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Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Farewell, Freddy

Our neighbor’s dog Freddy died this week.
Freddy has lived in this neighborhood longer than we have. He may have been the first doggo to bark at me after we moved in back in 2007. You couldn’t walk past Fred’s house, if he was outside, without getting barked at. He’d give one solitary Woof, to let you know he considered it rude if you strolled by without stopping to give him a pat and a scratch.
His parents called him The Mayor, and that seems to be just how he saw himself.
My two older kids have a dog-walking job for the lady who lives three houses down. Her two dogs were friends with Freddy—rumor has it he considered one of them his girlfriend—so he often came out of his garage to rub noses and sniff behinds with Robie and Hovey. When they went out of town, Fred’s parents even hired my kids to dog-sit a couple of times. Fred had a complicated meal structure, and didn’t much like to walk when you wanted him to. It was a good exercise for my kids in managing a schedule, serving a demanding eater, and dealing with a smallish, recalcitrant being. You know, parenting.
Several of my kids’ friends in the neighborhood walk and sit various dogs at various times. I’d often see Ryan on the way to care for Fred or Nena, or Andrew coming down the street for the afternoon shift with Robie and Hovey. Ryan’s older sister Casey used to dog-walk too, but now she’s a senior in high school, showing and riding horses, working on plays and singing in the choir, dating, and getting ready to leave for college next fall.
One by one these kids will leave the neighborhood.
Oh, Freddy.
That dog redeemed the name Fred for me. My first serious boyfriend in college was named Fred. He led me to believe we were going to get married.
He led a number of girls to believe that.
When I met Freddy the dog, I thought he had the most unfortunate name, and because of that I thought I could never come to love him.
But I was wrong.
Many, many a morning I stopped to talk to Fred and his mom on my way back from taking one or more of my kids to the bus. This year, however, my youngest is in fifth grade, and her school is right around the corner, and she made patrol captain, so there is no way she’s going to let her mother accompany her to school. I’ve had bus duty morning and afternoon for the past eleven years.
Now I don’t.
So I didn’t see Freddy much this fall. I wasn’t out and about like I used to be.
My son came home from his morning dog-walk a few days ago and said that Fred’s parents didn’t expect him to live more than another day or two. They were right.
The neighborhood won’t be the same without you, Freddy.
It won’t be the same without Casey.
Or Andrew and Ryan.
Or my kids.
I really wish you didn’t all have to go.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

What Did I Do Wrong?

One of my kids is making some choices that align with the brokenness of the world rather than the wholeness of Truth. It’s breaking my heart, knowing that this chosen path, if pursued much further, leads to no good end. In my prayer time the other day I cried out to God, “What did I do wrong?”
He responded, with purest empathy, “What did I do wrong?”
We believe, as parents, that if we get it all right—send our kids to the right schools, pray the right scriptures, keep the bad stuff out and immerse our homes in the good stuff—we’ll erect a barrier around our children that will prevent them from ever straying from the good path. We love them, and give them all the truth and benefits we’re able, and deep down we really believe we have the power to protect them from themselves and from the world.
When someone else’s kid goes off the rails, drowns in a swimming pool, or climbs into the gorilla cage, the first thing the rest of us usually do is point fingers at the parents and say (if only in the silent, terrified pride of our own minds) that they somehow dropped the ball. We’d never let that happen to our kid.
I’m guilty of finger-pointing: What did you do to make your child turn to alcohol, get pregnant as a teenager, bully, shoplift, self-cut, shoot heroin, etc., etc.? Because I want to believe that I can make my kids be healthy, safe, and wise. That if I get it right, they’ll never be tempted to go wrong.
But it’s not true.
What did I do wrong? More than a few things.
What did God do wrong? Not a single thing.
He’s the perfect parent, the limitless provider, the wisest counselor. He’s never screwed up with a single one of us.
But I…
I traveled a labyrinth of dark trails between the time my parents’ control over me waned and I finally capitulated to God’s. Oh, I sinned. Why? Not because God’s love wasn’t good enough, but because my heart is dark, and my mind is conflicted, and my emotions are chaotic. I think I know what I’m doing all the time, but my own highest wisdom is laughable compared to God’s greatest foolishness.
My children all have that same agency. Every day they move further away from their father’s and my jurisdiction and closer to the end goal of being fully in charge of the management of their own lives. This is right, and the way it’s meant to be: children grow up and grow away.
And I can’t control their outcomes.
I’m butting heads with that truth right now. I can’t control this child. I can’t force insight, oblige wisdom, or coerce understanding. I still have power to enact consequences for behavior—thank God—but I have no power to govern my child’s heart. I never did. I never will.
This thing may be my fault. But it probably isn’t.
In the end, all of us have to negotiate the status of our own souls. We’ll stand alone, and account for what we chose and why.
All I can do is pray that God makes up for the ways I’ve screwed up parenting.
And I’ll hold onto the truth that he, in his perfection, loves this child even more than I do.
Right now that’s all I have.