Monday, March 7, 2016
Is This All They'll Remember?
A smell can do it. Certain scents of pine and cookie and even an odd blend of the two.
Driving by a house at night with a light on inside it... if the curtains are the right color, they do it.
The smell of dinner cooking when the music for the evening news comes on. That does it, too.
There are a few things here and there that immediately take me back to my childhood in a second flat. I never know what the combination will be, but I can assure you that 99% of the time, the sensation makes my heart full, almost aching to go back to that second in time and be five or ten years old again.
I'm sure you'll agree with me that sometimes, in the day to day of mommying, there are seemingly months at a time where all we do is raise our voices or shout, "NO," or referee fights or dole out consequences for the heinous crimes of childhood. For me, a tough day sometimes turns into another tough day as my kids tag team on who's going to take the lead in the ever breathing game of Let's See What Else We Can Do To Change It Up a Little and it often feels like I have fallen into bed fifteen nights in a row frustrated. One particular day recently, I was having a heated and often repeated discussion with my twelve year old, and I distinctly remember thinking as I was in the heat of my monologue, "Is this all she is going to remember about her childhood?"
Such. A. Defeating. Thought.
As I stand in the kitchen in my two-days-not-washed yoga pants, my biggest fear is that all they'll remember is my hair was always a mess and I was perpetually irritated about the wet washcloths left in the bathtub. I fear that they'll look back on their childhood and think I was constantly irritated with them as people. I worry they will forever attach their mom with the memory of a raving lunatic holding a spatula and mumbling under her breath a language they can't decipher but know isn't a good thing. Or that they'll think I was too busy folding clothes or cleaning a toilet to sit down. I fear that they'll breathe a sigh of relief when they leave this house one day because they grew very tired of hearing me lecture about kindness and chores and following through with what we start. I fear so much that they'll look back at entire chunks of their childhood and think it was the worst childhood of all.
Because of me.
Will they only remember this? The stress of me working two jobs and writing a book while trying to give the best of me to them? Will they remember all the times I raised my voice unnecessarily because I was just so tired, I couldn't manufacture one more piece of kindness to give them? Will they sit on someone's therapy couch one day and recall time after time that I was too impatient when I needed them to get their shoes on quicker, or eat their dinner faster, or clean that mess up or stop the dadgum whining? Will they look back on their childhood and see me in shades of tan and gray instead of the iridescent colors I'll see when I look back at their perfect faces?
I can't stomach that thought.
Then I come back to what I know.
I know that my mom raised two very strong girls. We weren't the neatest, nor the quietest, and were definitely not the most considerate kids on the block. We made messes, created chaos, had temper fits, and talked back. We were as opposite as daylight and dark and both of us required something demanding and consuming from our mom. Knowing what I know now about being a mother, I see that she had her emotional, spiritual, and physical hands full. She had very little money to work with, having the budget of a pastor's wife. She had a high school education and was dedicated to being home with her girls while we were little. She was the class mom, the room mom, and the sports mom. We were her job, her hobby, and her very reason to pull every single one of her auburn hairs out of her head on a daily basis. Yet as I look back on my childhood, I remember the most amazing things.
I remember cookies.
I remember laughing until we hurt.
I remember lots of terrible singing.
I remember sitting in the kitchen to do my homework while she cooked, just to be in the room with her.
I remember the best bedtime stories on the planet.
I remember lying on my bed with her, getting the best advice about friends and boys and Jesus.
I remember homemade Halloween costumes and the best birthday cakes on earth with made-from-scratch icing every year.
I remember many heart to hearts as she brushed out my thick hair or braided it before bed so I would have waves the next morning.
I remember her greeting me at the door with excitement, asking all about which girl was mad at who since HE asked HER out and not the girl we thought he would pick.
I remember running home and into the kitchen to find her to tell her my one-day husband finally admitted he had feelings for me, even though he made me promise not to tell anyone just yet. I remember the happy dance she and I did together as we giggled like girlfriends and jumped up and down next to the sink.
I remember popsicles when I had a fever and sleeping in her bed when I had a cough. I remember comfy beds made on the couch during sick days and "whatever you want to watch" times when I was home with cramps.
I remember home cooked meals and tenderly packed lunches and Christmas mornings out of a storybook. I remember every single holiday being celebrated in grandiose fashion.
I remember so much love.
To hear my mom tell her side, she failed a million times. She raised her voice or got frazzled and lost her cool. She dropped balls and forgot things and even raised her overworked hand in anger a time or two. Oh sure, I remember some of the yucky stuff. But those moments are peppered around in a ocean of all that she did right. To be truthful, now that I am a mom, I get it... those moments of humanity that she felt. And in all honesty, those moments make me love her so much more because I know the kind of child I was and how many more moments of the worst of her I actually deserved compared to the best of her that I constantly got.
She chose me so many times.
She chose to be present in the moments that count.
That must be why I remember the things that count.
Mommas, you're choosing your kids way more often than you think you are. You're getting so much of it right. Give yourself a break. We were never asked nor expected to hit every piece of this on target. Childhood really is a big picture ballgame made up of little pieces of significance along the way. Where you're failing them and you know it, change. But as you're mapping out a winning plan, consider in the human factor. That's the spot where you give yourself a margin of mercy for your failings. That's the part that makes compassionate children over the long term. That's the part that takes into consideration the overwhelming heaviness of being the entire world to your children. It. Is. Just. So. Heavy. You're guaranteed to slip under the weight of that. And when you do-- when you find yourself standing in the kitchen wearing pajamas from two days ago while burning pancakes after you stepped in poop that you aren't sure belongs to which child or what animal and shouting at your children to stop yelling about shouting, I want you to remember three things.
1. What you do after this moment is what really counts.
2. They'll laugh when they tell this story one day.
3. So will you.
Go pour a cup and sip on some mercy.
You're doing just fine.