Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new. – Albert Einstein
I dwell in possibility. – Emily Dickenson
I’ll never get this.
Only two weeks into the school year, and already I’ve heard this more times than I could possibly count.
My sweet girl, deeply thoughtful and highly-motivated – with skyscraper-high expectations of herself (no, I have no idea where she gets that from) – tends to say this at the first sign of trouble:
first misspelled word in Phonetics Zoo,
first wrong note in piano,
first mistake on her math worksheet.
So the first few days of the school year ended with tears for both of us.
Never mind that it’s been a rather teary summer.
Social, sunny, and full to the brim, our dog days were everything they should have been: fun, frolicking, festive.
Yet I couldn’t shake a feeling of failure.
Every night I went to bed flanked by worry:
Were our kids social enough? Did they have enough friends? Were they smart enough? Happy enough? Well-adjusted? Kind?
You feeling guilty about homeschooling? someone asked.
Not guilty, I said. Just…hard not to listen to the things you hear.
Because we homeschool moms… we hear stuff.
Take the cable guy, for instance.
Not Jim Carrey. A guy from Telus. My husband – the source for all things techie in this house – found a deal. So, good bye, Shaw. We are now Telus minions. Tel-ions. Telus Samurai. Tel-ites.
At least for now.
But back to Mr. Cable Guy.
About twenty minutes into his visit this morning, Elliana, dismissed for a quick recess from Phonics, bounded into the living room and announced her break to the entire house.
Her dad? Delighted for her.
Cable Guy, noting a school-aged child at home during school hours, looked confused.
Our kids are homeschooled, David explained.
I cringed. Creasing my forehead, I tried to wordlessly communicate with my husband. Don’t say anything. Don’t say anything.
I’ve learned its best not to tell people your kids are homeschooled. It’s like American politics – everyone’s got an opinion about it, and no one feels disinclined to share said opinion.
David, however, true to his American roots – and supportive homeschool dad that he is – immediately tells Cable Guy all the virtues of the homeschool life.
I pause in the middle of Latin chants to bite my lower lip. This isn’t going to end well.
At first, Cable Guy agrees with my husband’s passionate reparte. He too wishes they had more flexibility in family time. He too wishes they had more opportunity to travel. He too thinks it would be a fun lifestyle.
I’m not surprised. David’s hard to disagree with once he gets on to something.
But Cable Guy, either in response to David’s strong position, or in defense of his own, can’t leave it there.
There’s flaws though, he says.
Of course, David agrees.
I mean, hard not to see the difference between them and kids who are well-socialized.
From our newly-renovated library/music room/school room, I hear David’s voice get tighter. You think so?
Of course. That’s what happens when you aren’t around large groups of kids all the time. Socialization issues.
I close my eyes. Never mind that I’ve just finished Quiet, the brilliant, powerful, introvert-manifesto-for-the-21st-century. Never mind that thanks to Susan Cain, John Taylor Gatto, and Daniel Goleman, I will never see socialization the same way again. Never mind that the socialization argument is, for many families, inaccurate; or that the more I rethink my own schooling experience, the more I realize that
No. Cable Guy’s point is – as is the point of every Tom, Dick, and Harriet who feel free to comment on our decision, much the way every person at Costco feels free to caress your pregnant belly or breathe all over your newborn’s sleeping face –
It seems like a cool idea, but we’d never do it.
Never mind that we didn’t ask him.
Never mind that I don’t expect everyone else to do what I’m doing.
And… Never mind that I’ve heard that a lot this summer:
I’d never do that.
From Jillian Michaels to vacation homes, from travelling late at night to reading before bed, from taking Tylenol to immunizations, from thrifting to Lululemon to knee-high leather boots, often these passing comments are not even directed at me, or even someone I know. Just a random person. A random story.
With a can you believe it?! I’d never do that.
Sometimes cushioned with a casual, Interesting, (but I’d never do that), but more often laden with an implicit I’d never do that, so they shouldn’t either,
…too often, I hear myself saying it.
Never mind that every time I’ve said never I’ve ended up proving myself wrong.
I’ll never marry a Trinity boy.
I’ll never be a nurse.
I’ll never homeschool my kids.
I will never end up with David Meredith.
I’ll never get this.
(I’ve said that more times than I can count, too.)
It’s kind of a powerful word.
At no time.
It sets limits. It hedges in the possibles. We may not know what to do, but we know what not to do. We might not know what is possible, but we know what isn’t possible.
A blank slate can be scary, after all.
Which is probably why we say never most about things we know little about.
Take last weekend, for example. I volunteered as scorekeeper for German Bridge with our extended family. New to the game, I thought if I kept track of the score, I might learn the rules faster.
Instead, I learned something about never.
Here’s the thing: German Bridge depends on your ability to predict the exact outcome of your next hand. If you underbid, you lose points. If you overbid, you lose points too.
A conservative bidder, I consistently underbid my hand. In fact, every time I thought, I could get this many but it probably won’t happen, so I’ll be safe and say one less, I always got one more than I predicted.
And… I lost points.
In fact, I lost the game.
But I went to bed energized.
David laughed at me. What are you so excited about? You lost.
Yes, I said, but I realized why I lost.
I’d spent so much time thinking about what I considered impossible that I failed to realize all the things that were possible.
And a lot more is possible than I thought.
See, friends, here’s the thing about never:
We miss out on the miracles.
In games. In stories. In life.
A couple of weeks ago I had coffee with a friend I’d not seen in a long time. In the years we’ve not seen each other, we’ve both had moments so powerful they’ve changed our worldview, moments leaving us thinking that
things will never be the same.
But the only thing I could think of as we talked that night was
it’s not over.
She and I – we’re not over. The things we’re wrestling with, we’re still wrestling with.
The things we’re in the middle of, we’re still in the middle of.
We haven’t got to our ends yet.
And that’s darn. good. news.
So, friends, if any of you, like me, have spent far too much time in nevers –
If any of you feel you can only see your failures
or if any of you think
this is never gonna get better –
You. Are. Not. Finished.
Some of you have only just begun. Others are right before something beautiful and breathtaking and are working extra hard to get there.
But none of you are done.
More importantly, that thing that you’re in isn’t done with you yet, either.
There’s still time for a do-over. An I’m sorry. An I forgive you. A new day. A brighter morning. A surprise ending. A plot twist that leaves you with a little more faith and a little less fear.
There’s still time for a better you.
So, friends, if I could say one thing:
Embrace your middles. Enjoy them for the journeys they are. Seize them for the possibilities they present.
Because they aren’t endings.
Not yet, anyways.
There is one consolation in being sick, and that is the possibility that you may recover to a better state than you were ever in before. – Henry David Thoreau
Last week my girl and I made a new deal: only positive attitudes in the school room. When we make mistakes, we stay positive. We exchange oh no, I can’t believe I got that wrong to I’ll get it right tomorrow.
All of a sudden there’s no tears in the school room.
There’s a lot less mistakes, too.
Tomorrow, I get to get up and be a better mom. Hopefully, a better teacher. Maybe even a better wife, friend, daughter, and sister.
I’m not done; it’s not done with me, either.
Thank God for middles.