Come Home Safe

Come home safe. That’s what I find myself saying a lot these days. Come home safe. It’s my motto -- on repeat ever since I’ve been adjusting to our family’s new normal. This awkward new chapter in our life called Surviving the Terrifying Moments When Your Teenager Drives Away Until They Return -- and ways to avoid Life360 App addiction. Come home safe is the crutch phrase of our family’s new season. You use crutches when you’re hurt or weak and although it’s embarrassing to admit - my children growing older makes me anemic.

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I say come home safe every morning before school as my son grabs his car keys and my daughter opens the back door that leads to the garage. The last words I say on the phone are, come home safe when my son calls from his job and lets me know he’s on his way. I feel the concern in my voice and I know my kids hear it too when I say come home safe on a Friday night after an overtime football game. It’s a crutch, but I’m imperfect.

My son turned 16 this year and I could tell you all the things I’ve been telling myself over and over -- that he’s respectful, responsible, makes good grades, has terrific friends -- all that warm, positive vibey stuff, but he’s driving solo more often and when he says goodbye - I always say, come home safe.

Like it makes any difference at all.

As if the words, come home safe will shield him and place a cover of protection over his car. Like an imaginary bubble that prevents other cars and objects from hitting him, or worse, if he hits someone else. I’m not sure why I’ve worked up in my mind that it would be worse if he caused the wreck. Fault or no fault, our car insurance payment will balloon but honestly, it isn’t about the money. The older I get the more I realize that if it can be fixed with money it’s not a problem. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t think money can fix everything - and we certainly struggle with not having enough of it, but if the problem can be fixed with money, it’s manageable. Here’s what’s fixable -- a totaled car, a damaged church sign, an extended hospital stay or months of physical therapy. All of those inconveniences are paid with time and money even if takes until you are 127 years old. A loved one, dead on the side of the road after a car accident cannot be fixed with money.

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Come home safe.

But like a fresh breeze, all these gory images are ushered from my brain and replaced with the endless loop of my energizing, rehearsed, positive words.  My son is respectful, responsible and a good student. He has terrific friends and he’s conscientious. I added that last adjective since it has a comforting sound to it. Makes me feel better to think that he’s a conscientious driver. A person wishing to do what is right and to do it with care.

It was after a few months of him driving that I realized I was pouring a favorable outcome into him. Planting seeds of confidence in his subconscious. I say come home safe instead of don’t speed...don’t be reckless...don’t make quick turns or tailgate. I won’t parent using the negative because I chose not to parent that way when they were younger. I used words of affirmation as I spoke to him just like I’ve done his whole life, but now, in this season, my words are different. Instead of, come home safe, when they were younger I’d say, share what you have and when they did, “I’m proud of you.” As the kids grew, I’d say “care for one another or watch out for your sister.” When they entered middle school, “Be a leader” and then later, “Make good decisions" and "I believe in you.”

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Come home safe is my way of adjusting to my teenagers when they flinch (ever so slightly) when I say I love you or when they shrug me off as I pat them on the shoulder. It stings a little when I can see him recoil when I adjust his collar. Our kids know they are loved. But, I’m honest enough to admit that they’re going through the “it’s so weird stage” when your mom says love you -- all the time -- out loud -- for like the whole world to hear. So I’ve learned to replace I love you with come home safe.

And come home safe is my way of saying that home will always be their safe place to land.

Life Stopped Me Today

Life stopped me today.

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I felt the pressure on my chest. It was the exact same feeling I had when my Dad’s arm flung to hold me from lunging into the dash from hard braking. Life pushed on me and I felt an overwhelming sense to stop and feel the message. The sensation was urgent. Insistent. A feeling of being fully surrounded. My body alert, electrified and I could hear a sound like a fetal heart monitor thrumming in my ears.

I had other things to write about today. A pile of unfinished work, a list of errands and emails and all the extras life expects me to handle. I had a headache mocking me - convincing me I wouldn’t get any of it done.

