“We have so many ideas about ourselves and children are here to destroy all of them one by one. And it's also about being seen.”
-Zadie Smith, Interview with Terry Gross for “Fresh Air” on NPR
“I feel as though life is a spiritual experience...everyone has something to bring to this world.”
-Lila Smith, “About the Author”
There was the time that my daughter used writing to breathe new life into me. On this day, I realized my nine year old had seen me, the real me, and she got me. There was no need for explanations or questioning. Her messy, heart-wrenching scribble on the page spoke our entire story.
One of my good friends gave me a copy of “Just Between Us: A No-Stress, No-Rules Journal for Girls and their Moms” by Meredith and Sofie Jacobs for Christmas last year. The back of the book boasts it is a whole new way to get to know each other. It was such a thoughtful gift, and my friend said she thought of me the minute she saw it. I loved it.
My daughter and I were both excited and immediately filled out pages together. In time, this journal haunted me as a gift requiring work and commitment. Project! I'm not the best at following through on long term projects. I will admit, we have gone through months of shelving the journal, but thankfully, as the title says, there are no rules to how you must use the book. It is stress-free.
Recently, on a laid back Saturday afternoon, my daughter asked if we could write in it again. “I like this book mom. It’s a great bonding experience for us.” How can I argue with that logic? She opened the book to a page that asked me to answer questions about my relationship with my mother and then the opposite page asked my daughter to answer the same questions about me. Gulp. We are three generations of completely different women. I flinched to think how that might look on paper.
But as we started to write, my spirited, passionate, bouncing-off-the-wall daughter settled into her own thoughts and feelings. The page prompted her to describe what was “easy” to talk to me about and then what was “difficult” to discuss. While the first prompt made me smile, the second prompt robbed that joy. I don’t ever want it to be difficult for her to talk to me about anything. Suddenly, I was so grateful for this journal and the window into her young heart.
The next page was titled “Free Space.” My daughter was thrilled with the freedom. I wrote her some personal messages about our day. It had been a beautiful, sunshiny afternoon so I had all the windows open. I listened to her singing in the backyard while she jumped on the trampoline. I wanted to tell her how much joy that brought me. I wrote, “Always sing and dance like nobody is watching, Lila, just like you did today.” I added the date to the entry.
Next, it was her turn. She took the pen, and without any hesitation, she spelled out her thoughts in the free space. This message was her gift to me. She wrote that every time I wake her up in the morning she feels “rediscovered.” She is so thankful for that feeling, even if she doesn’t always show it. She continued, “Today I witnessed your love and care for Nana and trying to help Papa! You were truly amazing. Make sure to remember that when things get tough.”
I asked my daughter if I could share her message. I would never want to betray her trust; after all, the journal is called “Just Between Us.” She gave her blessing, but I lack the words or expression to illustrate the weight of her message. It was such a powerful affirmation of my work as a mother that she feels “rediscovered” each morning. It means she knows that I see her and invest in her at the dawn of each new day. If she feels “rediscovered,” then she knows I want to know her more. She lives her life so wide open, I struggle to know what gets through or what sticks in her heart and mind. On days that I feel more like a chauffeur and chef than a mom, I long to know that I am nurturing her spirit. Am I giving her enough of what she needs? This brief moment of pause to write our thoughts validated and affirmed the foundation established between us.
If I am thrilled to know that she feels that I see and hear her, I am equally elated to see that she sees and gets my heart. When so much of my time is spent answering the question, “But why, mom?” about every single request I make of her, it is nice to know that she is getting some of the really important “whys” in my life. Earlier that afternoon, she walked in on me going through pictures to use for my mom’s funeral program. These are the weighty, odd tasks that occupy your time as the end draws near for a parent. You busy yourself choosing songs and flower arrangements, building a template - careful to leave the date and time blank. It is such an ominous blank to be filled.
But my daughter’s written words yanked me back to the present. I am trying to help and be a supportive daughter, and that is the message my daughter has received and wants me to remember. In a time when I have questioned and doubted my emotional capacity to parent and nurture my young children while simultaneously caring for my ailing mom, a simple journal entry eased my worries.
In the eye of the storm, my daughter is a “witness” to my love. How I adore that she chose this word! I can hear it bouncing through the balconies and rafters of an airy, southern church. “Can I get a WITNESS?” Yes, we can get a witness. Our children will see us, parents, in a way we have never been seen. Just as my daughter appreciates being “rediscovered,” I can take comfort in knowing she is observing me in this chapter of my life filled with chaos and beautiful mess. I don’t need to be anything other than who I am right at this moment. She sees it all and gets it so much more than I ever knew. When it’s her turn to make her mother feel loved, she is ready and waiting, pen poised in hand.