From Chicken Soup for the Working Mom's Soul

Making Memories

The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.

Mark Twain

The leaves were at the peak of their color on an Indian summer day, and I was stuck working in my windowless cubicle and thinking about my sons. Have you ever thought about how easy it would be if we could drill a hole in their heads and stuff them with all the knowledge and wisdom we’ve learned? We all want to teach our children the joys and rewards of life and keep them from harm, but how do we do it? Every mother has days when she feels like her children’s lives are slipping through her fingers, and today was one of those days for me.

Sure, I did all the normal things moms do: Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, Pee Wee football, school plays, and so on, but I felt like I was missing something important. My oldest son was twelve and on the verge of that dreaded stage of adolescence. His hormones played havoc with his loving personality. He wanted to be an adult, but he still had the emotions and judgment of a child. It was hard to draw him out, and he didn’t want to be hugged anymore. I felt him slipping away. My seven-year-old was full of the joy of being a child, but I was too busy working to see the world through his eyes. Before I could think about it or talk myself out of it, I asked my boss for a personal day without pay. Money was tight, and it would hurt our budget, but a day like this was a natural gift.

I didn’t have any specific plan, but I knew I wanted to enjoy the day with my sons. I stopped in their principal’s office and requested that they be released from school for the day.

When the boys came to the office, I winked and gently nudged them through the door. A huge grin spread across my face as they giggled and piled into the car. I remember feeling like I was shedding years and ready for fun.

As I pulled out of the parking lot, they asked me where we were going. I hadn’t thought about it until then, but the inspiration came in a flash. “We’re going to Starved Rock State Park to walk the woods and make a memory,” I said. It was a place we had talked about, but never seemed to get the time to explore. My kids loved camping and anything to do with animals and nature. It was the perfect place to spend the fall day. The park ran along the LaSalle River in Illinois, and included miles of wooded nature trails and a famous rock. The leaves of the maple and ash were full of vibrant colors and just beginning to fall.

The kids chattered and asked questions the whole two hours it took to get there. They were excited about walking the trails and couldn’t believe I was taking them on an adventure during a school day. I remember having a twinge of guilt about taking them out of school, but playing hooky together made it more fun and exciting for all of us. It was my way of telling them that our time together was more important than anything else.

As we walked through the woods, we talked about everything that sprang into their minds. It was hard to keep up with the two of them as their thoughts jumped from one subject to another. I found out what interested them and what scared them in the dark. My oldest son even took the time to show his brother things he thought were important. We crouched over and studies some forest critters’ tracks or droppings that he had found. They had a great time inventing stories about the woodland animals; watching them made me laugh and feel like crying at the same time. It was the first time in months that I had seen my oldest son so relaxed and happy.

Reading all the plaques along the trail, we learned about the native vegetation and the legends of the American Indian tribe that had lived along the river. We climbed the huge rock where the tribe, surrounded by their enemies, had either starved or leaped to their deaths rather than surrender. At the top I told them about the American Indian culture I had been fascinated with at their ages. We talked about places, people, customs, and religion as I shared other parts of my childhood.

The sight of the maples and ash trees in all their glory and the light reflecting off the river was gorgeous, but it was my children’s laughter that put a lump in my throat. We sat on a rock, watching the boats on the river, when my seven-year-old looked up at me and asked, “What’s making a memory?”

“It’s doing something special that you’ll remember all your life. We’re making a happy memory.” I put my arms around them and hugged them close. The oldest didn’t pull away, and I felt like I’d broken through some adolescent barrier. That day I felt the closest to my children that I ever had.

The next evening I was doing the dishes and the boys were catching up on their homework when the phone rang. It was my youngest son’s teacher. I felt like a child caught sneaking cookies. I was ready to apologize for taking him out of school, but she called to let me know that she thought spending time together was a wonderful idea. She told me how excited and proud my son was that his mom had taken him out of school just to be with him and his brother. She said he told the class about the American Indians, the woods, and all the animals that lived there. Instead of being upset because he’d missed a day, she said that he had probably learned more in that one day with me than he had in a week of school. She didn’t want me to make a habit of it, but she said that more parents should take time to connect with their children. I told her I called it “making memories.”

When I picked up my oldest son from Boy Scouts a few days later, several of his friends were waiting for me. They wanted to know if I had really taken him out of school just to be with him. I remember the grin on my son’s face as he put his arm around me while I explained about making memories.

Don’t get me wrong. I never made a habit of taking them out of school, because education rated highest on the list of things I wanted for my sons, but sometimes you have to seize the moment. Children grow so fast and time slips by before you know it’s gone. You have to make an effort to listen to them and make special memories that show them how much you love them. They need to know that you cherish the time you spend with them. Sometimes that takes a conscious effort.

Although we all lose time in the busyness of life and working to provide for our children, sometimes we just have to say, “Wait a minute. Stop. I have to do this with my children.” It can be as simple as taking time to make a batch of cookies. I found spending time with the children was a lot easier when they were little and I could hold them on my lap and give them a hug filled with love. It becomes harder as they grow older, so moms need to make special effort and be creative in finding special “memory makers.”

Throughout the years, the boys and I made a lot of memories together. We had sleepovers, tree trimming parties, Halloween parties, campouts, and more, but their favorite memory is the day we spent at Starved Rock. My sons are adults now, and they never tire of telling this story at family gatherings. You don’t need to spend money to make a memory; all you need is love and your imagination.

Jo Webnar

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