No, you can’t have candy for breakfast. Please, pick up your toys. Applesauce is NOT finger paint! Don’t hit your brother! Put your pants back on!
Day in and day out, I find myself spewing off these and other similar lines. I’m a SAHM of two toddler boys, living in the trenches, just trying to survive moment to moment. Although full of surprises, days are comprised of the basic routine activities and behaviors. Meltdowns and tantrums are expected. Fights and disagreements between my boys are inevitable. There will be laughing and crying — sometimes simultaneously.
In between my nags, I’m pleading with them to take a bath or begging them to take one — just one — bite of dinner. I’m doling out time-outs when necessary, breaking up fights, enforcing sharing, and turn-taking. After a while, no one listens, reducing me to white noise. Honestly, I don’t even know if I hear myself anymore. I’m an exhausted, annoying recording just going through the motions.
But then, Dad to the rescue.
Closing in on the end of the day, here comes Dad. Kids’ eyes light up. Smiles from ear to hear. Hugs. Kisses. Laughter. I can’t remember the last time they reacted to me that way, but then again, I can’t remember the last time I left long enough for them to miss me.
You know what the kicker is? All it takes is one request from Dad and they listen. They clean up the same toys I’ve been asking them all day to pick up. Gladly eating their dinner and telling him how good it is. They even willingly take a bath as long as Dad washes them.
In the eyes of my children, I’m a buzzkill. I’m a no fun, mean mommy. Implementer of rules and guidelines. Telling them more of what they can’t do than what they can. I get it. This is my job. I can’t expect it to be glorious and fun all the time, but I selfishly want the same adoration and compliance they give my husband.
Even though my husband shares in the discipline, it’s just different. He’s gone all day at work, leaving only a few hours at night and the weekends when my boys are able to spend time with him. Me? I’m always here. Yup, no biggie, just trying to keep everyone alive and raise productive members of society instead of self-entitled assholes.
Enter the day of letting go.
I decided I was going to have my day. A day of fun. A day of saying “yes” to (almost) everything. A day where my kids would spoil me with their affection. This is how that day played out:
My 2-year-old awoke, and as usual, darted for the pantry to pick out junk instead of eating the breakfast I prepared. On this particular morning, his craving of choice was a marshmallow. Normally, the answer would be a firm “no.” This day? I said said yes — and gave him two. After the shock wore off and he realized I had agreed to his request, his face lit up and produced the biggest smile. That smile was worth one thousand marshmallows. Hell, I even joined in the party and stuffed a marshmallow in my own mouth.
The boys wanted to eat their cereal in front of the TV. Sounds good to me. And what did I do? I enjoyed a hot cup of coffee while watching the news. No whining or toddler power struggles on this morning. How relaxing. I think I could get used to this.
After asking the kids what they wanted to do that day, they responded with, “Animals!” This is toddler talk for going to the zoo. Zoo it is! No need to pick up toys before leaving the house. And no, I’m not doing the dishes either. Throw everything in the sink, and out the door we go. Is this what spontaneity feels like? All this freedom was refreshing.
Onto our fun-filled outing full of animals, cotton candy, popcorn, and even those plastic mold animal toys. Ask and you shall receive. Is this what being a grandparent feels like? No wonder my kids love the shit out of you guys!
What’s for lunch? French fries, chicken nuggets, and a toy all bundled into an easily transportable, individual package is exactly what this day needed. Thank you, McDonald’s Happy Meal. Enjoying the convenience of a drive-thru and the simplicity of an already-prepared meal was wonderful. No incessant interrogation trying to figure out what my boys wanted to eat only to have them disregard it or tell me it’s gross.
After lunch and naps, we went and got some ice cream. Why? Because, why not. We sat outside together trying to lick the ice cream quicker than it melted. My kids were sticky messes, but they were happy — and so was I.
Before heading home, we stopped at the park to burn off some energy and take in that delicious fresh air. My boys ran wild and played. No checking my watch or rushing them off the scene to be home at a certain time to make dinner. We weren’t on any schedule. We stayed until they told me they wanted to leave. I just sat back and relaxed.
Dinnertime was approaching. My kids’ recommendations? Macaroni and cheese, hot dogs, applesauce, and a cookie. Sounds like a well-balanced meal to me. No prepping and planning a dinner that they won’t touch. This is awesome!
With dinner concluded, onto what is usually my least favorite part of the night: trying to coerce my boys to get into the tub. As always, they refused. On this day, I just let it be. Maybe I’ll try and catch them later with a wet wipe.
The night concluded with my boys playing to their heart’s content. Toys everywhere. I didn’t nag them once to pick up nor did I concern myself with the mess. They were having fun and today was a day of letting go. We all played dinosaurs together on the living room floor without caring about the cleanup.
I was truly in the moment, enjoying time with my boys. It amazed and saddened me when I realized how little I do this. My mind is often distracted by worries and concerns related to parenting: Are they watching too much TV? Are they eating healthy enough? Are they hitting their milestones? Are they getting enough socialization?
Looking back on the day, I had more fun than I anticipated. I went into the day’s activities focused on how to make it enjoyable for my boys, but didn’t realize how it would spill over onto myself. There was no stress. No yelling. No nagging. No worries or cares. It was unbelievably liberating to just let go.
Yes, my house was trashed. No housework was touched, and that was okay. My boys didn’t hit their nutritional goals, but again, that’s okay. Not every day is going to be perfect. Kids, especially toddlers, aren’t perfect. Motherhood is definitely not perfect.
Not every day can be like this day. That’s not realistic. At some point, housework needs to be done. My children need to attempt to follow a well-balanced diet. Eventually, they will need to take a bath. It is important to learn basic lessons of sharing and picking up after themselves. This is my job as a parent, but maybe there’s a balance to be had and relaxing the reins a bit won’t be the end of the world. Maybe even a day of fun sprinkled in here and there will help us all to remember how to have fun and make memories, instead of getting caught up with the everyday.