Monday, February 21, 2011
Best Laid Plans
It looked like a pretty sweet evening for me and my girl. Her dad was taking the house full of boys off to a local mountain, to go night skiing, and the empty house belonged to just us girls. I couldn’t wait for some quality bonding time with my only daughter.
I have started seeing her childhood more clearly now that she’s become an adult. For years she was my big girl, my helper, my second set of hands. She was nurturing and capable and loved being a part of the mommying team. It made her feel mature and important to be trusted in tasks like pacing the floor with her newborn brother so I could get a much needed shower.
But somehow, letting her be the grown up girl she wanted to be, made her grow up twice as fast. Suddenly I was putting my 14 year old girl on a plane to visit family friends in Brazil, and her confident stride through the boarding gate, alone, made me weep on the way home.
“When was she SIX?” I wailed to my patient husband. “When was she SIX?!”
He assured me that she had, indeed, been six once. We had pictures to prove it.
Boxes of pictures to prove it.
When she was six, headed off to first grade, she led her little brother through the school hallways, and dropped him off at his kindergarten class. She kissed her baby brother good bye before she exited our minivan in the morning, then accepted his squeals and hugs when she returned in the afternoon.
She had been her version of six, always looking after those brothers.
I’m like most parents, I think. I look back and think about how I’d do things differently, if I had the chance. I’d spend more time with just my daughter. I’d sit with her on the couch and ask a lot more about how she was feeling on a daily basis (which of course is silly, because I know that she would have hated that kind of direct assault parenting).
I keep thinking I would have noticed more, asked more questions, given more hugs, but maybe that’s not possible. Like the mother of a newborn, who can’t ‘cherish these moments’, as she’s instructed to by older women, because she’s so exhausted by sleep deprivation and daily baby maintenance, I look back and wonder if I really did just ‘do my best’ as much as I could. I had my failing moments. But we had a lot of great, relationship building moments too.
So on this night, a week ago, when I was going to have a chance to get to spend some alone time with my girl, I was excited. There are no more babies to distract us. No more potty training toddlers to dictate our evening. We had grown up plans. We were ready to order of favorite pizza then settle down to watch a chick flick together, something that would never make it into our house when all the boys were home.
Then her dad called from work. He has spent a week traveling and was headed out again, the very next day. He was tired, bone tired. Would I mind taking the boys to ski?
Uh oh. This was one of those selfless parenting moments. Where you’re supposed to think about your spouse’s feelings and needs first. Especially if it ‘only’ meant missing a relaxing pizza and movie night. I am embarrassed to say I resisted. I tried to think of every reason why I couldn’t do it. My girl and I had plans, after all!
In less than an hour I had caved. My girl, the one who spent her childhood being the second mom to her brothers, stepped up and saved the day. “Why don’t I go too, and snowboard with Sam?” This suggestion was huge. Sam is a great skier, but in the process of crossing over to being a snowboarder. At ten, he’s only allowed to go boarding if someone is willing to go along with him. His sister is usually the sucker he convinces first.
So we all headed up to the mountain together. Hubby got to stay home and wrap up loose ends so he could travel again for work. I ended up spending several hours in a car, and then on the mountain, enjoying conversation with four pretty great kids. I watched my girl, who had given up her warm, comfy night on the couch watching movies, as she strapped on snowboard boots and escorted her little brother to the ski lift.
They all had a great time. Everyone got along (a miracle!) and by the time we were headed home, the exhaustion was relaxing. We got our traditional hot fries at McDonalds for the drive home and as the big red box was passed back and forth through the car the conversation was relaxed and peaceful.
And I realized, once again, that parenting is all about being flexible. Memory making doesn’t always go as planned. Instead of having new time alone moments with my girl, I got some pretty great moments watching her do what she does best - take care of her brothers. Our family dynamic works for a reason. Everyone has their place in our nest. Everyone’s pretty comfortable with the way it’s set up.
In a van that smelled of salty, hot french fries, I settled into the drive home. And tried my best to burn the feeling of that priceless night into my memory bank.