when I lament the things I haven’t taught my daughter

. . . as I speak aloud these inherited loves, I realize the most important things I’ve learned from my mom never came from an actual lesson at all but from a life . . . and that the learning is still going on today.

I have tried to write about other things.

I have a backlog of posts, somewhere near forty now, that wait, undone, until an appropriate time.

They are thoughts from another time of life . . . years ago, months ago . . . a time I feel disconnected from today. . .

Today, I record my tears in a book and go on with the business of being and doing.

This life transition is hard. As hard as ever I expected.

No matter what I tell myself — that it is good, that the way has been made and marked out so clearly (which is more than I could have ever asked or imagined) the ache I’ve stuffed has surfaced. And the days are indeed evil.

Every moment matters now. And I despise myself when I waste one.

Sometimes I wonder if I am just not strong enough to face the sadness in life.

I try to avoid this sort of pain most of the time. I carefully give pieces of my heart to certainty.

In six weeks a five-foot-one-inch tall gigantic piece of my heart will leave home for college.

I am proud of her, excited for her, worried, sad and empty all at once.

* * * * *

I am taking apart the boards of photos from her graduation party and recital. The month has passed so quickly.

The little face on shiny paper in my hand speaks to me in her tiny, high-pitched cartoon voice of cats, and flowers, and dresses, and stories, and baby brothers . . .

. . . I wonder sometimes if it would not be so painful to let go of our children if we did not capture their souls and preserve them in time, treasuring what they were and not what they are . . .

Because the reality is, I am thankful for the woman she has become. I do not really want her to be the baby again, the toddler, the third grader, the middle schooler . . . but the pictures tell me I do.

* * * * *

Two weeks ago, it started.

I awakened with a gasp in the night. This is happening. She is leaving us.

It’s in the night-time that the regret pours out of me.

In the darkness, I beat myself for every moment of imperfect parenting. For all the things left untaught or unlearned. Every failure, every falling short, rushes to my head the moment I lie down. I have not been the example of hospitality, of devotion to church, of selfless ministry, of making time for friends, of deep connection and constant communication with family . . .

* * * * *

Last Sunday night, I put away my work after midnight and headed to bed.

Maybe if I exhaust myself, I will fall right to sleep, unconscious of ache.

But the last thing I read as I laid down was a message from my mom. And I think about her and how this night must be hard for her, too. My sister was on her way to Washington, and now all her children will live more than a thousand miles away.

I thought about my mom and the leaving and the letting go. And how many times through our lives she has done that with all four of her children.

And all week I have been thinking about how I love my mom more as my children get older.

More than I did when I so excitedly rushed off to college. More than when we fought about wedding plans. More even than the day my only daughter was born, and I grieved the day an ungrateful word would come out of that sweet six pound piece of heaven — and they would if there was any justice for mothers . . .

* * * * *

I remember clearly the day my mother lamented that she had not taught me how to cook.

“I am sending you out into the world and I’ve never taught you these things!” she said.

I assured her I would be fine. And I have been. I could write a chapter on all the cooking lessons I’ve learned from her that she never directly taught me. . .

We were driving last Monday, my daughter and me. And something reminded us of my mom.

Wonderful things about my mother came to my mind and I said them aloud. We laughed at how much Katie is so much like her.

And then I said some things I have learned from my mom. The loving of babies and husband and cats and books and family and food and musicals and color and gardens and garage sales and farms and sunflowers and seashells and teacups and sunshine and generosity and morality and God.

And as I speak aloud these inherited loves, I realize the most important things I’ve learned from my mom never came from an actual lesson at all but from a life . . . and that the learning is still going on today.

* * * * *

She was just here, my mom.

Last month, my mom and dad drove a thousand miles to witness my daughter’s graduation from high school. They worked all weekend alongside me, preparing for Katie’s big recital and party. They printed programs, did laundry, fixed a toilet, shopped for groceries — and they had to be tired. My mom and I stayed up late making cheesecakes and ran late on the day of the recital attempting to gracefully frost petit fours that I had cut incongruously.

Apparently we are still learning cooking . . . my mom and I together.

Learning from my mother did not end when I left home.

* * * * *

I am grateful for this lesson. A lesson my mom never spoke:

I will always be Katie’s mother. And she will always be my daughter.

She will be influenced by who I become as much as by who I was. 

And gratitude for God’s mercy and grace for what our relationship can be gives me peace.

* * * * *

Twenty-six years ago, my mom took me to college. Not many months later, she went back to the other side of the world.

We had only letters back then. No phone (not in my dorm room and not in their house in Bangladesh). No email. And the letters took weeks.

I marvel at how my mom was able to do that. And I will think about her a million times this year. And maybe I will get better at calling and not just thinking.

I still have so much to learn.

* * * * *