“While we try to teach children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about.”-Angela Schwindt
Eight months ago, before COVID-19 changed all our lives, I decided to stop by an independent bookstore on our way home from a long day in Marin. I needed to sell some used books I had been carrying around in the trunk of my car for months. I knew stopping by the bookstore with the kids in tow was going to be a challenge. However, as a working mom, I can fit my not-working-no-kids-time into a shot glass. It is impossible to find time to shower, let alone run an errand without children. I decided to go for it, kids and all.
I couldn’t find a parking spot near the bookstore. Since small children are incapable of walking more than 1/5 of a block without whining, I probably should have given up. But I still hadn’t found the time to schedule a teeth cleaning, or get my car smogged or done anything productive (other than keep two humans alive and make money) in months so I found a parking spot one very long uphill block away from the bookstore.
“Okay Fritz and Hazel, let’s do this!” I told my kids lifting five bags of books out of the truck of my Prius. “I’m going to need your help!” The kids looked at me like I had lost my mind. The concept of “being helpful” was foreign to them. Despite their resistance, I loaded them each up with as many books as they could carry. For three year old Fritz that was one very large hardcover entitled “Neuroses.” Five year old Hazel managed to drag one small tote bag behind her. That left me with four bags of books to carry. The kids looked at me like “are we really doing this?” “Yes we are,” I told them. And we were off.
The walk between the parking spot and the book store was .2 miles long. In this .2 miles, Fritzi had a tantrum because his shoe got stuck in the mud then five minutes later lay down on the sidewalk and refused to move. I had to scoop him up and carry him too. Hazel said it wasn’t fair both because Fritzi was carrying less books AND because the book he was carrying looked bigger than any of her books. We passed ten people, none of whom offered to help me even though it was obvious I needed help. Finally, three years later, we made it to the bookstore.
By the time I arrived at the bookstore, my reservoir of patience had run dry. I was annoyed that we don’t live in a society where people offer to help a mom carrying books. Also, aren’t there cultures where five year olds are actually helpful? Not just “oh cute you are helping mommy helpful” but really helpful? Also, when was I supposed to do all these adult things? Before I had kids, this task would have felt fun. An excuse to visit my favorite book store. I probably would have stopped for a latte. Sat in the window of a nearby cafe reading. It would have been a fun chore. Not an epic errand that drained me of my will to live.
I handed my books over to a small bearded employee with a squeaky voice. He told me he would call me when he was ready. I spent twenty minutes reading Fritz and Hazel a book of shark facts. When the man called my name, I was relieved that we would be out of the store soon so I could go home and put the kids in front of the TV.
Fritzi followed me to the front of the store. The small bearded man with the squeaky voice started to go through the small stack of books the bookstore was going to buy from me. Fritzi stood nearby, gazing up at him with a confused expression.
“Mommy,” Fritz asked quietly, gesturing to the employee “is that a baby?”
The man kept talking and I ignored Fritz.
“MOMMY!” Fritzy repeated, tugging at my shirt, “Is that a baby?”
Again, I ignored him, the employee glanced over at Fritz briefly, then continued talking.
“MOOOOMMMY!!!” Fritz yelled, pointing directly at the employee, “IS THAT A BABY????”
At this point, the employee let out an uncomfortable laugh. “No Fritzi,” I told him, “Of course he isn’t a baby. He’s a man.”
“Hmm” Fritzi said, looking the employee up and down suspiciously. “He sounds like a baby.”
The employee smiled and said, like the total good sport that he was, “well…I do get called ma’am a lot on the phone.”
I grinned at the employee. And I grinned at Fritz even harder. It had been an annoying afternoon. The traffic coming back from Marin followed by completing this errand had left me feeling exhausted and irritated by the little people that dominated my life. Everything had been so much easier without them. Trips to the bookstore, teeth cleanings, it had all been effortless in a way I didn’t appreciate at the time.
But then I looked down at little Fritzi’s face and remembered that according to his worldview it would not be out of the question for a baby to be working at a bookstore. In Fritz’s world, this was just as possible as anything else. I had been focused all afternoon on how difficult it is to have these little people exist in my world of errands and to-do lists. The world that Fritz exists in is magical and unpredictable. Being with Fritz and Hazel during this tiny window of their childhood allows me to live in that world with them.
Maybe my car won’t get smogged and my teeth won’t get cleaned very often but it is so much more fun to live in this world these little people create for me. Our children do more for us than we could ever do for them. We take them on boring errands. They transport us to their imaginary worlds where anything is possible. During the pandemic, the magic of being with my children has been my daily medicine. They stress us out, they exhaust us, they bring us to the brink of losing it…but they always bring us right back. To their world where things are interesting, and magical, and anything can happen. Even now, in the midst of all of this, they still have the power to transport us.