Friday, June 27, 2014

Dear Children

Tonight, on the very brink of empty-nesting, standing so near the finish line of this stage of my Tour-de Life,  there was one of those situations that makes my whole experience as a mother flash before my eyes with a big red Failure stamped over everything. One of those moments that makes my mind literally shout at my heart, "Normal people just don't FUNCTION this way. They do better. Ughhhhhhhhhhh!"

Believe me, It's tempting to let this moment loom so large as to block out a million other moments in my life.

Luckily, as I get older and I see more and more what absolutely marvelous adults you've become, I'm getting better about that. I'm much more willing to feel the above sentiment, then let it go and see what happens. I can see the situation we faced tonight as evidence that my home is what it's supposed to be. A lab for kids to experiment and learn how to be an adult. And guess what? Being an adult is hard. Sometimes you do miss deadlines and lose documentation and yes, sometimes you do not win the prize. So, tonight one of you has been presented with the opportunity, cleverly provided by your imperfect mother, to dig deep, find your motivation and either be strong and solution-oriented, or crumble and fall apart. In the end, I can't really hold you together. You're too big now.

Here's one thing.  I'm just not a Tiger Mother. I know that other parents will think I'm lame, but that is okay because I'm only talking about our family's culture and values, not anyone else's. The thing is that I just never cared that much about you all distinguishing yourselves. Unless you really, really wanted to. I gave you opportunities and stood by, ready to be delegated assignments to help you get wherever you wanted to be, but it never occurred to me that I could MAKE you successful in the ways of the modern western world (which frankly, is so weird sometimes).  I cared more about you learning to live an everyday life that included the successful cleaning of toilets and doing of laundry and other jobs that have absolutely no recognition attached. I cared a lot about you learning to serve others and being willing to sacrifice your own comfort to help someone else. Sure, I wanted you to love learning and be curious and have a good work ethic and find the fun in developing your talents but not if it was motivated only by grades or prizes or clapping adults. I know that might not have been the right approach all the time, but it's what I felt good about.

I cared about you developing faith in something bigger than yourself and in understanding that life is not for your entertainment, or for your efforts to be noticed. It's for living quietly, diligently, helpfully, and generally beneath the notice of the world. If you look around, that's how most people live.  It mattered to me that you feel good about yourselves, but the path I put you on to that feeling was to give you hard things to do and sometimes let you fail. A lot of times, I was failing right along with you.

Right now, one of you is face to face with the faint possibility of a pretty big "fail" in terms of recognition. I'm helping and watching and waiting, but in the end, the final effort will have to come from within. It won't be your win if I'm dragging your unconscious, limp body across the finish line. You can do it, but it will be hard. The biggest lesson to learn will be that even in the unlikely event that the big prize is forfeit, the effort along the way is not. The work is still valuable. Really. As long as a lesson is learned. No, really. That's what childhood is for. Learning stuff you can use when you have to go make a living and be an adult. It's actually not for earning trophies or being patted on the back.

And here's another thing. I was clearly not the perfect mother, as evidenced by the many challenges and difficulties you've had, some of which might have been prevented by actions on my part, but the thing is it's supposed to be that way. It wasn't ever in the plan that you would have a perfect mother. I was learning right along with you. Who says I have to deliver you to adulthood in mint condition, new-in-box, all wrapped up like a present with a bow on top? Nobody. I'm supposed to prepare you, then let you go find out how to live your own life. That life lies beyond the scope of our nuclear family. I never was supposed to be your everything. Whoever put that idea out there to break the hearts of all the mothers who never could be, I hope that misguided, platitudinous liar has learned their lesson and offered a big, cosmic retraction. It's not possible to be anyone's everything all by myself. I was supposed to be a resource. And maybe even make sure you skinned your knees on a regular basis and had some stress and your heart broken once or twice.

