I’ve been spending a lot of time at work over the last few months, even when I haven’t physically been at work. Fortunately, my son gets up early and goes to bed early, so we get some good playtime in before work and I have been getting some good work in after bedtime. Today though, with the sun shining and my increasingly steady-on-his-feet and adventurous boy on my mind, I rearranged my schedule a little to make some room at the end of the day.
With that time, I picked my son up early, with the intention of heading to the playground near our house for some pre-dinner outside time. This was not a truly spontaneous outing, since I had hoped that morning that it would be possible and had brought a little bag of animal crackers and my son’s water bottle in preparation for a stop on the way home. We headed home from daycare well ahead of afternoon rush hour, and I hoped that the playground wouldn’t be too overrun with big kids. I regretted not bringing my camera, as I was pretty confident that the mixture of sunshine and swings would make an irresistible photo opportunity.
I pulled into the playground parking lot, noticing that there were plenty of baby swings free, and gathered my cell phone and the refreshments. I switched out my work shoes for the sneakers I had thoughtfully stashed in the car that morning. It felt good to leave my work bag behind in the car, and I promised myself that I wouldn’t worry about getting dirty, even if it meant some extra clothes needed to go to the cleaners this week. I opened the back door of the car with a big smile on my face, ready to make my son’s entire week with the fun we were about to have.
He was sound asleep. Like, mouth hanging open, head slumped over asleep. It was OK though, he always wakes up a minute after the car turns off. I sat on the seat next to him and waited. And waited. “But I brought you snacks,” I whispered. He slept on.
A few minutes later I returned to the driver’s seat and took us the few blocks home. When we got there, he stayed asleep in his seat. I opened the car windows and sat on our steps, enjoying the last of the afternoon sunshine and the quiet of our neighborhood. It was lovely, actually. When at last he stirred, we went inside to let the dog out and have some playtime before dinner.
My son was delighted to let the dog out, like he is every day. He was gleefully mischievous about pulling things out of the snack drawer before dinner. It made his week to corner the Roomba and scamper away shrieking when it turned back and came at him. He didn’t miss the playground one bit.
This experience made me think about a training I had attended, and the companion book I purchased and read long before my son was a twinkle in my eye: The Biggest Job We’ll Ever Have. The whole book is great, and I am happy to have been reminded of it so I can go back and read it now that it is more personally relevant to my life.
The piece that stuck with me was a story that the author recounted about this idea she had for a roadside picnic on the drive home from a family vacation. She packed a lunch, with visions of pulling over by an idyllic, flower-strewn meadow to enjoy their meal. As the drive went on and it became apparent that such a setting would be hard to come by on their trip, her husband offered alternate suggestions. Unswayed from her vision, the author and her family ultimately ended up picnicking on some grassy median in front of an office park or some such place, the whole bunch miserable and probably wishing desperately for a McDonald’s.
Years later, that story came rushing back to me. I could have stuck with my vision and woken up my son. But would he have enjoyed the playground then? Would it have been the carefree, idealized experience I hoped for? Probably not. More likely, he would have sat listlessly on a swing with the late afternoon sun in his eyes, wondering why I had awoken him from a nice warm snooze in the car to dangle him from some chains and take crappy cell phone pictures. It might have been nice for me, if I’d been able to look past that, to feel good about doing this fun special thing with my kid. But I’d really be missing the point, I think.
So, Fabulous Thing #96: Letting a sleeping kid lie, and letting go of my expectations for the afternoon.