It was an unexpected, although welcome, snow day for our high school senior and his carpool-weary mom today. We knew there would be a late start this morning because of the snow, ice, and subzero windchill this morning, but when I woke up and started getting dressed to go out and shovel the driveway so I could drive Luke to school, hubby casually said, “You know it’s a snow day, right?”
It was the kind of unanticipated gift that can make life better after a slow and difficult re-entry to real life after a beautiful holiday in Hawaii. I determined it would be a catch up day. I felt overwhelmed when we returned home on Monday afternoon and had to turn around and start back into reality at 6 am Tuesday. So I l planned to use this gifted day to catch up on laundry and take down all the holiday decorations that had grown tiresome. The best part was that I now had a full day to do it and two sons at home to help.
After we had returned our home to its pre-holiday state and Joe had worn out the dogs with playtime in the yard, he approached Luke and said he had an idea. Joe has ideas a lot. When he has them, he involves Luke. Luke tries to get out of what ever Joe is scheming, but more often than not he ends up giving in because he knows Joe can be relentless. He will not stop hounding you until you give in. I usually cringe for Luke in these situations because I know, as an introvert, what Luke wants most is to stick with what he is doing and not get dragged into Joe’s plans. Today, though, Joe whispered his idea into Luke’s ear, and I was surprised how easily Luke acquiesced. They found their snow gear, grabbed sleds they’ve had for ten years, and headed out to the open space. When they returned home, I heard Joe remark to Luke how much lighter and easier to handle these sleds are now. It made me smile.
Today our adult children seized the day and took advantage of their snow day as they might have when they were 8 and 10. It made me happy. We tend to give Joe a little grief when he says he has an idea, but the truth is that a lot of the really amazing things we’ve done started with one of Joe’s ideas. Luke is amazing at accomplishing things, but I thank heaven every day for Joe who is amazing at reminding Luke (and the rest of us) to let go and have fun once in a while. Every family should have a Joe to dream up plans and interminably pester everyone until they come to fruition. Don’t we all deserve to have that one person who reminds us not just to live but to practice being alive?
“Our winters are very long here, very long and very monotonous. But we don’t complain about it downstairs, we’re shielded against the winter. Oh, spring does come eventually, and summer, and they last for a while, but now, looking back, spring and summer seem too short, as if they were not much more than a couple of days…” ~Franz Kafka
Parenting is an intriguing journey. When I think back on my life to a time before I was someone’s mother, it is barely recognizable. I feel I’ve lived an entirely new life since those days pre-children. I’ve come to realize that parenting is not unlike a 365-day trip around the sun through the seasons. And just as you turn the calendar on a new year and suddenly find December on the next leaf, the important job of parenting too passes in a blur.
When we were expecting our first child, the freewheeling fall days of our life as married couple floated off, crisp leaves gathering under our feet, and we braced for the brisk change parenthood would bring. We geared up. We prepared for rough weather. And when our sons arrived, we immediately found ourselves housebound in a snowstorm of diapers, feedings, and nap times. A trip to the grocery store alone was my sunny day. A date night was a beach vacation with umbrella drinks. Most of the time we were holed up at home, trying to dig out from under Thomas the Tank Engine, wooden blocks, and plush animals. We uncovered solace in movie evenings with Nemo and Mr. Incredible and Lightning McQueen, which were followed by family sleepover nights in our room where we would hunker down and take long winter’s naps together. Those were some of the best nights of sleep we got during this period in our lives, and good nights of sleep were few and far between back then. We were perpetually tired, surviving on caffeine in the morning and sugar in the afternoon, and trying to find time for ourselves when we could. Everyone tells you to cherish life with your little ones but, like living through a seemingly endless, difficult winter, that was easier said than done. Continually exhausted and struggling to figure out the dynamics of our new family, we prayed for a thaw.
Gradually the boys grew, and days seemed less bleak. Toddlerhood ended. Full on youth arrived with all its exuberance and light. We emerged from our hibernation and began to go places because, well, going places was easier. Gone were the bottles and sippy cups and diaper bags and extra changes of clothes for blowouts and Baby Bjorns and strollers. We were no longer bundled up and weighed down with paraphernalia. We marveled at the ease with which we traveled. We walked to the park as they raced ahead and sat uninterrupted while they cavorted. A garden’s worth of handmade, paper-flower bouquets sprang up, accompanied by colorful paintings and creative tales. They started school and we appreciated engaging with them as they discovered the little secrets of life we’d long since taken for granted. We introduced them more and more to things we loved. We grew as a family, figuring out who we were together and how life worked best. Sure…there were occasional squalls, and brief deluges reminded us we hadn’t reached summer yet, but I knew things were getting better when we stopped complaining as often about the weather. We breathed in the freedom and exhaled with peace.
The moment when spring ended and summer began wasn’t even distinguishable. One day we were praying for an extra fifteen minutes of sleep and the next we were waking up at 8:30 and wondering if the boys were dead. The boys began exploring their independence with sleepovers at friends’ homes and hours of Capture the Flag after dark and afternoons on their bikes at the park. Suddenly, we had something we hadn’t had in years. Quality time alone in our own home. This weekend, we had not one but two nights consecutive nights during which we got to be grown adults without responsibility for children. We weren’t even on vacation. We had lovely meals, conversation about topics other than Pokémon, and a rearview mirror glimpse of the winter years fading in the distance. We’re walking around in flip-flops with Mai Tais in our hands now compared to the days we experienced when the boys were toddlers, when we were buried under the daily tasks of wiping butts and spoon feeding. We’ve settled into this fairer weather and summer is in full swing.
With all this free time on my hands lately, though, it has begun to occur to me the added peace we’re enjoying in this warmer season heralds the earliest moments of the permanent quiet that lies ahead in our next season. The boys are growing older. They don’t hang out with us as often. They have their own interests. Their independence gives us our freedom but it also decreases our involvement in their lives as they begin to separate and form their own lives and identities. In the quiet over the past two nights, we’ve discussed how weird it’s going to be when we’re alone again. As slow as time seemed to be moving back in the early days is as quickly as it seems to be moving now. They’ll be gone before we know it.
And we now understand that this is why people tell you to enjoy your children while they’re young. As much as it sucks hearing it when you’re sleep-deprived, covered in baby puke, and dying for a minute alone in the bathroom, the universal truth of the eighteen years of parenting is that it flies by like seasons in a year. The parents who tell you to cherish the moments you’re wishing would pass a bit more quickly don’t mean any harm. They’re simply beyond the winter of their discontent and wishing they’d understood how quickly spring arrives with summer and fall nipping at its heels.