First of all, if you’re seeing this post entitled “Making Drastic Parenting Choices” and think that means that I consider myself some parenting guru, let’s get something straight right now: that couldn’t be further from the truth. I am just a mom who is loving her kids fiercely while trying to figure it all out and stay sane through the ups and downs of this thing we call parenting, who isn’t afraid to share the struggles and triumphs along the way.
I guess two years into this CC and Mike blogging journey, I find myself in a unique position where I have a bit of a platform—a voice, so to speak…no matter how small it may be. The truth is, you never know who might be listening; you never know who might need to hear what I’m about to say; you never know what mom is out there struggling, on the precipice of a hard decision and looking for some sign, some divine intervention to tell her that the choice she is about to make for her child is the right one. So that is why I’m writing this today. Not because I’m a parenting guru. Lord have mercy I am anything but that. But I am a woman who has been on a journey. I’m a woman whose life has been defined by parents who made drastic choices. And I am now a mom who is finding the courage to do the same for my daughter.
Photos by Brass Penny Photography
Maybe you’ve followed me for the last year or two, maybe you haven’t. But most likely if you are here today, then you have seen the pretty pictures on my blog — yes I can take pretty photographs. I logged six years as a professional photographer, after all. But life is anything but just pretty, perfectly staged photos, and I’ve shared openly about that on my blog. The truth is, I was a troubled teen. Perhaps you didn’t know that. Perhaps you didn’t know that my mother was almost murdered when I was ten years old. Perhaps you didn’t know that at thirteen years old I was sullen and rebellious and troubled and angry, oh so very angry. Perhaps you didn’t know that at fourteen years old I was sneaking out, flunking out of several of my freshman classes, and experimenting with drugs and alcohol. Perhaps you didn’t know that my life has a backstory, as does everyone’s, and it didn’t look so picture perfect at one point in time. It looked a lot more like I had a one-way ticket on the hot mess express which was, without a doubt, going to crash and burn.
So what changed my life? Well, it all boils down to this – My parents making drastic choices. How so you ask? Well, I’m ready to tell a story that I’ve never told publicly on my blog today and then I’m going to answer the question that I have received more emails and direct messages about than any other thing recently – “CC, why did you choose to take Emmy out of her school and move her?” Today, I’m ready to answer that question. But first, I can’t answer that question without telling you about my own journey.
Like I said, I would consider myself a troubled teen. The definition below sounds about right —especially the impulsive, self-destructive and out of control behaviors part, and like the definition also says, I truly know in my heart that I was running, not walking, down a path that would lead me to develop life-long, potentially fatal, habits.
So what changed that path? What redirected me to the path you see me on now? How am I living in Tulsa, Oklahoma, married to my high-school sweetheart and blogging, designing, and building at CC and Mike? Well, I’m here because my parents made drastic choices for my life when they were prompted to do so. I’m here because one night when I lied to my parents and left yet again, they found a tape recording of my voice on the answering machine. You see, the answering machine kicked on and recorded me talking to my friend. Imagine a ten-minute long recording of basically anything and everything you would never want your parents to hear. That is what was recorded. So, when they tracked me down that night and brought me back to my dad’s church office and set a little black tape recorder on the desk, and hit play….I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. I remember hearing my voice. I remember that I should feel ashamed and embarrassed as I recounted the details of me sneaking out the night before and everything I had done. But I felt nothing. I was dead inside. I remember hearing my voice and thinking that I sounded like a complete stranger. I remember not even knowing who I was anymore. Then, I remember looking up and seeing tears stream down my mother’s face.
“Tell me what to do,” she choked out. “I don’t even know what to do for you anymore. Tell me what to do.”
There was a long pause. I swallowed. Then I will never forget what I said next.
“I need to get out of here.”
There was another long pause, then I saw the resolution in my mother’s eyes. She was going to do the unthinkable. She was going to let go of her fourteen-year-old troubled, little girl. She was going to make a drastic parenting choice. And she did. That moment has completely defined my life.
The next day was a blur but I want you to be completely sure of one thing — my mom never looked back. She knew I had to leave. She was brave. She didn’t question what she knew to be true in her heart. God was leading, and she was going to follow, even if it meant she had to make a sacrifice and give up her daughter. Often times, isn’t it the mother that God speaks to about what is right or wrong for her children? I would say that it is. But we have to be willing to listen, even if it’s not something we want to hear.
