By Joanne Ruelos Diaz | @JoanneRevising
There are a few minutes before dinner every night when I lose my mind. It’s when I’m stepping over three throw pillows, two giant stuffed bears, and at least one foam sword all scattered on the floor. I glance over at the couch and there are three more stuffed animals. On the dining table, two more. I once counted how many stuffed animals were on Oscar’s (my five-year-old’s) bed, and there were 29. The clutter was constantly driving me crazy…until I started seeing some unexpected things on Instagram.
Recently, I’ve been following the Instagram accounts of my friends’ CHILDREN. That’s right, kids who are just a few years older than my nine-year-old Leo are posting on Instagram. When Leo was reading picture books, these kids were reading Harry Potter. When Leo was playing with Duplos, they were playing with real LEGO sets (the ones with 500+ pieces!). When Leo was riding in a stroller, they were riding their scooters. Just a few years ago, their age difference seemed big but not that big. They were all kids.
Now when I see these same older kids posting their own stories on Instagram, I literally tap into their recent past and figuratively tap into our near future. I see friends’ kids sitting in THE FRONT SEAT of the car. One just got his driver’s license. I see kids getting their first summer jobs. I see birthday presents in smaller boxes or flat envelopes—no LEGO sets, no stuffed animals. I sense that in one swipe, my own children will be driving off to their first summer jobs and beyond.
On a recent Sunday morning, my boys were getting antsy. Since we’d been watching synchronized diving and BMX freestyle over the weekend, I had the Olympics in my mind. While making some coffee, I tossed out an idea: “Why don’t you have a stuffed animal Olympics?”
To my surprise, both called out, “Okay!” and ran off to the living room. While I puttered around the kitchen, I heard them conferencing to record their Olympics on the iPad. The first event was Karate. They took their two giant stuffed bears and wrestled with them. “Marshlow (named after marshmallows because he’s white) wins!” As I drank coffee, they organized a racing event. Naturally, Speeder won. (Speeder is “a cheetah–the fastest land animal,” either of my boys will rush to tell you.) Magic Tricks came next and Frank, the Harry Potter-themed Ravenclaw Build-a-Bear, came in first place. While I unloaded the dishwasher, I overheard a commercial break. Apparently “Cool Folds Paper Airplanes” was sponsoring the Pet Olympics. In my favorite Olympic event, Cuteness, a small red panda named Monium (short for Panda-monium) won by a landslide.
After all the competitions, their fun didn’t end. With a little nudge, they went on to make award badges for the winners. They pulled out some paper, cut them out, and taped them on.
I felt like I had won the Parenting Olympics for the day—both kids entertained themselves on a weekend morning, both equally engaged and playing happily together with no screaming. For a couple of hours! What a win! When they showed me all the videos they recorded, they were so delighted with themselves. The feeling was contagious.
The next afternoon, I wanted to keep their delight going just a little bit longer. On Mondays, my older son gets The Week Junior magazine. After wrapping up my work for the day, I had about half an hour before I had to pick them up from camp. So, I decided to make a “special insert” for the boys to discover in the latest magazine issue. I took the list of events that Oscar had written up and quickly wrote a “news story” describing the first ever Pet Olympics and listing the winners of each event. My husband corrected me when I wrote that Paper Airplanes was an event and reminded me that they were actually a Pet Olympics sponsor. I took pictures of their stuffed animals on my phone, printed, and cut them out. I grabbed a piece of construction paper and glued the story and the pictures onto it. Then I stuck the page into the magazine. I stopped myself from caring if it looked perfect (whatever that means for a fake magazine story) and just hoped they’d get a kick out of it.
When the boys came home, they discovered it right away.
“Huh? What is this?”
“Who did this? Did you, Mommy? Was it Daddy?”
“How did they get the pictures?”
They huddled together to read it. Their little smiles growing a little bigger.
I don’t consider myself a Magic Maker Mom. I don’t know how to make elaborate Halloween costumes or bake special rainbow cakes on their birthdays. But on this one day, I was able to make a little surprise magic for them. Or rather, I was able to join them in the magic of their making.
Sometimes, I just want to stuff all the animals into a garbage bag, so I can look around the living room and see the floor, a clear space to sit on the couch, the top of the coffee table. But then I realize, unlike the real Olympics which I can expect every few years, I don’t know if there will ever be another Pet Olympics. So, while I can, I step over Monium (#1 Cutest in the 2021 Pet Olympics) and savor that these games recorded on construction paper, on video, and in my memories.
Joanne Ruelos Diaz | @JoanneRevising
Joanne is a writer, editor, and children’s book author living in Northern New Jersey with her husband and two boys. All together, they share lots of laughs, a love of reading, and one bathroom. She has a children’s book coming out in November 2021 called THE LITTLE BOOK OF JOY, and it shares small ways to celebrate and find joy every day of the year. She finds all different kinds of joy by writing for children and grown-ups. You can see a little more about Joanne at JoanneRuelosDiaz.com.