Riding free

Yesterday, at M’s request, K and I put off what has become our daily visit to the pool so that he could join us after school. I changed them, slathered them in sunscreen, and unleashed them with noodles and goggles and kickboards (oh my). Then I sat down, tentatively, with the last bit of my daily bible study. I was in a swimsuit, ready to go in, but for the first time I wanted to see what would happen if I didn’t.

What happened was a half hour of happy, cooperative play. It wasn’t so restful for me, of course. Though they’re water safe, I checked about every three seconds for their little heads, my breath held as I waited for their hands to catch the edge or their feet to find the steps. Every ready, never needed. Then K dropped her goggles and called for me to fetch them from the bottom. Since I’d finished my work anyway, I cheerfully joined them.

A funny thing happened, then. The whole dynamic changed. Suddenly they were clamoring for my attention, competing almost, and at the same time endlessly critical of my response: “Not that way, Mom–sideways!” “Not that sideways, the other way!” “No, like this!” “No, wait, like this!”

It’s a common refrain, lately. The kids will be playing and I will insert myself, eager to be an involved presence, only to find that it’s like attaching a third wheel to a perfectly good bike. Not only is it unnecessary, it throws the whole thing off balance. While they seem happy to have me, they also struggle to find a place for me to fit, and I can only hear “No, not like that” so many times before I get annoyed, especially when they’ve asked me to join their role playing / building / swimming / etc. Why did you want me to play with you if I never do anything right?

The way around it, I’ve found, is to construct three-way activities from the start, a tricycle meant to use all of us, and let the bike run its course for much of the rest. Instead of feeling obsolete or uninformed, I try to focus on the positives: they’re inventive, self-sufficient, and good friends. I also try to soak up the energy from my momentary break, because whenever they call–and surely they will, third wheel or not–I’ll come running, and it takes a bit of extra energy these days to keep up my positive attitude in the process.

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