A few years ago, my daughter Stephanie and her children came home for their annual summer visit. Her daughter, Avery, was a toddler at the time and she was sitting
on my lap while I was singing her some songs. My usual repertoire includes, but is not limited to: “Ahhh-Goonk Went the Little Green Frog” (complete with facial expressions); “Round About Goes the Mouse;” “There Was an Old Sow” (also with facial expressions and various noises); “Popcorn Popping;” “Horsey, Horsey;” and “Kook- aburra Sits in the Old Gum Tree.” You get the picture.
After I had sung a few songs, Avery climbed off my lap and went to play. I looked at Stephanie and asked her, “Do you remember me singing those songs to you?” She replied, “No, did you?” I think she must have noticed my chin dropping and my eyes filling up with tears because she quickly added, “I remember you singing them to the younger kids.” That didn’t help. She quickly followed with, “If you say you sang them to me, I will believe you.” With panic-laced incredulity, I turned and said, “Stephanie. Before bed each night you all got to choose a book and a song! We would sing during the day. We had a ‘Pick Up Your Toys’ song and a ‘Rules Are Good’ song. I made up a song when you all were grouchy or sad.” I had to sit down. “Don’t you remember any of that?” “No,” she said.
Where did I go wrong? I had carefully planned it all out. I knew in the depths of my soul that they would remember and tell others about their wonderful mom who sang songs to them throughout the day. I knew it would be their favorite childhood memory; it would be what they would talk about at my funeral. During the funeral, they would sing the songs their mother sang to them as a tribute to her life of selflessness and sacrifice. Any mistakes I had made along the way would be forgotten, burned away by the shining memory of a mother who sang to them. I explained all of this to Stephanie. She, being a sweet and kind person, looked at me and said, “Um, I would be happy to mention it at your funeral if you would like.” This would not do. Curiosity got the better of me and I asked her, “What is your favorite childhood memory of me?” Her answer gave me my second shock of the day. She said it was the day we had a blizzard come through and it was really cold and snowy. It was on a Monday; it was supposed to be the first day back to school after Christmas break, but because of the weather, school had been cancelled. She remembered playing in the snow and sledding down our backyard hill with me and her brothers and sisters. Of all of her childhood memories with me, that was her favorite.
After the room quit spinning and I gained some composure, I explained the following: I did not like that day AT ALL. (Yes, “at all” needs to be in caps.) It wasn’t the kids, it was me. We had just finished a two-week Christmas break, which included bad storms that kept the children in the house for the better part of the two weeks. The blizzard that hit the day the children were supposed to go back to school was worse. It dumped 12 inches of icy snow and “the people” who are in charge called a snow day! Which, in fact, turned into a snow week, giving the kids (lest you missed this), a three-week Christmas break.
All that morning, the kids fought with each other. When I told them to “go play,” they would look at me and say those dreaded words, “I’m bored.” My response was to send them outside. The grumbling and mumbling would begin as I helped the children on with their snowsuits, scarves, hats, gloves, and boots. “Have fun!” I called out as I closed the door to complaints. Literally. They were complaining and, mid-sentence, I closed the door. They yelled through the door, “No one else’s mother is making her kids play outside!” “Well, no one else’s mother is as nice as I am,” I replied. But since I was inside and not yelling, they didn’t hear me. Probably for the best.
It wasn’t like I was sending them out with nothing to do. We lived in the Midwest, where there are no fences between yards. Starting at the top of our neighbors’ yard was a large hill that extended down to our back porch, making it a perfect sledding hill, creating hours of play.
We had a large retaining pond across the street from our house that was frozen solid. They could play hockey, ice skate, and go sledding down the banks of the pond onto the ice. There were plenty of things for them to do. Each time they went out, they lasted about ten minutes and then the complaints increased in volume. “We are getting frostbite,” “It’s too cold,” “No one else is outside,” and “We want to come back into the house!” You get the picture. And, back in they came. All the snow gear: snowsuits, hats, gloves, mittens, scarves, and boots, were taken off and put into the dryer.
I had peace for a few minutes until boredom set in and the fighting began again. “Go get your coats and things out of the dryer!” This cycle repeated itself for most of the morning.
After the last round of cabin fever, I couldn’t take it anymore, I proclaimed, “Everyone go get your snow gear. We are all (including me) going out to play for a mandatory one hour.” As Stephanie described, we played in the snow, took the sled out of the garage, and took turns riding down the hill in our backyard. And when the hour was up, we all went inside. After that, I let the kids put in a movie as I made dinner, followed by baths, bedtime routine, and lights out. I have looked at that day as a failure. I was impatient, discouraged, not really all that kind to my children, and when I went out to play, I didn’t have a great time. After about ten minutes I thought, “Wow, it is really cold. I think I am getting frostbite. There isn’t anyone else out and I just want to go back in the house!”
And yet, it was Stephanie’s favorite childhood memory. THIS was the day she would talk about at my funeral. She didn’t know how I felt about the day. She wasn’t aware of or didn’t remember the mistakes I had made. I made ONE right choice that day next to about 20 wrong choices. But the one right choice: to go out and play, made her day. After the shock of this experience, I asked the rest of my children for their favorite memories.
Here is a list of their responses:
“Mom and I sitting by the fire reading books and eating Red Vines.”
“Renting Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Part II and eating pizza as a family.”
“Renting a Super Nintendo and Mom playing ‘Super Mario Brothers’ with us.”
“Lying to us about our Christmas presents in order to maximize the surprise factor on Christmas Day.”
“Letting me pretend to be a fireman, archaeologist and Ghostbuster all in one day.”
“Supporting me at soccer even though she knew none of the rules.”
“Oatmeal baths when we had the chickenpox.”
“Singing us to sleep with ‘You are My Sunshine’ and other songs.” (Thank you.)
“Being an active partner to help us solve our own problems and teaching us that every problem has a solution.”
“Coming to cross country and track meets all over the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.”
“Taking me to Pizza Hut to get a cheese pizza just for me.” (A Home Alone reference, an Anderson family favorite.)
“Walking to Maid Marion park with Winnie (our dog).”
“Pretending not to know about our ‘sneak attacks’ on the presents early Christmas morning.”
“When I was in Little League and had to play a game without my glasses and I was so scared they would hit a ball to me in right field. Sure enough, they did and I could barely see it, but by some miracle, I caught it. You told me afterwards that as soon as you saw the ball fly into the air you had said a little prayer to help me catch it.”
“Supporting me in getting my Eagle Scout.”
“Buying us nets to catch frogs in the pond.”
“Signing me up for nature classes and letting me go exploring afterwards at Sippo Lake with Mark Varner.”
“The start of summer break family meeting where we would make lists of all the fun stuff we wanted to do that summer.”
“Every time I’d leave to go somewhere, you’d always say the same thing: ‘Remember who you are.’”
This list of memories reminds me that it is in the everyday that memories are made. Some of the things they mentioned I hadn’t even remembered. Most of the things they mentioned took no planning or arranging on my part. Motherhood cannot be planned and mapped out for success. Sing your songs, make your mistakes, and find the serendipity in each day. If you want to know how you are doing, ask your children, “What is your favorite memory?” Sit back and prepare to be surprised. Note to my children: I would still like it if you all sang my silly songs at my funeral.
Read more stories like this in my book: One Mom to Another: Be Kind to Yourself, Embrace the Good, Find Joy in the Everyday.