Many a Sunday, I have heard a similar question.
"Babe, ready to go to Costco?'
That was usually the last place I wanted to go at 3 pm on a Sunday.
"Not really. Maybe I'll just stay home and get some stuff done."
"But the kids really want to go. We need stuff. It's family day."
So, off we would all go, to man the "try try" stations (as our daughter calls sample kiosks) and load the cart up as we maneuver around aisle-hogging families and brain-numbing lines.
My husband is a clever, self-starting, dedicated hard worker. I work a lot, with kids, homework, office stuff, you name it. When you own your own business, the buck stops with us. We can't leave it behind, because it follows us. Brendan as a busy doctor answers emails around the clock, finishes up correspondence at home, plays catch up after long days healing the sick and listening to the weary in his office. He's excepionally good at it.
I spend a lot of time organizing piles of homework, transporting kids, assisting with cursed homework, refereeing, disciplining, doing laundry, running in circles. With the mob of three, I am in a perpetual state of stand-readiness.
Which means that, like for most families, weekends home (rare these past few months) are sacred. Usually we would cram as much in as possible: sleeping in, working out, shopping, going out when we could get a sitter, taking kids to the movies, cuddling on the couch, reading poolside, cooking, organizing the house. There never seems to be enough hours by the time Sunday night comes around. Many times I'll make a conscious choice to go to bed with a messy kitchen to get in some elusive Down Time.
Family time is crucial. Without it, what's the point? Why work hard to build something if you can't enjoy the benefits of sitting in your backyard with a book and a cup of coffee, or watching a superhero movie with the volume high blast, kid limbs and blankets all over you as you stake your claim on the couch. These three complex beings looking for love and stability count on weekends just as much as we do. I'm sure there is a whole chapter in the elusive Parenting Manual that highlights the importance of giving kids' that weekend space to just be.
But where, in our fumbling sorting out of the family universe, is it decreed that we have to do all things Together - all the time?
We stumbled upon a new concept recently. The concept of One On One Time. Splitting up the unit, doing things in pairs or trios, mixing it up, then coming back together to share.
A few weeks ago, I took the two littles to a friend's Christmas party while Brendan and Liam saw Santa. Just the two of them. After Brendan texted me the pictures of my oldest's cheesy grin in line for the big guy, then on his lap, showing not only his but also his siblings' Christmas lists, I felt a twinge of sadness. I felt sad to be missing the moment, to be enjoying it from afar.
Where is the Edict that all Special Moments must be witnessed firsthand, otherwise you are not a "good" mom?
When the boys came home, I saw peace in Brendan's face (if you have more than one kid, you know what I'm talking about: with one less, any outing or afternoon home becomes easier). Liam bounded through the door straight to me, a glowy look on his face. I smiled at the excited lilt in his voice. Got to hear Audrey ask him enthusiastically, "Liam how was Santa? Tell me everything!" - to which he answered, "It was great, how was the party?" For a kid with autism, such a spontaneous conversational exchange used to be hard to come by. It had to be taught , over and over, until it took.
A tradition started that night - one that we will continue. Not all the time, not every weekend, and not for every Special Moment. But often. The Mom/Daughter, Dad/Son(s), Dad/Daughter, Mom/Son(s) Tradition.
Since we've started mixing up the excitement of the season between the kids, a miraculous thing has started to happen. They like each other more. They want to hear about each other's adventures.. Which can be hard to do, if you experience it all together.
Brendan last Friday took Aedan for burgers and then to see Santa. I treated the big two to dinner and then the mall to pick out gifts from each of them for Aedan. Later I smiled upon hearing Aedan's telling of his Santa experience - but most of all, his dinner with dad, just the two of them.
Then I took Audrey to the Nutcracker for a Mom Daughter date, while B and the boys first played video games at home and then shopped for gifts for her. It was the best day she and I have had in months. She kept saying variations of "mom we have to do this special tradition every year. Because I want to spend so much time with just you."
She said something similar about her time with dad when he took her for her yellow belt test in Karate, while I stayed home with the boys. Today she went to her friend's house for a playdate, and the boys and I dusted off the scooters for a long neighborhood walk.
When they all convened, again I had the satisfaction of hearing more spontaneous conversation and interaction.
"Audrey you're back! We missed you!" (Liam)
"I missed you too! How was your time? What did you do?"
"You missed it! We went super fast . Want to go with us later?" (Aedan)
I'm realizing that family time can be better served in slices, rather than the whole pie. Not only is it easier on us as parents, but it imparts a feeling of specialness to kids as individuals rather than as a group. And, most rewardingly, it gives them a chance to reconnect. To like each other, if just for a half hour.
I never tire of hearing my kids verbally applaud each other. I loved their last day of the term, after class holiday parties, when they reunited with cheeks candy-sticky and backpacks full of glittery paper gifts.
"Audrey, how was your party? You're the best sister."
"Aw Liam that's so sweet. I missed you every minute today. How was your party?"
"It was good. Do you want to see my stuff?"
"Hey Audrey, I got some cool stuff too!"
"Aedan you're so cute. The cutest little brother. Let me show you what I got."
And so on. Absence can make the heart fond, but for two little boys with autism, it can also push them out of their shells and offer a chance to miss those who are absent. For a high maintenance diva, it can help her see outside of herself so her sweet nature comes forth. They can miss each other enough to come up with their own inquiries, their own compliments and conversations that enrich the family dynamic.
I miss them too when they are not with me. No matter how frazzled I may have been with the Mob before one or two left, I can't wait to see them again to hear what they did without me. Whatever tiredness I may have felt dissipates as I listen to experiences and adventures through their eyes, and picture those Special Moments in a different way than always being right there.
And that's just icing on my holiday cake.