It is 11:15 at the park and already, it's hotter than Sacramento in April has any right to be.
No one checked with me about this climate change. No one had told me that wearing a fleece vest and long sleeves on an eighty-degree day might be a poor choice, like eating questionable leftovers or microwaving plastic. But even if they had, I wouldn’t have heard them because I was busy getting other people dressed, ones who fought being clothed as though they were allergic to Old Navy.
“We’re going to the park!” I said, trying to rally excitement, compliance, while gently shoving my one-year son’s pudgy little piggies into sandals. Finn had already escaped my diapering efforts, preferring to run naked down the hallway with his big Buddha belly leading the way, holding onto his privates protectively, already smart about the things that matter.
Meanwhile, my four-year old daughter Reese is busy tantruming in the other room, crushed that she has not gone first in this entertaining exercise.
And just like that – forty-five short minutes later – we’re at the park, fairly presentable. There is lunch in my diaper bag. There are wipes. Even two buckets and shovels of equal desirability. We are good to go.
And then we’re not. This is a park we don’t go to often. I am in unfamiliar territory. Reese has gone one way, swinging from a series of unstable and odd poles, and Finn is toddling off in the opposite direction, presumably to eat sand and discarded bits of Veggie Booty.
This is when I realize I am sweating more than is socially acceptable.
So, I do what you do in times of trouble – I go for the lowest common denominator: lunch. We join friends at the picnic tables. I dole out sandwiches, juice boxes, raisins and granola bars. We are set and so we eat.
For about two solid minutes.
The kids, lunch grazed, are off to play. I am chatting with another mom when I look up to see Finn halfway up a chain-link-rope-ladder-thing-a-ma-bob that telegraphs "deathtrap" to every maternal fiber of my being.
My seventeen-month-old is climbing it like it’s Everest.
At the exact same moment, I see Reese clinging on to the top of a climby thing she's scaled to the top of and now has no idea how to get down from. She is not pleased.
I know I’m in over my head. I am swimming upstream with my two guppies and I know we’re headed into deep water, so I cut my losses and swim for shore. I assist my daredevil with his climb. I collect Reese from her post. I pack up and head out.
As I escape with a child tucked safely under each arm, I am quite the sight, balancing diaper bag, food, toys and tikes - grace never my strong suit.
And just like that, I am the mom you feel sorry for as she blazes past you, a whirlwind of peanut butter and sand and tears and snot, her overwhelm and harriedness almost a scent coming off of her, like smoke, all of the other mothers cowering away, trying not to inhale.
I am also the mom who, a half hour later, is putting these sweet innocents down for a nap, singing their songs, holding their blankies, rocking them and feeling their warm, peachy heads heavy against my shoulder, with no place I’d rather be.
And this, ultimately is the truth about parenting young children. That for every hot, sweaty, end of your rope moment, there is one of these: a sleeping, perfect being, heavy in your arms, trusting you completely. And you, holding them, knowing that, for today, you have proved worthy of it.