We packed and I was gone within a day, or at least that’s how I remember it. Like I said, it was all a bit of a blur from that moment that I told my parents I needed to leave and needed to change my environment. My parents drove me to Dallas and I moved in with a special aunt and uncle who were beyond gracious to take me in. We didn’t even know if I would get accepted into the private school that all of their children had gone to. We just packed and got in the car. We had no plan. We just had a feeling in our hearts that it was the right thing to do. So we did it.
I look back now, and as a thirty-eight-year-old mother, I realize how drastic that choice must have seemed to many. I heard through the grapevine that the rumor mill was flying after I left. My mother and father, the ministers of our small-town church in Southeastern Oklahoma, had to endure those rumors. It couldn’t have been easy. I heard just a few of them, all which were untrue, and they made me cringe or blush, 0r perhaps a bit of both. But still, my parents made the choice that needed to be made, even if others did not understand what they were doing.
Fast forward twenty-something years later and it was me who was put in that exact same position for completely different reasons. It was me, as a mother, who felt that stirring in my heart. It was me who had to make a drastic parenting choice. It was me who knew that I had to think with my heart and not with my mind, for the sake of my daughter. And I’m ready to tell you that story today too.
Last May I had gone to Pawhuska to see my good friend Cyndi. Now, Cyndi would not want me saying this because she is humble as all get out, but I’m going to say it anyway. She is a God-send, as a friend, a business mentor, but most of all, as a mother who has been in the trenches and is willing to speak into my life in a way that only she can. Cyndi and I had spent the day together touring PW’s Boarding House and then we went to grab a coffee before I headed back to T-town. It was during our afternoon coffee session that she turned to me with concern in her eyes.
Why is she only asking about Emmy? I remember that being my internal dialogue. My body tensed. I wasn’t even sure why. Looking back, I think I felt defensive because I knew in my heart that the truthful answer was, not good.
“She’s fine,” I answered, but instantly felt guilt creeping in at the dishonesty in that statement. “I mean, she has some struggles sometimes but she will toughen up and get over it and be stronger because of it.” I started backtracking.
Cyndi just looked at me. “What struggles?” she asked.
I spent the next few minutes explaining some of the struggles Emmy had faced off and on for years. I’m not going to get into them here because, to be honest, they are too personal and it’s not my story to tell. But I will tell you this: As a mother, I had spent five years sweeping them under the rug and saying to myself, “She’ll get over it. She just needs to toughen up and stop being so sensitive.” I guess I believed if that was our mantra — she’ll get over it — that eventually I could will it into existence.
I finished telling Cyndi some of the things Emmy had faced over the years. I cringed as I watched her reaction and realized I had been minimizing what my daughter had felt. Then I repeated that God-awful phrase that I never want to hear come from my lips ever again – “She’ll get over it.” With a nice tagline added for emphases (I was, after all, trying to convince myself of the lie at this point) — “I mean, this is just life and she needs to toughen up. She will get over it.”
There was a long pause. Then I heard words I will never forget. The words of a friend, but somehow I knew it was someone else talking through her. They were God’s words.
“But at what cost?”
BAM. Four little words. So simple. Yet so powerful. Isn’t that how God always talks?
“At what cost Carissa? What cost will have to be paid for Emmy to just toughen up and get over it? Will it be her sweet spirit? Her kind heart? Her sensitivity to others? Her passion for creativity? What cost will have to be paid for her to just get over it?”
My mind was reeling. A vision flashed before my eyes of Emmy as a young teenager, a college student, an adult, a young woman, a wife, a mother. And suddenly, in my heart, I knew what the cost would be. And I knew we weren’t willing to pay it. Cyndi asked me another question — Had we ever asked Emmy if she wanted to go to a different school or consider other schooling options? The answer was no. We lived in a certain district and that is where she would go. Period. So black and white. I left my coffee date with Cyndi and my entire world was turned upside down. That was a Tuesday night. I got home and immediately asked Emmy if she would ever want to consider going to another school. I didn’t even get the words out of my mouth before she said YES! With far too much excitement, I might add, for a little girl who has gone to the same school since pre-K.
So, we made appointments at various private schools throughout Tulsa. I made her shadow everywhere we went. We went to talk to a group leader at Classical Conversations and considered Homeschooling. We considered everything. The whole time, I kept thinking she would snap out of it and decide she just wanted to stay at her large public school that she had always attended. But she didn’t.
Ultimately, Emmy made the decision based on what felt right to her, and it was a smaller private school. We didn’t even send her back to school after the decision was made. In the middle of all these drastic changes, I asked Emmy this question:
“Emmy, can you give me one word that describes how you feel when you go to school every day?” (talking about her old school – the large, public school)
She thought for a long time before she answered.
