Introducing … My Two Focus Words for 2021!

Happy New Year, readers and friends!

Have you selected your word or words of focus and intention for 2021? (If you haven’t, there’s still time!)

After a bit of grappling, my two words for 2021 are influence and cultivate.

My goal in selecting “influence,” is definitely not to try to acquire more power and authority in the coming year. I’m not necessarily interested in chasing specific titles or official roles of leadership.

Instead, I want to end each day by asking myself the question, “Who did I influence today and how?” My goal, ultimately, is to end each day knowing, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I made a difference in some small way to someone. Most days, I want to be able to say with confidence that I influence several people.

Developing this goal has pushed me to identify who I actually do, realistically, influence. And I confess that the list I made has humbled me. I started with my most powerful place of influence – my family. Every day, I most definitely influence the energy within my own home. Beyond that, I have schools and districts I partner with that look to me for information and, often, leadership. I want to do a good job of leading and influencing these stakeholders – not just professionally, but in how I live my life.

I also have a growing group of students that I tutor and mentor. I want to continue to influence their lives – and the lives of their families, hopefully – in meaningful ways. Some of that is through the nuts and bolts of teaching reading or supporting students in college admissions. But in that process, I also model who I am, what I value and what I believe. I tell my own stories in transparent ways, hoping to challenge and inspire. I need to do more of that this year.

My church also is a place where I hope to be a positive influence this year. I have come to church leadership reluctantly, after years of staying away due to witnessing some very un-Christian behaviors within church settings. But this year, I have new opportunities to step up and do good, and I intend to do my part.

Additionally, my family has a growing opportunity to influence our community through our outreach effort, 55 and Love. This is a project where we help distribute items like hot food, toiletries, blankets and other items to people who are homeless. We also help to connect our neighbors with opportunities to give through a local food pantry. I want to continue to give, and also to inspire others to do the same.

Looking at the word cultivate, this represents a focus on building – building friendships and professional connections and also cultivating talents and abilities.

One item that comes up every January is the desire to learn some additional Spanish vocabulary. I know I need to model this for some of the educators I serve – and I know that knowing even some basic Spanish could help bring comfort to my students and families.

I also want to push myself in the area of writing. I’ve been dabbling in some humor and memoir writing, and hope to publish at least a small book of personal stories this year. One motivation for this is being able to do a small book tour after the pandemic wanes.

Some of my goals are lofty, I know. But I know that without big goals, big achievements cannot happen. And I am determined to show myself grace as challenges arise.

What are your words? Why did you choose them? How do you hope to manifest these words in the new year? Good luck!

How to Pick a Word that Works for YOU in the New Year

For years, I was a diehard New Year’s Resolution person. Each year, I would identify as many as 5-10 commitments for the new year. These often included commitments to health, learning new things and breaking bad habits.

Some of my commitments were success stories. I did, intermittently, exercise and remain calm more, learn a bit more French, or attend church with more consistency. But somewhere along the way, my resolutions stopped feeling fun and started to feel like self-loathing.

For the past few years, I’ve ditched resolutions, choosing instead to select a word or words to focus on in the new year. These words were selected because they communicated what I wanted more – or less – of in the new year. They were reminders of who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live.

Through the years, I’ve had a number of focus words, including community, connection, whimsy, calm, consistency, development, steadfastness and fun. Friends have also come up with some excellent words – things like prayer, hope, faith, love, fearlessness, exploration, studiousness, intention, carefreeness, peace, challenge, learning, leadership and renewal.

Here are some tips that might help you in choosing a word for 2021.

