This year I made an Advent calendar for the holidays. As I filled each sparkly pocket with three pieces of candy for each day (one for each of my kids), I had visions of three little cherubs coming downstairs in the morning, tiptoeing with little halos over their heads, excited to find their treat for the day. I imagined soft giggles and hugs. I thought maybe it would be special—it was, for two days.
On the third day, my kids started fighting about who got which piece of candy. Silly me, I thought choosing three different pieces of candy for each day would be fun. It was so fun, in fact, that I tried to drown out their bickering about who got which piece of candy with the sound of the vacuum cleaner. Before I knew it, my braless self was wrestling with said vacuum cleaner in my pajamas shouting, ” Who cares what kind of freaking candy you get! This is supposed to be special!” If there was any specialness left, I had just murdered it.
As I went upstairs to put on a bra (and scream in my closet), I realized I tried too damn hard to make things special for my kids. I have unrealistic expectations about how they should receive things that I think are precious. It is not that my husband and I give them too many material things; it is that I am trying to give them too many special moments. I can’t own those. They have to be theirs. Just because I think something is going to be fantastic doesn’t mean they will take it that way, and the thing is, when they don’t, I get pissed and disappointed. All of my work is taken for granted, and I feel the need to remind them. They probably are not going to notice any of this until they are parents themselves and that is not why I do it. Clearly, things need to change.
Special moments are rarely planned out. They seem to come out of nowhere. My favorite memories in my life were the moments that were unplanned, random magical moments. There was no one expecting me to be super excited or thankful, there was not a lot of work involved, and there certainly wasn’t a crazed, braless woman screaming at me.
For example, there was the time my husband came home early one afternoon the first week all three of my kids were in school. We had an afternoon delight, and then took our asses out for fried chicken. We had not done anything like that in almost a decade. We had forgotten what it was like to have the whole house to ourselves on a random Tuesday at 1 in the afternoon. It was better than any planned night out, where I got dressed up and we went to a fancy restaurant.
And there was the time I walked in my son’s room and saw a bouquet of dandelions sitting limply in a vase. When I told him they were dying, he said, “No mama, they are just turning into wishes.” I am pretty sure that is the meaning of special right there.
As I think about my own childhood, I remember the magic came in seconds, times when I had no expectations. It wasn’t so much about what my parents did or didn’t do for me and my siblings; it was just something we felt. Our lives are peppered with these moments, and maybe if I step back for a bit, lower my expectations and let my kids experience magic and special things in their own way, we will have more of them. Maybe there won’t be candy next year in the Advent calendar. I am going to stop asking them where they want to eat when we decide to dine out. It just leads to a fight, because apparently, it is super fun to disagree with your sister. I am the parent; I will decide who has the best pizza, or french fries, or wine.
And as far as painting some delightful picture about the epic Saturday we have planned, taking them to some romper room where the food sucks is a thing of the past. We will just show up (less often) because they get so excited they don’t know how to handle themselves and it never lives up to their expectations. The balls aren’t big enough, or our table doesn’t have enough ketchup, and then the earth breaks in two.
I don’t expect perfect children, perfect days or perfect moments. I still want to do nice things for my family and create fond childhood memories for my kids, but I will try to do it differently. Because you know what is special? A mother who does not lose her shit because she is trying so hard to make things so damn special.