This story was submitted by Jen Pike to The Best Gift Ever collection as part of the December SEEQ sessions.
I am such a lucky lady. I have been given such wonderful gifts over my life. So many, it’s impossible to inventory all of them. I’m pretty sure I’ve been given some crazy gift of independence, curiosity, and resilience from the many generations of explorers that have come before me. My mom gave me the gifts of spontaneity, passion for work, and the belief that there are more things at work in our experiences than we can see, but we can feel them, know them and they are real. My dad gave me the gifts of physical and intellectual hard work, of setting the highest bar, expecting more of myself, and not fearing what it takes to go get it.
I have been given the gifts of getting to know two people, since before they breathed. They are amazing people and I’ve learned so much from both of them. They have also given me such joy, delight, and understanding. They have both grown my heart.
My man. He gives me the gifts of being seen, heard, valued and loved. He pays attention to everything. He listens. He shares himself with me, which is such the biggest gift, because it is a risk for all of us to really show ourselves to another. He does all of the little things just right. He does the big things very right. He gives me the gifts of laughter, joy and space to be my dorky self every single day and feel great about all of it.
I have amazing friends in my life. A friend from middle school who still was willing to stay up all night talking with me in our 40’s, just like old times, even though in a low point in my life I wasn’t a good friend to her. In college, a great guy told me, “Jen, most people are good.” I believe he was right, and I have carried that deep within me for years. It is such a valuable north star. A friend from early in my career, who I withdrew from for bad reasons, but welcomed me back without judgment when I was in a better situation. Today I have such amazing friends who look past my words and my mistakes to my intentions. They have supported me through such tough times. They have stuck with me, even when I wasn’t my best self. They have allowed me to share what I’m struggling with, helped me think, challenged and inspired me.
And yet, as I sit in the middle of this pile of amazing gifts, and even more I haven’t written here, when I thought of “The Best Gift Ever” I knew exactly the story I would tell. I wanted to write about the gift my daughter gave me for Christmas 2017.
To understand why this gift was so amazing, you need to have some context.
First, you need to know that I didn’t really grow up with a “mom”. Since I was around 9, I was my mother’s parent. She’s not a terrible person, she’s a person who has struggled for a long time. I really feel for her, and I feel very little for her. She has really hurt me and my sister and brother. A lot. Experiencing her has left me believing that moms are important. Even to strong, independent people. Moms are really important. I, like many people I am sure, built a long list long ago of things I would and wouldn’t do as a parent. I always knew, that if I became a mom, it would be a really big deal to the people who called me mom. I also knew I probably wouldn’t do things right. But I wanted to do the big things right. After my daughter was born, I wrote lists of goals. What I wanted to give her and what I wanted to model for her. It was a big deal for me, as I had become convinced through my own life experience, that my role in her and her brother’s life could really matter to theirs. I consider this role in my life among the most important I will have.
Second, you need to know that I wasn’t feeling super great about the job I was doing as a mom. I was and still am the only parent who works. I had a good job and was increasingly successful, which also meant I had increasing pressure, longer hours, and more time out of town. At the time, I was doing the best I knew how to do. I liked my work. I am built to work hard to deliver more than is expected. And also, I didn’t see much of my kids Monday – Friday. My “gold star” was getting home in time to read to them before bed, and I didn’t even make that every night. I dove into them on the weekends. It’s all I wanted to do…to play with them, cook for them and take them places. It still wasn’t enough, and I knew it. The thought of how I was falling short brought me to tears more than once. Missing them really hurt. When their dad screamed at me one night, in front of them, that he was so sorry they had “such a shitty mom” that was the moment I decided to leave him. This after tolerating years of abuse.
So this brings us to Christmas of 2017. I had separated from their dad in 2013. After years of stonewalling, lies and bullshit, their dad and I had finally signed a divorce agreement just 6 days before Christmas. My anger and hurt just broke loose. I was in a rage cry for two straight days. It was bonkers. Like nothing I had ever experienced before.
This year, Christmas was at dad’s house, per our agreement. So, I went over to the house that had been my home for a time, to give my kids their favorite day of the year…when everyone is together, they get loads of presents, and they feel so happy because everything is simple and nice and together. It was one of the rare times I didn’t know how I was even going to look at their father. My 12-year-old daughter brought over her gift for me. I opened the box to find a jar. On the jar she had painted “Why I [heart] Mom”. I looked in at all these slips of paper inside the clear jar. Later I counted. There were over 100. In her writing. As I started to pull them out, I couldn’t believe what she had written.
“She is supportive of my art”
“She is peaceful”
“She is happy”
“She is courageous”
“She is nice to adults”
“She is nice to kids”
“She lets us go to amusement parks”
“She respects my opinions”
“She is calm when the time calls for it”
“She is fun to be around”
“She wakes up early to get us to school”
“She has cool shoes”
“She is always on time”
“She cares about things I like”
“She pays for our school”
“She likes to travel”
“She is nice”
“She is persistent”
“She looks for the silver lining”
“She has a sweet tooth”
“She helps everyone”
“She’s good at soccer”
“She has very pretty eyes”
“She is good at drawing”
“She lets us go to museums”
“She speaks her mind”
“She gives me compliments”
“She takes me to the zoo”
“She takes her time”
“She has awesome friends”
“She lets me talk about what I like”
“She has a good vocabulary”
“Her laugh is great”
“She plays games with us”
“She is brave”
“She is athletic”
“She is wise”
“She will allow us to get dessert”
“She is good at sewing”
“She is supportive”
“She is thankful”
“She lets us do fun things”
“She helps me with my homework”
“Her heart is big”
“She is good at her job”
“She’s always trying to do the right thing”
“She smells good”
…I won’t ask you to endure any more. It went on and on. What was so overwhelming with this gift was to see so much of what I wanted so badly to be: as an important person in her life, as a person just generally; to see values that were important to me, to see the good things that this person deserved to feel from her mom having been felt. I’m sure she could write an equally long list of “reasons why my mom is a crazy, stubborn handful”. Don’t get me wrong. That list is also probably well in the works.
I’m still not sure I can fully articulate why this gift was the best gift ever. I cried all the way through reading it the first time and I cry every time I reach into the jar (which is about once a year). To have someone who hasn’t been around the sun that many times, see and feel these things in her short time with me…and then to take the time to write it down and share it. Best. Gift. Ever. I will be endlessly and forever grateful. Thank you, Caroline, for your kindness and generosity. I know there is plenty I have to work on and I am so grateful you see the best side of who I am trying to be: for myself, for others, and especially for you and your brother.