Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Doing errands, having fun

It was one of those days that I think of as invisible milestones. Nothing that would show up on a pediatrician’s growth chart, or even a developmental psychologist’s index. It was just one of those times when I felt like something had changed. Holly and I were spending the afternoon doing holiday-related errands together, and I realized as we set out that I was going to have more fun with her along than I would have had by myself.

It’s not that I never think doing things with my children is better than being alone; it’s just that errands aren’t usually an example. Given the choice, I’d rather hurry around town on my own when I have a lot to do than with either of them in tow. I’m not generally fond of errands, especially those that involve a lot of different stops and driving from one parking lot to the next, and it just always seems more efficient to do them alone.

But today was different. It was a professional day at the kids’ school, and Tim was invited to a birthday party. Ever since Tim entered kindergarten, it has seemed to me that his cohort has a disproportionate number of youngest children. When he was in kindergarten, I noticed this because the other parents would arrive at class plays and other kindergarten events free and empty-handed, whereas I was always toting 2-year-old Holly along.

And back then, this reality sometimes made me a little bit wistful. Much as I loved spending time with my toddler, I sometimes felt envious of how easy it was for those parents to study the classroom exhibits or sit calmly through the rainforest play while I was struggling to keep Holly quiet and contained. I envied too the way when the classroom event was over, they headed off to home or work autonomously, while I lugged Holly along to wherever I was going next. Being a parent is wonderful most of the time, but there’s a certain amount of day-to-day drudgery with small children, and the fact that I was frequently surrounded by parents whose last child had just entered school sometimes gave me a twinge of envy.

Dropping off Tim at the party today, I was reminded again of this statistical blip. Of the nine kids there, other than Tim, each one was either a youngest sibling or an only child. Each parent left their son at the party and headed back to their car alone.

But this time, I felt like I was the one getting the best deal.

First, Holly and I went to the pottery-painting studio to make some gifts. Holly picked out her items and her paints and set to work, her brow furrowed in concentration as she dabbed paint and mixed colors. Then we stopped at the pet store to buy our dog her Christmas present, a winter coat. Next was a children’s apparel store to choose slippers for my niece; Holly advised me on which style and pattern she liked best (“I like slip-on slippers much better than pull-ons, so we should definitely get slip-ons, and I don’t really like that pink swirly design but I think Hannah probably will.”) Then we hurried home to finish making a gift for Rick. All in all, we had a great afternoon together: fun and relaxed and productive. Even the sometimes onerous task of Christmas shopping was more fun with her along, and I never would have done pottery-painting on my own. She’s the artist in the family.

So it was an invisible milestone. Not like the bigger benchmarks she’s reached in the past year or two, learning to read and swim and ride a bike. It’s almost always fun to hang around with your kids when you’re just playing, but this time it was enjoyable doing something I don’t ordinarily think of as appealing: driving around taking care of errands. And I don’t blame the other moms a bit for watching us leave the party with a little bit of envy. Many years after those kindergarten mornings, this time I agreed that I was the one having all the fun.

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