“Mom, you know what doesn’t seem to happen at our house?” My oldest son asked me one busy morning when I was getting lunches ready and trying to get out of the house on time.
“Hmm. What’s that, buddy? A lot of stuff happens at our house.”
“That word Later that you use. I don’t think later happens.”
Ugh. Hit to the gut. I stopped spreading the peanut butter on the bread, put the jar down and turned to look at my little boy and see his sweet eyes. He was asking a genuine question and I couldn’t let my own feelings of knowing I’ve disappointed my family cloud my reply. Inside I was feeling the same way as he was – but he had the courage to say it out loud and question why it doesn’t happen.
Being the oldest of three busy little boys, he has heard me say, “Let’s do that later,” so many times.
When he asks if we can go to Toys R Us to buy more Pokémon cards, my reply is, “Maybe later this weekend when we have more time.”
When he asks to have his friends over to ride bikes in the new park nearby, I’ve turned him down with, “Let’s wait until later when both your brothers are feeling better.”
When he plans his lemonade stand and excitedly explains that his business plan includes opening it up before Memorial Day, I’ve said, “Later this summer – it’ll be great.”
He’s right. Later doesn’t really happen in our house because life and the responsibilities of taking care of three boys with karate, baseball, soccer, science fairs, and playdates are overwhelming. Add in the time we need to make for work commitments and family events plus household chores like laundry, making dinner, and keeping little boys from breaking stuff around the house – and I certainly can confirm that this kid never sees later.
Later did happen at our house once, though. And it was a big one.
A few years ago, I was busily building my business and our family was just discovering the demands of having a self-employed mom and a full-time working dad while handling a kid starting kindergarten. I was writing out our Christmas cards and I realized I had to remove a few addresses from our mailing list because a few people close to us had passed away. Eight, actually, which changed my way of thinking that year.
At that time, we had been talking about taking the kids to Disney World. “Later. When the kids are older and will be able to remember the memories we make,” I justified when friends would ask when we planned to take them to the most magical place on earth. Honestly, the thought of taking three kids under the age of four on an airplane and spending $5000+ on a 6-day trip was not in my plans. “Definitely later.” I didn’t know what I meant by later, but it ended conversations.
Bev lost her husband Joe after a quick battle with cancer. Mr. Z from our town buried his wife after a sudden car accident. My sweet Aunt Kit passed away, and so did Aunt Eleanor. My cousin Michael died in a swimming accident the summer before, and a neighbor on my block died suddenly in his early 20’s.
I was determined to make “later” happen.. I researched a trip to Disney World and justified it, saying that all the work I was doing to build my business wasn’t worth the money I made if I didn’t enjoy the life I was building with our family. I booked a trip with less than 6 weeks of planning, and we brought the kids to see the Magic Castle, hug the princesses, ride Dumbo, and eat the waffles shaped like Mickey Mouse. One kid got the flu and had to be quarantined, and when we finally saw Minnie Mouse and Donald Duck in person, the three-year-old just shrugged his shoulders and said, “Ehh, she’s not real, Mom. It’s just someone dressed up as Minnie, and continued eating his breakfast.
I look back at the pictures of that trip and I don’t think of the size of the check we wrote to get there. I don’t think of the lost work I didn’t get to do because I wasn’t home to do it. I don’t think of the plane ride where I worried that my kid-who-always-gets-car-sick would throw up on a stranger sitting next to us.
Instead I think of how my husband and I had made “later” happen. We put our family first, and knew that making memories with them at a special age would mean more than the size of our bank account down the road. We enjoyed each other – we saw smiling faces and heard glorious giggles. Those alone are worth more than we could imagine.
I’m proud that I’ve made later happen before, but standing in my kitchen and seeing my son’s disappointed eyes – I realized I have to keep making later happen. It can’t be a one or two-time thing. This week we will be on a family vacation, and I’m hoping my boys will remember that later does happen, but we need to make it happen. Later has to happen so much more – and I have my oldest son to thank because he has reminded me that later is for real.