Independence Day may be the ultimate “That’s it?” event for my young kids. The label is shaped by a direct quote from my 10 year-old son on Monday as the grand finale wound down and the re-engaged street lights signaled the crowds to go home.
In fact, my oldest confirmed the fireworks show to be “only 16 minutes” as we began our long stroll home.
My Good-Bad Dad inclination was to be frustrated with my son’s poo-pooing of the 4th of July extravaganza – after all, it’s hard work to get a family with five young kids to such an event. Instantly, I scoffed at my unappreciative son.
I started to remember other, similar times in parenting – times where I worked like crazy to give my kids an experience they ended up dismissing.
New Year’s Eve celebrations come to mind – an annual disappointment for my troops. New Year’s does have gusto at the start – my kids love seeing friends, the mountains of junk food at their disposal and the prospect of staying up until midnight when bedtime is usually 8 p.m.
For my children, midnight comes and goes quickly. The four hours of anticipation is over in mere moments. “It’s over already?” my son usually asks in contempt. As I usher tired, grumpy elementary-schoolers to the awaiting van, their disappointment eats at me.
It’s not only the late-night, adult-centric holidays that tend to let my kids down. I’ve seen similar feelings on family trips.
On our first adventure to the ocean, my kids were ready to leave within thirty minutes of setting up the beach umbrella. I was 25 year’s old when I first saw the open water – how could they not recognize how lucky they are? I was astounded that the sound of the crashing waves did not captivate them like it did me.
Going to museums has also fallen into our disappointed-venue-related experiences. We’ve braved the Dan Ryan to see “Sue” in Chicago, we’ve driven an hour in the Vegas August heat to see the Hoover Dam and fought L.A. traffic to stroll down the Santa Monica pier. In all cases, my kids’ lack of enthusiasm for the experience was frustrating.
As of Monday night, though, I’m done with being let down by my kids’ disappointment – not because I’m going to stop providing the experiences but because I need to quell my expectations.
Instead of shaking my finger at my “too spoiled to care”, “I only could dream about this when I was younger” children, I should learn a valuable lesson.
Providing experiences for my kids should be disconnected from their immediate reactions. It might be true that later on my children will come to appreciate everything we’ve done together, but that need not matter today.
Today, I’ll try to be refreshed that my kids don’t need a fancy vacation or beautiful landscape to have a worthwhile experience. In fact, often my kids love very simple gestures that prove I’m paying attention.
This is the same ironic viewpoint I have when the pile of wrapping paper and stack of empty boxes become the most used “toy” for my kids on Christmas morning.
Substituting a laugh in place of frustration might be the right medicine.
I need to start enjoying these subtle, everyday moments – while toning down my efforts to manufacture grand experiences that are ripe for let-downs.
I should do so before I lose the chance to – the point where I’ll watch them walk across the stage to receive a degree or when I meet their future spouse.
It’s too late then.
That will be the point where I’ll turn to my wife to regrettably say the phrase that used to frustrated me – “I guess that’s it.”