April McGowan

Watching Her Fly

Watching Her Fly

Watching Her Fly

These past few months, I’ve been helping my daughter prep for her final SAT’s, getting colleges lined up, discovering I’m not ready and worrying she wasn’t either. To be honest, I’ve been carrying the stress of doing this with me for years. Have I done enough? Did I drop the ball anywhere (oh yes, I know I did!)? Could we really trust God with this person He’d gifted to us for a time?

Yesterday we visited her first college choice. It’s here in town–but nonetheless momentous. As my husband and I dropped her off, I didn’t feel any of the hesitation I expected to feel with this huge step. Maybe it was due to her bright sparkly eyes, or her anticipation of doing something with a group (this highly motivates my extrovert), or watching her excitement of being on her own and stretching her adult legs. It wasn’t half an hour after dropping her off that she texted me. The school chef came out to speak to her personally in line about her food allergies upon hearing her concerns and provided her with safe, tasty food. Then about her dorm room. Then about the fun she was having. And the next day a photo list of all the classes she was going to attend.

We didn’t coach her in these things. We dropped her off thinking she’d have a fun social time, hang out with people she knew who were already attending there, and get the feel of campus. But my daughter went into it with the idea that she would push her limits and get that full college feel–that up late, up early, cram-every-second of classes into your day kind of push. We had no idea she’d do that. In addition to packing her day with classes, she attended three open houses and interviewed department representatives. She got an idea of what each program offered and the scholarships available. She gathered deadlines and contacts.

We met with her adviser and she represented herself, asked good questions, and was professional and outgoing about her passions and goals. My husband and I just sat back seeing this person we’d encouraged to finish projects, hounded to clean her room, and urged to keep deadlines in a new light. We were watching her fly.

As we left, she said, “I’m going to love college.” And she will. She sees it as an opportunity and the keys to opening a door and doing something she’ll love for the rest of her life, not a burden to be carried out. Our hope of homeschooling to create a desire for life-long learning suddenly came to fruition. All the pushing, the nagging, the encouraging had come down to handing the responsibility over to her and her guiding Lord.

So, please excuse this post of joy. I’m not bragging by any means. I’m grateful. So thankful that we held onto the promise that through prayer and teaching and apologizing for mistakes made, this person is ready to go to college. But more than that, this person is ready for adulthood. Ready to fly.

And we’re just standing in appreciation and awe, watching her stretch her wings–watching her fly.

 

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Living Well: What Parenting Means

copywrite AprilKMcGowanChronic illness has taught me what parenting means:

Point One: You can’t do it all. We know on the inside that we can’t do it all and stay sane. But the outside world and all its pressures are tremendous. Trust me—my oldest is finishing up her senior year of high school and all I can think of is those huge lists of MUSTS to get into her schools of choice. Clubs, groups, classes, AP classes, teams, volunteer work, studying, learning, growing. I’m so glad I’m not a kid anymore, because those MUST lists are exhausting. Could you do all the things on those lists? The message is that if we don’t make sure they’ve got all those musts, we’ve let them down.

Is it possible to prepare your child for every contingency?

We can only do our best. Did you tell them how to have a relationship with Jesus? Can they think for themselves and cook well enough not to starve? Do they know how to wash their clothes? Personal hygiene in good shape? We give them the tools, but it’s their responsibility to put it all in practice. Because I can’t hold their hands through it all, I’ve had to learn to let them go and trust that God’s got this. They are their own people with their own successes, heartbreaks, failures, and joys.

Point two: My child is not my accomplishment. My child is not my trophy. They are not my pride and joy—or they shouldn’t be.

Their failures and successes are not mine. They are people trusted to me, loaned to me for a time. Will I always be there for them? As long as I can. Am I always the best person to be there for them? Maybe not. But I can trust God will bring the right person along to fill in the gap. He promises never to leave us nor forsake us—or our kids.

As God has His hand on my life, He also has His hand equally on my children’s lives. Not just when they are ill or injured and we’re praying for their protection, but all the time. All the time. Isn’t that mind-blowing? He doesn’t just take over when they turn 18 and we’ve done all we can to prepare them. He’s got them covered even now. He’s shaping them into the people He knows they can be—way better than we could ever hope to.

They are His pride and His joy. As you are.

Chronic illness has taught me that parenting is not about me, it’s about them. Chronic illness has taught me that my limitations are not my children’s limitations.

In fact, my limitations might be building something inside my children in the way of empathy and compassion that I could have never taught them on my own. Most of all, chronic illness has taught me that I am not the one they need to turn to and lean on for the rest of their lives. The Father is. And as much as I love them, He loves them more.

