June 10, 2011

30 Lessons For My Daughters

I always knew I wanted to be a mother.  More than that, I always knew I wanted to have a daughter.  As I grew up, I made constant notes about what I would teach her.  When I was very small, I would commit to memory small events, moments that I thought were essential for when I was the mommy.  Things that seemed infinitely important, that held all of the weight of import that childhood is capable of placing.  The most crucial parts of my life as a new person.  I ferreted them away, cataloging them so that when I was the mommy, I could pass them along, make sure that my daughter was a bit better prepared for life than I had been.  By the time I was ten, I had a mental list of surprising specificity of my educational tasks for when I was a mother.
  1. How to make cookies
  2. How to sing (I thought my father the author of all James Taylor’s songs)
  3. How to make quicksand in a pail, and to provide assorted dolls to slowly sink into said bucket
  4. How to tie shoelaces (I myself never learned properly until I was in high school)
  5. How to sew
  6. How to remove a splinter
  7. How to play the recorder, piano, and any other instrument that might fall into your hands
  8. How to be brave when faced with such obstacles as gigantic freshly paved driveways
  9. How to enjoy getting really dirty, even if it means there are bugs or thorns involved (my mother was an expert at this)
  10. How to approach potentially terrifying wild or dead animals
  11. How to build a snow fort
  12. How to use the monkey bars

These weren’t always the most relevant things in my life, but they were the things I either got the most pleasure from or saw as important on some cosmic level.

During the next five years of my life, I became an avid reader of sci-fi and fantasy and began to live a very vivid private life.  I wrote constantly when I wasn’t reading, and at the same time began to develop a wide circle of friends for the first time in my life.  The whole while, in some small part of my brain, I was collecting a to-do list of things that I would have to teach my daughter whenever she was old enough… whoever she might be.

  1. How to stand in the middle of a thunderstorm and feeling the electricity in your soul with your barefoot feet on the soil
  2. How to cry until your chest is empty of the painful feelings you thought would never leave
  3. How to wrap presents so that they look magical
  4. How to paint
  5. How to wear clothes that make you feel like yourself
  6. How to tell your friends that you disagree with them
  7. How to write what you really think and make it more eloquent than your own confused mind
  8. How to deal with your crazy curly hair
  9. How to find music, artists, and authors to devote your attention to
  10. How to try every new food, within reason
  11. How to always be willing to fall in love, despite how teenagers are complete idiots

Again, I never mastered some of those skills, but I had this gut feeling that someday I would, that someday I would be an adult and all of those things that were so difficult for me at thirteen would just somehow be better.  And unlike my own mother, I would find the way to teach some of these invaluable skills to my own daughter.

During the rest of my teen years, the list of things I must someday teach my daughter grew slowly.  I was busy thinking about things that were much more important- the present.  I was so focused on my friends and my boyfriends and my wild, youthful experimentation… the idea of being a mother took a back burner.  I was much more concerned with not becoming a mother in the foreseeable future.  Still, more items made my little list.

  1. How to tell your parents if something horrible has happened to you
  2. How to keep horrible things from happening to you
  3. How to let go of the horrible things that happen to you, once it’s too late anyway
  4. How to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea

Then I went out into the world to seek my fortune.  For many years I felt I failed, wandered from place to place and thing to thing, and never finished anything.  Over the last decade only a few lessons were added to my list.

  1. How to go somewhere, anywhere, with a purpose
  2. How to stay connected to your roots, your faith, and yourself
  3. How to lose with dignity

And then I fell in love, and I got married, and fate granted me not one, but two daughters.  So far I have taught them none of these things.  They are still too young to even begin to understand, and I must confess that I am afraid of trying to teach them so much of what I believed they must learn.

My granny once told me a story about her own childhood.  Her mother, my great-grandmother, grew up in a household where her own mother never cooked.  All her life she wanted to make fudge with her mother, and was determined that when she grew up and had little girls, they would make fudge together.  Well, she grew up and had two daughters, my granny and great-aunt, and they hated fudge.  It wasn’t until my own mother was born that she was finally able to live out that particular dream.  But with her granddaughter, not her own children.

