Flash-forward Thursday: These are the good old days

Today I experienced the best moment I’ve ever had with my family.

Yes, it was only a moment. Maybe two. But it happened.

It happened because Pat was wearing a T-shirt that his mom gave him ages ago, one of those “Life is Good” shirts. It has a guy and a dog sitting by a campfire. The guy is playing a guitar, and the dog is roasting a marshmallow.

We were eating dinner – tuna melts, tomato soup and, because I had to use it up, and surprisingly everyone liked it, kale – when Noah pointed to Pat’s shirt and said, “I want to do that.”

Camp. He wants to camp. He’s wanted to camp for a while. In theory, Pat and I would both love to camp. In practice…well, we’re not exactly camping pros. By which I mean I’ve slept in a tent in someone’s backyard, and Pat has maybe roughed it at a music festival for a weekend.

Not only did Noah want to camp, he wanted to camp “right now.” And look, if the snow turns to ice and a tree falls on the power lines and our heat goes out and we have to rely on those DuraFlame logs we hunted all over town for to keep us warm, yes, we can camp. In the living room. In front of the fire. But until then, I’m getting what precious sleep I can in in my own bed.

But that didn’t mean we couldn’t sort of replicate the picture on Pat’s shirt. Noah was already begging for hot chocolate (it’s his Pavlovian response to snow). So we got on our pajamas, pulled out a lantern and the sleeping bag Pat probably took to that festival, and made some hot chocolate. We turned out all the lights. Pat got his guitar. 

campfire

Then Rory climbed onto the couch and spilled his hot chocolate (in a sippy cup) all over it. Noah complained that we were taking too long to get started. I was ready to call it off right then. But we went on.

There were two song requests. The same two songs Rory has been requesting every day for weeks: “You are My Sunshine” and the theme to Mighty Machines, the ’90s Canadian television series that is a favorite of 4-year-old boys everywhere. (We went through a hardcore phase with Noah over a year ago, now Rory’s resurrected it.)

We started with “Mighty Machines.” And right then, the best moment happened. There we were, lit only by a camping lantern, Pat strumming, all of us singing in earnest (“Lifting and pulling and flying so high/building a building up to the sky!”), Rory adding some motions and jerky dance moves.

I looked at them and thought “Oh. This is what it’s like to have fun as a family.”

I’m sure this sounds terrible, that it’s taken me almost two years to identify this moment. And I’m sure we’ve had some that just didn’t register. But basically, up to this point, Rory and Noah have always been veering off in different directions. Separated by more than three years, they have different interests and different abilities. It always seemed that if one was on, the other was off. One was having fun, the other was having a meltdown. And so Pat and I have spent most of the last two years playing man-to-man defense.

(ETA: Later, I mentioned to Pat that I thought that was the best moment ever, and was writing a post about it. I asked if he thought it was weird for me to think that when we’re almost two years into our life as a family of four. He said “No, it’s been hard. They’ve always been veering off in different directions.” I said “Yes, veering! That’s the word I used, too!”)

Anyway, so to have this moment where we were all enjoying the same thing was really – and I know this sounds cheesy, but I’m gonna have to go with it – magical.

We finished that song, and Rory started yelling “Shunshine!” My mom always sang “You are My Sunshine” to me when I was growing up, and I have always sung to Noah and Rory at bedtime. Pat said he’d play and I should sing. I got through the first verse, with Noah singing sweetly along. When the second verse rolled around, I got all choked up and needed to pause before I could keep going.

It didn’t matter. Before we even finished “Sunshine,” the “perfect moment” was coming apart at the seams. Noah started to obsess over locating a piece of a Lego guy he found on the floor, and kicked over his hot chocolate while jumping from one side of the sleeping bag to the other. We tried a couple other songs, but Rory was not interested in anything other than his two greatest hits. We couldn’t have gone more than ten minutes total before Noah started whining “Are we done now?” And Rory began pushing buttons in an attempt to turn on the TV.

But that moment still happened. And for me, it was the equivalent of when people on the brink of death see a bright light just before they’re resuscitated.

I’m not trying to fast forward through the this time. I’m still in shock that I’m registering Noah for kindergarten and shopping for him in the “Boys” department. Each time I package up my kids’ old baby clothes to send to my sister, I get all weepy because I can’t believe we’re done with the baby phase. (And every time this happens, without fail, I tell Pat I want another kid. It never takes more than five minutes for one of our existing kids to throw an epic tantrum, allowing him raise his eyebrows at me and ask, “Still?”?)

So, yes, I am doing my best to appreciate what we have right now. What we won’t have again. I always liked Gretchen Rubin’s line, “These are the good old days.”

But this stage is still trying, physically and mentally. Sometimes I need a reminder that it won’t last forever. Other parents have assured me that it will get easier, that kids are even more fun as they get older. (In some ways, at least. They say it will get harder in others, and I believe them.)

I’m just happy that tonight I was given a rare perfect moment to savor. And a glimpse of the good times that are hopefully yet to come.