I think for me parenting is mostly a lesson in balancing needs.
Before kids my needs were usually first. Pete's as well, and our dogs and cats, work and home, but mostly I had the luxury of taking care of myself when and how I wanted to.
But then Sage and Lupine arrived and in that whirlwind of becoming a mama my needs washed under the parenting bridge with the flood waters of caring for a newborn.
We rode the waves until suddenly, now, there is time again.
A little of them, a little of me, a little of us.
Or the beginning of it.
This week was exceptionally busy. The kids and I traveled across the state so that I could give a talk at the Wisconsin homeschooling conference. I was nervous (nervous!) and we set out days before my actual talk in order to work our way there without losing our minds in a stressed-out hurry.
Because of distance and time we bookended our trip with visits to my parents, their home on the southern route and the cabin on the north. But it was hard for me to just be in that space and not lost in my head. I was anxious to be away from the farm right now (I missed shearing this year on account of our trip), fretting over my talk (what do I possibly have to say for over an hour?!), and flooded with shoulds and anxiety and worry of every sort.
So nestled in at my mom and dad's house I spent some time locked in my old bedroom working on my talk, did a little mindless knitting in the family room, and tried to catch my breath.
I put my own needs first. I had the space for it and was so glad.
But soon I had done all that I could. I was breathing easier and looked to my kids to see how they were fairing.
And then Lupine saw the flowers.
My mom's yard is overflowing with flowers and she handed Lupine a scissors and let her have free reign.
Before I knew it my work was set aside and I was out in the yard, harvesting willow catkins, marsh marigold petals, and mustard leaves from the land that was my childhood domain.
Lupine and I began talking to each other in the funny voices we use when we become someone else in a game and we set to work crafting a table and chairs from some logs from the woodpile and setting it with dishes.
And I shifted. I let go for a moment all of that fretting.
And for that I am thankful.
I suppose her need to live briefly in this make believe world – and her desire to bring me along with her – helped me set down my adult cares for the moment and simply see the beauty and magic that surrounds her every day.
And I wanted to go there with her. To put her needs first and let her take me into her realm.
All the while Sage was curled on the couch, lost in a novel. Not a better choice, not a worse one, but different – older. Suddenly. Not long ago it was he I made mud pies with out in the yard. But not anymore. For now is the perfect time for novels.
And that sweet memory of playing make believe with my suddenly big son kept me outside playing Wild Restaurant with this second small chef while I still had the chance.
She'd still small today, but I'm not so sure of tomorrow.
As for mud kitchen play in general, I can't say enough nice things about it.
It's the original sensory table, minus the table. It is cold and warm, wet and dry, sticky and crumbly, smooth and scratchy – all woven together with threads of unscripted freedom.
But mostly it's about the imagination.
So as spring rolls into summer, if you offer your child one extra curricular activity this season – if you sign them up for one soccer league, one summer camp, or one workshop – also offer them time and space to get their hands in some mud.
To get messy and dirty and get lost in a world of their own making.
It doesn't take much. Just a few yogurt tubs or old plates and spoons, some earth, and a handful of flower petals.
Then give them a sliver of your time some sunny afternoon when you have other things to do (which we grown-ups always do) but choose their world instead.
Go with them onto the porch or into the yard or down to the park and dig and play and laugh and get lost in their messy, perfect world.
And know that in that simple act you may give them the richest memory of the season.
And yes, perhaps yours as well.