I lost my cool the first day of school.
Yep, its true. And the day before too. I’m not feeling great about it. Feeling proud is not why I am letting you in on my mom fail. This mom gig is hard sometimes. I’m thinking maybe I am not the only woman who feels this way. Maybe some of you lose your cool too. And if you aren’t a mom, maybe reading this will invite you into an authentic place in your expectations if you become one. Or maybe reading this will give you grace or invite you into what you can learn from losing your cool at work or on your roommates or your hot boyfriend.
The weeks leading up to the first day of school have looked like school supply shopping, consigning old clothes, purchasing new, doctor appointments, orthodontist appointments, physical therapy appointments, filling out online school forms, getting backpacks, grocery shopping for lunch food, and on and on. You get the drill.
So I thought I had my ducks in a row.
I thought I was well prepared.
I thought I did my best to think of everything that was needed, and even what wasn’t.
I thought I had planned things so that the transition would be peachy keen.
I don’t know what it is about me, but I love celebrating. I love tradition and I am a sucker for trying to take ordinary and not-so-ordinary life events and making them special in some way, especially for my kids. So, I made shepherds pie the night before school because I loved it as a kid and now my kids love it. I thought we would all get our backpacks ready, be super prepared, and then enjoy homemade mint cookie ice cream sandwiches and sit together and connect before one kid enters high school and the other 7th grade. I even got a special breakfast for the first day of school and made special lunches and well, this is where you might start judging me. This is where I start to sound like one of those crazy moms that does too much for my kids. It’s so easy to judge each other. But one thing I know I will never regret: I will never regret working hard for my kids, loving my kids like crazy and sometimes trying to bless their socks off so they always know they are special. There’s no shame in that.
But in my great attempt to make everything so special, my kids did not cooperate. They were exhausted, maybe nervous, definitely not ready for school to start, and most definitely not ready to go from late nights all summer to earlier bedtimes, nor were they ready to ditch slumber parties for studying. After struggles and arguing and angsty teenage faces and mom smack downs, I did it, I took away the homemade mint cookie ice cream sandwiches and sent the kids to bed.
I know what you are thinking. Not the mint cookie ice cream sandwiches.
And you’d think they would wake up like little angels the next morning ready to eat their lovely pecan sticky buns and kiss me on the forehead telling me they loved me and smile for my camera 30x and then skip off to school like lovely little school children with their perfect sack lunches.
They woke up grumpy. They woke up complaining. They woke up like protesters.
Every year since kindergarten we have had a tradition on the first day of school. We take pictures of the kids in front of our front door. No matter what door, what address, what grade, we do it every year. And I will tell you that this year the pictures don’t tell the story. Or maybe they do.
By the time I fed them breakfast, took pictures of them, made sure they had what they needed, drove them to their before school parties, and then got them to school, I was mad and tearful all at once. Part of me wanted to kick them to the curb on the side of the school parking lot, and the other part of me was holding onto them with my whole heart not wanting them to ever get out. I was over having to beg them out of bed. I was exhausted by the lack of gratitude for all my work. I was irritated by the attitudes of entitlement. I could care less if they didn’t like sticky buns or couldn’t find clothes to wear. And I felt sad that they didn’t want to take the pictures anymore. So, I said things I regretted, but more I said them in a way that I regretted.
I lost my cool the first day of school.
I have had to step back for a few days and think about what was going on in me. And I have some thoughts that might help you when you lose your cool too.
In our attempts to make “plans” special, are we making “people” feel special?
It is totally okay to go out of your way to bless people’s socks off. It is totally ok to get out the china and the white tablecloths for a Wednesday night dinner. It is totally cool to cookie cutter your kindergartener’s peanut butter and jelly sandwiches into hearts. But if your special, well laid plans get dashed by bad moods, teen angst, rush hour traffic or menstrual cramps, don’t lose sight of the very people you were making those plans for in the first place.
On the first day of school I had all these expectations that my special plans would make us all feel good, like everything was going to be okay. But the main thing that made us not feel okay was my response when my expectations were disappointed. So what if my son wanted to wear an old Thrasher t-shirt and holey shoes to show up as a freshman? So what if they didn’t like the sticky buns and told me so? So what if they don’t hold as tightly to our tradition as I do? Who were the school clothes, the sticky buns and the pictures for in the first place?
I love how Scripture says, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” We can try as we might to make things all hunky dory, but when our plans don’t go as planned, it’s still the Lord’s purpose that prevails. And we have to be a people that can in a moment return back to PURPOSE. What is the purpose behind this? The Lord’s purpose for this mom on the first day of school was to love my kids, to encourage them, to pass out bravery and to let them know they always have a refuge called home.
When your car breaks down on your date night, what is the Lord’s purpose? Love your spouse on the long wait for a tow truck. (Your purpose is not to rant at him about how he should have gotten a tune up on the car.) When you invite new friends over for dinner and you burn it, what is the Lord’s purpose? Laugh and connect and build a good memory at the beginning of what could be a long friendship that started over burnt lasagna. (Your purpose is not to throw the entire night away and call it a loss just because the food sucked.) When you plan a gathering for your somewhat estranged family in the hopes of reconciliation and things gets complicated, your purpose is to keep pointing everyone toward that hope. (Your purpose is not to bring up the long standing issues when your plans don’t go as planned.)
