On the drive there, even though Dan had already identified a foodie hotspot for dinner, Eliana looked up “best restaurants in Kalamazoo” on my phone and pushed all day for us to consider one of her foodie choices. In the end, after an energetic visit to the Air Zoo, a brisk walk along the Celery Flats trail, and a stroll through downtown and the Kalamazoo Valley Museum, we opted for her recommendation and sat down in colorful chairs at Zazio’s.
The kids were the ones who chose it, really, since the Italian restaurant had gluten-free (Shaya) and vegetarian (Grace) menus. So we went along. The dinner was good, and we had fun together sampling the salami and cheese platters, Dan sipping on locally-brewed dark wintry beers.
When it came time for dessert, which I wasn’t so inclined to order, Eliana asked for the menu, and the waitress dropped the bomb. “Your kids can go back to the kitchen and make their own desserts with the chef, if they want,” she offered.
All hell broke loose. Out came the red aprons to tie around their clothes. The long day which had rendered us all so tired suddenly evaporated into a faint memory, as they jumped from their chairs, poised to leap into the kitchen.
We all went back, crowding into the small pastry kitchen, steering clear of the brick oven where the apples for the tart were warmed. Asher dipped his panna cotta in hot water to loosen the dessert. Shaya and Eliana eagerly grabbed for the large knife to slice tiramisu and flourless chocolate cake.
Shaya piled on syrups and whipped cream, powdered sugar and nuts to make a mountain of a dessert. Asher piled blueberries onto his, whipped cream and a delicious meringue cookie. Grace and Eliana powdered chocolate and cinnamon and dolloped whipped cream onto their tiramisu.
And then Shaya and Eliana took turns decorating the apple tart and olive oil cake Dan and I ordered to share. (I know. I said I wouldn’t eat dessert. I gave in to the fun.)
When we posted the pictures all over Instagram, a friend commented, “You do such fun things with your kids.”
I was proud to receive the comment, and yes, in fact, we do.
But it’s more than that. We DO things. Period.
We take day trips. We play board games. We cook together. We swim together. We talk.
We focus our days off on being a family, on being together, on listening to one another.
We are not in any way perfect parents; not even close. But I can honestly say that I enjoy my children; I love being their mother; I consider it my greatest role in life.
I feel lucky to be intertwined in this loving relationship with my children, and I cherish our time together – both because they do spend a quarter of their childhood at their father’s house, and also because I know that it’s not long until they leave for college and adulthood and lives of their own.
Simply put, we are born into these relationships and they can pass by quickly and without emotion if we let them. I choose not to let that happen.
I choose to BE present, to be in relationship with my children, to ride out the storm on the bumpy waters together. Most months, I take each child on a date alone and those hours are cherished times together where I learn more about them than I ever would hear when the whole mess of us is together.
What could be more important than spending time together?
This time it was a day trip to Kalamazoo. We planned to see the Air Zoo; that was all. When we were about to finish there, we searched for other options and the dessert-making just fell into our laps.
Love is a funny thing. It’s the art of giving yourself to another but not losing yourself in them or in the relationship. I must stand alone and stand tall when the children are not here, and I believe I do.
But when they are … it is the sweetest uniting of all.
Driving home, we listened to This American Life, and there was a story about a couple who met while the man was serving a life sentence for murder in a Texas prison. They married, thinking they would never actually be in real relationship together.
Lo and behold, of course, the man got parole, and they were confronted with having to live together, having to be in a day-to-day marriage. It was a fascinating story, and by the end, when they were still together and in their own kind of love, it occurred to me that perhaps we fall in love with the idea of someone, the illusion of a relationship.
And when the reality hits, that’s when the fighting begins, because it’s not as we imagined, not as we hoped.
Parenting can be like that, too. The thing is, in all relationships, there is the boring, the day-to-day, the bickering, the annoyances. One we can accept the realness of our families, then and only then can we love and immerse and cherish.
We listened to the story together, and my lovely eldest son Asher had wonderful insights to share. It helped that I had banished their technology for the day, left it at home. We were forced to connect.
And I am ever so glad.