Bringing children into this world is a profoundly hopeful act. It’s like jumping into the unknown depths of marriage but in a blinder, more imbalanced fashion. I had a good sense of the person my fiancé was, but my unborn kids? No idea.
The first time around, I became pregnant and welcomed my baby purposefully and joyously but with such naiveté. I had no sense of what the job really entailed, simply that I wanted to mother a child: a little girl please, one who straddled the girly/tomboy line with gusto and loved to read and garden and get her toes done. Just like me.
In that decision and desire there was no conscious optimism. No, that would come later: when I had first one son and then another; when I realized just how challenging the nitty-gritty of daily parenting is; when I found that amidst the fun and joy are dark times that bring the most positive of us to our knees.
Conscious, determined optimism, as opposed to the naïve exuberance with which I bubbled before actually having kids, is a necessary fuel for any parent. It’s what allows us to remain hopeful when a day (or many days) just doesn’t cut the butter. It’s what makes the triumphs, from the littlest to most grand, more meaningful. It’s what allows us to continue to look ahead, big picture in mind, as we do our best to guide and shape the little beings we’re lucky to call ours.
I draw upon such optimism each time I sit down alongside my sons to ensure that they write thoughtful thank you notes. It is in every whispered reminder to look people in the eyes when talking to them and to shake their hands with gentle firmness, for I believe that good manners and interpersonal ease are critically important qualities to instill in children.
It is in each hug and push and “You can do it. I know you can.” It is in every limit set, and punishment meted out, for I believe that both encouragement and discipline are integral parts of raising responsible people.
It buttresses difficult conversations about racism, socioeconomic disparities and gender inequality. I am determined to do what I can to chip away at societal injustices and believe that parents have a profound opportunity and responsibility to teach children how to right past wrongs by standing up for equality and change.
It underpins every discussion of sexuality, for I believe that openly talking about sex and relationships is the best way to avoid misinformation and regretful behavior. It is in every appeal to treat their own and others’ bodies with the utmost respect, now and always. No means no. End of story.
Determined optimism persists valiantly when my kids are sick and the days inch along through a sludge of concern and fatigue. It accompanies me through mornings so fraught and busy that I cry despite my every adult intention not to. It strengthens me when I wonder if I made the right choice to stay home with my boys.
It comforts me when I contemplate why my little one is slower to read than his brother and when I worry about my first born’s quick temper.
Nearly a decade in, I know my sons inside and out and have long since shed the veil of naiveté I wore as I entered motherhood. Every night after they are asleep, I go into my sons’ rooms and sit beside them quietly. In the peaceful stillness I stare at their beautiful faces. In the glow of my love for them, I feel frustration and concern slip away. It is replaced by awe and appreciation: for the individuals they are, for the unique ways their inner lights shine and for the honor it is to be their mother.
My reservoir is replenished, the stores of optimism filled anew. Just in time for the new day that will soon dawn.