A re-post from last year . . . because the message endures. Happy holidays, friends, whichever you celebrate. At these times especially I am grateful for the village helping us raise our kids.
Oh, the tyranny of the holiday season! Every crazy bit of it is amplified when teenagers live in the house. This year--inspired by my friend Deanna, a fierce single mama whose darling daughter is a freshman in high school--I'm shopping for my teenagers at Goodwill and in my mother-in-law's attic. Why am I putting a bag of dingy old silver tableware under the Christmas tree? Read all about it! Also, feel free to adapt the idea for your own purposes. (Note: this stroke of gift-giving brilliance would likewise be perfect for a Bar or Bat Mitzvah, the first day of seventh grade or indeed a baby gift for new parents.)
I’ve spent the last few weeks rummaging through estate sales, collecting a bunch of mismatched, past-their-prime spoons, forks, pitchers and tea trays. Most are merely plated; all are blackened with age and neglect. If a piece was sticky with grime, I snapped it up with special enthusiasm. Each piece--with a cloth and a lot of care--can be polished back into beautiful shape. And herein lies the best part of this gift for teenagers.
The adolescent years are rough for everyone, marked by conflict and confusion.All of it—the drama, the struggle, the strife, the fighting amongst the family—is as normal as it is awful. Our children are going to rebel. They're going to do stupid stuff. It's their job. Until further notice, we’re going to be at war with each other at least some of the time.
Teenager Time-Outs: The Gift of Pause
From now on, when my teenager and I are engaged in daily battle and I think we need a break, he will sit in silence and polish one piece of silver until it shines. The few minutes my child spends with a polishing cloth in his hands will give us both time to pause. In our too-busy, too-noisy world, a moment of silver silence is golden, indeed. Disengaging from conflict can be the most powerful (but difficult) course of action. When our children were little we gave time-outs: a chance to spend some quiet time alone, to calm down, to adjust behavior and then return to the demands of real life. Teenagers need time-outs, too. We all do. (For silver-polishing tips, consult this expert advice.)
Silverware—decorative and practical, a tool so basic we might take it for granted—requires maintenance. Like all things of value (including personal relationships), good silver must be cared for and tended. The symbolism is apt: every day of our lives, we must face our responsibilities. When we practice daily habits of exercise and sound nutrition we reap the rewards of good health. When we maintain our possessions and relationships we invest in their working futures. It’s a chore, maintaining a house and vehicles and families and careers. But it’s unavoidable and it’s worth it. I hope restoring this silver--piece by piece--will instill in our boys the importance of maintenance. I hope their adult selves will view daily habits and maintenance as necessary, meditative and fulfilling. As I say so often our kids no longer pay attention: Life is hard, but worth it.
Polishing the Silver: We ALL Shine on!
Sterling silver, a soft metal, has a “living finish,” highly reactive and susceptible to air, moisture and other common irritants. The other metals (especially copper) in sterling react and oxidize, forming an uneven, dark tarnish. Without frequent use and proper care, silver loses its original luster and can become completely covered in black. The tarnish, however, forms only on the surface. As a matter of fact, the layer of tarnish protects and preserves the silver underneath.
The analogies between silver and our real lives seem endless! Like sterling, we human beings are highly reactive and sensitive to irritants. We get covered in decay; we lose our original luster; we develop a layer of dinginess to protect ourselves from our environment. And yet all the tarnish in the world cannot damage our beautiful insides. The metaphor continues: like silver, there is always hope, for all of us: with a little attention and elbow-grease, the tarnish can be polished right off. We can be restored! We can shine again, as brilliantly as we ever did! We live in hope. (Also, silver gets better and more gorgeous with age as it develops a prized golden sheen; don’t even get me started about the symbolism of wisdom and imperfect beauty in middle age . . . .)
We will tuck something like this letter in with our dubious gift. Feel free to steal any part of it that makes sense to you.
Someday--in that distant future my husband and I see with our most optimistic eyes--these adopted heirlooms may grace the tables of our grown-up children. Perhaps as we break bread together we will feel forgiven for our parenting mistakes and adolescent rebellion. Maybe we will tell stories to the next generation: of crazy teenage antics and difficult family times, of epic arguments that now seem silly, of taking time to pause and reflect in order to survive the storms of adolescence. When our future grandchildren get poisoned by hormones and turn against their parents, maybe they will carry on the tradition of taking time out to polish the silver. With any luck, the values of maintenance and working with purpose—brought to life in our sons and their families—will be our greatest legacy.
As the holidays loom, we can all use a reminder of how important it is to force family fun with truculent adolescents. Read my post about it here.
You may also enjoy this post about the importance of time-outs for PARENTS!
And for a dose of schadenfreude as you strike family holiday poses, check out this botched attempt at my own family's picture-perfect moment.
To book me for your parent, school or church group (words of wisdom and belly-laughs for frazzled families), contact me.