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Finding Time for Family

It was my daughter’s first day of school, and I knew if I didn’t slow down, her life would fly by.

Stephanie Thompson with her daughter Micah

The mall was a madhouse. I hurried my 6-year-old daughter, Micah, to the shoe store. School would start tomorrow and it seemed like every student was here today. Which was exactly why I’d planned for us to be somewhere else doing something relaxing. But that morning I’d pinched the toe of Micah’s sneaker and discovered my soon-to-be first grader’s feet had grown a whole size since summer began. We should have been going for a bike ride and then having a picnic so Micah could talk about any apprehension she had about going to school all day after half-day kindergarten. So much for my plans! Here we were at the shoe store waiting for a sales clerk to bring us size twos.

There was so much I needed to do. Make dinner. Do the laundry. Lay out Micah’s clothes and supplies for tomorrow. I had to admit, with her in school all day now I might finally get some things done. I could grocery shop without a long discussion about which snacks she could have. I could clean house without stepping over Barbies. I’d be organized for once and not be doing things at the last minute, like today.

The clerk returned and shook her head. The only shoe we liked wasn’t available in size two. Onto the next store. “Keep up, honey,” I said.

“Mom, look!” Micah pointed to a poster of cartoon guinea pigs in front of the movie theater. “G-Force! I want to see that. Please, Mom?” she begged. The movies? We had errands to run. Besides, that movie got terrible reviews.

“No, honey. We can’t have you going to school barefoot tomorrow.”

Micah hung her head. “You promised we’d have fun today.”

“I know, but the day hasn’t gone the way I planned.”

We finally found sneakers and dress shoes at the third shop we tried. I looked at my watch. 4:30. It was 30 minutes back to our house and I needed to cook dinner and get Micah to bed by eight.

That night, I laid out Micah’s new plaid jumper, red headband, knee socks and black Mary Janes. “You’ll be a big first grader tomorrow,” I said. “We’ll take a picture, just like when you started kindergarten, and send it to Grammy.”

Micah climbed into bed. “Mom, why aren’t you fun like Grammy?”

“What do you mean, honey?”

“Grammy plays with me and you just tell me what to do,” Micah said.

I tucked the covers around her. “Say your prayers, silly girl,” I said, trying to ignore the twinge in my heart. “Daddy will come in to kiss you goodnight.”

I finished the dishes, threw in the last load of laundry and trudged into our family room. Michael paused the football game and I told him what Micah had said. “Do you think I’m fun?” I asked.

“A mother’s job isn’t really to be fun,” he said. That was probably true. My mom, Micah’s Grammy, certainly wasn’t always fun when I was growing up. But all I’d wanted was for us to have a fun day before Micah started first grade, and it slipped away. Lord, help me be the mother I want to be, I prayed.

The next morning I tiptoed into Micah’s room. “Time to wake up, first grader!”

She dressed and ate breakfast. I took her outside to snap a few photos, then we hopped in the car and drove to school. Micah let go of my hand at the classroom door. She found her desk, sat down and arranged her school supplies. I lingered in the doorway, hoping to give her a goodbye wave. She never looked up.

Back home, I went  over my to-do list. Finally, time to get everything done! But the burst of energy I’d expected wasn’t there. Instead, I felt a little sad. I uploaded Micah’s first-day-of-school photo onto my computer and logged into my e-mail. “Micah started first grade today,” I wrote. I attached the picture and sent it to my mom and a few friends.

The phone rang minutes later. Mom. “Micah looks so grown up!” she said.

“She wishes I was fun like you,” I said. Mom laughed.

“I didn’t have the heart to tell her you weren’t always fun,” I continued.

“I was so busy working and raising you kids,” she said. “If I had it to do again, I’d make more time for fun.”

“Mom, you did a great job. I turned out okay, didn’t I?” We hung up.

My e-mail dinged. Responses to Micah’s picture. “Be careful. Once they start first grade it flies by.” “Cherish the day. My grandkids are graduating and I wonder where the time goes.” “Today first grade, tomorrow college!”

My daughter smiled at me from the computer. Sparkling eyes. The red headband that held back her long brunette locks. Small hands that fanned out her plaid skirt. In all my busyness, I had forgotten how much I’d been blessed. God, thank you for the gift of motherhood. I didn’t want to miss another moment.

I was the second car in line when school let out. Micah climbed in the backseat, talking a mile a minute. She didn’t notice where we were going. Finally she asked, “Why are we at the mall?”

“Mommy forgot something important yesterday,” I told her.

We sat down for the last matinee. I balanced a sack of popcorn on my lap and put my arm around Micah’s shoulders. The lights dimmed, but I could still see her beaming smile. The to-do list could wait. Now it was time for my daughter and me to watch genetically altered guinea pigs save the universe.                             

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