“What does it mean to pre-board? Do you get on before you get on?” – George Carlin
I dropped my husband off at the airport yesterday morning after we dropped our daughter off at school. I’d had a wretched night of sleep, so I decided to fill the day with activity for my son and I so I’d forget I was tired. It worked! Meanwhile, the paradox of a partner’s business travel hits me: there’s a little bit more breathing room, but there’s a whole lot less of everything else.
This was the first time that my kids fully internalized that their father had gone far away on an airplane. He makes this trip annually, but they were younger last year and perhaps lacked their current sense of time and space. Regardless, the kids missed him instantly; their sorrowful eyes would rival any heart-wrenching sad clown painting. Absent Dad steps up onto the pedestal as the kids realize there’s only one heavy laying down the law now, so it took me a while to mellow out and find a calm parenting groove. Really, this trip was only going to be for 2.5 days, but a lot can happen in that time.
One thing I know about myself is that I spin my wheels on things and overanalyze things at every turn. Should we just chill out for the weekend or get out and take the city by storm? How much energy did I have? How were the kids feeling? This is one of the most exhausting parts of parenting for me. I read some great parenting advice recently that suggested leaving the room before you intervene in your children’s squabbles. Take an extra second to think about things, cool down, and move with more intention than reaction.
I noticed that my son and daughter were playing nicely together after breakfast. They had both expressed interest in going to an open playtime so we slowly got ready to make the long walk there. It felt right to leave the car keys in my purse; I had never driven on a regular basis until I had children, and my post-partum life was measured by whether my gas tank was full or empty. Tennis shoes on, 20 minutes late, and go. I pulled a Jillian Michaels and kept my daughter on a pace…she’s been proving she can keep up.
We get to the center, and we are literally the only family there. Eventually, a nanny showed up with her charge. The thing is, it only takes one other interested party to party. Toys were pulled out of baskets. Paint was spread. Smiles were engaged. I stuck with the kids, but the nanny started to talk to the family center staffer about exercise. It seemed that they both went to the same gym, so the nanny was giving the staffer pointers on what classes to take. The kicker is that the staff member is a Muslim woman. Why do I bring that up? Because I had an epiphany eavesdropping on their conversation. The reason why refugees and immigrants can isolate themselves into cultural or religious communities is because the people around them are not extending themselves. These two women had a common bond, and one reached out to invite the other to join in a healthy social activity. I think of myself as progressive and open-minded, but I can’t say that I would have done the same thing. I’m far too worried that I will make the other person feel awkward.
After the playtime, the kids and I walked back home at a leisurely pace. I always try to ask my kids what they see on our walks. Look around. Take it in. Feel the walk with all of our senses. Then a simple walk becomes an adventure no matter where we are. The kids decided the rest of the day belonged to art, dolls, and train sets. I wanted to get out, but I left the room and took a step back and went with the flow.
If you’re a parent, do you give your children the chance to make decisions about their day?