It is yet another busy Saturday, and like any family with kids my husband and I have a chaotic day ahead of us. Usually, we divide and conquered our tasks in order to get everything done. And this particular Saturday is no different. We will both spend the majority of the day taking the kids to their different activities, and will then meet up for a nice quiet dinner together. Except, as we go through the list of tasks and divide up the day, I realize I will hardly have a moment to breath. My husband, on the other hand, will have a leisurely Saturday enjoying the kids, catching up with friends and watching basketball. And so, we begin to debate this inequity as we get dressed. I am desperately trying to get him to recognize how frantic my day will actually be.
- 10:30: Get our 12-year-old son to services for his friend’s Bar Mitzvah. Sit through the services.
- 12:30: Services end. Rush home to drop him off and pick up our daughter. Call her on the way home to make sure she is dressed, has eaten, and is ready to leave as soon as I get home.
- 1:00: Arrive at home. Quickly slip out of my clothes and put on running shoes.
- 1:30: Leave the house with our daughter. Strategically place the birthday gift for my husband to take with him later today. Cross my fingers that he doesn’t forget to take the gift.
- 2:00: Arrive with our daughter for her MRI appointment. Yes, I actually found a facility that is open on Saturdays.
- 3:00: Leave the MRI facility. Drive home.
- 4:00: Leave the house (again) with our daughter. Drive 45 minutes to meet an event planner for a sound check at a hotel in Hollywood.
- 6:00: Arrive home exhausted. Make dinner and feed the kids. Confirm that they are bathed and ready for bed. Take a shower and get myself dressed just in time to make our dinner reservations.
As I explain the intricacies of my upcoming day to my husband, I am trying to get him to understand how much driving I will have to do, and am secretly hoping he will switch with me. My husband, on the other hand, is taking our 9-year-old son to his basketball game where he will get to sit on the bench with our friends and cheer the boys on. Then, he will drop off our 9-year-old at a birthday party (hopefully he will remember to take the gift I left behind). But knowing my husband, he will manage to get one of the moms from the basketball team to take our son to the party (moms always feel bad for overworked dads). Having eliminated one task, my husband will then proceed to relax with our 12-year-old son courtside, watching another basketball game. They will eat snacks, chat with the other dads, maybe even yell at the referees. Then he will watch my 12-year-old son’s game, and hang out with the coach afterwards replaying all the great shots and planning strategy for next week. At some point, he will pick up our younger son, grab a coffee, head home, and end up on the couch. He will send the boys off to play while he naps as ESPN blasts in the background.
But somehow when I descriptively compare our upcoming day, he doesn’t agree. In fact, he is convinced that my day looks to be quite an enjoyable one. He thinks that I will drive over to the service with our son and enjoy a beautifully spiritual experience, surrounded by my friends. When the service ends, I’ll sit and have a yummy treat and a cup of tea as I chat with the other moms, all the while enjoying the lovely weather and scenic view. Then, I’ll go home and meet our daughter for lunch. As she gets her MRI, I will sit and read a book in the empty waiting room. When I meet the event planner, we will sit on the rooftop of a beautiful hotel, listening to great music. The hotel will bring us drinks and snacks while we work on our tan. After a wonderful afternoon out, I will come home to a quiet and clean house where the kids will have been fed and put to bed. I’ll have a glass of wine, as we get ready to go out and enjoy a wonderful night together. Then, he proceeds to persuade me that he has a dreadful day of driving and schlepping the kids.
- 2:00: Get our nagging 9-year-old to his game. Make sure he has on the right uniform and that he doesn’t forget his water bottle.
- 3:00: The game ends and he has to rush him to a birthday party, making sure he doesn’t leave anything behind at the game and remembers to take the gift. Drop him off; remind him to eat lunch and to behave.
- 3:30: Drive back to the basketball courts. Go around in circles looking for a parking spot. Drop off our 12-year-old for a pregame practice.
- 4:00: Sit through our son’s game.
- 5:00: Finish watching our son’s game and rush back to the birthday to pick up our younger son. Convince him that it is actually time to go and that the party really is over. Sneak a slice of pizza, as he hasn’t had time to eat lunch.
