Every year, my mom and I go to Austin City Limits Festival. It's a great conglomeration of bands and musicians from far and wide and right here in Austin. We get to see some great music by bands we've never heard of, and we get to jump up and down excitedly to some old favorites. Mostly, it's like a vacation. We spend three days wandering around hearing great music, eating local food, drinking and relaxing. When the kids came along, this escape became even more important to me - three child-free days where I can tell off-color stories, curse, drink a little too much and do what I want to do. This past year, though, I felt a little guilty disappearing from my children all day for three days in a row. They love music, and ACL has a kids area with kids music and activities, not to mention the giant sand pit with accompanying buckets and shovels. Why not take them on Sunday? I see lots of people taking their kids, and it would be good for them, culturally. I SHOULD take them. They get in free, after all, so what's to lose?
So, on Sunday morning I plowed through my hangover from ACL revelry the day before to get the kids ready to go. I wrestled the double jogging stroller into the back of the minivan. I packed snacks, water, sunscreen, sand toys and beloved blankies and drover over to my parents'. My dad dropped us off - Mom, me, the kids and assorted "necessary items" by the bridge where we spent several minutes packing everything into the stroller to walk to the festival. We walked to the fest and hit up the kiddie area. Jack said the music was too loud and sat with his hands over his ears looking unhappy. Newly potty-trained Gage began holding his crotch and grunting, signifying the need to pee, so I rushed him to the portapotty, where we waited in line for five long minutes, me pleading with him to hold it. He did and we made it out of the potty alive, after Gage had touched every disgusting germ-infested inch of the place. We found Mom and Jack and decided to get something to eat. Mom and I shared a beer, and Jack and Gage, happier than they'd been all morning, shared cheese sticks and ice cream. Then, Gage fell asleep in the stroller, and we headed over to a tent with a giant screen playing whatever NFL game was on that Sunday. I parked Gage in a quiet corner, and Jack happily sat in Mom's lap watching football. This was relaxing, but totally something we could be doing at home.
Forty-five minutes later Gage woke up cranky from a too-short nap, and Mom and I threw in the towel. We looked at each other, and didn't even need to say it: Let's go home. So we did. We schlepped the monster stroller back to her parked car, crammed it in the back and headed back to their place. We were both exhausted.
On the way home, I had an internal conversation:
Me #1: Hmmm, that was not as much fun as I had hoped.
Me #2: You know Jack doesn't like loud noises or crowds, and you know Gage has to go to the toilet all the time and doesn't nap that well in public. What did you expect?
Me #1: I know, but everyone else takes their kids and seems to have a good time, and I thought it would be good for them, culturally, you know?
Me#2: Okay, A: How do you know everyone else is having a good time with their kids at a crowded, loud music festival, and B: Even if they are, it doesn't mean you have put everyone in your family through the hassle, just so you can prove something to yourself. You don't have to cram in all the culture before they're five years old, for Christ sake!
Me#1: You're right. *sigh* I know.
So next year, I will not put any of us through taking the kids to ACL. I will go and enjoy it myself, and leave the kids home with Jason or my dad, where they can run around, play games and be the kids they know how to be. I may not take them year after next, either. And if they never go to ACL fest with me, I'm sure I'm still a good mom, because this isn't the first thing I've dragged them to to prove to myself I'm exposing my children to a variety of experiences, or to reassure myself we are doing enough things "as a family." So my goal now is to let go of the SHOULD. Things work a lot better when I have a hare-brained idea like, " Let's take the kids to a wedding that starts forty-five minutes before their bedtime so they can meet my old friends!" if I take a mental step back and actually envision how said event will go (whining and melting down out of tiredness, first on the kids' part, then on mine, while we don't really get to visit with any of the friends). We will have plenty of time to do things like that when they get older and can handle it better. They will have much more fun hanging out and playing with Jason's parents, whom they adore, and Jason and I will have an infinitely better time focusing on "adult time" for the evening. And, even when I see children my kids' ages at the wedding, dancing and playing and having a good time, I will not regret leaving mine at home. Those dancing kids are not my kids. Maybe those kids don't turn into gremlins when awake past eight o'clock, or maybe they do, and their parents just don't mind too much. It doesn't matter, as long as we've made the best choice for our family, because "quality family time," isn't really quality if everyone's miserable. Better go out for the evening, relax and rejuvenate so we can spend quality family time at home the next morning, riding bikes, raking leaves, play games and doing things that do work for us at this point in our young children's lives. Because life is too short to make myself miserable with the SHOULD.