Parenting and Failure
Today I sat across the table from an old friend. We sipped Brander Sauvignon Blanc and listened to Ray Fortune through the glass of the mod fireplace at the Los Olivos Wine Merchant Cafe. Ray's mellow guitar and the impeccable butternut squash caprese salad completed the backdrop of sophistication we felt after having finished a barrel-tasting of about 20 different kinds of Grenache with our winemaker friends who dove headlong into opinions about Austrian yeast strains.
Unfettered and classy, we tucked our handbags under the table and swirled our wine. It was the perfect atmosphere for a light conversation, a decadent hour of enjoyment.
But this isn't the kind of friend you just shoot the breeze with.
We had lived most of our relationship in shorts and tank tops planning activities for 250 kids at a time, listening to and counseling scared teenage girls who were wrestling their darkest secrets in the safe space of summer camp. We had pursued deep theological questions together. We had had babies alongside one another, gone through several iterations of ourselves together and, more recently, walked through the darkest of times as friends.
This is the kind of friend you talk about The Real Things with.
So we sat there for an hour and talked about our daughters. We had both experienced excruciating failure in our lives and had to work harder than we ever thought we could work to climb out of the darkness. We had both found ourselves again - and this time a deeper and better self - so we looked across the table at one another and talked about the fact that our girls would most likely, at some point, go through deep personal suffering.
I told her how on my darkest day, in my darkest hour when I was all alone, my mom and I sat, our backs to the fire, and my mom listened to me without judgement. And how, after I was finished talking, her arms were ones of love and she told me her greatest secrets, ones that I never knew about, and her telling them at that moment, was like the most healing balm I could have received. Not that those things she had done were justified, but that she could be with me in my failure, and love me from a real place of common suffering.
My friend and I talked long about our mothers. About the way things could have gone but didn't because of the love our mothers had for us. How even when things did go the wrong way, they didn't falter but instead leaned in harder to be with us, to fight for us to know ourselves and be known. How our moms had stepped in, had overstepped their boundaries and laid themselves out for truth because they loved us so much.
Since that night and those dark days, I've grown incredibly as a person, and the urgency to be real and truthful, to take moments when they come and to be brave in life expels any pretenses I had before about my character or who I thought I was.
I know who I am and what kind of parent I want to be. I know that my daughters will fail, and the sooner the better, I hope, because they don't have so far to fall when they are young. I want to be there when they do, and i want to hold them and remind them of who they are in God's eyes and who they are in mine. And I hope that when they are well into marriages and raising children and having careers in their thirties, I keep pressing in to know them intimately so that, when hard times come, I'll be there to speak love to them, and forgiveness.
This friend and I know two truths. One, that God is Love and he never leaves you, not even at the bottom of the worst hard time. And, two, that life is full of unmet wishes, unanswered questions, and lots of pain.
Strangely, it is the suffering that causes growth and maturity and I have wondered at the blessing of it.
I watch my friend, her new-found vulnerability softens her. I see myself, able to take risks and not be fearful of life; fearful of failing.
i know that this is the kind of change that will make us better mothers, and i know that our own mothers also had their own suffering to soften them and to make them brave. I know this and it gives me hope that I will be the kind of mother my mom is to me.
The waitress brings our check. We'll split the bill and go our separate ways, but between us rests the knowledge that God holds us in his hands and it is our job to hold our daughters tightly and to speak words of truth and love to them every night and every morning and every day of their lives so that they know who they are in God's eyes: precious and loved.