- 5:30: Drag two exhausted and sweaty boys home where they will promptly tear the house apart. Try to keep them from burning the house down. Change the light bulb in the kitchen. Find something to feed them just to keep them from gnawing on the furniture. Take the trash out. Convince them to shower and practice their instruments. Be dressed and ready to take me out to a nice dinner.
Somehow, each of us envisions that the other has a more pleasant day ahead of them; when in reality we are both just busy parents desperately trying to enjoy snippets of life in the midst of the madness. Some might say our children are over scheduled, and I would argue that the kids are just fine. It’s Mom and Dad who need a break. But these totally crazy, hectic weekends are part of the enjoyment and pleasure that comes from parenting three incredibly active kids. We look forward to cheering from the sidelines, going to birthday parties and participating in their lives. And we recognize that we won’t have this frenzied life forever. The day will come when we look back upon these demanding weekends, and wish we were still in the trenches. Sure, right now we dream of a quiet weekend sipping ice tea by the pool. But if we really had our way, neither one of us would give up this craziness. And until some serenity comes my way, I will just have to let my MomAbility guide me.
Over the years, I have planned more than my share of children’s birthday parties. When my children were younger, the parties we attended were quite extravagant and so I admit, I followed suit. Custom designed or hand-made invitations were mailed to guests that often did not know my child. Gourmet food was ordered in amounts enough to feed a small country. Elaborate cakes were delivered that were more detailed than my wedding cake. Specialty ordered goodie bags took days to assemble. And the pile of generous gifts was more than I had room to store.
But as my children grew (and I got a bit wiser), extravagance was exchanged for elegant minimalism. My children took part-ownership of the event and I was more than happy to share the burden. Evite eliminated the need for hand delivered, custom made invitations. The guest list consisted of children they knew (at least mostly). The private chef catering was substituted with pizza. The three-tiered cake was replaced by cupcakes. And the goodie bags became more reasonable. Nevertheless, I struggled with how to make such an extravagant day a truly meaningful life experience. How do you overindulge your child on their birthday and still teach them to be compassionate, thoughtful individuals? How do show them to appreciate the beauty of celebrating without losing sight of reality? In essence, how do you ensure they don’t become spoiled little brats?
Early on, I encouraged them to write their own guest list. I regularly got a list of their 5 “best friends.” And though I would have been delighted to entertain such a small group, this generally led to a conversation about proper hosting etiquette. We talked about the parties they had attended, and the kindness shown through returned invitations. We talked about the long lost friend, and how happy she would likely feel to be included. We even talked about the annoying nose picker who sat in the back of the class, and how hurtful it would be to be the only one left out. And we talked about how we felt when we were not included in a friend’s party.
One year, my daughter asked for the all too expensive American Girl doll as a birthday present. It would have been easy for me to walk in to the store, pick out her look alike doll, assemble a trunk full of clothes and accessories and leave it by her bedside the morning of her birthday. But instead, I saw this as an opportunity to instill the value of money while teaching her to recognize her good fortune by doing something for someone else. We agreed that she would purchase the doll herself with her birthday money….AND…. that all the toys she received as gifts would be donated to a local hospital. She was very excited about our plan, and she passionately explained to all her friends that she would be donating their gifts. Both she and I vividly remember the day of this special purchase. After browsing the endless display of options and choosing her doll, she plopped herself on the floor and began counting her dollar bills. She waltzed over to the register with pride and beamed as she handed HER money to the cashier. Because she was so invested in purchasing the doll, it played a special part in her childhood. To this day, it sits in the closet amid piles of toys and games. When asked if she is ready to part with it, she hesitates and says, “When we find the right person to give it to.” I am confident things would have been quite different if it had been given to her amid a pile of never-ending gifts.
Some years, the pile of generous gifts is more than we can possibly play with. After the exhausting task of going through all the gifts, they choose a handful of items they would like to share with someone less fortunate. By giving something up, we shift the focus from acquiring material possessions to showing compassion amid our own good fortunate. We have visited hospitals and charitable organizations where their donations have been warmly welcomed.
