by Conlee Ricketts
Traditions all around me are crumbling to the ground: Weddings, funerals, birthdays, graduations, baby showers, gender reveal parties…
Currently I’m mourning the loss of “the graduation ceremony.” A ceremony that is steeped in so many institutional traditions that both students and parents anticipate what it will be like potentially years ahead of the event. I have attended many different graduation ceremonies across the school systems I’ve worked and the college I attended. I’ve come to a conclusion; the grander the production and deeper the traditions, the harder the emotional blow of this type of loss. The loss of a ceremony due to the need for social distancing, quarantines, and staying away from one another in order to protect one another.
It feels overwhelmingly terrible, sad, and hurtful. All the work done to help students feel celebrated is amazing. But it can’t really “fix” the sadness and feelings of loss. And it shouldn’t. I’m a firm believer in feeling the pain, acknowledging it exists and has a place in my personal journey, and therefore deserves some bit of honoring the very fact that it hurts so damn much.
Once I honor my pain, my “survivor-nature” kicks in and tries to figure out how to avoid this type of pain in the future. For that, I turn to my very basic-toddler level understanding of Buddhism. Being alive means I will feel pain and/or suffer; a lot of the pain I feel I am likely creating myself—typically by my nature of wanting things to be other than the way they are. So, to ease my pain and suffering I need to learn to detach from the outcomes I “demand” and “want” and accept things as they are.
Sounds pretty simple right? Hahaha….wait a minute while I stop rolling my damn eyes.
So, being fairly pragmatic I need to start making a list. My list of things I should start detaching myself from right now, so I can (maybe) prevent or at least, lessen the level of sorrow and grief I'm feeling right now.
My child will be starting her senior year of high school in August under what I can only imagine will be uncertain and/or unusual. Will there be Friday night football games for her marching band to perform at half-time? Will she get a Senior Night in the stadium under the lights? Will she finish out her senior year at home just like this year? Her summer band camp, parades, and street concerts have already been canceled so “the last time” to enjoy those already happened. We just didn’t know at the time it was “the last time.” She couldn’t wear the awesome dress we picked out for her Junior Prom; will there even be any dances or Senior Prom?
To prepare myself for the potential loss of these traditions by acknowledging that the loss may happen is the only way for me to detach from the outcome. Every year at Senior Night in the football stadium I would get teary-eyed and imagine my daughter surrounded by all of us celebrating her final year in Marching Band. It would be a lie to say that I can easily detach from this; I can’t. But, I need to have my list to emotionally prepare for the potential of all these “losses.”
My thoughts are that the list is helping me. I'm certain I will still be blindsided by some “loss” that didn’t make it on my list, but if I can tell myself today, “Yes, this may happen,” then I have already taken a single step toward detaching from the outcome.
My full heart goes out to everyone suffering any type of unexpected loss right now. Take time to feel this and take care of yourself. Just know that someone out there is thinking of you. -xoxo Conlee
by Conlee Ricketts
I'm not sure if it is fake, false, pretend, or just plain award-winning acting, but I have appeared far more courageous when my child is watching than I really am. I have kept my shit together so my child would feel calm and safe while on the inside I was screaming or crying. Each illness, bloody knee & nose, or broken bone (mine), I plastered a calm “everything is going to be just fine” smile on my face. I'm certain this has helped me grow as a person, but at the time it was exhausting.
I can pinpoint two events where my courage was 100 percent fabricated! One event was a temporary kind of “hold it together” and the other was more of an ongoing “holding it together.”
Short term holding it together: Eleven-year-old daughter
Walt Disney World: Animal Kingdom; Expedition Everest ride: (Spoiler Alert; read at your own risk).
I had never been to Disney World before and I had done all that I possibly could to save for this trip. I wanted my daughter to enjoy a last hurrah before "stay at home mom" became "working mom" again. We decided to be brave and ride the roller coaster Expedition Everest. We waited in line, read all about the Yeti, finally got buckled in and we were off!
The roller coaster was chugging up to get ready for its first big hill. I’m laughing and enjoying my daughter’s screams of enjoyment. Then all the cars came to a slow stop as we reach the peak. I’m cool, sometimes reaching the top of that first big hill a coaster slows as it clicks its way up, so I give my daughter a confident smile.
Something is wrong, we have stopped for way too long. Suddenly the cars chug and slip and we begin to start flying backward down the track. My daughter grabs me and screams. I look down at her with a giant smile glued to my face while trying to memorize her face in the last few moments of our life together on Earth. I was certain we were going to die and I wanted to remain calm for her. Inside I was scared shitless. Period. Convinced we were going to die on this %#*ing roller coaster.
It took me a few moments to notice that the scenery was different; we were no longer outside in the sunshine but inside the Yeti's cave. The damn ride was supposed to go backward! I was unaware. Not being a “Disney Pro” I had no clue what this ride was about.
I never told my daughter I thought we were going to die that day until last month and her "high schooler" response, “Oh my god! Really Mom? That’s hilarious and so sad!”
Long-term holding it together: Six-year-old daughter
The year my marriage ended and I lost our house was all about fake courage and putting on a brave face—for my child and basically for the entire outside world.
I had to schedule time to cry. Hiding my sobs and screams locked in my car alone in a parking lot, or on the front porch at 1 A.M. while my daughter slept. She was so young, and while I have no problem letting my daughter know that emotions are healthy and that crying is okay, this type of raw emotion from me was not something a six-year-old would understand.
I am the “Mom” and moms take care of shit, moms are protectors and problem solvers, and moms, dare I say it, are magic. We can kiss it and make it better.
All the details of my life at that time were all very grown-up problems that had absolutely nothing to do with my child's health and happiness. I refused to burden her with my grown-up problems and emotions. All she needed to know was that we were going to move into a very cool new apartment, life was still going to be great, and that I would take care of anything and everything. Nothing to worry about.
Looking back that’s exactly the way it turned out and everything was fine. I survived it all, and for the most part, I did an okay job at keeping my shit together. I wasn’t perfect and I’m sure there are a few scars that remain for my daughter from that period, but I was as courageous as I could possibly be.
I think trying to help our kids feel safe and protected creates many opportunities for this “courageous parenting” which feels like a giant game of pretend. I'm not sure if others will agree with my choice to schedule time to cry or putting a brave face on things to get through them, but it’s how I have chosen to help my daughter enjoy childhood. I don’t want her to feel responsible for me, or my problems, or my happiness. She is the child and I am the parent, and I’m supposed to be able to handle all the bullshit tossed my way. How I choose to handle the rough stuff helps her see how to deal with her own future struggles.
Right now, she just needs to enjoy her childhood. And truth be told, after twenty-seven years in a classroom, I could re-write this entire essay for teachers. Teaching=Fake Courage. Years of illnesses, bloody knees & noses, fire drills, tornado drills, and every lock down, my face must display the similar “everything is going to be just fine” face that I’ve mustered for my own child because I’m protecting someone else’s child. This is one of those rare skills that actually translates very well to the classroom.
So, as our kids head back to school we put on that all-knowing face of courage for our kids to let them know everything is going to be just fine. And if it isn’t? Well, as the grown-ups in charge, we need to work to support our children through the “not fine” in a calm, all-knowing, and courageous way—whether we feel that way or not.
If you enjoyed this please share and leave a comment! And you may also like:
My Morning Coffee or Understanding Longfellow