Very often, the only way to get a quality in reality is to start behaving as if you had it already. That is why children's games are so important. They are always pretending to be grown-ups - playing soldiers, playing shop. But all the time, they are hardening their muscles and sharpening their wits so that the pretence of being grown-up helps them to grow up in earnest.

~C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Not so simple

Not long ago I drove by the University of Maryland campus on a lovely evening.  Students were out on the lawns reading, socializing, and studying.  They were strolling along the main road, jogging, and biking on their way to and from their various college life activities.

Although the campus is vastly different, my mind quickly jumped back to my time as a student at Calvin College.  A part of me wished I could do it all again, that I could be back at that time of my life when I was so eager to grow up, to become independent.  For me, college was very good experience.  Even the last time I was there, the campus still had a feeling like "home" to me.  In fact, I remember having that feeling before I was even a student there.  I remember walking around campus one day the spring before I was going to start classes, filled with an excitement about starting classes, meeting new friends, and gaining new independence.  Along with the excitement, I felt a sense of security and peace that I knew this was the right place for me to be.

Of course, in college, I faced times of uncertainty and discomfort.  There were relationships to struggle with, there were life changing decisions to make about my majors, and there was the general stress of keeping up with my school work and my job.  I know that in college I longed at times for a simpler time in life.  Once, when I was in high school, a friend of mine confided that there were times she wished she could go back to being a kid for a day.  To go back to a time when she remembered days that now seemed carefree.  Days of swingsets and rollerskates.


Of course, childhood isn't really as easy as all that either.  I remember nights as a child when I was upset by something a friend did at school.  I remember being worried about the grass stains on my pants that I had to tell my mom about again when I got home from school.  Some of those tough memories are strong.  But that's not the sense that really pervades my memories of my childhood.

Instead, it is an overall a sense of happiness, and the nostalgia that goes with it is appropriate.  I'm not sure what would be on my list of all the things that make up happy memories from my childhood.  Sure, there are things that stand out - times like baking and cooking with my mom, sailing with my dad, and playing games and listening to my mom's old 45s in the basement on hot summer days with my sisters - but I know I've forgotten a lot of the good times too.  But the memory of happiness is still there.

As a mom now, I want that for my kids.  Even though I know Oliver and Jonathan will have specific upsetting memories, I want them to have specific happy memories too.  But I want more than that.  I want them to think back on their childhood and feel that sense of security, peace, and happiness - those things that make up nostalgia.  I'm realizing that is quite the thing to ask for.  Just growing up is hard.  Children struggle to manage obedience and independence.  They have to learn to manage disappointments.  They have to learn to work out their differences with friends.

Parenting them through this is, well, not something I just know how to do.  I have to work my way through it, finding balance between discipline and independence.  Providing structure and creating space for fun. Figuring it all out with them.  It is uncomfortable.  It is frustrating.  It is bewildering.  So some days, I just don't know how I am going to create that sense of nostalgia that I want them to have - that I want to have - about their childhoods.  And I'm grateful that doing this is not all up to me.  I'm grateful that I have a dear husband, family, and friends are part of creating the childhood I want for my kids.  And I keep trying to hold onto those memories I don't want to forget, those happy moments when I say to myself - "Yes, this is how I want life to be!"