After returning from a wonderful vacation in Charleston (and therefore a break from my website!), I am anxious to write about a new observation. Whether it be a vacation, birthday, trip to the zoo or any other day that we want to create special memories with our kids, we can get caught up in expectations of what we wanted, rather than allowing what will be to be. Let me explain with some examples:
The Amusement Park story
We were eating dinner at a restaurant in a small upstairs room, joined by another family with two small kids as well. The mother continually apologized to us, the waitress and the other guests about her whiny and fussy kids. Apparently, they had been at Busch Gardens (an amusement park in Florida) all day, where the kids were in a stroller from 8am until they left to drive to the restaurant. By this time, it was 6:30pm, and they had not gotten proper naps, or been allowed to get down and play to release energy. So, they were jumping off of the walls, crawling out of their skin, and definitely not wanting to sit in high chairs at a table.
The mother kept repeating that her kids were “making her crazy”, and she commented that she regretted taking them to the park. That struck me as an odd response, since they apparently enjoyed the park throughout the day. I realized that she had been anticipating that they kids would love their experience, and then it turned out they were exhausted and cranky. In her mind, it was a ruined day. In their mind, it was probably a great day after all.
The 4th of July story – rained out
Another noteworthy experience recently was July 4th. In our area, it poured like a monsoon. My husband and I took our son to one of the city’s pier where there were vendors, live music, food, etc. By the time we finished eating, many of the vendors were packing up to leave. I am not sure if they even shot off fireworks that night, but the festivities were definitely ruined. As a result, many of the families with kids were huddled inside the stores nearby trying to wait out the rain. The kids were crying, antsy, whiny and frustrated about being cooped up inside.
Parents were even more frazzled trying to contain and occupy kids who should be out running with sparklers and jumping in the bounce house, now deflated in a soggy heap. Many of the kids had patriotic outfits and accessories, and I suspect that this night had been built up for quite some time in all of their minds. I noted to myself that all of the parties involved might be happier if they gave up on “the plan” to stay for the show, got ice cream on the way home and made red, white and blue confetti to throw around on the porch with some hastily-purchased personal fireworks to shoot off in the back yard instead.
The Build-a-Bear story
As a final illustration, my best friend (who might disown me for writing about this story, but it is perfect for my point…) came to visit me with her daughter from out of state when I was pregnant. We went to the mall and she noticed we have a Build-a-Bear store here. She was so excited to do that with her daughter, but decided to wait until she was a little older (she was only two at the time). When she visited me again in February, the first thing she told me was of her plan to go back to the store, now that her daughter approached the age of three. Obviously, my friend had been envisioning the experience since August and was looking forward to watching her daughter create a bear and a memory.
Within the first minute of walking into the store, her daughter decided she didn’t want to make any of the animals and was going to protest the entire idea. In that moment, my friend had two choices – forgo the long-awaited day that had been built up in her mind for six months, or insist that her daughter comply and enjoy the experience because it was important to my friend. Needless to say, she spent a considerable amount of time convincing her daughter that she wanted to make one and then spent even more time fighting with her throughout the process. It ended up being an hour and a half of frustration and disappointment.
What can you do? – Options for keeping it special
So, what can we do instead? First, when we make plans and create expectations for our children, we need to recognize that flexibility is always crucial. If we stick to hard and fast rules, we will always be let down. My husband uses the phrase, “setting yourself up for failure” because reality will never live up to the ideal. As long as we realize that things will change and morph into the unexpected, we will handle the situations better.
Also, we need to keep in mind that kids are not likely going to have an emotional connection to the event. Whereas, we build up nostalgic and sentimental value into an event, children take each moment as it comes. Down the road, depending on their age during the event, they can associate memories with feelings, but that comes after the age of twelve when abstract reasoning develops.
Finally, sometimes the seemingly worst situation in the moment becomes a cherished and favorite experience looking back. I vividly remember pretty negative childhood situations at the time that have been special memories for me now. Several come to mind – My Dad cartwheeling off of the deck and crashing into the fence, breaking bushes and his ego in the process…me falling off of a pull-up bar at a camp ground landing on my nose, it swelling up, thinking it was broken, being miles away from a doctor, but meeting another Brenna around the camp fire that night when my nose drained blood for an hour or so…my mom having an acute asthma attack when my Dad was at work and me sitting with her on the bed reading to her from the Bible until my Dad got home with an inhaler. I could go on, but the point is that what seems bad in the moment often doesn’t later on, and you end up reminiscing about those times for years to come.
So, keep trying to create amazing moments and memories with your kids, but be aware of the unexpected, unplanned, uncharted surprises that will always be a part of being a parent, and let them become part of your memories, too.