  1. Find a word that can evolve as the global pandemic shifts. One of my words for 2020 was whimsy. Oops. After the shutdowns came in mid-March, I confess that whimsy was not a top priority for me, as I shifted, at times, into more of a survival and adjustment mode. This year, I am choosing words that can shift slightly as the year evolves. They can include, for example, goals of travel and socializing, but also can continue to work while social distancing.
  2. Avoid the “shoulds.” When I look back at some of my early resolutions, I realize I sometimes picked things I thought I should want to do, instead of things that were truly important to me. For example, I knew I needed to eat more healthily, but at the time, I had not truly reached a place where I wanted to do it. Before selecting a word, really stop and think, “Does this truly matter to me? Why?.
  3. Consider your season. Some things can be important to you, but not be realistic for the season that you are in. For example, a few years ago I picked the word “friendship” as one of my words. Some of my commitments included seeing friends more frequently, going out to dinner, meeting new people and joining a group or two. This word ended up not working for me because the season I was in realistically did not allow for a focus on socialization. The truth was, when it came down to it, I preferred to spend my time in that season focused on my elementary-aged children, my teaching and my writing. And that was OK. This can be true with career-related goals, too. Maybe you would like to pursue more leadership roles at work, but you also recognize that your family demands make this a season for holding steady or even ramping down your work commitments. Saying no to a word one year doesn’t mean saying no to it forever.
  4. Plan to give yourself grace. This experience is meant to inspire, encourage and focus you. Remember to show yourself grace if you realize that a particular word is a poor fit for the year – or for you. I have changed or abandoned words several times when I got into the year and realized they did not work for me. Whimsy, for example, ended up feeling too frivolous for me in 2020. Friendship didn’t work for me once I realized that trying to jam in more social gatherings while parenting young kids just made me feel grumpy and longing for down time at home.

Will you pick a word for 2021? What are your words? How did you pick them?

Happy New Year!

Before We Move Forward, a Look Back at 2020

2020.

Whew.

Am I the only one who really struggles to even come up with words to adequately describe the challenge, the horror, and the disruption this year has presented to us? I look back at pictures and posts from this time last year and I’m almost stunned by our collective naivete. How did we not know what was coming? How could we possibly believe that 2020 was going to be OUR year – our “perfect vision” come true?

And yet, we know that when we are challenged the most, we grow. This was not a sweeping year of achievements for me – or my family. In the workplace, our goal was mostly to remain steady, remaining thankful for work when so many struggled terribly. The only certificates we received were ironic ones that I printed on our home printer. But through growth, we did achieve.

Here are the biggest things we learned (or, in several cases, relearned) this year:

  1. We can’t control our circumstances, but we can control how we react to them. For the most part, I am reasonably proud of how we handled ourselves this year. We definitely had our days of staring blankly at the wall or the TV screen or social media, in shock about how quickly our lives were derailed. That’s a natural response to trauma and there is no shame in that. But after the shock, we did a good job of analyzing the situation and agreeing as a family about what was important and how we believed we should conduct ourselves. We were (mostly) kind to each other, and that may be our greatest achievement this year.
  2. We don’t need consumeristic distractions as much as we sometimes believe we do. Before the pandemic, I often felt “busy” on the weekend. Much of this busyness was because I was swinging into stores to check for sales and new items. The pandemic highlighted some of these bad habits and helped me to correct them (again).
  3. Taking the time to assess what we are doing is essential – even if we think everything is OK on the surface. The pandemic and resulting school closures in the spring helped our family to realize that, as happy as our teenagers seemed on the surface, traditional school was not working for them as well as we thought. Both expressed a desire to accelerate their high school education and to continue learning online. This was a dramatic shift for us, and it meant saying goodbye to things like two years of high school soccer and three years of high school band. But in listening to our kids and adjusting, we are realizing that they are even happier and more “themselves” than they were before. While this does not work for everyone, it works for us – and has allowed our daughter to finish high school 1.5 years early. One of our greatest joys of 2021 will be seeing her start college.
  4. Helping those most in need is always the best way forward. Because we had more time to talk as a family and were less distracted by things like consumerism, we were able to ramp up our efforts with our family effort to support people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty. We held several canned food drives, taking carloads of food to MADCAAP, an organization in Madison County that helps provide food and other supports to people who need it. We ramped up our efforts to distribute pizza, toiletries, sleeping bags and other items to people who are homeless. Somewhere along the way, people in our neighborhood and beyond started sending us items to use in our various efforts. This has been one of our greatest joys this year, and we are committed to continuing to honor this commitment in new ways in the coming year.
  5. Focusing on what we can give instead of get in relationships sustains us. At the start of 2020, I was feeling isolated – a little emotionally hollowed out, really. Since moving back to my home state five years ago, some relationships here have admittedly disappointed me. (This is a common experience, it seems.) This year – both before and during the pandemic – I focused on being open to connecting with others, asking, “What do they need and how can I be there for them?” I stopped worrying so much about recriprocation and also focused more on making new relationships, with zero expectations attached. In doing that, I have cultivated several new friendships that have sustained me this year. I am in a very different place now and feel more connected to my home state than ever – even with the social limitations of the pandemic.

