“I think I’ve ruined him. He starts school tomorrow, and I feel like I’ve lost all my chances with him.” I say.
My husband, Rich, reaches across the console of the car and rests his hand on my arm, “I think you might be overreacting.”
I turn to face the backseat of the car, where a few seconds ago Rhett had stuck his tongue out at me.
“I know he’s not ruined.” I exhale. “But the first five years were all mine,” I say, looking out the window at the fields passing by. “Sometimes he’s disrespectful and doesn’t listen to me, and I wonder if I failed at everything I was supposed to do.”
“Do you think maybe you’re just sad he’s starting school?” he asks.
I shake my head, “A little, but that’s not all I’m feeling.”
The change is so subtle, it feels like it happened overnight. And maybe it did. Slowly, the morning light breaks through the prairie skies sooner, and the light lingers well into the 5 o’clock hour. Wasn’t it just yesterday it was pitch black by five? During the winter months, the light would vanish, enveloping our house like a cacoon—calling everyone in for dinner. The end of the light outside acting as a signal to come in. When I think back to an afternoon outside with the kids, I recall an edge in the air—so crisp it felt like I could reach out and grab it, and like a reflex, I would reach up to pull my hat down over my ears.
“Mom, I’m hungry!” I glance at my phone, not realizing it’s already nearing 4:30, and I have zero plans for dinner.
“Do you want a cheese stick while I figure out what we’re having for dinner?” I ask.
Once I’ve passed off two cheese sticks and a sliced apple, I search through the fridge and pantry, hoping something will magically appear. At the same time, I begin to wonder what time Rich will be home. I think back over the last few months of winter and how we had begun to fall into some semblance of a routine.
In the fall as the days shortened, his schedule did too. After a long spring of planting, followed by hot days of haying, then harvest, which rolled right into fall planting—the shorter days of fall and winter felt like a balm to my weary soul. A bit of the weight of carrying the kids, both literally and figuratively, had dropped from my shoulders. In the long seasons, I rarely count on him being home before dark—which in the peak of summer is after 10 p.m. The sun acts as a time card, he punches in at sunlight and doesn’t punch out until dusk or dark.
While I love the longer days and the extra sun hours of sun that stream through the windows. The longer days also mean more hours of being alone for the kids and me.
The next day, the kids open the shed in the backyard, pulling out their outside tractors and bikes, getting out their John Deere Gator, which was stored away for the winter. While they are still wearing their stocking caps to break the wind from their ears, they can feel a change in the season too. Even though it’s barely March, we all are ready for a change. But with that change also brings a sense of dread over me.
I feel guilty complaining about the hours of light coming back, and the sunny, warm days ahead. Instead of thinking of the hard moments yet to come, I close my eyes and think of all that spring brings. From the buds on the trees to my tulips in the front yard to the afternoons spent watching the kids ride their bikes up and down the gravel road in front of our house. I’ll switch out my stocking cap for a baseball cap. I imagine in the coming weeks I will sort through the box of hats and mittens, hoping to find all the pairs (a losing game to play). I’ll store them away, knowing that next winter some of them will be outgrown, the kids another year older.
While I know the coming days will bring hours of time when I’m alone, I want to remember how good the sun feels. I want to embrace the extra hours of light. I know some days that will be harder than others, and I’ll still find myself counting down the minutes until bedtime—while also reminding the kids that sometimes we go to bed when it’s still light outside (thank you, blackout curtains).
As I look out the window, I hear the sound of the Gator on the gravel. I pull the curtains back and see Allie driving alone—her bright pink hat contrasting with her blue jacket (Rhett’s hand-me-down). I watch in amazement as she steers the Gator into the garage, parking it without hitting anything. Last year she couldn’t reach the pedals, no matter how hard she tried. Now here she is, proudly driving alone. I quickly walk to the garage door and open it.
“Allie! Look at you!” I say. Her broad smile matching mine.
In the light of day, the changing of seasons brings more than just daylight—it reveals the growth that’s happened over the winter, and a gentle reminder of all the goodness yet to come.
“Not that I’m counting, but I see you with your second piece,” Rich says with a wink as I bring a forkful of tiramisu cake to my mouth.
I smirk and happily scrape the rest of the cake from the bowl, not wanting to waste a bite. “I’ll probably regret that tomorrow, but it’s so good.”
“Nah, you deserve it,” he says.
A couple of weeks earlier, while digging through the chest freezer looking for something to make for dinner, I found a Rubbermaid container filled with Rhett’s birthday cake. Dinner was pretty much forgotten once I discovered the cake. While the cake itself is made from a box mix, I use my mom’s recipe for buttercream frosting and then I decorate the cake. I don’t consider myself a pro by any means, but it’s my one “crafty” thing I do for my kids. And it’s the only true tradition I have kept going for five years.
Growing up, my mom made all of my birthday cakes too, which I know has influenced my desire to make my kids their cakes too. In the early years my mom picked the cakes she would make, but then I started picking my own designs, from Winnie the Pooh to the Tasmanian Devil. Each year on the night before my birthday, after I went to bed my mom would stay up and finish my cake. When I woke up on my birthday, the cake was perfectly made and displayed on the kitchen table.
