Sunday, September 14, 2014

Progress

The word implies improvement. Cars become safer, medical treatment more effective, the universe better known. While change is can be positive, negative or indifferent, progress is good—ending a stalemate, closing in on a goal.

Or so I thought.

prog·ress
noun
ˈprägrəs,ˈprägˌres,ˈprōˌgres/
1.    1.
forward or onward movement toward a destination.
"the darkness did not stop my progress"
synonyms:
forward movement, advancegoingprogressionheadwaypassage
"boulders made progress difficult"
verb
prəˈgres/
1.    1.
move forward or onward in space or time.
"as the century progressed, the quality of telescopes improved"
synonyms:
go, make one's way, move, move forward, go forward, proceed,advance, go on, continue, make headway, work one's way

Last week Mark and I moved our daughter Ciara to college and the feelings swirling around our backyard get-together the night before she left--and the truck during our trip to Providence, and the dorm room as we helped her settle in--were decidedly mixed. She’s a bright, intense, fascinating creature and raising her has been a daunting labor of love. That she settled easily into a college that felt just right for her was a relief so satisfying that I was in tears and a dazed kind of awe. 

Ciara's new groove
She is progressing toward the life she wants, but it’s not an improvement over the life she had before. She loved her high school and thrived there. She has remarkable friends and a family that made it to every game or meet or assembly in a rotating cast of twos and threes and fours. She had the attic bedroom at home with her own bathroom. In her words, she had it Gucci.

But this isn’t simply a heap of change either. There’s nothing random about where she’s going to school, or even her life in high school before. More than any of our seven other children, she has an internal motor that drives her forward, whether what comes next is a challenge or reward, or even a painful confrontation. Ciara is fearless in that way, which doesn’t mean she doesn’t get scared. Only that she doesn’t let fear change her course. 

Leaving home is progress, but like change, it’s a mixed blessing. She’s excited and nervous. We’re delighted and sad. Progress comes in muted colors as well as shiny, bright ones.

This week Mark and I moved our son Chris from a homeless shelter to a rented room and our feelings are just as swirly. Chris is just as determined as Ciara to find his own way in life, and when he moved out earlier this year to attend Job Corps we all knew he wasn’t coming back home. He’s a clever, passionate, sensitive soul who is equally tough to deter from the course he’s chosen and is convinced is right for him. Except his choices, in hindsight, are often setbacks, and the progress he wants to see—toward independence, and his own version of happy comfort—is minimal. The difference is how thoroughly his “now” goals wrestle his “later” goals into submission. His focus is intense, but mostly on what he wants today. Where Ciara is the fabled ant, he’s the grasshopper.

Chris's new pad
Not an easy way for an adult to live. Of all our kids, he’s made us the most gray. Also the most aware that parenting means that you always care, but not that you always do for your kids, or even that you always like each other. Hard feelings have passed back and forth. Advice has been given and rejected. Help asked for and refused. Substance abuse, learning disabilities and psychiatric problems are only partly to blame. The rest is the same steely will Ciara possesses, aimed in a different direction.

He was razor-close to being back on the streets but an apartment came through three days before his discharge, and a job one day after that. The look on Chris’s face as he took in the tiny room that was his alone and free of our usual parental tyranny was just as quietly eager as Ciara’s, and as parents we felt just as nervously proud.

From an early age, kids play the game of life by their own rules, with all the inherent ups and downs, disappointments and successes.


Leaving parents like us on the sidelines, cheering them on with our fingers crossed.  

Love, Lisa

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