It was just a few hours into a surprise mother-son trip to Disneyland when my 6-year-old put his finger on why we needed this getaway so badly. “I don’t think I’ve ever spent this much time just me and you,” he said, still somewhat in shock we had boarded a plane to Southern California when he thought we were going out for burritos. (I was still equally in shock that I had managed to pull this off.)
His statement wasn’t technically true, but the countless solo hours I logged with him as an infant don’t count for much in the eyes of a rising first-grader. By the time he started making lasting memories, his sister had been born, followed a few years later by another sister. I make sure he gets one-on-one time with me, but the windows available to us are usually far too brief or rushed.
When I became the mom of more than one child, I often found myself focusing on the needs of my youngest and assuming (praying) the oldest could be self-sufficient until I was available again. It’s easy to let the helplessness of an infant and the disaster-prone antics of a toddler absorb the bulk of your time and attention.
But older kids – whether 6 and building cars out of LEGOs, or 16 and driving their own cars – need their moms just as much as their younger siblings, even if those needs look very different and may be largely unspoken.
I had known for a few months – in that way moms just know things about their kids without requiring solid evidence – that my son needed some special time with me. A trip to Disneyland is obviously taking “special time” to an extreme, but I thought he was the perfect age, and honestly I knew I’d have as much fun as he would.
The logistics of planning both our travel itinerary and the itineraries of my younger kids in my absence was exhausting, but the look I captured on his face in the car when he found out where we were headed (and then insisted on getting out of his seat to see if his suitcase really was hidden in the trunk) made it worth every second of prep time.
We were our best selves for those two days. I don’t mean we were perfect, but we had the time to be relaxed with each other, talk, laugh and enjoy one another’s company in a way we never had before. (That solo time when he was a baby didn’t include the most scintillating conversation.) I discovered new ways in which we’re similar – we’d both choose one more ride on Splash Mountain over stopping for food – and I marveled yet again at the independent, idea-filled person he’s becoming.
For that relatively short time, surrounded by thousands of mouse-eared strangers, I had eyes only for my son. It reminded me of when he was a newborn and I could gaze at his toes for an hour straight and be totally content.
I will remember that trip for the rest of my life. And I will try to remember that we can carve out those kinds of moments closer to home. It doesn’t take a grand gesture like getting on a plane to remind each of my children how much they’re loved. It’s often as simple as slowing down, putting away phones and other devices and just being together.
My oldest child doesn’t need me any less than his siblings do. I have one ever-shrinking window of time between now and when he’ll no longer be a child at all. It’s up to me to make the most of it.
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