What I Learned Playing “Hooky”

Last weekend, I looked at my calendar for the coming week and saw something that is very rare. A weekday off! The girls could go to school, or I could choose to keep them home. I weighed my options carefully. Eight hours of a quiet house to myself? It sounded blissful. Oh the Netflix I could binge on! Oh the food I could eat without having to share! As tempting as that sounded (and still does), I realized that what we really needed was a day off together with nowhere to be and nothing to do. So, we played hooky.

Charlee, of course, was beside herself when I told her we were going to have a special “Girls’ Day!” (Pro Tip: Do not call a day off from school a ‘vacation day’ unless you want to begin said day off arguing with a four year old about why you are not going to Disney World.) Once we got past the technicalities, our day was off to a great start.

We had cinnamon rolls for breakfast and lounged in our PJs while we watched Mickey Mouse Clubhouse. I let Charlee direct most of the agenda. We played at the mall playground, rolled around in the fake snow at the Santa spot, and got smoothies. We got the race-car cart at Publix, and Charlee got to choose her own lunch — a lunchable with oreos, obviously. Pre-schooler heaven. Then, Evie went down for a nap and Charlee and I watched Christmas movies in bed.

You guys. Charlee was like a different child. The last few weeks (months?) have been trying. Lots of arguing. Talking back. Fighting with her sister. Deliberately not listening. It felt like 80% of what I said to her was a reprimand. But on Monday? We laughed, we played, she listened quickly, and I genuinely enjoyed all of our time together. I saw how she belly-laughed at Donald Duck’s mishaps, how she made sure Evelyn was safe at the playground, how she looked to me for approval, and how she smiled so much wider when she saw me smiling at her.

Here’s the hard thing I’m realizing. It wasn’t Charlee that was different. She didn’t miraculously change into an obedient, compliant child over night. But you know what was different? Me. I made a decision that morning to spend the day making her feel happy, valued, and loved.

Why don’t I just do that every day? Isn’t that how I always want her to feel? Of course, but life gets in the way. I get caught up in the tasks I need to complete, the e-mails I need to answer, the dishes I need to do, the meeting I need to get to in time, the meals I need to plan, and more often than I’d like to admit, my kids can get pushed to the back burner.

Now, this doesn’t mean that I need to take them out of school and spend every day letting them direct what we do. Obviously that’s not how life works. Whether you’re a stay at home mom or a working mom, we all have stuff that actually does need to get done if we want to live in a functioning household. But, there are a few things that I learned from playing ‘hooky,’ that I’m going to try and start implementing on a daily basis.

Say yes more than no. I decided on Monday morning that I was going to try and say ‘yes’ to as many requests as possible. Does anyone else feel like you just say ‘no’ all the time? For me I think it’s become a reflex. I say no, sometimes before I even think about the question.

Charlee: Can I feed the dogs?    Me: No, I’ll do it. (Why did I just say no? I would love for her to start feeding the dogs!)

I’m not suggesting that we say yes to everything, or give our kids everything they ask for. But, I’m going to start actually listening to the question, and I’ll say yes if it’s reasonable. There are enough people in this world who are going to tell our kids no. I want to be on the yes team! (In case you were wondering, this explains why Charlee has four different colors of nail polish on her finger nails and toe nails. Because what is it hurting if she has four colors instead of one?)

Fully engage. We live in a world where multitasking is a necessity. As moms, we are never doing less than three things at any one time. But when I decided to slow down and spend the day focusing on my kids, I realized how often I am half-listening and “uh-huh”-ing instead of fully engaging. I even realized how infrequently I actually look Charlee in the eyes while she’s talking. Generally, she’s narrating some elaborate story and following me around the house while I get stuff done. How am I showing her that what she has to say is valuable? I want to slow down, sit down, and listen to her. Most of the time, anyway. She’s pretty talkative. I would never get anything done if I fully listened all the time. Just sayin’.

Be aware of my own emotions. I know it was not any coincidence that Charlee was pleasant and happier on the day that I focused on being positive with her. She generally reflects my emotions back at me. So when I get snippy to her, and she gets snippy back, we enter a cycle that neither of us enjoys. The thing is, I’m an adult (at least that’s what I’ve been told) and she is four. I need to be aware of how I am feeling, so that I can teach her how to manage her emotions in a healthy way, and not add my emotions to hers. One of my favorite thoughts about this is from parenting expert and author L.R. Knost, “When little people are overwhelmed by big emotions, it’s our job to share our calm, not join the chaos.”

 

We’re back to real life now. Playing hooky is not for every day, but these little lessons are helping our everydays be a little more enjoyable. And when you have a rough day? A rough week? Nothing a little day off hooky can’t fix.

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