A Day in the Life

I told Sean earlier that I think today pretty much sums up our lives. Marriage and parenting are things that are beautiful and enriching when you zoom out and take a long view, but will naturally have bumps and turbulence along the way. Just like life. And in many ways, today was a picture of that.

We had been planning for a while to go to a children’s museum in a city about an hour away, and so had decided that today would be the day it would make it happen. Still, we treasure our lazy Saturday mornings, so when Sean and I got up and he asked when I wanted to leave, I said “let’s have a leisurely morning and not rush.” We agreed that we would leave “late morning.” Unfortunately “leisurely” meant something different to me than it did to Sean, and we ended up at odds 0ver it halfway through the morning. He was all “you said leisurely” and I was all “if this is what you mean by leisurely we won’t get out of the door while it’s still morning.”

But one thing I’ve learned over my half decade of marriage is that if I get upset over every little thing or every little plan disruption, it simply raises my blood pressure and does no one any good. So rather than getting mad and freezing Sean out, as I might have early in our marriage, we talked about our miscommunication and re-synced our expectations.

Half an hour after the morning ended, we were finally on our way to the children’s museum. The children both fell asleep, and Sean and I passed the time in our usual way: I read aloud while he drove. This time, I read from Jerry Falwell’s 1980 Wake Up, America! (Yes, this is the usual way we pass our time on car trips.) After making some wrong turns (but not as many as we sometimes make!), we found a spot outside the museum. (That scene in The Incredibles where Bob and Helen are landing the van and trying to find their way downtown through busy traffic? That scene is a perfect example of how Sean and I usually handle directions.) The children woke up right after we parked—in other words, the timing was perfect.

At the museum, Sean and I traded off—sometimes he had Bobby while I followed Sally, and sometimes the reverse. I ended up watching Sally most of the time while Sean carried Bobby around on his shoulders. And actually, Sally is super fast and the children’s museum was quite crowded, so I spent almost as much time trying to figure out where she’d gone now as I did right with her. There was one exhibit that was a hall of mirrors, but there were floor-level passages throughout, and I had a stroller with me so I couldn’t have gone through those if I had wanted to, and, well, that exhibit was the bane of my afternoon.

The thing about trying to raise independent and confident children is that they end up being, well, independent and confident. And this meant that Sally had absolutely no worries about not having me nearby. I told her shortly after we arrived that if she got lost she should find another mom and explain her situation and that mom would help her*, but Sally never did this any of the numerous times I temporarily lost track of her because she never, well, felt lost.

When closing time came we headed out to the car to head home. Sean suggested we finish the day by going out to eat, and because that seemed like the perfect ending to a lovely day, I agreed. We decided to go to a local Thai place that has the advantage of being both fairly inexpensive and really tasty. The children fell asleep again on the drive back.

When we first arrived at the restaurant things didn’t go so very well. First Sally got struck in a high chair. Really. See, she saw Bobby’s high chair and then, even though she’s big enough for a normal chair, announced that she wanted one too. So we got her one. And then when we put her in she sat down before getting her legs through the holes and ended up wedged in the seat. It took several minutes to get her out, and she spent the entire time crying. Loudly. In the middle of the restaurant. Next, after we replaced Sally’s high chair with a normal chair, Sally insisted repeatedly that she wanted to sit in my seat instead of her own, and started crying. I was putting her off because I was holding Bobby, who had just woken and was crying, and didn’t want to get up and switch seats. At this point Sean suggested that we get up and leave.

It’s funny, when this sort of thing happens I have the ability to maintain a sort of distance from the situation. It’s almost like I can look at myself from a distance and laugh at the situation. Perhaps it’s a defense mechanism? In any case, I knew that Bobby would be fine once we could get him some rice, and it suddenly dawned on me that Sally might be asking to switch spots with me because her chair’s cushion had a tear in it, so I suggested we stick it out. Sure enough, once the rice arrived and Sean took Sally’s chair and gave her his, peace was restored. The rest of the meal was delightful. And yes, Bobby made the biggest rice mess you ever saw.

When we arrived home we went into the living room and Sean turned on Mulan. He’d gotten his hands on a copy a couple days before, because he found out I had never seen it, and he had been wanting to show it to Sally and I and also to relive his own childhood memories. I had never seen it because it included ancestor worship, and other such demonic influences. Anyway, Sally and I thoroughly enjoyed the movie and Bobby played happily around the room until it came time for him to be put to bed partway through. After the movie, Sally fell asleep on the couch and, well, she’s sleeping beside me now. I’m headed up to bed now myself.