I know my mom was up well past when I went to bed, and I only know this now because I’ve found myself up late, putting the final squeeze of frosting on the cakes for my kids. And every year I ask myself, “Why did I want to do this again?” But the next morning when the kids wake up and I see the looks on their faces when they see their cakes for the first time, I remember why I stay up late.
Now back here in my kitchen, I open the Rubbermaid container, impressed to see the cake still looking delicious—not a speck of freezer burn. Rhett sees the bright blue frosting and says, “My birthday cake! Is today my birthday?”
I pause, honestly surprised he remembered his cake from almost six months ago. I laugh, “No, this is just leftover from your birthday.”
After dinner, I slice the cake and each of us has one piece—and I am impressed at how well it tastes for being frozen.
One-piece remains, and I put the container back on the counter.
The next day, Rhett asks for the cake again and Rich tells him, “Nope, that’s Mom’s piece.” Whether he said it because he loves me or is scared to get between me and a piece of cake, I’m not sure. But I love him for it anyway.
According to Gary Chapman’s book about the five love languages, quality time is my love language. And while I definitely know that’s true, I believe cake is part of my love language too. It’s more than the taste of the cake, which don’t get me wrong, I love. It’s the time my mom spent making 18+ cakes in my life, and now the time I’ve spent making cakes for my kids.
Cake marks special occasions and traditions. From birthdays and weddings to the everyday—such as a solo trip to the grocery store. There are also the vacations I’ve taken to visit friends, where I’ve dragged them to the nearest Sprinkles cupcake store (shout out to Melissa and Sprinkles in Scottsdale). Or the times Rich has surprised me by bringing cupcakes home from town when I knew he had to go out of his way to get them.
Just like I can picture most of the cakes my mom made me, I hope my kids remember some of the cakes I make for them. The fact that Rhett knew this was his cake six months after his birthday, already gives me hope that this tradition is meaningful.
I don’t expect them to remember each cake, I just hope the memory of how they felt on their birthdays doesn’t completely fade. Even though my cakes are far from perfect, I want them to know I did it out of love for them.
Now if you’ll excuse me, there’s a piece of cake in the kitchen that’s calling my name.
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “Love Languages”.
From morning til night, The requests never end. We just had breakfast. It’s almost lunch. How can you still be hungry? Someday I know I’ll miss being the keeper of snacks. But until then, can you go and ask your dad?
This post was written as part of a blog hop with Exhale—an online community of women pursuing creativity alongside motherhood, led by the writing team behind Coffee + Crumbs. Click here to read the next post in this series “On Repeat.”
Headlights cross our front windows, sending beams of light through the house. It’s early December, and although it’s only 7 o’clock, it’s already been dark for a couple hours. “Rhett and Allie, come see! Someone is here!” They run toward the window, peering into the darkness. A minute later, a man in a red suit appears, his black boots shining. Rhett pauses for a moment, then whispers, “Santa?” Last year he was nervous when Santa stopped by our house, and I’ve been wondering how he would feel about this year’s visit. Two loud raps hit the front door and the kids stand frozen by the Christmas tree.
My husband, Rich, opens the door and Santa booms, “Merry Christmas! Is this Rhett and Allie’s house?”
I walk over to the kids and start to usher them to the front door. “Hi Santa, how nice of you to stop by!” I say as Allie hides behind my legs and Rhett stands with his fingers in his mouth, inching closer to the door.
“Have you two been good this year?” Santa asks, kneeling on the floor. They both nod, their eyes wide.
“I heard that you have been and I wanted to bring you a little gift before Christmas!” He pulls two small bags from behind his back. Rhett cautiously reaches out to take one, but Allie shakes her head and hides behind me.
Rhett tears into his bag, while I slowly pull the gifts out of Allie’s bag, showing them to her. Santa says, “Well, I have to be going. Mrs. Claus is waiting for me at home!” He stands up and waves his goodbyes, then closes the door behind him as he disappears once again into the darkness.
While we get our kids ready for bed, my son climbs onto his top bunk. He doesn’t sleep there yet but loves the somewhat “off-limits” idea of it. My daughter looks up at her brother and immediately points to him and says, “Up!” My husband gently lifts her onto the bunk and she starts running from one end of the mattress to the other.
My stomach starts doing flip-flops as I envision her falling headfirst onto the floor. “Sweetie, no running. Crawl.”
She looks down at us, “Huh?” as she tilts her head to the side, using both hands to brush the hair from her face.
My son looks down at his dad with a big smile and says, “You come up here, too?” My husband agrees and starts to climb the ladder.
I stand down on the floor, arms crossed, secretly counting the minutes until the kids are asleep and I can get back to my book. But eventually, I give in to their cries for me to “come up here!”
Truthfully, my heart swelled knowing they want me to join them. All too often I choose to sit on the sidelines, letting these moments pass by, worn out by the demands of motherhood and mentally clocking out before they are asleep.
To read the rest of my essay, click over to my newest story at Motherly.