You get what I mean. We have to be a people who go back to the purpose for why we made our plans in the first place. I made special plans for my special people. They are special no matter what happens to the plans. People over plans. That remains our purpose.
When you lose your cool, ask yourself “What is going on inside of me?”
At one point during my failure to keep my cool, my husband said, “You need to chill out.” And that is when fire and smoke started coming out of my nostrils and a new sounding voice came out of me that said “Donnnn’t tell me to chill out Robbbbbbb.” (holding the awwwwww in Rob a very long time). Daring to step out in truth, he said “I think you’re having a harder time than the kids are.” And I was of course sure he was wrong. But the Spirit soon had a word with me.
Behind the camera lens as I captured my kids dancing and being goofy, all the years flashed by. It’s gone so fast. I just held Aidan in my arms in the hospital at his birth. I just watched him meet his daddy. I just rocked Bella to sleep and counted all her fingers and toes. I just taught them to say ma-ma. I just dropped them off at preschool. I just ….
I started to feel weepy but was trying to keep it in as I had them pose for our annual photo shoot, despite their defiance. As I zoomed in, I have so much love for these two. Him and his blue eyes. Her and her green. Their belly laughter and the way they love each other. Their perspective on life. His stand for justice and her love of everyone.
If I am lucky, I have four more years with Aidan in the house. Four. I still want family dinners but everyone is going every which way most of the time. I still want them to snuggle but they would rather be on Instagram than in my arms. I still want them to need me and they do, but it looks different. Time is changing everything and I can’t do anything about it. Other than embrace it.
And I think I will embrace it, but sometimes before you can embrace something, you first have to grieve. And what I was incapable of doing when I was losing my cool was to recognize that I was grieving. Grieving is the art of recognizing what you have lost. And at the same time that there are many things that I gain, I am grieving their time, their innocence, their affection, their adoration, their childhood.
Maybe you are grieving something too. Maybe you are losing your cool because what’s really going on deep inside you is that you are losing something. You know, in case you forgot, we lose loved ones, friendships, seasons, stability, security, community, control and so much more. What does it feel like you are losing right now? Maybe if we can recognize what we are losing, it will be the first step in keeping our cool.
When we can say, “I am not mad at you, I am just grieving”, the outcome in a relationship and a circumstance ends up looking much more healthy. After the first day of school, that night, we sat down as a family and processed together what had taken place. We had an honest conversation. We had to drop some parent discipline on their sassy attitudes. But I also had to confess. I had to admit to my kids that it’s true, “I am having a hard time.” I had to say to my high schooler, “This is hard. It’s good, but it’s hard. I just miss you and things are changing so fast. I am sorry for losing my cool……
……I just don’t want to lose you.”
I said it. I said the thing that I didn’t even know was there. “I just don’t want to lose you.” I lost my cool because there was something going on deep inside me. And I couldn’t have gotten to this place to be able to say these words if I hadn’t have made space to ask myself what was going on inside me. We can ask ourselves: What are these feelings? What is this irritation? What are these tears? What is happening on a deeper level here? What am I really feeling?
That night there might have been tears. But there were also hugs. And understanding. And peace. And reasonable conversations where teenage angst and parent fear had no place.
Know: There’s room to be cool tomorrow.
I love that God’s mercies are new every day (Lamentations 3:23). He promises us that this is true. I blew it today, thank God I can wake up and get my cool back tomorrow. Our relationships need mercy. Our families need mercy. Our friendships need mercy. Our marriages need mercy. Our co-workers need mercy. Our enemies need it too.
I don’t know about you but sometimes I lose my cool. Thank God, He grants it back. We all disappoint each other. We all fail. We all say things we shouldn’t. We all lose our patience. We all judge and misunderstand. We all make up stories about each other that aren’t true. We all lose our cool. We need mercy. Our world needs mercy. We need mercy for being too quick to judge. We need mercy for forgetting our brothers and sisters who are hurting. We need mercy for choosing ourselves at the disadvantage of another.
We might have lost our cool today, but we can wake up tomorrow. We can chillax our expectations. We can recognize what we feel like we are losing whether it’s a season, a title, a status, a friend, or control. And then we can come before the One who doses out mercy like there is a never ending supply and He says “You can be cool today.”
It’s funny, when we admit we need God’s mercy for losing our cool, others do too. Even teenagers. And then when we both turn together to the One who freely gives it, we find ourselves sharing a Divine mercy moment that changes everything.
Oh Give thanks to God, for He is good! His mercy endures forever. Psalm 136:1
Luke 6:36 says Be merciful just as your Father is merciful. We have a God who over and over again extends compassion and mercy upon us when we aren’t cool. Let s do the same for each other- in our homes, in the Church, at work, on social media, with our neighbors, our employees, people who are different than we are, and yes even with our teens.
Now go be cool. And when you lose your cool, remember there is One who has an endless supply to replenish it.