By BETH LEARS MYERS
On Friday, I pulled out of the driveway to take my little boy to school.
With Christmas carols blasting, I asked him “Isn’t this time of year so magical?”
A smile played on his lips and he couldn’t hide those dimples that I so cherish. When I see them, I know that my boy is happy, excited or filled with pride. They indicate the presence of his spirit, which shines through in everything he does.
As we grow, many of us lose that light that shines so brightly from within. As a mother, I pray every day that my children never lose that joy for life. It’s the spirit that defines childhood; it’s what makes kids so loving, innocent and happy. They don’t need money, possessions, prestige or power.
They just need the love of the people they trust.
They don’t need grand gestures because they can find the joy in the small things, the simple things and the things that really matter.
Sadly, the things that really matter are overlooked every single day in our society.
They’re brushed aside, pushed under the table and all but forgotten about in our frenzied culture of working our way to the top, achieving the next big thing and outdoing our peers, our fellow human beings. But for what gain?
Driving a nicer car and a promotion that means more hours in the office away from family? Those things don’t matter to children. They don’t matter because they possess that spirit that allows them to grasp what is truly meaningful. I could spend $200 to take my son to an amusement park, buy all the best souvenirs and ride the best rides. Of course he would like that.
But do you know when he truly shows me his heart? When we’re walking outside and he finds a flower he knows I’ll like. When we have a sleepover and he tells me I’m the best mom ever. When we’re buying ingredients to bake cookies and he slides his little hand in mine and looks into my eyes.
Those are the times that truly matter to children. And those are the times when we, as adults, often miss the moment’s true meaning. Our children bring all that back into focus for us. They allow us to view this crazy world through the eyes of a child once again.
I believe that our children are our best teachers. I can only hope that the children in Newtown, Conn., did not die in vain, but to teach us — all of us — what is truly important.
As I watch their parents choke back tears so that they can share with the world the spirit of their babies, I hear them talking about those little things that we’re missing: a big sister who loved to color pictures for someone in pain, a little boy who loved his horses and chickens, a baby who died in her new pink dress that she desperately wanted to wear before the holidays because she loved it so much.
Those children didn’t care about politics and money. They didn’t care about whose dad was CEO and whose mom drove a Mercedes. They cared about their siblings and their animals. They cared about helping Hurricane Sandy victims and portraying an angel in a Christmas play. They cared about the good in the word. They cared about what is truly important.
I consider myself lucky to be a parent. I get to experience that purity and joy every day.
Without my children, I would not be so lucky. Our minds become tainted as we see the bad in the world. We become desensitized, and we lose that inner light that gives us the ability to find the good in all things.
I pray that my sons don’t lose that light, knowing all the while that, eventually, it will flicker, it will dim. In some people, like the shooter in Newtown, it will be extinguished entirely. I feel helpless to protect my children from the evil in this world and that scares me more than anything.
I will spend the rest of my life as a mother fearing the “what-ifs” and pondering the “whys?” I will dedicate my life to being their fiercest protector and trying to shield them from hurt, from fear. But the truth is, we are powerless to shield them from every heartbreak.
It is a part of life, and therefore, a part of their growing up. It’s my job to provide them with the tools they need to grow, to prepare them to deal with the harsh realities to best of my ability. I want them to grow up to be strong and confident, but also to be loving and peaceful. It’s a delicate balance of which I can’t possibly dictate all the variables that will contribute to who they become.
So yes, in many ways, I will be helpless to control what they are exposed to. I might be scared for the world they will grow up in. I might be anxious, and sad and sometimes afraid, as I watch them lose that innocence that encompasses their childhood. But I am still in control of what I can give them as their mother.
I don’t want to take one second of their innocence for granted. I will dance in the rain, make up silly lyrics for songs and stay up way too late laughing into the night at sleepovers. I will make a fool of myself acting out imaginary stories, and laugh inappropriately at potty talk. I will cherish every drawing my sons make for me, and be grateful for every gift they give me.
From a dandelion plucked from the ground, to a purple rock because mommy likes the Ravens — those gifts are more important than all the diamonds in the world. They come without expectations, and they come straight from the heart, the best kind of heart there is — the heart of a child.
I will encourage my boys to be crazy, silly and wild. I will encourage them to share their feelings in whatever way they need to be expressed. I want them to feel what’s real. I want them to never be afraid to be themselves. I want them to cherish every single second of the time in their lives when they don’t have to worry, when they think I can make it OK.
Soon enough, they will find out that I can’t always make it OK. And when they do, I hope that I have instilled in them that it might not be OK now, but it will be again someday. I hope they know there is always good, and that the good will always win out over the bad. I hope they can hang onto to that spirit of childhood, that light from within, so they can always find the good.
I dropped my son off that morning with the promise that I would be back that afternoon to decorate gingerbread houses. I later learned that many of the parents of the Sandy Hook Elementary School students made that same promise — a promise that they never imagined that they would not be able to keep.
The knowledge that my 6-year-old had the same plans that day as their 6-year-olds makes their pain so much more real to me. I work with the children in my son’s class once a week. I know the Jessicas, the Daniels, the Emilies. I watch their tiny hands shape the words to tell about the love they have for their families.
I watch the concentration on their little faces as they work so hard to color mommy’s dress in her favorite color or draw daddy to be big and strong. I know the beautiful spirit of a 6-year-old child. I intend to draw upon that spirit, and continue to learn from it.
I intend to let that spirit guide me through this world, as a parent and as a person. The spirits of those children are the essence of what we are missing in our lives.
Every time I find joy in the little things, every time I find the good over the bad, I will do so in their memory.
I will not let that light go out.