When the going gets tough, the tough get going.
You always have to do your best.
You never quit before the job is done. Finish what you started.
Winners never quit, and quitters never win.
Did you grow up with those kinds of statements? These messages are so deeply ingrained in me that they are automatic. I don't even think about them most of the time. Persistence through tough things is important, and I'm glad I have that skill.
Having children means having to be more flexible about some things, though. With kids, we can't always push through to the end just because we like to finish what we started. We have to pick our battles and ask ourselves whether getting to the end is really worth it. The answer depends on the situation.
Today, it wasn't worth it.
Today, I bailed on a field trip.
I spent all morning preparing for it...laying out clothes, brushing hair, putting on sunscreen, finding hats, shoes and socks (and saying over and over again no, not flip flops, guys, this is a hike in a field, we need real shoes, please and thank you). I packed lunches carefully and hunted down all the water bottles, digging under van seats to retrieve them. I even filled an extra bottle for refills. I loaded everything and everyone up in the van and pulled out, running right on time.
Before we even got there, we were late, because I had the time wrong by a half hour. I decided to shake it off. I could still redeem the day. I apologized to the kids for grumping at them when we were trying to leave the house and started unloading them.
As we got out of the car, one child already had to go to the bathroom. I helped her use our little portable car potty (thanks, Gabie, for recommending that- I'll never be without it again), strapped Felix into the Ergo carrier, put bugspray-spritzed hats on everyone (including myself) and decided to leave the water bottles in the car because they were already complaining about carrying them.
I looked around at my crew and noticed that one daughter was wearing flip flops. Despite all my warnings and instructions, she had chosen to put the little rubbery flower sandals on instead of her sneakers. I hadn't caught it before we left the house, and now we were stuck. If she was older, there would be a natural consequence for her choice when we started hiking through the tall field grass. Since she's just little, I felt like the consequence would be falling on me.
I was NOT going to carry her. How could I, with my arms full of baby and other stuff? She had to walk. She needed to be tough. She needed to experience her mistake, right?
(Who was I kidding?)
We started walking, following the group that had a half-hour lead on us. By the time we got down to them about ten minutes later, my daughter was in pre-meltdown mode.
Her legs were tired. The grass was itchy. It was hot. She wanted to go back to the van. She was thirsty. Her hat was too tight. Now her hat was falling off. Her flip flops were making a blister on her heel, and she didn’t have a band-aid.
She kept whining, moaning, grabbing onto my legs and pulling at my arms. I could only manage to speak kindly to her through gritted teeth. Then, the leader suggested a group picture under the tree, and my weary daughter lost it.
She threw herself on the ground and screamed, “NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO-NO!”
I wanted to haul her up by her arms and tell her to get herself together. I wanted to lecture her about how hard I had worked to get us all here on this field trip this morning. I wanted to tell her she was being rude and making it hard for the group to hear the lady who was leading the nature walk. I wanted to tell her to toughen up and stop being so wimpy. I wanted to tell her to get her act together right this very minute, young lady!
Then, I realized she was right.
It was hot. The grass was tall and scratchy on my legs, and her legs are much shorter than mine. Walking across the uneven ground was challenging, and it was almost her nap time. Her hat felt uncomfortable no matter how we adjusted it. She was totally done and wanted to be someplace else.
So was I. So did I. The biggest difference was that I'm better at stuffing my feelings and discomforts than she is, because I'm a 35 year old woman with years of practice ignoring my own needs (or at least putting the greater good ahead of my own).
Sometimes, by the time I get really grumpy and feel like throwing myself on the ground and yelling, I don't even know how I got there. If I stopped to think about it, my daughter's irritants were also irritating me. I was tired, hot, and getting grumpier by the second. I had only three hours of sleep last night (on the couch, after George took over with Felix, who was restless). I was wearing a baby in a front pack carrier that sat directly on top of yesterday’s sunburned shoulders. I was uncomfortable, and I would really rather have been someplace else.
She was so upset. She had every right to be upset. Since I was wearing the baby, I couldn't just pick her up and haul her around. If she didn't walk, we weren't going anywhere...and she was just lying there, screaming.
So I stopped. I sat on the ground, put her on my lap, and talked to her. "You're right," I said. "This is a long, hot walk. It's lunch time and you are tired. You want to go back to the car. We can do that.”
She looked into my face, squinting in the bright sunlight.
“I think everything and everyone is stupid!” she shouted. "I am NOT walking ANY MORE!"
I told the leader my crew needed to have our lunch before we did anything else and that we’d catch up with them later.
By the time we got back to the car and both girls used the car potty again, she was having another meltdown. All the kids were exhausted, hot and hungry. There was no way they were going to walk the quarter mile distance to the picnic spot where the rest of the group was gathered. Even Sam started to complain that his feet hurt. He said he thought his ankles might both be broken.
I gave up.
I buckled them into their seats and we came back home. We ate our picnic lunch at the table in the kitchen, in the most non-exciting, non-picnic way possible, and I put them to bed. It wasn’t fun. They were whining, crying and complaining the whole time. The entire adventure was a disaster...but it could have been much, much worse.
Sometimes, toughing it out is the right thing to do. I have to make it work, even when it's hard. I have to be persistent and strong and keep on keeping on.
But you know what? Sometimes, giving up is okay.
Yes, I'd already paid for the field trip. Yes, it would have been a good learning experience. When it comes down to it, though, if I have to coax, cajole, lecture, persuade, bribe and threaten all my children to keep them moving forward, it might not be worth it. Instead of pushing ahead, it was time to stop worrying about what everyone else thinks and do what is best for my family and for myself. And today, we needed to go home.
There will be other field trips. Deciding to give up on this one and cut our losses turned out to be the best decision for us today. I do wish I hadn't wasted the morning in such a frenzy preparing everything for us to go...but really, "frenzy less" could be a good mantra for me in general.
Have you ever just given up on something? Do you feel guilty when you do it? I sometimes worry that I’m teaching my kids that being whiny works in their favor in situations like this. Today, though, I just didn’t want to keep dragging them around any longer. Their misery was making me miserable.