“What gives?” my sister-in-law asked.
“They packed themselves,” I replied.
The kids were maybe 4, 5 and 7-ish, and had spent the weekend at their cousins’ house. Someone’s “pajamas” were more accurately considered play clothes, my daughter didn’t have a single outfit that matched and few socks had pairs.
We weren’t a traveling family but when we did go somewhere, my solution to the packing was to set up a command center on my bed. Like a five-star general, I barked out what they needed and they ran to collect it.
“Go get four pairs of shorts.” They would scamper off and return with the goods. I made a pile for each kid.
“Now, get four shirts.”
“Four pairs of underwear. Go, go, go!” And they went.
I’d scoop the piles up, tuck them in the suitcase and pat myself on the back for a job well done with minimal effort on my part. My daughter didn’t have a matching outfit because she’d picked out her favorite clothes to show her cousins. My son simply grabbed something that could pass as pajamas and tossed them in the pile. Socks were never sorted in our house so no one even considered pairing them up. The clothes were clean and the right size. I could have gone to each closet and packed them myself. But I didn’t. I wanted them to have choices. Also, I was lazy. Why should I do it when they are capable of doing it?
I adopted the same attitude toward school lunches. In first grade, when they started all day school, they also started making their own lunches. I was nearby guiding, but they did the legwork while I leaned against the counter with a cup of coffee.
“You can have a PB&J or a turkey sandwich.”
“Pick out one piece of fruit.”
“Pick out one non-candy snack.”
I directed. They complied. Their ride came. I had another cup of coffee. Lazy? Maybe, but the children learned how to make a lunch.
What I considered lazy mother behavior was also an attempt to teach them to take care of themselves. I did not want to be the mother who did all the things for her children, thus rendering them useless and a potential burden on someone else. I’ve met young adults who don’t know how to flip a breaker switch when the circuit gets overloaded, and it’s sad.
When I heard “Mom, can you wash my jersey for my game tomorrow?” at 10 p.m., I realized someone needed to learn how to wash his own laundry. When that happened multiple times, someone needed to take full responsibility for his own laundry. I needed to go to bed.
“Mom, can you get yogurt from the store?” I sent them on their bike with my debit card, which I taught them how to use and to never, ever lose.
“Mom, can you make some mac and cheese?” I pointed them to the cupboard and fridge, and directed them.
When we walked into the pediatrician’s office, I gently pushed them toward the counter to check in. It taught them confidence.
When they started babysitting, I told the moms to talk to my kids directly instead of going through me. The kids still had to run it past me in case we had family plans, but it taught them to manage their time as well as politely decline if they didn’t want the gig.
When the college search came around, I placed the challenge of researching and applying to schools on them. They needed to find and use the resources available through their guidance counselor. If they couldn’t manage that process, perhaps they weren’t ready for college and, for one of our kids, that turned out to be true.
Gradually, “Mom, can you … ?” became “Mom, can I … ?” I guess I could feel as if I’ve lost my usefulness now, but what I actually feel is pride because, as young adults, they are doing a fine job of managing their lives. They can travel on their own both here and abroad. They attend universities that are the perfect fit. They have clean clothes and can find food.
My work isn’t done, but now what I’m more likely to hear is “Mom, can you give me a hug?” That’s a task I’m always happy to do.