I don’t think my daughter has ever actually made me a lanyard. She’s made me plenty of other beautiful arts projects over the years. She’s a creative and artistic young women. But certainly a lanyard wasn’t one of them. And yet suddenly the image of that simple, plastic, boxy little lanyard is now linked to two powerful moments with my daughter.
The first, at a mother daughter beach retreat in the spring where seniors were invited to share tributes with their moms. She read a delicious poem to the group of 200 as her tribute to me. It was called the Lanyard. Other girls read thoughts of their moms, shared stories and memories. But I’d been prepped. She’d actually warned me that she had no intention of sharing anything particularly personal about us in front of that group because that just wasn’t her style. Instead she read the poem. It was fun, and funny and she was poised and got a laughs from the audience.
Later, on the way back to our beach house she shared with me privately what she might have said as her tribute to me. It was a quiet moment between the two of us shared on the street in front of our rented beach house and it was one of those moments we relish as a parent. One where we are acknowledged by our child that we don’t actually have a manual with this parenting job and we are doing the best we can AND they are grateful for all of it. If we are fortunate for a moment where our child says thank you. I love you. You are a doing a good job. We cherish it. I have held that moment and that experience with tenderness, because it helps on the other days when I’ve messed up, screamed, preached, or acted in a way that perhaps I am not so proud of. Both experiences are hopefully part of this parenting journey.
This weekend, we dropped our daughter off at college.
The president of her university Father Stephen Sundborg offered a final farewell to the students and parents after we moved our kids into their dorms. It was encouraging and emotional. He spoke to the parents and the students about our roles in this new relationship together and darn if he didn’t tell the lanyard poem. I laughed and then cried at the synchronicity of hearing that poem now five months after my daughter read it at our beach retreat.
Sometimes I’ve thought on this parenting journey how helpful it might be to have a manual to help you know what to do. So many moments of parenting it isn’t obvious what to do. But the truth is, we each move through this experience and learn by doing, making mistakes, asking forgiveness and loving our kids with all of our hearts and souls. We share this journey with older relatives and friends who’ve walked the path before us and give us advice and guidance when necessary. We provide the manuals for each other. We parent and guide, we are guided and parented. The unknown in this journey can feel overwhelming sometimes and yet it’s the same for everyone.
As this next adventure unfolds for my daughter, I am excited to learn of her new friendships. Excited to watch as she embraces new thoughts, ideas and journeys of her own. I’ll also miss her like crazy. Miss having her come home at night to share her day with us in person. Luckily, these days we have the advantage of technologies that keep us well connected despite any distance. I know it’s an emotional time for everyone when a child goes off to college but one that has arrived and must be lived through. Whatever this new part of the parenting journey may bring I am ready. I’ve got tissues available and hugs and guidance from others is gladly accepted. And at this point, I have only asked my daughter for one thing, I think it’s time now that I actually do get my very own homemade lanyard.
The Lanyard – Billy Collins
off the blue walls of this room,
moving as if underwater from typewriter to piano,
from bookshelf to an envelope lying on the floor,
when I found myself in the L section of the dictionary
where my eyes fell upon the word lanyard.
No cookie nibbled by a French novelist
could send one into the past more suddenly-
a past where I sat at a workbench at a camp
by a deep Adirondack lake
learning how to braid long thin plastic strips
into a lanyard, a gift for my mother.
I had never seen anyone use a lanyard
or wear one, if that’s what you did with them,
but that did not keep me from crossing
strand over strand again and again
until I had made a boxy
red and white lanyard for my mother.
She gave me life and milk from her breasts,
and I gave her a lanyard.
She nursed me in many a sick room,
lifted spoons of medicine to my lips,
laid cold face-clothes on my forehead,
and then led me out into the air light
and taught me to walk and swim,
and I, in turn, presented her with a lanyard.
Here are thousands of meals, she said,
and here is clothing and a good education.
And here is your lanyard, I replied,
which I made with a little help from a counselor.
Here is a breathing body and a beating heart,
strong legs, bones and teeth,
and two clear eyes to read the world, she whispered,
and here, I said, is the lanyard I made at camp.
And here, I wish to say to her now,
is a smaller gift – not the worn truth
that you can never repay your mother,
but the rueful admission that when she took
the two-toned lanyard from my hand,
I was as sure as a boy could be
that this useless, worthless thing I wove
out of boredom would be enough to make us even.