What did you learn in 2020? How did the year change you? What lessons will you take with you into the new year?

Friend’s Financial Gift Challenges, Humbles, and Inspires

The notification on my phone made me stop talking, mid-sentence.

$500 had been added randomly to my Venmo account by a close friend who wanted to invest in the work of 55 and Love, the soon-to-be-nonprofit that my family is establishing to help provide needed resources to people who are homeless or living in extreme poverty in Central Mississippi and beyond.

Because I know this friend well and we often talk business together, I have a sense of how much money she is bringing in at work this year. I knew that the gift, while not bankrupting, was certainly generous – sacrificial. 2020 has not been a great year for most small business owners, including those in education.

The gift of my friend, Marina Gilmore, silenced me for several minutes. It took processing, somehow.

Then, I walked around the house, quietly telling each member of my family about her generosity.

“Wow!” my daughter said. “We really need to make sure we have a clear plan for how we want to spend that and when.”

“Should she have done that?” my son asked, brow furrowed. He sat quietly, his brown-green eyes searching my face for several seconds. “I mean, I love Marina. Does she need that money? It seems like she might need it?”

My husband, ever the caretaker of my female friends, expressed similar concerns. “She’s sure this is what she wants to do?”

After I adjusted to the news, I set about with intentionality. There was something about such a sacrificial gift that made me want to make sure I gave it the attention it deserved. It’s a feeling I have felt previously, when others also dug deep to donate.

We have talked as a family about wanting to establish 55 and Love as a nonprofit before the end of the year, but honestly, other pressing things have taken priority. I wasn’t so sure it would happen – or even begin to happen.

Not anymore.

Tomorrow, we are meeting with a friend who has established several nonprofit organizations. We will talk to him – and among ourselves – about exactly how we want to establish ourselves and about our ultimate vision for this group.

Then, we will set to work, establishing the nonprofit as economically as we can. It will be a renewed focus in the new year, regardless of the challenges of the pandemic and our own lives.

My beautiful, bright, generous friend also sent me a second gift – $300 to give to someone who I believe can use it. For some reason, I immediately knew I wanted to give it to a small business owner and classmate I know in Meridian, Mississippi.

She will use part of the money for her business, and part to get a graduation dress for her precious daughter, who is a senior this year and faces some unique challenges.

When I told my teenagers about this gift, which came rapid-fire after the first, they both paused.

“Wow,” my daughter said. “How does Marina know that we will do the right thing with the money? She really trusts us.”

And I think there is something very revealing in those words. There is something about a financial gift that is especially humbling – almost to the point of being mildly uncomfortable. It’s an expression of faith and trust, and I plan to continue working to honor and even extend it.

Because of the example Marina set, we also have been more intentional this week in our own giving, sending a few financial happies to people we know could use them.

If I’m honest, financial giving has never been a strength of mine. I’m far more willing to give my time or my talents than my money. On some level, this comes from a scarcity mentality, where I fear not having “enough” for the things we believe we need.

I’m going to do better in the new year. And whenever I think of the establishment of 55 and Love as a non-profit, I will think of its beautiful start, and the deep, abiding faith of my dear friend.

Thank you, Marina. You make me – and all of us – better.

20 Things I’m Thankful for in 2020

It’s been a wild year so far, and the next few weeks promise to continue be challenging. That’s why it feels even more important than ever to pause at Thanksgiving and consider blessings. Here, in no particular order, are things I’m thankful for today.

