This weekend we:
- Went trunk or treating at church, which included a mad rush to buy and carve pumpkins in the "dinner visit" time on Thursday night and finish after school Friday, picking up an extra child, getting the costumes together, and also decorating the trunk as a makeshift Bat Cave.
- Coached/played in 2 soccer games that took up the entire day.
- Dropped off one kid to a friends' and then took the other to dinner and trick-or-treating all over (her mom's) town.
- Picked up another extra kid and hosted a sleep over, after tons of candy obsession.
- Got up early to drive to a theme park and be there when it opened as birthday gift to oldest kid.
- After two past-birthday-girl breakdowns and one anxiety attack/mild depression from the youngest, we had dinner and drove home.
- Youngest got help from Dad with a book she doesn't remember anything about but her mom says she has to take a test on tomorrow, which she conveniently remembered while on a multi-story, sudden drop ride with me at about 5pm an hour away from the book.
We like doing a lot with the kids. We like doing a lot period. My husband found his previous life and marriage rather boring, besides the kids. He still hasn't complained once in 4 years of me keeping him extremely busy, even though its clear that his usual inclination is to sit on a couch. He says he loves it, in fact. We don't buy expensive clothes or (electronic or motor) toys because we love doing things. Lots of things. Any type of things. Cultural things, music things, plenty of sporty things, theatre things, volunteer things, church things, festival things, outdoors things, animal things, or just whatever. My husband and I love hanging out in bars and watching a game, which is really a version of our relaxing time together. It means we can't fall asleep on each other on the couch and can actually keep talking.
A long time ago, we realized we were the only ones that would introduce the kids to the many things out there- and hopefully cut away at their increasingly negative and closed attitudes at such young ages. It took about a year of them repeating their moms negative comments before they completely accepted that we were going to "do things" together. Church became something they did every Sunday, and finally my oldest stepdaughter admitted that it was better to be in Sunday School playing games, learning, laughing, and making friends than sitting at home watching the same TV shows for hours on end. (This seemed to shock the pastors, amusingly.) They learned to love hiking and trying new things without freaking out and expressing ultimate fear of the unknown. They accept surprise adventures and unusual visits to places they've never been, like an old Victorian-style house on the Historical Society list that had the most boring tour we've probably ever experienced. They should have learned by now that beach visits are for the entire summer and then some- and not just for once a year when you live only half an hour away from it. And, museums and plays are not dirty, boring words. Plus, new restaurants are not just new places to complain about every time you drive by it.
Their doctor told their mom a year or two ago that the children were overweight. This upset her, according to the children. It didn't shock us. We knew it was related to a lack of outdoor time, playground time, and general childhood activities at home- and healthy eating. Their mother continues to fight our lifestyle with them by teaching them that they need to "relax" (aka TV for hours, after nothing strenuous or tiring or requiring mental energy). I've never heard the word "relax", meaning TV-zombie-time, so much from children in my life. I remember relaxing after hours of high school practices or cross country practice, followed by hours of homework. I relax from work stress and hours of driving in traffic. My body hurts more than it used to, so I need to relax for the next long, long day. Children need breaks or rest times, but we're pretty well aware that in these childrens' lives, "relaxation time" is simply a reflection of their mother's stress and inactivity, along with their new stepfather's physical ailments. In summation, the concept of relaxation has been turned into generalized laziness for 2 children.
Sometimes people ask us if we ever have down time with the kids. Even the kids say that they do fun things with us and "relax" the other weekends. I explained to a family member once that after years of thinking about it, we bond much easier with the kids outside of a house. In the house, stresses, messes, and responsibilities are important. The pressures of working together as a house led to many stressful events. Being outside of the house was, instead, a shared experience for all and led to many memories we hope that they remember when they're older. It makes sense- Indoors means smaller spaces and conflicts over perceived space and rules. Outside time only included some parking lot, street, and wandering-off etiquette (unless bigger issues were at hand at that time). And overall, why should the children spend 100% of their time not exploring, playing, and going on adventures of all kinds? Why can't the 30% of time we give them be exciting, fun, or at least different? Plus, a recent study I read about said that children are stressed by the parents during their busy schedules- not by the activities themselves.
My husband said after the last court visit that, "If they want me to be a Disneyland Dad, then fine, I will be. I'll give them what they want." That's exactly what happens to a lot of dads. They have so little time with their kids, that they want it to be fun, memorable, and special. We learned the hard way- All of the work at our house on their homework and increasingly destructive and scary behaviors completely backfired on us, made us look like the bad guys, and let the kids be manipulated to think that minimal supervision, continual TV time, and surprise harsh punishments (related or unrelated to something deserving) means stability. But he can never just be a Disneyland Dad, whatever that really has become to mean. He cares too much. He has too much to give. He has too much knowledge. He can't let one child hurt the other, or one child lose her willpower. He just can't.
And he chose this new life for them, even if they may not be manipulated to choose it. As he reminds me all of the time, he chose to marry me. He chose me to show his children another type of female, a new marriage, and another style of life. And folks, that means busy. I consider lunch, dinner and movies downtime. Oh, and what about all that daddy-cuddle time they have with the Cartoon Network for hours most weekend mornings...? Some weekends will be busy. Some will be less so. Let's save those weekends for the rain. There's a reason why we still use the saying, "Save it for a rainy day."