Our oldest daughter, age 6, has been telling me lately “I love you more than you love me!” or “I love you googol times more than you love me.” (Since learning some mathematics, she has been fascinated with the concept of big numbers and infinity). She’s not saying this to make me feel bad that I’m not loving her enough, though sometimes I worry that maybe I’m not! She’s expressing as literally as she can her deep love for her completely imperfect mother. I feel unworthy of such devotion even as I am thrilled and warmed to the core that she feels about me the way I feel about her. She is my life, my first baby love, my treasure of treasures, the most sensitive of our three children.
I let her down a while back, it was a small thing, but I felt it hard in the moment. Mostly I am happy with how we dole out attention to each of our little ones, her and her twin siblings, a boy and girl, age 3. We try to spend individual time with each of them, even if its only a few minutes. So I was thrilled that I was able to volunteer at her end-of-year class party, helping with face painting and snacks and planting little seedlings.
As I busied myself bustling about, she kept tugging at me, “Come outside Mommy, come outside and see me!” They were playing games out there, dancing and doing the limbo. “In a minute, honey, I’ll be right there,” I replied. She asked me again, maybe three times. “I’ll be right there,” I said, sucked back into the vortex of sugar-fueled Kindergarten madness. I meant to go out there — the door was inches from me. I meant to, I’m coming, I’ll be there…
When I finally got outside, the courtyard was empty. It was over; I missed it. “You missed me doing the limbo, Mommy. I wanted you to see me,” she sounded sad. My shoulders fell, I sank into the ground with disappointment. How simple her request, and I could not grant it; the one wish that requires no money, no sacrifice, barely even any time at all. Just attention. And I couldn’t give it. Too busy, yet again.
What are we so busy with that we cannot even be there to witness what is important to a small child? Too busy for the fleeting fun things that added together make for a good life. How can I expect her to always give me her infinite love if I can’t give her 5 minutes when she asks specifically for it?
She got over it and I’m not agonizing about it, truly. Life goes on and things have to get done and sometimes we do miss the golden moments, but there will always be others. As long as we are there for most of them, I think we’ll be judged successful in the end, whatever that means. I have been trying to banish the guilt that comes from fretting over small things, as I wrote about in my last post.
When I start to take stock of how I’m doing, I naturally think of my own Mom, who is the type of person who always feels she’s not doing enough of something, always wishing she could do better. (She’s also my blog’s biggest fan — hi Mom!) We live far from each other — she’s in my hometown outside of Philadelphia and we’re here in North Carolina. She has expressed to me in the past some regret that she has not been able to pass on any legacy to her grandchildren, has not taught them anything lasting. I’m not sure if she was thinking piano lessons or what — she can read music and played the cello in high school — but I know what she means. Even from far away, she wants to matter in their lives, have an impact.
So I just wanted to tell her something from my fairly new perspective of a parent who is realizing it’s very hard to discern just what will make an impression on your kids. Of all the lessons you try to impart each day, in every little way, which ones will stick? I think it is these:
-A good mom will color a picture with you when you ask, even if you are still scribbling all outside the lines.
-A good mom will watch your favorite cartoon with you.
-A good mom will cook for you, especially when you are sick, when you get little star pastas in chicken broth to make you feel better.
-A good mom teaches you a love for books and songs and pretty little things in nature.
-A good mom brings your favorite breakfast on a tray in bed for your birthday — strawberries in cream.
-A good mom sits by your bed to comfort you when you are scared or nervous or not feeling well.
-A good mom serves as your “alarm clock” during the school year, waking you gently but firmly after you have silenced your real alarm clock too many times with your weary teenaged hand.
-A good mom always believes in you, even at times when she may not agree with you. She is able to trust that sometimes, even kids know best for themselves.
In these scenarios, the good mom is her. She did all these things for me, her only child, when I was growing up. And her legacy will be that I will do these things for her grandchildren. I hope she realizes that is enough, more than enough, in fact. It is simply the best that can be done in this crazy world.
(And don’t forget, Mom, you taught them to play “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on the piano, and you always brought a craft for them to work on with you — and you had the patience to teach them how to do it.)
My Mom has been dealing with some tough health issues lately and spending more time than anyone would want to in the hospital; now she is in a nursing home and mostly confined to bed. All of it from the effects of dealing with breast cancer for more than 15 years. Even amidst all that, she has managed to stay upbeat and her voice is strong when I talk to her on the phone.
“What is your secret?” I asked her recently. “How do you manage to keep your spirits up?” I have felt inadequate to the task of helping her do so.
“I just keep thinking about you and kids,” was her reply. That’s it, nothing more. I think that’s enough. You did a good job, Mom, are still doing a good job. And so am I. And so are you out there, dear reader. Keep going.