My grown son gave me a stack of photos one day – you know, the old-fashioned kind, the ones you have to hold in your hand or paste in a scrapbook to look at. He had come across a roll of film and, curious about the contents, had it developed. The pictures were from Christmas 1992. What struck and relieved me most, as I sorted through these hard-copy memories, was that no one posed with their new toy like a fisherman beside his trophy tuna. Instead, in every picture, my children were hugging somebody.

To have physical evidence that my kids really loved and appreciated each other as children, and that we — all the adults in their lives — found joy in their childhood, meant a lot to me, for my memory is aging, and I am well aware that I cannot trust it completely anymore: either I get little too rose-colored like an old love-letter curling slightly at the edges, or I become critical of my past, like an old epistle, read so often it takes on too much meaning.

There are some things, however, I remember with absolute clarity. This is the biggest: I LOVED being a mommy. I loved every stage of being a mommy: infants, toddlers, elementary school, tweens, teens, young adults: bring it on. However, I am sure now that I am different now. That is what going through all those stages does to a woman. Grandma’s hair turns silver so that her children will know she is different; so that, as adults, they will forgive and revere her. The wiry head is a lopsided crown proclaiming: I did it. I was imperfect, but I did it.

When my daughter-in-law was about to give birth to her first baby, a well-meaning mommy-peer, who was also new to the ranks, gave her this earnest piece of advice: Do not listen to anyone else’s ideas about parenting. It’s your baby, and no one else can tell you how to parent. My daughter-in-law was amazed.

Her friend’s green-counsel reminds me of a Jerry Seinfeld routine about helpful aliens parking their spaceship in the yard just as Dad is putting everything in the car for a family road trip. 

Surrounded by too much luggage for the trunk, Dad says: “EVERYBODY STAND BACK. IT GOES IN A WAY ONLY I UNDERSTAND.’” 

“But Dad,’ you whisper, ‘they came from another galaxy! I think they know how to pack.”

I admit I am increasingly wrinkled, shrinking, and poofy, but I am not an alien. Whatever worthy advice I can offer younger mommies and daddies is because I am human too. It’s not because I was Mother-Extraordinaire, but because I was Mother-Pulling-Hair. I over-extended, over-expended, and over-expected. The kids and I grew through most of my mistakes but some of them had consequences that echo in our lives today…

Buuuut if you aren’t interested in becoming the wiser-then-I-was (because the only “how-to” you trust is the book you wrote yourself) then all I can tell you is how it feels to live with the consequences.

I have and will continue (on occasions like today), to share my parenting experience (good and bad) with younger WifeSavers who want to know. But for today, standing here in the driveway, surmising all the bags and equipment you have yet to pack, my best advice is to go get some more.

ADVICE that is.

The parents who have earned their silver crown have a wealth of valuable information.

Of course, you can toss the “feed-Baby-pureed-liver” prattle if you want (I’m not talking about heeding Know-It-Alls), but otherwise, listen for the meaningful stuff from meaningful people. Ask ‘em (‘cuz the worthy ones won’t necessarily tell you unless you ask) how they got across the galaxy. Take notes, and then — if I were you — I’d also take a picture together. When younger people come to you for your experience someday, you’ll need proof that the kids were once short, your natural color hair was normal, and — though they have long since returned to the stars — it was wizened, generous aliens who helped you sort the car for that family trip.

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