Wednesday, May 13, 2009

"You're beautiful"

Those were the words Ivan greeted me with this morning. I don't know why. I don't know what he was thinking about before coming into my room. I just know that at 6:45 a.m., lying in bed still, my newly chopped hair a mess, my eyes still heavy with sleep, I was far from beautiful . . . at least in the eyes of anyone over the age of 4.

I've kept a journal for each of my kids for quite a few years now. My entries aren't as regular as I would like, but I try not to fall too behind. I update them on what they've been doing lately, who their friends are, what they've enjoyed playing, what funny things they've said. I don't know when I'll give the journals to them. Maybe after college? Maybe when they have their own children? I just want them to know I paid attention, that I loved them, that even in a family of four kids, I always knew each of them individually.

I wonder all of the time what memories of their own my kids will take with them into adulthood, particularly what memories of Ron and me they will take with them, because there is only room for so many memories.

I remember my mom being tired a lot. She worked full time, side by side with my father for most of my childhood, running a bookstore. Then they would come home together and she would make dinner, maybe clean a bathroom or two, vacuum if she could find the energy. I remember my younger brother sitting next to her, his arms wrapped around her, and her saying "stop mauling me" or "love me a little less." She was tired, touched out, ready to just lie down alone for a few hours. I don't recall her losing her temper very often, and when she did, it was generally with this same brother, who could have made a saint weep. In fact, I think my mother could fairly be called a saint for not locking him up in his room until he was ready for college. But then again, I was only 2 years old than he was. Of course, he was supposed to annoy me, fight with me, make me scream and cry . . . and even bleed on occasion. I imagine his memories of having me as an older sister aren't much brighter.

When Mom would lose her temper with the rest of us, it was always as if she was ready to break but wasn't quite there yet. Her jaw would clench and she would speak slowly and evenly through her teeth.

Mainly, however, I recall feeling like we had simply worn her out. Did I feel loved and secure? Yes. But I also felt like I needed to watch my step or she'd finally break and run from the house screaming. I was a good kid--a really, really good kid--for that reason.

I would like to say the extent of my temper is a clenched jaw and slow and even speech. But it's not. I yell, maybe not every day, but often enough. And then I chastise myself afterward, afraid that's what my kids will recall. Their friends will ask them what their mother was like while they were growing up, and they'll say, "She yelled. I think we broke her."

What I would like them to remember is me smiling at them, laughing with them, telling them it wasn't a big deal to break the plate or spill the milk or get cookie sprinkles all over the carpet or eat more dessert than dinner. I'd like them to remember I never for a moment regretted choosing to stay home with them. I'd like them to remember they fascinated me and entertained me and made me wonder how I ended up lucky enough to be their mother.

And if they don't remember crawling up onto my bed in the morning to hug me and tell me I'm beautiful? Well, that's okay. I'll remember.


Ron said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ron said...

Whatever they remember about Bobbie, I'm sure it will be more favorable than their memories of me. My strengths as a father seem to be providing for the needs of infants and toddlers. By the time they can remember our interactions, I become too critical. (As I'm being with myself right now?)

Jenny said...

I understand. I worry a lot about what my children will think of when they remember their childhoods. "Leave me alone" "You never listen" and the like. I know my mom never really played with us and I wish I had fonder memories myself. Hopefully there are some sweet things for them to remember somewhere along the line.

Maryanne said...

Your journals for your kids sound great. My parents kept a family journa for while where they both wrote about funny things we kids did and it is great to read.

I fear that my kids will remember me yelling at them, and it makes me really sad. Thanks for your Mother's Day post too, b/c I really don't like mother's day or the heightened (unrealistic probably and unfulfilled)expectations it brings.

Brigid said...

If you don't stop making me cry at work, I'm going to stop reading your blog! :-)