Recently I was sick. Not the kind of sick that lands you in bed with a 102-degree fever and a bottle of penicillin, but I felt lousy nonetheless. I stumbled across the kitchen, struggling to breathe while cooking breakfast for the kids, fantasizing about the feel of my blanket over my head. Taking pity on me, my husband marshaled the troops while I took a nap.
When I awoke, I found a note subtly placed near the bed. In my daughter's 6-year-old handwriting, it read:
"I love you. Dear momma, this is a picture for you. I love you. I love you."
Below the writing were hearts, flowers, and the sun -- all carefully drawn with one intention: to cheer me up and remind me I'm loved. Buried under a mountain of sheets and tissues, I felt tears in my eyes.
People always say you can't understand a mother's love until you experience it. And I agree. But there's something they don't tell you, that I never anticipated. And that's how much your children love you. I've always been an introvert -- not what I'd call a "people person." I never imagined myself spending my days surrounded by a miniature entourage, following me everywhere I go, wondering what I'll do next and excitedly hoping to be part of it. I never fathomed myself as the center of someone's world. As someone who wakes up to love letters covered in flowers and sunshine.
Yet the tears filling my eyes weren't just tears of joy. They were also tears of guilt, of knowing I can do better by this child who so innocently poured her heart across the page. Lately I've been short, distracted, unfocused. I've given into frustration when she's ignored my demands to get dressed, or complained about her little brother getting more attention. I've checked email when I should have been listening to the silly song she made up at school. I've thought about work deadlines when I should have been paying attention to the Dr. Seuss story she was proudly reading. Yes, I'm only human. But I think the woman who received that heart-covered love letter can do better.
While I may not be able to make a card half as beautiful as my daughter's, there are small things I can do every day to show my children I love them.
I can say yes to playing Barbies, even if I have to be the boy dolls and follow my daughter's script involving weddings and pie. Even better, I can encourage my daughter to ditch the Barbies and write a story with me about a princess unicorn who saves her kingdom from a vengeful witch, banishing the interloper from her magical land.
I can look into my son's eyes as he recalls the block tower he built in preschool, or the game of hide-and-seek he tried to play. I can listen as he earnestly recounts how his friend threatened to "poop on him" (but thankfully didn't).
I can put away the phone. Facebook photos of my friend-from-high-school's dog can wait.
I can say "screw the mess" and relish the feel of Play-Doh and glitter glue on my hands (and all over my kitchen). I can laugh as my son happily blends all the Play-Doh colors together, knowing that the resulting brownish blob makes him happy -- and life isn't about perfect colors neatly sorted into jars.
I can put off the laundry or the trip to the store, and surprise the kids with a trip to the park -- and surprise them even more when I follow them down the slide or (attempt to) chase them across the monkey bars.
I can take a moment to breathe after my daughter knocks over her milk for the second time in one meal, or my son can't find his shoes again. I can resist yelling or spewing unkind words in frustration. I can try my best to see past the moment.
I can jump on the bed.
I can stage an impromptu dance party.
I can sneak ice cream onto their waffles.
No, I can't be fun all the time, or ignore every email or deadline that comes my way. But I can find small moments, fleeting gaps between work crises and stomach bugs and dentist appointments, and fill those stolen moments with my own love letters to my children. Ones built on my undivided attention, patience, and letting loose a little. Because, more than anything, that's what they deserve.
And, more than anything, I want to be the mom who deserves their heart-covered love letters.