I was on a monorail when I was asked to be a godmother.
The gesture confused me. When I got to the base of the Space Needle in Seattle where I was on vacation this summer, I texted the baby’s dad, explaining that his voicemail message asking me to be his daughter’s godmother–though flattering–was also baffling to me.
I am not related to the baby; she’s the daughter of a colleague and friend. And, unlike them, I am not Catholic. But he assured me that I’d been selected so that I could teach Mary, “how to be a businesswoman and a lady at the same time.”
I’d never been accused of being a lady before, so I said yes.
I take my job as Mary’s godmother seriously. My first lesson for her: Every woman should have her own money. So I gave her a $100 bill to get her started.
I also gave Mary her first soccer ball. I had to–her dad has her brother playing baseball. Mary’s Jamaican mom cooed, “Oh a football! Yes!” Yessss. I’m just waiting for Mary to start walking so we can begin ball-handling lessons. I’ll wait another year after that before introducing slide-tackling. You know, like ladies do.
But this new baby responsibility is like a bookend in parenting for me. Here, I’m getting ready to launch my senior and junior boys into the world, and suddenly, I have this baby girl to influence and mold and love. As I finish up the college tours and order yearbooks and caps and gowns for my own children, my new goddaughter makes me stop and think: “If I had it to do over again, what would I do differently?”
Which is a stupid question, because now, I’m a mother with 18 years of experience in colic, boo-boos, back-talk, bad grades and good, soccer coaching, heartbreak managing, and driving teaching. When my kids were babies, I didn’t know all that, so I couldn’t have done it differently and now, I’m not sure I would have.
Mary doesn’t need me to teach her how to walk and talk and do homework and slide tackle from behind, all ball, no foul. She has parents and soon, teachers and coaches for all that. Plus, she has $100 of her own money.
Rather, I’d like to tell Mary something that all children should know, and all adults should leave well alone:
Got that cash? Good. Invest it and it’ll be worth a lot more when you’re 18 and you crash the car and your parents won’t pay for the repairs.
Anyhow, here’s the most important lesson I can ever teach you: You have inside you right now a knowing that’s there to guide you. Call it intuition, but it’s really more than that, because it is a mesh of memories, feelings, information, and bodily senses. All children are born with it, but in time, you will be taught to doubt it, quash it, ignore it, or worse–deny it even exists.
This is no one’s fault, really. The adults in your life are only doing what the adults in their lives had taught them to do. It’s what we know, and it’s designed to keep the world from chewing us up and spitting us out.
As a result, you will be told how to feel–“Don’t cry. It’s not that bad.”
Your experience will be yanked from the discussion–“I know what you mean. When I was your age…”
You won’t truly be heard–“There are people who have it worse than you, you know. Suck it up.”
And that knowing inside you will be dismissed–“Ah, you’ll get over it.”
Little by little, year after year, you’ll learn–just as we all learn–to stuff your knowing into a little compartment in your heart until one day, a crisis will happen, and you’ll need it again. Will you know how to use it? Will you trust it?
But you’re just a baby now, and you still have your knowing intact, front and center. So, here’s my best advice:
When someone tells you how to feel, say, “This is how it is for me now.”
When they start talking about how it is for them, say, “This is how it is for me now.”
When they tell you to suck it up, say, “This is how it is for me now.”
When they advise you to get over it, say, “This is how it is for me now.”
And then be with your Knowing and let it know you’re always there for it. Teach the people around you how to be with your Knowing and they’ll remember how to be with theirs. Then, contrary to popular belief, you’ll handle the world better than you ever could have if you’d stuffed your Knowing into a corner of your heart.
It would be the greatest gift you could give the people you love, and the best gift you can give yourself. Well, that, and the spectacular upper-right-corner penalty kick I’m gonna teach you in 10 years.
Your Godmother, Auntie Jen