We were tumbling out of Saoirse’s preschool after her class today, all four of us, a stumbling tumbleweed of winter coats and slow-moving children and a crying 8-week-old who just wanted the heck out of his carseat and a mom about to start sweating bullets. The halls had been crowded, adult conversations had been started but half-finished, and did I mention Cian was crying?
I arrived later than usual today to pick up Saoirse, and had to park on the far end of the school, right next to the playground. It was a glorious day for late February. The sun was actually shining for the first time in what felt like weeks, there were birds singing in the bare trees. It was the kind of day that made you feel like you were overdressed and too warm, even though the temperature gauge only read 43 degrees (either that or I really was stressed out and overheating). Quinn and Cian and I had spent the entire morning at the grocery store, because I’m still trying to figure out how to work errands around breastfeeding and diaper changes and Quinn’s activities and preschool, and not doing any of it very well. Today, it meant Quinn postponed her MyGym class to gnaw away the icing on a chocolate muffin while I hid Cian under a nursing cover in a back corner of the Wegmans cafe, wedged in between a grocery cart and a wall while the business men around us tap-tap-tapped away at their Blackberries and drank grocery store lattes. Hey. You gotta do what you gotta do.
On a related note: a 2-year-old allowed to walk beside the cart in a Wegmans is like leaving an open bag of chocolate and hamburgers within reach of a dog. In other words, are you out of your mind?
(And in a related note to THAT, have you ever seen a dog barf up chocolate? No? Well, then, that’s just a story for another time. Just to let you know, though, a dog’s chocolate-barf makes your whole house smell like a Hershey’s factory for days.)
So there we were, rushing to the car (okay, minivan. Because I drive a minivan now), hurryhurryhurry, can’t be late for the imaginary schedule I keep in my mind (lunch on the table by 12:15! Cian breastfed at 12:20! Quinn in a nap by 1!). To the car we rushed, into the seats, hurryhurryhurry, I said, buckle up, we have to go. But the girls were staring at the playground. Children were playing in the sunshine while grandparents pushed them on swings. Parents watched and laughed. Absolutely no one was in a hurry. Mom, can we play? my children asked. No, no, no, I said, we have to go. They stared at Saoirse’s classmates on the slide, watched a boy climb to the top of a play house. “But the other children are playing!” Saoirse pointed out. Her voice was small. No, no, no, I still said. And they listened to me. The girls climbed into their seats. Saoirse buckled herself in, and Quinn sat, quietly, clutching her stuffed dolphin while I snapped her belt closed. Both girls were still staring out the window at the playground. My heart was racing from listening to Cian cry. I was flushed and hot and I could feel my stiff shoulders, rigid under the nursing tank that has become my uniform.
And the girls? They just watched the other children play.
Suddenly, I realized that Cian was quiet. He’d fallen asleep. The air in the van felt stale and old, an oppressing contrast to the smell of warm earth and damp tree bark outside. And then I realized that my children are only two and five. I realized that next year Saoirse will be in school every day, and that’s the end of mornings like this. I realized that I needed to just chill for a stinking second and relax already, it’s okay if he fusses a little and eats a little later than usual, because holy crap it’s 43 degrees out and the sun is shining and why in the world wouldn’t I just let my girls play, already?
So I told them to unbuckle their seatbelts. They stared at me for a split second, not quite sure what to do. I told them again, go, unbuckle, get out, go play. And off they raced.
My generation of parents is infamous for not telling its children “no” often enough. Parents my age don’t refuse to sign their progeny up for a dozen activities, and too many sports, and of course, little one, you can eat that other candy bar, we’ll just peel you off the ceiling when it’s time for bed. David and I aren’t quite like that. Our kids have a routine. They understand that there are boundaries that help direct their little lives. And our children are happy people. Other than those five minutes after school this morning, I mean.
But you know what? That sun felt good today. The girls ate like champs at lunch afterward. We weren’t out there for that long, because, seriously, the crying that a baby can do, but still, I learned. I get it. Sometimes it doesn’t hurt a parent like me to just say “yes” a little more often.