Home is not the building you live in; home is wherever you are understood. ~Christian Morgenstern
A lovely, lively Ladybug has a permanent home in my heart — but every few weeks I’m graced to have her actual presence in my cottage. Those hours bring deepest joy, not least because I’m in love with the unsteady toddles, the ever-taking-in eyes, the sweetest kisses of a 1-year-old.
More than that, I’m humbled to open my door and life to another soul. And to consider the world from this Ladybug’s perspective — everything new, fascinating, malleable — reinforces what I want to gift her as she grows, what shaped my childhood and understanding of home.
As a 1-year-old, I’d clamber into Granddad’s recliner, little arms stretched wide to claim my territory, sittin’ pretty with a happy baby-tooth grin. Granddad would pretend to be mad and lumber slowly to get me, and I’d hold out until giggles overtook.
At almost 2, Mama and I were visiting family in Texas, and I struggled with unfamiliar-to-me sleeping arrangements. At one point in the night, my very pregnant mama crawled into the little cot with me. I patted her face and said, “Happy now.”
At 3, I’d run up to my six-foot-plus grandpa in his chair, holler, “Don’t chase me, Grandpa!” — then turn and churn as hard as I could, knowing he’d come after me with a smile and a hug. Bless him; he was trying to rest after a hard day on the ranch, but he readily indulged me.
Grandma and Grandpa had a small tin cupboard tucked on the floor under a kitchen counter: the toy box. We could come and go, get and put back, to our hearts’ content. Grandmother and Granddad had a glass candy dish and a loaded snack drawer with the same freedom. That I can’t remember being taught the boundaries is bliss. My grandparents’ guidance was constant from the start.
But those boundaries were there! When I was 2, Grandmother told me to quit fiddling with my juice in the car, and I didn’t want to listen and made a mess. She swatted my leg, and the first thing I did when I got home was tell Mama, “Grandmother spanked me britches!” As if tattling on my sweet grandmother (for something she absolutely was right to do!) would negate my disobedience.
Once when I woke from a nap at Grandma’s, I asked her to rock me and sing. She said yes, if I’d promise not to fall back asleep. But of course I fell back asleep. I wish I could remember what lullaby she sang.
And when I was older, when I was with Grandma and Grandpa for lunch and she’d made her fried chicken, I asked if I could pack my food and climb up to the treehouse to eat by myself. And might her always-stocked picnic hamper have any of those little traveling salt packets I could take with me? Contentment.
Mama and Daddy bought used furniture when they married so future children could play with abandon. And boy, did we play. For years we rearranged the couch and chair to be our trampoline, our lectern, our train, our fort, our everything. Eventually, the old carpet ripped apart at the seam from all our adventures. And then we were older and on to other things, and it was fine to get nicer carpet and furniture, and there was no regret.
Childhood play was about imagination and exploration. We’d throw a snack in our bicycle baskets, ride two miles, park ourselves on a fallen tree with red ants all around, and be happy beyond words.
Mama and Daddy would set up a table outside and drape it with the seen-better-days chenille-like blue bedspread; we’d put our sleeping bags underneath and spend the night. As many nights as possible. And if the sky was clear, we could see the Milky Way, and Daddy would point out constellations.
There isn’t space enough time to remember all the good …
I’m lucky, I know: My childhood was safe. Affection and encouragement and laughter and learning were part of my experience from day one. Yes was more common than no. And because of that, the noes were protective, not dismissive — I never felt that I couldn’t ask.
Life was simple and enough and good. Not because it was perfect or because my parents and grandparents tried to outdo themselves making sure we were happy (that wasn’t their job in the first place!).
No. It was because they made sure we knew we were loved. Everything else they taught us — wisdom, kindness, compassion, dedication, perseverance, hope, everything — was built on love.
In the home, we can make sure our kids’ hearts are secure and strong. That way, when we send them out into the world, they feel ready for it and know how to take it in without it crushing them. ~Joanna Gaines
Even today, decades into adulthood, if I ask, my mama will hold me close and stroke my head. And that’s what I pray my Ladybug will know as she grows: love, always.
There will be times we play together, times she creates by herself. There will be flower growing and cookie baking and storybook reading and mud pies and walks in the park — Lord willing, all the good, simple joys that make childhood magical.
The magic we speak of and so desperately want our children to taste isn’t of our creation, and therefore is not ours to dole out as we please. It is discovered in quiet moments by a brook or under the slide at the park, and in the innocent laughter of a life just beginning. ~Bunmi Laditan
But the foundation of that magic is unconditional love. That is home. To be known and understood and have no need for pretense. To be confident that the ones you’re with want to be with you.
Courtney DeFeo writes in In This House We Will Giggle that her daughters “are not my whole world, but they are worth giving my best effort for my whole life. … Our best moments as a family can often be found in the mess of life, not in the planned or perfect.”
It’s my heart’s delight to give my Ladybug space to find joy in the mess. To make sure she can find familiar toys and books and music and laughter when she visits now so that as she grows she’ll know this is safe space — that she can raid the snack drawer and toy box with abandon!
I pray that in my company she will know the freedom to ask, to be honest about doubts, to be brave to share her dreams and tears, to be comfortable snuggling close with dirty hair and morning breath. May she know the safety of being silly, of imagining, of laughing so hard that milk comes out our noses.
May the snatches of time I have with her help secure and strengthen her heart so she will be ready to go out into the world and love boldly.