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.

Bad Days are Lucky

So the other day I had to do this hard thing on my daughter, Sophie’s behalf.  It was icky and uncomfortable and mildly confrontational.  Not fun. When I was younger, (BC - before children) I didn’t mind conflict.  I’d find every elephant in the room or make one up if I didn’t see one. Now that I’m older, it’s different. I want to encourage and support and love people. Not argue or struggle. But several days ago, I had to pull up my proverbial big-girl panties and deal with it.  I did my best to cover the problem in love, use kind words and then move forward.

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A few days before this thing with Sophie, I faced an issue that made my heart get that weird electrical vibe when your body reacts to a mixture of humiliation and anger.  That stinging chest pain that popcorns on all the nerve endings around your heart and face.  The unexpected hurt zapped me in the form of words.  The worst kind. Those words flushed my face and pounded my heart rate into an irregular drum beat. Lopsided and heavy.  A recent acquaintance expressed prickly words directed at me.  I’m human, fearful of being vulnerable but do it anyway, and I’m a writer.  I value words and deeply appreciate their context and believe me, these words stung me on all parts of who I am.

Now I feel like I know you guys.  You are some of my dearest friends, my tribe and loyal readers. A few of you may think about sending me encouraging feedback and uplifting words (I love those messages, btw) to counteract my rough couple of days, but it’s not necessary.  I want to encourage YOU and tell YOU about something more powerful than words.

About how blessed and lucky we are that God and The Universe love to love on us when we’re feeling knocked down and rejected.

After that terrible, awkward meeting when I had to wear my big-girl bloomers and deal with a problem on Sophie’s behalf, Danny and I had lunch at a local deli. Understand that Danny and I having lunch together is a rarity in itself so that was a God wink if there ever was. But the other gift came in the form of the little girl sitting in a high chair at the table next to us.  I promise you, she could have been Sophie’s sister when she was about one-year old.  Those feathery blonde ringlets at the back of her neck, the bright, crystal sky eyes and the widest toothless grin.  That baby girl and I played peep-eye for a few minutes and her breathy, happy, giggle delighted me.  I felt like I was transported to a simpler time, making my own little girl laugh and smile.  That sweet baby even tossed her sippy cup on the floor and looked at me with expectant eyes to pick it up for her.  I know a lot of babies play this game, but for a moment, I slipped through time and it was my baby Sophie.  I was grateful for the gift.  I drove home with tears slipping off my cheek because it felt like God was letting me know that I did the right thing.  I was looking out for my daughter by having that difficult conversation.  I did what mother’s do.  I protected her as if she were still an infant.

But wait. There’s more.

Let’s revisit the electrified, hurtful words - the part-two of the story from the new acquaintance.  I had been mulling it over for awhile.  Bringing it up to Danny at odd times so I could efficiently rehash it.  Discuss it.  Verify for the 87th time that I was reading the person’s words exactly as they were intended.  

The 88th time was one night after dinner.  Danny was in the recliner, feet up, one dog in his lap, glasses resting on the bridge of his nose about to open his latest good read.  I broke the silence and said, “It makes me not want to get out of my hermit shell.”

He sighs, moves his legs so they cross at the ankle, takes his readers off and turns to face me.  He knew where this was going. “What’s that?”

“It makes me not want to meet new people.  Stay to myself like I did for so many years.  Not leave the house. Shell up.  Become like turtles.”

“You’re going to let the words of one person keep you from going out and meeting new people?”

“No. I. AM. NOT.  I’m just saying that it makes me *feel* like staying away from people. And *those* words of *one* person as you say, HURT me.  So if it’s okay with you, I want to circle the wagons for awhile. Stay in. Alright?”

He nods, holds up his hands in surrender. “Okay. I get it.”

Just then.  (I pinky-promise this happened.) I got a text message from a friend that I had not seen in a month of Sundays.  It had been forever.  She asked if we could meet for lunch and bring our husbands.  I looked up from my phone and said, “Babe.  We’re going out with our friends.  We’ve just been invited to lunch and you know how much fun we‘ll have with them!”

Danny failed miserably at crushing his grin and said “What’s that?  No circling the wagons?  No turtle-ing up?”

How lucky and blessed are we that God is like an Echo dot?  He hears everything but not in a weird, electronic way.  He saw that I was retreating and falling back into my old flight pattern.

Avoid tough issues. (Beats wings.)

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Avoid uncomfortable feelings.  (Beats wings harder.)

Instead of focusing on the positive - my supportive friends, tribe and readers - I was focusing on this one small speck.  This one grain of sand even though I was standing on miles of glorious beach. Focus on the good, more good comes. Focus on the positive, you won’t stay negative for long. Bad things and words are going to happen but we can’t let it be where our heart and eyes settle.

Sometimes we’re lucky when we have bad days, because then we can experience all the good that comes from it: Gifts from above that remind us we are loved and friends who are angels at all the right times.