“Ok, Mom. Now we’re going to race and you’re going to dribble the ball, and if you win we play soccer. If I win then we race again. Ok? Ok, Mom? That’s what we’ll do.” I’m not sure if he even took a breath before he yelled, “Ready, set, GO!” and raced full speed down the hall. M is always a big ball of energy. Gram liked to say we were built backwards. If only I could muster even a fraction of that kid’s energy, I could do the dishes, fold all the piles of clothes, read my stack of books, and clean the bathrooms without batting an eye. If only…
R (our six-year-old) happened to be on a big kid camping trip with dad and grandpa this weekend, so it was just the younger two and me. That moment as I listened intently to his instructions and positioned the ball ready to dribble, it hit me. Little, energetic four-year-old M is our middle child. He never got the one-on-one attention that our oldest did, and when his baby brother came along, he and R could play so well that I was able to give the baby plenty of attention. He is A MIDDLE CHILD. R’s baby pictures creatively scrap booked and labeled, sitting on a shelf while M’s hasn’t even been touched. R’s accomplishments carefully documented in a beautiful album, M’s scribbled on a calendar somewhere under some pile. I hated to admit it, but the reality was staring me in the face. Just the other day while we played dinosaurs I awoke to a t-rex roaring in my face and a boy desperate for those precious moments saying, “Come on, Mom! You aren’t playing dinosaurs with me! Wake UP!”
As I held that ball, I vowed to do better. I’d let life get in the way of really playing with my kids! Most especially one in particular. I’d gotten too busy, too tired, too distracted. My middle child needed those moments where his mom dropped everything, left the dishes in the sink, scooped the grumpy baby up in her arms, and dribbled the swirly ball down the hall in a frantic race to see what we did next. So in that moment I vowed to make changes. For all my kids, but mostly for my sweet, non-stop middle child. Here’s my list of new rules for myself:
1. Dishes can wait. Laundry can wait. He will only be four once.
2. We can play at the park without friends. We SHOULD play at the park without friends on occasion.
3. At least a half-an-hour every day should be spent being really crazy. Dance to the silly songs, sing along, just being plain goofy.
4. Really try to get to know each kid, spend time alone with each one daily.
5. Live in the moment. Stop thinking about the bazillion things going on.
6. Include them in as much as possible (M was so thrilled to help me scrub the toilets the other day. Time with child plus clean toilets=win-win for everyone!)
7. Find opportunities to hug as much as possible. Say “I love you” every chance you get.
8. Don’t let bedtime get frustrating.
9. Don’t cry over spilled milk (…Or orange juice, or hot chocolate, or yogurt, or refried beans, or chicken noodle soup, or cheese, or mashed potatoes, or salsa, or not quite solid jello, or burrito innards, or eggs, or expensive freshly homemade granola, or pasta noodles…)
10. Patience, patience, patience. I don’t want them to remember me always being exasperated with them.
11. Get on the floor and play. Pretend with them. Do what THEY want to do, not what you want them to want to do.
12. Give in to just one more book. It’s a book for pete’s sake.
13. Talk to them while you drive places. Ask them questions, have a conversation.
14. Don’t freak out when they get muddy. It’s what kids should do. Clothes can be washed.
15. Do things that will make them laugh.