Deuteronomy 31:6 Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you. (in full here)

 

 

 

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You’ve Got A Friend

I might have mentioned once or twice that we homeschool. There are many reasons we’ve chosen to do so, and I won’t take the time to list them now. But I have to say, the evidence we saw last week solidified our certainty in our choice even more so.

We’ve had doubters in our lives. People that thought we were nuts to take on the job of teaching the kids. And more so, people that were worried about how they were being socialized. For some reason, folks outside the homeschooling environment have the idea that the best way to socialize kids is to throw them into a room with forty students, one teacher and an aid, and hope all will work out for the best. Coming from that environment, I can say that didn’t work out so well for me.

Back to last week: My children were invited to a friend’s birthday party. In attendance were a number of homeschooled children, ages sixteen down to nine (I’m not including the nineteen year old in this, because, legally he’s not a child, and he’s a college student now-you know who you are and you can thank me later). We were at a family-fun center, playing mini-golf, video games, laser tag and the like. In the package, they had the choice of a virtual ride or go-karts. Of course, they all rushed to the go-karts and got in line.

The two youngest (one being my son) were tall enough to ride in the go-karts, but unbeknownst to us, if they were under a certain age, they couldn’t ride alone, and that the other person had to be an adult. The adults didn’t have tickets. So, out of the line came two teary-eyed kids, leaving the rest behind. We walked away, deciding to try and look on the brighter side and comfort those who were left out of the fun.

Here’s the neat part: Quite suddenly all the rest of the kids (six of them) showed up around us. They’d, as a group, decided it wasn’t fair that they went on the go-karts when the younger two couldn’t go and instead opted for the virtual ride where they could all take part. Now, let me be clear—those six WANTED to go on the go-karts. Those six were mostly teens. And no adults tried to encourage them in any way, shape or form. In fact, we adults were heading inside with the younger ones.

I can’t tell you how good that made my son feel. His friends (one of them, his sister) had sacrificed their fun time out of a sense of fair-play and togetherness. They said, “It wouldn’t be right us getting to go and them feeling badly at a party.”

I can honestly say it’s been NEVER since I’d seen a mixed peer group give up something they wanted to do just so two little kids wouldn’t feel badly. I don’t know about you, but my heart warmed at the selflessness of those older ones. Yes, it was just a ride, and they went on to have fun on another ride—but it’s those little things that solidify relationships, reveal kindness and build us up. I was so glad to witness it.

 1 Thessalonians 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. (Full text here.)

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Quitting Time

A sharp horn sounded behind Mary as she headed up the steps to her duplex in the hot May sunshine. She turned towards the older model Buick, unable to see who was driving the car, but gave a friendly wave. As a rule, she waved to anyone. Fairly certain the father of her grandchildren belonged to a gang, she wanted to stay on good terms with everyone in the neighborhood.

Tossing her keys on the antique stand near the door, she entered the kitchen and opened the freezer. Inside, she found a frozen glass mug that she filled with ice and edged with a lemon slice. She stepped through the back door and retrieved a large jar of sun tea off the back stoop. It’d been brewing since 4AM, when she’d left for her job at the Dollar Mart—just about ten hours of steeping. The heat from the glass burned the tips of her fingers as she carried the jar back to the counter. As the liquid poured in over the crackling ice cubs, cooling the concoction, a sense of peace filled her. Mary’d been looking forward to this all day. She held the golden-brown drink near her nose and let the earthy scent of tea, sunshine and citrus draw her mind to easier times.

After flipping the switch on the oscillating fan sitting on the Formica counter top, she pulled up a chair at the kitchen table, directly in its path. Giving the crumbs from her hasty breakfast a sweep off the table, she drew the pile of mail toward her. She saw several envelopes addressed to Tina with ‘final notice’ highlighted in red letters. Mary clucked her tongue. What would ever become of that girl? She’d raised her better than this.

Sure that the tea had chilled long enough, she sipped it, letting the strong brew energize her from the inside out. It was just as good as she hoped it would be. She clucked her tongue again and sighed.

She couldn’t say that about much in her life these days.

Glancing at the clock, she saw her grandsons would be home any time now. Really, Jimmy was supposed to pick them up from school and take them home with him for a few hours, helping them with their schoolwork and spending ‘quality time’ with his sons. The social worker’s idea was a good one—and if Jimmy had been a good man, it would have worked. Knowing him as Mary did, he’d last about an hour with the boys and he’d be dragging them home to her instead. She’d be the one helping them with homework, fixing them dinner, giving them baths. Then Tina would saunter in and give them kisses goodnight, declaring once again how the day got away from her. Got away from her while she was having drinks at the bar near her work, most likely.

