During Spring Break a few weeks back, my seven-year-old son Owen seemed to become a little needier than usual.
A buzzing-with-energy dynamo even in his most relaxed moments, Owen isn’t great at filling long, open days. He gets bored easily, even (especially?) on the days I green-light nonstop video-game marathons. He jumps and wiggles and gets in my face. A lot. And his need to move, think, and DO becomes multiplied during school breaks, when routines and distractions and go-go-go goes out the window.
I try to burn off some of that energy by giving him jobs that get him out of the house (“Bring in the recycling bins! Take the puppy outside…again!”) but after a while it’s clear: what he really wants is my attention, and a lot of it.
So during that week, Owen and I spent more time. We played Monopoly (two-person Monopoly with a seven-year-old who doesn’t like to spend any of his colorful fake money? It’s just about as long a process as you’d imagine.) We drew together. We cooked together. He told me stories –lots of long, convoluted stories – centering around Pokemon, playground spats and hero quests.
I read him chapter after chapter of Old Yeller one night, past his usual school-year bedtime, snuggled up on my bed. Getting dangerously close to the end, I told him, “I just want to warn you…this is going to have a sad ending.” (I know from experience that some kids need this kind of warning.) “It’s the cow, right? The cow’s going to die, I just know it,” he said, his eyebrows knitted in a frown. I took a deep breath and read on.
As I read, a curious sequence of thoughts flashed through my mind:
“I’m really good at this reading-out-loud stuff. My accents are killer. I could do this professionally.”
“This is my favorite thing about motherhood. The snuggle and the book. This is awesome.”
“Owen’s getting so big. His top teeth are already growing back in! How many more years will he want me to do this, I wonder?”
“It’s getting late…but it’s Spring Break, and we don’t have to get up early tomorrow. Okay, one more chapter, why not?”
And then, as they so often do, all the positive, affirming, warm-fuzzy feelings were replaced by a moment of self-censure:
“Why don’t I do this more often? I should read chapter books to Owen every night, instead of always trying to steer him toward the faster-read picture books.”
“I’m screwing up.”
Later, after Owen was asleep (mercifully, we hit the pause button on the book before it reached its gnarly conclusion) I reflected on the directions my thoughts had taken.
Is it true that I sometimes take the “lazy” way out at night, choosing a quick, easy book – or a quick off-the-cuff story, hug and kiss, no book at all – rather than settling in with a meaty chapter book?
Do I play as many rounds of Monopoly as I could probably squeeze in if I made it my life’s mission?
Is Owen growing, thriving, becoming a confident reader? Is he happy, loved, secure, despite the things I sometimes don’t do?
There’s a reason for breaks. They allow us all to step outside of our usual routine, spend more time, stay up a little later. To do more with less. To shine as parents, as people.
But there’s also a reason I had more energy to read and play Monopoly during that week: I’d gotten up at 7:30 AM, rather than 6:30. There was no homework or gymnastics. We had nothing but time.
So it’s not really fair for me to compare my “school-week Mom” to my “break-week Mom.”
We can’t always be the fun-time Mom, the weekend Mom, the spring-break Mom, the Disney Mom. That’s what makes those times so special, and so memorable. It’s just fine if sometimes (often?) our kids get the all-business Mom, the somewhat-cranky Mom, the “just-go-to-bed-already!” Mom.
All of those Moms, rolled up into one person, is what makes me, me. It’s what helps me get things done AND have a good time. It’s what gives my kids fond, carefree holiday memories AND a roof over their heads.
That said, I learn a little from Holiday Mom. She’s a lot of fun. She stops to play. She doesn’t worry as much about every meal being perfectly square and nutritious. She tosses aside the homework and the paperwork and just…lives.
Let’s face it: most nights, bedtime is not going to be accompanied by lengthy read-a-thons and board-game marathons. Between schoolwork and dinner, we have too much to fit into an average evening, and frankly I’m tired by the time 8 PM rolls around.
But this year I’m trying to bring a little bit of the spirit of Holiday Mom to my regular life. It might mean a five-minute game of cards or a silly story rather than a full-on game of Monopoly or a lengthy chapter book, but that’s not what matters: it’s the willingness to shake things up, to take a few extra moments, to throw off the “gotta do” list in favor of an extra hug or two.
It would be unrealistic to try to force myself into a “spring break” mood at 8:30 on a Wednesday night at the end of a long and dragging school year, when all I really want is a quiet house, already. But it all matters, the reminder to brush those teeth before bed night after night, and the family vacation in July.
One of my goals for this year? To notice, and celebrate, and appreciate the moments we share as a family, both magical and mundane. They both count, and they’re both part of being a good mom.
But I’m also trying to remember this: despite the deadlines and homework and dinner dishes, sometimes another story wouldn’t kill me, and a weeknight game of Old Maid won’t completely throw off the family schedule.
It’s not just about what’s good for my kids, but also what’s good for me: to enjoy these moments, fleeting as they are, and not let even the drudgery of one typical school night after another be completely forgotten in my memories of this season.
Life, ordinary life, is sweet. Even tooth-brushing, dish-drying, and sweeping crumbs off the counters. In the haze of getting through the day-to-day, I’m trying to keep that in mind.