Sunday, May 8, 2011

In exchange for a lanyard

In Billy Collins' poem "The Lanyard" he talks about, yes, a lanyard; one he made for his mother while away at camp.

He contrasts all of the things his mother gave him with this simple offering of his red and white lanyard. You can hear him read it, with his dry tone. It is hilariously funny, in part of course, because it is so true.

The last lines attest to the childish lack of understanding all children have of everything your parents, and especially your mother, have done for you- I was sure as a boy could be/that this useless, worthless thing I wove/out of boredom would be enough to make us even.

We chuckle at that. Of course the truth is this: that the balance of what the parent gives, or should give, and what the child gives, or should give, should be weighted heavily on the side of the parent. That is the parent's job.

If you are a parent you did not sign up for equal companionship. You signed up for the "thousands of meals" and to provide "clothing and a good education." You signed up to give the "breathing body and a beating heart/strong bones and teeth,/and two clear eyes to read the world. You signed up for that sacrifice that could never be compensated for by a simple lanyard. Or really anything else.

And yet, I have learned as a mother, that the lanyard can be enough. Because what the child does for the parent, the mother, the father, is provide the opportunity for them to be a person who does all of these things for another person. To devote enough love and time and exhausted energy in overcoming the dangerous human traits of selfishness and laziness and the easy human ability of simply getting lost in the unimportant, while caring for someone created of your own flesh and blood - well, it seems the most effective way to go about becoming a decent human being.

In this, our current state of the world, it can be a difficult thing for a young woman to settle into motherhood. It's hard, self-sacrificial, lonely, and unglamorous. But the truth from our Savior, that "he who loseth his life...shall find it" is found in the glorious surrender of the self for another.

I find myself, in the midst of intense motherhood, with five small children swirling around me, with my strengths, a few, and my weaknesses, many, and I hope that as I hone this craft, that as my children impulsively act on what I have given them (as children are not so prone to reflection until they are older), that they will be inclined to offer of themselves something as simple as a lanyard, and that I, in the grace of true motherhood, will be thrilled to receive it.


  1. What a beautiful meditation. I think I may print it out and give it to my children; but probably I will wait until they are parents. You should probably send this piece into some magazine or newspaper next year before mother's day.

  2. I loved this. So perfect.

  3. Well-thought. I love this idea. (Especially since I am more prone to the wow-this-is-really-hard-and-a-dang-lot-of-work mentality without always seeing the other side of it.)

  4. Oh how I loved this! I really loved the poem, too. Makes me think of all the "lanyards" I gave my mom over the years. Boy, she must love me because she always received them with grace and thankfulness.