  1. The changing of the seasons. There is something soothing about the way no matter what, time passes, the leaves turn, and life goes on.
  2. Technology that allows us to continue connecting. I watched my church’s children’s choir perform this morning from their individual homes. They were able to be apart, but still lift their voices together. How awesome is that?
  3. Dogs. No matter what the current headlines are, my dogs can still be immediately overjoyed when I walk through the door.
  4. Schools. From Zoom to Canvas to Google Classrom to hybrid to face-to-face, educators have been rock stars this year. Never again can we say educators aren’t flexible and innovative.
  5. Scientists. We have not just one but several vaccines on the horizon. They give me great hope this year, as do additional treatments that have been developed to battle COVID. I can’t imagine a world without scientists.
  6. Artists, musicians and entertainers. Their talents in these strange times have managed to unite us and give us hope, while also making us laugh and cry.
  7. Non-profit organizations. Many non-profits are serving more people, with less money. I’m thankful for the way non-profit organizations are able to offer food, housing, Christmas gifts and other items to people in need.
  8. My church community. I’ve often had a tense relationship with my faith communities, feeling like I couldn’t truly be myself. I’m thankful for the way my current community encourages and inspires – and reminds me I’m not alone in my weirdness.
  9. Coffee. Every morning, I have a heaping cup of magic beans that help wake me up and inspire me to do good. How awesome is that?
  10. Children. Honestly, many of the adults in my life have been a smidge disappointing this year, especially when it comes to public health. But children? They have adjusted beautifully, wearing masks, social distancing, and still learning and loving with their friends.
  11. Democracy. The state of democracy around the globe has arguably seen better days, with so many countries now trending in the direction of authoritarianism. And yet, here in America we have seen that our systems are still intact and operating as they should.
  12. Clean water. We had a boil water notice in my community a few weeks ago. That will definitely make you stop taking safe drinking water for granted.
  13. The ability to connect. One of my themes for 2020 was connection – a word I obviously selected before realizing we were headed into a global pandemic, where we would actually celebrate distance. Before the pandemic, I found myself feeling the need to see others, having dinners and connecting for walks with a number of friends old and new. Happily, I found that my connections continued in lockdown. I will never take those connections for granted again.
  14. The ability to be of use. Every day of the shutdowns, I woke up and asked myself, “How can I be of use today?” Each and every day, there was a good answer to that question – whether it was reaching out to people several states over, or creating materials for my work, writing, sending cards, or listening intently to the needs of my teenagers.
  15. Opportunities to reassess. In the spring, as we listened to our teenagers more, we realized that while we thought their school environment was working, they were thrilled to be away from it. This got us thinking about alternative ways to educate. I’m thankful we listened and I’m thankful for options, even while still supporting our public school system and wishing them much success.
  16. Friends who support our efforts to help others. We intensified our commitment to 55 and Love, our mission to serve people who are homeless and otherwise in need, this year. It never occurred to me this would be an effort others would want to give to, but they have – and generously! It’s inspired us to do more and be more and we will forever be grateful. (Look for us to develop it into a non-profit in the coming months.)
  17. Family. I’ve taken a hard look at who family is and is not in the last few years, including as I have found and gotten to know some of my biological family. If I ever tried to map out my family tree, it would be an admittedly dysfunctional one. But it’s mine, and I’m thankful for all of it – biological and adopted.
  18. Difficult times. This year was not the first time I faced heartache and hardship. And while there have been plenty of times in the past that I have questioned the “why” of my experiences, I’ve been thankful this year that 2020 wasn’t my first forray into disappointment and even destruction. Without my previous experiences, I could never have helped my kids to navigate this season.
  19. The rituals of food. I got my eating (mostly) in order this year, shifting to a diet with an anti-inflammatory focus. And yet, despite giving up some of my “comfort foods” this year, sitting around the table as a family in the evenings has been extremely soothing. When this whole pandemic is over, I can’t wait to have more people around our table.
  20. New traditions. This was a year to re-examine everything and do what works best for us. This week, I did something that a year ago I railed against – putting up Christmas decorations before Thanksgiving. No one died – and I honestly just might leave them up until we all are vaccinated. If traditions don’t serve us, why do them?

What are YOU thankful for in 2020?

“And It’s Laughter that We’re Making After All”

My 15-year-old “baby” and I went for a drive on the Natchez Trace today, with him behind the wheel.

It’ was a strikingly beautiful day – bright blue skies, slightly warm November temperatures and the red and gold hues of fall foliage still lingering.

This fellow of mine has always been a good conversationalist – making sharp observations and describing people in ways that make me think. (He recently described someone that we love as “what you would get if all my music suddenly became a person. It’s awkward and doesn’t quite fit, but I still really like him.”)

Something even more magical happens to our conversations when my son is behind the wheel. He’s somehow even funnier – more keenly observant and delightfully relaxed at the same time.

