Monday, May 26, 2008

Milestones and Stepping Stones

For the last few years, our church has started a new tradition, which we call Milestones.

In the Mennonite faith, we don’t practice infant baptism. Instead, at an age of accountability, ideally when the individual feels capable of making a decision about their own beliefs, baptism is chosen. Of course, all good ideas can get diluted, and lots of congregations line up the kids at age 14 and splash some water on their heads. At best, we really are given the chance to make our own decisions about this step. I actually dropped out of baptism class twice. Yes, me, born and raised Mennonite, two time baptism class dropout. I was 26, married, mortgaged, and mother of two when I got baptized. And I really meant it.

Our church is so inclusive and welcoming. We’ve put a real emphasis on making the whole thing meaningful for the kids, rather than just the boring place we have to go to every week kind of deal. This is why our first Milestone is at age 12. This is the age when a kid really starts showing flashes of independence. It’s a threshold to a very new life.

(It's also the age when a kid named Jesus sort of accidentally on purpose stayed at the temple after Passover to hang with the smart guys, while his family were on their way home.)

Yesterday afternoon we gathered with a few other families for pizza and prayers and playing in the cement. Yup, to celebrate this milestone, we made stepping stones! They’ll be placed in the garden beside the church entrance.

I love the symbolism of stepping stones to mark significant ages. Especially now with the struggles I go through, I’m constantly reminded that life is made up of all these steps. You can’t skip any of them. I guess you can, but you’ll miss out on parts of the journey. It’s hard to backtrack. These days, I’m taking very small steps. It’s all I can handle. I just take my small steps, one a day if that’s all I can do, and just recognize that the smallest step is still movement. Meanwhile, my children stretch out and take giant leaps in their fast moving paths.

Two years ago, our daughter got to set her stone beside a plant in the church garden.

Two years ago, I was terrified.

To understand why, I’d have to explain a little about the kid who dropped out of baptism class twice.

Twelve was a difficult age for me. I do think I was a rather complex child underneath all the pony dirt and grass stains and long braids in my hair, but it really all imploded at twelve. This is the time that the dark brain problems showed up. I started thinking about death all the time. I wrote long tragic poems about wanting to die, or cry, or just being so confused that I couldn’t even understand my own sadness.

I’d get my jammies on at bedtime, wander over to Mom and Dad’s room, and flop out at the foot of their bed. “Something’s bothering me,” I’d say, staring up at the angled ceiling.

“What’s wrong?”

“I don’t know.”

I honestly did not know what my problem was.

Around this time, the health problems started too. Back aches, trips to the chiropractor for my obviously crooked spine, headaches, severe bellyaches... it all got rolling. And through it all, I became increasingly morose.

My parents damn well knew that even if I wasn’t the most average kid, it was not normal for a twelve year old girl to be talking about dying all the time.

Imagine my tension when my own daughter hit twelve.

I prayed. I prayed even more than I’d prayed before her birth to have a healthy baby with Daddy’s long black eyelashes. That wish was answered... and so was my new prayer. She survived what had been my own black year with her characteristic bounce.

Well, that left me faced with thirteen, which for me had a whole other set of difficulties. As of tomorrow, she leaves thirteen behind. She’s lovely. Sure, she has an emotional hair-trigger, which is perfectly natural for so many reasons, but she’s so generally level headed and sweet and funny and I am sooo thankful.

My boy decorated his stepping stone with a CD, a tiny light bulb with yellow stained glass points around it, and his name pressed into the cement.

He’s turning twelve in the summer. He’s intense. He plays hard, eats hard, and sleeps hard. He’s quick to anger but ready with a hug when I need it. Sometimes I wonder if he’s the one who’ll develop an anxiety problem, and I pray for him to learn some balance and patience... especially with those of us who aren’t as smart as he is.

I’ll always find something to pray about with these two.

One of the best messages I’ve gotten about my children is that they are not me. They look like me, sometimes they act like me, but they’re not me. They are their own unique people. I love them for who they are.

