I’ve been hoping to put an end to the Era of Takeout that’s been stalled over our house for the past two years. There haven’t been many family adventures we’ve been able (or willing) to embark upon without backup. Coincidentally, our backup has been groaning a lot and politely declining.
The outings we’ve taken alone have been short, yet enjoyable. I think my husband and I have more relished the satisfaction of successfully completing the task above all else, ignoring whether or not the kids enjoyed themselves over whether we packed enough Goldfish and string cheese, whether we timed the trip well enough around naps, whether we even arrived at the destination. Logistics, people.
Our lives, since 2011, have been about logistics, and I have been working to change that.
The other night, bathing in a literal sea of well-deserved free time, we decided to do a ‘Boys’ Night’. It was nothing special. We would take the boys to a carousel, maybe a movie, dinner if we could handle it. My daughter would go to Grammy’s.
We took the boys to a carousel, and it was fortuitous for us that the venue was also hosting a classic car show, music, games, and food. We walked the boys around, whilst they ooohed and aaahed at big tires, small tires, whitewall tires, shiny engines, and cars in shapes and sizes they had never seen. When we were through, Matthew declared that he was hungry.
(This is the part where, if you’re a parent, you mentally weigh whether or not your kids are in condition to attend a restaurant. Further, would it be a quick-serve restaurant, a buffet, or a sit-down affair? Could it be a restaurant with a wait or something quick? No tomato sauce! How long since they’ve eaten? Are they more hungry than tired, or more tired than hungry? Would they last at a table?)
We had planned to take the boys to see the movie Planes, and would head towards the theater, then figure out dinner once we arrived. It was at that point I had the bright idea to introduce the kids to Taco Bell. I circled the lot twice, carefully weighing that decision. Ultimately, the fact that we had only thirty minutes to eat swayed us in favor of the quickest option.
I wavered a bit when I approached the speaker (having been years since
drunkenly demanding Chicken Burrito Supremes eating at Taco Bell) and asked, “Yeah, uh, what kind of drinks do you have for kids?”
“We have Lipton Brisk Iced Tea, fruit punch, and pink lemonade,” the menu sign answered.
“Kids,” I replied, “Do you have any drinks for kids? Like juice?”
“Yes,” the disembodied voice assured, “Iced tea, fruit punch, and pink lemonade.”
I was seconds from pulling out of the line. He, perhaps, didn’t understand the question. Okay, I calmed myself, thinking of the time, Pick one of those. The movie starts in twenty minutes.
Two chicken soft tacos, a Number One, and two fruit punches later, we were sidled up by a trashcan in the parking lot, enjoying a relaxing dinner that should have been burritos because taco filling falls out of the tortilla immediately upon a toddler’s grasp. A little stressful, granted, but manageable on the whole.
I might as well have given them both bars of gold because they loved their paper-wrapped tacos so much that they thanked me profusely and repeatedly.
Alas, we continued on to the movie theater. My husband headed inside with the kids while I cleaned the remainder of the car.
Ah, shouldn’t have done this. What a mess. What a stupid – should have gotten burritos. What the hell was I thinking? The soundtrack played in my head as I pinched cubed tomatoes and shredded lettuce into a paper bag. So stupid.
I righted myself, bags of trash in each hand, set the car alarm, and continued towards the door. Of all ideas, Stephanie. Tacos? In the car? Seriously? Right after you had it cleaned? These kids aren’t that dexterous.
I took fewer than ten steps when I noticed a sticker on the back of an SUV: Disney Marching Band.
Suddenly, I was full of life. The bags of trash became a little lighter, the breeze was a bit cooler, and the setting sun became much more beautiful.
My kids are going to GET OLDER and I might be able to DO FUN THINGS. My kids might TAKE UP MUSICAL INSTRUMENTS and be GOOD ENOUGH TO PLAY AT DISNEY WORLD! Or the MACY’S THANKSGIVING DAY PARADE! I will WAVE and TAKE PICTURES PROUDLY FROM THE STANDS! I will sell wrapping paper or Symphony bars or useless knickknacks made in China enough FOR US ALL TO GO TO DISNEY WORLD!
I could feel a lightness in my step. For a brief moment, the walking death that often accompanies parenting toddlers had lifted away. I saw my life – our lives – full of moments not yet lived, full of enjoyment, expectation, woodwinds.
My kids will poop on the potty, unaided, and will take up hobbies and interests like normal human beings. I repeated it, it was my mantra as I approached the theater entrance. I will someday live again!
I entered, of course, like a jerk, purchasing a single adult admission to Planes 2D.
“Ooh,” I exclaimed, with an air of calculation, “There are my husband and sons! Gotta go catch up!”
I rejoined my family in the concession line, where we ordered a large popcorn and split it into three portions. After a near full-bag loss and a slight meltdown to the tune of ‘…give the man my ticket MYSELF’, we arrived inside, to kids sitting cross-legged, caregivers by their sides, slumped in their seats, some buried in their phones, some staring into space, others wishing they were three doors down at The Conjuring, or not there at all.
I was among my people, the walking dead. Those who live and breathe for their children and rarely a thing more. We’d all lean over and tell our kids to quiet down at one point. We’d all take away the popcorn. We’d all try to quell the fidgeting with oddly-timed hugs. We were all in for the ninety minutes.
As I sat there and watched Michael’s eyes widen to absorb his very first sight of a giant movie screen, and Matthew fiddling with the fedora he’d been remiss to part with all day, I was overcome with a feeling of peace. They were happy, enjoying the movie, and because they were happy, we were happy.
My husband and I shared a few proud glances as Michael yelled, ‘Plane!’ or ‘He did it!’ or ‘What happened to the movie, Mommy?’ throughout the show. We could tell they were thrilled. We could tell they appreciated Boys’ Night. We could tell we had done something right.
Maybe we weren’t dead, just blind to the magic.
As the movie ended, we both instinctively pulled each boy close for kisses, knowing we might just be developing a taste for this family outing thing,
In the cool, still night air, both boys thanked us for the movie, the tacos, and the time.
“Thank you for taking us out, Mommy and Daddy!” Matthew repeated.
“Thank you, Mommy! Thank you, Daddy!” Michael managed proudly.
And I thought about the Disney Marching Band sticker in the parking lot, and how good that might all be someday, but how great this all really was, right now.