“Laine, what will you be signing up for?” A mom at preschool held out a clipboard and pen as I hung up my son’s backpack. I have learned exactly how to zip in and out of the school without making eye contact in order to avoid this moment. But today, I knew there was no escaping. I took a deep breath and smiled,
“I will be signing up for wine and cheese in my pajamas, Joan.”
I used her confusion to slip out of the classroom and down the hallway.
I used to sign up for things! I really did — until parenting become an endless stream of event coordination, and I found myself at the center of a logistical shitstorm.
I get emails weekly about an event at the preschool that I could sign up for.
Story time with live fucking owls!
Maybe my expectations are low. As a kid, we didn’t have a lot of money. We made mud pies in metal tins and taught our foreign exchange student how to play poker with Skittles and pennies. Sometimes we went to matinee movies because they were only $2 during the day. And we played outside — a lot.
When I get to the preschool to drop-off, inevitably there is a signup sheet floating around for the latest “event” that our kids will never remember. Filled with names of parents whom I know are working multiple jobs and juggling multiple kids and trying their best to make it all work.
I used to think I was just lazy. I could really give a shit less about raffle day and driving back to the school in the evening after a day of work sounds like my own personal hell. By the end of the day, I just want to curl up in a ball and eat pretzels in bed.
But all the other moms and dads are doing it. They form neat little lines and march into the school with baked goods and checkbooks in hand, ready to make childhood magical. Meanwhile, I’m in my backyard with a glass of wine while my son digs for roly polies, wondering if I’m failing for letting him play on his own instead of crafting “an experience” for him.
When did this happen? When did parenting become an endless guilt trip bent on making every single moment wonderful?
Growing up seemed simpler. I was fortunate to have a very loving childhood. We ate dinner together and went to the park. Once my mom let us go into into a huge puddle of mud at the bottom of the slide until we were caked. I remember that.
I remember drinking green milk on St. Patrick’s day and getting “made into the bed” when my mom was cleaning up. I remember playing with a laundry basket while my mom folded socks and sliding down the stairs on pieces of cardboard.
I remember running through the sprinklers until my feet were covered in grass and decorating cookies during Christmas with every color of frosting you could imagine, and the epic, glorious day my mom let us have a food fight.
I remember the love.
And I remember being bored AF sometimes. I was told things like, “Go outside,” and “Figure it out,” and “Don’t come into my room unless there is a fire!”
I remember my mom being her own person — and being happy most of the time.
But something has changed. When my son first started preschool, I felt like a concierge. I was hunting down raffle items and coordinating class-wide playdates and volunteering for things like “BBQ Western Showdown” and “Duffy Roll Donut Day” and planning daily trips to museums, and zoos, and gardens.
I was hand-sewing costumes and creating themed birthday parties filled with Pinterest crafts everywhere because somehow I’d internalized that that’s what made things special. And that’s what it meant to be a good mom. And that that’s how my son would know that I love him more than anything.
One day, it dawned on me how insane our schedule had become. My son was half-heartedly walking through the aquarium while I frantically bopped around like a clown, saying things like, “Are you having funnn?!” He looked annoyed.
I got home and collapsed onto the couch and decided enough was enough. My son doesn’t need 10,000 activities to have a happy childhood. And I don’t need to spend every moment of my day wondering if I’m making his life special enough.
He will remember the love, I told myself as I did the walk of shame past a sign-up sheet at school the next day.
I’ll be a half-ass parent if it means I’m a full-hearted person. Because truthfully, after our thousandth trip to the children’s museum, I’d stopped seeing the joy anyway. “Having fun” became a routine without much presence. And my son’s happiness became one more item to manage — just like the laundry, or dinner, or corralling my shoes into one area of the house.
Nowadays, we do less. Sometimes he’s bored. Sometimes he spends all day outside playing with a kitchen spoon and a bucket of water, while I read a book in the backyard. Sometimes I still feel guilty when we haven’t “done anything” in a day or two.
But then I look at him as I “make him into the bed” and enlist his help folding socks and think, Yep, he will remember the love.