Long before I kept a box of pregnancy tests in my medicine cabinet, I had a Pinterest board labeled “Baby Nursery Ideas.” Social media has elevated nursery decorating to an art, or perhaps something more akin to an Olympic sport. When my daughter was born—our third child but the first girl—we were just about to move into a new house, and her room needed the most work: new floors, a new door, repaired baseboards, and many coats of paint. And oh, the Pinterest browsing I did! I wanted the room to be feminine, but not in a traditional sense. I wanted it to be modern but not too trendy; no stereotypes. And of course, I hoped the nursery would somehow convey all my hopes and dreams for her life. No pressure, right? (Wrong. So much pressure. So much Internet-inspired, perfectionist pressure.)
Ruthie is one year old now. Her nursery is not quite magazine worthy, but it is cute and cozy. A watercolor painting my by grandmother—Ruthie’s namesake—hangs on the wall, next to a basket of books and headbands. Hanging to the right of the bedroom door is some typography art from a big box store. (You know the kind: perpetually 40% off, very on-trend, meant to appear hand-painted but totally is not.) Nestled within a geometric pattern are three simple words: “Strong and brave.” Every time Ruthie wakes from a nap or I finish folding pink onesies into her drawers, I turn toward the door to leave her room, and I see it: Strong and Brave.
When I was five or six years old, I signed up for golf lessons. Once a week, my dad and I drove to a local country club, where an elderly security guard waited at the gate to grant us permission to enter. Each time we pulled up to the guard stand, my dad rolled down his window, pointed to me, and said, “This is a Future LPGA champ, right here!” I was mortified. I began making up excuses to get out of my lessons: too much homework, a headache, too sleepy. Eventually, my parents figured out I didn’t want to go to golf lessons, but I never told them why. I just couldn’t stand that moment of cheesy, braggadocious, but perfectly sweet enthusiasm from my dad. “Words of affirmation” is not my love language.
I’ve never felt particularly strong or brave, even before having children. I avoid scary movies (and even their trailers) lest I have nightmares for a week. I don’t play sports or work out. I cry easily and am super sensitive. In college, I introduced myself to a neighbor solely because I needed him to come kill a wolf spider in my apartment. (I wish I was joking about that one.) Over the years, I allowed my own insecurities and cultural messages to convince me I was both weak and cowardly.
At first blush, my daily life, to-do list, and calendar don’t do much to inspire images of bravery or strength. I change a lot of diapers, sweep up a lot of Cheerios, and send a lot of GIFs in text messages to my husband. I have heroes, and they are brave in ways I can’t ever imagine. I think of the fortitude required of a mother who has buried a child; the bravery of a woman whose husband is at war; the strength of fathers working two jobs around the clock; and the courage of children who walk to school in war-torn, violent cities. Admittedly, I’m a white, middle class, Christian woman with a husband at home—so there are women whose lives require more strength and bravery than my own. Still, this doesn’t at all diminish the truth of my own story.
When Ruthie was just a newborn, I turned to leave her room and was caught off-guard by that little piece of art. In a moment of quiet, soul-realization, I knew it. I pulled my shoulders back and I took a deep breath and I stood a little taller.
I carried and birthed three children in less than four years. I moved 1,200 miles across the country, away from all my family and friends. I reimagined my career and vocation several times. I show up for church most Sundays. I make an effort to listen to the voices of those who are different than me. Once upon a time, I taught a class of eighteen first graders in a public school. I’ve submitted essays to websites across the web and been rejected but tried again.
I was never going to be an LPGA champ, but I am already strong and brave because that is simply what motherhood requires of all of us. We are mothers with babies at our breast and toddlers at our sides, with teenagers backing our SUVs down the driveway. We are mothers on the sidelines of football games and in the lobby of infertility clinics. We are mothers at the social worker’s office or in a corporate cubicle. We are mothers with anti-anxiety prescriptions and mothers with gym memberships. We are mothers, and we are strong and brave.
Unwittingly, I gave Ruthie the reminder I needed most myself. By the time she is old enough to read the inscription on that painting, she may not even notice it. It will have been the backdrop of her entire life and may just blend right into the wall. So, I will have to remind her. I’ll point to it and say, “Strong and brave, Ruthie-love. That’s you.”
Like mother, like daughter.
(photo by Hill Smiley Photography)
Lindsey is a writer, reader, and mom who is slowly learning to trade perfectionism for freedom. A Florida-to-Michigan transplant, her faith and sense of purpose are shifting as she experiences seasons in the world and in her own life. Lindsey is also the co-founder of The Drafting Desk, a newsletter for anyone trying to pursue grace instead of perfection. You can find her on Instagram @lindseycornett.