Monthly Archives: May 2023

To Celebrate or Not?


The day of his fifth-grade Celebration of Learning, aka “graduation,” Alex was emotionally tied in knots before school. First, I didn’t have his usual breakfast food available. I don’t know how I messed up the grocery run that week, but I didn’t have either of the options he normally wants. Then, while I was trying to talk him into eating something, he insisted that he needed to put on his nice clothes before I thought he should. I didn’t want him to get food (not that he wanted to eat what I’d offered) or toothpaste on his clothes. He kept saying, “I can’t be late!” Ben and I reminded him that he’d never been late for school. I said, “This is supposed to be fun. It’s a celebration.” Then he exclaimed, “Not all celebrations are fun!” And I felt that in my bones. 

When we prepare to attend a big event, I often feel anxious because of the logistics, like what to wear and how to get there, including directions, traffic, parking. The anxiety that accompanies the anticipation of the event can make it much harder to enjoy the occasion once I arrive. I need to really settle in and calm myself to be present for the performance, game, or ceremony. Of course, that assumes that the people around me won’t talk through the event if they’re supposed to be quiet, won’t stand in front of me the entire time, or launch their phones high in the air blocking my view. And those are the times we are just going to something that someone else has planned. 

When I plan or host a gathering, the stress can be almost overwhelming. If it’s at our house, we must clean and declutter. The areas of the house that need improvement become glaringly obvious. I have friends who are wonderful hostesses, they can pull off a dinner party with a beautiful homemade meal without breaking a sweat. That is certainly not my gift, and I admire those who make it look easy. 

While Alex’s comment that not all celebrations are fun resonated with me, it also made me reflect a little deeper. Do I allow my anxiety to deplete my joy? Do I focus too much on the negative so that I leave little room to celebrate? The answer to those questions is a resounding yes. But as demonstrated by Alex, there’s both nature and nurture involved in this situation. He and I have a bit of a genetic predisposition to worry. Okay, more than a bit. Let’s just say, Alex comes by it honestly.

So, what are we to do? Instead of just giving up and giving in to our natural tendencies, I realized that I could work on the nurture part of this dilemma for Alex and I. When we have an event to attend, I need to be more aware of how I approach it. I can pause before I get worked up in anticipatory anxiety. And if I can do that better, maybe Alex can also feel better about upcoming events. Perhaps I should focus on the reason for the celebration instead of the issues that might arise. If I can keep the happiness of the occasion in the front of my mind, maybe the logistics and my concerns will take a lesser position on the anxiety spectrum.

Celebrations are supposed to be inherently happy. Marking an important or special occasion may not ever be completely stress-free for me, but I’ve decided to try and concentrate on the joy for myself and for Alex. By the way, we both enjoyed his graduation – after we got through the anxiety hurdles. Hopefully next time we can move toward the fun with fewer obstacles, especially the ones we create for ourselves.   

Enjoying the Ride


Last summer, I felt nervous about my daughter Riley leaving for college after her high school graduation. The anticipatory anxiety was overwhelming at times. A year later, she’s completed her first year with flying colors, and the guys and I had a great year at home. Even though I was consumed with worry before she left, everything worked out just fine. I am proud of how all of us adjusted and thrived. Then, the other day at church, while I was holding my son Jed’s hand in a prayer circle for the 2023 seniors, tears started to prick my eyes. Jed is going to be a senior in the coming year. Because we’d made it through Riley’s senior year and freshman year of college, I lulled myself into thinking it would be a breeze next time. And while it may be easier because I have survived one child leaving the nest, I now realize that I will still ride an emotional roller coaster with Jed as a senior. 

Life is like that sometimes. We think we’ve got it all figured out because we’ve been through something similar previously. But then what worked with one child completely backfires with a different child. We think we’ve anticipated all the things that can go wrong and have prepared for all contingencies but are thrown for a loop of epic proportions. We believe we’ve worked through an emotional situation, only to have a song or memory fell us with a flood of tears. 

When I was helping Riley move out of her dorm recently, her best college friend Julia and I were talking when she said her high school volleyball coach used to tell them that progress was not linear. Athletes may enjoy a good streak and then have a terrible game. That didn’t mean all their training and advancement were lost. It simply meant they had a bad game. 

In our lives, we may be on an uphill trajectory but then take a dip before we again proceed upward. Of course, trusting that a step backward is merely part of the process and not a devastating failure is easier said than done. I find that I both overanalyze my negative emotions and try to avoid them at all costs. I also tend to blow them out of proportion as opposed to giving them their proper place. Making a mountain out of an emotional mole hill is my expertise. But it doesn’t have to be that way. I need to practice allowing and accepting my emotions as they occur. Then, after I’ve permitted myself to experience those emotions, I can decide if I need to give them more time and attention or chalk them up to a temporary downturn.    

So, as I face the start of Jed’s senior year, I’m going to try and hang on as we ride the nonlinear roller coaster with its scary parts and exhilarating portions knowing we will make it through it all. I can’t avoid the tears, but I will attempt to enjoy the ride.

