I guess that every child believes, at least for a while, that his parents know everything. Growing up, it seemed to me that you just knew how to raise us. You just knew when we were needing a hug, or when we were needing a laugh, or -- dare I say it? -- when we needed a spanking.
You just knew, it seemed, how we were supposed to turn out. You knew how to imbue character. You knew how to turn a spilled glass of milk, a dead squirrel, or a lost action figure into a life lesson. You knew how to express profound truth in the vocabulary of an eight-year-old.
You knew how to listen. You knew how the small world of a child can be upset by even the mildest of tremors. When a playground incident left me with hurt feelings, you knew how to make it better. And to my chagrin, you knew when it was I who needed the reprimand.
You knew how to bring out the bright side. You knew how to make grocery shopping fun for a five-year-old, a potluck fun for a ten-year-old, and even -- though it may be hard to believe -- family game night fun for a surly teenager. But you also knew when enough was enough. You knew how to cut off teasing before it became hurtful and when to keep goofiness from breaching etiquette.
You knew when to give aspirin and when to give Tylenol. Remember the red-tipped thermometer? You knew which end that one went in (and I'm eternally grateful that you didn't get that one confused). You knew when it was time for the hot water bottle, and when it was time for the ice pack. You knew when our bodies were too sick for school. You also knew when our hearts were too heavy for school.
I remember how surprised I was when I discovered that you knew how to do trig. And that you knew the difference between Manet and Monet. Turned out that you'd read Dostoyevsky, too. I knew you were musical, but until you gave me the song you'd written for me, until you played it for me on high school graduation day, I didn't know you could compose.
Most of all, you knew how to assure us that we were loved. My brother, my sister, and me -- there have never been three children more assured of the love of their parents. And you knew how to make that love felt with just a word or just a smile. You knew that love takes work. You knew that love required discipline and not just passion. And you knew how to teach me this not through lectures, but by example. You knew that the words "I'm sorry" were just as powerful as the words "I love you," and that the combination of those two phrases could often mend a rift that moments before seemed irreparable.
When I was seventeen, intoxicated with rebellion, I might have said that you didn't know anything, that you didn't understand. Contrary as it may seem, though, I still suspected that you knew. We were just actors repeating the same old show. But you had seen it before while it was all new to me.
Most astoundingly, you knew when to let go. You seemed to know, when I packed my car to head off to college, that I would be fine. Did you know I was ready? Did you know that your work was, for the most part, done?
Now I'm older. Proverbially, at least, I am wiser. I have three children of my own. And I know for a fact that when it comes to parenting, nobody just knows. What's too harsh? What's too gentle? What's too demanding? What's too lax? What do I do with all of these kids? And am I dooming every one to a second mortgage's worth of psychiatric treatment? It turns out that there is no handbook. Most days parenting feels like guesswork, a smattering of ideas tested by trial and error. And the scary thing is that sometimes I can't tell what is working and what is not. Parenting is wandering in the night, fumbling in the darkness. Let me state baldly that I don't know what I am doing.
So Mom... through parenting's adventures, the mundane and the surprising, the good and the bad... how did you know?
I love you Mom.