We’re at the waterpark, and I’m experiencing something brand new and surprisingly a little unsettling. My kids don’t want to play with me, and I’m a little bummed out about it. I know that if you’re reading this and you happen to have a 4-year-old begging you to play Paw Patrol for the four zillionth time this week, or you’ve built your tenth LEGO building for the week, then your empathy level is low right now. I understand. It seems like just last week I was in the same predicament, losing my voice from playing pirates all afternoon, being pushed into closets and hoping it would take a bit before the boys pulled me out of “jail” so I could rest for a little while. I get it. It doesn’t matter how much you love your kids, or how much you love playing (I really, really love playing.) It gets tiresome sometimes.
That’s partly why it’s even more shocking to me that I’m taking it so hard. Right when we arrive, the boys ask me to go down “Albuquerque Falls” with them. We go down together, the three of us screaming the whole way while Mike takes pictures from the stairs. We hop out of the tube and I run with them as they head for the stairs again, but Aziah turns around just as we start to make our ascent.
“Mom, we can go alone this time,” he says.
“Oh, okay, cool! See you at the bottom.”
I make a pouty face as I head back to Mike. He grabs my shoulders, laughing. “Don’t worry honey! I’ll play with you!”
“But you’re boring!” I frown, he looks a little hurt. “I mean at the water park! You hate the slides!”
I head over to the slides where you’re allowed to ride as a single. I give out a sad little “whooo” going down, but my hearts not really in it. I go again, whooo.
The great irony is that my friends told me this day would come and I listened with the eagerness and excitement of a high schooler hearing about the college years to come. Waterpark freedom. Waterpark freedom is when your kids get a little more self sufficient and you graduate to the mom with dry hair, sipping a cocktail and reading a book while your kids dart from the slides to the hot tub to the lazy river, instead of being pruned and freezing and pulled in every direction. But to be honest, it feels a little like chomping at the bit to graduate from college only to realize healthcare is a thing you have to pay for, not to mention 40-hour workweeks, rent, grocery bills, the whole adult dilemma.
I sit with Mike for a while. We debate back and forth whether “fit grandpa” works out or has just been blessed with incredible genes. I go see what the kids are up to — they’ve made some friends in the lazy river and are fully having the time of their lives, Aziah makes a heart symbol with his hands to secretly tell me he’s in love. Oh goody. I sit back down with Mike. Why was I so excited about a poolside cocktail anyways? I don’t even really drink, much less during the day… and dry hair at the pool? That’s never been a club I wanted to be in.
Next we’re out of the water park and the boys want to play the MagiQuest game, this game involves running from the bottom to the fourth floor of the hotel at least a hundred times, waving a plastic wand at various statues, paintings, and boxes of treasure that then light up and give you clues for what to look for next. If it sounds like some kind of psychedelic mushroom trip, it kind of is. There are talking squirrels riding a teeter totter on the third floor. The bottom line is no reasonable parent would want to follow their kids around on this mission.
“Just sit down here by the fire, Mom. We’re totally fine!”
Perfect. Alone time! Mike takes a nap back at the room and I sit by the fire and read, then people watch some more. There’s a little girl in cowboy boots and a bikini dripping wet and dancing like her hearts on fire to the non-existent music while her mom speaks to the woman behind the desk.
An hour goes by and now the boys are grabbing me and begging to go to the arcade. This is basically a casino for kids where you pay forty bucks to earn enough tickets to purchase two tootsie rolls. I hate the kid casino.
“Just fill our cards, Mom, you can wait outside!”
I sit at the tables just outside . I get an ice cream. I scroll Facebook. I check on them again, I write, fake shop online, answer emails.
I should be elated. I hate riding the elevator up and down for hours for the MagiQuest. The kid casino has never been something I enjoyed. I hate to admit it, but the truth is, I’m kind of…sad. And then on top of that, equally appalled and annoyed with that this is the emotion I’m experiencing. It just doesn’t fit with the story I tell myself of the “kind of mom” I am or at least hope to be. In my mind, I like to think that I’m “the kind of mom” that appreciates all the stages and milestones and is willing to live fully in the presence of each moment. That as each chapter closes, another one opens that is equally exciting and fresh with possibilities and growth. That there are BIG, REAL problems in life, and having healthy, beautiful children that get to make it to the next stage of life just shouldn’t be one of the things to ever, ever feel sad about.
I cringe when people tell me their favorite book is I’ll Love You Forever. That part where the mom sneaks through the window of her grown son’s window and rocks him in his sleep all the while telling him how he’ll always be her baby? It’s just a little creepy. Obsessing over our kids with that kind of intensity just seems suffocating and so…. needy.
I’m blow drying my hair before dinner when I feel a tinge of sadness again. I want to fight it off, but my hearts telling me not to. This isn’t end-of-the-world, losing someone you love sad. Not the kind that guts us. It’s a quiet aching. It’s that visceral sense of time passing. I text my mom to check on our dog — she’s nearly 12, diabetic, blind, and truthfully, though I hate to admit it, probably won’t be here with us for much longer. Maybe it’s the dog, I think. Maybe it’s my husband losing a childhood friend recently so unexpectedly, a neighbor I’ve seen all summer long at the cottage for the last eighteen years. Maybe it’s that, I think. Am I seriously sad that my kids are finally gaining a little independence? Whatever it is, every spiritual lesson I’ve ever learned from books, mentors, religions, friendship, etc., they’ve all taught me this — that life is beautiful, and funny, and sad. It can’t be just the “good” ones. It has to be all three, no matter how much we want to fight it. To deny the parts of living that are uncomfortable for us is to deny the full experience of living itself.
I sit on the chaise, back at the water park, watching a little girl with ginger colored hair in a brown polka dot bathing bathing suit and a super saggy diaper stomping on the little spouts of water that spring up from the floor and squealing with delight. Her mom’s looking a little annoyed and I don’t blame her a bit. She’s exhausted. Every time the mom turns her head the toddler’s making a run for it, slipping and landing on her bottom, bursting into tears and then starting the whole scenario from the top. She’s on her fourth wipe out so far.
The boys run up to me and grab my hand, pulling me out of my chair with just ten minutes until close. “Come in the hot tub with us, Mom!” We hop in and Aziah crawls into my lap. I cradle him and joke, “My little baby!”
The irony isn’t lost on me. There I am cradling my fourth grade son whose just a head shorter than me now. “I’ll love you forever…” only five minutes until the pool closes.
“Didn’t we just get here?” I think.
Time is funny that way. But there’s still a few minutes until close, and I plan to make the most of every minute.