As 2013 approaches, I find myself getting nostalgic. It will be 13 years since I graduated from college, 18 years since I graduated from high school and 35 years since my birth.
As much as I have been looking forward to the coming year and what it will mean for me, I have found myself reflecting more on what it will mean for my children. What milestones are in store for them? How will they grow? How can I help them? As my parents predicted, I am getting to the point in life where “someday you’ll understand” is actually today.
For instance, I understand the value of money. It was like watching money literally fly down the drain when my 3-year-old daughter poured my salon-splurge shampoo out to make bubbles for her rubber duck. “Do you know how many Starbucks treats that could have been?” I found myself grinding out through clenched teeth when I realized the situation. Images of lost coffee stand treats blended with hours sitting at the computer cranking out adoption paperwork for my clients.
In that moment, I realized that my first-born baby wasn’t quite a baby anymore and could start learning a real connection between hard work and everything that we enjoy. New school shirts, coloring books, fresh food and, yes, even shampoo, come from the hours Daddy and I put into our jobs. I never knew the time for that discussion would come so soon.
Realizing I was actually upset about the sweet-scented bubbles bathing the shower floor, my girl looked at me and said, “I’m sorry, Mama. I’ll never do it again!” While those words were meant to bring me comfort, I could not tell if my daughter actually understood their meaning. Was it already time for a talk about the value of kindness and understanding how actions affect other people?
As her preschool teacher has said, my daughter is exceedingly polite. She says “please,” “thank you,” and “I’m sorry” by rote when circumstances demand it. However, “I’m sorry. I’ll never do it again!” does not necessarily acknowledge the effect of wasting another person’s overly pricey organic hair treatment. Or how someone feels when he or she is knocked down on the playground. Or when the last birthday cupcake is eaten.
So as I toweled off my little girl, we talked for a few minutes about how to respond meaningfully when other people are upset. It was not our first talk about feelings, and it will not be our last. But it was an important one, as I could tell she was able to understand more than ever before.
Predictably, the last part of this scenario involves love. My absolute, all-encompassing, nearly terrifying love for my children. I now understand, as I was promised I “someday” would, how much a parent can love a child. I always struggle with mindful parenting in the moment. I was genuinely dismayed by the loss of my fancy shampoo. I clenched my teeth. I huffed and chuffed. We had life lessons on money, hard work and kindness. Then this little person, my perfect little person, wrapped her arms around me while we put fuzzy jammies on before bed, and I couldn’t believe I cared about that dumb shampoo for even a second.
I guess maybe that is the ultimate lesson: that we huff and puff, teach respect and kindness because we love them this much. These lightning quick moments of complete and fulfilling love for our children are what keep us going, muddling through the teaching moments.
In 2013, my shampoo-dumper will turn 4 and my mischievous, table-climbing baby boy will turn 2. There will undoubtedly be bigger messes, unkind words exchanged, fights over toys and other little battles that come with the toddler years. There may even be bigger worries — financial woes, grief and loss, struggles at work — really disruptive things that can create family hardship. But, despite what may come, I am confident that our family will be OK because I know the secret: that our children get us through these life lessons. Our pure, visceral love for them. Our need to teach and protect them. Our desire to keep going day after day, just to see them get bigger and stronger and wiser.
So here’s to another year of parenting, another 52 weeks of baby kisses, 365 days of setting limits, and 8,766 hours of loving them with all we’ve got. Cheers.