Grace: success and sadness

Grace’s school report arrived yesterday. I was not aware that they were coming out, and as usual the detail and granularity of the teachers’ comments and insight impressed me. Grace is having a great year. Forget her very good marks – what I was proudest of was the number of times different teachers (Jesus I had no idea how many special subjects she takes now – good God) commented on how she is thoughtful, aware of others, generous, and a good friend. As far as I’m concerned that goes a lot further than being good at counting by 10s.

One of the few places that Grace had a lower ranking was in “leadership instincts.” This made me sad, because I think it reflects a growing timidity that I’ve observed, a certain muffling of her voice by anxiety. It also reminded me, of course of my own issues with taking charge and formally leading.

I told Grace that I was proud of her because her teachers said she was working hard. I mentioned how glad I was to hear that she was a good friend and she was kind and great at both listening and helping others. This praise did not change the fact that she was sad this weekend. I was reminded again that my little girl is as sparkly and as fragile as spun glass.

It was an ordinary Sunday. Grace, Whit and I took Matt to the airport mid-afternoon and then embarked on an afternoon of random errands that I tried to spin as an adventure. We took some change to the Coinstar machine (mysteriously, an absolute laser light show of excitement for my children). We went to the drycleaner (free lollipops help make this an ever-anticipated stop). We bought some lettuce and some bread. We took a ride on the subway (and then rode home, without exiting the station. This is one of my favorite activities with G &W, and I love that they are so easily entertained).

On the subway, Grace seemed quiet, and on the way home, she burst into tears. I asked her what was wrong. She shrugged and said, tears rolling down her face, that she just felt sad and didn’t know why. My heart ached with identification, guilt and the desire to make her not sad anymore. At home she crumpled into a mournful little heap at the bottom of the stairs. The rest of the day she was quiet and tearful, repeating over and over that she was “just sad” and “didn’t know why.”

I reassured her that I knew this feeling (and how) and that I was quite sure it would pass. She clung to me as I tucked her in, thanking me for always cheering her up and making things better. The whole afternoon made me feel heavy with guilt about her “just sadness.” There’s no question in my mind this is my bleak influence; what I don’t know is if it’s a learned behavior from watching me or a trait inherited from the very fabric of my DNA. I don’t think it matters much.

Once again I felt aware of the way I am a mother who is more shadow than sun, the way my complicated ambivalence plays occasional discordant notes into the song of my relationship with my children. My poor, poor daughter, tugging behind her the heavy freight of my moody melancholy. I imagine her pulling Whit on the sled up a snowy hill, her body bent forward with the effort of pulling such heavy weight, her feet slipping on the snow, her progress halting and excruciatingly slow.

Oh, Gracie. I am so sorry. I wish I could lift the weight of this birthright that I gave you unwittingly (but also, perhaps, inevitably). Your sensitivity is so familiar and so keen that I flinch to witness it displayed, as I did today. I have long believed in telling you the blunt truth (like when Whit asked if a shot was going to hurt and I hesitated before saying, quietly, “yes”) so I won’t pretend that there won’t be many more “just sad” days. There will be.

There is much sadness, Gracie, much inexplicable darkness, and I too know the feeling of a wave of unanticipated and inchoate anguish sweeping you off your feet. When you thanked me for “making everything better” before bed, I told you firmly, fiercely, that it was my job to do that. It is my job to hold you during the sorrowful days, reminding you that at least you are not alone. It is also my job, maybe more importantly, to remind you of all the stunning joys and blinding light that exist alongside the gloom. There is so much more light than dark, Gracie, of that I am certain. I promise to help point it out to you.


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14 Comments

  1. Posted February 1, 2010 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    My tears welled up reading this post. You are truly a wonderful mother and eloquent writer.

    It is so scary the effect we have on our beloved children. Scary, but amazing at the same time. They are part of us, yet apart from us too.

    We want so much for them and it is overwhelming sometimes when we can’t be/do everything for them.

    Take care and know that many of us feel the same things and are going through the same things

  2. Posted February 1, 2010 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    I think it’s important for all of us to remember that there is lots of shadow in any normal and rich life — and also that sadness in our children isn’t necessarily a reflection of our own depression.

    Kids need opportunities to express their sadness, as well as their joy, fatigue, and confusion. We’re good parents insofar as we help them know they have a safe place with us to do just that…

    And you, my friend, are a great parent.

  3. Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:04 am | Permalink

    We are so very alike. I am more shadow than light. I try very hard to fake it, but I think kids can sense that, too?

    I, too, bear the guilt when Miss D. (so overly sensitive like me) gets melancholy. She’s different enough from me that I try not to worry too much, but what about Miss M., who is more like me in temperament and timidity? Will her sadness linger more than a few moments? I will be to blame.

    I cried, reading this.