I have never been able to imagine a life where I didn’t have a daughter, where she didn’t love playing in the dirt, baking cookies, making music, and learning about the world around her.  I have never been able to imagine a life where I didn’t create a child who was essentially like me.  Who had the same needs that I had, who had the same desires that I had, and who had the same pains that I had.  I never doubted that I would become a mother, and that I would have a little girl, and that I would teach her all the things that I wished I had learned, and that I had loved, and that I had treasured.

I worry that part of why these lessons were so important to me was that I had to learn many of them for myself.  I remember learning to make quicksand from a library book, and taking out that book week after week, to keep making buckets of quicksand in which to slowly sink my Barbie dolls, and from which to rescue them heroically.  I remember removing a splinter ALL BY MYSELF as my family was house hunting the year I was five, feeling so full of pride I could burst, and having an understanding that showing the splinter to my mother and boasting of my accomplishment would somehow diminish it.

So I maintain my list.  I secretly treasure it, waiting for the days that I can pull it out and pass on my very important knowledge to my infinitely more important daughters.  I know I will never be able to teach my children to use the monkey bars, I’ve always sucked at that.  I know I am incapable of teaching them to avoid the horribleness of being a teenaged girl.  I know that I may be unable to teach them to play piano or paint or sing if they have no interest, and I will not force them.  For the first time, I have doubts.  I have daughters and doubts, and I had always believed that so long as I had one, the other must simply not exist.

I see myself more in my daughters every day, but in different ways.  In one, I see my enthusiasm for learning and my constant need for approval and affection.  In the other I see my willingness to put aside my fear and just get dirty, and hints at something akin to my creative streak.  I have a hard time picturing one of them standing beside me in the rain, with our eyes closed and our feet bare, while the thunder shakes the air around us.  The other, I can’t imagine her sitting still at the piano day after day, learning to make beautiful music.

Perhaps I have been granted two daughters so that I might actually be able to pass along my full list, divided though it may be.  Perhaps we all come into the world with different needs, and different desires, and as completely different people.  Perhaps we are all essentially the same person, and me and my great-grandmother and our need to pass along what we see is an important part of being a daughter or mother.

Or perhaps we might all simply be cursed to live confused, single lives.  And our duty is to protect our children from all of our own memories of the confusion of being young, being a human being, and having endless faith that one day we will be exactly who we want to be.


  1. As a mommy to two little girls, I have to say this is a GREAT list. Although I did shudder a little at the thought of teaching them to stand outside in a thunderstorm {we have dangerous cloud to ground lightning strikes here in PA}, the rest of the list I thought was spot on!

    Thank you for this post. It got me thinking about some important life lessons I should be making sure my girls learn...and preferably learn from the safety of their mommy's nest.

    Many blessings,

  2. I love this list! We went outside during a thunderstorm just last week! Of course, it was the first thunderstorm we'd had in what seemed like months...this drought is definitely getting old!


  3. Your kids are so adorable,and you are indeed a super mommy..I love some of the things you mentioned.keep it up.

  4. So how do you make quicksand in a bucket, and what book taught this skill?

    My 12 year old daughter and I would like to try it!

    I Love your observations about life and motherhood. Thank-you so much!


  5. Those girls? Are so lucky to have you as a mom. This is seriously fabulous! I'm totally stealing some of it. ;)

  6. Love Everything about your Blog. Love the Background. Loved your piece, loved the photos....loved it. <3

  7. What a lovely sweet post. You seem to have received some of your Father's gift of writing beautiful sentiments. I only have one daughter who is grown now. Maybe the most important thing I can say about that is that faith provides much joy, forgiveness, and strength and has come to stump all other things.
    You sound hopeful, strong, loving, fun, and thoughtful, a great combination for a mom.
    (I'm here from Thirsty For Comments Thursday)

  8. This is a wonderful, well thought out list. I have two daughters too and I'd love to teach them these things. Beautiful.

    Visiting from Thirsty for Comments Thursday
    <a href="http://callistasramblings.blogspot.com/2011/06/house-cleaning-tips-from-readers-digest.html>House Cleaning Tips from Reader's Digest Canada</a>

  9. I have now read (and loved) this three times. :) Commented before, but wanted to thank you for linking this up for The Mom Pledge Summer Blog Hop.



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