One day, they are still the small person that you always see, then suddenly, over the course of days or weeks, they shoot up, or out, several inches, sometimes radically changing their appearance. With my kids, as their bones lengthened, they would often experience severe pains in their legs and arms as their bodies struggled to keep up with the rapid changes taking place. I would talk them through these literal growing pains by reminding them that these were necessary processes for them to grow to their fullest physical potential.
I didn't tell them that the process would continue: physically, socially, emotionally, and in other incredibly uncomfortable ways.
This has been perhaps the longest few months of my life.
Trying to pass the probationary period on my recent promotion has been relentlessly competing with serious issues with my children, activities that I committed to not really realizing the actual social and physical cost, and several micro items that left me wondering if this is what I worked this long and hard for.
In so many ways, we are all experiencing growing pains.
In her final year of middle school, my daughter is starting to realize that everything counts. In a lot of ways, she had been coasting on intelligence and charm, and it is now being made clear to her that she needs to put in more effort to get to her ultimate goal of a college degree. She is also learning that merely being loyal is not always enough to maintain a friendship, and that you have to be a little bit more flexible as you and your friends are all trying to find your place in a world that is working hard to fit you in the neat little box it already has for you.
My son has just learned, in the hardest way possible, that just because someone calls themselves your friend, this isn't always true, and you have to be very careful of who you hang around. He now has to join that group of young men facing the world with a criminal record, that while minor, still leaves you marked as someone who might not be trusted with anything, much less a job. He is currently attempting to put his life together in another location, and with quite a few strikes against him. His heart is in the right place, but he is also finding out that sometimes, that might not be enough.
I have spent the last 16 years of my life working towards the job that I finally obtained in April of this year. So no one was more surprised than me when I got the question put on my spirit of "Now what?" It occurred to me that while I was planning my future around a specific job, I hadn't really planned much past it. I also hadn't thought about much more than the things I had to do in order to support my children and survive. Someone I consider a mentor once asked me what I really wanted to do with my life. I didn't answer her because I had been taught that my dreams were impractical, and that I needed to concentrate on doing what had to be done to provide a life for my children. But now I find myself at 45 years old, only five years away from my daughter leaving home for college, and asking myself what I really want to do once she's gone. Do I take steps toward my dream career of writing professionally, or do I remain the solid, steady person that I am expected to be as a single parent of two?
Growing pains don't stop at 18. Or 25. Or 30.
The truth is, growth is a lifelong experience. As it should be. Stagnation kills, and once you have decided that you don't have anything else to learn, you slowly begin to die: spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and occasionally, physically.
If you were to look at life as a football game you would see that my daughter is finding her way through her first quarter, my son is deciding what strategies to employ during his second quarter, and as I rapidly approach half-time, I am trying to figure out exactly how I want my second half to play out.
Ultimately, I pray that we will all eventually get to where we were meant to be. The journey is currently getting more than a bit rough, and the destination may not necessarily be clear, but a lot of times, growth is just exactly that way: a lot of movement in often random directions.
But continue forward we will because continue forward we must. Because going backward is not an option.