I used to struggle more often than I wanted to admit to really enjoy my children. Sure, many little unexpected happenings turned to happy thoughts later--the sorts of things that fond memories are made of--but just as often I seemed to spoil the fun for my children before it had a chance to become a fond memory. But then something happened to help change that.
It started one Monday morning. No sooner had my husband gone to work, leaving me home with our two young children, than I found myself counting the hours till he would come home. By then it would almost be the kids' bedtime and things would be easier two-on-two.
Morning inched past, and finally it was afternoon. I had hoped to get some work done while the kids took their afternoon naps, but that hope vanished when my youngest, Ella, stayed awake, eager for attention and lively play.
When she finally fell asleep, I plopped myself in a nearby chair, but not a moment had passed before my two-and-a-half-year-old son bounced out of bed and up into my lap.
"I woke up, Mommy!" he announced as though that were a great accomplishment.
"You sure did!" I tried my best to sound positive, while thinking, There goes my afternoon. I guess I really won't be getting anything done today. I looked at my watch. "Two more hours till Daddy's home," I said out loud. "Let's go and get you a snack."
Evan stood on a kitchen chair and leaned against the counter as he helped pour milk into his cup. I would have rather done it without his help, but remembered something my mother had recently said. "At this age he wants to do everything himself."
"But that's so frustrating for me," I had complained to her. "Even simple things get complicated and take so much longer."
"It's for the best," Mom had told me. "Just think of it as education--all the things you go through with the kids that are part of daily life, like brushing teeth, washing hands, dressing, making snacks--it's all brand new to them, something new to learn and experience. Those little things teach them self-sufficiency, character, and style. Remember, you're the teacher and your kids are eager young pupils in the school of life."
So I had let Evan help me pour the milk. "There you are," I said as we finished.
"And I'd like some bread, please--with jam on it." He knew I couldn't refuse when he asked so politely and cheerfully.
I started toward the fridge, but Evan had beaten me there and was already pulling the jam from the fridge shelf.
I hope that jar doesn't slip through his little fingers and break, I thought, just as it did!
The jam managed to stay in a fairly neat red splatter on the floor, but the broken glass was a different story. It was everywhere, in a hundred pieces. I covered my mouth with my hands to keep the tiredness and frustration from spilling out.
"Never do that again!" Evan offered in a sorry and slightly worried tone.
I forced my thoughts into a short prayer. Suddenly Mom's words rushed back into my mind--"something new to learn and experience."
I swooped up Evan to the safety of my arms. "First we had better get some shoes on your bare feet, then I'm going to show you how to clean up a broken jar of jam."
Moments later, as I swept up the mess and Evan held the dustpan ready, I explained to my little pupil the dynamics of glass: how easily it shatters, and the best way to clean it up when it does.
Mom's advice was wise. By treating the mishap as a new learning experience for my little one, I felt calm and controlled. Instead of scolding my son and promising myself I'd never make the mistake of letting him get something from the fridge by himself again, I had taught him how to deal with accidents in a positive way.
We got another jar of jam from the cupboard, and went on to butter bread and spread jam together, make coffee for mom, and set it all out neatly on the table to enjoy together. That's when I caught myself actually enjoying the moment!
"You're such a good cook, Evan!" His little eyes shone. "Mommy is so proud of you!"
"Evan is so proud of you, Mommy!" he replied without hesitation. I smiled. Come to think of it, I was proud of myself too.
"I think I'll buy another jar of jam and make it a permanent fixture on the kitchen counter," I told Evan, "because enjoying you at this moment is something I want to always remember!"
Excerpted from Activated magazine. Used with permission.