I haven’t made any formal resolutions this year (except for writing more … check!), but I am trying to put together a better me. A me that listens and laughs more, a me that stops stressing the small stuff, and a me that is healthier in a way that doesn’t involve staring longingly at a bag of Hershey Kisses only to lose all self-control and eat the entire thing.
But most importantly, I really want to pause (on a regular basis!) and spend more time reflecting on what is really important and precious. Past or present, I have so much to be grateful for. I don’t want to waste another minute being negative; instead, I need to get to the important business of living, loving, and smiling.
One of my favorite memories of my mother is her forcing me to smile. I clearly remember a car ride after a back-to-school shopping excursion in which my siblings and I were being just awful. In the front seat, my older sister complained as she rapidly flipped through radio stations, and in the back seat my brother and I argued and wrestled over who was on whose side.
“Enough!” my mother finally snapped. She swatted my sister’s hand off of the radio and the car filled with silence. I tensed, expecting a stern lecture or a wild rant on how we never behaved. Instead, she pointed to the sign on the side of the road. It read: Shrewsbury 1 mile. “Only one mile to our exit. Each of you put a smile on your face for exactly one mile until we get home,” she demanded tersely.
We rolled our eyes.
“I said SMILE!” she repeated through clenched teeth.
My brother immediately obeyed, sticking his tongue out at the same time. I looked into the rear view mirror and saw my mother’s face. “Smile,” she insisted between her own smiling lips. I attempted to frown, but accidently let out a brief snort of laughter and felt my lips curve against my will.
A mile later we all exited the highway with smiles on our faces.
On that particular day, she didn’t instantly fix all of her children’s misbehaviors with what we would later coin The One Mile Smile, but she also got much more than a moment of peace. Although my sister, brother and I all agreed that it was “childish” and “stupid” at the time, it became a type of tradition. Whenever we would see that sign, we would begin smiling.
I still pass that sign occasionally. It no longer signifies a mile to my home but something more meaningful. When it comes into view, I feel my lips begin to curve as I remember my mother’s smile, one I can now only see in pictures and memories. The smile of a tired, frustrated mother, but also the smile of a mother who, despite her whining children, was choosing to be happy. This was the smile of a mother who loved her children enough to simply embrace the moment for what it was.
I choose to do the same as I give this memory to my own young children. When we see the sign, I insist they smile, and I tell them stories about their Grandmother Mary. I hope they eventually learn the same lesson that I did: It’s okay if things aren’t going as perfectly as you imagined. They seldom do. Sometimes you just have to smile. And if you are smiling, you might as well force your kids to do the same.