This Time It Wasn't Me

by Audra Rogers
toddler years motherhood
freemixer / iStock

My husband asked me at least 15 times if I wanted to see the new Star Wars movie. He and my 8-year-old son went to see it on opening night, and this time my husband wanted all of us to go. I did want to see it, but he was also suggesting we bring our 3-year-old.

He has come a long way from the terrible twos, but it would be his first movie, and I knew there was no way he would sit through the whole thing. He’s just not there yet. And I would not be able to relax. He would like certain parts of the movie, but I had zero interest in chasing a toddler around and trying to keep him occupied. I would rather be at home as opposed to paying 20 bucks to not see a movie if you know what I mean.

So I dragged my feet on it. I told my husband that he would be the one to chase the toddler around if we went, but then decided the best thing to do was to get a babysitter for him while the rest of us went. It was a winning situation for all of us. My toddler got to run around and play with lots of toys, and my husband, my older boy and I all had an evening that was really just…so easy.

It was almost eerie. We stopped off at Chik-fil-A near the theater to grab a light dinner before the movie. I’m so used to catering to everyone and worrying about spilled chocolate milk and opening bags of apple slices. But this time, it wasn’t me.

At the table next to us, two young girls with big matching hair bows argued over whose turn it was to sit by Daddy. I recognized the looks on the tired parents’ faces. A mom wheeled her infant around in one of the big, plastic children’s seats on wheels with a giant diaper bag on one shoulder, carrying a tray of food with her other arm. I smiled at her as she sat down to join the rest of her family, because the wheeled chair was a trick I learned when mine were that little too. But this time it wasn’t me.

I watched as my 8-year-old sat quietly and ate his food without pretending the table was a tunnel that must be forged, or standing on his head in the chair. There was no arguing, no telling him over and over to please sit down and eat or to stop staring at the people behind us. Once upon a time, I carried this boy, then a screaming toddler, out of this very restaurant. This time there was no carrying or screaming. This time it wasn’t me.

I sat at the table and joyously ate my complicated salad without interruption or ketchup smeared on my arms. I savored every bite, and I was able to take my time and finish my meal. It was very quiet at our table. We sat and ate in a comfortable silence. A young boy ran back and forth across the dining area in his socks, going in and out of the play place. I smiled. His frazzled mom asked him several times if he was done eating. This time it wasn’t me.

For the first time in I don’t know how long, I didn’t have that mom tunnel vision. I was able to watch and observe around me. I could hear the kid sounds coming from the play place. I saw them squeal in delight and chase each other throughout the play area. I looked at my oldest sitting across from me, and I panicked a little. He was so calm and quiet that I wondered if he wasn’t soon going to decide that restaurant play places are for babies and that he was too big or too cool for them. And I got a little sad.

And then I missed my toddler.

My husband put his arm around me and joked about not knowing what to do with all of this extra time. I laughed and agreed; there was a bit of a lull. We honestly didn’t know what to do with life that was so easy in the moment.

At the end of our relaxing meal that almost seemed to take too long, my son said “Hey, can I go in the play place?”

Oh, thank God.

“Yes, but we only have about 10 minutes before we need to leave,” I said, and he took off.

And afterward, as we walked through the parking lot to the theater, I held his hand. I held on just a little while longer than usual, and he did not protest. He asked for cotton candy at the concession stand. I cherished the fact that he wasn’t too old yet for play places, holding my hand, and cotton candy. And I thanked my lucky stars. This time it wasn’t me.

Maybe the mom tunnel vision isn’t so bad. When we are on the crux of things that we know are about to change, all of the toddler and little kid things become endearing and we miss them, like the sounds of newborn baby cries at the grocery store.

I was grateful for the evening of separation from our toddler and enjoyed the movie. And I looked forward to picking him up when it was over, because one day he will be all grown up, and it will be me.