What they’ve taught me


How is it possible that this picture was taken five years ago?  August, 2008.  My teachers in swimwear.

It’s not a secret that I used to scoff when I read or heard people proclaim that their children were their “greatest teachers!”  Whatever, I used to whisper under my breath.  How is that possible?  But as has been the case with most of my firmly-held beliefs, the universe has proceeded to show me that my certainty is both wrong and a little bit arrogant.

By some combination of years and the maturation of both my children and me, or probably mostly through the alchemy between those things, I’m now glad to say that I have learned an enormous amount from my children.  There’s no question, in fact, that they’ve taught me and changed me more than any other human – any other factor, actually – in this life.

First and foremost, they have entirely reconstituted the way I relate to the world.  I used to be in a rush for the next brass ring, certain that wherever I was headed at high speed would hold the answers to all of my overwhelming questions.  That approach collapsed in somewhat grandiose fashion in my early 30s and now I view the “prize” as existing right here, under my feet.  Furthermore, I know that the questions are permanent and the answers evanescent.  Paradoxically, children are the most stubbornly here-now creatures in the world and simultaneously the most unavoidable reminders of how fast life passes.

A few years into parenting, realizing I was watching my children grow before my eyes, I was struck dumb by how bittersweet being a mother was.  I had not anticipated the heartbreak it entailed.  The passage of time took a seat at the table of my soul and refused to get up.  As Grace’s pants grew too short and Whit’s shoes seemed too tight overnight, I was unable to ignore the incessant turning forward of my days.  I took pictures constantly.  I wrote letters to each child on their birthdays.  I started blogging to record the little moments of everyday life that I knew I’d forget.  Were all of these attempts to memorialize my days, like insects frozen forever in amber?  Or were these actually efforts to better inhabit these days, because I realized quickly the details only really revealed themselves when I was paying attention?

I’ve decided it was the latter.  Being Grace and Whit’s mother has taught me how I want to live in this world.  It is nothing less than that.  I have learned to look at the light of this hour, and now that I can see it, I refuse to look away.

But I have learned other things, too.  Grace has taught me about the power that passion has to light up a life.  Watching her fierce attachment to and fascination with animals has made me realize viscerally something I’ve always known intellectually, which is I didn’t have that kind of animating interest in my childhood.  I still don’t.  And I wish I did.  The arrival of a dog causes genuine delight for her, she devours books on all kinds of animals, and farm camp’s barnyard chores were one of her favorite things this summer.  She has shown me something else I’ve sensed but never been able to articulate, which is that deep sensitivity can be both blessing and burden.  When I watch her ascertain the mood of a room without any formal input I can see her empathy rise to the surface.  Like a heat-seeking missile she often goes right to the person who needs her the most.  I’ve also seen the ways this sensitivity can gouge her when it’s turned inward, when she takes things to heart that don’t deserve that or allows people without kind intentions close to her.

From Whit I have learned a great deal about how the world responds to warm and outgoing people.  He is often my front man.  He is not shy in the least.  And through watching how people interact with him I’ve learned how the opposite approach (which is my default) can seem cold and aloof, distant and unfriendly.  Now and then I take a deep breath and try to plunge into a conversation with a smile, and I swear that I always think: “what would Whit do here?”  He has taught me about the ways that humor can soothe and distract, and that it is often the very best way to change the energy in a room.  He too has shown me the way true passion can manifest: the boy is a natural-born engineer, and is constantly fiddling with Legos.  He’s now brought them into the bathtub.  I’m certain he dreams in Legos.  It’s just one way that his 3D orientation to the world shows up.

I’ve learned the hand gestures to a song about llamas, who Geronimo Stilton is, and the importance of having putty to play with while you work at school.  I’ve discovered that I love Bugles, ridden a roller coaster for the first time, and learned the profound peace that can come with curling up with a child in a twin bed at bedtime, simply to be together for a few minutes.  I’ve learned the lyrics to more Taylor Swift and Katy Perry songs than I can count, what purpose all those hockey pads serve, and that there are three sizes of soccer ball.

There is so much more I could say, but even writing this has made me think about how perhaps this realization comes equally from an orientation towards gratitude as it does from one towards noticing.  And that simply takes me back to where I began this post, to the most essential thing I have learned from Grace and Whit: being aware of and thankful for all the details of this ordinary life of mine.

