True or false: Our kids need us only when we’re on the phone or in the bathroom.
Do kids have a secret device that alerts them to when we are actually busy, and an alarm goes off in their heads telling them to find us that very second? It’s usually a dramatic emergency, a life threatening problem, like asking whether we know where their other sock is. That same device is what enables them to not hear a word we say when we’re sitting right next to them, but open a bag of M&Ms three rooms away and they arrive beside us at lightning speed.
I do love that my kids, as young teens, need me. I love that they think I can solve a problem that seems very important to them at that moment.
Being needed is the numero uno job description of a parent, grandparent and every other part- or full-time caregiver. There are constants — food, shelter, clothing and more food. There are changing needs – diapers, help buckling seatbelts, rides to and from activities and homework help. All of these can be exhausting and seem never ending. And all of these can make for some good stories and memories.
I think back to an incredibly snowy day when I was about 5 years old. One day after school, my mom took my sister and me to visit our grandparents about 15 minutes away. We left when the snow started coming down fast, and our drive home took about two hours.
My grandma, like most Jewish grandmas, fed and watered us to our delight. Then, 90 minutes into that drive home, we had to go, and bad. It was tinkle time, like it or not, and we were stuck in St. Louis winter traffic, going nowhere fast. Because we naturally assumed our mother knew everything, we figured she could fix it.
The woman didn’t disappoint, hatching a resourceful plan in an instant, using my sister’s beloved metal Holly Hobbie lunchbox as a makeshift potty on the go. Yes, she got a new lunchbox out of the deal, which, if memory serves, was “Land of the Lost” themed.
Taking care of kids is hard work whether you’re a single parent, married or filling in for mom and dad, and there’s no instruction booklet. When you take a little break to talk on the phone or use the bathroom, your kid’s missing sock can seem like the most ridiculous thing in the entire world.
Raise your hand if you’ve ever snapped, “Now? Why do you need this right now? I’m in the middle of … something.” I can see from the hands in the air that we’ve all been there. I’d like to think even “The Pioneer Woman” on the Food Network, with her perfect farm life, cute husband and kids, delicious food served in her own line of cookware, snaps at her kids. Behind the scenes, when the cameras aren’t rolling, of course.
But have you ever taken the time to realize that your kids needing you right at this seemingly ridiculously random moment means you are doing an amazing job? Shift the perspective to their young mind-set and it becomes touching and quite charming. When children want something or have a question and don’t see you right there, their situation suddenly becomes more urgent. They’ll rush to find you, get your attention and ask you this life-shattering question despite whatever you have going on. It’s because they need you. They need YOU. You, their problem solver. You, their loving caregiver. To them, you can fix anything, any time they need it.
We certainly don’t know all the answers or know how to fix or find something on the spot. Case in point: After 15 years of marriage, I can count on two fingers the number of times my husband has NOT called me from the grocery store with a question. When he does, I am truly tickled that he thought to call me to help him rather than ask a clerk or go with his gut, and I am happy he ran the errand. I know he thinks I have the answers in this category.
To your kids, you have the answers in every category and, at the very least, can find the information if you don’t know it right away. Or, in my case, make up something on the fly that will suffice for now, because my kids will probably forget about it within minutes anyway.
By the way, I never found the other sock.
Amy Fenster Brown is married to Jeff and has two teenage sons, Davis and Leo. She volunteers for several Jewish not-for-profit groups. Fenster Brown is an Emmy Award-winning TV news writer and counts time with family and friends, talking and eating peanut butter among her hobbies. Email Amy at [email protected]