Well, as it happend I blew up at my children the other day and amazingly fast they figured out how to have their own fun. It was one of those moments when we as parents reach our limit and need to let off some steam (each weekend), I proposed to (shouted at) my two children that maybe it was time to switch off all electronics and go play outside. Like right now!
“Only dull people become bored,” I called out in my best cheerful sounding voice as I scooted them out the backdoor. I felt a sense of relief, a load lifted, and enjoyed the silence in the house as I returned to work. A couple of minutes later, I got the urge to check on them in our fenced-in backyard. I could not believe my eyes.
My youngest child, almost 3 yrs old, was sitting on a large stone in one of the flower beds watching my oldest, as she made her way up the lawn, rolling out a bicycle. She had discovered it in the garage, pushed it out to the lawn, and now, like a scene from 1920s movies, was entertaining herself by observing how she could make it work.
They were telling directions to one another, strategizing and giggling. My laptop stayed indoors, forgotten, as I saw them have the most enjoyable time ever. With the least drive, they had rediscovered their creativity. And in the process, we were reminded exactly how fantastic it seems to have time– unstructured, uninterrupted, slower than dial-up online time.
Doing “nothing’ is underrated and we should do more of it. Our daily life has become so overly scheduled and due to our smartphones and social media, that doing nothing rarely happens. Work today, eat now, stay today, and play now. Like, retweet, pin, post. Our children are watching, and they are doing it, too. We follow all the things “good parents” should do with their children, but overlook this very basic one. Plan nothing, do nothing, let the kids figure it out.
That day was a sharp reminder that it is our job as parents to fight for time on their behalf. Kids don’t have any clue what they are giving up when they scroll into life; eyes stuck to screens, viewing other people have joy.
Only we are the guardians of their unstructured hours and guard their restricted mud-pie-making days. We will need to let ourselves go create these memories and pass on the self-imposed priority to clean the kitchen. We will need to admit those to-do lists will not ever be completed. And realize that the time we have with children, whose imaginations are still open to new ideas will slide away while we are not paying attention.
I find myself sometimes hoping I could rush through the childhood phase, but then realize there is no rush these moments do not come back. It creeps up on me when I am giving out ice pops to neighborhood children or ripping apart cabinets in the hopes for Star Wars Band-Aids (“But I need the Chewbacca one!”). Honestly, we really should wish for more downtime and get out of the rat race, so we can enjoy our time more as our children grow up.
In those moments, I’m acutely aware that I am working on borrowed time. Their childhoods won’t continue forever. My position as chief planner and arbiter of justice (“Well, then, no one receives the Chewbacca one!”) is short. They have just one childhood. And we only get every summer together once.
Playing with her bike in the backyard was the summer of her 5th year, and before we know it it will be the summer of her 10th year. Wasting any day would be a shame, but squandering one of these golden summer days when their eyes light up for natural pleasures are a travesty.
Summer memories don’t need to be created on pricey trips or complex excursions. You can have a wonderful summer without quitting your day job or selling your possessions. We can choose to (and teach our children to) find the joy in these pockets of time which would otherwise feel regular (the dinner prep, the Sunday afternoon lull, the daycare drop-off ). We can change our “here we go again” attitude to get a “feels like holiday” mindset.
We cannot go back in time or stop time, but we can slow it down. Make this your summer to remember. Turn lunch into an outdoor picnic or a sunny day into a backyard water balloon toss. Pick up the baseball. Put down the phone, and run in the sprinklers instead. Laugh out loud rather than typing it, and odds are your children will do the same. I bet you will remember it in the years to come.