I like to think of myself as being spontaneous. Before kids, if you called and asked me to go out at the last minute, I’d say, “I’m in my jammies but I’ll change and be there in 15”. If you wanted to travel, anywhere, anytime, you just had to ask me and I was in. I didn’t really feel the need to have set plans on the weekends because I’d just go with the flow to what sounded fun. Although, truth be told, when I lived in Jackson Hole in my 20s, you could find me at the Stagecoach Bar on Sunday nights and the Calico on most other nights. Or on vacation. But that was before cell phones so you had to have some place for folks to find you.
The pinnacle of my spontaneity was probably after I had been dating my now wife, Lori, for a few months. Her company told the employees to take a few days off and she saw the writing on the wall that she was about to get laid off so she decided to head to Australia to meet some friends and asked if I wanted to come along. I was working in Silicon Valley and didn’t really have the job that allowed me to leave on a dime but I was in love, loved adventure and thought I was pretty employable if I got fired.
My boss was on vacation and I wanted to go to Australia in a few days so I actually left him a voicemail that I was going to take 3 weeks (yes, 3 weeks!) off to go to Australia. I let him know that I had wrapped up any loose ends and one of my work friends, Michael, had offered to take care of anything that came up while I was gone. Surprisingly, I didn’t get fired, although Lori did up getting laid off via voicemail while when we in Australia. We had such a great trip- exploring all the nooks, crannies and quays of Sydney, seeing penguins on Kangaroo Island, climbing Sydney Harbour Bridge etc. I look back and am so grateful I was spontaneous and we have great memories of that trip that was either going to make or break us (news flash- we are still together).
Fast forward 18 years later and 3 kids. We are so scheduled with school, work, soccer, kids theater, travel, piano lessons, gymnastics, Ninja Warrior competitions, more kid centered activities etc. I rarely get to be spontaneous these days. Don’t get me wrong, we have a lot of fun as a family, we travel a lot, are lucky enough to have ski passes in Tahoe and I love to watch my kids do whatever sport or extracurricular activity they are into. My falls consist of soccer Saturdays when I watch all 3 kids play. I broke down recently and bought really cool folding chairs with sunshades and drink holders so I’m pretty happy on the sidelines. Other parents will understand the joy of a good spectator chair but I digress.
I never wake up not having something planned. And then today happened. It was one of this great days where it’s a Monday holiday- the kids are off school and we are off work and it feels like a gift. Don’t get me started on the 5 day work/school week. I think it should 3 ½ days of work/school and 3 ½ days of play (maybe I could handle 4 and 3) but that’s for another blog. We were going to go skiing, which we all love to do. Except the roads were bad and chain control was on. We don’t have 4 wheel drive so we can’t go skiing on those days. We decided to go to the nearest beach and take our golden retriever to play in the water.
We had to put down our other dog last week so we are trying to lavish attention on the dog who is still with us. Then my 7 year old, Ellie, said, “What about the bike ride you and I were going to go on? Remember yesterday you said we’d go on another bike ride today”. She had just gotten her “big kid” bike for her birthday a few weeks ago and we’ve been out of town or it’s been raining since she got it. The day before we had done a fun 1 hour bike ride where I let her decide where we would go.
We rode to a park called Rainbow City and played and had a great time. I said we would do it again soon. She was ready to do it now. As much as I wanted to go with the rest of the family to the beach or sit around all day and binge watch Netflix (I can dream, can’t I?), I realized that this was an opportunity to spend quality time with my youngest. As a parent of 3, I don’t get enough 1 one 1 time with my kids. And I love it when I do. They may drive me crazy together but alone they are so fun and I cherish those times. So, I just decided to be spontaneous and go on a biking adventure with my 7 year old. It was a beautiful crisp winter day and we had been kept in doors too long due to a slew of rainy days.
She was “the leader” and got to decide what to do. We are lucky to live in Davis, CA, which has over 60 miles of bike paths. We call ourselves the “Bike capital of the US” and have the US Bicycle Hall of Fame. Just setting the stage that this is an awesome place to bike and along the bikes paths are lots of parks. Thank to you whomever had the forethought to build our town this way. It encourages people to be outdoors and fosters independence in our children. Back to our biking adventure.
First we biked to Ellie’s favorite park, Rainbow City. “Too busy” she said, and we rode along over the bike bridge and onto the bike paths. We rode until we saw a park. We stopped and played for a while. “Back to Rainbow City” she said and off we went. “Still too busy and I’m getting hungry”. I asked where she wanted to go to lunch and she said, “Follow me”. We rode to Little Caesar’s to get pizza. I didn’t say, “I’d prefer a salad, could we go somewhere else?” I didn’t say, “I’m really trying to watch my gluten intake, can we find a place that accommodates that?” I didn’t say, “If I’m going to have pizza, can we go to a place with better pizza?” Instead I ate the pepperoni pizza with her and we did cheers with our breadsticks (very bready ones- full of gluten), told silly, nonsensical jokes and had staring contests.
Then we went to CVS where she wanted to buy art supplies with her allowance. We put the art supplies in my bike basket (I got a really awesome cruiser bike from my family for my birthday last year and it has 3 bike baskets—I’m nerdy but I like to think I’m Davis cool) and strapped the pizza box on top with bungee cords (remember Little Caesar’s only has 1 size pizza so we had to get a whole pizza) and laughed that I looked like a pizza delivery person.
Off on a pizza delivery, we got back to business. Had Rainbow City gotten less crowded? I didn’t even point out that we were going in the opposite direction of our house again. Nope, still crowded. We hit 2 other parks. Ellie taught me how to ride down the cement slide on a cardboard box (“sit on this side of the cardboard so you will go faster”). We went on swings next to each other and she explained that I needed to peddle my legs to go higher. I smiled as she said this because I remember how it was just a couple of years ago that we were teaching her about peddling her legs. We did a final swing by Rainbow City and it met her standards of not being too crowded. I pushed her and some other kids on the tire swing and watched her do the monkey bars. I had attempted them last time we were there and I stunk at it (it’s harder than it looks to hold up your own weight) so I just watched her do it with pride and I saved my own.
I was engaged, I was happy, she was happy and she had the rare gift of being in charge. She was loving having my total attention and seeing Fun Mommy (who, sadly, is often not around). The only time I looked at my phone was to answer 1 text from my wife about the dog eating the dog leash on their beach adventure. He’s a 1 year old Golden Retriever and eats everything.
I didn’t check Facebook at any of the parks or do a quick check of the news to see any of the daily craziness. I didn’t text my sister to see what she was doing on her day off or do a quick check of work email to see if anyone was working on the holiday. I was present with Ellie and just enjoyed our time together. She didn’t mention that I wasn’t checking my phone as usual but I’m sure she noticed at some level that I was completely with her, mentally and physically, and having a great time.
When we arrived home from our spontaneous biking adventure 3 ½ hours later (yes, 3 ½ hours of spontaneity!), she said, “I can’t wait to do this again soon.” And I realized that neither could I.
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