It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Picking the Moments you Live In

“Treasure these days. They go by so fast.”

While I often get asked if the tots are all mine, it’s usually in tones of astonishment, bordering on horror. However, when an elderly man or woman comments on the children, the response is usually quite different. Families that big were a whole lot more common fifty or sixty years ago. The elderly don’t ask, they assume.

“What a lovely family!” they’ll beam. (I don’t correct. Does it matter? They are lovely children.) And then, possibly as an encouragement to a ‘young’ woman with a lot of small children, “Treasure these days, dear. They go by so fast.”

As parents of young children I’m sure you’ve heard that before, and not just from the elderly. From your mother, from your aunt, from the bank teller, the cashier, the middle-aged woman down the street.

On a good day, those words bring comfort and satisfaction, maybe even a burst of joy. You are treasuring these days, and they’re wonderful! On a middling to poor day, the words may offer comfort and perspective. “It’s not great right at this moment, but, she’s right, it will go by quickly, and then I’ll be missing the sweet parts. May as well focus on the sweet parts today.”

But on a truly rotten day, you can hear that phrase as damnably trite and just be exasperated by it. Maybe even infuriated. “Go so fast? Like hell it does. Not nearly fast enough! This will end soon, you say?? HA! I wish!! Bring! It! On!”

Even at our most frustrated, though, we are usually aware at some level that these times are to be treasured. They will go by quickly. We might wish we were enjoying them more RIGHT NOW, but, yeah, special times, treasure it, fer sure. Really!

But if these are times to treasure, when exactly do you do that? Treasure is to stop and notice, to let the wonder seep into you. You pause, you live in the moment, you savour your time with your child. And I can hear you all — “I know, I know. But tell me WHEN I am supposed to do that?” When do you stop and live in the moment with your child, when all your moments are so utterly jam-packed? Doing crafts? Playing dress-up? Driving trucks on the kitchen floor? All lovely ideas, but you have laundry to sort, the inside of the car looks like a bomb went off in there, there’s a mystery stench in the kitchen, and dinner is nowhere near started.

Not much opportunity for Quality, Living-in-the-Moment-with-my-Darling-Child in all that!!!

You think? I see lots of opportunity. Yes, really.

The problem arises when we assume that to live in the moment with our child, we have to join in the child’s activities. We have to play with the playdough, read endless stories, build the block towers for our child to knock down.

Now, of course you can do all that. Playing is fun! If you want to and it’s fun, play away. I make a pretty mean playdough stegosaurus, there are a bunch of book I have read so many times I have them completely memorized, and long before I started doing daycare I had spent many happy hours with my kids playing with that wonderful Playmobil castle. Because there are times when the dishes, they can just wait. Times when the to-do list, which never goes away, can be set to one side for 20 minutes. It really can.

Thing is, I don’t believe it’s in the Good Parent Rulebook that “You Must Play With Your Child”. Playing is something children do. If you want to play, and most of us do, at least once in a while, you do that. Your kid will love it, you’ll have fun together. But if you don’t want to, you don’t have to. Play is by definition a pleasure, not an obligation.

Because, let’s be frank here. Even when we have time to get down on the floor and be princess to his dragon, or drive teeny trucks under the couch … most of us get bored. I will tell you now that my tolerance for playing pretend with a four-year-old is about ten minutes. After that, I am BORED WITLESS. I would chew off my arm to escape.

I can read, I can sing, I can dance, but doooon’t ask me to “you be the daddy and I’ll be the mommy and we’re going to…”

And you know what? Goodness knows I have enough boring tasks I must complete in a day without taking on one that’s totally optional. Another way to look at it: If I’m going to be bored anyway, why not be bored doing something I have to do that be bored doing something I don’t have to do?

Hm. That’s clear as mud.

My point is … Quality Time can just as easily be spent doing adult tasks as it be spent can doing child-centred things. You can live in the moment with your child as you do laundry or cook dinner.

Seriously.

My eldest daughter was nine month old when she learned to play peek-a-boo. It was the cutest damned thing, and we had the most marvellous time as she repeatedly covered her eyes, then opened them to beam and chortle at me as I carolled “Peek! Peek-a-boo!” Total in-the-moment Quality Time with my baby.

We were sorting laundry at the time. I’d dumped the laundry out onto the floor. I’d put the empty basket on one side of me, the baby on the other so as to keep her away from the folded laundry that would go in the basket. To further protect my folded laundry, I put a pile of clean socks on the floor in front of her, hoping they’d prove sufficient distraction that she’d not crawl to the folded clothes. I didn’t care if she crawled through the heap on the floor, but with any luck, the socks would provide ample entertainment.

They did. While I sorted and she waved socks around, I chatted to her. I talked about what she was doing, I talked about what I was doing, I talked about our outing that morning. I filled the air with words, and she basked in my undivided attention. And then, in a moment of cheeriness, she raised her two small hands in the air. The sock that she was holding in those hands ended up — surprise! — smack across her eyes. She dropped her two hands down into her lap, and there were her eyes again!

