Night after night she woke me from a deep sleep. Softly she called “Mama? Mama?” until she got my attention. I groggily trudged to her room while longing to crawl back into bed. As I entered she smiled. Her smile was filled with love, light and happiness. It was irresistible. It was infections. Even at 4am.. As I held her tight in darkness I learned the power of a simple smile.
This is one of the lessons I learned since my kids started arriving on the scene. Some of the most important lessons they’ve taught me have come through our most intense moments together.
When Marlee started being more independent I started to calculate all the efficiency gains. We could sleep later. Get out of the house faster. Independence equaled all sorts of time-saving territory.
Each morning and evening I barked out orders to maintain maximum efficiency. “Upstairs. Get dressed. Brush teeth. Brush hair…”
Day after day Marlee begged me to help her. Day after day I refused. One day as she verged on a temper tantrum she used different words. Instead of asking me to help her she yelled “Why can’t you just be with me while I get dressed?!?!” Her words lingered in the air. They stung. All this time she was asking me to simply be with her. She didn’t want my help. She wanted my company.
In that moment Marlee taught me two things: the meaning of words is more important than the words themselves and that being together is more important than being efficient.
While Marlee sometimes struggles to express exactly what she wants from me, Lila Pearl does not mince her words. I know exactly how much time she wants to spend with me and how she wants to spent that time. What I learned from Lila Pearl is entirely different.
Lila Pearl inherited my terrible sense of direction. Wherever she is going, it’s the wrong way. Yet I continue to follow her without even an ounce of skepticism that perhaps MAYBE it’s the wrong direction. Why? Why do I blindly follow her? It’s because she is supremely confident she is on the right path. As soon as she has her head set on her target, she stands up, throws her shoulders back, keeps her head high and STRUTS like Carrie Bradshaw towards her destination (or in her case in the opposite way of her destination).
Her confidence entices people to follow her.
From her I have learned to walk everywhere and anywhere with confidence.
Lila Pearl taught me to keep my head up. But this is a bit of a challenge for me. It’s not because I lack confidence or have a sore neck. It’s because at any given moment I am distracted by a thick fog of thoughts. My body is here but my mind is elsewhere. When Marlee or Lila Pearl tugs on my arm excitedly screeching about things they see and hear, I am snapped back into the present moment.
Every time this happens they look at me curiously, wondering where my mind had been. They urge me to look up and look around. They teach me to pay attention.
There are times when not paying attention is not an option. When disappearing into my thoughts is not possible..
Like when we are at the beach.
I approach the ocean with caution. Each summer I dip a toe into the water before I slowly inch my way into the cold. Meanwhile, Marlee and Lila Pearl gleefully plunge their entire bodies into the frigid water as if it were a hot tub. They barely notice the cold. “Hurry up!” they shout, goading me to get to the waves faster. As the first wave crashes over us I scream in shock as they scream with delight. Even as they shiver and chatter while their lips turn blue, they insist they are not too cold to keep playing.
They teach me that cold is not a deterrent to fun. This is an important lesson for a family that lives in the northeast.
The biggest thing they taught me – something Josh has been saying for years – is that having fun is just as important as any other “rule”.
This emerged one day as we were reviewing our life rules:
- Be kind
- Tell the truth
- Try your hardest
- Choose to be happy
As we talked about the rules and what they mean Lila Pearl asked me if she could add a rule. Skeptically I asked her what she had in mind. A huge smile spread across her face as she suggested:
- Have fun!
Marlee chimed in with enthusiastic agreement. Immediately “have fun” became rule # 5. Though to Marlee and Lila Pearl this continues to be rule #1.
The instant Lila added her rule I re-learned something that I have always know: that I am always learning and growing. And the best lessons are the unspoken lessons taught by unexpected people.