Joel and I collapsed into our seats on a crowded airplane, sleep deprived from raucous nights in a bedroom with joke-telling, wrestling grandchildren and half-sick from accompanying them down every slide at an indoor water park—over and over and over—in recycled waters enjoyed by a multitude of users.
The plane felt like a snug, safe refuge as it carried us to our home and quiet lives.
Two weeks later we began planning our next trip to see the youngsters who had exhausted us. How do children manage to tie up one’s heartstrings so easily and completely?
I recently spoke with a young professional friend as we watched her small daughter charm everyone in sight of her nose-wrinkling smile and a finger-curling wave.
“We weren’t sure about having children,” my friend said, “but now we understand we had no idea what happiness was until we held this baby.”
Sometimes as noise, clutter and cries of “It happened on accident!” bombard us, it’s easy to momentarily forget what a precious gift children are.
Many years ago I sat on a plane next to a woman who didn’t hesitate to interrupt my reading with questions, comments and a personality so entertaining that I didn’t mind.
As we flew over the Sierras, Nancy told me about the daughter she was on her way to visit in San Francisco and described a time when she temporarily lost sight of her child’s importance in her life: “While preparing to host a large family dinner I sent my youngest daughter, Brenda, to the china closet to get our soup tureen, an heirloom passed down through generations of my family. As I rolled dough for an apple pie, I heard a crash then a gasp and turned to see Brenda standing over the shards of our prized possession.
“I wailed. I clutched my head. I yelled that she was clumsy and careless and should get out of my sight. She ran from the room, and I shed tears as I cleaned up the pieces and dreaded telling my sisters about the loss.
“An hour later, preparations complete and sanity restored, I looked for Brenda. No one had seen her. An hour later we found her huddled beneath a bush in a nearby park, crying in the cold.
“In that moment, I realized then that a broken dish meant nothing when compared to a broken child.”
Over the years, when the antics of my students or the exuberance of my grandchildren made me edgy, I remembered my in-flight friend, her story and the lesson she learned: “From that moment—no matter how angry I was at some misdeed—when I corrected or disciplined my children, I never demeaned them.”
When my sister Barbara and I were young a neighbor, speaking in church, said she believed her children were guests in her home and should be treated as such every day.
We were stunned.
Did she mean her five children — all of whom we considered run-of-the-mill at best — didn’t have to mop the floor or weed the garden? They ate a company dinner with desert every single day? Their mother changed the sheets on their beds for them and acted like everything they said was interesting? Laughed at all their jokes?
We knew those things would never happen at our house. But we also knew — even as we complained, bickered, neglected chores, broke rules and suffered punishments — that day in and day out we were loved.
Perhaps such constancy is the best valentine adults can give their children.