Not one bit.

But sometimes life stops you - like it did for me today.  I looked out my office window and watched as the trees bent sideways, the dark gray clouds turning into padded walls - suffocating and low.  The thunder growls without ending...it just keeps rumbling like a stomach begging to churn. There was a summer storm.  Some storms are scarier than others, but something about this one told me to go home. I felt an extraordinary presence. Impossible to describe other than it felt ethereal. I wasn’t afraid of it - I was afraid of its urgency.

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Leave now.  Drive home. Don’t wait.

I thought I was being sent home because of the impending storm. I thought the presence I was feeling commanded me to check on my daughter. She would be alone since her brother left for work less than ½ hour ago. The AccuWeather alert escalated from a Thunderstorm Warning to Dangerous Thunderstorm - Seek shelter. A quick glance at the Life360 app showed me that my son made it to his job. As I hurried to my car, lightning cast like magic across the darkening sky. The wind tore at my skirt and I struggled to pull the car door shut behind me. Inside, my whole body felt a strong tremor of fear. It shook through me as the thunder rattled the ground. Heavy, pelting rain blurred the windshield even though I had the wipers on the fastest setting.  

I thought for a minute that this is ridiculous. It’s a storm. It’ll pass. I can wait it out and then go back inside to work. Summer storms happen all the time. This one is no different. Nearly on cue, the wind subsided. The trees stood tall again and the rain fell into a soft pattering. The sudden stillness was unnerving. I felt electricity rise underneath my skin and finger down my back worse than any horror movie. I shook my shoulders to escape the feeling but it was still there.  

Leave now. Drive home. Don’t wait.

I moved my shaking hand onto the gear shift and dropped it into drive. The storm regained its hostility and raged the entire trip home. In less than 6 minutes I was in our subdivision - 2 minutes more, I turned onto our street. As I crested the hill and looked to the left to see our gray and brick house come into view - I knew exactly what was wrong. The garage door was up - empty of cars. A wide mouth open to the world.

WHERE DOES OUR FEAR COME FROM? 

Our subdivision has over 500 homes. It’s in a rural setting considering how close we are to the city. Most of the time, the neighborhood is quiet - not sleepy - just a regular buzz of coming and going, turning on streets, stopping at stop signs or waiting for geese to cross the road. It’s a great place and most of the time it’s a friendly community of hand waves and checking on our neighbors. But recently we’ve had a nasty rash of car break-ins. No busted windows because our clever thieves used their talents (and probably a Slim Jim tool) for bad rather than good.

Not only have the recent car break-ins made our homeowners edgy and demanding better security at the front gate, but it’s also generated the fear of worst-case scenarios. Instead of breaking into cars, maybe the perpetrators will move into our houses. What about when we’re away at work - or on vacation? Should we invest in outside cameras? Increase our home security?

I hadn’t been sent home because of the storm. My daughter was alone during a terrifying storm with the garage door up. Didn’t she text me a few minutes ago and say she was getting in the shower? Did my son leave on time for work? Does that mean the garage door has been up for 10 minutes? 20 minutes? A half an hour tops?  My heart pounded at jackrabbit speed. I squealed the tires turning up our driveway. Why did he forget to put the door down? Did he lock the interior door? Was he running late?

I shoved the gear shift into park. I unbuckled and jumped out of the car. I took the garage stairs two at a time and barreled through the door and nearly slipped on the kitchen floor.

“SOPHIE!! SOPHIE??”

My daughter walked around the corner with a towel wrapped around her wet hair. Her usual blue eyes, now dark with full black pupils absorbing every bit of surprise and alarm. One of our dogs padded into the room and stood beside her.

“Mama? Are you okay?”

“Are you?"  I said out of breath.  "Sophie - Are YOU okay?”

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She nodded, but her voice cracked when she said. “I’m fine.”

And she was.  She was fine.

But this could've gone a completely different way. 

