I wanted to share a story with you about a mamma I met this week. It was told to me off the record, so I don’t feel I should share this woman’s name or face. She’s a refugee from Syria who lives in my city.
She talked about living in Damascus and seeing the civil war play out on the street literally in front of her house. She talked about sending her daughter to school and then learning another school in her city was blown up that day. She talked about fear and discrimination and bombings and drones — and all the horror and terror and injustice that goes along with a civil war.
But here’s where her story got me.
She talked about hiding in her bathroom with her kids for hours at a time because of the fighting on the street outside their home. I presume her intent was to have as many walls as possible between her kids and any stray bullets flying around.
Can you picture this mamma bear hiding her cubs in the bathtub. Telling stories and jokes and tickling and smiling. Pretending for their sake that everything is OK. Not letting them see how worried she was. Pasting on a smile and laughing for them despite the war raging on the sidewalk out front.
Can you picture this?
After she shares her story, she says she’s been in Canada for about a year but her daughter (7 years old) complains that she doesn’t like it here. She wants to go home – to Damascus. This mamma can’t believe what she’s hearing from her girl. How could you want to go back?
All the daughter remembers of her life in Damascus is the love of her family. Her grandparents, aunts and uncles. She doesn’t get to see them; she doesn’t get to wrap herself in their hugs and kisses and tickles like she used to. Skype and other communications are OK, but she knows they’re not the same. And with the constant power outtages in Damascus there are days they don’t get to communicate at all.
And as adults we know that this mamma bear made a very tough decision for her cubs in order to offer them a better life. But, her children saw life differently. And I wanted to hug this mamma bear.
Because what she had done was completely shelter her cubs from the realities around them. Tragic, horrific, nightmarish realities. Lifelong PTSD-inducing realities (I spoke with another parent from Bethlehem whose child does suffer from PTSD. How could they not when they slept on the floor in their apartment because stray bullets had killed neighbours still in their beds). Instead of remembering that people wanted them dead, that schools were blown up, that they weren’t safe… While they hid in a bathtub to avoid a civil war, all the little girl remembers is the time and love her mother lavished on her.
I was reminded of that scene from the movie Titanic where the mother in 3rd class realizes there’s no boat to save them from the sinking ship. She gathers up her kids and proceeds with the regular bedtime routine: pajamas and stories. She tucks them in around her and lets them fall asleep as the ship sank. She couldn’t save them, but she could lavish them with her love one last time.
When I ask my teenagers about what they remember when they were little, they remember me telling them stories, going on adventures to the library, and being allowed to sit on the kitchen table to make cookie dough. They don’t remember how little we had, what their father and I had to sacrifice just to eat. They don’t regret not attending a different activity every night or taking piano lessons.
We want to protect our kids from so many things, and some mammas have more to protect their kids from than others, but lasting memories are not made of busyness, constant activity, or exhaustion. They are made when we lavish our time and love on them. If we’ve done that, we don’t need to feel guilty about the rest. IMHO.