My source for popular culture is AM radio, so I’m probably not the highest authority on what’s cool and trendy, but I keep hearing this acronym, YOLO. It’s hard for me to imagine a more utterly cheeseballs thing to say. YOLO? Really? Maybe it just sounds ridiculous because I’ve been hearing it from middle-aged men on talk radio, but I think my contemporaries had a higher standard when I was young and un-hip.

During one of my delirious early-morning nursing sessions, I kept hearing that word in my head and thinking about the implications of the phrase, You Only Live Once. And I kept seeing the face of a girl who is very close to my heart, and thinking, yes, you only live once. This girl had a gaping wound in her heart, and it whittled her time on this Earth to a sadly inadequate number of years. Maybe if she’d had a mentor or a close friend in those early, early days, she could have prepared herself for the implications of mortality, but she didn’t, or if she did, the wound was too big to bandage, and she ended up stuffing every fleeting fix she could find into that poor heart, until, by the time she was 27, it just couldn’t handle the abuse anymore, and gave out.

As a mother, I think about mortality almost every minute of the day, and certainly every wakeful minute of the night. It’s constant – whether you like it or not, your brain is on a closed loop of every unimaginable harm that could befall your fragile lumberjack husband and your bone china babies. It’s not easy to let go of that fierce protection instinct that’s programmed into your very being by your DNA. Letting your kids do the necessary banging and bruising and risk-taking that go hand-in-hand with learning is brutally difficult for a parent. You only live once, and your kids only live once. You want them to learn as much as they can, and experience as much as they can, but there’s no handy bell curve to look at and say, “ah yes, if we install a band saw in the basement and let the kids start using it at age 1Bell-Curve2, they’ll have a 5% risk of dismemberment, and a 95% likelihood of learning valuable life lessons and developing better hand-eye coordination.” You just have to construct your own bell curve in your head and hope you got the formula right.

I’m completely convinced that if this precious girl, so dear to my heart, had had some basic tools in her toolbox, she could have understood and valued her mortality better. Maybe I’m just throwing pennies in a well, but I’m convinced that she wanted the same things from life that I want. Just a week-and-a-half before she died, she and I were sitting in her hospital room, chatting about my kids’ capers, and she said, “someday when I have kids…” I gave her a big hug and tried not to let her see the tears in my eyes. And the note she left me said, “You knew it all along, and you did do it beautifully.” Perhaps she was calling me a know-it-all. I never got the chance to ask, but I’m taking it to mean that she grasped the beauty of domestic life, and like Philip Carey in Of Human Bondage, sensed the artistry and grace that would result from the chaos of a tapestry in the making.

If I could go back in time, and be with her when she was really little, these are the things I would try to do for her. First, I would show her she’s beautiful. I’d somehow convince her that ever since Adam met Eve, men have been chasing women because we’re made irresistible. You don’t have to add anything, girl. You’re pure Heaven walking down the street. Maybe if she really knew that, she would have been more cautious and selective about who she chose to love.

I would show her how to be silly and out-of-control and sad and ashamed and angry angirl and dogd joyful. I’d go outside and have a screaming contest with her, I’d push her way too high on the swing, I’d tie a wagon to my bike and ride down a hill pulling her behind me, we’d get muddy and make a mess and we’d break something and feel really bad and try to fix it and go tell mom. We’d have a pet, and it would die and we’d be heart-broken. We’d plant something and take really good care of it, and then we’d forget to water it on the hottest day and it would die and we’d feel awful. We’d fight, and hate each other, and then we’d make up and be best friends. We’d do all these things in a safe environment and it would be OK, because I’d be there to catch her when she fell and tell her this is normal, this is good, this is going to turn out fine, and if it doesn’t turn out fine, we’ll still be OK. We’d learn together that bad things happen and life goes on. Then maybe, hopefully, she wouldn’t need chemical help to deal with the garbage that life sometimes leaves on your doorstep. Then maybe, hopefully, she’d know how to have fun without adding stimulants or depressants to make her brain do gymnastics and make her heart tired and sick.

I would show her she could do it. We’d work side-by-side so she’d see that sweat won’t make your skin slough off, and when we finished our job, we’d go tell the family and feel superior. I’d tell her what to do, and I wouldn’t do it for her. I’d let her figure it out on her own. And when she whined thaserviceproject-service-yardwork-teaching-familyt she didn’t know how, I’d ask her questions until she found the solution, and then I’d stand in her glory and appreciate her work when she did it. I’d follow her lead and encourage her to do the things she was good at. I’d find a way to pay for the supplies or the lessons, or whatever she needed to get better at the things she was good at. Maybe if she learned how to work for the reward when she was little, it wouldn’t have been so hard to endure the pain of working toward the things she wanted as an adult.

I would just love her. I’d really love her, instead of loving the person I’d want her to be. I’d expect her to turn out great, and she would.

Time won’t wait for us to get it right.  Her childhood is long past, and now she has gone where I can’t follow, so there’s no giving her what she always needed. But I can do it for my own kids. I can do it beautifully. She told me I can.

Bell curvehttp://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://3.bp.blogspot.com/–DGSsF-JBIM/UCnAM0Eq_gI/AAAAAAAAAHA/C-hgWemxq2I/s1600/Bell-Curve.gif&imgrefurl=http://viewsfromtheouthouse.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-perpetual-bell-curve-of-becoming.html&usg=__c6BekOwItsU2h8lVt-bSbnrBgQY=&h=299&w=800&sz=6&hl=en&start=5&zoom=1&tbnid=XJ8RR1oVCrEcfM:&tbnh=53&tbnw=143&ei=4lwBUYLRJ6aOiALwl4DQCQ&itbs=1 Girl and doghttp://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://onlypositive.net/image.axd%3Fpicture%3D2011%252F6%252Fgirl-and-dog-going-to-swim.jpg&imgrefurl=http://onlypositive.net/post/Little-girl-and-her-dog-going-to-swim-together.aspx&usg=__nloXtpO0aj2FyQ7_xxB-Ted1SuI=&h=450&w=357&sz=39&hl=en&start=50&zoom=1&tbnid=Vhz-4UVkYWaN_M:&tbnh=127&tbnw=101&ei=fl8BUbS0BsHhiAKogoHgBQ&itbs=1
 Working togetherhttp://www.google.com/imgres?imgurl=http://momitforward.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/serviceproject-service-yardwork-teaching-family.jpg&imgrefurl=http://momitforward.com/help-and-support-8-ways-to-engage-your-family-in-community-service&usg=__NhTFHuQxP4m2WRn_tMu-Ox8EPzs=&h=333&w=500&sz=137&hl=en&start=10&zoom=1&tbnid=t1Jwl73Wi1fwRM:&tbnh=87&tbnw=130&ei=AmMBUZ2fGIKmigLkvoBI&itbs=1

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