I don’t know if you’ll ever actually exist, but if you do, it’s unlikely that we’ll meet. If you do end up spending some time with my daughters, and my name comes up, there are a few things I’d like you to know. Things about me, about who I am, and what I’m trying to do with this whole mothering gig.
I started thinking about you and your potential existence over dinner with friends — the first time I got to go out for an evening with my girlfriends (without toting my baby along) in 3 months; my youngest daughter turns 3 months old today, so you can figure out the reason why I haven’t been flying solo much lately. These friends are like a lifeline for me. They don’t judge me for wearing my sweats too often or for being cranky. They know how frequently I shower (or don’t), and they still sit next to me. They know my faults, my mistakes, my fears, and they love me and make me laugh anyway. They’re mothers, too, and good ones. Different from me in a lot of ways, with children different from mine, and I look around and feel thankful for them and their families. This is the community I prayed for before my children were born, a group of people to love me and my family unconditionally.
So, you see, I never expected that I alone would be sufficient for my children. I know my limits. When my husband and I discuss our family values, we keep coming back to words like joy and peace and creativity. And these friends, no matter how different they are, value similar things. We all get the sense that something is amiss in our culture and in our families if we aren’t cultivating those kinds of values, even at the expense of material things or social prestige. I don’t want my children to feel like failures if they’re not climbing the corporate ladder or the property ladder, especially if they can’t make it to the top of those ladders without sacrificing things more precious and less quantifiable.
I can measure myself in so many ways: my salary, my weight, my Facebook friends, my marathon PR, my library. Maybe those numbers suggest success, maybe failure, or maybe that I own too many books and my fastest races are in the past. So what? The other day, my family sat by the edge of the river; we were tucked away on a rocky trail. My husband held the baby as she slept, and my elder daughter and I built a nest for her little dolls. We watched the river flow by and the clouds sailing overhead, and my toddler said “It’s peaceful here, Mama.” She learned that phrase from me, and it made me smile. It was peaceful there.
The clouds grew darker and darker in the sky, and we hiked back to the car, just beating out the rainstorm. But we carried away that feeling of peace, and the joy of being quietly together, and the invigorating rain beating down on our car. And that’s what I want for my daughters — that feeling — for the rest of their lives. I know I will fail them in so many ways, yet I hope that I instill in them an appreciation for grace and love that covers over my flaws. So years from now, you’ll know what I was trying to do, to nurture peace and joy and creativity in my children’s spirits, so that they could draw from that well deep within and always return to that place by the river. I know I’m not perfect; we all get only one perfect Parent, and I’m clearly not it. But my love and my prayers wash over them, like fresh rain on the river.