Vigilance is a word I think of a lot. I have to remain vigilant. I am, after all, responsible for 3 small humans. That doesn’t keep me from occasionally sneaking off into my bedroom with the stolen Halloween candy. Or taking a stealth shower while Dora the Explorer entertains the kids.
When I used to work from home, I would gate the kids in their room while they played happily with their toys. Sometimes I even did that when *gasp* I wasn’t working. Or when they were not playing happily in their room, but wailing inconsolably at the gate, waving dirty diapers at me while I ran off to grab a quick sandwich or cup of coffee.
Sometimes, being vigilant is something I fail at.
Because keeping eyes on kids all day long isn’t easy. Let’s be honest. It gets tedious. Sometimes you have to make a respectful phone call without someone picking that moment to tell you about the poop they smeared all over the bathroom, or the booger on their finger. “Get it OFF! BOOGER!”
Yes, I know all the sweet little grandmothers at the park tell you to TREASURE every moment of it, and I know they’re mostly right, and I have made it my mantra to not miss the best moments, but there are moments I do not treasure. Washing peanut butter off the dog. Wiping poop off the wall, and the floor, and out of the dryer. Getting the mauve lipstick out of the living room carpet. Trying to erase the damage from a “love letter to Mom,” written in ballpoint pen on the sofa. Scrubbing off the sweet caricatures RockStar drew on the walls of our rental home, in red marker. I don’t treasure those moments, Grandma. I gotta admit.
We lovingly call these “missed moments” and, really, we wouldn’t MISS them if they didn’t happen. We laugh about them now. But when you walk in on a scene where a 64-ounce container of Cremora has somehow…exploded, spreading a layer of clumpy coffee creamer on to everything within a 15-foot radius of a beaming, evil, giggling toddler… well, let’s just say it’s funnier now.
These are the moments we walk in on, in horror. These are the “missed moments” of our lives. When we weren’t being as vigilant as we should have been. These are also the moments I will always remember. I will possibly forget the way K smiled when I gave her daisies at her preschool graduation. The time L splashed in mud puddles and got delightfully soaked to the skin. The first time RockStar flew through the air like Superman.
Maybe that’s what Grandma is trying to tell us. Treasure every moment. Yeah, even the Cremora-encrusted, lipstick-smeared, poop-stained, peanuty-smelling dog moments.
Even these. NO. ESPECIALLY THESE. are unforgettable moments.
I shared this story because Tiffany asked. She writes for Dropcam.com. If you want to share your missed moments, check it out here.
It’s Friday night, and I am dropping off my 6th grader for her first middle school dance. And I am trying not to panic.
She’s wearing her “I Love Bacon” shirt and a pair of camos, and her hair is perfect. Before she jumps out of the van, I give her some last-minute advice. Well, “advice” is putting it mildly. It was more like desperate warnings on how to survive being out in the cruel, cruel world. The words still ring in my ears. “Remember, if someone tries to offer you a pill, or some drugs, use your brain.” And the ever-important “Do not, for any reason, go along with the bigger kids, who decide to go climb out onto the roof.”
“Mom. I know,” she says, as her eyes almost roll right out of her head. And then she is gone, slamming the door, walking determinedly toward the school’s front entrance. Looking back to grin at me and discreetly wave before she goes through the door.
There are cars beeping, behind me. So I drive off slowly, catching one last glimpse of her long black coat, a flash of light brown hair.
I never seem to get enough of this kid. I adore spending time with her, and I miss her when she is gone. Now, this is true of all three of my kids. Usually. Of course. But 11 is an awesome age, and K is a delight to hang out with.
Just the day before, K and I went to the mall and spent a few rare and wonderful hours together, just the two of us. We got sodas from Chic-Fil-A, and sat at one of the tall tables, our legs swinging while we got high on caffeine and sugar. We talked about Minecraft. Gaming. Someday getting a puppy. Our plans for a costume for Halloween. How to survive the zombie apocalypse. It was, in truth, one of the most delicious Cokes I’ve ever had.