But it strikes me, like I said, that this day is sort of a picture of my life. There are minor miscommunications and annoyances, but I’m learning to handle these things better than I might have in the past. And, when I step back and look at the whole day, just like when I step back and look at my life today as a graduate student, wife, and mother, what I see is beautiful and full of happy memories.


* For an explanation, see this comment thread.

Why I Take My Kids to the UU Church
Gamergate Comes Home
Red Town, Blue Town
A Letter from Jesus and Living in Fear
About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • ki sarita

    I’m going to suggest that you teach Sally to turn to museum personnel for help instead of strangers

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      Actually, in Protecting the Gift: Keeping Children and Teenagers Safe (and Parents Sane), the author recommends teaching children to find a mom with small children if they get lost, because statistically, that’s actually their best bet.

      • Angela

        I’ve heard this too. Plus employees may be harder to find and more difficult for a young child to identify but moms are everywhere and even a toddler can pick them out easily. Here’s another tip. Last year at Disney Land I saw a little boy who was crying. I asked him if he was lost and he rolled up his sleeve and showed me where his mom had written her cell number on his arm with a sharpie. I called the number and of course she came right away to get him. So much simpler than if I’d had to drag him to lost and found and have them try paging her.

      • http://raisinghellions.wordpress.com/ Lou Doench

        Yeah, cuz you can’t trust those DADS with small children…

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Lou, I had the same thought. I haven’t read the book myself—someone who has read it told me what it said on that score.

      • Christine

        I was under the impression that these days they taught “parents” with small children, but that could just be my parents realising the stupidity of what they used to teach me, and retconning it.

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Could be, Christine, all I know is that’s what my friend who recommended the book told me. I haven’t read it.

        That said, I wasn’t trying to make any sort of statement in what I said to Sally, and if I had it to do over again I would definitely say “if you get lost, find another mommy or daddy with other little kids and ask them for help,” and that’s what I’ll say in the future. That’s what I should have done. As it was, I had just lost her for the first time and found her after thirty seconds, and was flustered, and wasn’t used to having to deal with losing Sally like that (our local science museum is *much much much* smaller) and had just realized I needed to tell her what to do if she was lost, which I really should have gone over in the car. “If you get lost, find another mommy with kids and ask for help” was the most I could muster before she was off again, and I wasn’t fully thinking it through. If I had been fully thinking it through, I also would have made sure she had my cell phone number on her!

        Anyway, this just goes to show that even the most passionate of feminist bloggers aren’t perfect. Sorry to disappoint you all!

      • Anat

        What is her understanding of being lost? Would it help to say ‘if you can’t find me?’ or ‘if you can’t see me?’

      • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

        Good point, Anat! I have no idea. I suppose I should clarify that before we go again!

      • Anat

        Good idea to find out. She might think that since she knows where she is and doesn’t know where you are, then you are the one who is lost rather than her.

      • Rosa

        Kids museums are hard! Instead of “if you feel lost” I usually stick with “before you switch to another exhibit” – usually the exhibits are one room each, or at least are clearly defined visually. It’s similar enough to our longstanding rule for walks (if you get to a street or a parking lot driveway, wait or come back toward me) it’s worked well for my son.

        And Sally may not really understand that if she can’t see your FACE you probably can’t see her. Kids angle of view is so much different than ours, it’s easy for them to be “in sight” and still invisible to you because they’re seeing your feet or legs from a low point you can’t see into. Especially at a kid-scale children’s museum exhibit.

        I’ve been approached by lost preschoolers before, I don’t know if they’ve been told the “look for a mommy with kids” rule or if they just did that on their own, but each time I was the only person in sight with a small child. Each time, the child wasn’t really lost – they knew where they needed to go, but just wanted an adult along for reassurance, I think. They don’t actually get lost as often as we lose sight of them and think they’re lost.

      • Uly

        As a general rule of thumb, the people you approach for help are unlikely to do you harm.

        What we told the nieces is that if in trouble they can ask somebody with young children OR an employee OR a cop for help, but that they are not to go looking for any of those people, and if approached should simply say that they were told to STAY PUT and that the only help they really need is for somebody to call us. The last thing we want is for them to get even more lost looking for an adult to help them when they are perfectly capable of standing still for ten minutes while we retrace our steps and find them again.