33 thoughts on “What they’ve taught me”

  1. You have such a gift with words. The way you capture the beauty in the here and now of your children’s lives and life in general is breathtaking. I am so thankful I found your blog. I linked from it via 3 things for mom when you wrote for them. When I started reading your archives it was like reading from my soul. I too have an August birthday and feel too much and constantly worry about the rapid passing of time. My babies began kindergarten this year and feel as though it is the beginning of the long goodbye. I live northwest of Boston. Thank you.

  2. I loved this so so much. I had to gasp at th picture because those are my kids, right now. I can’t fathom that they will become lanky present day Graces and Whits… But, ah, they will.

  3. This is one of my most favorite posts of yours to date. I started to highlight some of my favorite lines and then stopped because I would have highlighted the whole thing by the time I was done reading. But, okay, this: “Furthermore, I know that the questions are permanent and the answers evanescent. Paradoxically, children are the most stubbornly here-now creatures in the world and simultaneously the most unavoidable reminders of how fast life passes.” Yes. Love.
    Thank you for this beautiful piece to reflect on as I begin what’s sure to be a very long day.

  4. First of all, that photo is perfection – the way he’s standing there with his hands on his hips and her sweet smile. It’s when I look at pictures like this of my children that the passage of time becomes so obvious. I wish I had thought of it more when they were smaller, paid attention to it a little more. But I was young and busy. And then one day it slapped me in the face how short of time I get to have them here, under my roof everyday. It leaves me dumbfounded.

  5. So very beautiful, that I am typing through tears. It is full of such pain and beauty the way our children reveal themselves for who they are, not who we thought they’d be, fully inhabiting their names, their bodies and spirits, and our hearts.

  6. the trueness of this piece is stunning (passing time, gratitude, lessons, presence). thank you for crafting what feels like a poem of parenting. will reread often for inspiration. love to you.

  7. Love this post! Your kids are amazing, as are their parents. And of course I recognize that fence/driveway in the photo! 😉

  8. Tears on a Wednesday before 9am here…. I truly admire the respect you have for your children and the humility with which you write. This is a beautiful piece.

  9. Like you, being a mother has changed me more than anything else in this life, hands down. I’ve always known this, and yet rarely have I taken the time to consider nuances of this picture, as you’ve done here. Thank you for inspiring me to reflect. xoxo

  10. I love how it looks as if they have paused in the midst of great fun and adventure, because they love you and know that sometimes you need to freeze the frames. Love, love, love.

  11. As usual you echoed what is in my own heart but in such a beautiful way that it seems new and brilliant and even more true. Yes my 2 boys are my greatest teachers.

  12. This is exactly why when my only child – the only one I will ever give birth to – asks me to lay down with him for just a few more minutes in the morning, that is exactly what I do. I know he won’t always ask me and I know I won’t always have the opportunity. And just writing this brings tears to my eyes. Thank you for this post.

  13. What a beautiful piece. Like Lara I found many lines that I wanted to write down by the one that is so, so true is that “The passage of time took a seat at the table of my soul and refused to get up.” I am so acutely aware of time passing now.

  14. This reminds me of the time someone said to me, when I was pregnant with my first child, “Oh you’ll love it, you see the whole world again and differently, through your child’s eyes.” My reaction, kind of like yours — something like, Errrr… OK, sure. But of course I’ve recognized how right that person was (so many times) as I discover new corners of the world, all becasue one of my children developed a passion for bow ties, or geology, or lemurs.

    Lovely post.

  15. Thank you so much for writing this. I’m glad to know of a kindred August spirit, and one who is nearby also! I really appreciate your comment. xox

  16. Dumbfounded. Speechless. Awestruck. All words I could – and do! – use about this adventure that I stumbled into without much thought on a February morning in 2002!

  17. Thank YOU. I know. When I think of all that’s going to be gone soon it brings me to my knees. And all that is ALREADY gone. Agh! I am crying now. xox

  18. Sigh. Promise you’ll be there to keep guiding me as I make it to the harder and harder lessons? Thank goodness for your gentle and wise example. Seriously. xox

  19. Lemurs! Geology! Bow ties! Yes. And also xylem (which you have taught me about) and space flight and dog breeds. And so many myriad other things. xox

  20. I often think about how much we can learn from our children if we take the chance. I love that my two, both very different, show me parts of myself that could have remained dormant. I love being a mom!

  21. This (like many, most, or let’s be real, ALL!) of your posts just makes me so excited for what is to come with my son (and any future siblings). At age 2, I still don’t know *yet* whether he’ll love animals or dancing or WHATEVER, but it’s amazing to think of what he WILL teach me. I can’t wait.

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