It was a beautiful day in Chicago — warm, bright, white blooming clouds in a brilliant blue sky. I had seen the forecast, so promised Mary Tyler Son a morning at the local nature center. Gratefully, the weather man was right, so off we went.
A perfect picture, right? Yeah, a bit too perfect. It all started out well enough. We began our adventure in the actual nature center of the nature center. A window box honey comb with very active bees, animal skulls of every stripe, pelts galore. The kid was stoked. So was I. We started on the Savannah Trail.
Within two minutes, the boy was ready to turn around and go back to the nature center. I couldn’t quite figure out why, but he was easily convinced to keep walking. A few minutes later, bored with the finding and picking up of leaves, he asked again to turn around and get back to the “nature house.”
This continued for a while, Mary Tyler Son asking to turn around and me cajoling to move forward. Finally I asked what was so special about the nature house when we were right here in nature? “The puppets!,” he said. Oy. Some ratty old puppets of animals and insects. I remember we never let Donna touch the things as they had been handled by a thousand other kids. For Mary Tyler Son, germs are not an issue, but the plan involved being outside, not inside.
At least, I thought that was the plan. Mary Tyler Son’s plan involved pouting. Lots and lots of pouting, worsening when I told him we were going to stay outside, not inside, and that the whole point of our walk was TO BE IN NATURE, dammit. Harumph! Ugh. I had taken the bait.
You never win in a power struggle with a three year old. They are faster, have more stamina, and lack reasoning ability. It’s a rookie mistake to engage in the first place, but engage I had. Never take a three year old’s bait.
Before I knew what was happening, I was walking twenty feet ahead, Mary Tyler Son was lagging behind, stomping in his fireman boots. “Fine, I said, we’ll just go home. If you don’t want to walk, we can go home,” and I meant it, walking even faster to prove my point. So there we were, out in nature, both stewing and pouting in our own way, for our own reasons.
Then we came out of the woods, both literally and figuratively. The sun shone brighter upon us, there were a few ponds and bridges to cross, the grass grew tall as Mary Tyler Son and tickled his face as he walked past. We collectively decided to take the longer trail back to the nature center, as it had more bridges. The bridges are windy and have no sides to them, making them feel a little dangerous/exciting to a three year old boy.
We both held our faces up, basking in that glorious autumn sun. Our pouting was over. We walked together, hand in hand, except when I asked him to walk ahead to “lead” us, which is mommy code for I want to take your picture. There were hills and trees and that endless blue sky above. Mary Tyler Son spied a hawk.
As we got in view of the nature center, almost having come full circle, I asked my boy to sit down and talk. I am a talker and when I tell my boy, “we need to talk,” he knows that there is a lesson to learn. It is our thing. It works.
I told him what I had learned in our time in the woods — that if we are more focused on what comes next, like puppets in the nature center, that we are missing what is all around us, right now, right here. “Look around,” I told him, “what do you see?” Tall trees and puffy clouds and hills and furry plants that reminded him of his stuffed animals at home and a plane that looked like a rocket ship and purple flowers and weeping willows and blue, blue sky and “so much more, Mama!” We agreed it was all very fine. And worth paying attention to and enjoying.
We all need that lesson, don’t we? We rush around always trying to get to what comes next without paying attention to what is now. Sometimes, now sucks and rushing through it feels justified, but sometimes now is remarkable and when we rush we miss it. I was as guilty of this as Mary Tyler Son. In those early moments of the walk, I was thinking ahead to what I thought was inevitable — a tantrum, our lovely day ruined, me wanting to teach the boy a lesson. Harumph, indeed.
My parenting lesson for the day was to own being the parent. I am able to set the tone. I do not have to react to the flighty whims of a three year old. When I do react to the flighty whims of a three year old, we both lose. Mary Tyler Son is going to test — that is his job. My job is to try and not feel testy. Or tested. Today, I got an A+. Tomorrow might be different, but proving my point, I’m just going to enjoy today.