I was driving home a few years ago with Aubrey and lots of other camp kids. If you know me you know I have an extraordinarily high tolerance for chaos and shenanigans. Noise doesn’t often bother me, I am not easily fazed by kids wrestling each other or throwing things or arguing, I can conduct business with a baby on my hip and a few toddlers clinched to my legs – it’s how I roll. But I heard the expression on the radio “a walk in the park” to explain something simplistic and enjoyable and I began to wonder if the people who use these idioms actually HAVE children. Let me tell you, radio commercial people, if you ever actually took a literal “walk in the park” with children, you’d know it’s no walk in the park.
Alyssa and I have met the definition of insane several times over with our sadistic, yet eternally optimistic view of such things as walks in the park.
July 2006: “It will be fun to take the kids (SEVEN children ages 6 months to 7 years) to the mall for lunch and ice cream. Ooh, maybe we can go into some stores and look for matching outfits for the babies,” said the delusional sisters.
4 hours, 2 screaming babies and 5 worn out little people later, we headed home in defeat, swearing off trips such as those for the foreseeable future. The next day we decided that perhaps the park would be a better idea. So we packed the diaper bags and the coolers full of sippy cups, bottles, clothes, wipes, snacks and hand sanitizer. We took a blanket and envisioned sitting on said blanket with the babies and watching the tiny children play happily on the playground surrounded by butterflies and birds chirping happily. What we re-learned is that sitting does not actually happen at the park. Neither does walking. Chasing, however, is definitely happening, as is first aid, 16,000 trips to the bathroom, digging mulch (if you’re lucky it’s only mulch) out of a baby’s mouth, and pushing the swing. Lots of pushing the swing happens at the park.
Ten years later I would like to say we had gotten much better – that we no longer met the DSM-5 Criteria for Delusional Disorder. I’d be lying. Hence 2015’s trip to the beach, and then the little town on the beach, and then swimming in the pool…and on and on it goes. Our vision of what any outing will be like is literally NEVER accurate, yet we continued to try to attain this utopian ideal of family time based on nothing but a fantasy.
Only 2 of the 7 children remain at home, and what we have learned the hard way is that ANY chance to have everyone in the same space is ideal family time. It’s still loud and chaotic. We still have messes to clean, meals to plan, the occasional hurt feelings to soothe and even first aid to administer sometimes. The infrequency, however, makes the time feel that much more precious.
It isn’t easy to slow down and cherish moments when children are small. The physical and logistical demands of parenting young children are overwhelming at times; it was hard for us to appreciate that it would not always be this way – until it wasn’t. First it was one last pack of diapers to buy for Ava when they came to visit, then it was the last trip to the park with all 7 because the older 5 were too cool for playgrounds. The next thing we knew we were attending the first graduation, then the second and third, and thanks to COVID not the fourth and fifth but they left the nest just the same. “Time marches on”, so many older, wiser parents would say to us. “Enjoy them while you can, because one day they’ll all be grown.”
At the time I couldn’t envision “grown” but I did think that perhaps it would be great to not have to wipe any more bottoms. I was also fond of the idea of sleeping through the night, a vague notion then. Now I look back at those times that felt (and were) so trying with not only a fondness, but also a thankfulness that I was blessed enough to experience them. It is often in hindsight that we glean the greatest appreciation.
God wastes nothing. He can use every part of our story for His glory. Walking through those times when the kids were small seemed then mostly like barreling through a blizzard searching for shelter, hoping to survive until we found it. But when the kids talk about their childhood, they describe it more like frolicking in a sunny meadow without a care in the world, and honestly from the 20,000-ft view, I don’t see as much snow as I thought there was at the time.
So that’s my nugget of well-earned wisdom: eventually they wipe their own behinds, they sleep through the night, and in our case a vast majority of the day, they will stop needing you to do everything and start wanting you to go away. I’ve said this before but you will become utilitarian at best (cue: “I need money/ride.”) But don’t be sad, because they also eventually FaceTime you when they have questions, or are excited after their first day at a new job. They will need you in a much more balanced way, and seeing them achieve their dreams will make every sacrifice, every “blizzard” worth its weight in gold.