A Different Educational Path

I was a traditional student.  Except for 2 years in private education, I attended the neighborhood public school. I walked to school, up hill both ways, in the snow. Like others, that’s the story I’m telling.

My parents expected me to succeed academically and stay on course. They encouraged my participation in extra-curricular activities  Still, I followed a well-worn path.

After high school, I went directly to college.  I wanted to go to a smaller school. My father insisted that I start at UNC.  Each kind of college experience had its particular advantages.  For the first two years, my parents paid my tuition and board in full. So, I yielded to their preference.

Of course, that was a long time ago when a college education was affordable.  That’s not true for a lot of people these days.  I’ll step down from my soap box and spare you my speech.  I graduated in four years contributing to my expenses with summer jobs.

That was back in the day before the internet, google, hotwire and cell phones.  I even remember writing letters to family and friends in cursive, on paper, putting them in envelopes with postage stamps.  Do you remember those days? Things have changed.

None of the four children I raised are traditional students.  There were gap years, military service, unpaid internships, online classes, global travel.  I can’t complain. Getting an education is much more complicated these days.  At the same time, their upbringing was more dramatic. Two of the four now have college degrees. Two are still plowing forward.

Thank goodness they have found a number of resources for financial assistance. First of all, they have tended to work year round, taking vacations when a break was needed.  When I was their age, I took fewer trips, but only worked in the summers.  Their exorbitant college expenses have been financed through parents, grandparents, scholarships, the GI bill,  grants, loans and a number of part-time jobs.  Like everything else, it has taken a village.

One day this past week, I got a call from my youngest son. He was walking on the beach in Phuket, Thailand.  Yes!  A month ago he was in Barcelona, Spain and Paris, France. As soon as his second semester ended at Ohio State, he started traveling before jumping  back  into summer school. He had worked many extra hours during the school year to afford it. It is his own version of “studying abroad”.

He didn’t book with some tour group.  He didn’t sign up for classes.  He just went without much of an agenda.  He planned to let his learning unfold organically.  Needless to say, our phone conversation was hysterical.  I heard about

  • language barriers,
  • over-crowded boats and taxis,
  • snorkeling with massive jelly fish,
  • ornate Buddhist Temples
  • playing soccer with school-aged children
  • a 4 ft. grouper
  • James Bond Island
  • tuk tuks
  • elephant sanctuaries
  • travel scams etc.

I am proud of his risk-taking initiative.  Don’t worry.  I limited my questions to stay within his “question quota”. Forever, I will be practicing to say, “tell me more”.

Here’s what I’m learning.  There are many different educational paths.  These days, students want more experiential classrooms.  Hopefully, my children will always find their joie de vivre as they gorge on wide-eyed, open hearted,  lifelong learning adventures.

Because of the internet, google, hotwire and cell phones, students have more access to opportunities and relationships.  For some of us, that seems like too much distraction. For others with decent boundaries and self-imposed limits, this technology opens a whole new world.

Again, things have changed. So must my imposition onto them of a more traditional way. I too am still learning.






When did This Mother Superior Pass Away?

Because I am a mother and a pastor, my children used to call me, “Mother Superior”.  As a matter of fact, that is how my youngest son would address my birthday and Mother’s Day cards.  Who was I to correct him? By the way, did you know that my middle name is Pope.  That is a fact.

For a Mom, so often torn between parenting and pastoring, that name “Mother Superior” was my favorite gift.  It was a dozen orange roses. It was breakfast in bed and a foot massage.  It was a home cooked meal prepared, served and cleaned up by somebody else.

In fact, Chris’ construction-paper cards addressed that way were his wink with a kiss.  I felt like it was his way of saying, “You’re no Mother Theresa, but your love for me is superior”.  I didn’t need anything else.  Then he grew up.

When Chris turned seventeen, things changed.  He began to separate from me.  He barely spoke.  He forgot to share his calendar. No longer did he have time for a shared meal.  I get it.  Self-differentiation is the work of adolescence.  Yet to say it wasn’t a struggle for me would be like saying that the Rock of Gibraltar is just another pebble.  Am I the only mother who went through this?

At some point, this Mother Superior passed away.  I don’t remember the exact date.  All I know was that I wasn’t even invited to the Memorial Service.

Before that, Chris and I would go out many Sunday nights.  It was just the two of us.   He would finish his homework, as he ate.  I would simply eat and offer my assistance if required.  I would take deep breaths after a long week.  Basically, we would re-connect after too many over-scheduled days.

However, during his senior year of high school, he did his thing; I did mine.  We barely spoke.  I don’t remember heated arguments.  I just remember silence, blank stares and the question quota.

That’s right. He thought I asked too many questions.  Can you imagine a mother doing that? Well, he thought I did. So, he imposed the question quota. I was only to ask so many questions before he shut down.

In my defense, I was still interested in his comings and goings. I wanted to know with whom he rode.  I wanted to know what he was thinking.

I didn’t ask questions out of suspicion, most of the time. I was genuinely interested. Looking back, I realize I was still craving the long talks. I craved his need for my help. I missed the invitation to scratch his back. Yet, he was growing up and growing away.

Chris is now 21.  He is a stellar son.  He is in college, figuring out his core values and passions.  Though I wish he called more, he participates in required family gatherings. For instance, this past Easter Sunday, he came to church for worship and the annual family photo. He didn’t growl or grumble. He was on time!

Yet, under his breath during Easter lunch, he muttered something about going to Europe in a few weeks. “whhaat”? I wanted to shout? Instead, I chose to be thrilled.  I refrained from asking ANY questions. I simply said with great joy, “tell me more”!

I said, “Wow! Clearly, you’ve been resourceful. It sounds like you’re pursuing one of your dreams”. I expressed pride in his initiative. Then, he showed me pictures and shared more details.

Yesterday, while I was at church, Chris called me from Barcelona, Spain.  With great animation in his voice, he shared some of the highlights from his travels.  He called ME.  He didn’t ask for money.  He simply wanted to share some of his comings and goings.

Maybe this Mother Superior had to die for a new relationship to rise. I hate to admit that. It was a slow death. The good news, however, is that the pressure has been lifted. These days I’m satisfied to be Mom.