A Thank You Letter to my Toughest Kid

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I never thought I’d write you, of all people, a thank you note. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? After all, for what on earth do I have to thank you? If there’s a debt of gratitude here, isn’t it from you to me?

But I’m reading “Field Notes on the Compassionate Life- A Search for the Soul of Kindness,” by Marc Ian Barasch, and like any book worth the paper it’s printed on, with every page I am propelled into an emotional tug of war.

“Soren Kierkegaard said we think a person who is loved owes a debt of gratitude to the one who loves them. There is an expectation that it should be repaid in kind, on installment, “reminiscent,” he says sarcastically, “of an actual bookkeeping arrangement.” Instead, he turns the whole thing on its head: “No, the one who loves runs into debt; in feeling himself gripped by love, he feels this as being in an infinite debt. Amazing!”

Was Kierkegaard onto something? Is it I who owes you for the privilege it has been to love you? For the way that love has transformed me? Shaped me? Whittled me down to the core of my personhood? Dared me to look in the mirror and see myself for who I really am– flaws and imperfections included– so that I could fully understand who YOU really are and all the ways we are more or less the same? So I could see how similar our struggles really are? So I could humbly take note of all the things I want to change about you- that I pray you outgrow- and clearly see they are the very things I hope and pray for myself?

Like a hurricane, you have torn through my life at times, upsetting all that was so meticulously thought out and designed for my comfort and enjoyment. My ease. You force me to regroup. Re-think. Re-configure. Your selfishness forces my hand to be more generous in word and in deed. Your frequent lack of concern for my feelings forces me to see all the ways I, too, am selfish and self-centered and want the universe to revolve around me.

Your strong-willed spirit requires so much more from me than I knew I had.  Your absolute insistence to do things your way instead of mine constantly reminds me that I do not own you. You belong to yourself and you need to live in a way that makes sense to you, even when I don’t understand, even when it would never work for me.

You would not let me be a lazy mom (if such a thing exists). You’ve demanded I be present. Involved. Aware. Creative. Much more thoughtful. Smarter. Clever. Strategizing and learning to cope with what I, in my piety, have deemed a difficult person.

For all the circumstances you dragged me into involuntarily that required me to get over myself; That obligated me to learn how to circle the wagons in loyalty even when my heart was breaking in humility, thank you. For compelling me to dig deeper and become the best version of myself as a mom, a woman, person, just by being who you are, thank you.  Because of you, I’ve seen the very worst and very best of what I’m able to be. Do. Overcome. Persevere through in order to give you more. More. More. More. Thank you.

You see, the other children are easy. Rule followers. Quick to listen. Quick to act. Wanting to please. They require so little of me, really. I can relax around them.  But not you. Your struggles. Your needs. Your unwillingness to just do things my way, dammit will not let me rest. They have driven me crazy with anger and frustration and grief and made me search. Search, search, search.

You have kept me awake at night, gripped with fear. Whispering prayers in desperation. Prayers for you, prayers for me. Holy utterings that one of us will somehow get this right. This growing. This learning. This becoming. And somehow, even though I am the parent and you are the child, it’s happening together. It’s happening to both of us at once. While I am trying to teach you, you are teaching me. And though I would not have chosen it to be like this– while I would have rather taken the easy road, it’s the difficulties here that are refining both of us.

And I have finally accepted that the toughest chapters of my life have always. Always. Always been followed by the best chapters of my life.  And that includes the pages with your name on them. And your name is on all of them.

I’ve always believed each child should secretly suspect they are their mother’s favorite; That I’ve done such a thorough job favoring each one of you, NONE of you would believe this is about you.

So if you’re reading this and do imagine it to be you? Thanks, kid. I owe you.

 

{Looking for another Mother’s Day read? Check out The Mosaic of Motherhood from a few years back.}

 

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Aside

The Mosaic of Motherhood and A Tribute to My Mom

1cdcdbb34620a8ee0bd579c09f44cfaaI hate that I have never written this post before.

In my head I have written and re-written it a thousand times. I have started and stopped. Tried and failed. Left it halfway. Left it undone, incomplete.

I cannot write a blog post honoring my mom and describing her because I don’t know where to start and how to finish and how to make it complete enough and accurate enough and beautiful and fitting so you get it. So she gets it. So it feels like I’ve done her justice. I’m afraid it will fall short and I will be sorely disappointed I didn’t exactly represent her the way I wish to. The way she deserves. (So. No pressure.) But it’s the week of Mother’s Day- which also happens to be her birthday this year–and so it’s time.

