Just before Valentine's Day, my dear friend Kathy Besser (author of the lovely parenting book Dirt & Sunshine) posted a link on her Facebook about a mom who was going to write love letters to her kids for Valentine's. I adored the idea and sat down that night to compose my own little love letters to my kids. I ended up writing them each a love letter that was several pages long. I penned at length about every little thing I just love about them, from how Gavin gets completely lost in his books for hours on end and is always looking out for the underdog to how Ellie is constantly singing or humming throughout the day and how gifted an artist she is. I spoke of every little quirk, habit, strength, skill, trait and/or gift that they possessed which I had quietly observed and noted over the years. It all came rushing into my head and my heart as I wrote and I wrote and then I wrote some more.
The kids love letters were unceremoniously waiting for them at the breakfast table the next morning, with little fanfare as I made no mention of them and went about my business in what is usually the most chaotic and hectic time of the day. Yet, despite the lack of focus on the letters, their eyes lit up as they sat, quietly and in complete stillness, without bickering... for ONCE, and each read their respective letters. Without having to say a word, I could immediately tell the impact those letters were having on them. My goal of letting them know how special they were to me, and to the world at large, as individual beings with their own special and unique talents and traits, was accomplished. I felt good about helping THEM feel good about themselves. I could tell they appreciated knowing that I really KNEW them. That I SAW them for who they really are, underneath the layers of annoying bickering and hormonal back talk that we've been dealing with lately. That I recognized in them everything that makes them who they are. I could tangibly see the effects my written words were having on them. And it helped me feel minutely better about the fact that the night before we had had a really rough night where my spoken words were not quite so kind or sweet or gentle or supportive.
I worry endlessly that I am doing this ALL WRONG. Being a mom, in an of itself, is hard. Being a working mom adds another level of complexity to the task. Being a single working mom is a whole other level of functioning. Or NOT functioning, depending on the moment. Not a day goes by that I don't lose my temper from the exhaustion of trying to juggle three million things and attend to everyone's different needs and keep the fridge stocked, the laundry laundered, the house clean, the meals made, the dishes done, the work accomplished, the clients happy, the dog walked, the kids ALIVE.... Yeah. Alive. That's the most I seem to be able to strive for some days. I just need to keep them alive. It's my mantra. And, so far, I've (thankfully!) managed to do that. But not without tremendous guilt about how I'm not doing quite nearly as good a job of raising them as I had hoped for when I brought them into this world. I had big dreams and aspirations when I had these kiddos 8 and 10 years ago. We were going to do huge all consuming art projects every day (we do lots of art but it's not to the degree I intended), bake cookies just because (I can't even get my act together to bake cookies for school bake sales these days), play family games every night (if I can manage once a week I'm thrilled), NEVER let them watch TV or play electronics (Bwahahahahahahahahha), and never, ever, ever yell at them. Sigh. Not a day goes by that I don't end up yelling, or talking through very very very gritted teeth and a slightly homicidal look on my face.
I know part of the incessant sibling bickering is the fact that they share a tiny room in a tiny house. And part of it is because of huge life transitions they've had to face the past year and a half. And part of it is just LIFE and that's what siblings do. But, admittedly, it drives me completely batty and brings out the worst in me. I don't manage it nearly as well as I should. And I get frustrated that everything I am doing, how hard I am working, the sacrifices I am making, the constant efforts I am putting forth to do the best job possible of raising my kids is just all in vain when the result of all that hard work is two kids who bicker and fight and give me attitude. It makes me question if they are even NOTICING everything I am working so hard for and doing FOR THEM. Everything I am nearly killing myself to manage, FOR THEM. I know they are just little kids and my expectations for how much they can actually understand and appreciate are not unreasonable. I just wish for, perhaps, a smidge of gratitude for the multitude of sacrifies I make on a daily basis. And when that doesn't happen and I get incessant whining and complaining and woe-is-me, it pretty much triggers some BIG personal buttons, to say the least.
But none of that was in my head when I was writing them their love letters. I just spoke from my heart and let the sentences unravel in the most organic and raw way possible. I let it all flow from a place of deep love and appreciation for my kids. For everything that makes them unique. I knew they'd benefit greatly from this little project. What I didn't know is that I would too. Because last night, when I picked the kids up from their dad's house after spending a few days with him, Ellie handed me a love note she had written to me while she was there. A cut out heart with a message and drawing on the front. A drawing that makes my heart melt EVERY time I look at it. And words that make it perfectly clear that YES, they notice. YES, they see me in the same way that I see them. That they are also keen observers and although they may not always be capable of showing appreciation or gratitude, they have it inside of them. And her written words in response to my written words were magical and meaningful in ways I cannot even adequately express yet. I'm still absorbing them. Letting them roll around in my head and make their way through my heart.
So, all this to say, mamas out there wondering if your kids "get it", questioning if they even NOTICE all that you do for them.... proof. They do.
If you can't read her love note, here it is transcribed:
"YOU ARE THE BEST MOM! Mom, I love you. for everything. I love the way we dance and sing together. I love the way that you have a good spirit, and how you make everything hapen (sic) for us. I love the way that you fill are (sic) house full of art. And you how really care for me. I (heart) you. Thank you for everything. I couldn't do it without you."
Never underestimate the power of the written word. And a little art. :)