My almost three year old is a really fantastic kid, except, of course, when he’s not. His teachers often sing praises about how much they love having him in their class, he’s so easy going. He rarely gets upset and if he does, a quick hug is all he needs to send him off happily playing again.
This is what we’re used to, except when he’s not like that at all. Because he is almost three, he is also fairly unpredictable. Most of the time he’s a happy go lucky kind of kid, and then there are times when all he does is scream and cry and make everyone else want to hide in another room, a quiet, windowless, dark room, far, far away.
Lately, we’ve been in that stage. I think it’s because he has been struggling with a minor cold. If I had a minor cold and acted like he does, I would probably be admitted to the local mental hospital, but I guess that’s why I’m 32 and he is a mere 3. He has a few coping skills that need to be refined.
The other night I picked him up from daycare while they were in the middle of making a paper fish. Before we left I helped him glue a googly eye onto his paper fish and took the rest of the supplies with us to finish the fish up at home. He happily zoomed his little paper fish all around as we made our way to the car.
Mere moments into our drive, that one tiny googly eye popped off the paper fish and floated away into the abyss that is our vehicle. This, my friends, is the only sign you should need that the world is officially over. There is no hope, there is no saving it. We have reached the end. This world cannot continue without this exact googly eye on the paper fish.
And so there was much weeping and gnashing of teeth. Much screeching and wailing. All the way to his sister’s school, all while frantically searching the car for the never to be seen again googly eye, all the way through picking up his sister, and all the way home. He would not stop screaming and crying about the dumb missing eye.
Normally when we reach home I jump right into making dinner. As a working mom I have a mere 5 minutes a day with my kids, so cooking them a nutritious meal that they have no plans on eating is of course the most important thing for me to do after picking them up from school.
I’m all about health. It’s really important to me that my family eats healthy meals and that we get regular exercise and sunshine and all of the rest of the good stuff we’re supposed to do to take care of our bodies.
So on this day, I had a choice. I could ignore him and make our healthy dinner. I could shut him in his room and tell him he could come out when he was done throwing his fit. I could yell at him and my daughter and my husband just to make everyone even more miserable while I let off some steam. I could hide in my own room and cry, feeling guilty that I was failing at this mothering thing, and feeling angry that my life wasn’t perfect. Usually I tend to pick one of these things, let me just be real and lay that out on the table now.
Or, I could stop and consider what my son was letting me know that he needed in that moment. In that moment, he didn’t need a healthy home cooked meal. He didn’t need to be isolated in his room to work out his issues. He didn’t need to be yelled at to pull himself together. He needed comfort. He needed love.
I chose him.
I ignored the chicken thawing on the counter waiting to be crafted into a delicious, healthy meal. I ignored the laundry pile that had grown into a beast in our bedroom. I ignored all of the things on my to do list that the world tells me I must get done each day in order to be that Superwoman Mom we’re all supposed to measure up to.
And I hugged my baby until his tears slowed. I dragged over his bag of Mega Blocks and started building a castle around him, laughing as I picked the wrong pieces that didn’t fit just right. I watched as my little guy’s eyes slowly started to dry. I noticed when he started to become interested in helping me build the castle. I invited in his sister when she came over to help us build. I laughed with them when our giant tower fell, over and over again.
My little man needed love. He needed attention. He needed to know that I was there for him. He needed help to move past his frustrations. He needed to feel like he was important to me.
He is more important to me than all the healthy meals in the world.
We ended up eating a dinner of Kraft Mac and Cheese a while later. This was the third day in a row that my kids ate macaroni and cheese. I didn’t even nuke a bag of frozen veggies for them. Just macaroni and sliced up hot dogs. They thought it was delicious. My mommy guilt was intense, I felt so ashamed. Three days of mac and cheese?!
I should have planned ahead better. I should make healthy meals on the weekends to heat up throughout the week. I should have healthy backup plans instead of just blue boxes of Kraft.
Except none of that is true. None of that allows for real life. None of that recognizes that I am human.
None of that notices that what I chose to do instead, was actually the most important thing.
We get so caught up with trying to keep up with the demands of life. And the demands of life are pretty important. We need to be healthy to live long and successful lives. We need to have a reasonably clean house so we aren’t living in filth and breaking things that get left out. We need to do our laundry so our family has clothes to wear in public. We need to be involved in our kid’s activities. We need to interact with our friends and sometimes social media is our best option for this season. We need to volunteer our time to good causes.
But all of this stuff is really the least important and it often just weighs us down and distracts us from the entire point of it all. The point is not our to do lists. The point is not to spend all our lives creating a good life that we miss out on the chance to live the one we have, to enjoy the one life we’ve been given.
Most of the things that we spend our time on are genuinely good things. We aren’t wasting time doing them. But are they always the best thing? I think that answer can change by the moment. Some days it will be important to serve our family really healthy meals and some days it will be more important to scrap those plans and play instead.
Let us recognize that things that usually seem very important (healthy meals, a clean house, fun family activities) are just tools for a good life. They are not actually the good life.