The weather has been beautiful here this week. Warm temperatures and sunny skies have driven us outdoors in an effort to melt off the lingering winter doldrums. What better place to enjoy early spring weather than the park?
Heading to the park with four teenagers was very different from our trips many years back. Well, really, there were only two teenagers. My oldest child just turned 20, actually, but I’m still in a state of denial. And my youngest is an incredibly angsty 12, but still, no diaper bags had to be packed or snacks prepared. There was no strapping into car seats or remembering favorite toys. We just decided on a whim and left.
But to be honest, once we got there, I didn’t know what to do. I no longer had to keep a watchful eye on the kiddos to make sure they didn’t kill themselves, or each other, or perfect strangers. My attention wasn’t pulled in four different directions at once. I didn’t have to help someone up the slide or push anyone on the swings. Basically, I spent an hour sitting on a park bench looking lost.
When my children were much younger, park trips were harder. I always planned for them to be a retreat from the house, a chance to unwind, relax, have fun, and decompress. But they rarely were any of those things. A trip to the park usually meant an hour of being hyperaware of everything the children did or said, coupled with nasty feelings of guilt and embarrassment as the kids said things that were just a bit too intimate or socially awkward in the presence of perfect strangers. Take, for example, the time my son told a random couple, “I watched my baby brother come out of my mom’s butt! It was soooo gross!”
But the thing that always wore on my nerves were the cries of “Hey, Mom! Watch this!” No less than 47 times per park visit, my darling oldest child would shout these words—from the top of the slide, the edge of the monkey bars, the corner of the sand box, and 2 feet in front of my face. I realize that, as the oldest of four, he craved attention that I wasn’t always able to give him. Too many times he wanted me, and I was tending to messy diapers and hungry babies.
But the cries for my undivided attention at the park often irritated me in ways that mothers should probably not be irritated. However, when a small child begs you to “watch this,” there is a 95% probability that the thing they do is not going to be particularly impressive.
My son’s “watch this” was most likely to be followed by a failed attempt to hop on one foot, or a display of just how slow he could run, or just a really goofy face. Sometimes it was just him smiling at me, an attempt to pull me out of my own world and into his, a plea to connect, to see him, really see him, not just with the glazed-over look with which exhausted mothers view the world.
“Are you watching, Mom?” he would stop to make sure he had my full attention before following through with the typically unimpressive and mundane feat he had planned.
“I’m watching, buddy. Go ahead.”
So I would watch him each time, rarely impressed with his bunny hops and hole-digging and log rolls that coated his thin curls in playground sand. But I watched anyway, because that’s what we mothers do. We watch from park benches, even when we can barely stand to watch.
At the park this week, not once did my oldest beg me to “watch this.” Perhaps that is why I felt so lost, like I didn’t know my place.
He’s leaving home for the Army in just 13 short days.
At the park, he sat next to me on the bench, not saying a word. I think I could still hear him whispering though. As he teeters on the edge of the nest, he whispers, “Hey, Mom, watch this,” just as he spreads his wings and soars away—beautiful and capable and strong. This time, what he’s about to do is so very impressive that I can barely stand to watch, but this time it is totally worth watching.
“I’m watching, buddy. Go ahead…”