the idea comes to me as if it is a pair of sunglasses i thought i misplaced only to find them on top of my head: equal parts obvious and absurd. in my infinite love for lists, it seems the only remedy to this mounting anxiety i have over all that i must do as a mother. i’m not talking about the dishes, dinner and laundry. i have lists for that too, no doubt. but the idea i had this morning, what i imagine to be the curative once-and-for-all solution to maternal pressure, is a multidimensional task list for all of my hopes and dreams for my daughter. immediately i felt relieved at the thought of organizing all of her intangible future (and my role in shaping it) into a nice neat list.
“i’ll just write down everything i want her to experience and know and become and then i’ll work backwards, charting the steps i must take to get her there.”
even as i write this, it sounds ludicrous, and yet, i haven’t given up the idea completely. how else can i make sure my daughter feels equally at home in an art museum and a tree fort? how else will i ensure that she loves to play in the creeks of heavily wooded forests and also dreams of the lights new york city at night?
in my naiveté, i’m sure, i presume that i have approximately 5 years to make these initial impressions on her before she starts charting her own course. this is not a lot of time, people. thus the anxiety. thus the need for a list. we’ll need to take a trip to africa in order to go on a safari (so she sees the beauty of wildlife in its natural habitat and learns to despise zoos). i’ll need to start speaking to her in spanish (note to self: review spanish). we’ll probably have to start that little farm we always talk about. but first we’ll need to spend at least a year living in a big city in order to cultivate a love of diversity and culture. but which city? where will the farm be? i’ll want her to know the truth of suffering and injustice in the world so that she’ll always feel compassion for others and will stand up for the underdog without question. i’m not certain yet where exactly we’ll go to impress upon her such an important lesson that doesn’t also imply cultural superiority (second note to self: figure that out). she’ll probably feel so worldly that we’ll need to really emphasize the importance of humility. oh and, we’ll definitely have to spend time hiking and camping so she knows how to identify edible plants and doesn’t become too prissy. but then we’ll also need to have quiet nights at home (which will have to have a fireplace) where we play board games and drink hot chocolate. she should feel “normal” too. oh shoot, she might have siblings, and they’ll lag behind in the list. we might have to start over at some point. she’ll feel bored the second time we go on african safari. that’s ok. she can review.
i am starting to feel like the main character of if you give a mouse a muffin. (add to list: read classic children’s books to her, such as if you give a mouse a muffin!)
this i suppose is the burden of preemptive nostalgia. as i glorify my own childhood, even in its simplicity, i realize that she too will one day have memories of her own childhood and will create story upon story as to how those memorable experiences have created whoever it is that she will be in the future. the responsibility of affecting an entire life seems suddenly larger than the very life itself. is this my job as a mother? it can’t be. how will i find the time to do the dishes? or more importantly, cuddle with her?
and then, the second absurdly obvious idea of the day: maybe just focus on cuddling with her. the rest will probably happen as it’s meant to happen.
i’m not certain, but i’m guessing that if i were to ask my own mother whether she made a mothering list, she would first laugh, then embark on a lecture about her primary goal as a mother, which was made known to us in various ways throughout our entire lives: to make sure we knew how much she loved us. if i am nostalgic about climbing trees and late night kick-the-can, special yearly trips to chicago and singing along loudly to fleetwood mac, that is most certainly not because my mother made a list and enforced those experiences on me. that is probably because i felt so loved. no, that is definitely because i felt so loved.
so my multidimensional list has been boiled down to one single task: love her. i think i can handle that. she might wind up feeling at home within herself that way. art museums and tree-forts will just be icing on the cake.