“I have an idea. For Mother’s Day next year, can you just get me a t-shirt that says DON’T in huge letters?”
This was the request I made of my husband a couple mornings ago as I sat on a stool in our kitchen, once again lamenting the fact that seemingly 90% of the sentences that come out of my mouth on any given weekday morning are directives, most of them in the negative, aimed at my son. “Stop bugging the dog, you’re supposed to be putting your jacket on.” “Please don’t eat jelly right out of the jar, it’s gross.” “It’s not funny when you put your shoes on the wrong feet when we’re trying to get going. Mommy doesn’t want to miss her train.” “Please don’t stack up the blocks right where we’re trying to walk. Thank you.”
Somewhere, in a parallel universe, I am the Fun Mom. I’m the mom that always cuts sandwiches into cool shapes and makes elaborate treats I saw on Pinterest and makes everything into a game. I have friends who seem to have mastered this. They have a special song for shampooing their kid’s hair and another one for walking down the stairs and yet another for buckling the carseat straps. When they read a book aloud – which they do at least 22 times a day – they animate each character with a special voice and make the book come to life. They seem to be completely present in every moment of interaction with their child and able to put all their worldly cares and mood swings aside to be the Fun Mom. If you’d asked me before I had a kid, I would’ve said this is the Mom I would be, too.
And sometimes I am. Sometimes. Just not as often as I’d like to be. So there I was, again, rushing through another Tuesday morning, trying to get myself and the little man fed, clothed, and out of the house on schedule. Any magic that might have happened was crushed by the gravity of my to-do list and the digital clock on the stove that governs our mornings. I had one of those snapshot moments of seeing myself from the outside and concluding, once again, that I was failing to be the playful parent I’d waited almost 40 years to be.
So I did finally get the kid (and myself) dressed and in the car and headed in the general direction of preschool. Between home and school we encountered two construction sites which, while being nothing more than a traffic complication to me, provided pure joy for him as he watched diggers dig and forklifts lift and jackhammers hammer. Pure, unadulterated joy.
We pulled into the parking lot at school and parked. The second his feet touched the ground he noticed our shadows were overlapping. “Look, Mommy!”, he shouted excitedly, “My shadow is kissing your shadow!” Without thinking about it much, I ran a couple feet away and replied, “Your shadow can’t catch my shadow! Come and get me!” Giggling delightedly, he chased me and we proceeded to play an elaborate game of shadow tag all the way to the school entrance. We collapsed in a laughing heap at the door.
When I stopped to punch in the door code to enter, I looked up and noticed one of the preschool dads staring at us with a wistful look on his face. “Oh my god,” he exclaimed, “you’re so playful. I just feel like I’m never playful. I feel like in the mornings all I do is yell at my kid. I feel horrible about it. How do you stay so fun?”
I just laughed. I laughed ‘til I cried. “Oh, if you only knew,” I replied, “if you could have seen the situation in our kitchen this morning when I said that same thing to my husband. You have no idea!”
And with that I was reminded, once again, that we often see snapshots of a parenting high or a parenting low and forget that most of us are just muddling around somewhere in between most the time. And we’re all just doing our best. Never mind that our best doesn’t look the same as we thought it might. For every shampooing song that gets sung, there’s a threat being uttered about putting socks on in a timely manner. For every Oscar-worthy dramatic reading of an award-winning children’s book, there’s an exasperated sigh from a parent watching their kid do the thing they’ve been told not to do 56 times already. For every Mickey Mouse pancake, I hear a dad trying not to curse when he resigns himself to being late to another meeting.
Enjoy the middle. Because this is where the magic actually happens.