I should start this post by saying, I love Anne Shirley (you may know her as Anne of Green Gables). I love her drama, her precociousness, her fiery temper and slate-breaking, her optimistic view that tomorrow is always a new day with no mistakes in it. I’ve read my copy of Anne of Green Gables, along with the rest of the series, more times than I can count. I secretly—OK, maybe not so secretly—wanted to be Anne: a spunky, imaginative, literary charmer. Growing up, I went through distinct Anne phases. I braided my hair in her customary two plaits. I dreamed of puffed sleeves. I hosted every childhood tea party with aplomb and raspberry cordial “currant wine” (until my mother determined it was inadvisable for seven-year-olds to pretend as though they’re accidentally getting drunk on a daily basis… Spoilsport). Anyway, Anne was a touchstone throughout my childhood years and beyond.
After my daughter was born and when I was enjoying sleepless breastfeeding nights, I read through the Anne series again. This time around, I felt in awe of Anne’s patience though motherhood in the Ingleside years. Before I lose you with a full-on book review and synopsis, let me get to the point.
Anne meets an old college friend, who asks patronizingly about Anne’s literary career. Anne replies about her success and adds that she’s been writing “living epistles,” referencing her children. Now, not only is this a sick burn on her part to this prosaic, catty former fiancé of her husband, it was also thought-provoking to me as a new mom (which is obviously exactly what LM Montgomery had in mind when she was writing it 100+ years ago).
As parents, we too are creating living epistles, and we write a few words, or sentences, or pages, each day. We don’t write our children’s entire life stories, but we have the power to start shaping the narrative for them, to give them all the pieces they need to continue writing their own story as they grow. We don’t have control over every page, but we can help them create the tone and attitude that will prevail throughout their epic, or drama, or romantic comedy.
As I watch my daughter each day, my interactions with her and the behavior I model for her are helping put pen to paper for her life story’s first chapters. I want her book to be full of kindness, bravery, wit, and perseverance. I want her to feel like she has power to be in control, create her own destiny, choose her own adventures, if you will. I want her to know that she has the power to decide what’s in her story, that when she grows older and people aren’t always kind, their words and actions don’t define her. She’s the one who gets to do that; she’s the one who has the power to choose. I want her to know without a shadow of a doubt that she’s the leading lady of her own tale, and that I hope she embraces every minute of her one wild and precious life.
So, knowing I want these characteristics in her life story, how do I make sure they’re included? The only way I can is by modeling them for her myself. My interactions with her shape the way she sees the world. Whether she lives and loves and learns and succeeds isn’t completely up to me, but the way I connect and empathize with her will help her make it through tough times as her story progresses. The tone for a great book is set in the beginning. My hope is that the foundation I’m building for my daughter—the way I respond when she does something wrong; the way I praise her when she tries to complete a task; the way I interact with her father, her grandparents, her friends; the way I handle a stressful situation; the way we read, sing, and cuddle together—stays with her all the way through the last chapter of her own life story.
I may never write a series of books as well-loved as Anne of Green Gables. In fact, I may never make more ripples in the literary world than a handful of blog posts. However, if I can make sure my tiny “living epistle” is an amazing story with a strong-willed, intelligent, loving heroine, well, that’s worth more than a dozen Pulitzer Prizes and New York Times best-seller lists.