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Learning to Relax and Enjoy Motherhood

Shoes tied. Sunglasses located. Children occupied. Hand on doorknob. O-kay! I'm outta here!

"Can I come with you?"

Stopped in my tracks by the small voice of 3-year-old Page.

"Not this time, sweetie."

"Pleeease?"

"I have to go for my walk for some exercise. And you're already wearing your pajamas!"

"I can walk fast."

"Don't you want to play with Brownie?"

"No."

"Or Daddy?"

"No. I only want to be with you."

I've been looking forward to this walk all day, my sacrosanct hour to burn off some insanity and some calories, and to stretch out my back before hunching over books and bunk beds at tuck-in time.

Then I notice that Page is wearing sneakers with her pj's. And they're on the correct feet.

No! No falling for the heartrending detail! Mustn't give in!

"Look, I'll be back soon and then we can walk together a little bit," I try.

"I want to go with you now. I said 'please,'" she points out.

"Yes, that was very polite. But I have to go and walk really fast before it gets dark."

"That's what you said yesterday."

Got me! Score, Page!

Margaret, who's 5, hears all this and understands I've succumbed. Before I know it, she's Velcroing up her shoes, too. At least they didn't suggest we also bring the dog. The last time Brownie went on a walk, he stopped a half mile from the house, planted his skinny brown dachshund behind in the street, and had to be carried the rest of the way.

So off we go  -- me, Margaret and her lovey, Love Toy, Page and her lovey, Ratty, and a couple of blankies.

From Momfidence! An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting, by Paula Spencer. Copyright 2006, by Paula Spencer. Published by Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House, Inc.

Taking time out to relax and enjoy the little things

Sure enough, we don't make it past three houses when we have to stop to taste some honeysuckle. A few paces later we watch a cat climb on a roof. We chase a squirrel, pick up a ladybug, feel droplets from a neighbor's sprinkler as it arcs over the garden onto the street.

We trace letters that have been formed by cracks in the road. We read road signs: S-T-O-P.

Ratty is dropped, and we backtrack to retrieve him. At first I'm impatient, even though I try not to look it. My pulse rate is barely registering above resting. I have to take geisha steps in order not to outpace the little girls at my sides. I glance at my watch and the setting sun.

We observe that pink, purple, orange, and red are sunset colors, but not green.

By the time we see the hydrangea-blue fairy floating over the road-a real one, with tiny silvery wings, probably on her way to a ball, Margaret guesses  -- I realize that I'm having a pretty good time and that my back feels fine. Instead of just pumping my lungs while working out a to-do list in my head as the scenery whizzes past unnoticed, I'm walking the way a small child does, with my whole body and all five senses. It seems natural to skip for a few steps and burst into a few bars of "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." Besides, it's not every day you see a fairy.

Between wiping noses, modeling manners, cleaning messes, and reminding them not to run in the street, opportunities to simply be with my kids (besides Margaret and Page, there's Eleanor, 8, and Henry, 10) can seem as rare as unspilled milk. If I'm not tending to their morals or their fingernails, it's laundry and lunch boxes, playtime and discipline, homework and carpool.

Sometimes I'm too busy being a mom to enjoy being a mom.

Hurry up! We're going to be late! Stop dawdling! You're going to miss the bus! Not now: Here, let me do that for you. Partly the rushing is an inevitable function of modern parenthood. Getting from point A to point B can be challenging enough with just yourself to think about. Marshaling one or two (or five) other bodies along with you can't help but bog you down sometimes. Not even the U.S. army moves troops that quickly  -- and they have military precision on their side, which Lord knows I do not. We also live in a world where everybody moves fast and expects faster: overnight shipping, high-speed Internet access, 30-minute dry cleaning, instant rice.

I'd like to think my kids will always remember me as I was on our walk: patient, attentive, exploratory, loving, fun. Or will they recall only the blur of the warp-speed dervish from Most-of-the-Time, hustling them through room pickups and playdate pickups on her way to 10,000 other tasks?

An hour with a small child can sometimes drag like a whole day, and a day can sometimes feel like a week. But the weeks melt into months just like that, and the years  -- well, let's just say I'm still trying to figure out how they can outgrow their clothes and expand their vocabularies at such a rapid rate when their dad and I are just standing still.

"How old are you?" Page wanted to know on my last birthday.

"Twenty-nine!" said my husband, rescuing my lips from having to form the actual dread number.

"Hey! You were twenty-nine last year!" Margaret frowned.

"Yeah," chimed in Eleanor suspiciously. "You must be thirty one of these birthdays."

Henry, with a higher-level understanding of math on his side, went for the jugular. "Exactly what year were you born in anyway?"

Like I said, how can they be evolving so rapidly when I'm not changing a bit? Best not to hurry things along any faster than they need to be. When asked why they have kids, most parents give lofty reasons: to experience the warmth of family, to perpetuate the species, to see what marvel will result from mixing their genes. But slowing down to kid time reminds me of parenthood's other little perquisites, like:

* Clobbering Wiffle balls with a plastic bat and becoming your child's sports idol, even if you were a benchwarmer in school.

* Getting reacquainted with Dr. Seuss, Madeline, Curious George, and Harold and his purple crayon  -- and realizing why you never really forgot them.

* Riding the merry-go-round, swinging on playground swings, building snowmen, and catching fireflies until you decide it's time to quit.

* Watching Bugs Bunny cartoons again, this time appreciating the references to 1940s movie stars.

* Learning the scientific names of dinosaurs from apatosaurus to zephyrosaurus.

* Discovering that the bunny's name isn't Pat.

* Marveling at diggers.

* Nibbling animal crackers in the middle of the grocery store.

* Seeing tigers in the trees and fairies right in the middle of your suburban street.

Yesterday, when Margaret and Page hauled out the crayons and some paper snuck from my printer, my first impulse was to simultaneously scan the newspaper, fix dinner, and check my e-mail while they were occupied. Instead, I sat down with them.

Forest Green. Robin's Egg Blue. Purple Mountain Majesty. Even the names of the colors were relaxing. We drew flowers, spider webs, and countless rainbows. They were delighted, and so was I. An hour sped by before I got a crick in my back from sitting so long in a stiff ergonomically incorrect kitchen chair. I stood up.

"C'mon guys. Let's take a walk."

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