Jack was half asleep. Caleb needed to eat. And we were already running late for a bouncy house birthday party.
It had been a busy day. Good busy, but still busy. Aaron and I were tired. Though we loved the birthday boy and his family, neither of us were looking forward to another activity.
Aaron opted to stay home with sleepy Jack and hungry Caleb. I grumbled my way to the van with the older two. Fifteen minutes later were were greeted by the bright lights and blaring music of the indoor bounce park. Sigh.
"Mom, can I have some tokens to play that shooting game?" "Watch me! Watch me bounce!" I was silently cursing Aaron. As Parker blasted through space aliens, Maddie and I wandered over to the claw machine. A group of hopeful children, faces pressed against the glass, were sighing with disappointment each time the claw ascended without a prize. Frustrated parents attempted to shoo them away.
I watched, mesmerized. Didn't that little brown bear just pull loose? I'm sure that with 2 more tokens I could win it for Maddie if these little squirts would scram. Um, I mean, if these darling children would kindly give me a turn. As the other children lost interest, I feigned boredom and held back. Maddie was pulling on my arm. "Mommy, come watch me on the princess slide!" "Just a minute, sweetie. Mommy will be right there…" She headed toward the giant slide just as I inserted my tokens.
Then, out of nowhere a sweet little girl who could have been no more than two came up and began to manhandle my controls. I plastered a smile on my face. "May I have a turn?" I asked sweetly. The blinking numbers were counting down. Only 20 seconds left. I began to wrestle the controls. She thought it was a game and pulled harder. Clearly she didn't know with whom she was dealing. 10 seconds. I was embarrassed that I was clearly wrestling with a two year old (and losing) when it finally occurred to me to give her the empty token cup. "Here, Sweetie. Hold on to this tightly. Both hands! Good girl." Victory!
Followed quickly by defeat. My perfectly placed claw emerged sans bear. Deflated, I began to look for Maddie. I saw Parker hanging around the gun game, but Maddie was nowhere in sight. She wasn't on the princess slide. My heart began to race. It was a small space. There weren't a lot of people. Still. She wasn't in the next bounce tent or the next or the next. Why didn't I watch her go down the princess slide? She didn't even want that bear. What was I thinking? Why was I wasting my time, our time? Finally I caught a glimpse of her climbing through a tunnel.
"Maddie!" She ran up to me, smiling. I picked her up and twirled her around. "Maddie, I'm really sorry I didn't come and watch you slide on the princess slide when you asked. Mommy was being silly. I'm sorry."
"That's okay," she replied quickly. "You can watch me now!" We headed back to the huge pink and white monstrosity and I watched her and cheered for her over and over until she was too tired to go anymore. She joined me on the nearby bench and curled into my lap.
Suddenly, I was ecstatic to be at the party. It's so easy for me to take my kids for granted. To assume I know what they want instead of giving them what they are so clearly requesting: me. It's both humbling and wonderful to realize that Maddie just wants me. I forget that she is still so little and innocent partly because she is in fact, so big (in the 90th percentile for height and weight in her age group).
So tonight, I hugged my little big girl tightly and thanked God for our busy day and the lessons He allows me to learn, even amidst the chaos of a bouncy house party.