One of my favorite childhood memories is from when I was about five or six years old. My little sister was having her adenoids removed, so while my mom was with her at the hospital all day, I went to work with my dad. Sure, part of what made that such a cool memory is because at that time my dad worked at the White House and I got to see the well-oiled machine of support staff that keep the White House running day-in and day-out and the underground city they worked in: mechanical rooms, florist shops, kitchens, wood shops, and more (I might be remembering this with rose colored glasses, but to a 6 year old it was pretty cool).
But I think what really made that day so special was that it was just me and my dad for the whole day. No
pesky adorable little sister to take his attention; no hushed “grown-up” talks between he and mom. It was just us…and about 500 White House employees.
I had just barely turned one when my sister arrived so I don’t really remember a time when I had my parents all to myself. Spending the day with my dad felt like something really special. I think it’s partly due to this memory that I have found it important to have mommy-daughter or mommy-son dates with my kids.
My eldest was two and a half when she stopped being an only child. To make matters worse, she didn’t just gain a brother OR a sister overnight, she got both! I remember after I found out I was pregnant with twins holding little Hannah in my lap and crying because I was worried that my husband and I would be so consumed with two new babies, she would feel completely neglected and ultimately scarred for life! OK, so maybe that was the pregnancy hormones talking.
I do realize there are people who have triplets, quads, or even more at the same time, and their kids turn out fine. I also realize there are people with very large families and kids who grow up with a new sibling being born every year or two for most of their childhood. So maybe having to share mom and dad with just two other siblings doesn’t sound like such a big deal…and I’m sure my kids would be just fine if they never had that one-on-one time. But, here’s what happens when we do:
First, the child going on the date usually gets to pick what we do. Oh boy! The excitement of being able to decide our activity and/or where we eat, without having to compromise, take a family vote, or yield to a sibling’s desires. This is like winning the lottery for them!
Second, we get to talk — uninterrupted! Sometimes I feel like I need a flashing sign that says “now serving number 45” and a deli counter number wheel just so my kids stop fighting about whose turn it is to tell me something really important, like how many EXs or YZs or whatevers their Pokemon cards have (I seriously do not speak Pokemon). And can I tell you the only thing worse than having to listen to a child give me a 15 minute detailed description of their Pokemon cards is having to listen to multiple kids fight over who gets to tell me about their Pokemon cards first! Not to mention when you have two in the same grade/class, there is always fighting over who gets to tell me what happened at school. So when it’s just one-on-one time there is no taking a number, no waiting for your sister to finish her 20 minute story about what happened during the 5 minute bathroom break, or feeling jilted because your brother got to tell me about the cool new math game you played today. Also, I have a teenager now. There’s a LOT she absolutely will not tell me in front of her brother or sister, so this one-on-one time opens up so many opportunities for her to share. And trust me when I say, I savor every bit of it.
Third, I get to see the best versions of who my children are. Seriously, when it’s just me and one child, they are the kindest, funniest, most gracious, well-mannered child in the world. But get them in the backseat of a car with their siblings and they turn into screaming, fighting, selfish, rude, head-spinning heathens! So it’s nice every few months to see a glimpse of who they might actually be one day, and to know that, indeed, they may have actually learned a thing or two I tried to teach them.
Lastly, these dates create sweet, sweet memories. Just like I can still remember that day with my dad from 35 years ago, I know my kids will remember these days for a long time to come. Often, at the end of a particularly long or exhausting day, after I’ve said ‘brush your teeth’ 20 times, and ‘who left their dirty dishes in the sink’ 50 times; while I’m tucking them into bed and simultaneously complaining about the fact that I can’t see the floor of their room underneath all of those clothes, I get asked, “mom, do you remember that time we went to see The Music Man, just me and you?” Or “mommy when is our next mother/daughter date? I really want to go back to Polka-dot-Pot and paint that jewelry box we saw last time.” Or my favorite, “mom, do you remember that time we went to the monster truck rally and got to eat cotton candy, just me and you? That was the best day ever.”
And selfishly I think, ‘oh please hang on to those memories and let them be stronger than the memories of the tired mom who lost her cool one too many times.’ And I know, these dates are just as much for me as they are for them.