It was at twilight at the Summer Night Market. Dave and I were savouring bites of food from the far reaches of the planet and avidly people watching.
“Who is intriguing you?” I asked Dave. He pointed out a pair of starstruck lovers who were dancing off to the side of the stage to the soulful jazz tunes, then returned the question.
“Those parents over there.” I gestured in front of me. At first Dave refused to believe they were actually parents. The couple were in their early 30s, looking super relaxed and sitting in chairs listening to the music. Then I pointed out that they had three kids who looked remarkably like our own, perhaps a year or two older.
We watched in fascination as they both just seemed to enjoy themselves, taking it in turns to grab food and drinks, the kids meandering around the stage, throwing a ball between themselves and playing together. The evening stretched on and they remained, savouring the cool air and walking as if in slow motion, interacting with their kids but not over-parenting them or stressing out if one walked out of eyesight for a second. In the end, we ended up leaving before they did but the experience of watching them was powerful.
“I want to be more like that.” I resolved as we walked back to the hotel. “More relaxed, letting things be, not trying to control every interaction and worrying if the kids might be bothering someone or not behaving perfectly at every moment.”
We got our chance to practice over the past two days.
Heading up to Ballarat, we sojourned in French Monastery ‘Tres Angelique‘ for a family holiday. It was quaint, charming and filled with character…and also at the top of three flights of stairs. We lugged up ourselves and our luggage and began making plans for our stay.
Normally, I’m a bit of a stickler for routine. Routine is good. It is predictable. The kids know what to expect and what is coming next and we can get stuff done. Sometimes, however, my attachment to the structure becomes problematic and I find myself getting wound up when we are deviating from the plan. Ironically, my losing it over the lack of control does little to improve the situation and often just makes it a much more complicated rescue mission instead. Not ideal.
This trip I made it an intention to let things go. To allow life to unfold. Check the clock less. Sometimes it was easy – relaxing at the playground at twilight after feasting on Ethiopian food at Cafe Merkama and ordering far too much gelato at Il Piccolo Gelato, lingering in the pool at the Ballarat Aquatic Centre while the kids splashed around us, shouting ‘look at me!’. We sat together at a picnic table at sunset beside the water play zone, shaking our heads in amused resignation as the kids stripped down to their undies to douse themselves in water, and laughed uncontrollably at Hudson’s loud yawns right at inappropriate moments during Sing at the Regent Theatre.
Other times it was more difficult. Trying to manage downtime in the tiny apartment, getting frustrated at Ivy’s rather obnoxious whinging for (what felt like) the whole drive up to Ballarat, stressing that Hudson’s clumsy manoeuvre to extricate himself from the tyre swing might necessitate a trip to the Emergency department when a bump the size of an egg appeared on the back of his head. Responding in less than appropriate ways when Eli cracked it right after we had taken them to see a movie, and feeling for a large portion of the time like I was sleep walking through the whole experience (due to the heat and restless nights).
I guess life is like that. One can never hit the optimal heights of intentions all of the time, and I’m learning that just because there were a few ‘black marks’ doesn’t mean that we failed. We are practising, adjusting, figuring it out even when it looks messy and like everyone is losing it. I also had to remind myself a few times that the memories we made during the holiday wouldn’t come with the exhausted feeling still attached.
Without even realising it, that family at the Night Market has become something to aspire to. I’m sure they have their difficult moments too – it may well have descended into chaos moments after we left – but that visual of doing life together, experiencing moments of happiness that are allowed to tumble forth naturally – that inspires me. When my kids reflect back on the memories we made together I want them to be able to say that I had fun with them. That I wasn’t so tightly focused on ordering the scene that I forgot to enjoy the moments. I guess I can only keep trying.