A Look Back at MY Life

After 20 years, my family is reordering. My kids have “flown the nest”—one as far west as possible and one as far south as possible. Transitioning from a “hands on” to a “hands off” parent was expected. I wasn’t entirely prepared for how it would feel. The “nest is empty” but I am still a parent and know that my kids still need me. The landscape has changed, however, it is doubtful that they will ever live full time in our home again or that they will ever need me in the capacity they used to. With my extra free time, I have had more than a few moments to contemplate the last 20 years of parenting. In fact, I find myself doing quite a bit of reviewing and I’ve contemplated the entire 54 years of my life. With reviews come ratings and if I had to rate my performance, I believe my grades would be mixed – everything from A‘s to D’s.

Ages 1 – 13

These years were somewhat chaotic because of all the moves that my family went through:

  1. 7 years old moved from Michigan to Florida
  2. 10 years old moved from Florida to Texas
  3.  13 Years old moved from Texas to Michigan

The moves didn’t seem to catch up with me until we reached Dallas, Texas.  I remember starting a new school and all the anxiety and fear that gripped me every Sunday night, stressing about going to school the next Monday. In fact, the fear and anxiety began every night of the week in contemplation of having to go to school the next day. I am not sure the catalyst for these feelings of fear and anxiety, but they stayed with me for first 4-5 months of attending this new school in Dallas. Around this time, my mom started drinking and then began drinking heavily. Hmmm…maybe a connection?  Not sure. Looking back on it now, I realized that I was contending with a “holic” in my life. And, what is clear to me today is that her addiction did not manifest in a vacuum. My father had a part to play (explaining him will take 20 blogs), along with other people and her life experiences. My mom would soon become an Alcoholic. It is important to understand that children of a “holic” must adjust to the ebbs and flows that vacillate between safety and danger. It was hard, as a child and an adult, to predict the behavior of an Alcoholic.  You just never knew what to expect and when a drunken episode would rear its head.  And, for a child, this inconsistency and lack of a safe environment takes a tremendous toll.  You learn early on to tread lightly, and become hypersensitive to others actions and hyperaware of your behavior, your environment and those certain triggers.

Grade: N/A – Tough to grade a child

Ages 14 – 26

A close friend of mine calls my teenage years the “Dark Days”, but I like to remember them as the “Hair on Fire Years”. If I had to give the period a “theme”, I’d say it was “bad choices with failure to take accountability.” Or maybe “fu**ing up and attempting to cover it up”. These are some of the events that happened between the ages of 14 and 17:  

  1. Crashed my dad’s car on the way to the Michael Jackson concert and blamed it on another car, although it was my fault.
  2. Kicked a soccer ball through our big screen TV and blamed it on the workmen in the house.
  3.  Crashed my car on the way to some sport practice, keyed the dent and blamed it on kids at school.
  4. Got a used 1977 Blazer with a plow in front and a wired in wooden home speaker for music and dropped the transmission after trying to give a lawn job – which had to be towed off the persons lawn.
  5. Got thrown in our city’s police holding cell after throwing metal exit signs at cars in an apartment parking lot and my dad had to come get me and my brother out at 2am.  We had done it with another set of brothers and so each set blamed it on the other.
  6. Was in a car when a friend got pulled over for stolen “fuzz-busters” and had to walk 2 miles to a pay phone after the driver got taken to the police station.
  7. Got caught for plagiarism at school.
  8. Did my fair share of illicit drugs.
  9. Did poorly in school.

I find the juxtaposition of those years with those of my children’s experience fascinating. Most of the time my parents didn’t know where I was, who I was with or what I was doing.  They saw my grades on my report cards but had no idea if homework was turned in, when I had tests or if I had studied for those tests.  If you have kids of middle school age or above, you know about apps like PowerSchool that allow you to check their homework assignments, test grades and absences, all in real time! As parents, we have way too much knowledge of their lives.  There is also a tracking app called Life 360 where you can track your child like they are a convict with an ankle brace.  We know everything they do—maybe not everything but we know their grades and location. I think it was and is too much oversight and I wish I had trusted them more, but that’s easy to say in hindsight with the knowledge that they achieved at a high level and stayed out of trouble (nothing like their father). 

I ended up graduating and attending Syracuse University which I truly enjoyed. But, as was my pattern, I never really felt content in the moment or place.  Always needing to be somewhere else, I transferred after my first year to the University of Michigan and graduated three years later. Ultimately, I went on to Law School and became a lawyer. I don’t ever remember putting a ton of effort into school, at any level, and that I regret.  I always wonder what I could have achieved had I applied myself. Unsurprisingly, when I did commit and engage in studying for the Bar Exam, I proudly passed on the first try.

Grade: D+ – The D is for my bad decisions and unaccountability between the years 1982-1994. The (+) is because I graduated law school and passed the Bar exam.

Ages 27 – 40

I got married, we moved into a new house and got pregnant all in the same month, it was January of 2002. I have always been my worst critic, but I do know that early on in my marriage I was not the best husband.  I struggled to break the selfish patterns that I had formed over many years of being single. Within 9 months of getting married (no, it wasn’t a shotgun marriage, Jake was 3 weeks early), things were NEW alright— newlywed, new parent and new homeowner.

It took time and a lot of trial and error to learn how to be a good husband and parent. As it is with all of us, we begin our marriages with a backpack loaded with models and messages of morals and patterns and we pick and choose the ones that best fit the marriage and parenting behaviors we strive to implement.

My wife arrived with her backpack and I carried mine. Together we attempted blending different upbringings, household environments and generational patterns into a cohesive unit. It was messy! To make the partnership work, it takes flexibility, dedication, commitment, understanding, and a slew of other attributes that are easily listed but not so easily implemented. Levity and humor were by far our greatest individual strengths and believe that is what have kept things together after 22 years.

Grade: B

Ages 41 – 54

These were my favorite years marked with a lot of typical kid stuff that somehow felt very unique—From Elementary and middle school to Baseball and Hockey games, from dance Competitions and Recitals to Homecoming and Prom, from Spring breaks and Highschool graduations— we barely came up for air but when we did we reveled in their accomplishments and bragged way too much. Even though “The whole universe is based on rhythms.  Everything happens in circles, in spirals.” I believe that the triangle has a sacred place in all of our lives. 

There is a formula for happiness and growth and it can be applied to your time and how you spend it. Think of your life as a triangle and the three angles of that triangle represent three very important relationships. 

The first is the one you have with yourself (yourself includes time spent with friends, career or hobbies).  The second relationship is the one you have with your husband, wife, partner.  And, the third relationship is the one you have with your children.  Now, if you are at a different stage of life, you can make substitutions but don’t substitute anything for yourself.  The idea is that by investing equal amounts of time to those three relationships we create a healthy life. There will be times in your life that circumstances dictate you spend more or less time in those three relationships, but the general rule is balance. Sometimes we are all guilty of allowing the ratios to become unstable. We all know people who, for whatever reason, dedicate 95% of their time to their careers and leave 5% for everything else, or those people that dedicate 80% of their time to their friends (and golf) and leave 20% for everyone else. Clearly the three-legged table can’t stand without weight on each leg and imbalance can quickly lead to trouble. 

Grade: A for working hard to maintain those ratios with myself, my wife and my kids.

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