Time is a sweet ally and a cunning foe for a parent.
One of my friends says that every day of her life feels like Groundhog Day. She has a 2 year old, and every morning they wake up at the same time, eat the same breakfast, watch the same TV show, and walk the same circuitous route through the neighborhood with a pause at an overpass to watch trains rattle by at dizzying speed. “Trains!” her son yells, as if he’s never seen them before. Every afternoon he eats the same lunch off the same plate and goes down for a nap, and she gets out the broom and paper towels and starts cleaning up the mess he made in the previous couple of hours. And then it’s time for her to work because she’s also a children’s pastor. Of course, she loves her life and chooses it. She does not feel victimized. But it’s the sameness that turns time into a turtle crawl of repetition and makes almost all moms ask, “What day is it today?”
Jack has a sweater. It’s a cute sweater made of fine gauge gray knit with stripes that swoop across the chest, just a little too small. For some reason, in the depths of summer, he decided to come downstairs wearing the sweater. Every morning.
“Jack,” I would say when I saw him, wearing the sweater and orange basketball shorts, “it’s too hot to wear a sweater.”
“Why, Mom?” he would ask.
“When it’s hot outside, we wear clothes that are light and cover less of our bodies,” I explain. “We wear sweaters in the winter because they are warm and it’s very cold outside.”
“I’m cold,” he promptly says.
“Let’s go upstairs and pick out a different shirt,” I say.
“No, I want to wear the sweater! I’m not hot!” he insists.
Sometimes I give in until it’s time to go to the park. “Jack, it’s 98 degrees outside. Take off the sweater now.”
“Noooooooooo!!! I like this sweater! I want to wear the sweater!!!!!”
I’m sure you’ve heard many parents talk about how “the days are long but the years are short”?… Uh, yes. It has never been so hard for me to get through the day, but all the repetitive moments do add up to “Oh my god, he’s four?” and a burst of pride when I see the spindly Crayola-red letters on his homework paper. So I’m stuck in heaven and hell. And to all you people I see in the grocery store who tell me to “enjoy every minute” or “I remember when my kids were that age. I miss it so much,” or “Those were the good old days” with a tear in your eye, you just make me feel guilty. Because no matter what you say, it does not make it easier for me to love all the little moments. The pace of life gets to me. Everything that takes the normal person seconds to do can take hours or never gets done at all.
But can you remember how time felt when you were a child? Children live in the now and they live for pleasure. We were ignorant of time or the nature of time, how fleeting it is, how onerous. Growing up was a lifetime . All we cared about was how fast we could run. How far out our dresses swirled when we twirled. We cried so hard when our best friend hurt our feelings because that was all there was. The way we told time was through lost teeth, a first sleepover, a new pet, a bike with streamers on the handlebars, a favorite book. Oh yeah, and Christmas and birthdays. We were unapologetic hedonists. We lived hard.
The way we live now is so squeezed and pulled and pushed that it seems like we are living in a sliver of reality. Time demands so much, and we put so many demands on it. Are we actually present in our bodies as we go through the motions of our day? Or are we somewhere else?
I wonder if we can recover our values of play and pleasure. Can we sometimes enter into time with our children? I mean, it won’t work to forget the calendar or the clock. But in some of those moments that seem never-ending, that are stuck on repeat, it could be possible to free ourselves from expectation and constant productivity, and let our senses do the work. What is happening here? What is my body telling me? Who are these children and what joy do I find in their presence? What needs to be said or expressed? My spiritual director told me that telling your children, every day, “I’m so thrilled that you are my son/daughter,” will feed them for the rest of their lives.
We’re in it, parents, every repetitive, irritating minute of it. So once or twice, let’s just press pause and… revel.