Several years ago my husband deployed to Iraq for a year. We had 4 small children at the time and were living in Germany. It was a difficult year. Although I had more support than I could have hoped for I often felt alone and forgotten.
I tried to make things as memorable as possible for the children, taking them to see local attractions, enrolling them in sports, and attending community activities. They were too young to appreciate my efforts. As the year was drawing to a close, I felt completely drained. I needed an ego boost but almost everyone I knew was in the same boat, too weary to lift and encourage someone else.
Halloween was just around the corner. I considered avoiding the holiday altogether, knowing the children would probably not remember missing it. If I did take them trick-or-treating I would have to use my large, double stroller for my twins or we would never make it past the parking lot.
As I thought about the logistics, I had a burst of inspiration. I could make the stroller into a covered wagon and dress the children as pioneers! The front seat of the stroller was made to be turned around, facing the rear seat. I covered it with a large piece of light-colored fabric and used a cardboard box to make a "wooden" wagon and wheels. I dressed one child in a flannel shirt and overalls, the easiest costume I ever made. I had a gingham dress, complete with a bonnet, that had been mine as a child. I dressed the older 2 children as a cow and a horse, to walk beside the wagon and "pull it". It all turned out just as I imagined. I don't think I have ever been more proud of myself!
On Halloween, I took the chilren out into the neighborhood and started our journey. At first they were excited to get candy and see all the other costumes. We lived on post, at one end of the houseing area. I started down the sidewalk, pushing my wagon and leading my "animals". Everyone loved it. We were stopped by strangers to have our pictures taken. We heard countless "wow"s and dozens of other compliments. It was wonderful!
After about 45 minutes, the kids had had enough. They were complaining and tired. We had barely covered one side of the street. Despite their protests, I dragged them on, up one street and down the other until we had cover the entire housing area. I had exposed my children and my brilliant costume idea to every person I possibly could. My ego had been stroked so much it glowed! I was sure my children felt the same way. Afterall, they were the ones getting the attention. Right?
As I dragged them up to our apartment, weary and worn, their costumes hanging at odd angles from their tired bodies, my 3 year old said "Mommy, don't ever make me do that again." My balloon was popped. Or at least it had a leak. I was irriated that they had not enjoyed themselves more, especailly after all the effort I had made for them.
That nagging little voice in the back of my head snear and said "Oh really? You did it for them? Are you sure?" I thought about this as I changed them into pajamas, rubbing their hands and feet to get them warm and putting them straight to bed, too tired to even look at their spoils. "You're right." I admitted to the voice. "I did it for me. For the attention. I was showing off." I still felt good, floating on a wave of praise for my ingenuity. I am still proud of that idea today. But I learned a very valuable lesson, too.
I learned that night that not everything I do for my children is really for them. I was reminded of a favorite quote, "give them what they need, not what you want to give them." What wonderful advice. My children didn't need candy or costumes or the admiration of strangers. They needed a mother who didn't put her own needs first, who listened to what they had to say, and sometimes made sacrifices for them.
Don't get the wrong idea, I have never been so self-centered as to neglect the children...not completely. And I made plenty of sacrifices for them. What I learned was not to hide my own self-interest behind a guise of caring for my children. I am sure I still do it from time to time. Nobody's perfect!