The sun is setting on my time as an active parent of kids. His sister is heading to college in January – 1.5 years early, but still leaving just the same. And while she will be only 30 minutes from home, she will still be missed on those nights she is in her dorm instead of with us.

My son is closing in on 15.5, and I know that his remaining time under our roof will go back lightning quick.

So today, as we drove aimlessly, there were no lessons. (I didn’t even nag him when he veered the slightest bit into oncoming traffic after being distracted by some ridiculously cute cows.)

Instead, we laughed – about the antics of a friend who is surprising us, about how ridiculously bad I am at math, and about the hilariousness that is wildlife crossings. (How does the sensor come on to notify us animals are crossing? Do the animals have to push a button? And which wildlife? Maybe there are sensors that go off when deer approach, but what about turtles? Rabbits? Low-flying birds? This continues to both intrigue an amuse us.)

As we hit the off ramp near our house, I looked over at my boy, who is now upwards of 6’2″ – definitely far more man-child than baby – and it occurred to me that of all my memories of him, it’s the ones of us laughing that I treasure the most.

And so we will keep working to make those memories. We will laugh about the antics of our dogs, and our friends. We will sometimes laugh at my expense – at what an atrocious cook I am, and at how sometimes I don’t quite get the laundry right. We will even laugh about the familiar – and unnerving – noises that our family makes around the dinner table.

I will try to slow down each of those laughter-filled moments, seeing them for the treasures they are.

The fall colors will continue to turn. Adulthood looms. But the laughter remains.

Don’t Wait for Others to Grant You Leadership Opportunities – Seize Them!

“I really want to be a leader,” a former college student of mine told me recently, her tone wistful. “I want to inspire others and I want to make a difference in the world around me.”

“I agree!” I said! “You are meant to be a leader – it’s a bit part of who you are, and I honestly don’t think you will be happy if you aren’t doing it! The world needs more leaders just like you!”

My former student grew quiet and hesitant. Suddenly, this strong, articulate woman – full of wisdom and conviction and heart, was blinking back tears. “They won’t let me,” she said. “I apply for those jobs and I don’t even get an interview. Honestly? It feels like those jobs go to men. or to people who know someone. Or people who have ‘done their time’ in the system.”

I sat for a minute, understanding the full weight of what she was saying.

I’ve been there.

Odds are good you’ve been there, too.

What do you do when you know you are created and called to lead, but you can’t seem to secure the title and position of a leader?

You lead anyway.

You might choose to lead in your existing position – even if your job description doesn’t include leadership responsibilities. You also might choose to lead on your own time, starting a side business where you are free to build the skills that you don’t feel fully free to build in your day job. In time, you may consider ways to make that side hustle your full-time job.

Maybe your leadership muscle can be strengthened through a community service project. Perhaps it’s your church that needs you to step up and be a leader – speaking your truth, sharing valuable information, inspiring, and coordinating the efforts of others.

We all have a sphere of influence – friends, family, neighbors, co-workers, students, children, and others who look to us for guidance and leadership. If we want to lead, we start by leading within our sphere of influence, each and every day.

Within our sphere of influence, we don’t ask for permission to lead. We already have been given that authority by nature of our relationships. And isn’t that what leadership is really about, anyway? Relationships?

If you are interested in leadership but are frustrated with being told “no” by gatekeepers of certain positions, I encourage you to think about who you influence. Who looks to you for advice and direction? Who do you find that you are informally called upon to teach and help to grow? This is your opportunity at leadership – take it!

If you want the formal leadership positions, please keep fighting for them. But in the meantime, don’t let gatekeepers prevent you from leading – do it right where you are, every day.

Don’t wait for permission – seize the opportunity – either in your work day or on your own time. You won’t regret it!

We Have to Do Better – for All Our Young People

A young man close to me, who also is an aspiring police officer, broke down last night, choking back tears. He talked about what he wants for himself – and for his friends of all colors and backgrounds.


“I just want this to stop. It’s getting worse. The world is getting worse. People are dying. And now we have this violence and I worry about more people dying because everyone is just so frustrated and angry. And I want to be able to get a job and provide for my family and find the best schools that I can for my kids. I want a good life – and I want that for everyone. But it’s getting worse, it feels like the world is getting worse – just going to hell. And it’s a lot. I want it to stop and I don’t know how.”

