We often have jelly on the counter. Not just a jar of jelly, but blobs of it where you inadvertently set your phone, a paper you need to fill out for the school, or a bill. Sometimes it’s a pain. It’s eye-rolling worthy. It’s an everyday occurrence. It’s a, “was this the blob from yesterday that I swore I wiped up or a new blob?”
It makes me happy though. I could tell you that it makes me happy because my kids are only little once and someday I will miss the blobs of jelly. I could tell you it makes me happy because I treasure every moment with them and their sticky little (and not so little but still sticky) hands. That’s not why, though. That’s not always even true. I have taken a different perspective on living in the moment, and while I think it’s good to soak in their littleness, I don’t think I should soak it in because I’ll miss it someday. I want to soak it all in because I want to do that every day. Not so I can reach back in 20 years and hold on to a memory of them when they were 5, but because I want to soak in the 5 year old, and the 15 year old, and the 25 year old and each day, remind myself that this is the best day ever and each day we move forward is an even better day. My goal in this life is that I won’t wish for the days when they were 6 months old any more than I wish to be in this moment, at these ages, and say, “yep, today was even better than yesterday, and I’m really looking forward to tomorrow as well.” I don’t want to look back at the “best times”, because I want the present to always be the best times. I was listening to a podcast the other day (I’m thrilled to be in a place in my life where I get to listen to things now!) and someone had done a study of elderly people. The consensus was that the happiest times of your life was raising kids. I love that, on one hand, that even though you often wish the days to go by faster, it’s still amazing. On the other, I don’t want to live like the best days were somewhere behind me. I want to think my adult children are just as fun, funny, and enjoyable as my 7 year old child is now. I want to look back and say, “That was so fun, AND NOW, I can enjoy this phase even more.”
But now I’m off track. That wasn’t really where I was going with all this jelly stickiness, but it is the truth. Anyway, jelly goodness. It makes me smile when I see a blob of jelly on the counter for many, many reasons. The first is that this is often the only evidence left that one of our kids has made themselves a sandwich. Do you know how amazing that is? First that a blob left on the counter is the only sign left. Which means they put away the bread, and the peanut butter and the jelly jar and made themselves a little snack. Which means they took responsibility for their own needs. It means they got hungry and instead of bugging me with perpetual, “I’m hungry! I want a snack!” they did it themselves. My 5 year old, my 7 year old, my 11 and 14 and 16 year old. It’s equally miraculous.
We have a school lunch policy at our house that the kids can pick one day a week to have hot lunch (for the most part they all think this is a huge treat, for the life of me I cannot fathom why, except maybe school lunches have come a long way in 30 years?). We quickly realized by the time kiddo #3 entered the schoolforce, while school lunch is ridiculously cheap, $2.50 times 3 times 5 times a week times 4 weeks a month got pricey fast. So, we compromised. They get to choose once a week and pack lunches the rest. When we first started this journey a few years ago, I had a hard time. After all, it was saving money but adding a lot of work to my plate to slap together a bunch of sandwiches every morning. Last year and this, however, I seized my power and this is where it all shifts.
Most of us parents constantly fight the battle in our heads, that while we would like nothing more than for our kids to pick up after themselves, do chores, make their own lunches, etc., the amount of effort it takes to get them to that point is overwhelming. It’s just easier to do it ourselves. Let’s face it. We all usually pick the easier route. And that’s ok a lot of the time. You have to pick and choose. I definitely still do!
And finally, this phrase has been in my head and so in alignment for me that I can finally practice it: My job is not to do all the things for my kids, it’s to hand them responsibility back, to teach them how to solve problems, and to let them figure out how.
So now they pack their own lunches. They make their own sandwiches and pick out which snacks and cut up their own carrots and remember to take spoons when they pack fruit cups. There’s no complaining about what mom packed for them, no throwing out food they didn’t want me to pack. They have learned to manage the time in the morning, make decisions on what THEY want, how much to pack, which day they want to pick for hot lunch. These seem like small things, but it gives them so much power. They are in charge. As much power as I can hand them is good.
Yes we still deal with “there’s nothing to pack!” (I’m working on shutting this one down this week…because there is never a good answer for this question). We deal with nudging their morning along (the Jr. High kiddos do it great but the little boys get extremely distracted). We still help peel oranges or carrots or open peanut butter jars, but you get the point. It’s not the easier way at first, and some would still argue it WOULD be easier for me to set up bread in an assembly line and whip together 4 sandwiches in 2 minutes. This does take longer. But see how many choices, how many decisions, how much power they now have in this simple act? Food choices, time management, school lunch budget management. And cleaning up after themselves. (At least 90%). And now it is the easier way. I sip my latte every morning and eat my eggs and they make themselves a bagel with cream cheese and as 4 kids are all packing a lunch in the kitchen, sometimes all at once, it can seem chaotic until I hear things like the older ones helping the little ones open jars and spread cream cheese and offer to leave this out or that out for the one that still needs it. I smile to myself and realize how easy life is becoming once I started handing problems back.
So yes, I don’t mind that they still leave jelly on the counter, because look at what all they have thought through and done on their own! It’s amazing! And to think that little spot of jelly is the only evidence left of all this growing up.