This afternoon I sat in a restaurant and I ate lunch with my kids. I think it was the first time ever.
I didn't plan on doing it. I was planning on picking up Oliver from school and driving home like I always do, but I changed my mind. Or, Oliver changed my mind.
As we were walking across the parking lot to our car, he asked me what we were doing special for Valentine's Day. And aside from a giant Valentine cookie that my parents gave to us, I couldn't think of anything we were doing for the kids. When I told him that we weren't doing anything special, he didn't pout or cry or beg. Still, I could tell he was disappointed. I had forgotten how much these trivial little holidays mean to a small person.
I got everyone buckled and then sat a moment behind the wheel remembering Valentine's day when I was in grade school. Days like those were the best breaks in the monotony of school and TV and toys that I'd played with a thousand times already. I thought about the big class party and all of the cards and candy that I got. When I got home, my parents always had something for me. They never forgot. Not once.
And so I changed my mind.
I pulled into Culver's parking lot and asked, "So, how about going to lunch together for Valentine's Day, guys?"
And they were happy. That's all I had to do.
I read them the menu and they both chose what they wanted. Neither of them ate all of their food, but I let them have dessert anyway. I talked to them about things that were important to them, and they talked back. We had a conversation that went beyond what happened at school today, and I was surprised. I didn't know that kind of interaction could happen between us because it usually doesn't. I forget that they are older than I remember them being. I forget that I should see Oliver and Colin as people sometimes, and not just as my children. Just like me and anybody else, they have things that are important to them, too.
While it was just the three of us, it was easy to see that they are so much more than I give them credit for. Expecting a messy disaster, I let Colin sit on the booth next to me instead of in a high chair. I told him that he had to sit like a big boy, and he listened. He sat through the whole meal well behaved. When I got up to get more napkins or more water, he stayed put just like I told him to. When he accidentally dripped ketchup on the table, he wiped it up.
Oliver was equally well behaved. When his food came, his order wasn't right but he said, "That's okay, I like this too." When Colin wanted a bite of Oliver's food, Oliver shared with him. When it was time to go up to the counter to order his dessert, Oliver walked up there by himself, waited for his turn in line, handed the cashier his coupon as payment, and ordered exactly what he wanted. All by himself.
Both of them acted so much older than I thought they were. This afternoon will be a great reminder to me that one of my most important roles for them is to keep letting them go. To keep letting them do things on their own, to keep trusting that they can do what they need to do. As hard as it is to loosen my grip and let them decide things for themselves, it is a catharsis for me too. Because I led them to where they are now. I helped them be the kids who are able to do those things. My step back allows them to take their own steps forward.
It's so nice to be able to glimpse that confident ableness every once in a while, to see my forest for the trees.
This Valentine's Day, my gift to myself is a nice pat on the back. As easy as it is to doubt yourself as a mother, today I got a sense that I'm doing okay, and that my kids will be just fine.
Happy Valentine's Day, everyone.