Saturday, July 12, 2014

When Life Really Is a Picnic

When my kids were smaller I used to wonder a little at how much there really was to look forward to when they got bigger.  I loved the baby hugs, I loved the unexpected things they would say and do, I loved the wide-eyed stumbly cuteness of it all.

But the complete dependence can be smothering.  I was thinking about that in relation to the recent horrifying story of the father arrested for leaving his toddler to die in a hot car.  I have trouble comprehending it either way, as a murder or as an accident.  If it was a mistake he has my deepest sympathies, but in the wake of that story has been a ton of tips and information about how not to forget your baby in a hot car, and obviously that must be a thing that happens, but I can't relate.  Taking my kids with me anywhere when they were small always involved so much: There was a diaper bag and a snack and a drink and usually a blanket or a toy that I worried we might lose.  On the rare occasions I got to go anywhere on my own back then it felt almost uncomfortably strange to be unencumbered by someone else's needs.  The idea of driving to work or the store and then not noticing the baby wasn't with me when I left the car seems impossible.

So, that's a darker turn than I was planning to take in this post, but that's sometimes how a parent's mind works.  The good and the bad all jumble together, the worry and the joy and the fear and the love all a miasma that sends our brains off on crazy tangents.  (Mine, anyway.)

At this stage of our parenting we are currently in a place where our worries and joys have moved well beyond tummy time and potty training and into areas of transitioning into real independence and responsibility.  We're trying to guide our kids more than manage them.  And honestly, it's just as good (and in some ways better) than the tiny kid phases.  To be able to really talk to your children, and learn from them, and have them introduce you to things you knew nothing about, is amazing.  Watching them start to move through the world in ways that look like the adult selves they will someday be sometimes takes my breath away.  It's heartbreaking when their problems are no longer easily fixed with kiss or a cookie, but the depth and reality of who my children are is mysterious and remarkable and more fascinating by the day.

One of the fun things in our Milwaukee neighborhood of Bay View is that during the summer there is a free concert every Tuesday night in the band shell in our nearby park.  The concert is called Chill on the Hill and it's often more of a social event than a musical one.  We always spot friends and lots of dogs, there are food trucks with ice cream and Thai food and grilled cheese, and a person dressed as a small mattress (named Matty) gives out coupons or raffle tickets (which is just odd enough to be funny without being creepy).  We don't tend to make it to Chill on the Hill more than a few times a summer, but it's always a fun option on a Tuesday night when the weather is nice. 

A couple of weeks ago Ian was off doing Army things, and I was working until 6:00, which is when Chill on the Hill starts.  The opening act was a girl band (actual elementary school aged girls) called Negative Positive and we knew one of the little girls in it.  The kids really wanted to see her on stage.  The next act included a friend of mine singing, and I really wanted to see that, too.  But how to get the kids to Chill on the Hill on time and make dinner if I had to work and Ian couldn't help?

I called the kids and told them to pack a picnic for dinner and walk themselves over to the park and I'd meet them there.  And you know what?  They did.

It was kind of amazing.  They made themselves sandwiches and filled water bottles and packed bananas and carrots and carried the basket over to the park along with a blanket to sit on.  We tend to sit toward the back so I knew where to look around for them, and when I arrived a half hour into the show Aden ran up to me all smiles to show me where they were, and I got to join them for a picnic already in progress.

How wonderful is that?  To be able to have them be able to take care of themselves so well?

I've always thought the phrase "(insert event here) ain't no picnic" must have been concocted by a traditional head-of household man, because to imply a picnic is, well, a picnic, is strange.  Picnics are great when you don't have to do any of the work to pull them off nicely, but picnics can be frustrating if you are the one in charge of making them happen.  Normally that would be me.

But not at Chill on the Hill!  I just showed up, hung out with my kids on the blanket and listened to the music.  It was great.  It was like the summer version of when we went sledding and I realized I didn't have to drag anyone's sled anywhere for them. 

There is still an enormous workload of stuff that comes with a houseful of kids, and having to clean up the kitchen after a long day at work ain't no picnic, but the picnic run by the kids?  Actually was. 


  1. Still in the trenches here...your children's independence AND your evening sound delightful. :o)

  2. Yeah... We are definitely in the trenches here, the shells are still falling and whatnot. A picnic sounds like all the stress of dinner, except I must also Make The Dinner Appear Somewhere Other Than The Table. �� And then try to convince them to eat it in a distracting environment.

    But I love reading stuff like this, it keeps me from drowning in nostalgia. One day, a picnic really WILL be a picnic. Also, Chill on the Hill sounds so fun!