Afterwards, we left the food court and headed across the mall. We were there for a special purpose. K had decided to have her ears pierced. We arrive at Claire’s, and I fill out the piercing paperwork while K picks out her first earrings. She chooses gold stars, and the piercer preps her ears, dotting the spots with purple ink. The first piercing almost sends K running out of the store, screaming in pain. But I hold her hand, and let her know that, unlike what the Claire’s employee says, it really doesn’t matter if she only gets the one ear pierced. I am indifferent. I want only for her to make her own choices.
She thinks about it for a long time, while the piercer stands nearby, impatiently. I talk to her calmly, and she finally, after about 10 minutes, makes the decision to go forward. She winces her way through the second piercing, a few tears glittering in her eyes. But then she checks out her reflection. She catches the glint of gold in her newly pierced ears, and is charmed, instantly forgetting the discomfort. I hug her. We pick out 3 pair of earrings: 2 pairs of sparkly lizards and one pair of shark earrings that bite your ear lobes. They are SO her style. And then we take off to get double chocolate chip cookies from Au Bon Pain and be incredibly late for her doctor’s appointment, 5 miles away.
This day will stand out in my memory as one of the most beautiful days I’ve spent so far with my big kid.
But that was yesterday. Tonight, I’m confused and frustrated with her. I don’t understand why she is choosing to go to this middle school dance, all alone. While all her friends are going on a Girl Scout campout. K says she wants to try to meet some new people at her middle school. And I have to respect her choices. I have to back her up. This is the kid I am raising, flexing her independent muscles. Being mighty.
Uugh. I want so badly to overrule her, to convince her/bribe her to go camping with the Girl Scouts instead, where I know she will have the time of her life. But this thing, this letting her make her own choices, is what it’s all about. THIS is the right thing to do, I assure my conflicted self. She needs to make her own choices.
And just as I talk myself into a calmer state of mind, as I get through the worst of the evening traffic on the way back from the middle school, my phone rings. I look at my phone, and there’s K’s number.
“It’s really loud. Like, my ears hurt. And not where I got them pierced. The music is too loud. And I can’t see anything, because there are huge 8th graders everywhere, and …”
“K, do you want me to come get you?” I ask, trying to sound calm and cool.
“Yeah, please?” She sounds nervous.
And I take an immediate, glorious u-turn in the middle of traffic. I’m racing back to the middle school to save my kid.
I park and go in to get her. There she is, jacket on, ready to go. Quickly. I nod to an understanding chaperone, and we jet out the door. When we get to the van, I ask her what the dance was like. She describes the too-loud music, the cafeteria, jammed with older, bigger, frenzied 7th-and-8th graders. All strangers. There was no one to notice her pretty new earrings, her shiny hair. Her quirky sense of style. Her eagerness to make friends.
So we get home, and she runs into the house to hug her little sister and brother, and then she snuggles in to join our regular family movie night. Just us. She sings along with the songs from Mulan. She eats pizza and has a tickle fight with her little brother. She goes to bed smiling. She hugs me good night.
I know it won’t always go this way. I know she will successfully venture out there, into the places I can’t control, the places I don’t approve of. And I really hope she will be ready. And that the world will treat her justly.
And I also realize just how messed up I really am. How I need to do some work on myself, to get ready for this to happen. Disengagement. Independence. I know it’s inevitable. And I want to be better at letting her go. At letting her soar. I don’t want to hold her back because of my own fear, my own issues.
But I’m just selfishly glad that Friday, that this time, SHE wasn’t ready, either … yet.
I didn’t go to work the morning of Tuesday, October 27, 1998, planning to get married.
In fact, the plan was for Allen to pick me up at lunch and drive a short distance up Main Street, to the courthouse, to apply for our marriage license. We were actually going to get married on Perdido Beach, by a justice of the peace, on the following Saturday. I had bought myself a simple, beautiful, cream-colored dress on sale at Dillard’s in Cordova Mall, and I envisioned myself standing on the sugar-white sand, in my beautiful dress, my feet bare, my hair long and windswept, saying well-crafted words as seagulls swept artistically by on a breeze off the Gulf.
