A Birthday Celebration for Our Village

and The Best Parenting Advice I Ever Received.

The day after the world celebrates St. Patrick’s Day, my family will mark yet another milestone when our youngest son turns…twenty. Fourth in the line-up of live births, he is the last to leave adolescence and the nest behind.

Having endured two miscarriages and the death of our firstborn, a mere twenty-six minutes after his full-term birth, I try hard not to take a single minute for granted. “Try” being the operative word, for I am, after all, human.

As I think about the ensuing Friday night, pre-birthday gathering of my boy’s life-long buddies and the joy that listening to their chatter and laughter brings me, I cannot help but reflect on the quote “It takes a village to raise a child.”

They are a strong core of young men who call me Mama Elizabeth, who are not afraid to hug one another and who always greet me with warm embraces. A crew of five or six who devour pans of my specialty mac ‘n cheese and dozens of “the world’s best chocolate chip cookies,” and a few who share with me morsels of their strife along with their success. Indeed it takes a village, Journeyer. They are a part of my clan and I a part of theirs.

Hubby and I were graced with three living children who were busy on all fronts: involved students, community-minded individuals, close friends, and physically active in both recreation and competitive arenas.

Our village pitched in countless times when Hubby and I needed that third driver to help get our three children to venues spread across the county and many times across state lines.

Our neighbors pitched in to help take care of our youngest children, our home, and our pets during our many cross-country trips for our oldest living child who competed for Team USA. Friends, family, and strangers alike opened their hearts and their homes to help us help make possible this young man’s Olympic dream.

A few years ago, when Warren and I were on a rare get-away while this week’s Birthday Boy was playing soccer abroad, our family, friends, and even our small town’s postal workers all pitched in to obtain and ship contact lenses to Paris. Having never lost a contact for any reason, we never dreamed one would get ripped out of his eye during a match and hadn’t thought to send spares.

I am eternally grateful for each and every ounce of support we received along the way, but there is one thing that stands out, a piece of advice that I have shared countless times; one of the best parenting tips I ever received.

Like most parents I know, our family’s successes didn’t come without its share of challenges. We, like moms and dads everywhere, used “grounding” as a way of discipline. When one day wasn’t enough to enact change, we upped the ante to days, sometimes extending into a week or two.

After a grueling round with our oldest “spirited” child, whom we’d grounded ’til the cows come home in multiple areas, the last of which was to take away his training as an elite athlete, his principal summoned us for yet another meeting. “He feels broken,” she said, “as if he doesn’t have anything left.”

“We don’t know what else to do,” I lamented, “there isn’t anything else we can take away.”

“What if you were to take one day at a time?” she asked. “If he has a good day today, you’ll take him to the gym to train; if he has a bad day, no gym. This way, each day is a fresh start, and will feel less like an eternity.”

This philosophy comes from a direct correlation to how quickly our years go by as we age. When we are young, each day is a larger percentage of our total life experience, making it feel longer. When we’re older, each day is a smaller percentage of the time we’ve lived, making the days seem to fly by.

Journeyer, this tip brought overnight success and stress relief to all of us, our child, my husband and me, and the other children who had been missing out on time with us as we’d been so distracted and occupied putting out fires.

I have shared this strategy with many of my students’ parents over the years; parents who have also given great reviews after trying it out. It truly is the best parenting advice I ever received.

As I prepare to celebrate my youngest boys’ life, I can’t help but feel proud of this gentle giant, a young man whose quiet presence has caused bullies to back away from their target; the little boy that still lives within his curious nature and zest for life; a community minded neighbor who inspires young minds and athletes alike and who notices when people need a hand, yet someone who beautifully balances taking care of himself before helping others with their proverbial air masks. I am grateful for this top scholar who encouraged his peers on the eve of his high school graduation to find what it is they enjoy and to use that to make their mark in life.

As I reflect on celebrations past, I can’t help but be grateful for my village, those individuals who helped me to raise this fine young man and his beautiful siblings; those local and global neighbors who offered me helping hands, shared their wisdom and tears in the struggles, and shouts of glee in the successes. I rejoice each and every soul who crossed my parenting path.

Please join me in celebrating Our Son, for this Birthday Boy belongs not only to me. I was merely a mother who cared for him the best way I knew how until it was time for him to spread his wings and share his many gifts with the larger world. As Kahlil Gibran wrote “Your children are not your children. They are sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.”

Happy birthday, Big Guy, and congratulations to us all!

Originally published at medium.com

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