  4. Posted February 1, 2010 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Glorious post about your sweet little girl, the heredity of outlook, and the ever-shifting contrast between shadows and sun. I think there is an immense intelligence in “just sadness.” I do. Perhaps I am spinning myself a self-serving tale (quite likely) because I just dropped my little girl off at school and she burst into tears as I walked out of the room. I tell myself that she is “just sad” and that is okay. And I do think it is. Life is not all rainbows. There are momentary storms and I think those tiny and not-so-tiny storms hold many clues.

    I am sorry that your girl was sad this weekend. And I am sorry that mine was sad this morning. But I trust that both of us will do the best we can to encourage the intelligence resident in the moments of melancholy and abate the “just sadness” in every way we know how.

  5. Posted February 1, 2010 at 9:30 am | Permalink

    I think about this all the time, but never quite so eloquently and without the luminous imagery of shadow and light to help make sense of it. Thank you for this new vocabulary.

    As a teacher, I read about Grace’s progress report with tremendous pride for you as a parent. In my book, generosity, kindness, and awareness of others are powerful leadership skills. If only more children – and more adults, for that matter – led through the example of a gentle and sympathetic touch.

  6. Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:03 am | Permalink

    I have so few answers. I can’t pretend to know much of anything at all. But believing there is more light than darkness is what my soul thrives on. If we just open our eyes, open our eyes to it all. Sadness can shift to something else, and that something “else” can not only see the light but be the light.

    Oh your sweet girl. And you.

  7. Posted February 1, 2010 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    What a beautiful, beautiful expression of your love. I cried, too, reading this. It drew me into a place where my mother was still alive, and I could tell her, “It’s okay, mom. I know you loved me, and I know you always tried. I know now that the shadows remind me of just how beautiful the light is sometimes. And I thank you for showing me that sadness is part of life. I now know that feeling sadness is just as important as feeling happy.” And it’s true. All of our emotions are equally important to be FELT and not stuffed down. What a beautiful thing you’re teaching your daughter.

  8. Posted February 1, 2010 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    Oh my. You are a most magnificent mother. You speak truth to your children, while AT THE SAME TIME, love them with all your heart.

    At the deepest place in the shadow, lies the most brilliant light. They are not two separate things, but rather both part of a radiant spectrum of life.

    There is really only love, and that you ooze in spades, beautiful one.

  9. Posted February 1, 2010 at 4:12 pm | Permalink

    “I am a mother who is more shadow than sun.”

    I understand being in this place more often than not, feeling as though this is a legacy that we would have turned away from had we a choice. A legacy of (indirect) absorption as much as being.

    We may encourage (or discourage) certain sensitivities in our children, but I believe their basic nature is set, perhaps well before we have a sense of it. That doesn’t mean it will not flourish and expand, gain means to be less vulnerable (or more), but I can only imagine your daughter will also share your strongest self, and awareness.

    With your shadows and sun come compassion and profound thought, a searching spirit, fine intelligence, and truthfulness. Without shadow and darkness, we have little appreciation for the sun.

    I suspect you named your lovely Grace wisely.

  10. Posted February 1, 2010 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

    good on you for speaking the truth instead of trying to perky right over the sad spot thus dismissing her feelings and making her feel less than and inadequate and wrong. it is okay to feel sad, and there are degrees of sadness – something folks around me often overlook or ignore. keep telling her the truth, my friend, giving her information and coping tools, and just simply holding the space for her when that’s what she needs most. xo

  11. Posted February 1, 2010 at 6:55 pm | Permalink

    Oh my word… this is the first post I sat down to read tonight. Tea in hand, kids in bed, another tough day.
    And the tears. Thank you for evoking tears ;)
    I feel this way so much with my Fynn. I know he has so much of me in him. That part of me that over thinks, that over feels, that gives and then breaks easily. I feel it when he says “I just sad” and sits and just needs a snuggle.
    Deep breath… this was lovely, Lindsey. Lovely.

  12. Posted February 1, 2010 at 10:47 pm | Permalink

    Lindsey: Your words are so blindingly beautiful that darkness cannot possibly survive. But in light, shadows remain; those which you feel, see, and so deeply long to banish for tender, fragile, successful, brilliant Grace – as well as for yourself.

    What I’m struck by (and want to affirm) is your warrior-like determination to acknowledge the very thing you fear. The glint of your blade (or shining shook foil…) when it catches the sun and names the truth is what Grace will see, remember, and respond to: your battle on her behalf (and your own).

    Light and hope and joy will win. They always do. I’m certain of it.

  13. Posted February 2, 2010 at 12:50 am | Permalink

    It’s so hard to see ourselves in our children, especially parts of ourselves that we struggle with. Really a lovely post about a lovely girl.

  14. Posted February 3, 2010 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

    This is a beautiful post.

    Some distant day when Gracie is a mother herself, she can hopefully read this and nod her head. And understand.

    I think the role of mothers is to show both the shadow and the sun to our children. Because that is the rub. That is life. It is not only hard but impossible (and inhuman) to always be the sun.

    But we can gently remind that the sun is brighter and larger and more. That is our role, our purpose, I suppose.

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