I had just strapped the kids into their carseats and hustled into the front seat of our van, clicking my own seatbelt while tossing granola bars over my shoulder so that my kids could enjoy the most important meal of the day. If I was lucky and hit all three green lights, we would make it to preschool with 30 seconds to spare. I checked for joggers and dog walkers as I backed out of our driveway and for speeding cars rounding the curved road we live on. All clear. I think the kids were saying something to me, but I was thinking about the things we needed from the grocery store because my well-organized list was still on the kitchen table.
My 5 year old’s voice finally crashed through my thoughts and instantly made me forget every item we needed. I’d definitely be coming home with mozzarella sticks and potato salad for dinner.
“What?!” I snapped back at him, matching his frustrated tone.
“Mommy, I asked you who your favorite Ninja Turtle was and you weren’t listening to me!”
“Sorry, Bud. Ummm, the green one I think.”
Milk, right? I think we need milk. And bread.
“Mom! There isn’t a green Ninja Turtle!”
Milk, bread, and cheese for sure.
“WHAT?!?” We were using our outside voices at this point.
“There isn’t a green Ninja Turtle! Why don’t you know their colors?!”
“I don’t know, kiddo. Mommy doesn’t have time to think about Ninja Turtles.” Dang. First red light. “I’m thinking about other important stuff and I don’t really care about Ninja Turtles.” Apples! We definitely need apples. Or was it strawberries?
And then, from my backseat, came the quietest, saddest, most break-your-heart-into-a-million-pieces, little “Oh.”
I felt my mistake deep in my heart.
My five-year-old understood exactly what I had just said. He fully realized that his Mommy—who is the most important thing in his universe—didn’t care about the second most important thing in his universe: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I needed to right this wrong. Immediately.
“But you know what, Bud? I care about them now! After preschool you and Mommy are going to talk all about Ninja Turtles! You’re going to tell me everything you know about them and we’re going to read books and play Ninja Turtles. And THEN, after you’ve taught me everything, Mommy will decide who her favorite is!”
“Okay!” At the second red light I looked behind me and he was happily munching on his granola bar with a smile on his face.
I may have shattered his world for a split second but I was bound and determined to make sure my Little Man knew that his Mommy was, and always would be, interested in the things that he was interested in.
My Mommy Guilt wouldn’t let me wait until after I picked him back up to start my Turtle 101 course, so I went to the library and picked out some TMNT books. I read them in the parking lot and googled images of Ninja Turtles so I could impress him with at least knowing their names and colors when he came out. Let me tell you, it was NOT easy learning about those Turtles! My brain was used to remembering who I needed to email, deadlines I needed to make, or food I needed to buy. The names and colors of these guys just wouldn’t stick.
I finally came up with little tricks to remember them:
Raphael is Red and they both start with R. Leonardo is bLue so there’s the “L” thing to help me out. Donatello is like Donatella Versace, who is in fashion, and I like to wear purple things so that means he’s purple. Michelangelo is orange because that’s the only one left and there definitely isn’t a green one. (Hey, I never said they were good tricks…) After A LOT of practice I am finally able to navigate a conversation with my son without mixing up their colors or personality traits. Oh, and I like Leonardo the best.
See, the reason I needed to immediately start memorizing Ninja Turtle facts was because that day in the car, when I told him I didn’t really care about TMNT, I felt like I had slammed the door on a conversation that my son wanted to have with me. I made him feel like all things Ninja Turtles were off the table. And in a few weeks when he moves on to Transformers, Mommy probably won’t care about those either. And in a few years when it’s soccer? Probably not that important. What about when he wants to talk about friends? Or crushes? Or problems with school?
I know it may seem dramatic to think that such a small interaction about Ninja Turtles could snowball into a problem when it’s time to talk about “the real stuff,” but to my five year old Ninja Turtles ARE the real stuff.
Right now his world is wonderfully small and uncomplicated while mine feels huge and complex. I have to remember that to him, those seemingly inconsequential conversations about red, blue, orange, and purple mutant turtles are actually very important. It lets him know that if it’s important to him it’s important to his Mommy, too. Always.
So, after that fateful day in the car, I’m trying to make a conscious effort to truly invest time and energy into caring about the things my children are interested in. If I want to set a precedent that “Mommy will always talk with you,” the time to build that foundation of unconditional communication is right now. Sure, sometimes it’s tough to make room in my overflowing brain and my enthusiasm on the subject may need some work, but I keep reminding myself that the time is now. Because turtles will inevitably turn into Transformers. And Transformers into soccer, and friends, and crushes, and school.
And talking to my son about all of that is much more important than trying to remember my grocery list.