And yet, an hour later, Allen and I were spontaneously exchanging vows in the dimly lit back hall of the Pensacola County Courthouse. Thirty minutes after that, we were walking down the steps of the courthouse, man and wife, smiling in our conspiracy. Holding hands and feeling like we had just pulled the biggest prank on life ever.
Fifteen years ago, I married my best friend. Today, I pulled out that same beautiful dress, its tags still attached. This dress has lived in a closet, unfulfilled and somewhat forgotten. Allen and I got caught up in the living of our lives together, the experience of loving, the crazy of having children, that we never really missed the ceremony, the ritual. Never needed the symbolism, the tradition. We’ve been too busy being happily married to miss the wedding.
Today and every year on this date, I celebrate the journey. Loving this man. Cherishing this life. Feeling like we are still life’s biggest pranksters, like every night is a sleepover, every day an adventure.
Happy Anniversary, Allen!
My son attends possibly the sweetest nursery school in the universe. I know this, because I volunteered yesterday, as the “special guest” since we were celebrating RockStar’s 4th birthday. And now I know a truth I did not internalize until now.
I am not fit to ever be a preschool teacher.
I mean, sure, I never tried to be one. It’s not my life’s ambition. But now I know that I could never, ever, do that job.
Let’s list the attributes of a preschool teacher, shall we?
- Yeah, a lot of patience
- Did I mention Patience enough yet?
- Cool — as in “has the ability to keep theirs”
- Ability to harness sarcasm
- Blinding optimism
- Lack of temper
- Able to wield power gracefully
- Flexible sense of humor
- Perseverance in the face of hopelessness
No, really, I witnessed all of these traits in the actions/reactions/behaviors of the women who nurture my son and his classmates 3 times a week for 3+ hour per day. While I was trying to control the nervous twitch in my left eye and refrain from running screaming from the room.
Of the list, I… well, I have none of these attributes. What’s more true is probably that the skills I acquired in college run contrary to the skills a preschool teacher would use. I was trained to be neurotic, to freak out on deadlines, express my opinions, and make order out of chaos. My degrees are in communications and English! I went to grad school so I could take literature apart into tiny pieces and make some weird sense out of it, and learn how to drink good wine on a student’s budget.
I actually like to think of the sweet ladies at my son’s preschool as actors. There they are, being saint-like in front of 14 little sets of cameras. They are angels! This is their role! Because, seriously, no one is this amazing. How can you repeat the same directions 8 times to a child who is picking her nose with one hand and tearing stickers off the wall with the other, and screaming, and NOT be acting, right? No one is that good.
It takes a special kind of person to be able to handle that so professionally, for even a few hours a day, and stay sane.
Of course, it’s not like a preschool teacher has to be all these things all the time, right? Maybe, when the job is done, the preschool teachers leave work and go out into the real world and are utter assholes. They cut you off on Pleasant Street, or brake too quickly for a yellow light, just to piss you off. Just to get some balance!
Being a *ahem* flawed human, I like to imagine my son’s angelic, ready-for-sainthood preschool teacher doing something just a little nefarious when the day is over. Like, squashing ladybugs with a sinister gleam in her eye as she walks to her car. Swatting a beautiful butterfly away with an annoyed expression. Rolling her eyes when a bunny crosses her path. Swearing under her breath as a breathtaking rainbow appears overhead after a soft rainshower.
I feel a little better, imagining that maybe my son’s teachers are just a little bit evil when they are off the clock. Maybe when those teachers arrive home from their day at work, they, too, put their kids in front of a video and sit down to play World of Warcraft instead of choosing developmentally appropriate crafts and activities.
So, raise a glass with me and sing a toast to the brilliant, amazing preschool teachers of the world who CAN do this, and do it well. So we don’t have to.