Lately, I’ve been thinking about how we live our lives as a story, putting one foot in front of the other as major and minor events unfold in an orderly fashion. We grow up. We get married. We have babies. But, chronological stories are not how we’ll remember our lives when we are shrunken old ladies sipping lemonade on the porch, thinking back on the things that mattered most.
Close your eyes and return to a moment from your childhood, whether it be an important event or a casual Monday afternoon. What is the story being told? I remember Halloween when I was nine. My mother dressed as a witch and used putty to lengthen her nose and Cream of Wheat on her face to simulate pockmarked skin. When we arrived at the Halloween party, I stood tall and proud. My mom was dressed in an amazing costume while all the other moms were wearing boring black and orange sweaters.
Holidays matter. Have fun and don’t worry about what other people think.
In fifth grade my teacher invited parents to come to class to share something about their profession or favorite hobby. My dad is an avid mountain climber and agreed to share some experiences with my class. I could hardly sleep the night before. My dad was always so busy with work responsibilities and I worried he hadn’t taken enough time to prepare. I worried he would show up late. I worried he would embarrass me in front of my friends. Yet he arrived the next day prepared, punctual, and gave an amazing presentation. He ended his remarks by distributing a bag of candy, i.e. “mountain food,” for us to enjoy, thus securing his position as the coolest dad in the class.
Help your children see your passion. When you say you’ll be there, be there.
In seventh grade, I kept falling into the path of the school bully. Actually, it would be more accurate to say I kept stepping into his path on purpose. I wasn’t a young crusader or anything, but I resented how poorly he treated other, weaker kids and it riled me up. The problem was that I was too small physically to back up my big mouth, and it caused a lot of problems. After one particularly brutal confrontation, I called my mom from the school office crying and she said, “Don’t move. I’ll be there in five minutes.” And she was. I sat in a chair and listened to my mom inform the secretary that she was not leaving until she talked to the principal. Then I listened to her tell the principal that she was not leaving until they addressed the bullying situation once and for all. Things were better after that, much better.
Be loyal. Make sure your children know you are on their team.
When I was nineteen I sat next to my grandmother’s hospital bed only a few days before she passed away. Since she no longer had the ability to swallow liquids, the nurse provided us with a “lollipop” looking sponge, so that we could dip it in water and put in her mouth. My father promptly dipped the sponge in his Diet Coke and put it in my grandmother’s mouth. Her eyes welled up in gratitude. The nurse was irritated. Dad didn’t care.
Comfort your loved ones however you can. Make the most of the time you have with them.
I think that much of what we call parenting becomes lost in the noise of alarm clocks, television, and the constant river of reminders, lectures and demands. I can only recall a handful of times when my parents sat me down with the intent to teach me something important, although I know it must have happened often. Yet all the lessons and lectures they hoped to bestow are there, in simple freeze frame memories like the ones I just shared. It’s interesting that some of their most effective teaching moments occurred when my parents acted naturally and unconsciously, without the premeditated goal to teach. They weren’t perfect, of course, but they were good people. Now that I’m a parent, the happy memories of my childhood help me to recognize the many ways in which their goodness influenced my life.
I like to imagine what my family will look like in twenty, thirty, or fifty years. What will I take with me to my comfortable chair on the porch, lemonade in hand? What will my children remember about how I lived and the lessons I taught? Some days, I’m doubtful that my kids even hear a word I say. But I know that they will lace together their own necklace of memories, of moments when I tried my best and they could see that I was living and acting from my heart.
I hope these memory freeze frames will read like picture books of the love I felt and the mostly happy lives that grew up under my watch. I can see how quickly the menial routines of life will drain away and what is leftover will become ingredients for the stories our children will tell. We mothers are makers of stories. But while knowledge of that responsibility ought to be exciting and empowering, in some ways it makes me shrink. What about all the mistakes I’m making? I don’t want stories about the hard times to be remembered and told. But as soon as these worried thoughts come to me I relax. You can’t walk forward if you’re too busy staring at your feet, wondering if they’re going to make a move. Let it come naturally. Keep your head up and your heart open. The stories will write themselves.
QUESTION: How would you like to be remembered by your children? What lessons do you hope they will learn from you?
CHALLENGE: Write down one of the things you want to be remembered for and look for the moments to share it with your family.