A tip to readers with small children: One of the easiest and most satisfying ways to feel like a successful parent is to give your kids a special treat.
Now this is a delicate matter, and one where diminishing returns are obviously a danger. You cannot treat your kids every day and expect the glow of good parenting to last. (All too quickly you realize that such indulgence is bad parenting.)
But there's a special sense of doing-well that comes from realizing when it's the right time for a treat, and carrying through with said treat. Case in point: Friday was a snow day for the local schools, the second this week (even though the roads never even got a coating of frozen stuff). I bundled up the kids and took them out in the blowing snow and freezing temperatures to spend the morning at my office, giving Noel a chance to get some work finished. We made our way laboriously across campus, our faces and hands getting red from the wind and wet from the flakes.
As we approached the student center, I saw lights in the coffee shop. The campus was closed, so I hadn't expected any of the food service locations to be operating -- but come to think of it, the students on campus still needed to eat, so it made sense. We diverted into the student center to escape the weather, and I realized in quick succession: (1) I can get a hot chai, which would be great; and (2) I bet the kids can get hot chocolate.
I ordered and got the kids out of their snowy outer clothes. Before you could say "mini marshmallows," the kids each had small cups of hot chocolate -- the perfect accompaniment to a snow day. It was a little tricky for them to sip out of the cup without it being too hot for them, so we used straws.
Suddenly what had been a day with vanishing prospects of outdoor fun (the snow never even covered most grassy surfaces), a day where my only ambition was to keep the kids occupied until naptime without serious incident, became something special. I felt like a hero for capping off the blustery walk through the falling snow with the traditional reward of hot chocolate. The kids enjoyed setting out the Chinese checkers game in the lounge area while pausing for sips of their drinks. I sipped my chai and congratulated myself for my success at playing the role of snow-day mom.
You can't do it every day, but if you time it right, you can make an ordinary day special for your children. And when you're the all-powerful dictator ruling their lives, you should use that power to dispense joy every so often.