“Peek-a-boo!” I sang. And Haley? She laughed. Laughed and laughed and did it again! And Again! And Again!!!

And I could be there through all that wonderfulness, because I had this ginormous pile of laundry to sort. We had A Moment while doing laundry.

Laundry does not preclude Moments with your child. Nor does cleaning the inside of the car. They can scramble about in the back seat while you burrow in the front. And what kid doesn’t ADORE ‘steering’ the car, while you dredge up the grossness from under the carseat in the back? In short, just about any boring household task can be modified to include a child.

As they get older, they can help. Four-year-olds can match socks. Six-year-olds can run a small hand-held vacuum cleaner.

If you’ve always involved the kids in your tasks, if being with mummy while she works is together time, having them work alongside you is the natural outgrowth. It’s not punitive, it’s not coerced. It’s just natural. (Not that you won’t have to read them the riot act once in a while, but they will understand that chores are not Grown-up Activities. They are simply part of being in a family.)

Yesterday Poppy came in cranky and tearful. Within half an hour I had declared a nap essential, and off she went. Problem was, she woke up about 20 minutes after everyone else had gone down for their naps. And I had planned an afternoon of sewing! (Christmas is coming. I’ll have to post pictures of the adorable gifts they’re getting.) I had four done. I wanted to get that fifth and final thing assembled this afternoon.

The playpen in which she sleeps, however, is right there in my craft room. Hmmm. You know, I thought to myself, it’s worth a shot… So… I changed her diaper. I gave her a bottle and a snack and a book and a toy… and I sat myself down at the sewing machine.

It mightn’t have worked. Some children would NOT find that sufficient, not at all! But Poppy is a cheery little thing. She had her food, she had a toy or two, AND she had my UNDIVIDED ATTENTION. She stood in her playpen at the end of my large craft table, and chattered to me. I chattered to her. We talked about the fabric and the colours and the noise of the sewing machine. We sang a few songs. And I got my sewing done. Did Poppy feel ripped off? She did not. As far as she was concerned, we had just had some quality time.

Because, you know what? We did. It doesn’t have to be a Kid Activity to be Quality Time.

Last week, after a particularly LOUD, housebound morning, I tucked the last tot into bed for nap, and sat down in front of my computer, cup of tea on my left, all set to write a few emails in peace and quiet.

Just then Adam (my 22-year-old son) emerged from his room. His brain had taken as much Chemistry as it was going to absorb that morning, and he was ready to socialize. He wanted to chat. He wanted to show me something he’d read. He wanted, in short, His Mother’s Attention.

Now, he’s old enough that I could have continued with my plans, but that seemed a) rude and b) a waste of opportunity to spend time with someone who’s pretty busy, and whose comings and goings in the house can be irregular. As ever, though, I have a long to-do list…

Adam and I spent the next half-hour chatting as we rolled Chocolate Brandy Balls. It was friendly, it was companionable, I enjoyed his company — AND I got those delicious but fiddly things made in half the time it would have taken me otherwise. For his part, he got a break from his studies, he got one-on-one time with mom, AND he got to eat half-a-dozen brandy balls. He also added a few more kitchen skills to his already respectable repertoire. (When you’ve worked with mom in the kitchen since you could stand, you’re pretty well-equipped to manage one when you’re twenty…)

Whether they’re two or twenty-two, they like time with mom. And whether they’re two or twenty-two, that time can be spent in some kid-centred activity, but it can just as easily be spent working together. By the time they’re twenty-two, you’re two adults, together. It’s wonderful.

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December 8, 2011 - Posted by | my kids, parenting | , ,

12 Comments »

  1. This is so true. My kids and I have cleaned out the car together – is it ever FUN to be in the CAR (well, Blazer in my case) WITHOUT being in your carseat?!?!?! To be able to crawl over the back seat into the back?!?! and steer?! Penguin, my 4yo, loves washing vegetables with our Flylady rubba scrubba and will gladly do a whole heap of potatoes or carrots or whatever. In fact, yesterday I gave her a flat circle of cardboard with the middle cut out, a sheet of green construction paper, scissors and glue and she happily cut and pasted a wreath while I cut coupons. Nice chatty time together, supervised scissors practice, holiday decoration completed, and I got the coupons done! Hooray!

