It’s easy to move through parenthood with a mental “to-do” list.
To do: get child to school; feed, clothe, and bathe.
To-do: pay bills, go for allergy shots, buy wine, get some sleep, exercise—in short, function through life while also finding time to make love and go to the zoo.
Still, I have a feeling that I, like many, will eventually—at least in some small part—relate to that old “Cat’s In The Cradle” theme, where I—and possibly even my children—will lament the time not spent not checking things off of my list.
Because life is not a to-do list. Alternately, the things that we all generally want more of are simple: more love, more time, more peace of mind. These items, though, aren’t found on grocery store shelves—which is exactly why the “best things in life are free” saying is oh-so true.
Regardless, there’s a reason why we spend time putting the dishes away, and going to work and paying bills: it’s called the responsibility of being a grown-up, and this responsibility magnifies greatly after having children.
Today I almost unrolled my yoga mat for 20 minutes of Pilates. I debated, too, getting out my laptop to write. I had just put the baby down for a nap and her big sister was happy watching a show. In that instant of hesitation, however, I closed the hard grey plastic of my laptop, I didn’t give my sage green yoga mat another glance—and I asked my daughter to go outside.
We took the baby monitor, her stuffed bunny and a favorite book onto the front porch. We sat in next-to-each-other chairs and watched cars go by on the road at the bottom of our hill. We sat and sang “Wheels on the Bus” (about 49 times) and we read Biscuit (about a dozen), and then she curled up onto my lap and we sat together in my white rocker, watching cars and making up songs.
We sat out there for well over an hour, but it seemed like 30 minutes.
At one point, this realization hit me square in the chest—where her head currently rested—that I almost missed this to get some work done, or to exercise, or to fulfill my “busy” mind.
Don’t get me wrong—we need to work. We also need to move our bodies. Moreover, we do these things as healthy, shining examples for our children, although they often seem and feel more self-indulgent.
The memories I retain from my own childhood are both firm and fragile—that foggy time I held my twin sister’s hand through our crib slats, or the hazy moment I played catch with my dad on the front lawn to break in my brand-new mitt. Our trips to Disney World were great, but it’s these ordinary moments cuddled up in rocking chairs that we latch onto, because children love—but don’t necessarily internally idolize—the grand gestures that we make as parents.
What I remember most firmly from my childhood is the way that people made me feel—do we make our kids feel loved?
Tomorrow, I might choose to unroll my yoga mat, because my body really needs the physical release.
I might write or take a “mommy timeout”—and I will try not to feel guilt over this, because self-care is paramount for our health and for the health of our relationships, including those that we foster with our children—but when my daughter wants to crawl in my lap with her Biscuit book yet again, and I’m torn between catching up on my email or Facebook or writing—anything that could possibly be saved for later—I’ll choose her as often as I’m able.
“And the cats in the cradle and the silver spoon…”
It’s a common refrain for a reason—we are moving through life as life demands: work, eat, pay bills, sleep.
I told my dad yesterday when he was visiting that on Fridays, when my daughter doesn’t have preschool, I’ve taken to napping the baby in the morning like usual and going into the playroom with my oldest for her current favorite activity, the coveted childhood tea party.
There, she makes me chocolate soup to the tune of my “ooo’s” and “aaah’s.” She shows me how she waits patiently when the food needs to be warmed up in the oven, or that she likes to squeeze a wooden lemon into her play Earl Grey. (I’m a coffee whore FYI.)
She uses words—like “Earl Grey”—that I didn’t even know she knew, and she shows me that she’s observing me as I go about my real-life activities—my real “to-do” list.
I feel I know my child better by slowing myself down and forcing myself to pay attention—to be present—when what would have been simplest would be rushing along through my “to-do’s”.”
I feel I know myself more.
And, at times like these when I want to skim over a tea party or mentally get ahead of my own day, I take a few slow inhales and exhales—like I’m showing her—and I stay here—with one more read through of a book so worn that I can barely turn its pages.
There are many, many times within my day when I perform a chore that I care for infinitely less than my child—that’s called life. There are many other instances when it’s my choice to hop on Facebook or color with my child or insert something super-productive or lazily-interesting here.
Sometimes, I just plop down in the middle of my living room floor between my two children. It’s interesting to see how they react. Usually they both run and collapse into my lap—because, as much as kids need hot food and clean sheets and money for school supplies, they need love.
Love is easy to forget about, if we don’t place it high up on that to-do list—and love is free and pretty to think about, but it’s, unfortunately, not always the easiest choice.