I recently came across a letter I wrote to my daughter on her college graduation in May 2012. As I re-read it, I was reminded of how happy I am that I didn’t repeat history, that I made a deliberate departure from my own “no talk, no feel” family. I often take myself to task for the things I didn’t do for my children and the imperfect examples I set for them. I don’t often think about what I did right. This is one thing I did right. I have copied part of the letter below, just a paragraph. To most readers, this little paragraph might seem commonplace. For me it was anything but. It makes me happy that with all my flaws, all of my struggles, my addictive behavior, my hospitalizations and the staggering absence of any innate sense of how to be a mother, I still managed to pull a few things off, like this paragraph.
“Well, baby, you’ve done it and you’re ready to launch. You know in your heart what you want and what makes you happy, and don’t you ever listen for a single second to any voice that tells you anything different than what’s in your heart and in your gut. You already have a gift for translating how deeply you care about people into action—keep it up. I know that there is a dilemma when you are told to “do the work that you love” but that work doesn’t look like it will earn enough money for you to do and enjoy the things you desire. I think the important thing is to make sure that there is enough satisfaction in whatever job you do that you enjoy getting up and tackling each new day. I don’t have to tell you that the relationships you have with people are and will always be the most important thing in life and that nurturing and maintaining those relationships will in turn feed your soul; you already know that. I am proud of you all of the time, every minute. Be proud of yourself. I love you.”
I also know that I pulled one other major thing off. Whatever my children thought of me, however worried and upset and disappointed they may have been during my really awful years (2007-2010 if you want to be generous to me, 2000-2010 if you want to be more accurate), nothing I could have ever done or will ever do will match the impact of them seeing me turn my life around. For that I am forever grateful. If there was ever a case of teaching by doing, that was it. Nobody would have wanted my life to go the way it did, but if it had to, at least there were some side benefits to my crashing/burning/phoenix rising progression. Like most things with me, motherhood has not looked like the typical package, far from it, but I suspect that what my children have gained from me has exceeded what they otherwise lost.