I moved back to the northwest in 2004. I came back with two kids, no job, and no husband…at least for five days of the week. It took Mister Soandso almost a full year to get a job here and so he commuted back to the Minneapolis area until then. (You know you’ve been living in hotels for too long when you get handwritten Christmas cards from them.) And while it was good to be back in the land of my birth, it was a terrible time for me in many ways. The worst was the realization of how horrid a single parent I was. Well, not all the time. But let’s just say there were times I never want to relive again.
But being a some-of-the-time-single-parent to those two kids at that precise time also had some bright spots.
I eventually enrolled Biggest in a local preschool to help him make some friends in our new community. One of the traditions that teacher has is to invite parents/family to come into the classroom as “experts” and share with the preschoolers. One dad immigrated from China as a small boy so he taught the class about the Chinese New Year. Another is a competitive horse jumper and she shared the sport of horse jumping. And so on. Biggest wanted to know if I could come to his class as well.
“Well sure. Do you want me to talk to your class about giving speeches?” I asked.
“My experiences as a high school teacher? My travels throughout Europe?” I offered suggestion after suggestion but got the same response. Finally, in complete exasperation I blurted, “Well what then!?!”
“You could teach them how to make snacks.”
My initial less-than-flattered reaction faded quickly. My son didn’t care about the plaques and the awards, the passport stamps and foreign currency. Nope. What Biggest considered me an expert in was making snacks.
It is good to be an expert at something. Especially in the eyes of a child.
All those months without Mister Soandso, after Middlest was tucked in bed and asleep, it was just Biggest and me. We’d snuggle on the couch and read books and then one of us, it didn’t matter who, would suggest that we needed snacks. And although “snacks” could have been anything, our favorite was when I’d turn on the electric fireplace and put a blanket down on the floor in front of the glass doors. Biggest would sit there, the dancing flames turning his cheeks pink, picking out the last book for the night, while I went onto the kitchen and made S’Mores. And then, we’d eat them, trying to not giggle and warning each other to be quiet or to not make a mess because we didn’t want Mom to know we were eating in the living room. Then we’d creep up the stairs. “Be wary, wary quiet. We are hunting wabbits,” we whisper while brushing our teeth. And then we’d snuggle just a bit more before those long eye lashes of his would finally rest on his cheeks.
I was reminded of that special time just the other day. Now that Biggest is so big, and Middlest is so big, and even Littlest is so big, I remind myself to capture the moments with them even more. To stop and just be. To be amazed at these people in my life who have made me into something I never dreamed I could be…their mother. If my memories are like a filing cabinet, since becoming a mother my file folders have become increasingly messy and disorganized and crammed full with bits and pieces of ordinary times. Because there is nothing like your Biggest becoming a middle schooler and your Littlest becoming a kindergartener to make a parent realize that these moments are going to end all too soon. And all that will remain are those saved bits and pieces.
A few days ago, it was lunchtime. Littlest was eating lunch and telling me new jokes. It was that kind of day that gets described as “fine”. You know, just a normal day. But there was something about his smile and giggle that made me pause. I turned the oven on. I set it for 400 degrees and lined a cookie sheet with some graham crackers. I centered each one with a marshmallow and then sprinkled each square with exactly 10 chocolate chips. When I gave Littlest a S’More, his eyes lit up and his smile was huge. Preheating the oven just for a snack? That is crazy.
“What’s this for? Why did you make S’Mores Mom?”
“Hush up and lick that chocolate before it drips. And be wary, wary quiet. We’re hunting wabbits.”
In two days, it will be Christmas morning. Biggest hasn’t believed in Santa for years. After all, he is the pragmatic child who approached the whole thing like a logic puzzle. But for Middlest and Littlest, they still wait with anticipation for both Christmas and Santa. For them, the magic is still real. And really, the magic of Christmas morning is still real for my whole family. Ask any parent whose child still giggles over the wrapped presents and the filled stockings and they will tell you that the magic of the holidays lives on very much so…it lives as long as we let it. And it lives in adults as long as we enjoy those smiles, those giggles, those saved bits and pieces of a time that we cherish.
Let us all be experts at this one thing: enjoying the stolen moments with the people in our lives that give us joy.