Before You Fly Away
You know those teachable moments with your children, the sweet ones, like when they hold an apple seed in their hand and ask in that sweet innocent voice, “Mommy, if I keep this in my room under my pillow will it grow into more apples?” I often find myself thinking “Someday, I want to make sure I teach them about that..” but instead of seizing the very second right in front of me, most times, I just shuffle everyone along, and the clock on the wall ticks ahead, and just like that, the moment has passed. And as quickly as it came, I’ve already filed it away under my “Take time to teach your children” list tucked securely in the back of my mind, next to my other dusty, half forgotten lists like “What I want to be when I grow up” and “If I had a million dollars, I’d-”
I’ve recently been wondering, why is it that I feel I must rush through my day-to-day with my kids, always just barely present enough in each moment to recall what had happened in the one before with little more than vague detail. “Mom, mom, moooom, MOM! watch this”… Hmm? huh? wait, what did you say? Sorry I wasn’t really listening, because as usual, I am either distracted with a tech-time stealer, or, we are LATE– or trying desperately not to be. Does it ever feel like life as a parent has become just a series of one attempt after the next at avoiding being late to something? Seems I’m often just trying to get my kids out the door, finish their homework, off to school, to a sport event or birthday party, off to bed, all just barely in the knick of time; just to wake up and do it all over again. This hurried lifestyle is just exaggerated with the use of technology, making it easier to make things faster; including relationships. We seem to manage our real-life relationships these days like we manage our Facebook friendships: blast out information in short, sometimes cryptic code and hope enough of an audience hears your message to elicit a response. When was the last time you got an evite to a party? Or a Facebook/email invite? Ya, me too. Better question might be, when was the last time you got a handwritten invitation by US postal mail? Ya.. me too. Do you think our children’s children will even know how to handwrite an invitation? And so, it hit me. After my twelve year old asked me the other day as I picked him up from school, “Mom, what are stem cells? Do you think I could be a scientist when I grow up?” I gave a quick, vague reply about how I wasn’t quite sure what they were, but when we get home lets look them up together, and of course he can be anything he wants to be. However, truthfully, I forgot all about his question until just now. This moment I am in right now is as good a time as any to dust off my lists, and write down a few of my most important “Take time to teach my children” items that I’ve been storing away for way too long.
1. I will teach my children how to dance.
I never learned, and always wished my mom or dad had taught me. Sometimes, so much embarrassment later can be saved with just a little instruction early on. Dancing is the pinnacle of self expression and the truest way to tell a story without words. Its the only form of communication I am not very good at. Its also the only language created and spoken by one, but understood by all. Its like magic. I may not be very good at it, but I will teach my children how to dance.
2. I will teach my children how to dig in the dirt.
When I was very young, I remember digging for hours in our backyard near the hedges for worms, toys I may have hidden the day before, secret bug tunnels that led to little bug cities, jewels, China, you name it, I was set on digging to find it. The imagination is a wonderful thing, and the art of digging in the dirt requires both imagination and determination. And the finding of the treasure? Every glorious find with dirty hands and a pile of earth beside you, instills accomplishment and pride in the result of hard work. I will teach my children how to dig in the dirt.
3. I will teach my children how to care for plants so that they grow.
My grandfather, who had been a Rancher most of his life, and was raised by Ranching parents, knew how to plant, and nurture living things in and on his ground to help them grow up strong and live fully, with purpose and dignity. Once he moved into a suburban life, the Rancher within never left him. I remember being little and every day around 2pm, he would excitedly jump up and head out to their backyard to begin his watering routine. He lovingly tended to each and every tree in their acre or so of lush orange and lemon groves sprinkled amongst other fantastic botanicals. It was like heaven to join him in his daily ritual, as he first watered each tree, giving them a “little drink” as he called it. Then, while he talked cheerfully both to the tree and to myself, we’d water, prune and rake away debris and pick up over-ripe fallen fruit. He would chatter happily about each particular type of plant on his entire property, the taste and smell and purpose of its fruit, the care it needs, why its important for it to get the proper nutrients, and always, without exception; what “a beauty” it was. He spoke of each plant and each tree like a child of his own, intimately aware and appreciative of when it would bloom, bear fruit, grow a new sapling, turn to an Autumn color. He even seemed to intuitively know when one was in trouble and in need of extra help: bug spray, fertilizer, a blanket for the frosty nights. My Grandpa took the time to really know his plants and to love them. I will teach my children how to care for plants so that one day, with enough patience and love, those plants will grow tall and flourish.
4. I will teach my children why it is important to hand write a thank you note. This is a small gesture, and perhaps not even much appreciated anymore, especially by my children’s up and coming generation of plugged-in text-crazed hashtaggers. However, there is something powerful in using your hands and thoughtfully writing out in your own penmanship, why you are thankful for another person’s kindness, or why someone is important enough to you, to sit, stop, and thoughtfully construct a message to them. In fact, some of the most powerful handwritten thoughts can actually fuel entire relationships. I remember sending a love note to my first love every week he was away at boot camp. Back then, it was my only way to express how much I cared for him, how worried I was for him, and every single thought in between that might have come flooding out onto that paper. I was able to write vulnerably, and honestly how I felt, mostly because once you are 3 pages into a letter, there is no deleting a sentence, you are committed! I know as years went by, he told me how much he treasured those letters. He would touch them, hold them, a tangible reminder of my feelings for him, and a human connection for him to his old life while he was far away from home. There is nothing more powerful than your own words, written in your own handwriting. No text will ever, ever come close. I will teach my children to write thank you notes.
5. I will teach my children how to give away their shoes.
When I was about nine, I had a friend whose parents were struggling financially. How did I know this? Well I didn’t of course. But I did know that in my school you were definitely cool if you had new VANS shoes, and being a very fortunate girl, I owned several pairs. I would have this girl over for playdates, and without much thought to it, when she would comment on the pile of new VANS shoes in my closet, I would tell her, “go ahead pick a pair.” I can tell you, my mom would fume every time she would question me about why my pile of VANS seemed to be dwindling, but I would just say, “Mom, I know I have a lot of VANS, and I should probably not give them away, but my friend doesn’t have any, I don’t want her to feel left out at school.” At that point, my mom would end the conversation, but very soon afterward, when just us girls would be out shopping again as usual, I noticed that my mom would encourage me to choose not just one pair of new shoes, but two pair. I remember vividly one occasion in particular I told my friend after she was admiring my closet once again, “Pick any pair you want!” and she did. She picked my most favorite pair, the ones I had been saving, that were still in their box. I couldn’t tell you today what those shoes looked like, but I could describe her face and what it looked like when I said “take them!” perfectly. I will teach my children to give away their shoes.