"Whenever any of us left the house, my mother always made us stop at the door where she would lay her hand on top of our head and deliver this benediction. 'God loves you. I love you. Remember where you come from.'" from A Matter of Time Although my mother never said those exact words to me, they were implied in everything she taught me during my growing up years. As I navigated the uneasy steps of first friendships, eased my way into the classroom, and finally took my place in the "real" world, I was always mindful of my how much I was loved and how important I was to the family. I was also keenly aware of the expectations that were placed upon me. Those expectations included concrete things like "work hard," "obey the rules," "do well in school," but also "be loyal to your family," "be kind to others" and "don't be selfish." Those were the values my family lived by. That was where I came from.
As I ponder becoming a grandmother and helping my grandson grow up in such a complex and fragmented world, I think about how important it is for children to know where they come from, how vital that they have a sense of belonging in their family, their culture, their neighborhood, their faith.
We teach that by example, like my parents did, by living the values you want them to internalize and emulate. But it doesn't hurt to remind them so many words, either. In the book (and in the movie) The Help, Aibilene makes it a point to repeat these words every morning to Mae Mobley, the little girl she cares for whose own mother virtually ignores her. "You a smart girl. You a kind girl, Mae Mobley." In this simple, direct, and loving way, she reinforces the child's sense of self worth but also infers that these are desirable attributes and valuable characteristics. Her words become a poignant litany of love, much like the directive I quoted at the beginning of the post.
I definitely grew up with a sense of blessing - of being a blessing to the people in my family who loved and cherished me, and of having been blessed with good health and intelligence and the freedom to make the best use of my gifts. Sometimes, even when parents genuinely feel all those things, they're incapable of expressing those emotions directly or indirectly and simply aren't successful at conveying that message to their children. Occasionally, there is a sense of disconnect between a parent and child, that, despite everyone's best efforts, prevents a child from developing that sense of belonging to something larger than himself. In times like those, a child needs to look outside the family unit to find that place he belongs. Sometimes it might be with a friend, or at school or church. Sometimes, sadly, they never find it at all, and wander through life rootless and insecure.
I know I was blessed to come from a place where family was held in high esteem, where happiness was eagerly sought after, where my dreams were acknowledged and honored, where the world was laid at my feet for the taking, where every effort was made to insure my safety and security.
That's the world I want to give my grandson. That's where I want him to come from.