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 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.