Photo by Julia M Cameron on Pexels.com


COVID was already hard on our young people – and continues to be. This violence and unrest are horrifically difficult. It feels hopeless when year after year after year, we see black people brutally murdered at the hands of police – while other officers are trying their best to protect and serve within an incredibly flawed system. It feels like we repeat the same events and talking points and heartache over. And. Over. And. Over. Again.


And like him, I don’t know all the answers. I don’t have the right words. But I know I need to do what I can to do right by him, and to make sure that the ship is righted when and where I’m able to right it.


God help us – and me – and him …..

A Meaningful Moment is More than Enough

“It’s too much,” my friend said on the phone recently, her voice catching. “I’m trying to work from home and I’m supposed to be homeschooling and making meals. I’m also apparently supposed to be preparing for major changes in the economy and checking on all my friends and neighbors. Oh, and saving money and supporting local businesses. I’m supposed to be making this time calm and magical for my kids, too. There are supposed to be forts. And chalk art. Bear hunts. Keeping a COVID journal for my great-great-granddaughter. All this stuff. But most days, I’m not even showering. I can’t do all this stuff.”

My friend’s words hit me hard. Hearing all the expectations she is shouldering – right now made me feel overwhelmed – not just for her, but for all of us.

How do we honor our commitments to our families, our work, and ourselves during such unprecedented times? What does our “best” look like right now?

Something in me has shifted in the last week, as we enter week 1,793 of sheltering in place.

Life is being distilled down to the moments. I’ve given up on being magical 24/7 – or even 3/2.

Instead, I am being intentional about little moments.

Yesterday, I spent what felt like way too long sitting with my coffee in the kitchen, gazing into space. I lost complete track of time. Somehow, almost two hours passed. The coffee went cold. My thoughts churned, my stomach knotted and unknotted and knotted again.

“Ugh! I feel so unproductive!” I told a colleague mid-morning. “I don’t even know what I am doing with myself right now!”

But then, I pushed myself back from my coffee cup. I could be intentional – just for 10 minutes. I gathered up my teenagers and my husband – the dogs and a jabbering parakeet joined in, too.

“Hey. How are you guys? What are you learning? What do you need?” My kids spoke through broad smiles and through tears – sometimes in the same breath. My husband made a corny dad joke – something about ear hair and not being able to hear and the bit 5-0 looming large.

The cobwebs in my brain and in my soul cleared – at least for a while. A sense of gratitude and encouragement washed through the room. It was fleeting, but it was a moment. And now, just a day later, I see that it’s a memory – one that will carry us through our week.

Maybe it’s not about being great and shouldering all of those expectations. Maybe it’s about rallying as we can – being the architect of those little moments of encouragement and love. We can do it.

Now, where did I put that coffee cup?

A Letter to My Young(er) Mom Self: Report Cards and ACT Scores and Tryouts Don’t Matter

Dear Monique,

Whew. This love you feel for your elementary school-aged babies is intense, isn’t it?

But there is something else intense within you – a desire to safeguard them from the ups and downs of life.

You and Matt feel you have had to fight so darned hard to be where you are today financially. You want your kids to be OK – not just now, but when you are gone. And you want to be able to safeguard them against the need for so much luck.

Photo by Srinivas on Pexels.com

Achievements as a Trust Fund ?

Since you don’t quite see the pathway to a massive trust fund (first generation college kids usually don’t), you try to give them a different inheritance – achievements. You want them to be excellent – academically and athletically and musically and in service.

I love you for this sort of focus and intensity, Young(er) Monique. There is so much love and good intention and fight in what you are doing.

But I also see you becoming borderline hysterical because one of your growing babies made a B in third grade social studies. Really? A B in social studies? That’s not so bad. It’s even kind of good, actually. And besides, that grade was based on a couple of foldables and an unnecessarily boring reading passage. If anything, that grade measures the ability of your child to follow other people’s directions.

We also need to talk for a minute about sports. Your kids enjoy sports – a lot. They love soccer and baseball and swim and basketball and football and volleyball. That’s not just you thinking they love it – they really do!

But I want you to know there will come a time when they will want to try other things, too. They will want to play drums and be in the diamond girls and all sorts of clubs. Your daughter will stun you by wanting to do beauty review! They will realize that competing to play college sports isn’t their top priority.

