Tag Archives: parenting

Plotting Our Own Course

The Boy inadvertently gave me the metaphor for this post. On the way to school the other day,  he said, “I wonder if you could use the quadratic formula to create a set of coordinates for a circle.” (This is a good question to get your mind working at 7:15 on a Wednesday morning). He quickly realized that a different function would be required to create a shape that arcs back to connect to itself on a coordinate plane. Then we talked about how the quadratic equation always results in a parabola–a perfect, symmetric curve with two arms that reach, ever wider, into infinity.

It’s a beautiful thing, the parabola. It’s anchored somewhere on the y-axis, but otherwise, its path — and the points within its branches — are limitless. What an elegant image to represent the path of our own lives: grounded in at least one base point, and open to possibilities. Every time we add new experiences and new relationships, it’s as if we’ve plotted more values on an enormous sheet of graph paper. The shape grows wider to hold more of the grid, but the formula guarantees that it will retain its integrity.

This week, my own parabola got wider, but my intercept values are still secure. On Monday, I signed a contract and accepted a leadership role at a new school. After 12 years of deeply gratifying work at an extraordinary place, the decision to leave was not an easy one. I have loved my students, my colleagues, the families, and the guiding principles of my school. I have watched children grow from wide-eyed, diminutive pre-kindergarteners into mature, poised, and confident teenagers. I have cried at graduation speeches, delighted in the progress of young readers and mathematicians, had my heart warmed by community celebrations, been nurtured and supported during my own challenges, and have been given the honor and the privilege of sending more than 100 novice teachers out into the world. I love my job. And yet, it’s time to reach further.

For the past year, I’ve been looking for the “just-right” position, relying on my inner quadratic function to guide me in the proper direction. After many conversations, interviews, school tours, and careful reflection, I have found it. Or, to be more accurate, the job found me. An inquiry from the Head of School nearly two months ago led to an exchange of increasingly exciting e-mails, a Skype call, a long day of travel and meetings, more e-mails and calls, and finally, a mutual sense of connection. It is right. It is a new x-intercept.

The Boy will graduate from my current school (his school, our school) on June 7. That morning will also be my last day as an official member of the faculty.Five days after graduation, I will turn 50. It is poetic, and fitting, to start my second half-century with a significant change. The Boy’s teachers have been my colleagues and friends; those points on my graph have been plotted and will always remain.  The Boy and I will walk out of the building together, each of us on the way to our respective next schools, with a summer vacation to serve as the buffer between the known and the new.

When September arrives, our lives will be quite different. My new job is 126 miles away from our house. I’ve reserved a fantastic (yet small) apartment in the heart of New Haven, where I’ll stay from Mondays to Fridays. On weekends, I’ll be back at our house in Massachusetts, or the Husband and The Boy will come to Connecticut. We’ve all made the trip, toured the city, seen the school, met the people, and begun to envision the future.

I believe strongly in the power of intention. I also believe that as long as we are alive, there is always time and space to learn, grow, embrace new challenges, resist inertia, and do our very best to contain all the points we build into our parabolas.

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Proportions

Yesterday was The Boy’s birthday. He’s 14 now.

The length of his lifespan computes to approximately 29% of my own life. In this case, statistical calculations do not offer an appropriate representation of the value of those fourteen years. For fourteen years and eight months, The Boy’s existence has been central to my own. Since the moment I found out about him, he has been a cherished and essential element of my daily consciousness. My transformation from individual traveler in the Universe to  parenthood is one of the greatest and most humbling changes I have ever experienced. In my case, this identity shift occurred by choice and deliberate action, and was sanctioned by a religiously and federally-approved marriage with an equally committed co-parent. It is, however, precisely the same gift that my friends and neighbors have experienced through adoption, gamete donation, family blending, and devotion to the people with whom we have all formed homes.

Love makes a family.

If you are lucky, you are a member of a family formed by love. If you are loved, you are statistically more likely to succeed in life.

This statement begs the question: How do we define success?

If you have found this blog post, some portion of our society has already defined you as “successful.” Rest assured, I am not arrogant enough to think that reading my blog is a mark of success. Access to any site such as this one, however, is an indication of a certain type of cultural capital. You are literate. You have the means to use a computer and a link to the Internet. Depending on the time of day that you are reading this digital missive, you have probably eaten at least one healthy meal today. I hope that you slept in a warm bed last night, and that in the past 24 hours, someone has told you that you are loved. If you are loved, you are not alone. If you love, someone else is not alone.

I’m writing this post on a Sunday night. Over the weekend, we have spent time with The Husband and The Boy, with my very best friend and her daughter, with four of The Boy’s closest buddies, with one of our dearest friends, and with my parents. I spoke to my precious niece. All of these people are part of our family. It’s a family formed by love. It’s a family formed by choice. The Boy chose the people he wanted to be a part of his birthday weekend. He chose well.

My boy is 14. He loves, and is loved. He has a family, built through biology and choice. There is no percentage or numerical exercise to determine the value of the people in his lives. There is no greater gift.

In Review

The last time I posted here, it was July, almost six months ago to the day. Oh, well. It’s my blog. I can write (or not write) however often I choose. Today, I choose to write. Mid-afternoon sun is streaming through the windows of our family room, and the boy and I are still wearing our pajamas. These final days of winter break are always so mellow. We’ve been back and forth to Manhattan twice in the past nine days, celebrating holidays with many of our nearest and dearest. Now we’re home, gearing up for a new semester and some big changes.

IMG_1063We are (all of us, really) in the midst of high school applications for the boy. He’s up to his nostrils in essays, short-answer prompts, and personal reflections. We’ve been on campus tours, participated in interviews, read guidebooks, and investigated web sites. He’s considering questions that most of us would struggle to answer as adults: “Describe a time when your beliefs about something changed.” “Imagine you are writing your autobiography. Submit page 179. Feel free to be creative.”  “What are your favorite qualities about yourself?”

As we’ve been reading his drafts, the husband and I can’t help but think about what our own answers might be. In addition, we have our own essays to prepare. One of the forms asks us to compose a parenting motto and explain it. This challenge has been on my mind for more than a week. I’m not sure I could reduce my parenting to a motto. We certainly have an approach, and we’re both extremely mindful of the great privilege and responsibility we have in sending this young man out into the world– but a motto?  I can’t come up with anything that isn’t trite. Here are a couple of attempts.

“Love and Limits.” This has potential, I guess. We could explain that in our family, as much as we cherish our son, we know how important it is to provide guidelines that lead him to make good choices.

“Find Your Own Joy.” More than anything, I want my son to be resilient. I want him to know how to recognize disappointments as specific incidents, not defining characteristics, in his life. Every day, he and I talk about the highlight of our day–and there are only rare occasions when one of us will say that it hasn’t happened yet; that maybe a snuggle on the couch or a yummy dinner with be the best part of the day. I believe that kind of deliberate optimism is essential to a life well-lived.

“You Don’t Have To Be The Best; You Just Have To Do Your Best.” This might be the winner, and it’s a message we’ve repeated countless times with our boy. He has many wonderful talents and skills, and he is fortunate to be capable in a number of areas–but he’s not a star at everything. For the areas where he excels, we expect (and we expect him to expect of himself) excellence. For the pursuits that are not his strengths, we expect (and expect him to expect of himself) his best effort. We are equally proud (and expect him to be equally proud) of the results.

And so, as a new calendar year begins, and a school year begins a new term, and our lives continue to unfold, we can all find a few moments for review.