They’re still walking beside me in this trip through life, and the longer their legs get, the bigger their steps are. I hope I never lose sight of them.


Biddie said...

I have been thinking about The Girl for the past week or so. 14. I can scarcely believe it myself.
Twelve and thirteen were so hard for me, too. I would not go back there for all of the money in the world.
I have spent the past 20+ years being terrified that my girls would be too much like me, and make my mistakes. So far, so good, I am happy to say.
Your kids are doing just fine, and that is large part because they have you for a mom. The same you that we so morose all of those yers ago, the same you that dropped out of baptism class - twice.
The Girl is going to fine. Better than fine. So will Bucky. .
Why not? Look at their parents?

Heidi the Hick said...

I can say the same right back to you, Bid.

We love them through all the hardships - doesn't that make a difference?

But maybe because we (I mean, you, and me, both) have been honest about our struggles, our kids know that they don't have to be ashamed of anything they're okay no matter what.

If anything, those kids make us feel like we must be pretty decent people, eh??


billie said...

What a fabulous, smart post. Especially you realizing that the year your daughter turned the age you were when you had a tough year might stir some things up.

I love the milestone ritual - I feel many of us have lost some of those adolescent coming-of-age rituals that would ease kids through some of the rougher spots. We need them as adults too, imo. I tend to make up my own.

And whoa - your son sounds very much like mine. He has been precocious since he was in the womb (when he grabbed the amnio needle and held onto it for awhile) and I am waiting to see how he settles into the bigger world.

Sandra Ree said...

Beautiful...your kids are lucky Heidi, don't you ever lose sight of that. :)

JKB said...

and I might add that you won't ever lose sight of them...they'll always have you in their heart.

Even when they are teenyboppers. :)

Heidi the Hick said...

Billie- we kind of expect the past to repeat itself... we figure raising our kids will be like living it all over again... well I just have to make some acceptances and live the life I have now!

My husband and I were talking about milestones and how this age (12) seems to be important in a lot of cultures, even though we tend to make such a big deal out of the teen years. Up until maybe two hundred years ago, there wasn't really any such thing as a teenager. You just became an adult and started working and yup, looking for a mate.

Which also freaks me out because IF my girl follows my footsteps she'll be getting married in SIX YEARS.


(Your son was that curious already in utero??? Yeah, I think these boys could relate, haha!)

Sandra Ree... thank you. I think we all got pretty lucky here.

Jkb- yes! They still live in my heart as far as I'm concerned!

Lynn Sinclair said...

Sounds like 'the kids are alright'. And they are lucky to have such a wonderful mom.

CindyDianne said...

Smart and insightful Heidi.

It sounds as if your kids are going to be just fine.

I am terrified by the milestones Trevor is about to cross...

The Manic Street Preacher said...

I've a feeling you'll never lose em cause you're letting em be them.

That's all a kid needs when they hit their teens.

Sometimes it's a bloody nightmare but as long as they know you're there for them they always come home.

Good luck babe x

Nicole said...

Beautiful post, Heidi. My boy turns nine tomorrow (which was an important age in my life), so I understand somewhat where you're coming from. Happiest of birthdays to Heidi's girl!

Balloon Pirate said...

"Baptism School Dropout."

Thats your next YA novel. You've already got the story line. You lived it. You know how it turns out. Just change some of the fiddly bits and you're published.

I mean it. Get to work.


Heidi the Hick said...

hahaha! Yep, Pirate, it's in there. It's in there and trust me, it's aaaaaall gonna come out in a book!

IndieFaith said...

Not to be self-conscious but was my 'input' in any way helpful. I find few places for construction criticism/feedback.
Oh and Bucky's (it is Bucky, right?) letters turned out fine!

Heidi the Hick said...

Yes, you were helpful. Always know that your words mean something!

Can't wait to see Bucky's project!

Real Live Lesbian said...

Precisely the reason that I never wanted to have kids. Growing up was so tough. lonely. sad. angst ridden.

I figured that would make me a terrible parent.

You sound like a fabulous mother. Lucky kids!