Oh My Heart, Green Envelopes? The Unforgettable Important Email.
Last month was my daughter’s Middle School graduation. She’ll be moving on to high school in the fall where, if her older brother’s experience serves as any indication, she’ll go through four years in the blink of an eye. Before the in-person ceremony, we joyfully watched an online award presentation during which she and several classmates received special honors. Also during which, toward the end, the principal mentioned how the much anticipated green envelopes would soon be distributed. Wait… what was that about green envelopes? Oh no. My heart sank. I soon learned I had missed an important email.
What do you mean, the green envelopes?
It was a lovely ceremony and I was lucky to find an aisle seat with a clear view. Before proud happy parents and supportive family members, following the principal’s inspiring words and heartwarming speeches from a handful of graduates, my daughter’s class lined up to receive their degrees. How fun it was to see my girl among her peers, beaming. Wearing the romantic scalloped-bottom summer dress and pretty wedge sandals we had purchased together for the occasion, she approached the principal with a glowing smile to shake his hand in exchange for her diploma and — there it was — her green envelope.
My body tightened up. Later that evening, after the short celebration and a trip to the ice cream parlor with her close friends, she would open her green envelope and read all the beautiful notes that teachers, family friends and a few other parents had thoughtfully written for her over the last month: how wonderful she is, how beautifully she’s grown, how they appreciate her and wish her the best.
That was because, about a month prior, a school email had invited parents, caregivers, family friends and other significant people in graduates’ lives to write encouraging notes marking this milestone. These would be discretely sorted at school into individual large envelopes for students to receive along with their diplomas.
And what was going to be missing from the stack of cards and letters sorted for my daughter? A love note from her own mother. Or from any other member of her family for that matter. Ouch.
Why did I skip that important email?
From my hard folding chair, sitting next to her brother and watching my daughter grab her green envelope, I wished I could go back in time. To April 28th to be exact, as I later searched back and found out, when that long dense email landed in my inbox and got moved aside for later. As in, too late.
I didn’t know about this fairly new tradition, just a few years old, for her brother had attended a different school. Somehow, it hadn’t come up in conversations with other parents. It was to be a surprise, which perhaps explains why I didn’t see it in the weekly school newsletter.
Was I taken with work? With extra-curricular activities? With the house, meals, groceries, provider appointments, extended family, pets? With my personal life? Try as I might, I have no excuse: I skipped the important email! Argh!!
If I deep-dive into my discomfort, what do I see? What is it about?
Maybe I’m afraid to miss every chance I get to show my daughter that she is loved. Because we can never have too many of those, can we. Oh, I realize the letters included in her green envelope will contribute to that, thankfully. I guess I want to make sure she knows that she is loved by me. And while I try to show her that, amid the nos and buts and other parental boundaries I can’t escape, sometimes, maybe, I fail. Like with the green envelope.
I am sorry.
As rewarding and enriching as it is, motherhood can bring so much self doubt at times. Am I doing enough? Am I doing it right?
If I did my job correctly until now, love from her mother already feels like a given to her, like cash in the bank. In that sense, to her, notes from others might have meant more. Then again, what if I moved two steps back? Could the green envelope incident have reversed my efforts so far? Will it be one of those small yet marking events she’ll remember from her childhood and bring into therapy? Or will it fade and become an insignificant oversight we laugh at during family reunions, maybe even forget?
Little girl, please forgive me. Little me, please forgive me.
While she laughed (phew) and said it was totally fine, I couldn’t let it go.
So, I went shopping. To three different stores. Until I found cards that came with an envelope in a similar shade of green, on which I wrote notes, per the important email, which I snail-mailed to my daughter and her close friends. Hopefully, these appreciation cards did not highlight my mishap, but, rather, helped make the fun last a little longer.
Where’s the Silver Lining?
Other than watching my personal inbox like a hawk and timely reading every single school email from now on, what is my lesson here? What takeaway can I be grateful for?
Perhaps it lies in my renewed awareness around the most important way I want to show up for my daughter, that is, with unconditional love. For her and all those I love, actually. Because conditional love (when someone is loved because they do or do not do something) doesn’t belong between us. It doesn’t belong anywhere, really.
What does unconditional love look like for me? It starts with a foundation of unshakable respect and true compassion. And if I have compassion for her and all the ones I love, I’ll need to include myself.
If I can model that and pass it on to her, that’ll be the most important thing that will have come out of that green envelope.
I can be grateful for that.
How do I have self compassion with this one? I tell myself what I would tell her: it’s ok, little girl. You missed. You didn’t mean to. We stumble, we fall, we learn, we grow. Some mistakes hurt more than others; we can’t escape them. It’s part of how we become better people. Take note, and take the next chance. Meanwhile, be kind to yourself. It’s life and it’s all good. You are loved.