A few months ago, I received an email message from a reader of my blog. It immediately got my attention due to the fact it was from a “Hands Free” dad, and it contained 3,385 words. A stranger named Brian was handing me a sacred story, a monumental piece of his life, to do whatever I was moved to do with it.
I will be honest; it was a lot to take in. And I wasn’t sure what I was supposed to do with it. I couldn’t promise Brian I would use his story, but I could promise that I would take time to think about and process it. I knew that if his story was meant to be shared in this space I call “Hands Free Mama,” I would not be able to stop the words—because that is just how things work on this journey.
So I went on about living. And about a month ago, my youngest child started a new line of questioning. Here is a sample:
“How long will you be alive?”
“How many years do you have left before you die?”
“When will you go to heaven?”
“Will you be buried with your wedding ring on?”
“Are you old?”
Almost daily, there is a new question revolving around how much time I have left on this earth. I have tried to answer my child’s questions as optimistically, yet as honestly, as I can.
But on the morning my daughter proudly announced she had written a new entry in her “Talk Time” journal, I was taken aback. Since giving it to her in December, she has never written in it by herself—only when we’re together. But on that day, I was instructed to look at it while she was at school. This is what I saw:
Hugging the journal to my chest, I balled myself up into the corner of her bedroom and cried. I can’t pinpoint exactly why I felt so distraught … perhaps it was because I felt an unsettling premonition about my fate, or maybe it was because I was hit with the undisputable awareness that my children would someday be here without me.
But just as suddenly as the thought of my inevitable death brought me to the floor, I was overcome with a sense of peace—peace that wrapped its loving arms around me and stopped my tears.
What popped into my mind was this profound realization:
Almost two years ago I began my “Hands Free” journey because I was missing the NOW, because I yearned to let go of daily distraction and grasp the moments that matter. But yet, I always felt like there was something more to living “Hands Free.”
And now I knew what it was.
Living “Hands Free” is a gift you give your child NOW that becomes something eternal, forever lasting within your child LATER.
And I had the evidence to prove it.
I raced out of my child’s room, taking two stairs at a time to arrive at the haphazard pile of papers on my desk. I tore through the stack until I found the story a stranger had handed to me in good faith, knowing that in time, I would use it for good.
And now is the time.
This is Brian’s story …
My mom had many names of affection: Mom, Mommy, DeAnn, Dee Dee, Adina, Grandma. She was many things to many people—but to me, she was everything.
My mom worked outside the home while also being “hands on” with our family. She lived her life for us, somehow making every moment special for each of her seven kids. Yes, seven kids! Can you imagine having seven kids and managing to make each one feel like one of the magnificent seven?
Well, that’s exactly what my mom did.
My family endured the typical struggles for a just-below middle class family, but what we lacked in money and material items, we made up for by having each other—most importantly, by having our mother. She loved us openly with a smile, soft hands, and a hug that just made everything feel better.
My mom was so much about others—about her kids, friends, family and loved ones, even those she barely knew. She worked in a nursing home when I was young, and she would take me with her on days I was out of school. I was in awe of her reaction to the residents and in turn, how they reacted to her. Again, it was her warm, soft hands, her smile, her patience, and her ability to listen—the residents loved her and trusted her for the same reasons that my brothers and sisters did.
My mom loved to read, but it was romance novels and Stephen King, not self-help books on how to be a better parent. She wasn’t educated in the sense of a degree, she just instinctively knew what we needed. For each of her seven children, she handled things by just being there. She never had anything of monetary value to give us, but what she did have was time. TIME. No matter what she was in the middle of doing, she would always stop when one of her kids came to talk to her.
The way my mom listened made me feel understood. I can hear her saying, “Brian, honey, let those little things go; I love you,” or “It’s just a phase, Brian; I love you.” Whether I was head over heels with a girl at age 16 or debating on what shirt to wear, she was always there with an encouraging word and a smile.