My heart shattered into a million pieces. Just survive. Survival. That’s how my baby girl had felt every single day at school. And looking back, I knew that. I knew that for such a long time but I was in denial. Educationally, she was thriving; but mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, and socially, she was just surviving.
I want to make something clear. The school my daughter attended is an amazing school. Educationally, it is top notch. My daughter has had amazing educators that have influenced her life and remain a part of our lives to this day. Our boys love the school my daughter left and chose to remain. I gave them the same choice that I gave Emmy and they both wanted to stay. But going through this process made me realize how our lives mimic that of nature. And why would they not? We were all created by the same Great Creator. There is an ebb and flow to life, like the changing of the seasons and the tide going in and out. During this experience, I started thinking about our lives being like plants. Just bear with me here for a bit while I go all crazy deep CC on you for a minute. How ridiculous is it to think that every single plant or flower or tree on this beautiful planet of ours, can thrive in the exact same soil and with the exact same lighting and water conditions? No, every single plant is an individual. Every single plant was created uniquely and needs a unique set of environmental circumstances to thrive. Why would our lives be any different? Why would our children be any different?
I made the mistake of thinking that all three of my beautiful little plants could thrive in the exact same pot. I was wrong. So, I made a drastic choice. I uprooted one and decided to plant her somewhere else. You see, she was just surviving. And we can do better than that. She was born to thrive. She is creative and brilliant and beautiful and sassy and sweet and kindhearted and unique and sensitive. And so, we are going to plant her in the soil and the best lighting and the perfect conditions for her. Right now, we feel—no, we know— that is a different school than the one our boys go to.
So yes, we took my daughter out of school the last few weeks of school and I kept her home with me. We worked on entrepreneurship and read books about strong female women and she played guitar every single day and she wrote. And slowly but surely, I saw some new signs of life that I hadn’t seen in quite some time.
I know that people questioned and perhaps didn’t even understand our choices. I know now what it feels like to be my mom, who sent a daughter three hours away to go live with an aunt. I know now what it means to make a choice that people might see as drastic. And I’m still standing here saying to someone out there who needs to make a similar choice….
Is just surviving really enough? Is your child shriveling up and dying right before your eyes? Are you watching them day by day, being beaten down instead of nurtured. Then maybe you need to make a drastic choice too. Maybe you need to stop thinking about all the reasons why not (thinking with your mind) and think about the one reason you should (because you know in your heart it’s the right thing to do for your child). I’m not just talking about schools you guys. I’m talking about any drastic parenting choice that needs to be made. I’m talking about that gentle nudge that only you can hear. I’m talking about thinking with your heart about what is best for your child. Who will help them if not for their parents?
CC and Mike are Making Drastic Parenting Choices. We took our daughter out of her school for the last month and are moving her to a new school. I don’t know what Drastic Parenting Choices are tugging at your heart, but if that tug is happening, listen.
I can say that as a young woman who is living a life that I would never have lived if my mom and dad wouldn’t have listened. I can say that as a young woman whose entire life was changed by my parents having the courage to make drastic parenting choices.
Mom and Dad, I don’t think I’ve ever told you this but thank you. Than you for being courageous. Thank you for listening. Thank you for making drastic parenting choices. It has made all the difference in my life. But then, you already know that. You saw who I was. And you see who I am. I wouldn’t be here if you wouldn’t have listened to that troubled little girl crying out for help saying, “I have to leave.” I wouldn’t be here if you wouldn’t have had the courage to listen to that voice nudging you to make a drastic choice in that moment.
I truly hope and pray that someday, my daughter will say the same thing — Mom, thank you for making drastic parenting choices. Thank you for listening. Thank you for acting.
This girl starts her new school today.
I think she is brave and strong and courageous for stepping out and saying she wanted to try something new. And I guess, if I’m being honest, I feel like I was a little bit brave and strong and courageous for listening as well. Because change is hard, people. It’s way easier to just forget that voice you hear whispering and stay exactly where you are because it’s what you know. But change is necessary. It’s oh so necessary, especially when we are talking about just surviving instead of thriving.
At Emmy’s back to school assembly for her new school the principal said these words and I wrote them down.
Often times something forces us into a season of change, but it’s THROUGH that hard season of change (and because of it) that we grow.
Gosh, I can’t wait to watch this beautiful little girl grow.
I’m no parenting guru. I’m just a mom who loves her kids trying to figure it all out as I go. And one thing I know for sure is that drastic parenting choices can change lives. I’m living proof of that and I hope and pray she will be too.
Love you little momma. Go do your thing. I’m so dang proud to be your mom.