It took two kids, over five years, one dog, and many tears to realize I hadn't made a to-do list that I could get done in one day. Each of my harried, hurried attempts between the early (or not-so-early) morning hours and when I tiptoed around the house, the last one awake and busily tidying up and prepping for the next day, I couldn't seem to cram all of what I needed to into my waking hours.
You see, about a year ago -- well one year, two months and six days to be exact, I was a VERY pregnant, very impatient mama. It was winter. I was in a hurry, as usual. My preschooler was dawdling. We were right on the fence-line of being late. But not late for something incomprehensible to miss. We were late for the EARLY door opening of the three-year-old preschool room which happened twice every week, for an entire year. We were going to be late (but not truly late, since there is a 15 minute window for check in) for an elective bonafide three-hour daycare program run by a Christian institution that I wasn't 100% in love with.
In that moment, I felt the need to give my young son a little firm nudge toward the car. Bully. In that moment I had my "mad face" on. This is the face that became my mask, like the Phantom of the Opera, mad face covered what was really underneath. It was masking me and not only disguising my face but also overshadowing my inner light. So after several minutes of unpleasant, angry, impatient, bitter, and downright nasty hurrying and prodding, we were in the car. Backed out of the garage. Just as I backed up, I saw Chinook dart out from under the door.
Irate because I'd have to spend another three seconds shutting the garage door again, after it's automatic cycle upward from the interference, I yelled at the dog to "stay!" She was about a year old, my husband had found her full of hundreds of ticks in the middle of the woods that May, starving, lost. I said "I love her!" When he brought her home that humid, buggy night. My son immediately loved her too. It's an incredible thing, to witness a human and a dog that instantly bond. Everyone loves their pets, sure, but it's rare and beautiful to see absolute bonding. That's what Chinook and my boy had.
If you hadn't noticed the tone of this story, the past tense, Chinook is gone. The last vision and action that I have emblazoned in my memory is that of her sneaking out of the garage when we were in a hurry that day. Yelling at her to stay. Not taking the time to lock her back up, because she would get out every day. And everyday she'd be on our porch waiting when we returned a few short hours later. Every day that she was with us from September to December, she saw us "in a hurry." She saw that we were "running late." She saw my mad face. She got scolded for jumping on me. But she lived for that little boy that would roll around and laugh and play with her.
To this day we don't know if she got stuck in a trapper's steel grip or if she simply wandered away and found a new forever home. I know what a lot of you will say -- we shouldn't even own a dog if we let her run loose. And I mostly agree -- I was lazy, irritated, mad and irresponsible that day. I should have taken the extra four minutes to put her back. To pet her. Say "Good dog! Thank you for loving my boy and our family unconditionally." Because the saddest part of the whole story is that my tender-hearted boy will still tear up. He'll randomly think of her and he'll cry, broken up about the dog his misses. His companion. His playmate. She's been gone now longer than we actually had her, but the wound is still fresh to him.
As I look back and I have two kids now, and I load up my big boy for his four-year-old classroom which is now three days each week, I realize that this is a "necessity" that we've programmed into our lives. It wouldn't have mattered if I had to call the teacher and have her buzz us in, tardy and a little sheepish. Hell, it wouldn't have mattered if we'd not shown up at all. There isn't a truancy officer for a preschooler. Even if there were, I am not fully on board with people telling me arbitrarily how many days a kid should miss anyway! None of it mattered. It was all such a joke looking back, but it seemed like the stuff of monumental import then.
So my to-do list is changing. No more "we're late!" No more "Come on! Go! Go! Go!" (Unless it's at tee ball!) I try not to be the bully that gives a little shove out the door just because I can or because my inner monster has gotten the best of me in that moment. I try to banish the mean face. My to do list is now accomplished every day, by sundown most nights. Thanks to two little boys, a lot of tears, a few years, and one dog.
- Say "I love you" as many times as possible
- Hug them, not letting go until THEY do
- Take them time to say "Thank you" even for the gifts of scraps of paper and things that already belonged to me. Perhaps especially for those gifts.
- Don't say "because" in response to ANYTHING. Take the time to explain.
- Play. Play what they want to play.
- Smile. Laugh. Do it often.
- Be silly.
- Listen to music and dance.
- Let them help. Even if it extends the process by three hours.
- Log out of Facebook. Put down the phone. Better yet, throw it into the car or garage for a few hours.
- Be present. Live in the moment with my kids. Breathe in the smell of peanut butter and shampoo and sweet little boy. Let them pile onto your lap and be wild. Let them be kids and soak up as much of it as you can. Physically try to lock away every moment to cherish forever.
These are the moments that will matter next year. These are the things that need my full attention. This is my new to-do list. We're living fast and furious but now we do it on our schedule.