Push-Pull

One of the push-pull realities of how I’m wired came into sharp focus for me a few years ago as I struggled to assimilate the various tasks my personal life and job require of me. On the one hand, I struggled with feeling inadequate, and the mantra that regularly played in my head was, “I am not enough.” Contrast that with another refrain I heard that harmonized with the first, “I am too much.” I seemed to bounce between feelings of insufficiency and excess, trying to find the sweet spot in between those two extremes, which I think could be simply labeled “enough.”

This word “enough” has plagued me, causing me to ask, what does it even mean to be “enough”? Depending on what social media account you follow or guiding philosophy you ascribe to or even how you were raised, enough can look radically different in each of these camps. When I survey my world, I have determined that in order to be enough, I must

Pursue my passion in my career but
Keep my head down and just do my job and
Bring home the bacon because
I don’t live to work; I work to live so that I can
Put family first and
Parent with intentionality as I
Focus on my child’s unique needs by
Creating a positive and loving environment that also
Provides clear boundaries and discipline with a
Dash of fun and whimsy,
Just like my house itself that must be
Tidy and clutter-free and
Perfectly styled with beautiful living spaces that, of course, have a
Minimalist approach to furnishings and belongings, just like my
Social media presence that is supposed to be hip and relevant,
Gracious and understanding, never
Brash or intolerant or out of sync with what’s trending because
Everyone is watching and
Everyone cares if the way
“You do you” matches their way and
Stands out because ultimately
I should be a strong, independent woman who
Doesn’t need a man to complete her
But is submissive and meek
Just like the Bible said because that’s how you
Dance between “too much” and “not enough”
Right?

It is interesting to note that enough in these instances is often defined by what I do or am able to attain. Culture’s pull is seductive and, especially here in America, gets wrapped up in nationalistic ideas of the American dream and its siren call to all citizens that if we work hard enough, we can achieve it. But what if I can’t achieve it? What if I can’t do everything I’m supposed to do? What if the rat race leaves me so weary that even if I were to finally make it, I can’t enjoy it? When I chase enough, I find myself a hollowed-out shell of a human being—used up, cynical, and angry at the finish line that always seems to be moving and just out of reach in front of me.

There has to be a better way.

The beauty and simplicity of one of the first passages of Scripture I memorized as a child speaks to me about this better way. Psalm 23 paints a picture of a contentment in life that is rooted in God’s actions. Enough in this psalm originates with the Good Shepherd, pushing aside the idea that anything I do or anything that culture is selling me can get me what I want. Look at all the action words that follow the opening idea of “I shall not want”: God makes us lie down in green pastures, he leads us beside still waters, he restores our souls, he leads us in paths of righteousness, and then later in the psalm he prepares a table for us and he anoints us with oil. Then consider verse 4: we don’t have to fear evil because God is with us. A life that is enough is marked by God’s action and his presence.

My quest for enough-ness ends in a decision to rest in the Good Shepherd’s presence as I let him act on my behalf. I get to experience his goodness and mercy, and they become the antidotes to feelings that I can’t be everything I should be or even the feelings that I am too much for any given situation. I am able to say with confidence that I am enough because he is more than enough for me.

 

 

 

 

The Dog We Didn’t Know We Needed

Scout,

As I type this, you are lying across the kitchen from me, stretched out on the entryway rug and slipping into your evening nap. You turn one this week, which means we’ve had you for nine months. I turned forty-one this year, and I fell in love with a dog for the very first time in my life.

Strange how sometimes the very best things for us happen without any effort from us at all. In moments like these, all our scheming and planning and bouts of self-awareness and critical self-reflection amount to nothing. You landed in our laps unexpectedly, the fruit of a handful of connections and conversations that we didn’t seek out and had no idea would end with you.

I will admit a healthy dose of reservation where you were concerned. My sister and I had one cat growing up, and Mittens held a place of honor in my heart as my one and only childhood pet. I loved Mittens, and I hadn’t loved any furry animal before or since. Throughout my adult life, I’ve always had friends with dogs and cats, but I only saw the work, the mess, the inconvenience, the cost when I thought about a pet. You have been all those things and then some.

