Today had the potential to be a very bad, no good, rotten day.
My sister, who had been visiting with us for two days, left for her long drive home with two kids and all three of them had been sick for over 12 hours and I'm not going to get to see her again for a long time. Matt was incredibly sick also. Luckily it was his day off so he was able to lay down and pass out for the day but it meant that he couldn't take the kids to town (an hour drive) for Hannah's violin lesson and to see cousins like he normally does when his rotating days off land him on a Thursday.
The kids were sad about not spending the day with an up-and-about Daddy and so was I. Selfishly I was also irritated because I'd been looking forward to this day for weeks, waiting eagerly for when his day off would land on Thursday and I would get a 6 hour stretch all to myself. I wasn't irritated with Matt, mind you, just with the situation and my expectations getting shattered. Also irritated that my phone had just broken. That didn't help.
I was getting everything ready to go and was almost ready to head out the door when Matt said "What do you want to do?", clearly offering to take the kids even though he was in no position to be vertical, much less to be driving four kids around by himself. I snarled something along the lines of "It doesn't matter what I want to do, all that matters is what I have to do."
And that's when my day started to get better.
In February I was introduced to the idea that my life could be so much better if I chose to do everything I was doing instead of doing things because I had to, because there was no other choice. The idea that that small change in how I approached reality could change my attitude and therefore my contentment level was really intriguing, so for the last four or five months I have been working really hard at removing the words 'have to' from my vocabulary. In that time I have not found a single 'have to' that was really a 'have to'. Nothing - from making dinner to going to bed to cleaning the toilets - was a 'have to'. Every single one was a 'choose to' - the alternatives may not be pretty and I may just be doing it to avoid those alternatives, but that makes it no less my choice. And this one today was also a 'choose to', either way, good or bad.
I didn't have to take all of the kids to the city with me. I could leave one or two here. I could call and cancel the lesson. I could let Matt make the drive in. But I was choosing to do this and I was not about to waste a day being pissy about something that I was choosing to do. So instead I set out to make the day as sparkly as I could - just as sparkly as those toilets that I choose to clean.
I made sure we had enough interesting stuff in the car to keep everyone happy on the to-and-fro parts of the trip. I double and triple checked the food and water situation, because isn't that the most important with small tummies? I took a back road that takes a bit longer but would have different scenery for everybody. Hannah asked me about what 8-year-olds in school learn and we had a long, meandering discussion about schools and learning that solidified stuff in my mind and clarified stuff in hers.
After the violin lesson, we went to the home improvement store and picked up electrical tape and couplers to finish making some hula hoops. We talked about Abraham Lincoln and John Adams. Zander squealed incessantly about a plastic parrot he saw because he couldn't decide whether he wanted to be scared of it or eat it. We picked out a little bamboo houseplant for Matt because he likes green inside and our RV is lacking in inside green.
On our way to my little sister's house we passed a Mormon temple and the girls asked to drive around it so we did. They asked to go in so we got to talk about why that wasn't an option and about whether we think God exists. (Out of the three verbal people in the car we had three different opinions - very cool, and very, very different from what was an acceptable range of opinion in my own childhood.)
I watched my sister's kids and mine while she ran errands and I got to hear the oldest ones playing in the dollhouse and marvel at the sophisticated storylines they have compared to when they first started playing dollhouse years ago. My nephew and I played Quirkle. Zander and Gray and I played on the trampoline. I finished and taped Zander's hula hoop (Made solely because "Mommy, Zander's trying to get my hoop!!!" is heard at least three times every time I try to practice my hooping and that's just not necessary, now, is it? So my 14-month-old now has his own hoop.).
I had forgotten my own hoop so I washed every dirty dish she had, and the counters, and appliances. Then she got home and swore she was going to pay my kids to make sure I forgot my hoop every week. (Just kidding. But she did say she was glad I got bored.) Then we worked on fixing some of her hoops, the kids practiced jumping through a hoop I was holding (Grayson surprised me by how adamant he was about how high I should hold it for him and my niece surprised me by being a freakin' track star and hurdling through it at ridiculous heights for her size), and we headed back home.
On the way home Ains played games with Gray and Zander on the iPad while Hannah and I played the alphabet game on street signs and then 20 Questions. We went swimming at 8:30 and ate dinner at 9:45. Late night. Zander passed out. Grayson passed out. Hannah passed out. Matt never woke up. Ainsley and I played two games on Chess Kid and now she's passed out. I should too.
Today wasn't the day I had planned out for the last four weeks. It wasn't a relaxing, pull-my-crap-together day or a make-all-those-phone-calls day. It wasn't a bum-around-online-because-I-only-get-30-minutes-a-day-to-web-surf-right-now day. It wasn't a finally-wear-my-border-collie-out day or a learn-a-new-hula-hoop-trick-without-knocking-any-child-in-the-head day.
If I'd stayed on my path that I started on, my kids would have felt like a bother, a pain, a grudging responsibility. One of them for sure would have felt unloved. Another would have closed me out. The other two would have just gotten crankier and crankier as the emotional undercurrent they didn't understand got yuckier. Instead, every one of my kids went to sleep feeling loved and like they'd lived the day all the way through.
We all had a sparkly day. Except for Matt. He didn't have a really sparkly day even though he was vomiting into a sparkling toilet (see what I did there?). But the rest of us did have a fantastic day. Because I chose to take all of the kids to town for Hannah's violin class.