Every couple of years, there's a new parenting kick that mothers do in hopes of creating a memorable childhood for their children. We don't want our kids to be the ones that missed those first day of school pictures, the leprechauns' mess, or that pesky elf that caused chaos during the night.
A few years ago, this new “thing” was to purchase a copy of “Oh, the Places You'll Go” and then have your child's teachers write inspirational messages throughout the pages of the book. The intent was to continue this yearly tradition until it would be presented at graduation time.
As a teacher, I didn't get it.
I couldn't imagine that after the first year, anyone would keep up this tradition or how that busy parents would remember where they'd hidden that book in their house?
My experience seemed to be that fifth grade parents found this gem of an idea as they were searching “end of the school year” on the Internet. They would buy a copy and then, in a panic, bring it to their elementary school for all of the previous teachers to rotate around until we made sure the autographs were collected.
Maybe the elementary teachers would tolerate this small inconvenience, but would the middle school and high school teachers go along with this secret mission? How would the mother even manage to get that book to all those people?
As a teacher, I couldn't imagine that a high school graduate would care what his second grade teacher wrote. Would it impact that young adult in the same way that the parent was hoping it would after all those years? Doubtful.
Think for a moment, when you are emotionally fueled by the idea of finally presenting that book. Now Think about being your child as he hopes for a car, or at least some serious cash, and instead receives a children's read-aloud book.
These were the thoughts that filled my mind each time I was asked to sign one of those books.Those were my thoughts…until I had my son. During my own long awaited baby shower, a friend gave me a copy of Guess How Much I Love You by Sam McBratney, Illustrated by Anita Jeram. I opened the inside cover and noticed that she had written a message to my son suggesting that I should read this particular book to him every day.
Reading this, I was flooded with emotions.
I was a first time mom, an older mom, and we were smack in the middle of a tumultuous adoption battle. The reality of being allowed to parent at all, would be nothing short of a miracle.
I took my friend's message seriously, like a pledge. Those words written inside this clean, never been read before book, seemed to beg for more inspirational words and messages.
At that moment, I got it.
I understood why those parents wanted those positive messages about their child. When they were written down, they meant something. They had power. If those people, who at some point were an important influence, declared that he was bright, creative, well-liked, kind or successful…than those words could serve as reminders of their talents and worthiness.
Later that evening, I cracked the pages and read Guess How Much I Love You. I turned the pages carefully and looked at each illustration intently, not like my typical way of reading a book. When I was finished, I ran my fingers over the words that my friend had written. I smiled. She had no idea what she started with her gift.
Immediately, I found a pen and sat down with that book, alone, after the rest of the house had gone to bed. I wrote my first message to my son about how this book came to be.
That was nine years ago.
I wished that I could say that I have consistently written about every milestone, I haven't. I forgot to write about potty training or those two fingers that he insisted on sucking long after he should have quit. I forgot to write how he insisted that someone always be in the back seat with him. I didn't think to include details about his art phase, his favorite foods, or when he took piano classes.
I wished that I did.
I should have included how his family was worried that he wasn't speaking, but then one day he let out a correctly formed sentence from the backseat of the car. His first swimming lesson, his first birthday party, his first drawings or first books that he read. I didn't include all of those “firsts” and now I wished that I did.
I didn't write about the day that we learned that we would be a forever family and all the love that we felt at his adoption party. There are pictures, somewhere, but I wished I would have included all of those times, and more, in that book.
Despite the missing words, there are inscriptions where I tell him how much he was wanted, how intelligent he is, how he is our greatest gift. I explain that his unique gifts and his out-of-the-box way of thinking will someday be a good thing, instead of a curse.
I plan on writing about homeschooling and his love of his family, dogs, and yes…video games. Soon, I will write about reaching that double digit birthday, standing taller than me, learning to drive and eventually…his first broken heart.
I don't have a certain day that I write in that book It isn't always on his birthday or New Year's Eve. Sometimes, I write when we have just had a challenging day together. Maybe this act is to remind myself that it is about the whole journey and not this one, isolated day.
Although there were missed opportunities, my hope is to fill this book with messages to my son; short letters about times that he will most likely forget. I want him to know that there was never a time that he wasn't loved and treasured I want him to know that while we know it is important for him to have both roots and wings, it was hard for me to allow him those wings. I want him to know that he matters and that he shouldn't let anyone make him feel otherwise.
I hope that he naturally knows all of these things, but if he has days where he forgets, he can always find those reminders in That Book.