My phone dinged on the counter while I was digging in the pantry for the broom. I looked at the screen to find a message from my sister-in-law with a photo of my daughter in her life jacket and sunhat sitting on the banks of the Little Muddy River looking up at her daddy looking down at her in his Superman shirt and cowboy hat.
A smile spread across my face. It was a sweet moment captured on a kayaking trip my in-laws take each June with their friends and family. I’m usually there, but this year I opted to send my husband out the door with our toddler, her swimsuit and vats of sunscreen and bug spray so I could work on tackling the fossilized blueberries on the floor. It’s been a busy spring made more exhausting by the first trimester of pregnancy and I couldn’t stand looking at the mountain of clothes that had piled up in our bedroom one moment longer. Like seriously, they were touching the ceiling. The thought of an entire, uninterrupted weekend to tackle house and yard chores was appealing in a way that sort of scared me. Like, does this mean I’m a grown woman now? The 23-year-old version of me would have thrown a bucket of water in my face if I told her that in ten y ears we would trade an 80-degree day on the river for staining the fence and sucking dead flies out of the windowsills.
Turns out, at that moment, the 33-year-old version of me wasn’t too happy with our decision either. One look at that photo and I proceeded to cuss myself and the dirt on these floors, the unplanted garden, the unwashed sheets and North Dakota and its fifteen minutes of summer.
“I should be on that riverbank with them,” I whined, alone in the house in a raggedy tank and cutoff shorts with the top button undone. And then I posted the adorable photo on social media as a warning to other moms to not make the same poor choices.
But as the day played out, as I folded and stored away our winter clothes, mowed our scraggly lawn, stained our weathered fence and excavated the dried fruit fossils from between the cracks in our hardwood floor, I started shedding the jealousy and guilt I felt about missing a fun moment and replacing it with a dose of vindication.
We hear it all the time as parents. “The dishes can wait, go play with your kids!” “No one ever died wishing they’d worked more!” “Chores will always be there, but the kids are one sleep away from moving out and only calling on the holidays.”
Ok, yes. Time goes fast. My 1 ½ year old daughter has already started making meal requests, so I’m well aware. And I get that these statements are well intended and meant to help take the pressure off of parents, but sometimes I feel like they put more pressure on.
Maybe my tight shorts and baby growing hormones are making me a little cranky, but do you know what else is true about those dishes? They can only wait forever if you’re willing to off paper plates until the kids are 18 or are anticipating a call from one of those TLC shows asking you to be on their next episode of “Dish Pileup” or whatever.
And yes. The chores and work will always be there, especially if my family spends every day at the lake like we really want. But then who’s gonna make sure the cows aren’t eating at the neighbors’ and pay for those groceries I carefully selected while my two loves were kayaking care free down the river together?
I don’t know. I appreciate the encouragement to blow off my responsibilities. Lord knows I need to be reminded to relax. But here’s my amateur parenting advice for the day: You know what’s important in this moment.
Sometimes it’s taking your baby down a waterslide on a Friday afternoon, sometimes it’s letting her watch Elmo while you pay the bills and sometimes it’s sending her off for the weekend with a sunhat and her Superman dad so that pile of laundry can get done and leave you all to play in peace.