Last weekend was our elementary school’s annual Family Fun Night. I didn’t want to go, because I am pretty selfish about my weekends. Family Fun Night requires cordial small talk with people I don’t know that well, AND it requires real pants. Also, there is an entire gym filled with inflatables. That area smells like a combo of kid sweat, feet and dirt and it’s where my son was sure to spend the most time.
But, even though I lament the idea of forced family fun at a school on a Saturday night, I do want my kids to have fun, so I sucked it up. Within just a few minutes, both kids ditched me for their friends and I was left alone to chitchat with other parents. We discussed the smell in the gym, the idea of a wine bar in the library (get on that, PTO!) and then busied ourselves at the silent auction. (I won a haircut/eyebrow wax basket – woot!).
I told my kids we were leaving at 7 p.m. and I told them exactly where to meet me. I communicated this multiple times to be sure they understood. I gave them each money for a slice of pizza and a drink and off they went. I was glad they were having fun with friends, really I was. I just felt bored and a little grumpy waiting for 7 p.m. to roll around so we could go home.
Finally, 7 p.m. approached and I stood in the exact spot we agreed to meet. No sign of my kids. Then 7:05, 7:10, 7:15. No kids. It’s an elementary school; there is a clock on every wall for goodness sake! I sent the 11-year-old a text. She informed me that she was just getting into the face painting line and that she would either walk home in the dark or that I could just come back and pick her up when she was ready. Hahahaha – isn’t she cute?
I figured I’d ignore her for a minute and instead started looking for the boy. No sign of him. Finally, at 7:30 he arrived. He was frustrated and whiny. I asked him what was wrong, figuring he was upset for not obeying my instructions about meeting at 7 p.m. Hahahahaha – aren’t I cute? No, he was pitching a fit because he lost the plastic spider ring he won at a game and also because his silver nail polish rubbed off (apparently there was a nail painting station and he and his buddies thought that would be funny).
He went from frustrated to crying and I was quickly becoming less patient about this. Honestly, he was acting about three years old, not nine. I was already annoyed by the sassy preteen and the lack of concern on both kids’ part regarding the meet up instructions. This little baby fit was pushing me over the edge. I wasn’t very understanding or loving about the loss of a plastic spider ring.
Finally, Lolo showed up and we high-tailed it out of there, me lecturing as we walked. Halfway into the parking lot, Gman stopped walking, turned to me and started really crying.
“Daddy would’ve loved Family Fun Night. He would’ve played games with me and probably had his nails painted with me for fun. I just know he would’ve had fun with me.”
AGH! I’m the worst! Of course he wasn’t frustrated and crying over a stupid plastic ring! I should’ve realized an elementary school full of families having “fun” might trigger Gman to miss his Dad! But I was so busy being annoyed that I had to put on pants and be social that I wasn’t thinking about them. I was focused on my own lonely night and not thinking about how it might be an alone in the crowd moment for the kids too.
I kneeled down to his level, hugged him and apologized. I told him he was absolutely right! Daddy would’ve loved this night and he would’ve had so much fun with both of them. And then we all cried, right there in the school parking lot.
I hate that I can’t fix their sad. I hate that when they miss their Dad so much, I feel like the better parent is gone and they’re left with the just ok one, me. I hate that I am self absorbed sometimes and am not in-tune with their feelings. I hate that something as simple as a family fun night can bring out grief. It feels hopeless. Like is there ANY situation that doesn’t make us all long for him even more?
We went home, traded our real pants for pajamas and ended the night with snuggles and a group hug. It was a perfect ending to a very imperfect Family Unfun Night. We’ll get better at this stuff with practice. Until then, we’ll forgive each other when we blow it and we’ll always end the day with lots of love…and comfy pants.