So enjoy the sports. Relish and reinforce the lessons. Take lots of pictures. Smile. Laugh. Treat these experiences like some of your very best memories – because they are. But don’t worry so much about every roster and tryout and race time – every practice that is missed because of a fever or a sprain or a sore pitching arm. It will all be OK.

Get Ready for Some Sci-Fi Craziness

Now, I am about to tell you something that is going to blow your 30-something mind. Are you ready? Sit down. No. Seriously. Sit. Down. This is beyond intense:

In the spring of 2020 – when your kids are buzzing along in their first and second years of high school, a pandemic is going to completely derail their lives and yours. I know. I know. It sounds like something out of a low budget sci-fi movie, doesn’t it? But unfortunately, my sweet and naive younger mom self, it is real.

Right before the pandemic hits, you will still be obsessing over achievements in spite of yourself.

One of your children will make an actual C on their report card in their very best subject because they lost some papers. Or didn’t complete them? Or never got them? Or got them and the teacher lost them? (Unlikely, but possible.) You will lose your MIND about this C. You will be convinced that it is going to ruin their chances of securing money for college, and you will rant at them about the oppressive nature of student loans and how this one grade could negatively affect their lives. You will be a hot mess. And you will know it, but you will still rant.

Then, the pandemic will hit full throttle. You and your little family – and two crazy dogs and a parakeet – will be sheltering in place at home – for weeks and weeks. The last nine weeks of school will happen online, and there will be a grading scale that really makes a lot of the focus on schoolwork seem downright absurd.

You will read news reports at night, when everyone else is asleep, that caution about things like the likelihood that distance learning will have to continue – possibly through your older child’s senior year. There may be no high school sports. No band. No academic awards assemblies or face-to-face service projects. No internships or exclusive summer camps.

During the Shelter in Place order, your daughter will come to you, talking about the ACT Prep you have repeatedly emphasized. And all of a sudden you will look at her and realize: It doesn’t freaking matter. Little of it matters – not much, anyway.

What Matters Has Shifted

Because all of a sudden, colleges are cutting deals with kids to get them to even come to college. And because it’s likely all college learning will be distance learning for months on end, it feels like where they go doesn’t even matter. It might even be beneficial to just take a year off.

One of your kids will begin thinking that they aren’t sure they even want to go to college at all, and this will suddenly seem very reasonable, because who knows what anyone at all is even training and preparing for anymore? How do you prepare for this wild new world? How do you spend four years preparing for a career when you don’t even know which careers will be sustainable?

And that is when it will hit you, my dear, well intentioned younger self: you were focusing on the wrong lessons. Because what matters in this pandemic – and on the other side of it – is that your kids have healthy coping skills. You will look at your carefree child – the one you shouted at to try to make them understand the horrors of earning a C – and you will realize that this carefree nature is actually a freaking superpower – not a deficit.

You will all but weep as you realize that what matters now is the relationship you have with your kids – that there is love and mutual respect and mercy between you.

You will look at your kids and you will see that all those sporting lessons – and the school ones, too – were just ways to learn resilience and coping skills. You will recognize that more than grades, they need to know how to pivot and learn new things. They need to be creative and innovative – to think beyond what’s right in front of them. They need to be able to do their own research and analyze the validity of statements that are made in the media and beyond.

Signs You Will Be OK

One night, around the dinner table (you will eat meals together again during the pandemic, too. Crazy, right?), they will look at you and say something like, “We will be ok. We aren’t worried. We will adjust. We just don’t want more people – even people we don’t know – to die.” These words will touch you at your very core. You will be so darned proud of them – prouder than any achievement could ever make you.

They will have the best coping skills! They will do videoconferences with their friends and their boyfriends/girlfriends. They will play HORSE and do church youth group scavenger hunts virtually. They will create their own schedules, where they are sure to make time for work and exercise and talks with friends and time with you, too. And you will know, with so much gratitude in your heart, that they learned what they truly needed- in spite of you.

It’s going to be OK, Young(er) Monique. THEY are going to be OK. But it won’t be for any of the reasons you thought. Enjoy those sweet, growing people of yours. And help lead your family with heart and grace and love and strength. (Also, invest in Zoom. And Charmin. And hand sanitzer. Seriously. Don’t ask. Just do it.)

Also, I love you. And you are enough. You always were – and so are your kids.