UNEXPECTED LIFE LESSONS

  1. Teach your children to be aware of their surroundings and not assume that someone else is looking out for them. Parents can forget. Siblings can forget. Every person on this green earth has so much going on that it’s so easy to be distracted. My children have been raised in a fairly protected feathered nest but it’s our responsibility as parents to teach them that even the safest nests have vulnerabilities. This was a great opportunity to explain that she won’t always be at home. I gave her a chance to imagine her own apartment - a dorm room - a hotel room. She has to be aware of her surroundings and verify ALL BY HERSELF that she is locked safely inside. Especially when she is going to be in the shower or have headphones/earbuds on where she cannot hear.

  2. This was also a fantastic opportunity to discuss with my son the importance of “locking” up the house when he leaves. He must always remember, even if he’s running late. Even if he’s distracted by other thoughts. Even if his sister isn’t inside and the house is empty. Our home cannot be left unattended with the garage door wide open announcing to the world that there are no cars here but please help yourself to everything inside. Mistakes happen. Our son is young. He's only a month into his 16th year. Driving and working and growing into his fresh, almost adult skin is new and overwhelming and comes with a lot of shocking learning experiences.

  3. Trust your gut. I’m glad that my daughter was safe. I’m glad that I felt all my body’s nerves screaming for me to notice them. I don’t know what it protected us from - or if it was a stern warning to prevent something else from happening later. But either way - listen to your instincts, trust the presence telling you what to do.  Sometimes it wants you to run. Other times it wants you to hide and be still and quiet. Trust your feels.

  4. DON’T use this as another excuse to be afraid of everything. This was a learning experience for our family and I hope that this story is a great read to help other families discuss a plan. Go over the basics. Remind everyone to be aware of their surroundings.

I love my family and I know you love yours.

Teach your kids to feel their fears and trust their instincts.

But also show them how to lead by using the wisdom of a practiced plan.

A Tale of Two Facebooks

You know a face smiles, but it spills tears too.  

I was having a tough time before, during and after my trip to D.C. with my daughter’s 8th-grade class.  I was thrilled to be selected as a chaperone, but I was leaving my husband with a mountain of headaches. Problems that most every couple faces and because Jesus thinks we can handle it - several of them piled up at once.

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It’s been said that your eyes are the windows to your soul.  Sometimes we’re brave enough to share our soul with our friends and acquaintances.

Here's my story: The week before I left, I felt inspired to take two selfies. In the first, I was feeling positive, optimistic and full of the spirit.  I was believing wholeheartedly in the good. Later, I reluctantly took another one when I was run down, discouraged and feeling hopeless. I had been crying for awhile in my car like you do, and I remember thinking - I’m going to bring forth something good with all of this self-pity.

To my surprise, several ideas came from the images. The first - you ladies will appreciate this - I’ve chosen a remarkable mascara that held up after a 30-minute stream of ugly-cry tears, and secondly, the most important - we share what we’re willing to lose. We reveal a part of ourselves and discover it is a risk.  We’re willing to share the good, but sometimes we’re willing to share the bad and we place ourselves on the social media alter to be judged by our peers.

People forget that it’s okay to be vulnerable, or maybe they remember the pain of it.

I don’t believe we’ve given people the space to feel like it’s okay to share the bad. They don’t trust that their dirty laundry won’t be judged. We ARE judging you.  We can’t seem to help it. Everything that is posted runs rapid-fire through a filter of our history and values. I’d be lying if we weren’t - but we are less likely to judge you when you at least seem real. If your life is always portrayed as good, then it’s not believable.  If you say your life is always full of problems, we’re not buying that either. Humans have a wide range of emotions and connections with other humans. If you’re only promoting half of it - either all good or all bad - then you’re missing out on the deeper connection - the authentic relationship with other humans.Wouldn’t you be a more convincing human if you revealed both?  Good and Bad. Happy and Sad?

