Parenting is wonderful and challenging. I was having a conversation about parenting recently. The person suggested, that when you are in the middle of the chaos, ask yourself, “are you doing the best that you can right at this moment?” This is golden. We usually are. It’s just reminding ourselves is a hard thing to do. Especially when we are busy telling our toddlers, “don’t eat paper”, “don’t pick up your sister by the neck”, “stop picking your nose and wiping it on me”, “don’t pee on other people’s pumpkins”.

    It’s a September “almost Fall” Saturday.  I decide to take four kids to the apple orchard.  Solo.  With two toddlers who had not napped. One of whom hates everything: the carseat, mornings, nights, days, diaper changes, clothes, naps,  black, white, colors, being held, being put down, sleeping alone, sleeping in my bed. But everyone had clothes on (and shoes) and no one was bickering so to the farm we go! “Fresh air will make them happy” I thought.  And it did. Eventually.

    So I drive to the farm singing “the itsy bitsy spider” in my 12 passenger van, freshly vacuumed with no goldfish on the floor. On the way, my 8 year old comments that she hopes it drizzles just enough for her to smell the rain. My little nature lover. Then she starts to argue with my 6 year old. The 8 yo yells from the back of the van, “Ma! Can you imagine what she will be like as a teenager?” and just as the nausea hit me, I was about to say something motherly like, “she’s a strong willed girl”, the 6 yo shouts out and starts crying, “Mom! I dropped my mascara!” There’s my answer. In that moment I realized how different they really are. How different all of our kids are. There are no two of them who have had the exact same experiences living in this world. Perspective is a beautiful thing.  They each have their own. They each have their loves and their hates. So the first piece of advice is to recognize this. Individuality is a great thing.

      I drive on and I hear, “he loves me. he loves me not.”  from both of them although not in sync. There goes the clean floor. Yes, yellow flower petals all over the car before I can even say, “respect the car” in my best motherly voice. We all have one. It’s the voice you use when you are teaching them, attempting to stay calm and remembering the parenting book you read diligently when you were pregnant with the first kid. Stay calm. Be kind.

     We arrive and I get everyone across the hopping parking lot alive. My oldest reminds me that I should have brought the double stroller so I don’t lose the littles. This is true. 

     We start out at the goats. We can’t feed them because I don’t have any quarters. Oh the drama. I tell them to just enjoy watching the goats be goatlike. whatever mom.

      Next, we go play to the play area.  The bigs run to this big plastic tube which they happily swing on. There’s a brave dad pushing it with about 10 giggling kids.  The mom beside me holding her 2yo says to her toddler, ”no honey you are too little for that.” In my mind I’m thinking, “whatever.  it’s only 2 feet off the ground. my fearless toddler will be fine.” I lift her up to sit in front of sissy. Not even 10 seconds later, I see them fall off the side in slow motion and the baby’s leg gets stuck under the tube. Really? The little starts screaming. The big starts panicking, “free my sister!” I run over with a few others and we lift the plastic tube. I sit down and calm them, anxiously waiting to see if the baby can walk on her leg. She’s more bothered because her shoe got dirty. She limps a few steps and then runs full force ahead to the hay stacks. Whew. No ER visit. I’m doing the best that I can. Next piece of advice, if it can happen, it probably will happen. Risky play can be valuable for our children. It teaches them confidence. Just be   mindful of that light tap on your shoulder and why it is there.

      Three potty breaks later, after our bellies are filled with donuts and cider slushies and a few more arguments transpire, I try to get the dreaded photo. The one where they are all looking in the same direction. Imagine one kid mad jumping off of the wheel barrel. Another crying in the wheel barrel. The littles in the wheel barrel looking away with the baby over the other’s shoulder. Dress over her head. Marker streaked legs with only a diaper view.  A wet diaper with the green stripe. Really? It’s a no go.

       Lastly, we are ready to ride the cow train pulled by a tractor. Woohoo!  I squeeze myself into a metal cow named Bessie, place the baby on my lap and buckle us in seeing as we already had one injury today.   As I’m waiting a mom in front of me asks how many kids I have. Then she screams to her husband in the 2nd cow, “See honey, she has four and she’s still smiling!” I’m smiling because I’m about to relax in fresh air  for 9 full, glorious minutes while my kids are buckled into cows and can’t get out.  Advice: pay for that cow ride. Find the relaxation wherever you can. 

      It’s my favorite time of day. 5 pm. Cool and comfortable in the mountains. I gently wrestle the baby into the carseat as she turns all shades of red. We head home singing “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” and I realize that I have to feed them again. Already?  Make a meal. Serve a meal. Clean up a meal. Repeat. Do I even have meat defrosted? Do I have a green veggie for a side? That well balanced meal will have to wait. Cereal it is. And that is OK, Because I’m doing the best that I can and you are too.  If our children are mostly happy, loved and love others, and have meaningful, healthy experiences, we are doing OK.