(But first let’s all pause for a moment to please acknowledge the big suck of Mother’s Day and your birthday being on the same day: Big suck. Sorry, Mom.)

And so… My mom. My mom and I think the same things are funny, which means I like being around her. Because, you know, it’s US.  And what I love about my mom is that one of her core values is to really know people– because when you really know them, you can celebrate them. She has forever ruined my birthday expectations by making birthdays such a big deal. But how fun, right? She notices and appreciates important life moments and then celebrates all of them. With surprises. And food. Lots and lots of food. She is the ultimate hostess, setting the loveliest tables I’ve ever seen. Because she cares. Because she wants to make life moments treasured and memorable.

My mom is a giver. She is rarely ever a taker. When people say she’s beautiful and then follow it up with the ultimate compliment: “You look just like her”, I beam. I want to look like her and be like her and love my kids the way she has loved me. I know there are no paths my feet have traveled that my mother’s prayers did not first pave the way. I know there are few depths my heart has felt that my mother’s heart did not also clench in agony or beat in exhilaration, too. There are few tears I’ve cried that she has not also tasted their salty sting. And there are at least a million smiles and laughs and memories we have shared with equal joy.

We sort of joke sometimes, my mom and I– because I have had a rather eventful journey- and I have needed her. A lot. Some weeks I promise to lose her number. When she hasn’t been holding my hand, she’s been holding me up from behind. I hesitate to start listing things she’s done, ways she’s cheered and supported, ways she has “shown up” for me, because really, there is no end and no beginning. I simply, literally, could not remember it all. And most of them are really not isolated, listable incidents anyway.

My mom has a way of just being. When I was 18 and pregnant, I lay in her bed for 3 days as she tried to help me figure it out. And when we finally did? She said, “Now it’s not a problem–it’s a baby. Are you hungry? Let’s feed you.” She was in that delivery room for my firstborn. And then for my second born. And my third born. Because there is no one who quite comforts me and gets me like my mom. She took the phone call when the news of my first husband’s accident came–and then had to tell me–and then never left my side.

Years later, as I faced a very difficult confrontation, I remember her charge:

 “You are woman enough to handle this.”

I believed her. And I still hear those words echoing in my heart. Someday there will be a moment when I say them to my own daughters.

My mom was not, is not perfect, because that’s impossible. But she was good. Really good. And twenty-two years into motherhood myself now, I have firsthand empathy for what mothering asks of oneself. Of what it requires. Of the ingratitude and relentlessness of it. Of the dailyness. Of the restless nights wondering if you are truly effing up this whole thing beyond recognition and repair.  (“Effing” I must point out, is NOT from her.) I understand the absolute treachery and harrowing exhaustion of trying to create a beautiful, meaningful, whole life for your children while you are still in the midst of growing and morphing and realizing your own self.  The continual sacrifice of one for the benefit of the greater good.

Mom, you have given so I can take. You have said no so that I can say yes. You have stayed back so that I could shine.

And so in the most poetic and exquisite way, there is blood on your hands, Mom. Because those hands of yours, your fingerprints– are on nearly every inch of my life, creating a mosaic.  You have taken your own cracked life pieces and my fragile broken shards– and you have helped craft this shimmering, fragmented life with me. Bit by bit. Moment by moment. Forfeit by forfeit. And so I am clutching it to my chest, this mosaic. And I understand it better now, seeing the blood on my own hands from trying so desperately to craft a mosaic for my own children. Big pieces. Tiny slivers. Jagged edges. Ill-fitting. Impossible. It is whole. It is shattered. It is achingly and devastatingly beautiful. It is mine. And it is yours, too.

And so I want to end this, probably prematurely, despite my best efforts; presumably  falling short and failing miserably, by saying the one thing every single mom on this planet wants to hear:

You did a good job, Mom. You did a great job. Every day, you still do an impressive job.

My kids think you are hilarious. And loving. And creative. And fun. I’m proud of you, Mom. Thank you.  And I’m raising my glass to you, Mom. My coffee cup. My teacup that belonged to your mom. My wine glass. My beer. My Bible. My apron.  My 13 X 9. My ice cream cone. My dust cloth. The leftovers. The birthday parties. The posters. The babysitting. The ball games. The report cards. The acceptance and rejection letters. The birth certificates. The death certificates. The marriage and divorce papers. The heartbreak. The hell. The happiness. The paid-in-fulls and the debts I cannot repay.

Cheers to you, Mom, and the perfectly imperfect mosaic you’ve created for all of us.

{If I failed in epic proportions, please let Michael Buble say it better~ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LoEWmc60wJY}