A man would do nothing if he waited until he could do it so well that no one could find fault.
~ John Henry Newman
Divorce can sometimes feel like a dagger to the vision you had of childhood for your kids. Once you erase the picket fence from that image, the rest of the dream seems to melt away with it. We all know that childhood is fleeting. But how do you know what the most important parts are? How do you know what you NEED to get right so you don’t mess them up? How do you ensure they look back on childhood with nostalgia and happy memories?
There was a field by the house I grew up in that I used to play in for hours. It was small and far from idyllic…a semi-truck parking lot backed right up to it. But I loved walking through the tall grass and catching grasshoppers in the summer and riding my bike on the little trail that ran through it with my friends. When I think on the happiest parts of my childhood, I think of the block I grew up on…the neighbors that felt like family…our giant weeping willow tree…and that field.
When I pictured having my own kids one day, I could see them running through a field like mine.
Then I became a single mom.
And when we had to leave our home, I rented a house in an area I wasn’t exactly excited about.
But it was just temporary, right?
We just needed to get through a year or two of hard and their childhood could resume and we’d be normal again…
I didn’t believe you could form a beautiful childhood as a single parent.
But on a Mother’s Day, when I was struggling much like I was here, I sat at the park behind our house watching my kids play and was struck with the overwhelming realization that this was the only Mother’s Day my little broken-armed baby girl would be three. As my kids ran through the field picking dandelions that afternoon I saw in their pure joy that this field was THEIR FIELD.
THIS was their childhood.
I ran home and quickly wrote it on a piece of construction paper and taped it to my bathroom mirror so I was forced to remember every day.
THIS is their childhood. It’s the only one they get.
There are 18 Christmases and Halloweens and Mother’s Days, God willing, in each childhood. Once they’re spent, I won’t be able to go back and re-create Christmas Morning of their 8th year and I don’t get an extra shot at making memories just because I’m a single mom. There’s an elusive number of lazy Saturday mornings and nights cuddled up in bed reading books together. The days are long but the years are short. I don’t remember it of course, but there was a last day I vacuumed Cheerios out of the corners of my car.
Their childhood memories may well be very different from my own. We don’t play board games or read the bible as often as we should and dear God I can’t remember the last time I busted out the rosary. Most days feel hurried and over the top and I spend mountains of energy to make sure normal things happen. But that ultimately isn’t what makes a childhood.
Childhood is formed in the mundane and the ordinary. If I can look past the white picket fence and see the children on the other side, I can appreciate that they never noticed the fence in the first place.
If you take away the cable television and the electronics, you’ll see that their entire childhood is wrapped up in marveling at the ordinary.
So yeah our rental house may feel inadequate and small and the lengths I go through to get a tree in it every year and lights hung is completely ridiculous. It takes every ounce of humility I have to celebrate holidays a day or two early or late on years I don’t have my kids…but still, we make memories.
And yeah those things may eat at the selfish parts of me all the rest of my days, but they aren’t what my kids will remember….
They’ll remember the little black table we had dinner on together every night no matter what.
And the ugly yellow couch we read books on.
And playing in their small cozy bedrooms.
And our amazing neighbors that helped me raise them.
When they walk out my door and into the real world after that 18th Mother’s Day, I’m going to hold tight the memories we made in this house I struggled to make into a home.
And one day we’ll come back to visit their field.