But you have also been a furry bundle of sweetness and goofyness that we needed—that I needed. Your wiggly little body winding around my legs every night as soon as I get home from work is something I look forward to. I love that you will lean against the couch and let me absent-mindedly pet you when I’m reading. Your puppy antics and the zoomies you get after baths make me laugh every time. I’ve discovered that you are a good listener, your soulful eyes and head tilts making me believe that you are following every word I’m saying. I had no idea how comforting it is to feel your warmth curled up at my feet in bed at night. I’ve played more in my backyard with you than I have in several years; you have reminded me of the joy I had playing in the back yard with Josh until he got to be a big teenager too cool for Tonka trucks and tree climbing.

Speaking of Josh, watching you two together has meant more to me than I could have imagined. He was a cool customer with you those first few weeks, but you won him over. You’ve probably noticed that there aren’t any other kids in the house, and in a funny way, you have given us a glimpse of the kind of big brother Josh would have been if he’d ever had the chance. Even though I’m supposed to be mad at you, I can’t help but giggle every time you sneak into his room to grab something you know you aren’t supposed to have. I imagine Josh’s room is just as fascinating to you as it would be to a younger sibling. (I am, however, very relieved that I found you just seconds after you sneaked out of his room with one his very expensive cordless earbuds in your mouth. Disaster averted there.) He is silly and sappy and sweet with you in a way that I’ve never seen him before—even with his much younger cousins. And the way you join in when Josh and Ryan wrestle, just like you are one of the boys, is adorable.

You are after all Ryan’s dog, so it makes sense that you dive in paws first into anything he is doing. You are still working through your service dog training, but you are already so good for him. It’s just the two of you at home together most days, and I am so grateful for your presence with him. I know you two butt heads sometimes because I think you’ve got a stubborn streak to match his. And I know Ryan gets irritated with you because you don’t always listen like you should. But you make him laugh, and you have gentled my combat veteran in amazing ways.

When I think about the day we met you, I remember how you climbed up in Ryan’s lap and put your tiny paws on his shoulders so that you could get as close as possible to his face. You sniffed him and then got down to curl up in his lap. Of all the other puppies in the room that day, you were the only one who did that. We thought we were going to pick a puppy that day, but really I think you were the one who did the choosing. We haven’t been the same since.

The Enneagram and the Self

The enneagram came into my life a little over a year ago. Like some personality inventories, the enneagram has some initial characteristics for each type that made me nod my head as I cruised through the lists. But unlike most personality inventories, the enneagram has a way of poking at my soul, giving words to things that I’ve always known about myself at a gut level but haven’t ever bothered to articulate. It has also explained phenomenon to me that I had just attributed to circumstance or coincidence. Turns out, there are patterns to human behavior that have been observed and categorized for hundreds of years. It is this history of the enneagram that makes it different from a personality inventory.

It has its roots in the desert fathers, Catholic figures, and even some Sufi teaching. It is this spiritual component to the enneagram that sets it apart from any other inventory that I’m aware of. I’m familiar with the Myers-Briggs test, the Color Code, the animal personality test, and even the Jane Austen heroine test (if memory serves, I was Eleanor from Sense and Sensibility), but none of those can explain my spiritual longings, motivations, or temptations. The enneagram can and with uncanny accuracy. In fact, when I read Richard Rohr’s book The Enneagram, I came across a line in the chapter about the type I identify with: “Internally they are boiling with rage because the world is so damned imperfect.”[1] It made me gasp because I’ve had many versions of this thought but didn’t know that this belief was common to a group of people who identify with a specific enneagram number.

The enneagram assumes that we are all fallen in unique ways, but not as many ways as you might think. There are patterns to our fallenness or brokenness that get repeated over and over again. And our attempts to fix our own brokenness also have some set patterns that manifest themselves in humans all over the place. (That means we aren’t as special and unique as we thought we were.) I found that truth comforting. To know that there are others who wrestle with and long for the same things I do is reassuring. I may be totally flawed in how I’m trying to get back to wholeness (when I work from my own human strength and perspective), but there are lots of other people working at the same process I am.

As I learn more about the enneagram, one of the beautiful realities that has unfolded for me is that all nine types reveal different facets of God’s character. Because we all have the imago dei stamped on us, we all reflect something about God that you can’t find in the rest of his created world. We all know, though, that on our own, we don’t reveal all of God; it is God’s people collectively who can give us a fuller picture of who God is. The way each type reflects God’s image and character is different from any other type in the enneagram, and that is a truth much needed in our fractured and divided world.

