Not Caring (For Just a Little Bit)

I responded to a friend’s comment on Facebook today with a story: Late this afternoon, close to dinner time, I just stopped. I pulled out my ipod and scrolled through e-mails at the worst possible time to take a break. Sophie was at her play kitchen stirring and mixing and transferring and patting real food (dry rice and pasta), which I had collected for her from the pantry while the boys napped—and never put away once the boys were up.

The boys, intrigued with what Sophie was doing, joined her. And promptly started throwing dry rice—everywhere. And breaking the angel hair pasta and throwing it—everywhere. Of course this was amid serious cooking, too, with Sophie barking orders and setting timers and pulling out wooden spoons and whisks and oven mitts. It was quite chaotic. Tucker joined in, eating more dry pasta than is probably healthy.

But I was done. The vision of the perfect mom—sitting on the couch reading a beloved story with three smiling children on her lap—a vision I hold dear, disappeared. I no longer cared. Owen, in particular, had been crying much of the afternoon. And for once, he was happy. They were all deliriously happy. And I was deliriously tired.

So I let them stir wildly, transfer poorly, spill and throw while I sat, hardly watching, catching up on non-important e-mail. If anyone walked into my house at this point, surely they would have thought I was crazy. For there was no lesson being taught. There was no scolding. There was no running after or picking up after. My dining room was being completely trashed and yet I was sitting, practically next to them, reading e-mail.

I simply let them go. And let myself go. They had fun. I had a small break. And you know what? Rice and pasta (if you position the hose just right) vacuums up quite nicely. So as long as they don’t think they can do that every time I pull real food out to play with, we’re good. I’m good, especially. And the longer I parent, the more I realize, sometimes letting go, stopping, taking a step back, not caring—even though the very definition of “mother” is “care”—is not only appropriate, but necessary.

“No matter how calmly you try to referee, parenting will eventually produce bizarre behavior, and I’m not talking about the kids.” —Bill Cosby