“Most people are so busy knocking themselves out trying to do everything they think they should do, they never get around to what they want to do.” — Kathleen Winsor (via Leslie Fandrich)
Recently I’ve had several friends lose parents and other elderly relatives close to them. It’s strange how these things often happen all at once, or so it always seems to me. Rule of threes? Rule of sixes? It changes.
Let me be clear: I don’t like people dying. (Go figure.) I don’t have the easy comfort of a faith that suggests we go to some better land, or we’re up in the clouds sporting angel wings and dancing with our childhood guinea pig, as awesome as that might be. Though let’s be clear: if there is a place that one can dance with guinea pigs, I would like to go there. It might even be as simple as a Flaming Lips concert with some shamanic hallucinogens.
However something has changed in me. For the first time, when I hear about the deaths of elderly relatives I’m not just thinking about my own parents, but I’m thinking about myself as that elderly parent one day. That’s a really strange shift.
But it’s also why hearing and reading so many thoughtful reflections about parents from their adult children has been so fascinating. Helpful, even.
I think it’s letting me figure out what kind of parent I want to be.
Last week I listened to a friend discuss her mother who had recently passed. What really amazed me was that she wasn’t merely reflecting on things they had done together or memories they shared, but on the things she learned from her.
She could actually put so many of them into clear, tangible statements: She created a home that was the glue that bound our extended family together. She helped me understand the importance of hard work. She taught me not to skimp on the details. She showed me that if everyone pitches in, things will get done. She taught me about having a vision and sticking to it, even if no one else sees it.
It was incredibly moving. And motivating.
Of course it made me think about how my girls might remember me and the things I taught them. Not just remembering the books we read before bed, but that I always insisted we finish the Harry Potter book before we could watch the next movie. Not just remembering that we trudged out for ice cream on muggy days, but that it’s worth walking the extra four blocks to go to the good place. And by the way, it’s okay not to finish your cone every time.
I hope that one day my girls will say, my mother showed me the importance of grandparents and cousins and friends that feel like family. She taught me respect for my own intelligence. She taught me that you should never be afraid to ask a question. She insisted that we can speak our minds but still be nice.
I learned that bullies and mean girls are to be pitied–just before you walk away from them. I learned that lots of families make different choices but it doesn’t always make them wrong, even if they seem that way, and even if kids are allowed to drink chocolate milk every single day for lunch. I learned that it’s important to do your best not because you want an A, but because you want more options in life. I learned that when you cook, you clean up as you go along.
I learned that having a dance party in our pajamas is better than watching another episode of My Little Pony.
I learned that I should always be nice to my sister because we will always have each other.
I learned that she was not a perfect mother (and I have a list of 14 Thing I Will Never Do as a Parent to prove it), but that she was willing to say “I’m sorry…I’ll try to do better next time” and that’s okay.
And then it struck me how many of these things I learned from my own parents.
(Except for the My Little Pony part, because that wasn’t around when I was a kid. I am old, people.)
And so, the cycle continues.
Mostly we all parent by the seat of our pants, don’t we? I know I sure do. We’re so busy catching up, just checking off the to-do list (or more likely, not checking off the to-do list and just stealthily bumping the task to the next day then the next then the next…), there’s not always time to reflect. There’s not always the time to be mindful about why we do the things we do. Sometimes it’s easier just to blurt out a NO, instead of thinking, wait, I can say yes.
God, I sound so self-help-y. I know it. I’m sorry and I promise not to start linking to Anthony Robins and “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” any time soon. I suppose death just puts me in that kind of space.
Still, I like writing down the things I want to be remembered for. Hopefully it will help me remember to actually do them.
Is there something you learned from your own parents that you would like to be remembered for too?