On the way home from school yesterday, I was chatting with my three youngest kids about their day, their homework, their evening plans.
And this theme kept repeating:
“I’m so stressed out. I have so much to do. I’m never going to get it all done. I’m going to be up all night. I’m so stressed out.”
On the fifth day of school.
“I don’t want you to feel stressed,” I said. “What can I do to help?”
And Mary Claire replied, “School is just stressful, Mom. Friends, grades, extracurriculars, all of it. It just stresses me out.”
I remember that feeling — that precarious balance between trying to be the very best at everything I did and not having a nervous breakdown in the mean time. Chris and I often talk about how I was the Worst College Student ever. I rarely let go and enjoyed myself — I was always too worried about the next test, the next project, the next sorority function, the next Dean’s List announcement. He, on the other hand, easily enjoyed his academics, his friends, his life at the Casa de Cerveza.
We both did equally well academically. The rest was, really, just a matter of perspective.
When all four kids were settled into their homework routines, I called a one-minute family meeting. The way that process works is this: I knock on each of their doors, yelling, “Family meeting! One-minute family meeting! Get ye to the family room now! Come one, come all!” Then they all grumble and groan and slam their doors and huff and puff and make their way to the couch with slumped shoulders and complaints.
“I hate family meetings,” Mary Claire said. (At fourteen, she’s all love and hate — there’s rarely anything in between.)
“This one will be quick,” I said. “But I want you all to listen. And I want you all to keep an open mind. And I don’t want any of you rolling your eyes.”
I pulled out my phone and read an excerpt from Glennon Melton’s brilliant essay titled, “The One Letter to Read Before Sending Your Child to School.” She wrote it for her 3rd grade son as he began a new school year, but it’s equally as applicable to my middle and high schoolers… and to 44-year-old me as well.
This is the part I quoted:
We don’t send you to school to become the best at anything at all. We already love you as much as we possibly could. You do not have to earn our love or pride and you can’t lose it. That’s done.
We send you to school to practice being brave and kind.
Kind people are brave people. Because brave is not a feeling that you should wait for. It is a decision. It is a decision that compassion is more important than fear, than fitting in, than following the crowd.
Don’t try to be the best this year, honey.
Just be grateful and kind and brave. That’s all you ever need to be.
I followed it with something like this (which I’m sure is far more eloquent in writing than it was in person): “You guys are all rock stars. We’re so proud of you and everything you’ve accomplished. Of course, we want you to work hard. But not so hard that you forget what’s most important — you, friends, family, your health. Your Dad and I are here to help you maneuver the tricky parts. You don’t have to do it alone. You don’t have to be The Best, you just have to be Your Best. And Your Best is more than a grade on a test or an A+ on an essay. It’s about being a good, kind human being, it’s about having fun, it’s about learning… and the most important learning happens outside the classroom.”
I look back on our lives thus far and marvel at the unexpected challenges we’ve encountered. We nearly lost a child to a mysterious illness. Those hospital bills crushed us financially — a hit we’re still recovering from 15 years later. I always intended to be a high-powered, no-kid career woman… and 17 years later, I have four awesome kids, and I got the privilege of staying home with them for ten years. Chris spent his entire life preparing to be a public school administrator, and then he found out he didn’t really enjoy it. So, we sold our dream home, took a 50% pay cut, moved from the only place we’d ever known, and then moved again two years later.
My point is this: Life comes at you. And the best way to handle what it hurls your direction is with flexibility, grace, and a sense of humor. Our best intentions often mean nothing in the face of what the universe has planned. I have spent many hours, months, years worrying about our future, our finances, our health, our place on this earth.
Moments of worry are wasted moments.
I don’t want my kids to invest their time there.
When I finished my impassioned plea, they asked, “Is that all?”
“That’s all,” I said. “Go about your business. Be awesome.”
Gus looked at George and said, “Your eyes were closed that whole time. Were you rolling them behind your eyelids?”
And they laughed together as they walked away — the two that normally argue and fight and pick at each other like crazed, fevered monkeys.
If they didn’t listen to a word I said, I’ll consider that moment a victory.