For the past two and a half years, my main focus in life has been to keep my kids alive. (And stay married in the process.) I had to learn how to feed them, bathe them, and clothe them. I had to learn how to treat an untreatable cough, soothe an upset tummy, and tell a temperature just by kissing someone’s forehead. I had to learn what to pack in a diaper bag, where to sit in a restaurant for the quickest escape, and how to change imploding diapers. I had to learn how to potty train, how to discipline, and how to sing the clean up song.
The first two and a half years have been about survival. For all of us.
But as things get more routine in our lives and as both my babies get older, survival doesn’t require as much concentration and attention from me as it did before. Lately, I have become keenly aware that the responsibility of motherhood doesn’t end with merely survival. That is just the beginning. The real role of motherhood is the quality of life we build for our babies. And that is a whole different ball game than mere survival.
I’ve been thinking about this blog post for a while, but I could never formulate the words. I couldn’t figure out how to explain what I have been feeling about this new phase of motherhood. And tonight I realized why. Motherhood isn’t a philosophy or a theory. It’s a relationship with a child that makes you a mother. So, once again, I am turning to my sweet baby boy to help guide me. He’s the one who made me a mom, after all.
On the first day of kindergarten, I am going to cry. You might cry, too. And that’s okay. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed of crying. Tears are just emotions leaving our body. So, if I cry when I drop you off, it’s just my happiness pouring out. And if you cry the first time your heart gets broken, it is just sadness pouring out. That’s okay because when you let those emotions out, it makes room for you to feel so much more. And that’s really the whole point of living, isn’t it? To feel things? You want to feel as much as you can, Bean. Feel all the good things – like happiness and love and satisfaction and gratitude and contentment. But be sure to feel all the bad things, too – like disappointment and sadness and frustration and anger and grief. Feel all those things and be proud that you feel them. Even if they sometimes make you cry.
I hope when you begin school, you learn that not everyone comes from a home like yours. Some people come from homes with different kinds of parents and different kinds of families, but they have just as much love in their family as we have in ours. Some people come from families that, sadly, don’t have as much love as we have in our family. And you may not know by looking at someone which kind of family they come from – one with love or one without. So, be kind to everyone you meet. Some children carry burdens that most adults couldn’t bear. Being kind to someone helps lighten that load just a bit.
As you grow up, opportunities will come to you. Try them all. Even, and especially, if you think you’re going to fail. Pick up a golf club, a guitar, and a paint brush. Sing a song, beat the buzzer, and sack the quarterback. Spend the morning playing chess, the afternoon on the soccer field, and the evening with a good book. Success isn’t measured by what you accomplish, but by what you attempt. So, attempt it all. If you fail, you pick yourself up, check that box off your list, and move on to something else. If, along the way, you are lucky enough to find your passion, don’t ever look back. Fight for it, cling to it, drag it along with you wherever you go. Passion is born by trying something new, but it is kept alive by sticking with it. Know that whatever you find passion for, your dad and I will find passion for. Wherever opportunity leads you, we are already so proud of you.
For the love of all things holy, learn some manners, kid. Hold the door for people, stand when a woman enters the room, shake hands and make eye contact when you’re being introduced, chew with your mouth closed, send thank you notes, give your seat to your grandmother, stop to help when someone drops something. Manners not only show what kind of upbringing you have (and your upbringing has been, is, and will be Southern and stellar, my friend…), but they show respect for other people. Be patient in lines. Be kind to janitors. Be appreciative to teachers. Manners acknowledge other people. They say to someone else that they matter, even if it’s just for a second in the middle of your busy day. Be gracious and polite especially when others are not. Perhaps no one has ever been polite to them before and so they need an example to follow. Be that example.
Be optimistic. Look for the good in people and in situations and you will surely find it. Life is full of bad things, bad experiences, and even bad people. You will meet all of those things head on as you grow up. But if you’re always looking for and expecting the worst, you will live your life with your head in a dark, dark hole. Stand up and look around. Somewhere the sun is shining. Somewhere there is kindness and happiness. Maybe not always right in front of you, but it’s there. Go look for it and when you find it, bring it back into that dark hole and light up all those dark things, experiences, and people. Sometimes darkness is there because no one ever turned on the light. So, flip the switch. Hope for the best and expect even better. Life will not disappoint, I promise you.
I wish all of these things for you, Michael. But more than these, I wish you this: Have faith. Live faithfully. Trust fully that the Lord has great, great plans for you. Know that as wonderful as all the joys of this life are, God is bigger. Know that as deep as some pain feels, God is bigger. But even though he is bigger than all of those things, he is as close to you as closing your eyes. Whenever your life feels a little out of control, just close your eyes, open your heart, and listen for that voice inside you that whispers, “I am right here with you.” Pray when you’re happy, pray when you’re not. Pray when you know where you’re going and pray when you’re lost. Pray when you’re thankful and pray when you’re angry. And whenever you pray, know that God is listening, even when it doesn’t seem like he hears you. He always does and he answers in his perfect timing. So, be patient and have faith.
Some days I look out into my classroom of students and am filled with nervousness and anxiety about you growing up. But on other days – on most days – I look out into my classroom of students and I am filled with excitement and anticipation about what kind of person you will grow up to be. You have such a kind heart, buddy. I can’t wait to see where that big, sweet heart takes you.