It was a Saturday morning. Stanton was driving, and the girls were in the backseat. We were on our way back to the town soccer fields.
Grace had already played her game, at 9 a.m. The four of us had been there together and were now heading out again for Anna’s 12 noon match, after a quick lunch (and more coffee) at our house. This would be Anna’s very first soccer game.
From the passenger seat, I overheard Grace (a veteran, you might say, at this point) giving her little sister some pro tips. There were orange slices at half time, Popsicles at the end. Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.
Sometimes the grass is wet, from dew or rain, Grace noted. Kids can fall. “If you fall, just get back up,” Grace said.
I smiled and turned around, just in time to see Anna nodding along, taking everything in. She trusted Grace, completely.
Then Grace paused, considered. “If you fall, you might get hurt. It’s OK if you cry.”
In that moment, friends, I wanted to cry. “Grace,” I said. “That’s beautiful advice.”
My older daughter smiled.
“What else, Grace?” Anna wondered.
Nobody really gets excited about the orange slices.
Kids are back to school now, and every school day abounds with thoughtful curriculum and instruction. I love listening to Grace explain fact families to me, and looking at Anna’s preschool artwork. I’m deeply grateful for the girls’ wonderful schools and teachers.
Also, overhearing Grace’s soccer tips to Anna reminded me that sometimes we learn meaningful lessons outside classroom doors too. Athletic fields, playgrounds, performing arts stages—even sitting cross-legged on kitchen countertops, keeping our parents company while they prepare yet another after-school snack—all these places offer up additional spaces for learning.
“It’s OK if you cry” is a good first lesson for sure. There are times when life hurts; acknowledge that, let it out. Don’t be embarrassed or ashamed; ask for help when you need it. Cry, and then try to move forward.
Here are some other lessons that I try to teach my children on a regular basis, and live out every day. And tell me, friends—what else should be on this list?
2. Spend time outside every day. Even if it’s just a few minutes to walk around the block, or sit on the front steps to open the mail. Give yourself a break from your desk, your screens, the unending stacks of dishes and piles of laundry indoors.
Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life. Don’t underestimate the power of fresh air.
3. Let the people you love know that you do. If your sister’s standing next to you, hug her. If, someday, she lives in another city, call her, get together; stay close.
Mail your oldest friends cards on their birthdays, and when they welcome a child into their family. Invite new friends over for dinner. Send your 91-year-old grandma, who took care of you when you were a baby, flowers every now and then, just because.
Don’t take your people or their love for granted.
4. Don’t keep score. Not in personal relationships, anyway. I called you, now it’s your turn to call me. I made dinner tonight, you’ve got tomorrow.
Tallying up life’s minutiae is painfully time-consuming, if not practically impossible. We each have our own strengths (and weaknesses). Aim for fairness. And if the circumstances start to feel unfair, bring that up; talk it through.
5. “No” is a complete sentence. Recently, a friend shared this perspective with me, from an article she had read, and I love it.
As we journey through life, peers may invite us into situations we may not feel good about. Later, people may offer us jobs that conflict with our values, or volunteer opportunities that conflict with our time. This has happened to me, and for years, I’ve tried to finesse my negative RSVP’s with diplomatic explanations and apologies. I realize now that a simple “no,” expressed kindly yet firmly, is enough.
Feel the sun on your skin, breathe in the scent of pine needles, watch a monarch butterfly glide. This is life.
6. Home is and isn’t about the “stuff.” Anna calls our family room “the cozy room.” When I first heard her say that, I asked her why she liked to say cozy room. “Because this is where you snuggle me on the couch and read to me,” she replied.
That answer resonated with me. We’re lucky to live in the house we have, in the neighborhood it’s in. Those material things are important, yes. But what happens in that house—the time spent together, the warmth and safety and acceptance of the space—is equally important.
7. Sometimes, you need to let go. Of material stuff, for sure. The other day, I (finally) acknowledged I was never, ever going to fit back into a classic top I had worn for years. So I passed it along to our local clothing drop box, and hopefully somebody else will enjoy it as much as I did.
More difficult, however, can be letting go of the immaterial stuff. Memories of times that could have been better, people who could have treated us kinder. There’s no joy in being a grievance collector, though.
I was taking a walk, and all of a sudden, a memory came to mind. I shook my head, remembering this past irritation. Then I thought, just as quickly, it really is time to let that go. I breathed in deeply (the scent of pine needles, where I was now, content)…and did. It felt so good, friends—letting go.
8. Don’t underestimate the value of a good cup of coffee or a good night’s sleep. Mornings can be rough, and nightfall too. We can be frazzled at the start of day, sad or sentimental at the end. Just hang on ’til morning, and start the new day with a good brew.
9. There are a million other little things, tidbits I’ve picked up here and there, wisdom that’s become mine through “learning experiences” (less kindly known as “mistakes”).
I also want to tell my girls…go to the dentist regularly. Be careful with credit cards. Don’t vape; eat your vegetables. Watch “The Wire” and “Parks and Rec.”
Your first job probably won’t be your dream job. Still, do a good job. You’re investing in your growth, your future.
Things usually come full circle, and make sense in the end. Look for silver linings until they do.
Dine alfresco as much as possible. Roast marshmallows and make s’mores year-round.
Dark chocolate is more delicious than milk.
Travel—make sure you see London, Paris, San Francisco, Australia.
Be a regular somewhere. Overtip. Be generous when you can.
Two things you can never say too much: “Thank you,” and “I love you.”
There are a million other little things, but not enough time or space to share them here. And that is the main lesson I’d like to impart to my daughters:
10. Life goes fast; time is precious. Make the most of everything. Walk out the front door. Do stuff; have experiences. Get kinder and more patient with age.
You can always come home.
(Thank you, Grace, for inspiring me.)
Photo credit: Pixabay
Like what you just read? Then check out Melissa Leddy’s newest short story, “Backtrack.” An engaging read that’s can’t-put-it-down good.