“It will take one hundred years!” I said a bit (okay, a lot) immaturely to my 5 year-old daughter mimicking her usual phrase. She wanted to trace, cut out, decorate, and write names on 19 homemade heart-shaped valentines for her nursery school classmates.
Wanting to avoid the time, imagined tears of frustration (hers and mine!), and perceived stress, I proposed I at least cut them out. I pictured hearts made with nice smooth scissor edges.
That proposal was shot down. I hung out cleaning the kitchen instead, until it was painfully obvious I was not needed at all.
Sometime later that afternoon, I was proven totally wrong. Those 19 valentines were done.
My heart felt so full seeing them on the table after watching her plug away undaunted by the task at hand.
These pieces of paper, which I doubt will survive a week once shoved in her friends’ backpacks, represent a process that’s taken, well, five years, and will continue a lifetime.
The valentines making process was a product of thousands of interactions where her dad and I, along with teachers, grandparents, and others, tried with varying degrees of effectiveness, patience, frustration-tolerance, and grace, to teach lessons about tolerating mistakes, focusing, having a “can do” attitude, problem-solving, generosity, and being creative.
Every so often, we realize our guidance matters. Most of the time, melt-downs, tears, slamming doors, screaming, and yelling take place despite us trying to be good parents, good teachers. But you don’t teach for that moment. You teach so that someday that seed you planted (again, and again, and again) may start to bloom.
It’s not about how well those valentines came out in the end. The reward for me is being able to be part of the process. The thousand tense moments, and the moment where things click. Those are all the gifts of being there, being part of her life.
A labor of love, her valentines did turn out well. I believe that’s for her to feel proud of. I’m proud of her, but I’m also proud of me. I apparently, enough times in a good enough manner, was there for her, being accepting, and teaching her things she can use in life.
Being loving means being there. The relationship is about being in process together.
I told her, “I really loved watching you make those cards.”
I love watching her be her, doing her things, her way.
Perhaps this full-hearted feeling will sustain me for the thousand more challenging moments that are surely headed my way.
Hannah Curtis, LCSW is the owner of New Approaches, a practice in Portland, Maine offering counseling, therapy, coaching, and workshops that help clients enhance emotional well-being. Her specialties include life transitions, postpartum support, young adult issues, work/life balance, stress management, relationships, anxiety, depression, trauma, and life satisfaction.