Falling down the stairs when I was two – the day my mother died when I was three – calling my Aunt Betty stupid and getting spanked by my father when I was four – being very sick and crying and crying when the doctor came to the house to examine me when I was five – crossing the street and hearing the loud screech of brakes; looking to my right as a car stopped within inches of my leg when I was six – riding my two wheeler, hitting the curb and almost falling into a passing car when I was seven. These are the memories that stayed with me into my adulthood. They each have an element of crisis or trauma in them, which helped them make the transition from short-term to long-term memory.
But what of the every day kinds of things? Waking up to a sun-filled room - being held, bathed, fed – my head in my father’s lap while he rubbed my sleepy head – conversation around the dinner table – going out to eat on Friday nights – watching TV with my family in the evenings – being read to – learning to tell time, tie my shoes, ride a bike – going fishing with my father – getting ice cream on hot summer nights – catching fire flies. These kinder, softer memories were a part of my childhood, too, yet they are hazy like a dream almost remembered. These mundane, everyday kinds of events were the building blocks of my life, my understanding of the world, my sense of self. They were more important than the isolated traumatic events, yet they have mostly faded into oblivion, simply because they were so ordinary.
As parents we spend countless hours caring for our children. When women learn they are pregnant, they cut out bad habits and start eating better, knowing that they are eating for two. Many women strive for as natural a birth as they can, hoping to ease their child’s way into this world. Then the caring for this infant begins in earnest. Hours upon hours of holding and rocking and feeding and changing and bathing. Each new skill is applauded and recorded: the first time baby’s eyes could focus across the room - the first smile – the first time she grasped her toes – rolled over – sat up without help – pulled herself up to a standing position – crawled – walked – fed herself – said “mama”.
All of our caring and all of our joys and sorrows as parents are meant to accomplish one thing: that our children will grow up and away from us. Everything we do for them is to help them build a life independent of our everyday caring. Yet our everyday help and support and nurturing is what builds our children’s lives and makes it possible for them to grow strong and sure of themselves.
I remember my oldest son’s first few steps of independence. He would toddle away from me on his sturdy little legs, then look over his shoulder to make sure he knew where I was. At the first scary encounter – a cat running by, the caw of a crow – he would toddle back to me and grab my leg, needing the physical reassurance that I was still there, his home base of safety. Gradually those independent journeys took him farther and farther away. Still I was waiting in the wings to cheer him on, sometimes with tears in my eyes as I watched the journey that would inevitably mean he would grow up and out of my home, but never out of my loving support.
Step by step our babies grow and learn, and we help them to do just that. We teach them to take care of themselves: brush their teeth – wash their hands before they eat – put on a coat before going out in the cold. We help them through their fear of the dark – of the barking dog – of the big girl swing. We teach them to tell the truth, to finish what they start, to stand up for themselves and their beliefs. And the reward for our everyday caring is that one day they will look at us and say, “That is what YOU think, that is NOT what I think.”
They have thoughts of their own, ideas of their own, dreams of their own. Kahlil Gibran says:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the living bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The Archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so he loves also the bow that is stable.
We are the stable bows that give our children the steady everyday caring that makes them able to fly in the end to meet their own future, their destinies. Our constant steady caring, full of mundane tasks repeated over and over, makes it possible for our children to grow up and out into the world. Be proud of every brush stroke, every bowl of cereal, every trip to the park, every nightmare soothed, every scraped knee kissed to make it better. You are all my heroes.