Last Chances

4 years ago
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Today is the last day of school. I got up a little extra early to prepare the day since I'm the only parent home this morning. Smartypants got up extra early too, before I had a chance to wake her like I usually do. I was glad, I needed her to be cooperative and self-starting, and she was. She was done with breakfast and dressed (very cutely) before 7:05,  when her sister came out to join us. Smartypants volunteered to pour Giggle's cereal, and I let her. I expressed my appreciation as I drained about a third of the milk from the bowl, explaining that it should never cover the cereal. She then volunteered to help her sister get ready too. She was being so compliant and helpful, I began to wonder how I'd missed her growing up. I didn't want to give her more to do, but she seemed to want to help, so after laying out some clothes for Giggles, I asked that she just try to keep her sister moving. I must have felt overly confident, and was a little too leisurely as I took care of my business. When I came out to find Giggles still in PJs, and cereal uneaten, the two of them playing with dolls, I realized that Smartypants really was still the same 6 year old I'd tucked into bed last night. Throwing pink cowboy boots onto bare feet, picking up the still pajamaed 4 year old, we rushed out to the car and arrived at the bus stop just on time for Smartypants to take her final bus ride as a first grader.

We're going to have a lot of "lasts" this month. My husband and I are soon to move across the country, leaving his daughters behind in Oregon with their mother. We have the girls all June, our last month of regular parenting time. Once we move our visits will be 2 weeks at a time, hopefully twice a year. I'm the primary parent this month as I'm not working, and this is my last shot at being a full-time, stay at home mom, a role I desperately wished to have when my sons were little.
Becoming a step-mother has been a do-over for me, an opportunity to be the kind of mom I always wanted to be. The opportunity to hopefully get it right this time. Not that I did a bad job with my boys, but I know what my mistakes were, and this last chance at parenting has been my chance to right those wrongs.  Unfortunately, this has lead to more than a few arguments with my husband, who as the working parent just wants to be indulgent and enjoy the limited time he has with his kids. He's not wrong to want this, but as I struggle to set boundaries and expectations for good behavior, I've tried to explain that parenting is about more than the moment, what we do today as parents affects their behavior tomorrow, the next day, next month, and even next year. I try to explain that I used to be the laid back parent, the one who just wanted peace "right now" and sacrificed expectations of good behavior in the future as a result of that indulgence. When he accusingly asks how I can "always be right", its hard for me to explain that maybe I'm not, but I know when I've been wrong.

But there's something else I learned the hard way the first time through the parenting journey. I learned that you don't usually recognize it when you're doing something for the last time. I learned that an opportunity to savor a moment is often not repeated. We have an uncommon insight right now in that we do know that we are doing many things for the last time with the girls (for a long while anyway). Now is my time to take advantage of this do-over, and cherish these days with the girls. Maybe it is time for me to dial it back a bit and be more relaxed.

I'll admit, I'm looking forward to not having those arguments anymore. I don't like saying it out loud because I'm afraid it will make me sound like a bad person, but I've looked forward to just being a couple ever since we got married. We've known about this move for over a year, and being just two of us is now less than a month away. So now this last occasion to get it "right" is fleeting, as are these last moments to be indulgent and just enjoy a peaceful and pleasant atmosphere. Getting it right now means it's time to say yes to as many cream puffs for dessert as they want. Now is the time to give both an extra scoop of ice cream just because the first portion didn't quite look even.  Now is the time for crazy arts and crafts, an extra hour of cartoons, and three different breakfasts when they can't decide on one. Now is the time to bite my tongue when I think we're doing it wrong, and remember that in parenting, wrong and right are often interchangeable, and rarely easily identified or defined.

So we mark our lasts.

Our last trip to the lake, when we stayed as long as we wanted to, and ate pizza on the way home.

Our last trip to the Farmer's Market where we can buy fresh strawberries, and honey sticks.

Our last camping trip, to the place their dad asked me to marry him, and we've always wanted to take them, but never had the time.

Our last girl party, when dad has his last overnight duty at this station and it's just me and them.  Yes, the last girl party, I better make it a good one, with forts, movies, nail polish and plenty of cream puffs.

Ariana is Still Growing

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