The enneagram can help us understand some of Paul’s “body” teaching in Romans. God’s “body,” the church, needs all its members to work the way he designed them to. As someone who identifies with type one, I need to hear this. I am driven by a desire for perfection—in myself, in others, in my world—and this can cause relational damage to my brothers and sisters in Christ when I mercilessly critique their work or behavior. I need the playfulness and exuberance of the healthy type sevens who can show me what it looks like to be satisfied in Christ. I need the ability to see myself clearly like type twos can when they see themselves rightly in relation to others. I need all the other types to help me see God and understand my own place in his body more clearly.

I am also grateful for the way the enneagram can help us take our eyes off our selves and place it back on our good Father and his plan for us. Yes, the enneagram requires a lot of self-scrutiny and self-awareness. But those are not the end goals of the enneagram. I am not more self-aware simply for the sake of being self-aware. I develop this awareness—with the keen insight of the Holy Spirit—so that I can reorient myself in a journey toward Christ-likeness. I can’t force that process any more than I can force the sun to stay longer in the sky, but the enneagram can function as a tool to be used in that process of awareness and transformation. When the enneagram helps reveal my tendencies toward anger, resentment, and impatience, I have a choice before me. I can persist in those behaviors, claiming that “this is just the way I am.” Or I can turn those over to the Father, who will tell me that my flaws are opportunities for his grace to work mightily in me.

Heaven knows we don’t need more reasons to be divided or to be more self-absorbed than we usually are, and this can be an unfortunate side effect of personality inventories and shallow treatment of the enneagram. The world needs more image bearers to openly display their journey to wholeness and healing that will shine a light on the One who is stitching us all back together.

[1] Richard Rohr and Andreas Ebert, The Enneagram: A Christian Perspective, trans. Peter Heinegg (New York: Crossroad Publishing, 2018), 53.

Two Versions of Myself

My husband and son have told me that there are two distinct Jessicas in our house: a summer Jessica and a school-year Jessica. They have also informed me that summer Jessica is a lot more fun. I grimaced and laughed at the same time when they told me this because, in my gut, I know it’s true. I love my job, but from August to May, I feel the pressure of my job—the unending to-do lists, the ongoing slate of meetings, the self-replenishing pile of papers to grade. I’ve gotta be focused and task-oriented to stay on top of it all. This in-the-zone mentality isn’t hard for me to live in because I have some workaholic tendencies fueled by an unhealthy streak of perfectionism.

In my thirties, I started to see the ramifications of these patterns, and I didn’t like what I saw. The ripple effects of these behaviors touch so many areas: my family, my friends, my performance in my job, my sense of self and worth. I started putting some safeguards in place to help me remember my limits and to reset my own expectations. I leave work at 5:00 every day, whether or not I’m done with my list. I have started making sure that from the time I get home to about 7:30 or so is just time spent with my family. If there is grading to do, I will work on it for about an hour before calling it quits. I need to have time to decompress before going to bed, so I don’t typically grade right up until I fall into bed. I’ve started using the phrase “good enough” when I’m working on something. Perfection is an unattainable goal, and I need to remind myself that “good enough” is good enough for just about everything. But even with all those practices, I’m still a tightly-wound ball of havetoneedtoshould more often than I would like admit during the school year.

Then summer arrives. And like Cinderella before the ball, I transform into a laid-back, easygoing, “why not?” version of myself. For the first few weeks of summer, I don’t even set an alarm. I wake up when I wake up. I make out a summer reading list and head to the library to binge on all the fiction I haven’t been reading during the school year (because I’ve been stuck in the desert wasteland that is freshman composition papers). I read for hours every day while sitting on my porch drinking iced tea, until the summer heat drives me inside where I make a den in the corner of my couch. I eat way too much ice cream because “why not?” It’s summer! My Google calendar hardly ever alerts me to a meeting or an appointment, and I easily lose track of time and day. When I do finally turn my thoughts back to my job (as is typical, that happened this week for me), I approach it casually, knowing that even a couple hours a day of work is more than enough to get done what I need to by the second week of August.

One of my colleagues struggles with this kind of Jekyll and Hyde behavior as well. Several months ago, she and I were talking about trying to figure out what it is like to still live during the school year. To not take a giant breath in August and then hold it until May, when we exhale and relax finally. This conversation is comforting to me because it reminds me that I’m not alone in this tendency. But it still leaves me wondering what exactly I should be working toward. Should summer Jessica be my all-year-round self? Is this just the nature of a job like teaching? Do I need to implement other practices in my daily life during the school year to rein in my workaholic tendencies?

If school-year Jessica were writing this, she would probably jot these questions down on her to-do list and keep them there until she had a good answer. But summer Jessica is writing this, so she says to just set them on the back burner to be contemplated after another novel and bowl of ice cream.

