I received one of the best compliments I’ve ever gotten yesterday. It was from my 9-year-old daughter, who said this week in school, they’re studying Women’s History Month. When the teacher asked kids to raise their hands and share a woman they thought should be included, my daughter raised her hand and said she wanted to include me, her mom, because “she’s been through a lot but she stayed positive and calm.”
I was not always calm. Or positive. I used to lose my temper all the time, about small things, in my marriage especially. (My twenties were fiery.) I had really big emotions about a lot of things, and I didn’t quite know how to deal with all that feeling. I felt stifled, at times, and frustrated, and didn’t know how to take a breath and relax. I didn’t know what was going on under the surface of me. So I often resorted to anger.
But I changed. I learned. I grew. I took on spiritual practices that helped me look at the world in a new way, focus on adapting and being flexible and being steady in the storm that was my life. I learned to let go, to stop trying to control so much. And I became happier.
Of course, instead of remembering all the times I’ve been calm, I usually remember the times I’ve lost my temper and freaked out. (Which almost happened yesterday, when I came home from work and was tired and had to cook dinner and drive my daughter to her guitar lesson, but was greeted by a bunch of debris from roofers that fell through my skylights onto the kitchen and bathroom floors. I didn’t freak out, per se, but I did yell quite a few times for my kids to “Stop fighting!” and I rubbed my forehead a lot and stared for a long time at all the dirt, debating whether I should just sit on the couch and drink wine and leave it all for later.)
I thought my daughter would remember my bad moments, too, and hold onto them, saving them up for future therapy appointments where she could blame me for her problems. Isn’t that what kids do? But instead, she showed me she has the magnanimity to look at the whole picture. She has compassion for me, her mom. She even admires me.
What a tremendous gift.
Parenting can be a really thankless job. We give as much as we can and try to make our kids happy. But sometimes either we don’t know how, or we just don’t have the capacity to give them what they want. My kids would love a dog right now, and a house with a yard, like almost all of their peers at school have. I can’t give that to them, and I don’t know when I’ll be able to. But what I can give them is love, and hugs, and compliments, and nicknames, and the gift of my own happiness, which matters.
I never knew if all of this actually worked. But yesterday, even after seeing me stressed out and scrubbing the floor, my daughter made me feel like my best is good enough, or even better.
When I got separated and divorced from my husband, I felt like an airplane with only one wing. And I still often feel like a table that lost some of its legs and has to lean against the wall for support. I’d been with my husband from the time I was 20 years old, and got married at 24. I ended college with him in my life, we started careers together, bought a house, began raising a family. We became adults together, and I was unsure how to be an adult without him. Divorce is hard, to state the obvious. And it’s not just hard in the early stages. Four years later, it’s still hard.
And, of course, life is hard. Work is hard. Other shit happens, and happens and happens, and that’s hard, too.
So, to be told by one of the people whose opinion matters most to me in the world, that she’s proud of me? That there’s something to be said for—not my hair, which is getting thinner, or my body, which is getting fatter, or my brain, which is getting slower—but for my composure? My strength? My attitude?
Suddenly, all of my hard work—in my most important job—felt very, very worth it.