MISERY LOVES COMPANY

There’s a few of us who enjoy the wallowing or at least we know someone who does.  We all have that one friend that Every. Single. Time. they post on Facebook it’s to alert the rest of us to something negative. The daily struggle. Either they complain about the poor service they received, or update that they are in the throes of a tough relationship battle or they profess being born under the sign of the turd where nothing goes right for them. They are negative and gain attention from us through their misery. And we become the rubberneckers of someone else’s misfortune. Our scroll slows down to see the life’s wreckage.

But here’s what I believe….It’s okay to stumble and crumble and feel miserable. Just don’t settle in and reside there. We want to see your comeback. Deep down we want to see you overcome adversity so that we can believe it’s possible for us too.

We need the win - whether we admit it or not.

I had a boss once who said with gusto “Act enthusiastic and you’ll be enthusiastic.”  There is so much truth in that. Research shows that positive energy comes from fakin’ it until you make it and that forward motion helps your action stay in motion. But if we’re being honest - and an authentic human being - some days no matter how hard you try - you just can’t act or fake. Remember to be kind to yourself - forgive yourself - try again tomorrow.

Clouds are temporary, but so is sunshine.

You can’t always have good days....so this is for those who always post the good...

Most of us promote our highlight reel. Only the latest and the greatest sparkles on our profile page. The awesome selfie with perfect lighting. The humblebrags of our kid prodigies.  The latest vacation to a remote island no one’s heard of so deep down we think you’ve mastered photoshop like a beast. We take pictures of plated food like we’re a set designer for Food & Wine to showcase our unprecedented success at meal preparation. We connect all of our apps to Facebook to show how many miles we logged on this mornings jog, what books we just finished reading, or which game we just crushed.

REALLY, I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE SO BLESSED, SUSIE SUNSHINE.

ON LIFE & LEMONS

Please stop polishing your lemonade stand and make me a Bloody Mary - extra horseradish.  I want to be real with you. 

There are friends who only want to hear the good.  If life gets icky, they’ve scrolled away from you. They’re not necessarily a bad friend, they’re just not the friend you need for the rough patches. But beware of the friend that seems to thrive on your misery. The friend that shows up at your slightest irritation of life.

I want to know about your new job. I do. I want to see the pictures of your kids. Last weekend’s prom pictures stopped my heart - your gorgeous, all-dressed-up children no longer looked like they were just recently playing in the dirt or had ice-cream dripping off their chin. Your pet pictures get me too. I want them all. I love animals and yours look so darn lovable. But please share with me your tough times too. I want to connect and believe that you’re human and not perfect. Your imperfection allows me to forgive myself and that makes me adore you.

And finally...

In defense of the lurkers...

I want to take a moment and defend those of you who choose not participate in online banter. You are a member of this social media family and even though you elect not to like, comment or post a lot about yourself - it doesn’t matter - you count. You matter. Every human on this planet has good and bad experiences. We have rallies and hardships and even though you can’t imagine sharing your life’s details on a platform like Facebook, you are part of the silent discussion. You’ll empathize with someone who has a health condition similar to yours. You relate to the posts about the struggles of parenting. You may have always wanted to visit Chicago and a friend just posted a few pictures from there.  

You wouldn’t think I understand your hesitation about posting online because I obviously share so much, but I do.  My mom often said to me (waaaaaay back - when I was a small child and long before Facebook.) “Eleanor, I don’t believe I would’ve told that. Some things you just keep to yourself.” Raise your hand if someone in your family has said this. But for as long as I can remember, I’ve always over-shared - even if it embarrassed me. As a child, there was some level of understanding that I was being “real” or “authentic” to my audience. I still have the unabashed filter of an 11-year-old.


 

Mothers who weren't mine

(Edited May 2018)

In the summer of 1999, my fiancé and I traveled to my hometown. It sounded like a romantic idea - visit the place where my life began and share with him pieces of my childhood.  But, looking back, that trip became so much more than nostalgia.

