Friday, April 16, 2010

Legacy

Friday, April 16, 2010

The American Mothers Inc. convention is in NYC in a couple of weeks. I was supposed to attend and give a 3-minute speech on what legacy I hope to leave my children. I can't make it there after all, but the Illinois chapter of AMI asked me to still write the speech and send it to them. So I thought I'd go ahead and post it here as well.

I took my five-year-old son in for his kindergarten screening recently. The teacher brought him back to me after her fifteen minutes with him and said, "He did great. He certainly is confident."

With my first child, I would have wanted something different, something "more." I would have wanted the teacher to say, "My, he's bright. Have you considered having him skip straight to first grade?" Or perhaps, "You've obviously been working hard with him at home." Or even, "He's a sweet boy. He picked out a sticker for his little sister instead of himself."

And I do want all of those things for my children: I want them to be identified as intelligent and capable and certainly kind. But the longer I'm a mother—which sometimes seems like only a few minutes and at other times like my entire life—I've realized the most important legacy I want to leave my kids is a belief in themselves.

For my fourteenth birthday, I received two pairs of shorts from my mother, and both of them were too small. I tried them on, took them off, threw them on my bedroom floor, put my headphones on, and went for a walk, during which I cried and cried about how unattractive and unloved I was. After I returned home, I went straight to my bedroom, where I planned to continue to feel sorry for myself. But then my father knocked on the door.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

"I'm fat," I said.

"And that's why you're crying?"

"I'm fat and I'm ugly," I answered.

I prepared myself for a pep talk, for a hug, for reassurance. I didn't prepare myself for his disappointment in me. "You're my daughter," he said. "Mine and your mother's. When you criticize yourself, you're criticizing us."

Speechless, I simply nodded. "Okay."

And I stopped crying.

Because he was right, and I knew he was right. I didn't need the pep talk or the hug or the reassurance. I needed the reminder—of who I was, not what I was. I was George and Sylvia's daughter. I was a Givens. And that's what mattered.

I fell in love with a boy in college who proved to be terrible for me. For three years, I loathed myself. I was fourteen again and trying to squeeze into shorts that were too small, that would never fit. And instead of realizing I should get a different pair, I found myself believing for too long that I was ugly and fat . . . and stupid and dull and untalented and completely unlovable.

Then I moved back home, and in more way than one.

I began working with the young women in my church, where we recited a motto every week than began with, "We are daughters of our Heavenly Father, who loves us, and we love him." And there was that reminder again of who I was, and this time it wasn't that I was a daughter of George and Sylvia. It was that I was a daughter of God. He had created me in His image. And I had worth for that reason alone.

All the accolades in the world cannot drown out the loud shout of who we are, nor can all the discouraging whispers, the jibes, and the hurts our children will inevitably encounter when they're five, or fifteen, or fifty. My children can be smart and talented and thoughtful, and I do my best to make sure they are all of those things. But nothing will make their lives easier or more rewarding than the reminder that they have every reason to hold their heads up high because they have parents who love them and who believe in them, and more importantly, that their very existence gives them worth.

"He certainly is confident."

And I certainly hope so.

4 comments:

Liesl said...

So wise. So true.

Mendy said...

It's too bad you can't give the speech in person. I'm going to have to think about that today - what I would want to leave as a legacy for my kids. It's been hard to come to terms with the fact that I cannot control all of their experiences in life. I do know that I frequently remind myself of something I read in a Caitlin Flanagan book (which I don't recommend, except for this one thought): The only thing you can protect your children from is your own bad behavior. I think it's the best bit of parenting advice I've ever come across.

Shankar said...

Marvellous words. Thank you.

Bobbie said...

Thanks, Liesl and Shankar. I've had a couple of months to think about this and it was still a hard thing to pinpoint--the one thing you want to leave your kids. Mendy, the thought of protecting my children from my own bad behavior is kind of a scary one. It seems that by the time we figure out that's good advice, we've already subjected them to countless causes for lifelong therapy sessions. But you're right: it IS the one thing we can protect them from.