Looking at old pictures the other day, my daughter looked up at me and said, “Mom, remember when we were little and we’d play outside for a long time and come in and you would put cheese and pepperoni and crackers and grapes on a plate and we’d all eat off the same plate? That was so fun.”
My children have no idea that the whole reason I did that was because I was exhausted from the day’s activities — playing outside in between diaper changes and wiping noses and telling my son not to put sand in his sister’s hair. Those days took every ounce of life out of me. There was no way I had the energy to make lunch for all of us. So instead, I’d slap some processed American cheese and pre-sliced pepperoni on a plate, along with some other random stuff from the fridge or pantry, and call it good.
If I had to peel and cut a vegetable or fruit, it didn’t make it on the plate. If they could grab it and eat it on their own, it did.
It wasn’t until recently that I realized this might be a trick of mothers everywhere. A meme about “a plate of little things,” went viral and moms everywhere nodded along. Sometimes, when we moms feel like we’re failing, we’re really creating some kick-ass memories.
This meme is sparking memories about our own childhoods, and is also blanketing us in relief as we realize what we think of as “slacking” is actually us showing up and being present in the moment with what we have at the time.
Instead of making dinner, we sit with them and watch television with popcorn or cereal.
Instead of taking them on a lavish vacation, we have a staycation and use paper plates and visit friends and do nothing at all because we don’t have the funds or the energy or the mental capacity to do anything else.
It’s so easy these days to look at someone’s organic dinner they’ve posted on Instagram and feel like a failure because you’re eating hot dogs with your kids in the trampoline.
But we’re getting it all wrong. Our kids aren’t asking for pricey, overdone events if it comes at the expense of their parents’ happiness, no matter how they behave and no matter what they say in the moment. They want us.
I will never forget the afternoon I forgot my son had a birthday party to attend. I felt scattered and mad at myself, but we rallied and I had him make a card in the car on the way to the dollar store and told him he had 5 minutes to grab whatever he thought his friend would like. We scrambled; I was sweating and felt like I was failing because I was a lazy, forgetful parent.
But I wasn’t.
He was so proud of his homemade card and his bag full of candy, balloons, and bubbles that he gave his friend.
To our kids, those are the memories that will forever be cemented in their brain.
If you think about it, it was always the little things that mattered to us when we were kids — catching fireflies, bonfires, picnics, microwave meals while watching a movie, long drives and watching your parents in the front seat looking so happy with the radio playing in the background — that is the stuff.
That still holds true for our own kids. And I wonder how many of us have forgotten that; I know I certainly have. Thank God I have my kids to set me straight.
Those little moments that can’t be manufactured and don’t cost a lot of money, or come as a result of you being completely exhausted, are the memories that become cemented in their minds.
Maybe it’s because we aren’t trying to put in a lot of effort and we are present. Maybe it’s because we are too tired to care and want to let go of some of our responsibilities and in doing that we are so much more pleasant to be around. Or maybe it’s because we are being true to ourselves in that moment and our kids can feel our genuine love that is just there. A love that doesn’t come from anything material or adventurous or winning an award or doing something epic.
A love that just is.
And that love feels pretty good when shared over a “snack plate” with a mother who gets to be reminded what really matters in this life when she decides to give herself a damn break.