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May 5, 2014

Lisa Madras: Please, parents, do the write thing for your kids

NEW CASTLE — If you were to leave the world today, what would be your manifesto?

When I was getting ready to have surgery back in January, I thought really hard about writing a letter to my children in case I didn't make it.  I opted not to do it, though, because I'm basically a coward at heart, so I decided to do the easy thing instead of the right thing.

But I still think about it all the time — what I wanted to say to them, I mean. Obviously I made it through my surgery, but I occasionally catch myself glancing at the kids across the room, and wondering if they know how my heart aches with how much I love them. How everything I do is for them, even if they don't realize it. How the thought of leaving them alone in this world is paralyzing. (And that is why I never wrote that letter.)

But the day is going to come that I won't be here anymore. It could be tomorrow, or it could be 60 years from now. There are so many things I want to tell them that aren't easy to work into everyday conversation. There are things I want to say that are specifically for my children, and just as many things I want to say to every child, because we're all a part of each other, and those children might not have someone to say those things to them.

I want to tell them that happiness is theirs for the taking, and that it cannot, under any circumstances, be left up to anyone but themselves. I want to tell them that nothing meaningful comes without hard work. I want them to know that broken hearts are only temporary, and that so is their time on this planet. I want them to know that they should take care of each other, and that they're important not only to me, but to the rest of the world.

I'm having a particularly tough time with my 14-year-old right now, and these words are ones that fall on deaf ears even when I do put them out there. He's at that stage in his life where nothing is fair, nothing is his fault, and nobody is on his side. Right now, Mom is The Enemy, and love that is delivered as discipline might as well be a grenade toss. I can take being hated by my teenager, because I know it's only temporary, and I know that the little boy who once thought that I hung the moon and stars is still inside there somewhere, waiting to emerge on the other side as a man.

What I can't take is wondering if he really feels as alone and damaged as he tells me he is in his (frequent) moments of anger. I have my moments of doubt because he goes so far over the emotional edge so often. But we have our talks when he's calm, and I make sure at those times that the manifesto is clear: I love you more than words, I understand your pain, and I'm always here for you —  but I will do whatever it takes to raise you into a kind and loving person, whether you like the methods or not.

I rely on having that message out there to get us through the tough times, but I still wish I'd written that letter. There's just something about setting pen to paper that makes it seem so much more concrete.  And so I will write it down some day, but the important thing for now is that it's still out there in the universe in some form.

My children may rage against me, because that's what teenagers often do, but if I were to leave the world today, I would do so with two kids who know how much they're loved. If there's one piece of advice that I can give that comes straight from my heart, it is this: Don't wait until you're in a life-threatening situation to put your manifesto (whether you have children or not) out there. Do it now and do it often.

Do it while you still have a chance to make a difference.


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