It’s been a seven year tradition: our annual ski trip with two other families. Typically, we ski two days and then visit the local shops or hang out at the rental home one day. This year, we headed into the town of Harbor Springs, Mich., to browse the shops. The first store we walked into was a Paris-inspired boutique with lovely home accessories, clothing and handbags. My friends oohed and ahhed over the cute centerpieces, candles and clothing, while I barely made it two feet inside the doorway. On the table at the entrance was a book titled, “Notes to my Son Before You Go,” by Vesna M. Bailey.
The cover had a beautiful black and white photo of a young boy, standing on some drift wood at the beach. Inside were more stunning photos along with words that the author had both collected from various sources and written herself. Her goal, she said, was to impart wisdom to her son before he leaves home.
My mind went to that place. You know the place. That place where you start to compare yourself on the universal meter of mothering perfection and realize you are nowhere near the perfect mark. You panic, realizing you have not imparted the wisdom or advice that this author has so painstakingly shared with her son. Then a deeper panic sets in when you realize you have only two more years to come up with all of the inspiring, motivating, loving, guiding words to bestow on your child.
And you have nothing. If he were in front of you at that very moment, you would probably stutter or perhaps you might mutter something like, “Don’t forget to put on clean underwear,” or “Treat others as you want to be treated.” But nothing near the definition of wise or inspiring fires across your synapses. And YOU ONLY HAVE TWO YEARS to come up with something good. With words that will really mean something. With catch phrases, meaningful quotes, life-saving advice.
I clutched the book to my heart as I walked, panic-stricken, around the store. I hoped that if I hung on tight enough, the words would pour off the pages and into my bloodstream right up to my brain where I would store every bit of information. Then I would be able to share it piece by piece with my boys. Yes, I would buy this book, read it cover-to-cover and recite the words to my boys until I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that they were ready to leave home – prepared to be Godly, kind, healthy, well-adjusted, peaceful, strong, joyful leaders of the universe.
Then something happened in between my friend trying on a blue and white striped sweater and her decision to buy a gigantic handbag. I loosened my grip on the book, walked over to the table where I found it and put it down.
Reason had kicked Panic’s butt. Reason told me that I didn’t need someone else’s words to help prepare my boys to leave home. I wasn’t failing as a mother just because I hadn’t written a book of clever phrases or gathered famous quotes.
What my boys needed was what they were getting. What they are getting: Love, prayers, stability (yes, even post-divorce), and tradition to name a few. After I put the book down, I headed to the next store with my head held high. I’m far from perfect in the realm of motherhood, but I am confident that with all the mistakes I make, I’m doing some things right.
Things like providing experiences that will be remembered far beyond the words I may recite to them from a book I picked up one vacation. No, instead I want to impart pictures of grace, love, laughter and belonging in their minds.
So, for example, over Christmas break when they asked to go sledding one night at 9:30 p.m., I said yes. So we donned the snow pants, the boots, the hats and gloves, and threw the sleds in the back of the Suburban. And when the house looked like it had vomited Christmas gifts and wrapping paper after two weeks at home, I let it go until it was time to restore order before heading back to school. And when they asked to take a road trip to the lake with their friends, I set aside my day of reading and writing and loaded the car with warm clothes, junk food and a few friends… because these are the times they’ll remember.
These are the memories we create so that one day, whether any of us actually writes them down, or we simply store them in our hearts and minds, we will write our own book. A book that will serve these boys far beyond the time they leave this home. A book that will not be a generic, store-bought version of nice quotes and generic photos but a book born of personal experiences and treasured stories.