Oh hello there, five-year-old photo. Fancy seeing you here. Today you came and danced in front of my eyes, woke up my memories, and tripped up my heart.
You are a photo from so long ago — if I'm to count the years in baby days. Because baby days are long aren't they? And yet baby days are also mysterious and magical, because I can remember this day and what I was feeling as though it just happened. The hardest days of motherhood were also the ones that had my senses most turned up. It's why the memories are so vivid.
I had four kids under the age of eight. It was the last day of school for the oldest three. JB was working out of town, like he did every week. The idea of stepping out of our well-structured routine was always daunting back then, and I often avoided any attempts. A pre-dinner trip to the ice cream shop wasn't anywhere on my agenda.
Yet, off the yellow school bus came hopeful and excited faces. Much more grown up than they had been when I loaded them onto that same bus in September. They didn't show any signs of worry or dread about the long days of summer that lay ahead.
And something shifted inside of me then. I realized how much my kids had been the ones carry me through the year. Perhaps much more than I had carried them. How patient they had been with the changes that always come with a new baby. How hard they worked to care for each other. How much they stepped up their independence when Daddy wasn't home to help.
Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner? I heard myself saying.
They were so thrilled and excited to see me "break the rules". I could see their chests puff out with pride knowing they must have done something to deserve this treat. And I could see they were proud of me for taking them somewhere I normally would have said needed a second adult. Even if we dropped our ice cream on the floor (we did) or the baby cried (she did) or we didn't have enough room for dinner (we didn't), we were going to do it together, and it would be okay.
If there's one great lesson I've learned in the five years since my weary self snapped this photo, it's that when I make my kids feel like we are a team, we really are. And as much as the necessary rules and boundaries have made them thrive in the game of life in a big family, running gleefully in the opposite direction has too.
I wish it hadn't taken me so long to worry less about how one moment would impact the long-term goals I hold onto as a parent. Because they don't. Kids are wise. They know when colouring out of the lines is for fun. And they respond to it in the most beautiful ways.
This afternoon, five years after our first attempt, hopeful faces came off the yellow school buses again. So much more grown up than they had been when I put them onto the bus in September. And even though it has now become an annual tradition, each of them waited for me to say it first.
Who wants to go for ice cream for dinner?