When we were fairly new to our homeschooling journey, a friend shared one of the best parenting/homeschooling tips I have ever gotten. As a mother of three girls who were then scattered on the elementary-through-junior-high-spectrum, she said that one way she had kept the lines of communication wide open was to write to each of her daughters in a special journal. She shared that this was not a place for correcting grammar, for pointing out behavior problems or even for laying out plans for the upcoming week. No--this was a special place, a sacred space for mother and child to connect without conventions, expectations or checklists.
Being a daughter who has a somewhat strained relationship with my own mother, I instantly fell in love with the idea. I walk around with a smidgen of fear in my head, you know, that somehow I will accidentally recreate the fissure that exists between my mother and I. I struggle and pray and strive, trying to knot those easily frayed cords of trust and respect as they threaten to come undone with ill-timed words or casual miscommunication. I realize, of course, that my bond with Jo is not so fragile as my own with my mother. For one thing, it is based on a firmer foundation (Christ), and for another, I am simply not my mother. Enough said.
I am always looking for ways, though, to share my heart with Jo. I decided early on to let her peek deeper into who I am so that as she approaches the day when we stand shoulder to shoulder, she will know that I am fallible, that I am flawed, but that I am real. What better way for a writer to connect with her daughter than through the written word?
We began our mother/daughter journal in the middle of Jo's first grade year. I opened the first page with a very simple outline of what this very fancy, very pink, very girly-looking journal was for:
This journal is going to be a special place for you and I to share our thoughts, hopes and prayers. You can ask me questions, share funny stories or tell me how you feel about things. I hope that this will be a spot where we can have fun, or be serious, or even laugh and cry.
I want you to know how very proud I am of the kind heart you show to others. You share very well, and think of others' feelings. Your gentle ways show everyone that Jesus is alive in you.
You are a beautiful girl inside, and I am honored to be your momma.
Jo was delighted to find the journal at the foot of her bed when she woke up that first morning. Since then, we have continued the "sneak attack" tradition of tucking our journal into a spot where only the recipient can stumble across it. This builds on the specialness of the whole idea for us.
Usually, our journal (we're now on version 3.0) exchanges hands about once a week. We have gone through periods where we don't write as often, and times when the letters are flying back and forth faster than a busy mom can seemingly handle. But I always make time to reply to my daughter's letters, even if it means sneaking in a twenty minute bathroom sabbatical to scrawl out a note before she catches me in the act.
Often, our letters to one another have been silly:
Mom, You have got to stop saying, "Anybody want a peanut?" It is not as funny as you think. As a matter of fact, if you say it again I will sprout an extra finger and pursue you with a sword. Love, JoSometimes they are sad:
I am very sorry that you are so sad over the loss of our little baby. Thank you so much for sharing how hurt you are with me. I am hurting inside, too. I will pray for the Lord to bring you peace and comfort. Can you pray the same for me?
No, I don't think my mom ever had a miscarriage when I was your age so I can not understand how you feel. I don't think your feelings are unusual, though. Loss is loss, honey, no matter what it looks like or when it happens.
You are absolutely allowed to feel sad. Cry all you want. I'll even share my tissues with you.
Love, Your Momma
I have written pep talks ("You can do it! You've been working so hard!") and given redirection ("I think if you listen closely to what the Lord is saying ...") and more than once, I've congratulated her on her character and selflessness. In return, I have received more heartfelt thank yous, more words of encouragement and more reminders of how blessed I am than I can ever count.
As usual, this thing designed to strengthen my child has instead strengthened me.
Last week, on a whim, I offered Atticus the chance to begin a journal of letters. Of course, I offered a twist: he could write to his dad if he chose to, as he is, after all, a boy. It didn't take Atticus long to show how excited he was at the prospect of joining in on the fun he's been witnessing from the sidelines. He eagerly picked out a plain, lined journal, one that was as beautiful in his eyes as that first pink, flowery one was to Jo all those years ago.
Oh, yes, he picked one other thing. Me. :-)