P.S. Right before I posted this, Jed came in from his last day of school and said, “Well Mom, I’m a senior in high school. Only one year left.” And I burst into tears.  

Dear Corbell Elementary,


In August of 2009, my oldest child started kindergarten at Corbell Elementary, and since then, a Carter kid has been at Corbell every single year. Riley just finished her first year in college, Jed is completing his junior year of high school, Clay eighth grade, and Alex fifth grade. Alex will move to middle school next year, which means that our time at Corbell is coming to a close. I hadn’t thought much about it until I went to parent open house this spring and it came up over and over. I found myself getting teary. Fourteen years at one school is a long time. I’m pretty sure that next week at fifth grade “graduation” those tears will fall, so during this teacher appreciation week, I’ll say thank you to the people that have made this place so special for our family. 

My children learned so much in elementary school. That seems obvious, but the day-to-day work teachers put into helping my kids and all the other kids learn is monumental. When one of mine couldn’t quite grasp reading, we were worried. His teacher whom we’d had for another of his siblings identified this issue as well and got him the help he needed. Two years of daily dyslexia lessons later, he can read and read well.  I thank God that we attend a school with the personnel and the resources who saved him from years of tortured learning and the low self-esteem that would’ve resulted. This is just one example of the immeasurable support and encouragement this community has given my family. 

One of the greatest features of Corbell is staff consistency. We’ve known some of the teachers and staff for years.  A couple of the Specials teachers have probably seen a Carter kid once a week, every week for the entire time we’ve been there. When I see teachers that the kids have had in the past, they always ask how the kids are doing. They are always amazed at how tall the kids have gotten and are proud of all they’ve accomplished. The love the teachers pour into their students does not end when those kids leave their classrooms but follows them throughout their lives. 

During the last fourteen years, teachers have had to take on burdens we couldn’t have anticipated. The sheer number of school shootings has made active shooter drills a part of their daily existence. I’m glad my children know what to do and where to hide at their schools but am deeply grieved that this knowledge is necessary. We journeyed through Covid together when we left school for spring break and didn’t return that school year. The teachers had to pivot to teach via Zoom and create online assignments. My appreciation for them deepened as this experiment in homeschooling went on for months. I don’t know how or why only three years later, teachers have become political targets for doing their jobs and trying to do them well. I trust the teachers who are educated on how to educate children. I stand with them. But I hate that the pressures on teachers and school staff have increased dramatically in our years in elementary school. I want them to know we see them and that we know they should be paid more and given more praise at the very least. 

I could go on and on about the wonderful attributes of the people who make up the heart and soul of Corbell. They have blessed us more than they’ll ever know. Over the years, I hope we’ve shown them a small modicum of how much we love them. Because we do – we love you, Corbell. And we always will. 

Seeking Reassurance


My thirteen-year-old son Clay is the most laid-back member of our immediate family – by a mile. But the one thing that really bothers him is the thought of eating expired food. I don’t think he’s ever had food poisoning or even eaten anything that tasted bad because it was past its prime. Maybe the root of his concern comes from watching me check the dates on items at the store before I buy them. For whatever reason though, Clay consistently checks expiration dates on food before he eats them. In his quest to make sure he only eats unexpired food, he pulls a snack out of the pantry and then asks one of us if the date listed on the package has passed. On most occasions, Ben or I usually respond sarcastically saying something like, “Of course not, it’s May, and the expiration date is not until June. Don’t you know the months of the year?” This went on for a while until one day Clay said, “Can’t you just tell me yes or no without riding me about it?” 

At first, I thought, no, I’m your mother and need to make sure you know the days and months of the year! Then I realized, he’s thirteen and a straight A student, he knows how to use a calendar. He doesn’t need a time calculation tutorial. Instead, he wants reassurance. He wants to know that we prioritize his safety and protection. That we won’t let him eat something hazardous or do anything harmful. And that in seeking that reassurance, he won’t be shamed or harassed. I felt bad for having made a big deal out of a simple question.

After that realization, I endeavored to listen to those around me with a different perspective. When my ten-year-old Alex told me that a boy purposely hit him in the head with a ball at school, I asked if he told a teacher. He said no, and then asked, “are you mad at me?” No, I replied, but my face must have looked otherwise because he asked, “Are you sure you’re not mad at me?” Part of me wanted to say, why would I be mad at you when someone else hit you? But I reframed my exasperation with his question because he needed reassurance. I replied, “No, I’m not mad at you. He shouldn’t do that to you.” He needed to know that he was not in the wrong. That it was not okay for someone to mistreat him.

We all need a little reassurance from time to time. We need to know someone cares about our well-being. We deserve to feel worthy. We need to trust that if we reach out for help, we will be met with love and protection. And since we all need that type of reassurance, we need to keep that in mind when another asks us for that same care and love. We may have to answer questions that seem obvious to us: of course, I love you; of course, I’ll help you; of course, I’ll come when you need me. A small answer can be big to those seeking reassurance.  

Now when Clay asks if the food is expired based on the date on the package, I don’t harangue him anymore. I simply answer yes or no. It’s an easy way to give him the reassurance that we all need.