Don't judge me by the title, please. I am not some nut job that sincerely thinks the world was formed 4 years ago. This is not going to be some post musing over what the world may have been like when it did, in fact, turn 4. I am not proposing a theorem revolving on the concept of 4 parallel worlds which we are constantly pulled between. I'm merely referring to my world - the world in which I'm a mother.
A few weeks ago, my eldest boy Gabe turned 4. A joyous occasion, is it not? My biggest little boy is growing up! He's nearing the next stage in his life! Soon he'll be old enough to go to school! ... I can feel a panic attack setting in even now.
4 years old??? Are you sure????? Didn't I just give birth to him a little while ago? And I'm sure he just started walking not that long ago. And sometimes he still gets a sippy cup even so I can be sure he doesn't spill on the couch! How can he be 4?!?
But it's true, and scary. And before you start thinking, "What's the big deal? It's not like he's moving off to college," - hear me out. I grew up in a day home, but the wonderful things was, it was my own mother's day home. Not content to leave her kids, she did everything she could think of to ensure she could afford to stay home with us, which meant providing a safe and happy place where other parents could drop off their kids. My mom was fantastic at running a day home. We had ample time playing outside, individual play time with special toys, fun trips to water parks and the like, special lunches once a week and lots of creative activities, like a playdough "Dinosaur Land" which was decorated with twigs from the yard, plastic dinos and chicken bones that we could dig up. It was an awesome childhood, and when the kids went home every day at 5:00, I was always left feeling like I got an awesome day playing with my mom during an extended playdate. We did so many fun things that I resolved when I was pregnant with Gabe to repeat many of them with my kids. But it's funny how in the past 4 years I never managed to get around to so many of those little things that were day-to-day treats in my own childhood.
Sure, Gabe has gone to the Drumheller dinosaur museum, and has been to the mountains numerous times, and ridden horses, and gone fishing, and even gone to a show jumping exhibition at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, but those were all outings. I've been great about big outings - I try to make sure we get to do lots of those things with the kids. But for one reason or another, the special daily things have been much harder for me.
In part, I think I'm scared to let the kids make too big of a mess. Painting is a pretty rare occurrence in our house. Glitter is banned. If we bake together I'm the one who cracks the eggs, and the boys have no knowledge of anything called "bath paints". Another reason is that I often feel like some things may be too advanced for my boys. Gabe is just getting to start using scissors and glue this year while many other kids have been using safety scissors for a couple years by now. And sadly, another reason may be that I just haven't made the time and I've often opted for the easy route.
A week ago we were getting into the car after our weekly church playdate and the two older boys were picking up rocks in the parking lot while I was getting the baby in the car, and stashing the rocks in our wagon. When it was time for the big boys to get into the car Gabe instructed me to keep his rocks so he could start a rock collection and I almost said, "No". Why? Because it would have been easy to say no. Order and schedule and routine is easy. Bringing more things into our house and getting down and dirty is not easy. But it struck me that by the time I was Gabe's age, I certainly had my own collection of rocks (which were all very plain and boring, except to my excitable eyes). Why did I have a rock collection like that? Because my mom was more inclined to say "yes" than to say "no". I can't think of a better explanation. Where I have been prone to say no, decline requests to play, shut down the chance for a craft, my mother would comply, have a craft at the ready and get down on her knees to push those toy cars around. And it hit me, very hard in that moment, that I needed to change what I was doing, or by the time Gabe was 5 and went to school, I'd have regrets. These first few years where I get my kids all to myself through the day and we have endless opportunities for play, exploration, learning and fun are only worth as much as we make of them. And in some ways I've been squandering this time. Sure, we've done outings, and projects and "bucket lists" of seasonal activities, but our day-to-day fun has been lacking.
I suppose another reason for this is the fact that I have easy-going boys. Yes, they play like boys in that they love tools, they roll all over each other rough housing and everything seems to make engine noises, but they have looooooong attention spans (one bucket of cars = 2 hours of fun), they like to play quietly and neatly for the most part, and they play really well together. If I did not interrupt their play from time to time, I could easily let the two older boys carry on for the whole day. Not bad for a 4 year old an a little guy that's not even 2 yet... But I have taken advantage of their ease for far too long. I have accomplished far too many other things, of far less importance, in the past few years. If my kids were my high-maintenance and needed more assistance to feel entertained, I'm sure I'd not be having these concerns right now, but just because they don't need me doesn't mean they shouldn't get me.
So what do I do whenever I resolve on something? I make a list. In this case, it was a rather large, multi-faceted list, of things I wanted to do with Gabe before he turned 5. But not in the way one would do a bucket list, but more so a standing list of things that should be recurring. For example, growing up with the dayhome, about once a month we would get Face Sandwiches - we'd each get a piece of bread with CheezWhiz or peanut butter and put various toppings on them (celery, carrots, raisins, dry ichiban noodles, mini marshmallows, chocolate chips) to make faces. I want to do that! And we will make a dino land, and I'll finally break down and get some glitter! But these won't be the sort of things that I need to schedule out and plan extensively; these are things that we'll get to in our day, maybe when the baby is sleeping, or maybe when the cars get cleaned up and we need something else to play with before lunch time. Really, it's more about how I approach their playtime, rather than what I plan for them. I'm sure that if I involved myself more in their active play that we'd have got around to all these things and more by now.
SO I tried to do things differently this week. I earnestly tried to say "yes" (almost) every time I was asked for something. Less, "Not now," and more, "Let's do it!" How did that change the look of our week? For starters, excepting one day where Gabe had soccer in the evening, we played outside every day - which is a record for us! Getting them outside was too close to getting them dirty before and often seemed like more effort than it was worth, but this week they went outside to wash the rocks from their collection (which I let them bring home), they helped me rake leaves left from the melt, they painted the fence with water and they played with the dog and dug in the flower beds. We made muffins together and when we had eggs for lunch, Gabe cracked them all for me (one went right onto the floor, but hey, what can you do?). We painted - Gabe painted his rocks and Nathaniel did a number of pictures. We made coffee filter flowers as gifts for the Grandma's on Mother's Day, played with playdough and did lots of coloring together. We watched far less TV than we have in a long time, and we played ALOT of Spiderman and "Pet Store". We even had a bath with colored bath soap similar to playdough... you can shape it, then lather it for shampoo or soap... long story short, it temporarily dyes everything blue until thoroughly rinsed. Now, some moms may read this list and think, "That's all? Didn't you have an organized craft time every day where you work with mixed media, or sessions of intentional sensory play to aid in development?" But this is a step forward for me in this area, and I'm happy with how it went. And most importantly, the boys were happy too. And that really is the point to all of this.
Mrs. VanderLeek ;)