We drove through my old neighborhood and slowed in front of the only house I knew for 21 years. We cruised my high school parking lot, went for ice cream at one of my favorite shops then meandered through one of Greensboro's many historic battlegrounds. For several days, we let the sunroof show us the stars and street lights of a not-so-big downtown. It was fun and maybe just a little romantic. There are two moments of that trip that stick out more than any of the others. The first, seeing my guy so interested in my roots, and the second, visiting the memorial gardens.

All the romance just fell away in your mind, right?

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Danny had heard a thousand stories from my family about how much I was like my Grandmother. One of the places he wanted to visit was her final resting place. He admitted that it was foolish, but added rather shyly that he wanted to talk with her. Hand in hand, we climbed the small hill and followed the pathway to the columbarium. It was darker and cooler than I remembered but we found my grandparent's nameplates almost immediately that it was as if I had just been there. I settled myself on the bench inside the small, musty room and watched as my future husband touched her name. He began whispering, barely a sound from his lips. He made promises to take care of her granddaughter, her namesake. It moved me but the longer I observed him, the more intimate the conversation and it seemed almost intrusive for me to be there. I decided to slip away into the adjoining gardens and I allowed the path to lead me to another special place I wanted to visit.

A newer columbarium was built down the hill.  I followed the walkway lined with dogwoods and azalea bushes. I took a deep breath, whispered my own words of encouragement then opened the doors in a beautiful marble entrance. I went to the room where I knew she was. I found her name on the wall and as soon as I saw it, my chest filled with all the pains of pent-up emotion.  I crumbled onto the bench in the center of the room. There was no one there so my tears and visible grief were uninhibited. After a few minutes of hard crying, I wiped my eyes and nose on the edge of my sleeve. Even alone, this embarrassed me and I couldn't help but laugh. Wiping tears on my sleeve in front of this woman I was grieving who had so much class and dignity.  Her grace was like no other and she was a gorgeous combination of Jackie O's style and Lucille Ball's captivating eyes.  Her brilliant smile joined her eyes connected with marble chisled rose cherry cheeks. 

She was my best friend's mother but she was like my mom too. She helped raised me since I was at her house a great deal of my middle and high school years. She cared for me and she loved me. We lost her beautiful spirit when we were only in our twenties. The pain was dreadful for me, but I couldn't imagine what her daughter was experiencing. Why take her mom? She was kind, generous and compassionate. She loved children, those who were her own and her children's friends.

Danny found me as I was drying my eyes with an unused section of my sleeve. He moved in beside me on the bench, offered a handkerchief that I could've used 15 minutes before and held my hand. He let a few moments pass then said, "Tell me about her." And I did. For over an hour. 

History repeats itself

Many, many years later, I had bosses who were a husband and wife team of a local school uniform store. They had two young, grown children - a son and a daughter - the same as my childhood friend. Unexpectedly and without reason, their mother died. Here again, I was faced with a death so sudden and untimely that mirrored the pain of so many years ago - watching two children - in their twenties deal with the white-hot pain of loss. Everything around them felt lonely and left a huge void in their life without their mom. I loved these two remarkable women. They left behind children and even though they were considered adults, they were still new to life on their own. It never made sense why some mothers are taken away when others seem as if they do not cherish their role at all.

So this Mother's Day and every other Mother's Day after this one means so much to me because I treasure the gift of mothers even more. Mother's Day tangles up a web of unresolved issues and stirs a myriad of emotions, but there are three things that are the clearest to me the older I get.

I am grateful for my mother.

I am grateful that I am a mother of a boy and a girl.

I am so grateful for the mothers who did a damn fine job raising their children especially those who were only given twenty years to do it. And there was no reward of watching their children's families grow. God bless every one of you who do the best you can with your children every day that you're given. Thank you for loving your children and also the ones who claim you as a mother figure in their life. 

Happy Mother's Day.

Seeds to Share: 
Proverbs 31:28 - Her children arise and call her blessed.