It didn’t start out as a mantra.
In fact, if we’re truth telling here, it started because I had yelled the night before.
So deep in frustration and beyond a reasonable reaction to the fact that my son could not recognize the word “my”, I stood in complete disbelief as he stood still, staring at the two letter word as if he’d never seen it.
My son could spell and recognize Harry Potter and Christmas from memory, but “my” was going to be a game changer?
Over my dead, word-loving, body.
So I ranted, raising my voice half an octave before stopping short of admonishing him which was, admittedly, not my finest hour.
We all went to bed that evening with sore throats and sore hearts.
The next morning, as I am apt to do, I crept into their room to shift bodies and sheets, wiping tiny whorls of hair away from sweaty, foreheads to kiss them goodbye before I ran off to work.
I whispered, “I love you most” into their ears, hoping my deep affection for them would creep in among their dreams but that day I added, “be smart” before I told them I’d love them forever and ever. Their sleepy selves’ readjusted, small hands and legs entwined as if they were back in their NICU incubators, and I could only hope they’d heard me.
But as we drove to work, a lump formed in the back of my throat and I found tears threatening.
I’d meant it to be motivational but in that moment I worried that it sounded condescending. Didn’t I already think my sons were intelligent little people?
Yes, I did.
So the next morning when I sank to my knees at the edge of their bed and smoothed cowlicks away and kissed their sticky cheeks, I whispered, “Be kind. Be smart. I love you most.”
There is a power in kindness and I wanted them to hang on to it and acknowledge it as they drifted from their dreams into their busy little boy days.
The days stretched into a week and a weekend when my sons (as little boys are apt to do) acted out, ignored simple tasks and sent my blood pressure soaring with their back talk and tom-foolery.
So on Monday morning when I found myself leaning over their messed sleep I found myself murmuring,
“Be kind. Be smart. Behave! I love you most.”
No guilt with that one, reminding myself that I wasn’t unlike any other mom who knows her children, inside and out, good and bad. Asking them to behave throughout the day wasn’t a bad thing; it was simply a necessary request of growing boys.
And my little prayer for their day stayed that way for a week or so, until one morning, feeling very sentimental while starting down at their restful, dozy sleep, I found words just tumbling out of my mouth into their ears as grateful tears rolled down my cheeks:
“Be kind. *kiss* Be smart. *kiss* Behave. *kiss*. Believe.”
It wasn’t until one morning, teetering on my three inch heels and hurrying through the incantation when I realized Gio’s mouth was moving in time with mine, even as he drifted in and out of his dreamy state.
“Believe.” he repeated with me in a sleepy voice.
My eyes teared, my heart squeezed, so happy my wishes had found purchase in the minds of my children. I smiled as I left their room and walked into my own day imagining a life where our family prayer was always one of kindness and intelligence sprinkled with the certainty of magic.