November 12, 2007
Many, many years ago, I directed a childhood hunger study in Texas, which was sponsored by a group of Benedictine Sisters out of Boerne, Texas. Iíve never forgotten them, because their link of the spiritual world to the real world is so unique and wise. The Sisters live by the rule of St. Benedict, which dictates, among other things, that they live the ideals and values of the Benedictine way of life by ďListening to the Word of God as it comes through scripture, prayer, people and the signs of the times.Ē Iím not Catholic, but this idea of simple listening has had a profound impact on me.
Which is my way of saying that I try to listen to the signs of the times myself, especially when I am making really big decisions. After way too many years trying to MAKE things happen only to end up getting exactly the opposite of what I wanted, I finally came to believe that there is a fundamental current to my life, propelling me forward through the lessons and experiences that prepare me for each new phase. I donít want yíall thinking Iím about to burst into Kumbaya or anything here. All Iím saying is that if enough events seem to be pointing me in a direction, I try to, um, go there. I usually end up there anyway and if I stop fighting so hard to swim against the current, things usually turn out better. (Oh, my. Block that metaphor! I almost said that things tend to turn out ďswimmingly.Ē Yikes.)
So anyway, all of this is my way of saying that weíre moving to Long Island.
Trust me, you cannot possibly be more shocked that *I* AM!
See, earlier this year, my husband started getting job offers. It was the darnedest thing. Just out of the blue, people kept offering him jobs. He wasnít looking for a new job and we love it here in Austin and we werenít looking to leave. We are in a great school district, we love our house, we have friends who actually call us and invite us overÖ (well, sometimes). Itís a wonderful life weíve made here. Plus, my husband has always said that he would never live farther north and Iíve always said that I would never live farther south so I thought we were sort of stuck at this latitude.
And then we had this yearís parent/teacher conferences.
You know how you can just go along on your daily path without thinking much about the direction in which youíre headed? Like, you decide on a course of action and then you just keep putting one step in front of the other until you run right into a large brick wall that you didnít even notice was in your path?
Thatís what those conferences were like for us this year.
We moved into this school district specifically because education is so important to us Ėas a core family value. We absolutely LOVE the small elementary school where our girls are now in fourth and first grades. I am in the school every single day, volunteering. I am confident in the teachers weíve had and the fit between each of the girlsí personalities and learning styles with those teachers. I know that if I raise a concern over something at the school, it will be addressed. I feel that the school is a very safe environment and I rest easy knowing my kids are academically challenged.
But there is one thing I didnít consider in arranging this perfect little bubble for my children and that is: maybe a perfect little bubble isnít the best environment for my kids. Maybe, just maybe, when I was being so very careful not to create an environment in which my little darlings were pushed, I inadvertently created an environment in which they arenít meeting their potential, nor developing resilience and coping/adaptive life skills.
Which isnít to say that weíre planning on dropping them into some hostile school environment in New York and then going out for pizza while they suffer. What I am saying is that the parent/teacher conferences showed us very plainly that my girls, especially Ana (9), are just phoning it in. Know what I mean? Sheís doing the very minimum of what she needs to do to maintain good grades, but not one tiny bit extra. My lovely, brainy Ana, who is quite possibly the most innately intelligent person I have ever met, is turning into something of a slacker in school.
And I think itís my fault.
When she started school, she was so sensitive and shy that I went all Nuclear Mama Bear and started systematically removing the elements from her school environment that caused her stress in any way. So, now, of course, she can barely tie her own shoes. Because thatís what happens when you tie your kidsí shoes for them all the time Ėthey donít become proficient at doing it for themselves.
I don't know. It just seems like other people manage not to break their kids' spirits and still have expectations of how their kids will perform. And the kids rise to the occasion. Mine donít seem to be doing that. Ana's got this huge brain; she reads day and night (like we have to have all these rules about not reading on the stairs or in the bathtub or while walking outside) and all she had to do was keep track of the number of pages she read for the RIF Read-A-Thon. But no, it was just too much pressure. She had a total sobbing, shaking meltdown and dropped out of the competition.
Well, you know, Iíve looked at that list of major life stressors and the RIF Read-a-Thon isnít on it. And if THATíS enough to stress her out to the point of illness, I think maybe we need to do some work on helping her learn to manage and thrive under pressure. Because something tells me that life continues to get HARDER, not easier, after fourth grade.
Anyway, one of the job offers my husband got turned out to be not only to be potentially really good for our family financially (read: fully endowing the girlsí college funds) but also a terrific professional opportunity for him. Given that I had already quit my job as Editor of Austin Family Magazine earlier this year in order to focus on our kids and my own writing, the timing seemed right for me, too. (If I canít find an agent in New York City, the publishing capital of the world, I must not be a very good writer.) After the parent/teacher conferences, it really looks like this is good timing for our kids and they are excited about this new adventure.
It seems to me that the signs of the times are pointing us to this move. I think it will be hard to leave this bubble, but better we go with grace and resignation than to wait and have the bubble pop out from under us because we failed to listen.
Plus, I think itís going to be hilarious.
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(c) Barbara Cooper 2007
Barb Cooper is the mother of Ana (9) and Jane (7). She (currently) lives in Austin, Texas and she would like to mention that you can subscribe to her blog ( http://www.sothethingisblog.blogspot.com) to get doses of moving angst and humor delivered to your in-box every single day!