  • Paula G V aka Yukimi

    We usually read books or manga to each other aloud too. I even try to do the voices when it’s required (I suck at it but my boyfriend likes it). When there’re people nearby, they think we are crazy XP

    • Monika

      It was only reading this that it occurred to me reading out loud on longer car trips wasn’t something everyone did. I mean I assumed the reading material changed with preferences and geek-level but reading aloud is a common thing right? Right?

      I am not going to do an office poll on this one because I just don’t want to know the answer.

      Currently reading: “What Makes a Good School?” by Jane Caro , Chris Bonnor.
      It is pretty specific to Australia and our system but interesting reading so far. The only problem with in-the-car books is you go through them so slowly!

  • Meyli

    Mulan is a great movie! And the museum and Thai food!? Can you adopt me..? :P

  • Buckley

    I have to commend you for dealing wit all of your miscommunications. I’m afraid it took a divorce and counseling sessions to realize that non-communicated, unmet expectations is what destroyed our 19 year relationship, 10 year marriage. It all seems so simple now and because of the skills I learned in counseling, I work really hard not to repeat all of those same mistakes I made in my new relationship. it’s funny how a lack of communication and unmet expectations have the power to destroy so completely a relationship that I thought was fairly solid and firm. “All we need to do is keep talking” – Pink Floyd.

  • Bobby W

    I don’t understand why you told your daughter to find another mom. Why not just say find another parent, or family, or even someone who works at the museum? Will you please enlighten me as to the reason behind this.

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism Libby Anne

      If you read this comment thread above, you’ll see the answer to that. The short answer is that you’re right, I should have said “parent” or “family.”

      • Monika

        I’m struggling with “stay where I can see you” I think because as another commenter pointed out above sometimes they can see you when you can’t see them. Also museums (for example) are fascinating and we both get distracted by stuff we want to look at.

        I find shouting my daughter’s name in an undignified fashion usually finds her.

        I like the mobile number and find a parent ideas, thanks.

  • Wendy

    “And yes, Bobby made the biggest rice mess you ever saw.”

    LOL For several years, I was an amazing tipper.

  • Saraquill

    Mulan was frowned upon for ancestor worship? I find this surprising considering the emphasis on husband/father devotion in the communities you usually describe.

    • The_L

      Yes, but you see, Mulan’s family had a shrine to the ancestors, so in the eyes of some Christian conservatives, this was equivalent to actually treating ancestors as gods rather than respecting them. The fact that the ghosts of said ancestors appear in the film (in a single, short scene) also bugs these people, because “there are no ghosts–you either go to heaven or hell, you don’t stick around here!”

      Frankly, I think it’s all smoke and mirrors anyway, and this sort of Christian just doesn’t want their kids to be exposed to any non-Christian religious or spiritual perspectives in even that limited a form. A story from my own childhood makes this even more clear:
      I loved the movie Aladdin as a kid, and even had it on video. It was standard practice that after school, while waiting for parents, our (private, Christan) school would show Disney movies for the children. I once offered to bring in Aladdin for this purpose, and was told that that wouldn’t be allowed “because it has magic.” This confused me at the time, because Cinderella was one of the movies that the school would show regularly. Now I honestly think it’s because once or twice in the film the word “Allah” is said, in passing, which most students wouldn’t even notice.

  • Junior

    My mother prefers to drive. My father gets sick in the car reading aloud, so we listen to books on tape (we only buy used cars, so the latest piece of junk is our first with a built-in CD player). However, I fondly recall listening to my father read the last Harry Potter book aloud (as he did for all the other books) because we couldn’t stand not to read it right away, and unless he read it aloud to everyone we would fight over who read it first and spoil it for other family members. It came out the weekend before church conference, and we’re on the left fringe, so we wanted to read it before going to conference so we wouldn’t be seen reading the evil witchcraft-promoting book (that we love to pieces) by our more conservative cousins. So my dad read it aloud all in the car, despite it making him nauseated. He even did all the voices for Snape and Hagrid and all the rest. Unfortunately, my dad isn’t as good as Jim Dale, who does the official audiobooks, but he’s my dad so I don’t care.

    My father’s best reading character voice is Dustfinger, in the INKHEART books by Cornelia Funke.

    (P. S. Yes, I like church conference, and yes, I like this blog. I’m on the left fringe, remember? Reminds me of the time a friend of mine was shocked to see me at a pro-choice rally. “But don’t you go to church?” “Yeah, so what?”)