I will never forget leaving school that afternoon, walking the short walk home in the cold rain, dreading what I was to find. I'd not cleaned my room like I was supposed to and knew my mom would be furious when I walked in the door. I prepared myself for scolding, for screaming, for grounding as I dragged my feet through the fallen leaves, trying to stretch the peaceful moments before the misery began. I walked in the door quietly, wanting to melt into the background of the living room and saw her standing there. I waited for the punishment, the stern faces, the cold shoulder. Waited. But they didn't come. None of it came. My mom told me I looked chilly, wiped my nose and wrapped me in a blanket. She sat me on the couch and produced a cup of hot chocolate (and not even Swiss Miss - rather she dusted off the silver can of bitter Hershey powder, measured and mixed it with sugar, milk and vanilla and slowly warmed it on the stove). Overwhelmed by her generosity I couldn't help but confess: "but I didn't clean my room..." And she shrugged, smiled gently and told me it was ok. It was so unlike her - not that she was typically cruel or unkind, she was just never a milk and cookies mom (and certainly not when clothes were strewn across my bedroom floor, toys scattered, food remnants hidden beneath bed skirts). Unexpected kindness and a hot cup of cocoa on a cold autumn afternoon make a moment I will never forget.
And that Valentine's Day - the one that fell on a Saturday, when I watched as my dad prouduced a giant red cardboard heart filled with nauseatingly sweet candy and handed it to my stepmother - I will never forget it. My eyes widened at the sight of the cheap lace circling the heart, envious mouth watering, as I wished for the day that my own husband would bring me chocolates. And then, out of nowhere a small red box, a heart that fit my tiny hands so perfectly. So unexpected, so atypical of my family - my father had gotten me a Valentine too. And so I didn't need to wish away the days of my childhood, waiting for the time that a man would feed my sweet tooth, because my father filled my heart and my belly himself with that box. Never before and never since have I celebrated a Valentine's Day with such pure intentions, such sweet, genuine representations of true love. Each bite of cheap candy confirming that I was deeply loved. That is a moment I will never forget.
The time our camping trip was rained out and so my mom cleared out the furniture and set up the tent in the middle of the living room - replacing the camp out with a camp in. The day, at 22 years old when I opened a package from my dad to find the Harry Belafonte album I'd listened to a thousand times on his old record player - a birthday present (not just a card with a $50 check quickly scribbled and stuffed inside) that whispered in my ear that he remembered too. Or the evenings as I would help my dad in the kitchen: peeling vegetables, stirring sauces, fetching utensils until one day he asked me for my opinion ("Which spices would you use?") and then shook the bottles I'd selected over a bubbling pot. The Christmas morning when my mom called the radio station to request "Linus and Lucy" and they actually played it.
This is what I want for you, Oliver. These simple, gentle moments - unscripted and quiet in their grandiosity. I want you to remember the time you thought we were going grocery shopping and went to play mini-golf instead. Or the time I came home with Cap'n Crunch (with Crunchberries!) instead of the oatmeal I usually make you eat. Or the time when you were certain you'd be grounded and lectured for some as-yet-unimaginable rule breaking you did, but instead found a sympathetic ear and a forgiving heart.
Every parent wants to give the world to their children and I am no exception. If you show a vague interest in a toy at a playdate I have to fight myself not to rush out and buy it immediately. If you find a book you love I instantly want to log on to Amazon and buy every other book in the series. When we return home after a day of running errands and naptime looms, I find it almost impossible to put you right to bed - even if you are undeniably exhausted - because I think you deserve some playtime in return for your patience as we run into grocery stores, banks and Target (again). Rewarding you and gifting you is already so deeply engrained in me and even though you've only just turned 1, I struggle to find balance between spoiling you and saying no for the sake of no.
And so I have decided that I will resist buying the toy (you don't like any toys longer than 10 minutes anyway). I stay away from Amazon (and instead squeal with delight when I find those books you love at Marshalls for less than half what they would've cost new!) And I let you play for only a moment when you should be napping, because truth be told we're ALL so much happier when you're well rested.
But you won't feel denied, not if I have anything to say about it. Because while I may not succumb to the pull of the Toys R Us ad, I will always make time for you. I will stop to play with the door hinge you find so fascinating (while you still find it fascinating), even if it means we're one minute later than we would've been otherwise. I will let you walk at the grocery store (when you learn to walk) even if it means our trip will take that much longer. I will value your opinions and listen to your thoughts with an open mind, even if in the end I decide your mother really does know best. I will find moments to surprise you, sometimes with gifts but more often with kindness. I will be playful with you. Curious with you. Patient and calm and thoughtful with you. I will always look for ways to give to you, not just things, but moments. Moments like the ones in my own childhood when I knew without a doubt that I was respected, I was special, I was loved.
Because in the end, when you look back, I would rather you have tiny moments of wonderful than a lifetime of nothing special.