“There is no distance on this earth as far away as yesterday…”
~ Robert Nathan
In case I forget to mention it, I was a stay-at-home mom to four kids. The youngest was born when the oldest was six and at that time I didn’t think our lives were unusual or unusually challenging. It was simply the life my husband and I created and we were living it to the best of our ability. But looking back now, especially after my recent experience, I realize that the mind has a way of rearranging memories in the vessel that is our brain. At least for me. Good memories bob easily on the surface while recollections of difficulty are anchored deeper in my temporal lobe. Held by a deteriorating rope, flashbacks of temper tantrums, misbehavior, infractions and consequences lay dormant under a blanket of silt until a sudden spark creates enough light to expose them. Either that, or you spend 5 full days babysitting three ambitious grandchildren and remember the frequency with which you are faced with temper tantrums, misbehavior, infractions and worst of all, consequences.
A while back our daughter invited us to care for her three kids while she traveled on a little get-away with her husband. We eagerly said yes and looked forward to quality time with the grands. Our daughter warned us that because they were preparing to move to a new home soon, they had packed up most of the kid’s toys. The boys still had their big box of Legos and Gigi, the two-year-old, had her dolls and toy kitchen, but the bulk of their booty was in lidded tubs carefully stacked in the basement. No worries. Right away, I started planning activities. We could go to the zoo and the library and play in the park and go for walks and eat at kid-friendly restaurants, and with my husband and I both there, we could share duties and at the end of the day, when the kids were in bed, we would uncork a bottle of wine and share a toast to our successful parenting ability. But my vision of domestic bliss splintered when my husband’s work presented a snag that kept him from traveling and I realized that I would be taking this tour of duty solo. No problem. After all, there was a Fall Festival scheduled with kid activities and a little league game and the kids were in school for three of the five days so I only had the weekend to keep them entertained. That’s when our daughter called and spilled the news that there was no school during the days of her absence. Teacher’s Workshop or Autumn Break or some other feeble excuse to keep the little buggers at home. But I was undeterred. We’ll catch a matinee and eat popcorn. I’ll bring my puppy and the kids will teach her to fetch.
The day before I was set to leave I checked my weather app to determine what clothes to pack. As I gripped my phone, staring at the screen, the first prickles of panic set in. The forecast was for rain as far as my app could project, mixed with unseasonable cold. Five days, three kids, no spouse, no school, no outdoor activities, no toys. I’m going to need the heavy artillery… crafts. And probably a behavior modification plan.
The plane descended into the Midwest through the last patch of sunshine, and as soon as I landed, the clouds conspired to lock arms and release a steady, cold drizzle for the next 72 hours. I ran to the local Target store and gathered up paint and brushes and canvases. I bought the ingredients to make cookies and decorate Halloween cupcakes. We were going to have so much fun!
On the first morning after their parents departed, the kids were awake at 5:15. That would be AM. This is an hour of the day that really doesn’t exist in my daily life. There’s 6:30 in the morning and there’s 9 PM. Anything on the dark side of that timeline I would call Foggy, Grumpy-Nana Time. But not on this day. I greeted the kids with kisses and hugs and “good morning!” And since there was no school and we had plenty of time on our hands, I suggested going out for breakfast.
You know the restaurant First Watch? They serve breakfast. They are located near our daughter’s home and when you have three little kids who have no school and wake up early, you would hope that FIRST Watch means they would open, well FIRST. Somehow, we arrived before they were ready. We had to wander across the street to the 24-hour market and waste some time. We strolled the aisles and talked to the guys stocking the shelves and the cashiers who were bored at their stations. We picked out pumpkins to enhance with our crafty adornments and when they were carefully stowed in the car, we skipped back across the street for pancakes.
Once we got back home we set up the first of the crafting projects. We had so much fun painting and taking pictures and videos to send to their parents that we lost track of time and before we knew it an hour had passed and I was out of projects. I guess I forgot that the attention span for an independent toddler and boys aged six and eight is shorter than the time it takes to cover the table with newspaper, and set up the paint. There was restlessness in the ranks and I knew I would have mutiny on my hands without some behavioral incentive. Boone, the six-year-old, had spent some quiet time snipping a small forest of paper into strips. I was happy the scissors had not yet turned into a weapon of sibling destruction and suggested we use the newly-minted confetti as tokens of good behavior. For every kind gesture toward your brother or sister; for every display of nice manners; for every time the toilet seat was clear enough for Nana to sit, you would get a slip of the snipped paper. At the end of our weekend together, the paper would be exchanged for cash and we would go to Target where you can buy ANYTHING you want! Oh, were they onboard with this plan! Boone was angelic. He “please and thank-you’d” himself into a mountain of the fake money. At eight, Porter was a little less enthusiastic but still played along. And Gigi, was too young to really grasp the concept but she knew the paper was something she wanted to have and expected a handout at every turn. We even took a “trial” trip to Target to get a preview of what they might want and how many good-behavior tokens they would have to earn in order to get it. The boys conspired to pool their fake cash to buy an ultra-cool set of Legos to share. That act alone earned them each a chunk of paper. And so, it worked really well, until it didn’t. After so long a kid just has to be a kid. Sometimes you can’t help intentionally nailing your brother in the head with a football, or lying to Nana about what happened to the M&M’s. Sometimes, its just hard to fall asleep at night, and when one child wakes up at 5 AM, it only makes sense that everyone should be up enjoying the pre-dawn darkness.
When the day arrived and the time had come to redeem the tokens for Target cash, the amount of money the kids could spend had dwindled just a bit. Boone’s cache was nearly tapped out but by the time we reached the toy aisle, all was forgiven. Nana felt generous, the kids were gracious, and despite the cold, dark, wet, muddy, sloppy conditions outside, we were a warm, loving and contented family inside our almost-toyless house. The kids helped make dinner that night in anticipation of their parents return. They set the table with their own hand-written, and artfully decorated menus. They ventured into the rain-slicked back yard to gather hand-picked flowers. And when their parents arrived we had lots of stories to share and a few confessions to make.
As I sit and write about my experience with the kids I struggle to recollect the infractions that caused problems. I know they happened. There were tears and accusations. There was tattling. There were messes. But if you asked me what specific memories I can recall from my five days with the kids, they are the happy ones that granted the greatest amount of joy. Like memories of Gigi bringing me pretend hot dogs and cookies from her beloved kitchen set. Over and over and over again she slipped her hand into the mini oven mitt and presented me with the same plastic hot dog and wooden cookies. Every night she insisted we read the same book, Good Night Yoga, and practice the poses before crawling into bed. And every night I snuggled up with Boone and we read a book together and then went back through the pages and picked out words to sound out. He is driven by his desire to read on his own. One night, after everyone had been tucked in, Boone came to me in tears. He was afraid of a clown that he saw in a movie. So, he burrowed himself and his blanket and his frog into the small space next to me on the couch and fell asleep. Porter was my helper and information source. We made math flashcards and by the time I could create anything that was challenging enough for him, I was outside my own multiplication expertise.
On the morning I flew out I wished I had more time to stay. One more of Gigi’s tight hugs. One more book to read. One more question about their mom and what she was like when she was little. That’s the thing with memories. You really aren’t sure when you’re making them, and you can’t be certain which ones will float to the surface, but luckily for me the good times are more easily accessible than the challenges. I hope it stays that way because really, it’s the only way to live. Focus on the positive. Remember what’s right with the world. Keep the happy moments bobbing at the surface. And when it comes to the challenging times in life, give thanks for the lessons they taught you, and then release the worn tether and allow them to sink back to the murky bottom.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.