Best laid plans. That phrase had tumbled through Mary’s mind more than once in the past six years. Her daughter had shown up pregnant on her doorstep, and Jimmy made one false promise after another. As soon as he got a good job, they’d get married and he’d bring her and the baby home. Now there were two babies, and they weren’t babies anymore. How could Tina be so blind to mix her life up with that lazy, no-good man?

Mary shot a look at the ceiling. “Just like her mother, then, isn’t she, Lord?” As if Tina had written down Mary’s life story, her own life followed her mother’s map of failure—almost item for item. Except Mary only had Tina, and she certainly didn’t have any family to rely on in the early days. There wasn’t any escaping for Mary after work.

Even now—it was as if her day never ended.

Mary filled her mug with ice once again, and then with tea. This time, she grabbed a couple cookies from the package on the counter and sat down to enjoy the silence of her home for a few more minutes. Soon enough those boys would tumble through the door, and the house would fill with the sounds of laughing and arguing. She glanced at the wall covered with signed handprints and other artwork the boys had made her in school.

Pride nudged her as she remembered them giving those gifts to her on Mother’s day and holidays. They’d stopped making such things for their mother a long time ago. They knew who took care of them, who fed them, who could be counted on.

A sudden sadness washed over her. It wasn’t right, not any of it. Tina should be the one they came home to. Tina should be the one rocking them to sleep when they were scared, or reading them bedtime stories.

The newspaper on the table caught her attention. Mary flipped it open and began scanning the apartment section. There was a small two-bedroom four blocks away. She glanced around and took in the books, the papers, the toys strewn from one end of her house to the other. It’d take a whole lot of packing to move Tina and the boys from her place—and Tina wouldn’t want to help. Four blocks?

Mary flipped through the paper again, scanning, her mind forming a solid plan. It was time for change around here. Something had to. There it was, ten blocks away, a furnished one-bedroom. They could stay here, she’d leave. She picked up the phone and called. It was still available. A large Victorian, cut up into manageable units. She’d seen the place—it was in a quiet neighborhood on a dead end. Ten blocks. Perfect. She called back and made the arrangements. She needed boxes. The boys would help her pack. Tina could have her own room, and she and Jimmy could finally get married. Or not. Maybe when Tina forced his hand she’d see him for what he was and tell him to go for good.

The front door screen opened with a screech. Mary fixed a smile on her face to greet the boys, but instead of the boys, Tina came around the corner.

“I’m home early tonight. You happy?” Tina headed towards the table, a sour grimace on her face.

Mary took a deep breath to steady herself. “Before you sit down, grab a glass of tea. I’ve got some news for you.”

Copyright by April McGowan 2012

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Mamma Said

I’m sure there are a lot of blogs about Moms going up this weekend. And I’m no exception. But, I’ve got a bit of different take.

A year and a half ago I became a different kind of mom. I’m now a mom living with chronic illness. Up until then, I was a get-er-done mom. A homeschooling mom. A supportive mom. A writer mom. I kept a fairly clean house, I kept us organized and on track. But then, my CVID (Common Variable Immune Deficiency, or Hypogammaglobulinemia) went full-blown. And I went down. Hard.

I’ve had to change my idea of what a mom is and what a mom does and adjust my expectations. My kids have always been good kids. Thoughtful and considerate. But, things have changed with them during all this, too.

My kids notice when I don’t feel great. They tell me to go sit down. They take tools out of my hand and say, “That’s enough, Mom.” My daughter, in particular, will tell me to go lay down, sit down, stop. One particular day, I must have looked pretty done-in because after my daughter told me to go lay down, she proceeded to cook our dinner, get it all served and get her and her brother ready to go. I woke up to steak, potatoes and a salad. I have to admit, it tasted ten times as good as normal because she made it for me.

My kids are a huge blessing to me. I’ve often apologized for not being able to do more things, for not being able to keep up—but they just tell me, “It’s not your fault you’re sick. We love you.”

SO, this is a blog shout-out to my kids. I know it’s not easy living with a mom who gets worn out unexpectedly, who tells you to take a bath whenever we’ve been out in public (to protect us from germs I can’t fight), who won’t let you go certain places because you might get exposed to things—and most painful, who can’t hug you when you are sick. I know it’s a drag when I can’t run off to the park when it’s pretty out because my energy is already spent by noon. Or play games as often. Or, well, fill in your blank.

I hope you know how much I love and appreciate you both. How blessed I am to have you both in my life. I thank the Lord he gave you to me.

Psalm 173: 3-5 Children are a heritage from the Lord,offspring a reward from him.Like arrows in the hands of a warrior are children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man (woman) whose quiver is full of them. (full text here)

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