By Anne Maxwell
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I have just two words I’d like to say to my kids.
Not for anything I’ve said. Not for something I have done or have not done. But rather, for the shoeboxes of memories I’ll leave behind once my time has come.
Let me explain further.
Kids, you won’t find these boxes listed among any of my worldly goods. Yet their contents are more precious to me than most of my possessions combined. At first glance, you’ll probably sigh and maybe even grumble a little, thinking, What in the world? as I did when I helped my mom go through the endless mementoes left behind by her own mother. And, for adding any more stuff to your plate to sort, ponder, and diving, I am sorry.
But I’m not going to apologize for holding onto those handwritten keepsakes all these years. Among them you’re sure to discover several homemade treasures from the Mother’s Days you celebrated with me. They’re the cards you served up along with a childhood attempt at pancakes and eggs on that second Sunday morning in May. And the illustrated rhymes you forced younger siblings to sign while you did your best to brew the coffee you’d watched me make every other morning of the year.
They’re not anything unique. Most mothers like me are also blessed to receive their children’s hearts poured out on paper. But, since they’re the handiwork from the babies I raised, there’s nothing quite like them.
You’ll be certain to come across one that exclaims, You’re the best, Mom!” written in painstakingly careful crayon script by a kindergartener. Or the stick image of me (anatomically incorrect, but much appreciated in my post-baby weight days) with huge feet that pulled off my favorite red shoes. And the loving message written by a dear teenage girl who came home one day to find me in a puddle of tears over something I’ve long forgotten. But the words she took the time to write to me that night were forever remembered.
And they’re not just notes from my kids. They’re birthday cards from my grandparents. A note from my Dad. A card from my Mom. An “atta girl” from a co-worker who wanted to send sunshine my way. A note passed from a best friend in high school between third and fourth hour just to pass the time and solve the world's problems as only 16-year-olds can. Beautiful congratulatory messages from readers of my book that I somehow found the courage to publish after doubting myself for decades.
There’s also some love notes from your own Dad. They’re sweet, funny, and endearing and I want you to see them just so you know how much we loved one another right from the start. And that love is why you’re all here.
I hope you laugh.
I assume you’ll shed some tears.
I know in some way, I’ll be with you.
It will be evident just how much I treasured those words. They were a bright spot to me on the day I received them. On days when I’d glance at them again, they provided a bittersweet reminder that you really were once that little. They also helped me pick my chin up when I was feeling down. I remember a co-worker who once told me after I’d received a rather nice note from a reader for a story I’d written at the newspaper that I should save it for a day when I’d get a source who’d call in and be not so complimentary.
So I did.
And I saved all those personal notes as well.
As the waves life crashed over me, I would open the box, and wade through those words, which were more like paper boats to me.
They reminded me that people care. That I had so many reasons to be thankful. And even with all my imperfection, I’m loved. Even looking at one card could keep me afloat and make me feel like picking up my oar and paddling once again.
So, yes. I’m sorry for leaving behind what may look like a mismanaged mess. But know that love, communicated on cards from the hands of a child or scripted encouragement put to paper from a friend, can be one of the most beautiful gifts you can receive.
Sometimes lifeboats are made of paper.
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