Having felt like the mum who only ever alternates between the phrases “Maybe later”, “I’m just feeding/changing/holding your baby brother” and “It’s a bit early for chocolate”, I decided that it was time to dedicate some quality time to my toddler. And not just with a big, fancy day out but with actual activities he wanted to do.
I’d read about other people I follow online giving their kids ‘yes’ days. Essentially entire 24-hour periods where their kids are in control. The kids choose the food they eat, the places you visit and the activities you do. You can set a spending limit if the kids are older and can understand, and a radius of how far you’re will willing to travel, but the rest, is, quite literally, up to them.
My toddler is three and a half so I had no idea if he’d quite grasp it in the way I hoped, but after feeling like I was continually fobbing him off with lazy excuses, I guessed he’d bloody love me saying yes to every single one of his weird and wonderful demands.
I hoped for a cinema trip – our first post-lockdown. Maybe a trip to a park, but one of the big, adventurous, slightly further afield ones. Maybe a McDonald’s, complete with McFlurry. A trip to Tesco to pick out a new car and buy craft supplies and sweets. But the reality was, ahem, somewhat different.
We started the day at 7pm. And when I say ‘we’, I mean that I started the day at 7pm. My toddler started the day at 5.30am but it was my turn to have a mini lie-in whilst my boyfriend pandered to the first of the day’s requests for YouTube and snacks.
I introduced the notion of the day by explaining that today, for this day only, he would be the boss. He would choose exactly what we all did, and that we could go anywhere he wanted or play with anything he fancied. He understood and seemed excited.
His first request? That we build his marble run. So far, so manageable. Next up? I had to pass him his cars one-by-one so he could line them up. Again, quite nice. In fact, an hour in to doing nothing but sipping on coffee and playing and I was quite enjoying the respite from that hideous nagging guilt that comes from staying at home – the guilt that says you need to fold washing or whip the hoover round. I was getting into my toddler’s world of just existing and it felt good. To just be together and to engage at a slower pace.
A few hours in, and with every toy we owned scattered about on the floor, the cabin fever started to kick in. I’d offered up some ideas for activities, but none of them had quite lured my toddler away from dinosaurs, cars and building blocks. “I just want to stay home and play” he said. And so we did. Other requests for the day included: “Mummy, can I have a carrot?” (A CARROT? YOU CAN HAVE ANYTHING YOU WANT?) and “Mummy, can I have an iced coffee?” (um… you ok there hun?).
Eventually the lure of a gingerbread man and a go on the slide took his fancy and I was grateful for the promise of fresh air and a leg stretch. But which park would we go to? After several squeals of “the park with the green slide!!!” and frantic Googles of every local park we’d ever been to in an attempt to find out which one possessed a green slide, I discovered that out of all the parks in the world, my son wanted to go to the smallest one nearest our house.
But of course.
The afternoon saw us watching YouTube in bed, eating snacks instead of meals and skipping bath time. It was simple, it was low-key, but it was all about him. He went to bed content, and the day had sailed on relatively without incident. But it got me realising that so much of every day life as a mum is performed for our own sanity. We disguise so much of what we do as ‘for our kids’ when in reality, it’s just for us. And I don’t say that as a bad thing, because truly, when our needs are catered for, our kids needs become catered for. We sell a trip to the coffee shop for caffeine and a change of scenery as ‘getting a gingerbread man’, we sell having catch-ups with our mates and fellow adult company as ‘going to the park’ or ‘having a play date’. To look after our kids we have to weave in tiny pockets of self-care wherever we can find it – whether that looks like hot drinks or fresh air or exercise or socialising.
But our ‘yes’ day also made me realise that my toddler doesn’t need the big stuff. Truly what he wants is for me to just play with him. To give him that one-to-one interaction outside of his bath brother and chores and leaving the house. And, whilst life often gets in the way, it’s been a much-needed reminder that sometimes everything else can wait because there’s some dinosaurs that need to battle.