Thinking and Feeling

I recently finished reading Karen Swallow Prior’s book On Reading Well, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. If you are a reader who is interested in the intersection of virtue and fiction, get this book. The introduction alone is worth the price of the book, and the chapters make you feel like all that time you spend with your nose buried in a book has been time well-spent. I have been wanting to write about her ideas, but I’ve been afraid that all my ideas and reflections would amount to this:

Ditto.

So I have delayed saying anything until I felt like I had slightly more to say than that. I was thumbing through the book a few days ago, and my eyes caught a sentence that I had underlined from the introduction: “Emotivism isn’t simply having and expressing emotions but being overwhelmingly informed and driven by them.” I lingered on that sentence because it converged with some observations I’ve been ruminating on since my school year wrapped up several weeks ago. (“Observation” is a diplomatic word; “professional lament” is probably more accurate, so I’ll try to keep the whining to a minimum.)

I don’t know if this represents a generational trend, but one of the things I felt like I fought more this year than in years past is my students’ tendency to think this way, “I don’t like this thing; therefore, this thing is bad or wrong.” I know I’m not alone in this woe. When I mentioned it to my colleagues at an end-of-the-year collaborative meeting, there was vigorous head-nodding around the room. We have all been encountering it. Critical thinking is high on the priority list for higher education, yet simply listing it as a college learning outcome doesn’t make it happen. I don’t know exactly what to blame for this tendency in my students, but I felt like I was engaged in a Sisyphean task all year. I realized that boulder was on its way downhill yet again on the second to last day of the semester when I asked my writing students a question that I have asked them repeatedly this year. We have gone over the criteria that my question was based on numerous times. And yet, on this day at the very end of the semester, the overwhelming majority of responses I got to my question were based on opinion and feeling, completely ignoring the criteria they should have used instead. I realize that writing is, at times, a very subjective kind of discipline; sometimes what works in one written text produced for a situation would be completely wrong for the same text produced for a different situation. However, the skills of critical thinking are universal, and woven into the fabric of my class are multiple opportunities for my students to build their critical thinking repertoire as it relates to writing and analysis skills. Unfortunately, my students persist in thinking that “critical” means “criticize,” as in “let’s point out all the things we don’t like about it.”

What I encountered in the classroom is a manifestation of emotivism or affective thinking, and my students aren’t the only ones who do this. You don’t have to travel any further than the distance between your hand and your smart phone to see that social media apps are rife with expressions that indicate emotions are fueling our thinking and actions. The problem with this kind of approach is that it isn’t based on anything but the shifting shadows of my moods, my whims, and my emotional state that moment.

Prior’s conversation about emotivism and virtue isn’t that far from emotivism and critical thinking. Both share a common core: when the individual is placed at the center of meaning, it is difficult to determine a standard and purpose for virtue and a standard and purpose for critical thinking. It is much easier to stop in the pursuit of virtue with the idea, “I’ll do good because of what it gets me.” It is also much easier to stop in the pursuit of critical thinking with the idea, “It’s a good idea if I like it.”

To combat emotivism, we must be willing to look outside ourselves and our emotional states. Bloom’s Taxonomy has long been used by educators as a way to break down critical thinking and its practices. It is typically figured as a triangle, divided into layers from the bottom up. The layers usually move in this progression: remember, understand, apply, analyze, evaluate, create. You will notice that “emote” or “opine” isn’t anywhere on the list.

Occasionally, I will ask my writing students to tell me what they liked or didn’t like about a piece we have read. They will be full of responses, to the point that I have to cut them off because I have ulterior motives for this discussion. I will next ask them to tell me why the piece worked or what about the piece was coherent in its organization and structure. Crickets. That’s what I usually hear after those kinds of questions. They are hard questions, requiring the students to step outside of their comfortable zone of emotions and experiences to filter that piece through a different set of standards given to them.

I was frustrated that day of class during the last week of the semester because my students had those standards. We had practiced evaluating and analyzing written pieces together all semester. But they fell back on what was known that day. They responded out of the first language we all learn to speak: I like or don’t like this.

To all of you out there working with kids and teens in various educational settings, keep on teaching your students to think well. Fight that good fight, even though it isn’t modeled for our students in politics, entertainment, or the media. I’m choosing to believe that if enough of us keep working at this, it will pay off. We might not see it happen in our classrooms, but if we all commit to teaching this no matter what else we are asked to do, our culture will reap the benefit of being filled with good, strong thinkers.

