I’m winding my way towards the ordering counter when a young family in the mostly-empty restaurant steals my attention. I stop and let myself watch them for a few minutes. There are two children, one still in a high chair and the other old enough to be in the earliest years of school. Their mother is coaxing the youngest to eat some food, while the father is engaged in an animated conversation with the big kid. It’s the middle of a workday and it’s also a PA day for our local schools.
I can’t be sure which of the parents is not at work — maybe both of them — but I do know I’m watching important work unfold as they sit together and share their meal.
When my children were very young, I’d feel the dread of an upcoming school holiday and its lack of routine and structure. Inevitably, it was me who had to sort out what we would do with the day. My partner was working long hours, and I was either on maternity leave or working from home. I’d feel a swell of resentment that I was left to entertain our brood. They were very close in age, and it was intimidating to navigate busy family-centered outings, when I knew so many other parents would have the same idea.
Sometime around the arrival of our fourth child, I figured out simple and slow was actually the best way to spend those long days. And I’m so glad I did.
We got better about putting the dates on our family calendar as soon as we got them, so we weren’t caught off guard by work responsibilities. We’d embrace the chance to stay in our pajamas for a good chunk of the day. We’d go to the local library and play on the computers or join a story time (local libraries and community centres have fantastic and free programs). We’d head to one of the bigger, fancy malls and rent a fun, car-shaped stroller, so we could get ice cream and throw coins in the fountains. We ate junk food on blankets spread out on the grass in the backyard. We watched movies on cushions piled up on the floor. We ordered pizza for dinner.
I’m almost completely past those days now.
My kids are using PA days to take classes with their friends or get their first aid certificates. They ask me if I can drop them off somewhere for the day. As I’m standing there watching the young family in the restaurant, I feel my phone vibrate and I know it’s my kids texting me their lunch orders. They’re old enough to be home alone and to supervise their youngest sister, and I’ve had time to go out and get some much-needed errands done on my own. Usually, I appreciate the chance to get through a to-do list without kids in tow, but now I’m wishing I picked them up for lunch.
I remember taking the bus downtown with my mom and sister, to meet my dad for plates of fries and gravy at a department store cafeteria on school holidays. We would bounce up and down on the mattresses in the showroom we had to walk through to reach the elevators. The cafeteria was on the top floor and we could see all the way to my dad’s work from its windows. There was something so special about stealing my parents away from their responsibilities, while the rest of the world was still busy and bustling around us.
If I could go back and say something to the version of me that used to dread those school holidays, I’d say this: Try not to ask how many more of these days there are left, as though they are a burden.
Remind yourself how few of these days are left, because they really are a gift.