Children have been the constant thread that has woven through my life. I began babysitting at the age of 12 and was employed nearly every weekend until I took a regular payroll job at a restaurant. I became a teacher in 1992 and taught for two years before I worked as a private nanny and a summer camp counselor in the mid 90s. When my own children were born in the late 90s, I became a stay at home mom who fashioned a home learning environment that was totally child-centered. Today, as a children’s book author/illustrator, I visit nearly 30 different schools each year and interface with thousands of kids of all ages. You might say that my life’s journey has become a place where all of my personal and professional interests–art, writing and education– are focused on children and what is good for them.
I had a toddler and an infant of my own on April 20, 1999 when the massacre at Columbine High School occurred. My memory of this event is still so clear insofar as how I completely remember feeling at that moment. Raw. Vulnerable. Terrified. Last week’s event in Newtown, CT brings all those feelings back and, because, tragically, our country has seen this type of drama replayed more times now than we can almost bear to withstand, we are left with the additional feeling of utter helplessness.
I’d once heard Maya Angelou discuss parenthood and, in an interview, she revealed her somewhat irrational fear that, as a young mother, she was afraid that someone would see her son’s perfection and want to steal it away from her. As a new mother, I, too, became obsessed with the notion that someone would see my boys, sneak into the house at night and take my babies out of their cribs and so I never left their windows open when they slept. While time continually brings new anxieties and fears for us parents, despite the age of our children, my “babies” are now man-sized boys–young men, actually–who now would, instead, protect their mom from harm.
What I have come to realize in all these years is that the emotional tradeoff that parenting brings is truly profound. On the one hand, the world becomes this place to constantly monitor on behalf these little beings. Vacations at the seaside, for example, are an exhausting exercise in lifeguarding, trips to a crowded place with friends are a day full of repetitive head counting and visits to the supermarket are a never-ending and dizzying nutritional analysis– a mind full of every disease that could come from any food product in the universe. School conferences bring worries of appropriate development, adolescence ushers in concerns about sex and drugs and young adulthood often reveals how we, as parents, have completely failed and missed the mark in every way possible at this crazy job of being moms and dads. There are days when I wonder, curiously, what it must feel like to be a grownup and be childless, to not wear you heart, liver and pancreas on your sleeve, to not have to endlessly care for the lives of human beings other than our selves. There must be a certain freedom in that state.
But, there is the other hand, of course, and it is a really good hand–a full house, a royal flush. Because I believe that parenthood brings immeasurable joy and an inexplainable soul-bond that, truly, can only be understood by the initiated. It is a colossal and cosmic gift to witness the daily existence of an infant, to be privileged enough to watch them as they grow and reach the milestones that, over the years, transform them into people we would choose as our friends even if they weren’t our children, and to be a VIP audience member at a show that constantly delivers an unexpected mix of drama, comedy and action/adventure. Parenthood has changed me in ways that I could never have expected and I will gladly wear all of my internal organs on both of my sleeves to receive the gifts that come from being a mother. It is certainly the accomplishment in life that I am most proud of and has taught me so many things about the human condition.
And, so, while the world fixes its gaze on the inexplicable horror that is continuing to unfold, while we all search our minds for an explanation that we know, if we are honest with our selves, will never come and will never be enough, while we dig deep for ways to endure the grief that can never completely go away, I would like to propose a reframe. This is in no way an attempt to diminish the events or to imply that we abandon our feelings of sadness and grief but instead that, in this season of gift-giving, we consider the notion that we might be inspired to take note of the gifts that children bring to us–both to parents and non-parents–through their simply being children.
What gifts have you received from children? Today, please use the comment section here at 52 Mondays to share with others how children have gifted you in your life.
My heart breaks for the community of Newtown. Have a beautiful and blessed week, my Friends.
TRY THIS WEEK: Acknowledge the gifts you have already received.