Monday, June 29, 2009

A cautionary tale

We went to the beach as a family Saturday and had what was just about the most perfect day ever. The weather was ideal. The beach was crowded but not obnoxiously so. The occasional cloud rolled over us so we weren't constantly being abused by the sun. The kids had a blast and only ticked three or four other beach-goers with (mostly) accidental sand baths. We had a nice dinner out afterward--peaceful while the kids chowed down after spending hours working up their appetites. And then we grabbed a $2.50 box of Nutty Buddies for the way home and everyone was happy.

Until I got home and realized I'd done a great job of putting sunscreen (spf 50) all over the kids and Ron and myself . . . except for my upper back. I have my first sunburn in years and it's not fun. After Ron slathered aloe vera on me, he called the kids into the room: "This is why we make you guys wear sunscreen when you go out. This is what happens when you don't."

Ah, yes... look at Mom. And don't make the mistake she did.

Then yesterday my arms started itching. I looked down and lo and behold, I apparently have sun poisoning. My arms, stomach, back, and thighs are covered with itchy bumps. Not pretty. Not fun. Not smart. Another family gathering: "Kids, come in here. Look at your mother's rash. This is also what can happen when you don't use sunscreen." A collective "Awwww" followed. "Poor mom."

When you have kids, you hope you'll be a good example to them. I don't know how often we think about whether we'll be a bad example. Chances are, though, that we will be equal parts of both, like it or not.

My favorite writing blog is Murderati. The posts are generally very personal, which is why I like it so much. Today's post by author Peri Noskin Taichert really got me thinking about all of this, about how my kids will look back and remember me, about how the scales will tilt: toward Mom as a cautionary tale or as an inspiration.

The post itself was about giving up, specifically, giving up on writing when discouragement weighs you down. I posted a comment, and here's what I said:

Maybe we just need to stop revising our goals upward. I wanted to finish a book. I finished the first draft and cried because I was just so darned proud of myself for finally doing what I've been swearing I'd do since I was 12. And I've continued to write, sure, hoping for publication and working toward it, but when I start to get discouraged, I look back instead of ahead: I finished it! I did it! I kept my promise to myself.

We raise our children to be proud of a game well played even if not won. We tell them, "You stuck in there for every single inning." We ask them, "Well did you try your best?" And when they say yes, we say, "Then that's enough. Good for you." But we forget to applaud our own accomplishments, even if they're not as grand as we want them to be each time. Few people out there--writers, musicians, or "even" professors and doctors--are exactly where they'd like to be. But when they were kids and dreamed of what they *wanted* to be, they didn't qualify that dream by saying, "I want to hit the bestseller list at least a dozen times. I want to go platinum in the first month. I want to get tenure after 4 years. I want to be a world-renowned surgeon." Yes, we grow up and realize we need to fill in a lot of blanks we left empty when planning our futures, but I still believe we also need to embrace every small success, allowing ourselves our moments of discouragement, but also allowing ourselves an occasional "well done."

My kids all know I write, Simon paying the most attention to my progress. He read the first several chapters of the book I'm working on now, and he keeps asking me when I'm going to be done with it. He knows this is my fourth book. He knows I don't have an agent. He knows I've gotten plenty of rejections on my queries and a few on requested partials and fulls. He knows I've stopped querying and am working on rewriting the first book (my current project). He knows I get excited about writing. He knows writing makes me happy, makes me frustrated, makes me discouraged. And hopefully he knows I don't take the rejections personally, and as more time passes, hopefully he'll know I'm not going to give up something I love this much.

Ron said several months ago that he wants me to make sure the kids, the older ones in particular, are aware I don't feel like I'm failing.

And I don't feel that way. Even if I never get published, I won't feel like I failed.

Kids watch everything we do. And I'm okay with being held up as a sunburned example of what not to do. But I also hope they'll look back at their childhoods, see my occasional good moments, and be able to say, "Mom didn't quit"--not so they'll admire me but so they will know they should always believe in themselves . . . time after time after time. Because I believe in them. It's a family tradition.


Shankar said...

I think the trick is to build on our past, but not dwell in it like Lot's wife did. Elder Holland said at BYU earlier this year: "Faith is for the future. Faith builds on the past but never longs to stay there. Faith trusts that God has great things in store for each of us and that Christ truly is the 'high priest of good things to come.'"

Bobbie said...

I love that quote, Shankar. And the "not dwell in it" is the hardest part. Relying too much on what has been stunts our growth in all aspects of our lives, whether we dwell on the good or the bad.

Darla said...

Thank you for the reminder to be an inspiration.

I'd rather dwell on the good and teach that we can triumph over the rough spots. They are a natural consequence of this existence. So rather than dwell on woes it makes sense to share that in spite of disappointment that it didn't work out as we though let's see what God will make out of us and this situation.

Thank you.