Reading a book 200 times is a surefire way to find out whether you love it or want to throw its rhyming llama couplets into the diaper pail. Children's books especially do a tricky dance for an audience of squinty-eyed parents and wide-eyed tots: the best ones, like a syringe of infant-suspension Tylenol, have a little something for the parent at the end. These are the ones we are celebrating in This Book Belongs To — the books that send us back to the days of our own footed pajamas, and make us feel only half-exhausted when our tiny overlords ask to read them one more time.
A few weeks ago, I planned a spectacular mommy-daughter outing. A morning dance class, picnic at the park, and visit to the new lights exhibit downtown after dark. It was going to be a day (and night!) to remember. I could hear my almost 5-year-old bragging about this day for months to come. “I had the most fantastic time ever,” she’d boast to all her friends, sharing the most intricate of details from our Saturday bonding experience.
We all live for Saturdays. Seventy percent of mothers with kids under 18 were in the workforce in 2015, up from 47% back in 1975, as Pew reported. We work long hours, because child care is more expensive than ever, but we also worry we are missing out. We feel like we have to make Saturday count. That is the idea behind Oge Mora’s book Saturday, which came out earlier this year. A mom, a kid, and the promise of a perfect day together. If only that’s how it always played out.
I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of why mom needed to be pulled away from us for work.
One of my fondest childhood memories is spending Saturdays with my mom. She was a cosmetologist, so working weekends weren’t optional. The typical school/work week juggle didn’t leave much time for us to bond. But I loved Saturdays. At first, I didn’t quite understand the magnitude of why mom needed to be pulled away from us for work — especially on Saturdays. She did her best to make a financial contribution to the household, do something she (sort of) loved, and balance family life.
Begrudgingly, I’d wake up at the crack of dawn with the same routine. Spank the alarm clock. Brush teeth and shower. Eat a huge, nutritious bowl of Fruity Pebbles with just enough milk to wet the flakes. Park my tush in front of the television for Saturday-morning cartoons. Next, I’d pack my backpack with books, schoolwork, and toys — enough to last at least eight hours. And then off we went!
While the afternoons were reserved for backroom homework assignments or leisure reading, the first half of the day was usually spent helping mom around the shop. I made myself useful by sweeping up hair, cleaning spills, folding towels, or refilling products in between customers. I even got a few dollar bills for assisting. Money in the (piggy) bank!
The best part of our day, though, was mom’s lunch break. I felt extra special considering the only time she ever took a break was on Saturdays when I was there. We’d hold hands and walk across a huge street to the plaza. “Remember to look both ways,” she said sternly. Our first stop was a local pizza shop for a larger-than-life slice of extra cheesy pizza. The owner always threw in a bag of chips on the house, too. After lunch, I noticed mom would gaze at her watch. She only had a 30-minute break, but we often took a full hour (sometimes an hour and a half).
After lunch, we’d walk over to Caldor for a little window shopping. Every now and then, mom would count the extra tips she’d made that morning and tell me to “pick out something nice.” She meant clothes, but I always opted for toys or books instead.
Those lunch breaks made me forget about mom working. Fifteen minutes or an hour, I was truly grateful that we were spending time together.
The special day I had planned for my daughter hadn’t gone exactly how I envisioned — enter the mom guilt. Instead of spending Saturday out on the town, I spent the day cooped up in bed with a migraine. A marathon of kiddie movies and an ice pack perched upon my face, all I could think about was the missed opportunity to spend quality time with my favorite girl. I did manage to muster enough energy for a quick dance party. Twenty minutes of uninhibited movement.
These times are so precious and I couldn’t deliver.
I had been an unhealthy kind of busy lately. Most parents are these days. We pack our schedules with work, meetings, school, playdates, extracurriculars, and just about anything else that keeps us on the go, go, go. It’s not purposeful, and sometimes, busyness is not the most productive state of being either. But it’s the society that we’ve built for ourselves. Seconds, days, and months pass before we realize how our hectic schedules hold us hostage. And when we try to keep up with an abnormal level of commitments, our bodies will alert us that it’s time to slow down.
That’s probably why I got a terrible migraine.
In Saturday, by Caldecott winner Mora (Thank You, Omu), the main character, Ava, is really excited to spend the day with her mother. But when the day doesn’t go as planned, Ava watches her mother crumble.
“I’m sorry, Ava. We looked forward to this all week, and I’ve messed up everything… I ruined Saturday.”
I felt just like Ava’s mother — like I had wrecked our Saturday. These times are so precious and I couldn’t deliver. The mom guilt was causing me to beat myself up over spoiled plans, but what I hadn’t realized was that, even though things hadn’t gone as originally planned, my daughter was completely enamored with what we were doing. I hadn’t noticed that my daughter kissed me on the forehead while telling me to “feel better.” I hadn’t noticed that authentic chuckles as she watched her favorite movie. I hadn’t noticed the joy she displayed through moving her body to her favorite Kidz Bop tunes. She enjoyed just being in my presence.
“Don’t worry, Mommy… Today was special. Today was splendid. Saturdays are wonderful… because I spend them with you,” Ava tells her mother.
As a parent, I get it now. The constant hustle and bustle of life is no easy task. It’s hard AF. What I’ve learned from one Saturday gone awry is that I need to slow down. I’ve also learned that even on our busiest days, anytime spent with our children is a breath of fresh air. It doesn’t matter what we do, as long as we are together.
And if my own dear mama is reading this, I want her to know that I remember. Not only do I appreciate the sacrifices she made to work, but more importantly, I absolutely treasured any time that we spent together — especially on Saturdays.