Many times, just by simply talking things through with my mom, worries would turn to laughter. No matter what my brothers and sisters faced in life, Mom taught us that being able to laugh and stay positive was the best way to survive in this world.
On the day I left my family and everything I knew to serve in the Air Force, the last hug I received was from my mom. As always, the embrace was accompanied with words of encouragement and ended with “I love you.” Virtually every sentence my mom ever spoke to me ended with the words “I love you.”
My mom lived her life and loved her children to her fullest potential. Perhaps that is why when she was dealt with cancer’s merciless hand, she faced her impending departure with courage and grace.
My dad confided that when he was at one of his lowest points, devastated by the cancer that was invading her body and their beautiful life, he cried, “DeAnn, aren’t you mad? You don’t seem like this bothers you.”
My mom’s response reflected the way she had lived her whole life.
She replied, “I’m not mad; I could sit here and ask, ‘God, why me?’ But instead I ask, ‘Why not me?’ Why wouldn’t God want me?”
My mom lived her 61 years of life for her family. I’m sure she made mistakes along the way, but I don’t remember them. I only remember that she smiled and hugged with soft hands. She laughed a lot and finished her sentences with the words “I love you.”
That is the story of Brian’s mom, but the story does not end here. This is where the hope begins, friends. Because now that you know Brian’s mom, I want you to know Brian. Inadvertently, Brian gave me a second story, and this is where hope for the now AND hope for the future comes in; this is where hope for you and hope for me emerges.
Let me tell you about Brian …
Brian is a divorced father of two, ages 14 and 10. He encourages his kids to talk to him about anything. And when they do, he strives to remain calm and non-judgmental—simply listen and help them feel understood. Brian realizes that with all the distractions of the modern age, he is not the perfect listener, but he is trying; he is trying.
When Brian’s kids are with him, he makes a point to cook dinner so they can sit down together at the table for conversation and fellowship. In the hustle and bustle of life, sometimes a quick meal is necessary and a family dinner doesn’t always happen, but Brian is trying; he is trying.
Brian’s daily goal is to laugh with his kids, and let go of the things that tend to cause frustration and discouragement. Brian strives to cherish the simple moments and keep what is important in perspective. Due to the stress of life, work, and parenting, sometimes Brian isn’t always able to cherish the moments that matter, but he is trying; he is trying.
Although Brian realizes there are days he falls short on being the parent he strives to be, he hears a loving voice telling him not to give up. This same voice reminds him that there is one area where he always gets it right:
Brian never fails to express love to his children. He never fails to tuck his kids in bed. And he never fails to say the words, “I love you”—sometimes even whispering the words as he kisses their foreheads as they’ve gone to sleep.
Because at the end of the day, Brian knows it’s all about the love … love that is accessible, warm, open, continuous—like the love his mom gave him that he is now passing on to his kids.
As I have worked on today’s post over the past several weeks, I’ve been spending my precious time a little more purposefully than I have in the past …
Lingering with my kids a little longer at bedtime …
Offering them more hugs …
Holding on a bit longer …
Making eye contact the whole time she speaks to me …
Providing more signs of love in her lunch box and on her bed …
More smiles, less frowns …
Ending more sentences with the words, “I love you.”
And what has created a newfound hope throughout the trying days on which I feel I’ve failed miserably as a parent is this:
It’s not about trying to be a perfect parent to my kids; it is about trying to provide a love that is perfect for them.
Because it is the love that sticks with them.
It is the love that they pass on.
It is the love that will endure, even after I am gone.
My friends, let go of distraction and perfection so you can LOVE—love without conditions and without restraint.
Live “Hands Free.” Love “Hands Free.” It’s the eternal, forever gift that YOU, and only you, can give your children.
Your “Hands Free” challenge today is this:
Focus on the color of their eyes.
Memorize the sound of their voice.
Hug until your arms grow tired.
Say “I love you” until your voice grows weak.
It is not about the mistakes of the past, nor is it about the person you were yesterday. It is about the choices you make today, and how you want to be remembered.
Just love them.
That is all.
End of story.