“Oooh, I want this one! No, that one! Wait, look Mommy, rainbow sprinkles!” Bright blue eyes looked at me expectantly. Waiting to hear me say, “Just this one, dear,” or “We don’t want you to get a tummy ache, now.” But I didn’t. I said, “Go ahead!” And on the toppings went. Rainbow sprinkles and bright white marshmallows and ruby-red strawberries piled on top of each other, with a dollop of whip cream to grace the corner of your cup. Colors blending, bright and beautiful like your God-given soul.
Because something strange, something magical, had happened when we walked through the door of the frozen yogurt shop yesterday, you and I. Your small hand in mine, we stepped from the cold winter air into the brightly painted room and something changed. Something that whispered to me, “What if you pretended to be her auntie… just today?”
An auntie would let her pile on the toppings, I thought. An auntie would sit right next to her, close and tight, and ask lots of grownup questions, wanting to get to know the heart behind the curly braids and the butterfly sweatshirt. And so I did. I already know that your favorite color is blue and that you want to be a mommy when you grow up (bless your heart) and that you can’t choose a favorite princess because you love them all. Yes, I know all this. But it was fun to ask you. It was fun to sit, snuggled in close, and just look in your eyes while we talked. Yes, I know you, dear one. But you’re growing every day, so you’ll pardon the questions, as I don’t want to miss you changing, my love.
And when we left the yogurt shop, my heart was full. It was full of the simple joy of just being with you, full of remembering what makes you special, full of dreaming of the mommy-daughter dates to come. And it got me thinking… Maybe, sometimes, the best way to take care of me is to change the way I’m taking care of you.
I know the advice that’s out there… good advice, all of it. “Take a break,” they say. “Take care of yourself,” they urge. Breaks are needed and self-care is vital. But sometimes, getting away isn’t possible. Sometimes, you need me. Sometimes… maybe I need you, too.
Maybe sometimes the best kind of mommy break isn’t the getting-away kind. Maybe, sometimes, the best kind of break is to just… take off the mommy hat.
And so I tried it today. I didn’t write it down, and I didn’t tell you or your little brother and sister my plan, but my internal to-do list said, 3-5 pm: play auntie. You know, those hours between school and dinner. Those hours when there are lots of things that could get done but nothing urgent or pressing.
Those two hours of “auntie time” gave me a little break to just enter into your world. To walk into your room like I was an honored guest being invited to a palace. To just sit on the floor and gaze in wonder as you showed me the dollhouse you’ve decorated with mountains of draped clothing in your valiant effort to turn it into a fortress for needy fairies. Pretended like I was seeing your creations for the first time… and maybe, in a way, it was the first time.
Auntie Time gave me a little break to just sit with you and watch you write your stories. Without correcting the way you held the pencil or the way you spelled the harder words. But to just observe your creative hand, your thoughtful mind, the colors you chose.
It gave me permission to take a break when Little Brother commanded my lap and begged to read the same book three times. It gave me a few more minutes to just snuggle with Little Sister on the floor in front of the fireplace when she needed me. Because that’s what an auntie would do.
It gave me a break to notice who each of you is becoming. To not teach, not train, not judge… to just watch, and wonder.
You see, the Nurse in me… the procedure-following, rule-obeying part of me... has a hard time letting go and just letting you be. Letting us be. That plus the Homeschool Mom part of me… and the whole day just looks like a giant list of things to do, standards to meet, tasks to complete.
So I’m trying a little experiment. For February, the month of love. Because this hard-headed, goal-oriented woman sometimes needs to trick herself to get that Bossy hat to come off… the one she’s worn so long, it’s firmly and stubbornly holding on to her head.
Those special hours each day will be Auntie Time.
I will still keep you safe. I will still sit down and talk with you when someone breaks the rules. I will still make sure that diapers are changed and tummies are fed.
I’m sure I’ll be tempted to slip back into Mom mode. I’m sure those two hours won’t be like a glossy photo of picture-perfect fun each and every day. I’m sure that crises will arise and sometimes I will have to be bossy.
But I will try
I will try to bite my tongue on Not so far! And let you run ahead… just a little further… than I normally do, on our way to the park.
I will try to keep to myself those directions to Stop fighting, you two! And give you an extra minute to see if you and your sister can figure it out for yourselves.
I will try to think a minute before I say "No, not right now..." because today is a good day to say yes.
I will try to train my eyes off those dishes in the sink. And let you sit on my lap a little longer. Because you won’t always want to, you know.
I will try to let go of the need to Teach, the need to Train, even if only for a moment,
Because the best way to fuel this mommying journey
Is to remember what a gift it is,
What a gift you are.
The best way to fill my own cup
Is to be intentional about the way I’m filling yours.
The best way to recharge for another day of motherhood
Is to take a deep breath
And simply enjoy being with you.
So I’ll take care of me
By changing the way I take care of you.
I’ll take care of me
By playing auntie for a day.