    Comment by Ms. Huis Herself | December 8, 2011 | Reply

  2. Right. On. I don’t play with my kids. I don’t like it, so I don’t do it. I don’t confess this to many other moms I know because MOST of them do play with their kids. I thought I was missing something in the Mom handbook that said you *had* to play with your kids most of the time, and then nip off once in while to get the stuff you need to get done, done. My Mom very rarely played with us as kids, and I don’t ever remember feeling like she should! But I never feel like I haven’t spent enough time with them. My daughter loves to watch me do everything, and she’s of an age where she can help me unload the dishwasher, fold and put away laundry, feed the cats and even help me make supper or bake cookies (you know, when I have the time to allow her to “help”). And she wants to do it! She’ll run from the other side of the house, yelling “I want to help! I want to help!” just in case you might *gasp* do something *without* her help. 🙂

    Comment by Grace Goldragon | December 8, 2011 | Reply

  3. I don’t play with my kids, either, unless I feel like it. I’d much rather include them in things I’m doing, and they really get a charge out of participating. So this morning, when I only had one extra kid and she was napping, my 3.5 year old and I – get this – cleaned the bathroom. And he LOVED it. Then he helped me load the washing machine and that was apparently awesome, too. When I said I needed to do my own stuff for a while, he gave me a huge hug, said “I had fun with you this morning, Mommy” and then went to play with his Legos.

    If my boys will cheerfully participate in some of the things I have to get done, I’m far more likely to make the effort to do more special projects, like cookie-baking or perhaps a Lego session. I find kids who have their parents playing with them all the time are harder to entertain… they aren’t much good at independent play OR playing with kids their own age… and they tend to be quite dissatisfied with the idea of using their imaginations.

    Comment by Hannah | December 8, 2011 | Reply

  4. Beautiful post. I do that with my 16-month old as well – I play peek-a-boo while fixing her breakfast or packing her lunch day, or folding laundry. I give her measuring cups and small toys to stack – we are together and she has my attention, but I get to finish my tasks which I HAVE to every morning before dropping her off to daycare. Love your blog!

    Comment by Shachi | December 8, 2011 | Reply

  5. Lately I’ve been noticing just how satisfying it is to hear the kids (5 and 7) playing happily in another room or see them playing together outside while I do my own thing in the kitchen. I was READY for this stage!

    Comment by katkins | December 8, 2011 | Reply

  6. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I rarely play with my kids, because I don’t really like it, and I self-flagellate endlessly on that point. I do involve them in “adult” things, and it thrills my three-year-old to be able to “help Mommy” with bringing in one light unbreakable thing in from the car, putting his folded pants in the drawer, etc.

    Comment by lisa | December 9, 2011 | Reply

  7. It’s always great to see a post from you! 🙂 Reading you before we had our son, everything you said seemed very sensible to me, and I think it’s affected my parenting outlook.

    Our son is now 21 months. What with working full-time, the chores would not get done if I didn’t involve him in them. He gets very excited/happy when I ask if he wants to help with laundry. 🙂 He helps sort clothes (for me, this means sorting the dirties into loads), load the washer, push the “start” button on the washer, take the clothes out of the washer, put them in the dryer, he hands me the lint screen (which he figured out how to remove), and now he starts the dryer too. He happily helps take clean/dry clothes out of the dryer, and then plays in/with the laundry basket while I fold (which has heightened his sense of balance! 😉 )

    He loves to use the swiffer (a manual dry sweeper)- it’s gotten to the point where he thinks it’s his, I believe. He steers it really well, and even goes around all the corners if he’s in the mood… (of course this is supervised closely).

    He wants to be picked up to look in the mixer or on the counter to see what I’m cooking/baking/etc, which is fun.

    The point being – at one point or another it became clear that the choice was to either involve him in the chores, even though they take much longer that way, or not do them at all! So it wasn’t a choice. The surprising part was/is just how much fun he has with them. 🙂

    Comment by L | December 9, 2011 | Reply

  8. Wonderful post! It is so true “whether they’re two or twenty-two” and this reminds me of when Daughter, 16, and I do housework. It’s pretty mundane stuff in and of itself, but we also talk, we chat, we laugh. Treasured moments for sure. Love the bit about your daughter and the sock, too cute. 😀

    Comment by Sheri | December 10, 2011 | Reply

  9. […] matches your values as closely as possible. And your children? Will be FINE. Love your child/ren, spend time with them, respect them, guide and correct them, provide a stable and nurturing home … and […]

    Pingback by The Great Debate « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | January 4, 2012 | Reply

  10. Catching up on some posts I’ve missed since WordPress changed something and my favorites were lost (you’re now bookmarked). I think one of the girls and I may have some “quality time” together this afternoon while I clear out my sewing area. (It badly needs to be de-stashed. LOL)

    Comment by BookMama | February 4, 2012 | Reply

  11. Coming in late to this but YES! YES! YES! 😀
    I do not play with the kids – I find it boring and am awful at it. At this point my own two kids are old enough to realize that I am awful at it. I love doing a lot of things with my kids, cooking, baking, reading, gardening, etc. But pretending to be the evil dragon/witch/troll to their Princess? Zzzzzzz…

    Comment by Kate | February 15, 2012 | Reply

  12. […] usually find playing with the children boring. I know that, and I’m fine with that, because I also believe play is the child’s work, […]

    Pingback by Let them play! « It’s Not All Mary Poppins | May 15, 2012 | Reply


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