We are blessed to live comfortable lives where our children can celebrate their birthdays in over abundance. But it is important to take the time and reflect on what is really significant. How can we take this special day, and make it more meaningful by giving back while we receive. It really is not that difficult; we just need to change our frame of mind and let our MomAbility guide us.
As we walked the cobbled streets of this ancient and mystical village, I cherished the years of history that were embedded in the walls. There was so much to see and take in, but we only had a few hours before we had to meet our tour bus at the bottom of town. I walked with my family, trying to take in every detail. It was truly a magical place and each of my kids was allowed to buy one keepsake during this memorable journey. I gave them a budget and told them to wander. Of course my daughter chose a beautiful piece of jewelry; I expected nothing less. My youngest was happy with a little trinket toy, which probably broke before we boarded the plane. But my middle son, 9 years old at the time, was looking for just the right thing. In fact, he knew exactly what he wanted; he was just searching for the perfect one.
We came upon an old shopkeeper who had a small assortment of instruments. My son’s eyes lit up as he searched through the pile to find the right one. Now, this was no ordinary instrument. It was magical and mystical and spiritual in every imaginable way, and this is exactly what he wanted. I didn’t know how to play this instrument, and neither did by husband. But that was no deterrent for my son. He was confidant that he would learn to play it. The shopkeeper was delighted that such a young boy had a desire to entrench himself in tradition and history. He ensured my son that although it would be difficult to perfect the sound, all he needed was practice and that he too would be able to call upon the angels with this magical instrument.
My husband and I were delighted as we walked back to our tour bus. Each of our children had made a purchase that was meaningful to them. They were leaving this town with something that would forever remind them of our journey and our personal history. As we prepared to board the bus, a member of our tour asked me why I had allowed my son to buy this instrument. At first, I did not understand the question. But she went on to say that he was too young and there was no way he would be able to play it. In fact, she said his lungs were not even developed enough to have the strength needed to play it. I thanked her for her advice and took my seat on the bus.
It never occurred to me to tell my child that HE CAN’T, that he is NOT ABLE to. Sure, I have a lot of “you may not” and “you do not have permission to,” but there is rarely a situation that calls for a “YOU CAN’T.” How am I to know if my child can or cannot? Who am I to say whether he is capable or not? Doesn’t he have to try it first to know?
Maybe my openness to trying new things stems from the type of home I grew up in. Don’t get me wrong; there were plenty of rules in my parents’ home. In fact, there were probably more things we did not have permission to do, than things we were allowed to do. But none of those had to do with what we were able to do. From a young age, we were encouraged to do things: we learned to ski when we were 5, we dove into the deep end as soon as we could swim, we learned to do back flips, roller blade down steep hills, climb to the top of trees and surf. We never heard the words you can’t because you are a girl, because you are too small, or because you are not capable enough. And we were never pitied when we scraped our knees, took a tumble off the balance beam, or wiped out on a wave. And as such, we just got up and did it again, because that’s just what you do.
But then I realized there are people who are raised in a totally different type of home: the type of home that is built around fear and doubt and caution. There are children who are raised by parents who allow the “what if’s” to dictate their lives. What if I let go and she falls down? (She will probably get back up.) What if he gets dirty doing it? (You will wash his hands when he’s done.) What if he pedals too fast? (He will learn not to go so fast next time.) And then I began to wonder about the children who live in those homes. Who could they become and what could they accomplish if they have more opportunities to try things? How could they learn to deal with their failed attempts and how would their character reflect that? I doubt that you would ever hear the mother of an Olympic skier say “oh honey, don’t do that. You might fall down.”
As I was busy daydreaming about the unnecessary limitations we place on our children, my son was sitting with our tour guide getting his first lesson on how to play his instrument. By the time we got to our hotel room, he was ready to begin practicing the different sounds he had learned. Now don’t get me wrong—it was painful listening to him perfect this instrument. In fact, we often begged him to practice in the back yard. But in no time at all, not only did he learn to play this instrument well, he mastered it enough to play for crowds of 100’s of people. As he closes his eyes and calls upon the magic of this ancient and far away land, I get tears in my eyes as I think about how I almost let someone tell my son HE CAN’T.