"Can't we just do whatever we want?" my six year old said as we pulled into the parking lot of the nature center.
"Bud, I told you already. We're going on a farm tour to learn how settlers farmed in the 1800's then we're having a picnic. We're not going on the adventure trail today."
"Oh man! Why do we always have to stay in a group and listen??" He said the word group the way I might say a disgusting word like snot.
"Because we can learn something from the people who lead the group. Now, is there anything you want to make sure to ask about while we are here?"
"Yea, how to find the zip line..." he said under his breath.
"Luke. Enough. If we finish the tour and picnic by noon, we can explore. Otherwise, we can't do it. Got it?"
I took a deep breath, unbuckled car seats and set out to learn about sustenance farming. What I learned instead was how to be a sheep dog with my three wandering children. "Where's Drew? Oh! There he is. DREW! C'mon babe! We're going to the garden! Wait...Rosie? ROSIE! Stay with mommy! You have to stay with Mommy, okay?" Simply repeat this 432 times and you will have a rough idea of my experience on the farm. When we finally got to the picnic, I was done.
"Mommy! It's 11:54! That means we can go on the zip line!" My six year old bounced around like he was on a pogo stick as he awaited my response.
"Okay bud. Fair is fair. Let's go find it."
We walked and walked and walked and we couldn't find it. We asked other people on the tour. We asked the tour guide. No one could give us the right directions (or, more likely, I couldn't follow them!). Forty five minutes later, I gave up. I was defeated. Done.
"Guys, this is it. We've got to get home."
Hearing these words, my four year old promptly fell on the ground in tears. "BUT I WANTED TO GO ON THE ZIP LINE!!! IT'S THE ONLY THING I WANTED TO DO!!"
The self talk started in my head. "You can do this. You can do this. Don't lose it. Don't lose it."
"Drew, I need you to stand up and walk to the car. Now."
Twenty minutes and many tears later, we made it. The boys began their complaining anew but I wasn't about to listen to it.
"I took you on a field trip where you got to play outside all morning, pet baby chicks, gather eggs, and pet a horse. I understand you are disappointed about the zip line, but I only want to hear gratitude or silence."
"Thank you mommy for the field trip," they said half-heartedly in unison.
As parents, we want to expose our children to the amazing things in this world but we cannot expect a picture perfect experience. Every minute of every day is an opportunity to build their character and ours. They test us. Push us. And it's really hard not to lose it. It's really hard to not give in and just do what they want so they just. stop. screaming. But if we do that, it will only be worse the next time. So go easy on yourself (this job is stressful!) and stay tough on them. Someday we'll be so glad we did.
Are there certain things that you expect perfection but only experience trials and exhaustion? How can you reframe it and see it as an opportunity to build character? How can you stay firm when it seems like they have beaten you?