Editor’s Note from April: Today’s post is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Your Children Want YOU” (due to launch in the spring of 2015). For more details, please visit my personal blog. Thank you for all your encouragement and support!
“Ooh! What do you think of this one?” I held up a cute yellow purse that had been hanging on a rack at one of our local department stores.
“Darling!” My mom replied. “But I have to see the compartments,” she smiled.
“Well, of course!” I replied with a laugh. Because if a purse doesn’t have a variety of compartments inside, it might as well be a grocery sack.
But it wasn’t just using the compartments that made my mom happy. She mostly enjoyed sharing the joy of the compartments with the people she loved…namely, us.
To be honest, I didn’t share the same excitement, but I would humor her and try not to laugh as she enthusiastically walked through each and every pocket—sharing ideas about where her checkbook, lipstick, and car keys would go.
Certainly, this process was something she adored, but looking back, I can see what it really did for us. It brought me—her teenage daughter going through all the craziness of high school—to her side, in an environment where I could open up about anything.
I don’t know exactly how she did it, but once the purse discussions ended, she would start to search deeper:
How are you doing today?
Is there anything concerning you?
Can I do anything to help?
I can’t remember the details, but I remember what I felt: safe, happy, loved, and lucky to be hers.
But this didn’t only happen with purses. It also happened with socks.
My sister Susan had four boys in rapid succession, and the number of socks that needed to be washed each week was enormous. Susan detested sorting the socks, so as often as possible, when we were driving by Susan’s house on the way home from the orthodontist or other errands, Mom would say, “Why don’t we drop by and see if we can help sort the boys’ socks?”
I remember sitting cross-legged on the floor of Susan’s living room, a huge laundry basket of socks in the center, and the three of us making matches and rolling sock balls while Susan’s boys ran around us, playing with their toys.
“I just keep all the socks here in this basket,” Susan told me one day, “and if I need socks for the boys, I just search in here for a pair…until Mom comes by, and we sort them together. It makes it more fun.”
I agreed. Our sock-folding talks were my favorite because Susan always asked me about my latest crush or my activities in school, and I was consistently ready to talk all about it.
Years later, as a new mom, I attended a class about managing housework. A lady in the back of the room raised her hand and said, “If you get a mesh bag for each child in the family, you can keep everyone’s socks separate. Then you just throw the bag in the washing machine, and you never have to sort socks again!”
What? Never sort socks again? No more conversations around Susan’s laundry pile? No more laughing while we worked and then hugging each other tightly before we left?
Now, clearly, I know there are benefits to being efficient. Relationship-building doesn’t have to stop just because we figure out a faster way to do our housework, but when I tried to identify why the idea of mesh bags bothered me so much, I understood that these little traditions of sharing purse compartments and folding socks serve the beautiful purpose of bringing us together.
Take a moment and go through this exercise with me. Can you think of something that seems totally inconsequential or unsophisticated, but it brings you physically and emotionally closer to the ones you love?
Here are a couple of examples:
My husband and I have just a few small boxes of Christmas decorations. Neither one of us likes to shop or decorate, and we’d much rather spend our money on books or travel. So while we might add a thing or two to our holiday collection each year, it’s nothing like what we see in the neighbors’ yards around us (working ferris wheels, fancy train sets, lighted villages…).
One Christmas, when our budget was particularly tight and our workload felt particularly heavy, Grace came out to the garage with me to hold the step stool in place while I reached for our boxes.
As I set the first box on the ground, I thought, “Man, all I have is a bunch of junk. I don’t have anything nice to decorate our home.”
But when we opened it, Grace squealed, “MEMORIES!!!” and immediately started taking out each little item as though it were a treasure…because to her, that’s exactly what it was.
Ethan, my first son/third child, loves to sing, and he has a knack for picking out harmonies. That skill simply came with him, and sometimes when we drive, we’ll turn on a song we love and belt it out at the top of our lungs—me singing the melody, Ethan finding the perfect alto or tenor part to go with it.
One afternoon, with the two of us alone in the car driving to pick up some groceries, I let him buy a new Owl City song on my phone. We sang together the whole way to the store, but when it was time to get out of the car and start our shopping, he asked, “Can we listen to it again and again and again?”
My first instinct was to hurry into the store and pick up the singing on the way home. I was tired, and I wanted to get my errands done as quickly as possible.
But looking at the excitement in his eyes and realizing that I wouldn’t always have a 10-year-old son with me, I agreed.
We sat together in our parked car with the volume cranked up, singing our hearts out.
I remember thinking, “This is motherhood.”
Although my mom doesn’t know my name anymore, and although our time together is centered around her hospital bed as she slowly progresses through Alzheimer’s, I still long to be with her…to hold her soft hands and hear her voice and see the love that’s in her eyes.
That’s why I go every Thursday with my children.
I bring along the ingredients to make dinner, the latest chapter of the book I’m writing for her, and sometimes a small gift—or something my daughter has painted to hang on her wall.
I’m not really needed, I guess. She won’t remember I was there, and her wonderful nurse is available to take care of all her physical needs. But I desperately need her. And because she always put me as a priority in her life, I want to show her that she’s a priority in mine.
Learning to bind our hearts to our children’s—and their hearts to ours—isn’t something we’re taught in a prenatal class or at a parenting conference. It’s not even something you notice while it’s happening, and it’s typically surrounded by a series of not-so-enjoyable events. (You know what I’m talking about…)
But when I assess my time with my children—considering all our imperfections and the many ways we frustrate each other—I’m learning to look a little deeper and place the most value on the seemingly insignificant experiences that are, in fact, bringing us together.
Which reminds me…I think it’s time for me to go buy a new purse.
QUESTION: What “little things” bring your family together? What do you do to remind yourself to focus on the things that are most important?
CHALLENGE: Take some time today to notice the seemingly inconsequential things that bind the hearts of your family members together.
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