that he never gave up. Not on me, not on himself. I don’t think he knew how.

2.How to be a good husband. Again, this is complicated, and not necessarily something that can be summed up in a few sentences in a blog. But the essence of being a good husband is, I think, in the little things. Like coming home when you say you’ll be home, and turning off the t.v. when you said you would. Like picking up the ice cream I like without being asked, or replacing that light bulb that’s out in the bathroom. Little things add up to love.

3. How to be stubborn about doing the right thing. Again, I’ve done                 and said the wrong thing MANY, MANY times…we don’t need any                 specific examples here, that’s not really the point…but I do hope that           MOST of the time I’ve modeled the right way to do things. I want to               be a good reference for what integrity looks like, and when I’m not, I             hope I own up to it and make it right.

4. How to properly wash a dish. Okay, I know this is NOT a “big” item, but it’s important. To be sure he understands this basic principle, I feel he needs lots of practice.

5. How to finish what you’ve started. This is a big one to be sure. Sometimes we start and stop and start and stop again. Sometimes big events are interrupted and that’s okay. The important thing is to keep trying and to stick it out. Sticking it out–in marriage, in life, in work-it’s all important. Sticking it out in the hard places, when you’re scared and blind and you have no clue what’s happening next or even  if this is the right thing. You stick it out, you stay put…you dig your heels in and you scream at the wind “I’m not going anywhere!” And if you’re lucky, somebody’s there holding your hand, sticking it out with you.

That’s what I want my son to know–at least for today.

 

 

3 Things You Should Never Say to Your Son

Raising responsible, kind men is a daunting task. Sometime as a mom I am tempted to “help” my son by giving him what I believe is constructive criticism, but, shocker of shockers, he may just view my sage advice as plain criticism/nagging!

We see our sons as diamonds in the rough (emphasis on rough) that we have been charged to polish to a shine. For example, I see a report card full of A’s and immediately notice the one B. Why? How short-sided of me.

Polishing is painful. There’s friction, and it’s always one-sided. It’s painful to be the one who is being polished, rubbed and broken.

I believe that as good moms we need to walk that fine line between helping and being too harsh. Avoid saying these 3 things as a start when working with your own diamond.

1. You’re lazy. Here’s the kicker: he might very well be lazy, but to say these words is a negative reinforcement and may turn into a voice in his head for the rest of his life. Instead, try to notice when he shows interest in a chore or skill praise it. For example, my son doesn’t like to do dishes, in fact he will avoid dishes at all costs. He’d rather walk though Hello Kitty World dressed as Hello Kitty. But, he loved the experience of washing jars and helping with home canning! I know! Super weird. So I jumped on that and we spent several pleasant hours together making the best salsa known to man. If you don’t think so, you can just come to Tyler and tell me to my FACE.

2. You can’t do this! It’s too much for you. Maybe your kid is taking on too much. I’m not saying to not be your son’s buffer, but he needs to learn a bit of stress.Another unpleasant aspect of diamond making is intense heat. Melt your eyebrows kind of heat. Uncomfortable, unbearable, chemical-changing heat. If he never encounters heat because we’re so protective, how will he know what to do when he’s in college and you’re not there to shield him? Let him try to find the balance between school, work, church, activities, and girls. Do give him advice and stop him if he’s going off the rails. But let him feel the heat. It’s good for him.

3. Your girlfriend is a !@#!. Ok this is a tough one. We must guide without criticism, which is so difficult. One way to help him without verbally assaulting someone’s daughter, is to do your best to model the kind of woman you would like your son to find. Ouch. And just to be clear, I don’t mean anything Norman Batesesque. Whether or not you realize it, you are the standard, for good or bad. Luckily for me, I adore Mancub’s girl, but not every mama is as lucky.

Good luck, Mama. Remember that Jesus is the master diamond maker and ultimately has the final say, so trust Him with your diamond-to-be. And oh, how lovely the Son reflects from your son’s facets. Every.Single.One.

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