My daughter leaves for university soon, emptying my nest completely. It seems as though I should, in one last-ditch attempt at motherhood, offer her some words of wisdom as she bounds out the door. But I’ve never been much into advice-giving. I have no clue how my children have in fact become the apparently well-adjusted, happy human beings they seem to be. After twenty years on the job, I’ve finally given up pretending to know anything about mothering. My children are wiser than I will ever be, and the little I have picked up along the way, I have done simply by getting out of their way and watching them live. These are some of the things my daughter has taught me:
1. Waking up in the morning is a gift. Unwrap it with excitement, with wonder, with brand new eyes. With gratitude in your bones. Every day. Because that’s the only way you’ll notice the magic all around you. The world is filled with mysteries. Secrets. Miracles. But only if you pay attention.
2. Imagination is a muscle. If you don’t use it every day, you will lose the ability to believe in the impossible, to dream, to understand what it is like to walk in someone else’s shoes.
3. When you have to make the choice between being right and being kind, choose kindness. The only satisfaction in being right is, for that one small moment in time, being right. Being kind expands your soul… forever.
4. You will be hurt… by friends, by the people you most love. And you will also, at some point, hurt someone without meaning to. It’s as inevitable as breathing. It’s what happens when you live vigorously and love ferociously . When that happens, say you’re sorry. Mean it with every cell in your being. And then forgive yourself. Because nothing devours joy like self-recrimination.
5. Feelings will overcome you. Let them. They are part of you. Acknowledge them. Embrace them. Laugh a lot. Stamp your feet in anger. Cry. It’s good for you. Nothing washes away disappointment like tears. And then inhale deeply. Feel the earth’s energy running up your spine. And as you breathe out, let everything go. Surrender every last emotion, giving it back to the universe. Where it belongs.
6. If you find something that makes you feel alive, go and do it. With passion, and abandon. As if there will be no tomorrow. Leave nothing in reserve. And when it no longer makes you happy, do something else. Changing your mind, altering course – this takes courage. And it’s how you grow. How you find out who you are.
7. Looking in the same direction as you’re moving is the safe way to travel; but sometimes something beautiful appears above you, just slightly out of your line of vision. You lift your eyes, look over your shoulder, even as your body keeps moving forward. You stumble, or fall. You may even scrape your knees, and bleed, but you will have seen something that otherwise would have remained hidden. And that’s worth the pain. Discomfort is temporary. The memory of beauty will live with you forever.
8. There is no perfect. There is only ordinary, and extraordinary. Being extraordinary demands dogged determination, forging a path through fear, being willing to make a fool of yourself, and risking failure. And there is often no pot of gold, or public accolades, or fame. All there is, is the extraordinariness itself. But that is more than enough. And that will sustain you during the times when you feel most ordinary – when you choose to sacrifice your own dreams, put someone else’s needs ahead of yours, out of love, compassion, empathy. And it is in fact during these times of apparent ordinariness, that you are most extraordinary.
9. Never stop asking questions. Even when there are no answers. Or the answers are disappointing. Or hurtful. Because the day you stop asking questions is the day you become complacent, and that’s when you start decaying.
10. Dance. Whenever you can. In the sun. In the rain. During blizzards and heat waves. When you are happy. When you are angry. Confused. Disappointed. And specially when you are sad. Because when you dance you are transported back to your place of truth. That place where all the conflicting voices in your head are silenced, and you can hear the only thing that matters…your heartbeat.
I know my daughter will approach this next adventure with the same enthusiasm, optimism, and love of life that has made me so proud to be her mother for the past eighteen years. I am not in the least bit concerned about her. But I wonder what my reaction will be when I walk down the stairs on that first day, and the bathroom is clean, the carpet is visible, the bed is made, and there are no apple cores scattered around her bedroom. Those apple cores have driven me crazy! I suspect though, that I’ll not be appreciating the tidy. I have a feeling I’ll not even notice it in the vacuum that she’ll have left behind. And I will have to remind myself, on that day, to close my eyes, and just dance.