 

Joplin: A Story of Loss and Recovery

Eight years ago today, a third of my town was wiped away by a tornado. “Wiped away” probably isn’t the best wording, though; “chewed up and spat out” fits better. On May 22, 2011, an EF-5 tornado roared into the southwest edge of Joplin and carved an arc up through the heart of our community before churning off to the east where it dropped memorabilia from its trip in fields and yards almost 70 miles away. This week, like many other third weeks of May since the tornado, has resurrected memories of that fateful Sunday evening simply because we are squarely situated in tornado season, even if Joplin isn’t technically in the middle of tornado alley. My family sat around the TV on Monday night of this week, watching weather alerts every few minutes as ominous cells manifested on the radar, doing their centuries’ old dance from southwest to northeast. Some smaller tornadoes wreaked havoc on roofs and trees in communities nearby, but Joplin was spared this time.

That week in 2011 exists in a space in my memory that is an odd mix of crystal clear images and blurred recollections, accompanied by emotions such as fear, mourning, frustration, and pride. So much changed for all of us in Joplin because of that one storm. The numbers give a partial picture of those changes: 7,000 homes destroyed, 500 businesses lost, and 161 people killed. But change is best described in narrative, and those of us who were here that day have lots of stories to tell.

My family’s story originates from the fringe of the tornado’s path where our status as “unharmed” would draw us in a unique way into the heart of the destruction. We were residence directors for a small Christian college that sits on the north end of town. We had plans to celebrate my husband’s birthday that evening; the dorm had just closed the day before and we could have free reign of the large dorm lobby that our tiny apartment was attached to.  But as the party time approached, so did the storms, with large, dark clouds bubbling up in the west. We watched the wind kick up, and when things started looking bad, my husband suggested maybe we should head to the basement at about the same time we heard the tornado sirens.

I’ve spent much of my life in the Midwest, so heading to storm shelters is nothing new to me. But that 30 minute stint in the basement of the dorm felt different. Even though we were two miles from the tornado, I have never seen the sky go black like that in the middle of the day. We emerged from the basement to find leaves and small branches from the trees littering the lawn around the dorm. Unsure of what exactly had happened, we went up to the television in our living room but couldn’t get any reception. We realized something was up, and we pulled out a radio, scanning for the local talk radio station, and listened in horror as the newscaster started listing off some of the locations in town that he knew had been hit. One of the intersections he listed had an apartment complex that a few of the students from the college had just moved into for the summer. (The birthday party was set aside; it was much, much later that evening that my husband and I would eat his cake standing over the sink, both of us in shock and speaking in half sentences to each other.)

“I’m going to check on them,” my husband told me as he laced up his hiking boots and threw some supplies into his pickup. I sat at the kitchen table, frozen with the horrific realization that all the places being mentioned on the radio spanned the breadth of the city. I stuck an imaginary pin in my mental map of Joplin every time the newscaster listed out another place with tornado damage. But even then, I was thinking that the tornado must have performed a crazy, drunken dance, stepping down in random places as it stumbled across town. I tried calling my husband to let him know that the damage must be pretty extensive. My call didn’t go through though. My anxiety spiked.

Several minutes later, he called me. “I had to drive through front yards to get down here, Jess. You can’t even imagine the damage. There are trees everywhere, power lines down all over. The further south you go, the worse it gets. I’m gonna try to keep going til I can get to 20th Street.” And that was it. That brief call was a miracle; the cell phone towers damaged in the storm meant that cell service was spotty to nonexistent. The time between that call and his arrival back at the dorm was a blur. Was it an hour? Two hours? I don’t remember. All I remember is he pulled up and several college kids spilled out of the pickup, disheveled and shaking. He had managed to find these kids when he got to the apartment complex, but not the two of them that he had been specifically looking for. Equally grim was his report about what he saw.

“After driving through all the yards and side streets, I was so disoriented. There weren’t any street signs anywhere. I had no clue where I was. I stopped a cop to ask him where 20th and Connecticut was. He told me I was standing on it. There wasn’t anything there but piles of rubble,” his eyes were wide as he relayed this to me. Each corner of this intersection had something major on it: a credit union, an apartment complex, a bank, and some duplexes. He told me he had searched for the two girls but couldn’t find them anywhere and so had managed to pick up other college students who recognized him across the intersection.

