We Made Him Cry on Father’s Day

Half our children are teenagers. On July 27th, we’ll be outnumbered with 4 teens and only two, sweet, precious, innocent, still- not -know-it-alls youngsters. I admit, I enjoy parenting teens. Maybe even more so than when they were all in elementary school. It’s not better, just different.

I admit that even now, knowing I’ve shed more tears and lost more sleep over my teens than I ever did when they were younger. I keep reminding myself this is the season we’re in. This is all a blink in the great scheme of things. Just like the elementary years and toddler years, it’ll be over all too soon.

This year, things have been rough for Brandon. Because of unfortunate situations with his mother, he aches from old childhood wounds and new bruises.  I think sometimes the great mistake we make as parents is comparing our parenting success to our own childhoods. If we had awesome parents, we can never do enough to measure up. If we had crappy parents, we can never do enough to ensure our own children’s happiness.

I can’t understand what it’s like to feel the betrayal and hurt inflicted from the people who are supposed to love and protect you the most. I try to understand and “wear those shoes” everyday I step foot in my classroom or cry my way  home after a particularly rough day at school. The mental illness our youth suffer is more often than not the result of ill equipped parents who, for whatever reason (circumstance, their own mental health, addiction, generational modeling, illness) cannot put their child’s welfare before their own wants and needs.

On those long drives home after spending time with students in crisis, I ask God for better understanding, determined not to lose hope. How, I ask, will these kids overcome their shitty childhoods? Are we enough? Can we, as teachers, mentors, members of the  community, ever be enough? And then I pull in my driveway, shut down the car, drag my pitying self into the house, and fall into the arms of a man who not only loves me everyday, but also proves that we are far greater than our shitty childhoods. That the apple can fall far, far from the tree, wobble down the road, suffer the bruises and welts, create a new path, plant new beginnings, and grow stronger roots.

Brandon sometimes doubts himself as a parent, like we all do.  He’s learned that sometimes “honoring thy mother and father” means not repeating their mistakes. For Father’s Day this year, we wanted to give him something to show him that, by us, he’s done alright. We love him for working hard, taking care of us, always putting our needs before his own, and being an apple that fell far from the tree.

In case I forgot to tell you, he cried like a baby when we presented him with our project.

…that was the day you discovered your connection.

Armed with Runza sandwiches and Dr. Pepper, Vinny sat down with his 97 year old great grandpa Nesci for an interview assigned in history class. What was life like during the Great Depression? What did you do during World War II? How has technology changed? The wise old man had much insight to share.

At one point, Vinny asked, “What was your greatest accomplishment?”

“How do I answer that?” Grandpa pondered. “Well, staying alive, I guess. I have one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel,”he reminded us.

He continued to answer questions, talking about his jobs and education, about parents that wanted to appear as American as possible (which meant not speaking Italian). He talked about pole phones and model Ts, growing up luckier than most during the Great Depression, and his job as a sailor in WWII.

After the questions had all been asked, after we gave our hugs and said goodbye, Vinny spent the drive home considering the yesteryears of first generation Americans.

“You know what’s interesting, Mom?” He finally asked.”Grandpa and I are a lot alike. We both love cars, we both want(ed) to be firefighters, and we both love Italian food. Not to mention, we’re both kind of a ladies’ man.”

Yes, Vinny. Much alike, you are. In case I forgot to tell you, that was the day you discovered your connection.

…she was with us that day.

As we left Saturday’s all-call recital practice, the clouds and rain saddened me a bit. As excited as I was to have a little girl- my little girl- prepping to perform her jazz routine on stage, I was overwhelmed with thoughts of my grandmother. It’s been almost a year since she passed away and this- the shows, the music, the singing and dancing and glamorous makeup and femininity at its best- it all reminded me of her. She wasn’t a dancer, but I loved those elementary years she’d come and watch me dance at the Orpheum Theater. I think I was in high school when we went to our last musical together, Oklahoma!, at the Omaha Community Playhouse.

Franki’s class is dancing to “We Go Together” from Grease. With each hand jive, I’m longing for  one of Grandma’s stories about those days of yore. I sighed heavy as we splashed through the puddles to our car, thinking about Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds and sleepovers at grandma’s house. I wished Grandma could see her great grand daughter dance. I wished she could share in this joy with me.

Then… everything calmed. The rain paused. The birds silenced. Still deep in thought, I looked down at my daughter as she looked up at me, stage makeup grin, umbrella propped against her shoulder, spinning, spinning…begging to dance and sing in the rain…Screenshot_20170501-174852

… and I knew Grandma was there, right then, in that moment. In case I forgot to tell you, Franki, she was with us that day.

…I needed an excuse to write, again.

I promised my adviser I’d keep writing. I promised my husband. I promised my mother.

That was two years ago. I haven’t written anything new. Not even the famed annual Christmas Letter. Absolutely no writing for me. Well, unless you count academic papers for grad school or the emails to teachers, parents, admin, probation, therapists… the usual demands of my job as an English teacher at an alternative school.

And now, I’ve foolishly gone and signed up for a grad class that focuses on publishing non fiction. I need to get the juices flowing before class starts. I need to get back into the habit of writing! I need an excuse to write!

My little sisters complained I don’t blog anymore. They mentioned it’s fun for them to read about the shenanigans my kids are up to. A reader of my former blog told me she missed reading my spiritual (mis)direction and Catholic enthusiasm. I have a few messages as Facebook asking to bring back my blog, or to at least make it active to they can re-read.

Re-reading. That’s where writing takes me most days. It gives me a chance to re-read where I was during whatever season of my life I was writing. Blogging has proven to be an outlet to sort my thoughts, but also a place to capture those mundane moments of life that later will be the ones I struggle to remember. I want my kids, when they have kids of their own, to look back at this blog and realize- the good, the bad, the chaotic, the enchanted, the heavenly- we’ve all been through that season before. This is a place to capture the moment, the rant, the enlightenment…in case I forgot to tell you.