Today I was reading the paper as I lounged on the living room floor. This activity is a throwback to my days before children. I could sit on a Sunday, sipping on my tea and read every last line from the newspaper...ads and classifieds and even the sports section. I didn't like to sit in bed and read nor could I sit on the couch or at a table. I had to spread out on the floor, and when I was finished, sections of the paper would be scattered all over the room. Sadly, I let this fall by the wayside shortly after my kids came along. I still snatch moments to read a little of the paper here and there, but I don't wallow in the paper the way I had before. You know, I hadn't even realized I missed this.
Yesterday we had a family birthday party and Katie and Teresa were invited to sleep over the birthday girls' house. While I was a leeeeeeetttle apprehensive, especially where Katie was concerned, we said our goodbyes and headed for home with just Sam. We even let him sleep in our bed and he woke me up early in the morning so I could play some Mariokart on the Wii with him. He beat me soundly. I'm pretending it's because I'm new at it but I don't think I'll ever be very good at video games. After he went off to play with his action figures and Bakugan, I made myself some tea and an omelet and glanced at the paper while I ate. Then I realized that I had the whole day ahead of me with nothing more pressing than the five baskets of laundry that needed folding and putting away. I grabbed up the paper and my tea and headed into the living room. And I proceeded to eat up the paper. Every last sentence, classified and comic strip. It was sheer heaven.
One little column caught my attention. It was written by a Mom whose three kids are about the same age as mine. The gist of the article was that she believes life is easier now that her children are older and not as dependent, but that their questions have gotten more difficult. I thought about that. True, their questions have evolved, some I can't even begin to answer. I like to think I am teaching them how to research information when I tell them "I don't know the answer to that, lets look it up." rather than that I am exposing the fact that I know a lot less than they thought I did. However I really don't think life is easier now that my children are older. I think it's actually much more difficult.
When my children were small I controlled all aspects of their life. I decided what foods they would eat and when they would eat. Now they are exposed to foods in the school cafeteria that I shudder to think of them eating. They can throw away the organic, whole grains, not a trace of HFCS foodstuffs I've packed and buy pure junk if they want.
As babies, toddlers and preschoolers I chose their friends and activities. I scheduled playdates at my convenience and took them to the library or music class if it suited me. If I had a lot to do or errands to run then we skipped storytime that week. They never knew the difference because they didn't know what day of the week it was and had little sense of time. Now they are all involved in extracurricular activities...basketball, baseball, softball, gymnastics, dance, and church school. The days and times of these activities are dictated to me and I have to figure out how to squeeze errands and household tasks around them. I don't pick their friends now. They make their friends at school and in their various activities and I just have to deal with it. I can't pick the kids whose Mom I happen to get along with if the kids just don't hit it off. Tough noogies for me.
Granted it's easier not having to pack a diaper bag so that I'm ready for any and every contingency but honestly that wasn't such a big deal for me. Once the bag was packed I just needed to keep it stocked and by the door. The stroller was always in the car so a spur of the moment outing didn't require all that much more work. Yes, I don't have to change diapers while eating out but now they ask to use the bathroom and I must accompany them and for some reason they always realize they have to go the moment my food comes to the table. When they were in diapers, the chances that I'd have to change them while we were eating was pretty slim.
I worry about bullying at school and on the bus. They are exposed to language and subject matter that I do not consider appropriate for children while at school and on the bus. They have been taunted, laughed at and been embarrassed and I couldn't shield them from any of it because I was home and they were out there in the big bad world. I'm proud of them because they have handled it. There have been tears and questions and scoldings and conversations surrounding all of these things. I can only hope that they take the values we have taught them and use their good judgement to make decisions as they navigate through their day. It's very difficult for me to let them take control of all this and trust that they are capable of handling it. I want to protect them but I have to force myself to start letting them go. This is hard stuff. This is considerably more difficult for me than sleepless nights and wrangling baby gear and juggling the demands of three kids under five.
And having talked to my siblings and in laws with teenagers, I think it only gets harder still. Excuse me now, I'm going to go back and bury my head in the newspaper in denial.