I remember busying myself with the college kids, getting them food and drinks as we continued to try to make contact with the two girls and make a list of everyone else we knew in the tornado’s path. Because that much had become clear by that point: the tornado had not just touched down in a few places. It had bulldozed a path a mile-wide through the middle of town.

And this is where my memory goes fuzzy again. I remember the next few days as a jumble of tangled snapshots. We eventually made contact later that night with the two girls we had been looking for. One of them came back to the dorm with her parents who had come to town from Georgia simply to help her move into that now flattened apartment. We put them up in the dorm because we had lots of vacant rooms, and that began the steady stream of visitors who would occupy the dorm for the rest of the summer. By the next day we were housing several displaced families who either worked for the college or who were connected to the college through family or friends.

My husband quickly got involved in a distribution center at our church, while I stayed behind to operate the brand new B&B we had acquired. I bounced between the TV with reports about the damage; the laundry room where we did mountains of laundry for the families staying in the dorm; and the kitchen because no matter the crisis, people still have to eat and it’s always been a way I feel like I can contribute. I had endless conversations that week—with the families who needed to talk about what they had experienced, with friends who called because we all craved connection that week as we learned more and more of the grim details of the destruction, with college students who were desperate to know of the condition of their college and the town they had just left, and with the school officials who realized that our quiet-during-the-summer campus could be a potential boon to a community that would need an army of volunteers to put it back together.

Story upon story emerged from the tornado zone. There were strangers who pitched in to help with search and rescue. Neighbors with chainsaws who helped clear trees from streets. Dozens of first responders from communities all around us who transported those needing medical help. Local congregations that opened up their facilities in a variety of ways for those affected by the storm.

And the volunteers. From as far away as the coasts to all the places in between. In the weeks following the storm, tens of thousands of volunteers would pour into Joplin to assist with the debris removal and recovery. My family’s role in our city’s recovery would be to house some of those volunteers. The college would eventually set up a housing system that utilized the dormitories on campus for groups assisting with recovery. Some of the groups were church groups, other groups were utility workers sent from states far away to help restore the city’s infrastructure, and other groups were civic-minded volunteers who just wanted to help.

That summer was one of the biggest challenges I faced in my role as a residence director. It stretched our family in ways we couldn’t have imagined and didn’t always appreciate. But it also created bonds and helped contribute to the sense that we were all in it together, whether we had lost a home or loved one or we came through relatively unscathed.  I was proud of us as a town—the work we did and the way everyone pitched in. It meant that the devastating losses were not the end of Joplin’s story. Instead, hope, perseverance, selflessness, sacrifice, unity, and goodness were hallmarks of this town’s recovery.

 

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

the-death-of

My friend Lancelot Schaubert is revamping his website, turning it into a multi-contributor site with all sorts of pieces about the liberal arts. I get to contribute pieces on fictional works that I’m reading, and my very first piece has been posted. Click on the link below to check it out.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy

I’ve also created a resource to help readers learn how to read reflectively. People who study these kinds of things say that we are reading even more text on a daily basis than we did thirty or forty years ago, but we all know that the way we read that text, which is primarily on a screen of some sort, has changed. We skim and hurry and blow through pieces, and this may work when catching up on sports scores or brushing up on news headlines. But that kind of reading doesn’t serve us well when it comes to fiction. We’ve got to adapt some different strategies to help us read stories and get as much out of them as we can. This resource will help you do that.

Raising Adults

When he was tiny, my son had fine, blond hair, and most of the time it stuck straight up in the air. The effect was fluffy and downy, and when you took in that feature along with his enormous blue eyes, he looked like a quizzical chick.

He’s sixteen and there’s nothing fluffy about him now. The quizzical look has been replaced by determination and a hungering-for-adventure kind of expression.

This week, it became perfectly clear where we are on our parenting timeline.

On Tuesday we talked about college.

On Wednesday night we went to parent-teacher conferences to talk about his schedule for his senior year.

On Thursday afternoon he will go for his first job interview.

And on Friday he will go to homecoming with his (first) girlfriend.

I stood at the kitchen sink last night feeling a little bit like I was gasping for air because time is moving so fast and I can’t keep up. I was also feeling sad because all these firsts mean that a whole bunch of lasts come with them. I find that a joy and an ache are both there in equal measure as we watch all these events unfold. If I’m honest, I’m not worried about him navigating all this new stuff (even though I still worry about pretty much everything else).

He’s becoming a young man, which is exactly what we want. No one sets out to raise a child, even though that’s in our vernacular. We set out to raise adults. So why are we all surprised when it happens?