My friend Gabe often jokes about all the things he started. The OG. To be fair, he has a point. I wear Birkenstocks to this day because he had some in high school. I probably grew my hair out long because he did. I first heard Widespread Panic from him. And I typically throw up the two finger peace sign in pictures… and I have to say he has always done that.
That peace sign. Peace. How do we give it a chance? I posted an almost 10 minute ramble about peace on my Church of Six instagram page, and I don’t want to just rehash the ideas from that here. At least for now. In part because peace is such a layered and mysterious concept. Phenomenon. So presently on Tuesdays I will consider ways in which I experience peace and/or perhaps ways in which I try to share peace with others. I know the good book says that it passes understanding, but I want to see how words can help capture the peace that I seek. That I seek for you.
Today I want to talk about my kids. What are examples of ways I have tried to give them peace lately?
I love to consider psychology. Motivation. Why do people do the things they do? I find myself contemplating these things while watching my almost 12 year old play tennis. Is he short arming his follow through and hitting the ball into the net because he’s nervous? What pressures does he feel that spark these nerves? What expectations have I unwittingly placed on him? Is he thinking about that cut on his finger? After he hits a bad shot how long does his disappointment linger? How quickly is he able to move to the next shot? When he moves on to the doubles match what role does he assume as partner? How does the body language of his partner affect him? Should I crack a joke to lighten the mood? Should I say anything at all? Do I encourage the partner to keep him from getting frustrated? Wonder what all the other parents and spectators are thinking about right now?
I try to encourage Isaac to have fun playing. To not worry about missing a shot. Play each point and move on. Sometimes a clap of “let’s go, focus…”, sometimes a “nice shot”, sometimes a lighthearted quip to try and help him release tension. And I tried to be encouraging to his partner as well. Emphasizing great shots and a low key “don’t worry about it, good hustle” when a shot didn’t go as planned.
I am conscious of my words through the match. Directing them towards a desired end. Peace. Humans are a complicated lot. Isaac lost 8-1 in singles, but he and his partner battled and won 9-7 in doubles.
My daughter has to register for classes for next year. Ninth freakin grade! She’s always been a phenomenal student. All my kids have been and are. She celebrates her 5th grade Math Team victory each year! This year though… she doesn’t love school the way that she once did. Understandable is the understatement of the year. What a year it has been! Hybrid schedules with masks and one way hallways and no real extra curricular activities. Then to top it all off she found out that 9th graders won’t be able to audition for the high school a cappella group Tonal Spectrum next year. She cried her own tears, as my friend Nora would say. For one, music and singing is her outlet. She taught herself how to play guitar during the pandemic and her voice has grown more and more lovely as she has gotten older. And for two, Sam is going to be a senior next year, and this would have been her year to be in Tonal with her big brother. And they can strike a pretty mean harmony!
I don’t like to see the kids sad. I don’t like to come home and find my baby girl crying her own tears on her pillow; filled with that gut punch feeling of disappointment. Just so happened that Avett Brothers tickets were on sale for Asheville that day. And it just so happened that as I sat in the parking lot watching Sam play tennis that my impulses–which I am learning to use for mostly good these days–kicked in and I bought a couple of tickets for Sydney and Sarah. Spirits lifted. Still the sting of disappointment, but now shrouded with anticipation of singing real loud when Scott sings the Clearness is Gone this fall!
Did I mention the difficulties of this school year yet? I can’t mention them too much. The mental havoc on students and teachers is a really real thing. My oldest boy Sam is a junior this go round. He is taking 4 AP classes, tennis season has started, he gets to go down not as often as he would want to see his girl in SC…. There’s no real outlet for being crazy with his peeps at football games. He’s a driver now, but the extent to his hangouts have been mostly outside and often revolve around filling in APUSH charts or Chemistry assignments.
He has maintained a pretty stellar record grade wise and beyond. He does all the things he’s supposed to do. But sometimes deadlines pass by and his grade drops for a spell. To be fair, he knows that he has a window to make the things up and he always gets them done.
As a teacher I decided to send a parent agreement home with my AP Psych and GoPo students for the final 9 weeks. I’ve accepted late work all through this pandemic year as well. Of course I have! But AP Exams are coming up and the parent agreement is a thing that indicates I won’t give full credit for anything turned in late between now and the May exam window. I hate grades, and I am not a fan of using grade pressure to motivate kids, but… well, that’s what I’m going to try for a few weeks.
I told Sam about that last night and told him to “meet his deadlines.” You know, a good fatherly thing to say. But man, even as I was saying it, I could see and sense the weight of pressure and the emotional toll of the past year flow like a tidal wave out of him. I could see his resolve in holding back the flood of that emotion, but he’s my own, so I could see right through him. If you are a teacher or have a student in school this year, you know full well the havoc that has been wreaked on our kids’ minds and lives…
So, before bed I sent Sam a text. I told him he’d be aiight. I mentioned a tip from his history teacher about this massive chart. I told him I’d be at his tennis practice the next afternoon. A few words. Nothing extraordinary. But words to say I see you. I know what you’re dealing with. What you’re going through. The shoulds and woulds. I’m proud of you and tomorrow is a new day. Don’t worry no…
Steadiness on a tennis court. Moving on from one point to the next. Don’t be too hard on yourself. But do push yourself towards the best you can. Be a good teammate. You are a good teammate. I’m sorry the desire to sing in Tonal with your brother won’t be what you hoped. A joke about testosterone injections so we can lower your voice because the group needs basses and tenors and not sopranos. Money well spent to take the edge off the temporary force of the disappointment. Just a few words. A tap on the shoulder. A fire lit, and then tamped down. Gently. Saying so much without really saying anything.
I don’t know that these are existential levels of peace. I’m lying. Of course they are! Perhaps they are fragments or mere glimpses at the Peace that transcends, but they are pieces of that whole! Surely!
Intentional. Peace. How can I give peace to folks today? How can I receive it? Lord let it be.