We’ve all been there. Those days when we don’t feel up to adulting, or parenting.
In a bid to make the last few days of the Summer holidays memorable, I took my kids on an outing last week. I usually balk at having to pay admission fees to organised activities because a little day out adds up so quick with three kids. The Zoo was top of my list but the weather report said rain was a-comin’. Auckland in the wet isn’t much fun for kids which is a bummer because Auckland is so often wet. So I googled “indoor activities for kids in Auckland” and the most interesting suggestion it came up with was the Odyssey Sensory Maze – something I had never heard of.
It’s suitable for all ages, but recommended for over 8’s and I figured if I talked to my kids about the potential scare-factors and let them know that we would all be together and Mama would take care of them if they got scared, we would be fine. Parental supervision and all that! I explained there would be dark parts in the maze and that Mama would be right there so not to be worried. Easy peasy. Right? Wrong. Wah, wah, waaaaah!
We removed our shoes, hats and handbags and donned the white cloth gloves we were handed before ambling, slightly nervously, to watch the necessary briefing video. Informed and ‘prepared’, we pushed open the first door and allowed our senses to take over.
Mirrored corridor brilliantly lit with flourescent strip lighting greeted us. I immediately felt like we had stepped into a scene from the Willy Wonka movie and mentioned this to get the kids in a bid to get us all into the spirit of things.
The next door was easy to locate, simply at the end of the narrow space and as my five year old pushed against the mirrored glass, we were welcomed into the next space by the springing forth of vines, leaves and jungle fronds. Entering this space, it was obvious that we had arrived at our first dark room.
I’m not going to tell you exactly what each room of the maze involves, because it’s still an experience worth having, but I am sharing to tell you that in those few moments we spent in the dark spaces, I almost lost my marbles.
I had my 22 month old son on my left hip, each of my other hands holding a hand each of my older two children. My own hands unable to touch the walls, to search for the door, the exit that would enable us to move from this space that not one of us felt comfortable in. I am not sure I would have felt the same sense of panic if my hands were free? If I wasn’t trying to console three small people who were terrified out of their minds? Perhaps the slight claustrophobia I felt creep into my mind and the panic that washed over my entire being like a web gathering me in it’s sticky clutches was because I was obligated to parent, to adult? All I know is that in that moment, I had to talk to myself seriously about keeping my head together.
We made it out of there and to the next space, which was dimly lit but not pitch black and we gathered ourselves together before moving forth to the next realm. Pitch Black again. Hands clutched, whimpering children. The older two set the younger one off and although the man at the front desk had told me to wave at the little security camera in place in each room if the kids freaked out, (which would enable him to come and let us out), I could not actually see any security camera to wave to which further added to the anxiety I was feeling. It was so incredibly dark in there that I was trying to feel my way by tentatively placing a foot to step in front of me to find where a safe placement was. That protective instinct that only a parent can feel kicked in like you wouldn’t believe. I was desperate to find the exit to bring my children peace and security. I was talking to them every moment (probably almost talking too much just to let them know I was there and with them and that I was going to get us to safety) and giving reassurance verbally that I did not feel internally. It was a serious mind-f@#k (pardon my French) situation. I felt proud of my ability to keep it together so that they had no idea I was scared, for I was sure that that would send them over the edge but I knew I had to keep it together and not allow myself to slip further into my own fear.
We eventually got through the dark spaces and into some amazing not dark spaces that we thoroughly enjoyed. My kids begged to do the whole thing again once we reached the end which suggests that the experience didn’t scar them at all (thank goodness), but it’s had me thinking about it ever since and I haven’t been able to put the parallels between that experience and real life and parenting in particular to rest.
Some days we can’t be bothered, some times we want to scream and some days we feel like we have no idea how to handle the situation in front of us. We want to hide and close our eyes and pretend that we’re not the parent, not the adult. But just like I chose to take my children to the maze that day, I have also chosen to be a Mama. I have chosen to have children. I have chosen to take that job seriously and to the best of my ability. This isn’t just a side show. This is our lives. I have a responsibility and an obligation to my children.
I won’t always be there or able to protect my children. I won’t always be able to pretend that everything is going to be OK, that we’ll make it out and be fine. But I’m going to try my darndest. Because that’s what being a Mama and a parent is about. It’s about putting their needs before mine while they’re little and need me to be there. It’s about giving them security, emotional security and confidence in their surroundings – so that when they are grown and no longer need me to offer that same shelter and protection, they’ll be comfortable in their skin, confident in themselves and resilient enough to deal with whatever life throws at them – dark, scary, bright, light and pretty. I want them to learn that even when life seems impossible and they’re scared, they can come out the other side to the most magical of places. That through these hard experiences, they can discover more about how amazing they are. How capable. How strong.
On the days when I can’t be bothered, when I can’t deal with parenting, I wanna think back to that 20 minutes we spent in the Odyssey Sensory Maze and remember how I comforted my children by the touch of my hands and sounds of my voice. I want to recall how I was able to reassure them to walk through the dark. That I encouraged them to see through the seeming scary surroundings. That I gave them a sense of reality. That I pep-talked them out of a scary situation. And the rest was incredible. We made it.
May our journey through life be similar. Dark days come, it’s how we deal with them and walk forward that is important. That’s what makes the difference at the end of the day. How do we deal with those uncomfortable situations? How do we talk to ourselves in the midst of fear and anxiety?
At the end of it all, we’ve got this. We can parent. We can adult. We can be the thing our children need in their moments of joy and their moments of fear.