I haven’t taken many vacations without my children, but whenever I do, the same unsettling feeling overcomes me before I leave.
The last time I got the feeling, it prompted me to write detailed letters to each of my children, which I described in one of my most popular posts, “More Than I Love You.”
This time, the unsettling feeling stuck me just as I was zipping up my suitcase at 5:30 a.m. on the day of departure.
There was not enough time for me to sit down and type them a lengthy note explaining what it was about each of them that amazes and inspires me.
As my husband carried my bag out to the car, I ran to the junk drawer in our kitchen, (you know, the one where you reach in and there’s 1,000 pens but only one that works?), and grabbed two brightly colored Post-It notes.
In big letters I wrote the words that I had whispered over and over to the girls as I held them in the sacred comfort of my arms the night before.
I love you.
It’s the three words you always want to leave someone with, especially if somehow your plans to come home are tragically diverted.
With the completed notes stuck to my fingers, I quickly surveyed the room searching for the spot that two people of short stature, but with observant eyes, would never miss.
Ah ha. The fish tank. Their morning ritual is to sit on the ottoman in front of the fish tank and make sure everyone lived through the night.
Satisfied my daughters would not miss the hot pink and green notes covering the home of Snowy, Orange-O, Stripey, and Mr. Froggy, I closed the door behind me.
When my husband and I returned five days later, I immediately noticed the Post-It notes were still there, transferred only a short distance from the aquarium glass to the wall directly beside it.
The next day, I was doing what most do upon returning from vacation … unpack, tackle heaps of laundry, and get things back “in order.”
Since I strive to live in realness, I will admit that Drill Sergeant Rachel was on the verge of overtaking Hands Free Rachel. I pretty much looked like I was “on a mission” as I sped from room to room, picking up dirty clothes and other random items that were misplaced from their usual location.
In fact, I was moving so quickly, focusing only on “getting things done,” that I almost missed it.
I quickly grabbed the lime-green Post-Its off the light switches on the way down the stairs.
When I got to the bottom of the stairs, there was another one affixed to the light switch, which I hastily grabbed on my way to the kitchen.
As I headed straight for the trashcan, I saw another note displayed on the kitchen light switch.
I think it’s safe to assume my Hands Free voice was longer a gentle whisper. In fact when I finally stopped, it was screaming.
“Hold on a minute! Enough with the tunnel vision! You are about miss something big here.”
Someone thought long and hard about where to place these notes so I would be sure and see them. Thank God my Hands Free inner voice allowed me to grasp what really mattered before they were carelessly discarded with the trash.
I fully realized I needed to sit down and look carefully at each note. I immediately noticed there was a central theme to all of them: A little girl and a mom. And there was love … so much love.
Someone wanted me to know that she missed me while I was gone.
Someone wanted me to know that her days just aren’t the same when I am not here.
Someone wanted me to know she loves me.
And she placed them on every light switch in the house so I couldn’t miss possibly miss them. I physically shuddered thinking I had almost thrown them away.
I am fully aware how much my daughter loves me, but it sure feels good to be shown in a beautiful, tangible, lay it next to your bedside, place it in a box and read it twenty-five years from now kind of way.
Even a Post-It note with stick figures can speak volumes when it comes to one’s heart.
As I stared at the collection of loving messages, I was suddenly overcome with a childhood memory. There on my checkered-green bedspread placed next to my well-loved Pooh bear was a little white note.
I can’t recall if it said, “I love you,” or “Your room looks great, Rachel!” but there was a smiley face; there was always a smiley face.
My mom worked long hours when my sister and I were in middle and high school. We had many responsibilities about the house. But my mom always took time to reinforce our efforts with these randomly placed little notes. Even though my mom left very early or sometimes didn’t get home until very late, she somehow managed to leave us these tangible reminders of her love and appreciation.
I can’t believe I had forgotten about the notes. But had I? Perhaps it was the memory of my mother’s notes buried deep in my subconscious that prompted me to leave surprise messages for my daughters. And to my amazement and delight, my five-year-old daughter brought the powerful gesture full circle by leaving some for me.
As parents, our actions (both positive and negative) do not go unnoticed by our children and can make an incredible, lasting impact.
A few days after I had discovered the notes, I read a moving account of a teenage girl who sent text messages to her mother while she hid from the deadly shooter in Oslo, Norway.
At the beginning of the harrowing ordeal, the teenager’s mother asked her daughter to send “a sign of life,” every five minutes.
Every five minutes, for over 90 minutes, the texts came through; some of the messages were frantic and fearful, other times, they were an answer to prayer with three mere words of: “I’m still alive.”
At one point, the daughter even wrote what was on her heart: “I love you even though I yell at you sometimes. ”
These exchanges lasted until the mother saw on the news that the shooter had been captured and was able to text her daughter the glorious words, “They got him!”
(I encourage you to read the entire harrowing account here.)
This compelling story reminded me so powerfully of something I too often forget. Why do I wait until I am going to be separated from my children to leave them letters or love notes? Why wait to tell/show my loved ones how much they mean to me?
Why wait for the moments when I might be the one hoping and praying for a sign of life? Why not make it an every day occurrence to give a sign of love?
It’s no more than a card on a bed, a Post-It note on the mirror, a message in a lunch box, a letter in a briefcase.
I find myself thinking about that brave mother who kept her wits about her as she agonized over the fate of her beloved daughter.
And I think about their reunion.
I can only imagine how many signs of love this mother will bestow on her daughter in the days to come … in the precious God-given days to come.
Grab a piece of paper, a Post-It note, or a card right now. Write a short message to someone who is important to you. Place it in a spot where he or she can happily discover it.
A sign of love.
At age three, thirteen, thirty-three, or seventy-three, one never tires of seeing a tangible sign of just how much he or she is loved.
And then keep your eyes open … someday your note recipient might follow your example and leave you a sign in return.
*It's back to school time for many children! This is the perfect opportunity to write a special note … a concrete sign you love them and are thinking about them even when you are apart.
**Please share this message and be the reason a mother or father, husband or wife, grandma or grandpa, friend or neighbor decides now is the time to make someone's day with a sign of love.
Christi McGuire says
As I am at up 1 a.m. unable to sleep the night before sending my first-born to kindergarten, I find myself yet again at your site…and yet again you have words that feel like they are just for me. You are the instrument; God is the author. Thank you for each and every word.
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Thank you, Christi. To know my words are calming a parent’s anxious heart allows me to see my purpose with clarity. I hope the first day went well for both Mom and daughter!!!
I absolutely LOVE reading your blog as I am also trying to be more ‘hands free’. I know this may not be the place for this but I am an army wife (he just got out due to injuries sustained in Iraq) and are in desperate need of some help. Any help from you or your fans would be greatly appreciated!!! Please visit our site:
Rachel Macy Stafford says
Hi Allison, I sent a message to your email, but I would love for you to email me your story. I am sure I could find a way to share it here with my readers. In the meantime, you and your family are close in thought and prayer.
I just left a post it note on the bathroom mirror. My daughter will see it when she brushes her teeth right before she leaves for school in the morning. Thanks for the little push. It feels great!