Lila is in her bedroom, twirling her fingers through the mop of hair on one of her dolls. I’m holding my teething nine month old and peeking in on her, sitting on the floor, surrounded by piles of ribbons, beads and plastic hair clips. The urge is overwhelming and so I obey it and simply say, Hey Bean, she looks up, a little startled and blinks. I love you.
She looks back down to her doll before responding back, in a tone that I’m anticipating I’ll be hearing even more a decade from now – a duh, haven’t we gone over this enough for one lifetime tone – I love you too.
I walk back out to the kitchen and tell Evaline the same. However, as she is a captive audience, I proceed to tell her how special she is and how it’s hard to believe but God loves her even more than I do. At this point, she begins wriggling and looking over my shoulder at the streak of sunshine cutting across the kitchen floor, a line drawn to my stocking feet from Lila’s open bedroom door. Fair enough. I put her down and she crawls quickly away.
I say it often, in the car, over their bedheads as they crunch through bowls of cereal, while I’m buckling them in their car seat. I repeat the three words, because of the hundreds of ways I say it without saying it that they won’t understand – when I’m changing their diaper or making their dinner, when I’m holding back hair while they vomit or telling them “no” to a must-have gadget (that really, no five year old “must” have at all.)
Today, I was inspired by a list that came up on my Facebook feed, by a blogger who shared the life lessons that she implores parents to teach their daughters. Good things (have self-respect, talk about your problems, don’t binge and purge them) and irreverent ones (don’t wear sweatpants or underwear with phrases like “Mike’s property” scrolled over your bottom, use plastic surgery in moderation, etc.)
Ultimately, it got me thinking about the lessons or thoughts that I should be repeating and working to inscribe on my children’s hearts so that they would have with them as they grow-up.
And so, a short list:
1. You have my love. Deeply and intrinsically, it is not something you can shake or scrub off. It is not something you need to earn or something you can lose. You are my child and nothing can separate you from my love.
2. If that seems over the top, wait ’till you get a load of this, God loves you even MORE.
3. Because you are loved, love others.
4. Give – whatever is asked of you or even what isn’t: the bigger piece of cake, your seat on a bus, your jacket if someone else is cold. Even more wonderful than giving money or trinkets or clothing- give your time. It’s the gift that no one else on earth can give, because only you have it to offer.
5. Do not compare yourself to anyone. Ever. You were not born to be a pale imitation of someone else. I did not carry you for nine months in the hopes that I would have someone else’s baby in my arms after delivery. I carried YOU. And you are pretty darn fantastic, if I do say so myself.
6. In keeping with that thought – just ignore the magazines at the checkout lane. Grab a candy bar if you must, but leave the gossipy how-to-lose-thirty-pounds-or-have-better-sex-while-still-eating-chocolate-and-wearing-skinny-jeans-and-oh-my-goodness-look-who-has-the-best-beach-bod insanity on the shelves.
7. Don’t take that credit card that they offer you when you start college. Just walk away. Seriously.
8. At the same time, don’t be ruled by saving (or spending) either. Don’t let money be the be all and end all of your purpose or your worth. Money is a tool, a means to an end, and in the end, it remains (in another someone else’s pocket) long after you are gone.
9. Travel. Lots. Do it in college, do it after college, do it with friends or do it with your family. Never lose your love for adventure.
10. Know that in a gray and relative world, there are absolutes. But also know that this is not a bad thing. This is not legalistic or entrapping, rather, it is freeing and comforting. Just as we set up safety gates to keep you from falling down stairs or outlet covers to keep you from shocking your little fingers, so God seeks to protect us from the things that would hurt.
11. Don’t take yourself too seriously. The world would be a much better place if we all just stopped worrying so much about ourselves or what others think of us.
12. Laugh a lot: small chuckles, but also big belly laughs and uncontrollable, tears are coming and you can’t breath anymore laughs. Most importantly, marry someone who makes you laugh. Speaking of which…
13. Don’t date anyone you couldn’t see yourself marrying. I know, this goes counter to the cultural wisdom of dating for fun or dating to “get an idea of what you’re looking for” – but save yourself the confusion and heartache. And if you find yourself in a state of heartache or confusion, proceed to…
13. Pray. It’s not just for before dinner. It’s for while you’re driving, while you’re sitting quietly and studying, it’s for when you’re at your highest height or lowest low. It is your lifeline.
14. Have kids. Of all of the things I have done in my life, and all that I have yet to do, I can say with certainty, that you, my darling little ones, you are my best accomplishments.
15. Someday, when you have those children of your own and they come to you and ask “Mama, do you want to see this super cool move I can do?” even if you are neck deep in work, the answer is always, always, emphatically, YES. I promise, their “moves” will be hysterical enough to be worth the moment you spend. And being reminded that we are all created with that same sense of uninhibited confidence is important.
We should all be so confident, spinning our free-styling greatness over the kitchen floor with smiles as broad as our cheeks can hold, at twenty, thirty and beyond.
And, one last thing. The end to this and every list I will give you. The end to every day that I am your mother and you are my child. The end to it all – I love you.
So, yes. I say it often. Because though there are so many things I would want to tell them, it all melts down to this one simple phrase. I love you & God loves you. Period.
And now, having spent the time to write this, I’m pretty sure it’s not for my children after all, but for myself.