“Mom, let’s see how strong you are at Mario.” My five-year-old waves a Wii remote at me.

playing Mario Brothers with my son

I remember what Scott told me two days ago: “That hour I spent playing Wii with him meant so much, Joy. Even though I’m terrible at it.”

I smile, and close the lid of my laptop. “I’m weak at Super Mario Brothers, buddy.”

“That’s ok, mom. You’ll get stronger. Come play and let’s see how you do.”

I take the remote and sit on the couch next to him. He snuggles in next to me with a contented sigh.

We play for at least forty-five minutes, and I’m not as terrible as I thought. Could be because I’m playing a 5-year-old.

***

Scott inserts the Back to the Future DVD. Within minutes, all three kids have materialized from hither and yon, curled up on the couch next to me. They ask questions about all the things from the 80s and the 50s. I start writing, and my oldest reads over my shoulder.

Really, mom? Really?”

“What!? I like to write these things, so I remember them!” I grin back.

He shakes his head with his trademark amused half-smile.

I skim what he just read, then ask, “What’s so funny? The part where I say I’m not terrible because I’m playing a five-year-old?”

The half smile bursts wide into a laugh. “Yeah.”

His sister leans over to read too, then giggles. I can’t keep writing, I realize, and close the laptop again. Plenty of time to capture the story later.   

***

Every time I think about motherhood, I bump into this time thing. It’s so ever-loving time-consuming to teach children all the things. My word. They have to learn how to use their bodies – walk, talk, eat, dress, control their bladders and bowels, sleep, and wake. Then they have to learn social graces like manners, punctuality, cleaning up after themselves.

It’s no wonder I get bored when I spend my days reminding them to put things away after they get them out, asking whether they brushed their teeth and whether their clothes are on the floor or put away, and parlaying truces over wrestling matches gone awry or the custody of a stuffed animal.

I ask whether they really need this or if it’s just a want. Then I ask again because they tried to argue their need for another game or a new accessory or this sugar-filled artificially-colored garbage in the Sponge Bob box.

I say, “You have to do things you don’t want to do every day. Do you really think I want to do all the things I do here?”

Every day. Over and over.

This motherhood thing makes me fight myself constantly. I get bored and want to spice things up, but children do better with consistency, structure, and stability. I want to read and write and explore the world, but my children need to learn to read and write and why they should care about the world.

I tell myself, “You have to do things you don’t want to do every day.”

But the most important part, the part that, when I remind myself to look for it, makes it less boring, less dull, more significant, is truth that my children need more than words from me. They need more than a hug, kiss, and whispered “I love you” when they run out the door to the school bus or when I tuck them in at night. They need me to show “I love you.” Buying things and giving in to their relentless requests might be easy, but it isn’t genuine and it doesn’t have their best interests in mind. I have to give them my time and my focus. I have to close the laptop, set the phone aside, do my work during down time, and listen to their stories, play their games, observe their lessons, and cuddle on the couch even when every cell in my body is screaming about other, better, more productive uses of my time. Maybe I’m not getting the dishes done or Elli’s memoir written, but this time with my children is not wasted. IT IS NOT WASTED. I’m going to say it again, because it’s so easy to believe the lies. SPENDING TIME WITH MY CHILDREN IS GOOD, PRODUCTIVE, AND ESSENTIAL.

This year, I may not get stronger at Super Mario Brothers, but I’m going to play because it’s part of my job. It’s something my son wants me to do with him, and it’s one of the best ways for me to show “I love you.”