It’s been hard lately. My ex and I have been having a hard time making decisions together. While we make significant efforts to keep these types of discussions away from the children, I think they know that there is something going on.
There’s just tension where there didn’t used to be any. My middle child (Thomas, not his real name, I don’t want him to come back one day and read these posts) is the most sensitive. He is five, but while he has a very extensive vocabulary, his reasoning skills and emotional maturity are developing more slowly.
Thus, I have a time bomb that can explode at any time, in the most awkward of places. Because it is hard for me to handle all three kids out in public with one child who might just have a really difficult moment and need my full attention and skills, I tend to stay closer to home, where meltdowns are easier to deal with. Not that I can’t keep them all safe out in public, it is just harder. I enjoy myself a lot less out and about, because I have this anxiety about when the bomb is going to blow.
My kids’ dad takes the kids all over the place. They love to go to dad’s house because of all the cool stuff they get to do. This situation is rapidly turning into a situation where I do tons of work (driving, feeding, cleaning, watching the kids) and then dad gets to just play with them during his time like a grandparent.
I don’t try to compete with him, because I don’t really care to have the kids enrolled in activities and being entertained 24-7. I am a firm believer in the power and need for unstructured free play. So rather than take the kids to the movies, I prefer to take them to a field and just release them. I choose a familiar playground with friends over the Jurassic Quest exhibit an hour’s drive away.
But TODAY, today I was not going to sit at home and feel like LAME MOM. I packed up some towels, changed them all at home so I could reduce the amount of work that I needed to do upon arrival (excited bodies are very wiggly and they have a tough time following directions when they feel that way), threw some random snacks in the bag, and off we went.
I actually managed to remember the baby’s swim diaper, my own swimsuit, and my wallet.
Once we arrived at the pool, I snapped on their life jackets right away, even before they had their shoes off. I always do this. Then I could relax and focus on getting the baby (2 yrs old now, not much of a baby but I still call her that) ready. My kids are so energetic and they want to be independent, and it is so hard to focus on anything when I know that any second they could just randomly head off to explore some watery nook of the pool facility.
Stress free once they were snapped in, I stripped down to my own swimsuit, and then took a deep breath before carrying the baby along the pool to the steps, getting ready to parade my own almost middle aged post-baby body (with the dimply thighs and wiggly skin and all the areas where I don’t shave as often as I used to in full view) in front of the seating area where all the parents who only came to watch were sitting.
Luckily as I get older I care a lot less about what people think about my body imperfections. But I still feel self-conscious.
Anyway, the sum of it was that the kids had a blast. I felt like FUN MOM instead of LAME MOM (who always focuses on healthy food and going to bed on time). I took the baby down the water slide a few times, and watched in delight as the boys took advantage of the unusually quiet day at the pool to go down the water slide over and over, without having to wait in line.
I was pleased to see that much of the work we did last summer at the local pool to get them used to the water, such as putting their faces in, holding their breath, blowing bubbles, kicking, even some arm strokes, had stuck. The confidence they had built last summer came roaring back to them after they’d been in a pool for just a few minutes.
It makes me really excited to see what they accomplish this summer, when we can go to the local pool 4 days a week or more.
Yet. It wasn’t quite perfect.
I felt my anxiety creeping back in as I swam the baby around the pool in her life jacket (she’d never worn one before), about how the kids’ dad and I are going to figure out the current stress we are in. It is so seldom that I have kid-free time where someone doesn’t NEED something, that my brain actually had time to wander. And it kept wandering back to the problems we are having. If anything wasn’t perfect about the pool time, it was that I really struggled with my own mental discipline. I just couldn’t figure out how to turn off my brain and just BE PRESENT.
I’m a work in progress.
It used to be that work followed me everywhere, and I couldn’t turn it off.
So I stopped that work. And then my mind was clear of it.
But with a free and clear mind, other anxieties and worries rushed in to take its place. I am sure they were always there, but they just weren’t as loud as work.
Every day I have to affirmatively put those thoughts aside, to focus on the hear and now. When I fail to do that, I really struggle to get anything done, and be at my best for my children.
When it was time to leave, Thomas followed directions really well, and we didn’t have any issues at all. I had been bracing for the blow-up, but it didn’t come. Maybe the pool trip was a good outlet for him as well. Somehow in the running, jumping, and splashing, he’d found a way to let off the steam that is always building up inside of him.
And I took them home.
That’s where the blow up happened.
But maybe I’d found some peace at the pool as well, for I was able to keep my cool in the face of his storm. I got down on his level, and we talked through what had him upset. I focused on hearing him, and reflecting back at him what he had to say so that he’d know I was hearing him.
Swimming didn’t fix everything. Or anything.
But it was a good day together.
And I’m grateful for that.
Emily Anderson is a mother of three children, all under the age of 10. Located in the Pacific Northwest of the US, Emily is a full-time mom and part-time blogger, jumping in front of the computer screen when the kids are occupied or sleeping. She started this blog in April of 2019 and is proud that the blog is now paying for itself. If you want to know about her journey as a blogger, check out out her personal digital journal or her post about failing her way to blogging success.