You know how your day can take an utter turn south, just like that? Like, the simplest thing becomes the not-so-simplest thing and suddenly you find yourself in a parked car tearing up in front of your bewildered kids, searching for a crinkled napkin in the glove compartment, mentally reminding yourself “You’re the grownup here, you’re the grownup here, you’re the grownup here.”
It was an art class, you know. One of those darling community classes downtown where an energetic twenty-something in a ponytail hands your kids a tray of paint and a toy car and cleans up the whole big mess afterward. Themed snacks and craft tutorials and primary colored sorting bins; that place where the markers all have lids.
Bee loves crafts, and I’d wanted to do something special with her. She’s grown so much this year – in inches, in spirit – and as Scout’s grown the same, she’s learned to lead him so beautifully. The lady deserved a mini-celebration, is all.
We sit in a room with a handful of other parent/child variations: moms and daughters, fathers and sons, grandparents and grandchildren. Big chair, little chair. Big chair, little chair. One chipper mother pulls out a kids’ smock and I instinctively remember the brochure speaking of messes. As Scout grows fussy in his car seat, the teacher introduces the theme.
Things that go! she says, and she passes out egg cartons to widened eyes as they learn they’ll be assembling a train to paint, complete with a toilet paper tube smokestack.
I take Scout out of his car seat to sit on my lap, but he’s at that age – that aaaaaaaage – where he must move, he must explore, he must be a Things that go!, so as the other parents are helping their kids glue cotton onto the inside of the train’s smokestack, I’m pulling wet crayons out of Scout’s mouth, trying my best to offer hands-free guidance to Bee – Try the left side, nope not that side, your left, no, not that left, glue here, like kind of close to the glob of paint here, no not there, hold on a second…
As I lift Scout to one hip, he grips the tablecloth and the whole slew of supplies – glue sticks, crayons, paintbrushes, water – crash to the floor.
I apologize to the teacher, the one with the energy and the ponytail, the one who sweetly offers to help Bee for the rest of the class. You’ve got your hands full, she says, and I know she’s right, but I don’t want her to be.
I sneak out to change Scout’s diaper and when I return, I hear the teacher introducing the next craft to the class – a boat collage – and I see Bee sitting there, alone, listening, intent, with such serious eyes and she looks so big and so little and all at once I feel like I’ve failed her.
And I see the chipper mom with the smock and the attentive dad and the doting grandmother. And I realize the art class wasn’t just an art class.
I’d wanted to be with her, is all.
I’d just wanted to sit with her, to be there, and for her to know I was there, that I would always be there. I’d wanted to listen to her crafts, her plans, undistracted, with all of my attention and all of my support. I’d wanted her to know I had two hands available to assist – to hold the glue or pass the crayons or help her choose a color when she was stuck. I’d wanted to watch her as she imagined something lovely, from start to finish, without the just a seconds and hold ons and be right theres.
I had given her my leftovers for weeks now – leftover time, leftover energy. Scout has been demanding, and today, in art class, I didn’t want her to get my leftovers.
And she did.
One of my deepest parenting fears is that my kids won’t see me as an available mother. That they won’t find me to be a safe place, because I’d lecture instead of listen, offer correction instead of compassion. That they won’t find me to be accessible, because I’ll be distracted elsewhere – if not with busy babies, then with projects, or errands, the meaningless mundane.
And perhaps that was what this art class had been about all along. I’d wanted to dispel a fear, and instead, I’d solidified it.
I read somewhere that transition is the brief moment when you have to let go of one monkey bar to reach for the next rung.
I have one kid, one baby. But we’re transitioning into one kid, one toddler, and soon enough we will transition into two kids. Two. Sleepless nights will be replaced with sibling quarrels, intermittent silent treatments, then sleepovers or sports or secrets — sleepless nights yet again.
Monkey bars are never easy.
But I have to let go of the rung. I have to let go of the fear that I won’t be fully available, and reach for the rung that promises I will be mostly available.
After the class, the cleanup, the car, the crying, we came home to Ken making a late lunch in the kitchen.
Dad! Bee says, as I carry in Scout’s car seat, and I wonder what snippet of the morning she’ll be excited to share most. The tears? The supply spills? The frustration?
We made a stoplight out of a graham cracker, and icing, and M&Ms, and then I ate it! she announces with glee before hurrying off to finish her fairy garden outside.
I fill Ken in on the rest and he listens, nods, offers a hug and some gentle words.
You guys want to get out tonight, just the two of you? he asks.
And so, we do.
We change our clothes, fix our hair. We set out for salmon and a do-over on an al fresco patio, and we talk about everything/nothing as the sun starts to set. She drinks water from a wine glass, unfolds her napkin, orders a burger.
We watch the birds, and she points to her favorites as I notice one flitting from board to board on the pergola overhead. She squawks and chatters, stumble at times.
Monkey bars are never easy.
Mom? Did you see that one go into the nest? she asks.
I missed it! I say. Tell me about it.
Well… she begins, and the night becomes lovely.