One weekend last fall we gathered with my family in a cabin to relax and reconnect. Seven adults and four children seemed to be a good mix; the odds in our favor with the small ones outnumbered. But never underestimate the power of three boys plus one girl ages seven and under. They laughed and screamed and danced and wrestled and ran and crafted. They stayed up late and ate way too many treats. For the most part, our time was magical. That was, until one of my children lost it.
My dad and husband worked all afternoon to nurture a strong fire after six hours of torrential rain. By dinner time the flames were thriving. We sat around and chatted fireside while preparing a meal for our last evening in wooded paradise. After our feast of perfectly charcoal-grilled chicken and veggies, we broke out the sticks, marshmallows, chocolate, graham crackers and glow sticks. I couldn’t think of a more perfect combination of things to enjoy with my family.
The clouds had cleared and the sky was brilliant. Millions of stars painted above; a display of splendor that we couldn’t help but watch in awe. I was already missing most of the twinkling light show while cleaning up the dinner dishes. I couldn’t wait to join the family by the fire and relax with my loved ones. Just about the time I was ready to join them, my daughter opened up her glow stick. We bent and cracked and cracked and bent but nothing. No light. Just a plain, white stick.
And that was it. The next hour was filled with uncontrollable tears and requests to go find a store (out in the middle of nowhere) to replace her faulty glow stick. I tried to understand; to validate her disappointment but then I just got mad. Not only was I missing the enjoyment of the night, so was my child.
Because I’m a mom and this is what we do. . .I was able to finagle that dumb glow stick into a creative toy that made her smile. She eventually sat with me around the fire and may have even looked up from her cheap, dollar store goodie to see the real treasure that covered us. And even though we redeemed the evening and enjoyed a bit of the moment, I couldn’t help but fight back anger. I was angry that my desperate attempts to make life magical for my children with all the things this world has to offer often ruins the joy that comes with just being and enjoying every natural pleasure.
It’s not that I think those cheap childhood thrills are bad. For the most part, they are simple, fun, amusements that every kid should enjoy from time to time. But life has gotten way out of balance when every single restaurant you walk in offers children a treat with their meal or a balloon animal upon departure. We’ve cried many tears in our household over deflated balloons. Children expect all the things and when these things fail them, they are left with so much disappointment and loss.
I expressed my frustration on social media that night. I typed through fragile emotions, “No more friends! No more am I willing to try to create cheap, meaningless thrills for my children with all.the.things. We try and try to make every moment fun with stuff. Stuff that ends up robbing us from sweet, natural moments of joy. I’m done. I’m done with the glow sticks and the balloons and all the things we think they need but all end in sadness because they are temporary.”
I bet you can tell a similar story. If we could sit together over a cup of coffee I’m sure you could recount your own list. . .
10 Things Children Love (But Moms Secretly Hate)
- Glow Sticks – Oh they seem magical enough. . .until they’re not.
- Balloons – Hell hath no fury like a child whose balloon has popped or deflated.
- Kids Meal Toys – Because you should be rewarded for eating french fries.
- Lollipops – Freely handed out at every bank and Post Office in the USA.
- Play Doh – Adding pops of color to carpets everywhere.
- Anything from the Target Dollar Spot – Adorable and cheap. It gets me every time.
- Bath Crayons – The bathroom is already dirty enough, thank you.
- Kites – It’s never as easy as Mary Poppins makes it look.
- Restaurant Crayons – They always want to bring them home, like we don’t have enough crayons already.
- Grocery Store Stickers – “Can little Johnny have five stickers?” “Can you deduct .30 from the insane price of tomatoes instead?!”
I know it’s unrealistic to think I’ll never crack another glow stick for my children, hoping to see light emerge. I know at some point I’ll secretly pop the deflated balloon puppy they received at the fair. I know I’ll do these things because there is nothing wrong with them. But for my sake and for the growth of my children, we need to find balance. And I need to help my children manage their emotions while teaching them what truly holds long-term value in life.
To find the balance between enjoying life’s little, momentary pleasures and its long-lasting, natural ones is an epic journey every mom is called to take. It will look differently for every family and every child, because our personalities and needs are vast. It’s a life-long process that will enrich every moment and make even the littlest, material thing hold more value than it ever could in the midst of too much.
What magical childhood treats do you secretly (or not so secretly) hate?