My friend, Stephanie, invited my sister-in-law, Paige, and me and our kids to join her and her son, Gabe, on a visit to a quaint little Zoo in Michigan City this past weekend. Our Saturday morning was packed. The house needed some serious tending to. I liked the idea of an adventure (a week ago) but, oh... while preparing lunch, I was beginning to seriously question the wisdom of devoting such a large chunk of my afternoon to something ...well...frivolous. Plus my kids seemed especially tired from sleepovers and soccer practice. Let's just say my expectations for this outing were not sky high.
"Alright," I announced about two hours before our estimated time of departure (2:30 pm), "in order to play later we need to work some now." You see their rooms had gotten ridiculously cluttered and I could stand it not one more minute. It was grueling, keeping them focused on putting books on bookshelves and clothes in drawers, on separating trash from valued keepsakes ("No mom, don't throw that broken transformer leg away! I n-e-e-e-d it!"). We finally finished (whew!!) just seconds before Paige and her girls and Stephanie and Gabe arrived. There was no time to become that super-prepared mom with the backpack full of snacks, extra sweaters and water bottles. No siree, we just piled in the van "as-is" - all snack-less and exhausted.
Now, I'll tell you this truthfully: I have learned over the last decade to just go ahead and assume that if something can go wrong, it will. When my children were younger our excursions were frequently dampened by tearful tantrums caused by missed naps and the insensitive requirement that museums be exited via the gift shop. And then there were the swarm of flesh devouring mosquitoes hovering menacingly around that waterfall, the maddeningly long lines at Disney World, the bickering over where to go when and what to see next. My kids' memories of these events are sweetly nostalgic ("Aww, I loved that vacation!" they say when flipping through photo albums), which is fine by me. I'm so thankful they've tossed out the gravel, mentally speaking, and retained the gold.
Imagine my surprise then when, despite the odds being stacked against us, we ended up having a really and truly (gravel-free) wonderful time at that Michigan City Zoo. The weather was cool, but sunny. It wasn't crowded. Peacocks and mallards roamed the grounds freely. My eleven-year-old was just as enamored, if not more so, with the animals as his preschool-aged sister. We laughed together and marveled together at the baby goats and frisky otters. We managed to totally avoid the gift shop and concession stand.
It was a classic reminder, really, of why, as a parent, it is absolutely essential sometimes to not only surrender to but outright pursue "frivolity," minus the unrealistic grandiose ideals I've allowed far too often to determine the "success" of a trip or experience with my family. It's just moments I'm after (as many as I can beg, borrow or steal), moments, within the unavoidable chaos, of connection. "I hear you," I long to communicate with my sons and daughters, "I enjoy you." Because, you know something? That's what's they crave (I can tell by the way they brighten and open up when I gift them with something so simple as eye contact) more than anything.