I hate the swings.
They are the worst.
Because little kids can’t do the swings themselves, you see. You can’t pop them up onto the seat and then walk away, leaving them dangling there motionless. Until they know how to pump, they’re stuck, and when the big-kid swings are hung too high, they can’t climb up or down on their own.
Sure, it’s fun when they’re babies, giggling adorably as the breeze flutters in their faces. But as they get older and more insistent (“Push me! Push me HIGHER! HIGHER!”) and you stand there, repeatedly shoving and shoving with no sign of it ever letting up, it begins to feel like tyranny.
Too dramatic? Perhaps. But such is my dislike of swings. I’ve been known to immediately direct my kids to some other part of the playground the minute we arrive, just to forestall the inevitable “Mom, can you plleeeeeeease push me?” request.
And I happen to know that other moms hate them, too. It comes out in quiet confessions whispered from the bench. Or you can recognize it by the look in the other mother’s eyes as she pushes again and again and again.
Today, I took Clara and her little friend Sam (whose mother, incidentally, also hates the swings) to the park. With a buddy around to keep Clara occupied, I figured the play would require little involvement from me, which was good since I’m worn out from traveling.
I sat on the bench, stared up at the blue sky, felt the breeze and tried to imagine I was here again…
But it was only a matter of moments before the kids started begging me to push them, push them, push them on the swing.
Thinking I could get it over with quickly if I gave in right away, I hefted them up.
Clara and Sam laughed as I pushed and pushed and pushed. I politely but firmly declined to perform an underdog. (As a bona fide klutz, I am always way too worried about the possibility of breaking my neck.)
And predictably, after a few minutes, I got bored and restless, told them I was done and hauled them down.
After that we lay in the grass and the kids rolled around, feeding me lines to a fairy tale they were creating on the spot.
I went off script, improvising new lines for Wolf Grandma (my role) and an entirely new plot line that incorporated Clara’s stuffed animal and the forked stick Sam was playing with. The story grew and grew, becoming more convoluted as the kids chased each other, zapping “magic” every which way and trying to get one another to consume some imaginary magic beans.
Amid all our hubbub, a mom rode up with two kids, who looked to be about three. Even before they’d disembarked their bike trailer, the little boy asked his mother if they could swing.
“Absolutely!” she cried with enthusiasm. I watched in wonder as this mother rushed – no, really, rushed! – her kids to the swings, and then embarked on a wild, squealing, full-on-underdog swingfest.
The kids laughed and screamed and the mom appeared to be having the time of her life. I mean she was really into it. Swinging! I know!
Once upon a time I might have felt bad; guilty because this mother loved pushing her kids on the swings more than I do. And I admit, I did feel a little showed up. (How is my half-hearted shoving supposed to satisfy the kids after they’ve witnessed that kind of spectacle?)
But you know what? Good for that mother. Good for her that she loves physical play with her kids.
And good for me. Good for me that I love lying on the grass and inventing stories. And good for the other mom, too, the one who was just sort of staring off into space as her kids played. She knew what she needed, whether it was some time to think or just a break.
Because we’re allowed not to like things, right? Even as moms. We’re allowed not to love reading The Cat in the Hat or playing with toy cars. We’re allowed to really dislike the process of mixing orange cheese powder with milk and butter to create sauce for macaroni. We’re allowed to be icked out by sticky hands or repulsed by enormous boogers.
We all have our strengths, as parents and as people. And we all have the things we’d rather not do. Sometimes we do those things anyway, because it comes with the job; but we aren’t always going to love it. We don’t have to love it all.
I don’t have to love pushing my kids on swings in order for them to have fun at the park. You don’t have to love making up stories to raise imaginative kids.
But gosh, on those days that we can bring a little of what we love, a little of what we’re really good at, into the experience of motherhood…that’s when the magic happens. That’s where we find our groove.
So by all means, push the swings and stir the macaroni, but don’t stop there. Look beyond the obligations and the stuff you think you “should” do and find your mom superpowers.
Because when we tap into those mom superpowers? We can’t help but be super moms.