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Today I took the car. I had a doctor's appointment (baby is doing good), so I drove Matt to work, and before the appointment, Abigail and I went mall walking. This is the second time we've ever been mall walking and we went to a different mall, which was significantly less walker-friendly. But Abigail didn't mind that some of the mall's wings were lit only by the over-night lights from shop display windows, and other walkers got a kick out of her light-up shoes flashing across the dark consumer metropolis. She was just stoked to be burning some energy. There was a group of Chinese Americans setting up a huge New Year display with these elevator-lift things to hang banners from the ceiling. Abigail swore up and down that those lifts were "choo-choos," no matter how much I assure her they weren't. It's kind of her way that if I can't supply the proper sign, well then, her sign must be the right one. As it stands right now, raccoons and foxes are kitties and deer and cows are horses.
Following the doctor's appointment, I took Abigail out on a mommy-daughter Panera Bread brunch date. She's really too young to get much out of our dates, but they sure do fill my heart up. We used to go out (maybe once a month?) in Florida and Chicago, at first just because getting out of the house helped me deal with my post-partum depression, but as time went on, I really started to enjoy our time together. We usually get something small - maybe just split a large cookie or a medium frozen yogurt (Chicago had the coolest "fro-yo bar" right next door to the craft store and the book store. It was like an oasis of blissful shopping) - so we don't break the bank, but they are still a lot of fun. We don't get out much in Michigan because of the shared car issue, which makes me sad. I love consulting with her about which toppings we should put on our yogurt or if we're in the mood for a blueberry or pumpkin muffin, as if she's actually giving me her opinion. As she gets older, she's picking up on words I'm saying and will sign them if she knows them ("berry" or "milk"). Even though she's just signing because she knows the sign, I like to pretend like we're having a real discussion. When we sit down at the table, I'll talk to her about what our upcoming plans are for the week or ask her how she felt about the past weekend. I noticed today that she really seemed to enjoy the date more than she has in the past. She smiled up at me a lot throughout our treats and marveled at her pint-sized chocolate milk. She was very smily as I packed her up in the car and hugged me a lot when we got back home. And it's different too, being out and about together. We're at home together all the time, or in swim class together, or going grocery shopping together. But when we go out and focus just on each other, it's a deeper connection.
It's really, really important to me to keep up our dates as our family grows. I want to set aside time regularly for one-on-one dates with each of my kids. When they're little, I don't want them to feel like I love the baby more than them. And once they hit the difficult teen years, I want to make time to be available in case they want to talk. I want my kids to always know I hear them. And I want to be sure I'm genuinely listening. There is a country song by Trace Adkins called "Just Fishin" and I think it's actually really good parenting.
It's about a dad who takes his daughter fishing and she thinks they're just fishing, but he's really building memories and their relationship. It is so easy and convenient for me to get bogged down in the to-dos at home. It's easy for me to clean "one more thing," to hand her a toy and try to crank out something on the computer. Cleaning and organizing is my forte. But I don't want my kids to grow up thinking a clean kitchen is more important than they are. Or that I care more about finishing my book than about them. I want to write their names down in my planner and have them hear me tell people, "Oh, I'm busy then, I'm going on a bike ride with Abigail." I want there to be days when I pull them out of school and instead of sitting through math class, we're getting unlimited breadsticks. I want each of my kids to know that there will be a specific day when Mom spends the whole time caring about whatever is going on in their lives. Me listening. One-on-one. I have this dream of being able to take each of my kids out on the day of the month they were born. For example, Abigail's birthday is May 18th, so I'd take her out on the 18th of each month. For something. A late-night smoothie. A morning walk. Maybe on special days a movie or an afternoon kayaking. I don't know what how exactly I'll structure things - if birthdays fall on the same month day, if Matt and I could do the same thing on our anniversary day, what I'll do with the other kids when they're too young to be home alone. Right now I just know that I have a goal for the future. And in the meantime, sometimes on days when I take the car, we'll swing by Panera Bread, I'll buy her her own chocolate milk, we'll split a cookie, and I'll ask her what she thinks of that one episode of Blues Clues.