And a resource I was. You lived in a home with books and music and trampolines and walks by rivers and game nights and many, many crayons and even more Legos and pet snakes and hamsters and frogs and cats and dogs. There were music lessons and sports and art classes and traveling and snowball fights. You were allowed to pick the flowers in my garden and splash in puddles and put discovered turtles in buckets on the deck. You had to help weed and clean and mow and vacuum and scrub and let your mother take photos of you. But you also watched Star Wars and SpongeBob and went camping and had a tree house and bikes to ride. I sewed shorts and overalls and made Ankylosaurus and princess costumes for you, tested play dough recipes for you, taught you to drive (I could have listed just that one and got my point across, just saying) and waited up for you at night.

Most importantly, you had love. Always love. You knew this little white house with the red door was the home place. The refuge. The middle. You were hugged and kissed and listened to and fed and clothed and sung to before bed. You were taught to pray and do homework and wash the car. You learned how to skip stones and saw the Grand Canyon. You were yelled at, then apologized to and hugged some more. We swam in waves and drove to lots of places and learned together all the best lines from The Emperor's New Groove. We laughed a lot and still do. Humor is one of our best things. I listened to your music and we turned it up loud and sang together in the car. I did cheer for you when you had successes, and I tried to be there when you didn't.

And you, the collective you, are the best testimonial for whatever my seat-of-the-pants, passionate, impulsive, love-driven parenting "style" might be. You are amazing. You embody everything I value most. You work hard and help people and build relationships. You hate to ask us for money even when you are in college and eating ramen. You are grateful for what you have. You have good friends and love to learn new things. You contribute and add value in your own individual spheres. I love to see your deep-down goodness.

Thank you for this ride of my life. This 27 years of stay-at-home mothering. Thank you for not giving up on me and for giving me your love in return. Thank you for wanting to keep in touch from far way and being willing to skype on Sunday nights and for sending me pictures of the baby all the time. Thanks for occasionally asking my advice and taking me rock climbing for working hard in school and for being independent and self-reliant. Thank you for serving missions and accepting callings at church and watching General Conference.

In the big picture, this particular time period will be a very small fraction of the whole of my life. But luckily, I'll be your mom forever. I like the thought of growing older with you, of our relationship deepening into friendship and a new kind of interdependence. I like learning from you and staying on top of what's new in the world. The intense, lab section of our life together is over (well, almost over, sigh), and in some ways that's a huge relief. No more explosions or the crashing glass of a million test tubes shattering when another experiment goes awry. No more fires from the unfortunate combination of the wrong chemicals. But we have our notes. We have the results and the tested hypotheses, and we can go forward, still learning, putting to use all the work we've done so far.

Sure, if I let myself, I can think of about a million things I shoulda-coulda-woulda taught you, but that time is gone. I did teach you all the things I could think of in all the moments since 1987 on my 27-year average of 3 hours of sleep per night and a diet of uneaten sandwich crusts and leftover mac and cheese. The rest of the stuff you need to learn, you are capable of and working on learning for yourselves. That is the best thing I can think of for you.

You wouldn't be here without me, true, but I wouldn't be me without you. Specifically you. I have no idea if we were "meant" to be together, but I like to think we've made the very best we could of the fact that we are together.



  1. Alright, tried to comment twice already and my dumb smart phone couldn't handle it. I guess that's what you get at 2am. Anyways, this is just really, really good. It's been a "parent fail" evening when my adopted "kid" siblings didn't get an official dinner and my poor baby vomited for the first time and my first reaction was "panic", not "solve". It was perfectly timed to try to finish things (and start back up on the anniversary slideshow!) and read this. I guess you can't solve it all but dang it, you can love them, right? Well written, Dee-mill! ;)

  2. Love, love, love this! As I'm just entering into some of the major letting go stages of my children, it's nice to see in print some of what my Mother-heart has been singing all along--and that it's good and okay, even if it doesn't look like everyone or anyone else's definition of success and accomplishment; that greatness doesn't always mean the whole world will recognize it, and that there is SO MUCH value in having a REAL learning environment in home/family, which means there will be a lot of ups and downs and learning to fail AND succeed. You are wonderful!


Thank you for sharing your insights!