I hope you remember all of the ways I cared for you since the second you were born. And since you probably won’t, I hope that you remember bits and pieces of life beyond cooking and cleaning, carpools and color-coded calendars. For it is beneath these details where I have truly labored. In the passing, fleeting, constant moments — piled millions of miles high — is where I have worked to raise you.
I hope you remember how I let you play in the mud in your favorite sundress or your bare bottom, and didn’t complain when the hose was left running, but quietly shut it off myself so you could remain lost in play and giggles.
I hope you remember that while I sat at your Little League games in the freezing cold and blazing sun, sometimes I didn’t sit too close or show up for the first pitch because I wanted it to be your own. I wanted you to learn to love it, with or without my approval. I hope you know that I purposely delayed your participation in summer teams and travel leagues so you could experience boredom and create your own fun without needing a full schedule to fix it.
I hope you understand that I didn’t volunteer every week in your classroom or join you too often for lunch because I really loved knowing you had your space to grow and be yourself without my watchful eye or concerned presence.
I hope you understand the value of our afternoon naps on the couch was about more than just rest. Curled under a blanket with a book, dozing in the quiet, our heartbeats pressed together.
I hope you know that almost everything I did — the hard decisions and simple pleasures — were rooted in my love for you. I always intended for you to have certain experiences that would make you live stronger, even when those lessons were hard for you, even when those lessons were hard for me.
The list is infinite — fresh air in freezing temperatures, recycling, visits to aging relatives out of state, choosing worn socks with holes, please and thank yous, seeking spirituality, tolerance for kids with peanut allergies, learning when to save and when to spend, making your bed every morning, ignoring your swears during pick-up games with friends, reading Charlotte’s Web and Harry Potter before bed, blocking certain TV channels, saying no to a cell phone, making you wait, letting you climb trees, cross the street, eat sand, hang upside down on the monkey bars, devour an entire pack of gum, have a fit in public, leaving you unattended with face paint (though I do regret the Sharpies, your sister had a mustache for a week), prepare a picnic lunch, ride a bike, plant a garden, go for days without a bath. In each moment — the silly and the serious — we hold on and let go, and we grow.
I relentlessly brought you to playgrounds and libraries, living proof that the best things in life are free. I bought delicious, organic food at farmer’s markets and grocery stores. But I always made sure you had an acquired taste for frozen pizza, macaroni and cheese, and peanut butter and jelly in case someday you needed to sustain on it.
I hope you understand that I left you with a sitter you dreaded to have a date with your Daddy, so you could see that our love was a priority. And so someday, you would look for deep, mutual love too.
I have slowly learned that I don’t have all the answers and most days it feels like I don’t have any. My patience is fragile, my standards are intense, my expectations of life are immeasurable. But I hope someday, when you write your memoir or give my eulogy or reminisce with my grandchildren, that there’s enough crazy to balance the wholesome, enough challenge to showcase my wisdom, enough sweat and tears to show how honest I mothered you with every ounce of my strength.
I hope you know that the love of mother and child — the truest love of all — crept into every inch of my being, every day of my life. And I hope you bravely tell the stories of my greatest moments and my worst failures, and remember to dig even deeper. Because it is in the smallest cracks and crevices of our story, the lost and longing, the funny and forgotten, that I learned the most about myself. Unique and universal, in the climb and the slide, are the places where I earned the years of my life. These are the places of honor, the places I became a mother.
Janell Burley Hofmann of Sandwich is a mother of five children from ages 11 to 3.