I’m up. It’s blessedly quiet here. 4:30 in the morning. In a couple hours I will have to answer for the time I stole from my own sleep.
What woke me initially was the urge to write down all my tasks for the week ahead. Not least of all would be to kickstart that whole konmari process here since I recently binged the show after an argument with Paul—He, midway through instillation of a new sprinkler control board and donning a headlight, searched for a mini screwdriver high and low last week while I urged things like, “IT’S NOT IN THAT BOX” and “JUST GO TO THE STORE AND BUY A NEW ONE.”
But now I’m sitting here thinking about Thomas—-nine years old today.
Paul and I are in what I so often refer to as the golden stage of parenting with all 3 of our kids (ages 9, 5 & 5). They aren’t young enough to dice up our sleep mercilessly or old enough to do the same for other reasons. It’s delightful. Small hands set tables. Little boys ask for snuggles and one more book and we are still living fully in the season before Thomas’s pocket has a phone in it.
One thought dominates my view of Thomas on his birthday today: time.
I’ve had time to read to him. Countless picture books. Nursery rhymes. Harry Potter & the Chronicles of Narnia. Winnie the Pooh & Ralph books too. Dozens of chapter books. Loads of poetry, history, science. Aesop’s fables and so many short stories. We’ve spent untold hours reading together.
I’ve had time to listen to him. I’ve fielded questions about abortion and the atomic bomb as well as how to handle a girl whose got a crush on him. He talks lots. He jokes all the time. Even with all our time, I can’t always take it all in, but I’m glad I’ve caught a lot.
I’ve had time to teach him. Phonics lessons. Ancient history. Memorizing poetry and practicing math. How to form his letters and put together his thoughts. Etiquette tips and how to include others. How to navigate a recipe and how to learn through chemistry, especially when you fail.
I’ve had messy time with him. Time to argue. Time to apologize. Time to cry in front of him and tell him we have to do better. Time to ask him for help and do the same for him. Time to discuss things respectfully.
I didn’t set out to be so greedy in my claim of his young years. I worked as a teacher when he was little and that was just fine. Then I came home to be a stay at home mom when the twins were born and he was 3. And somehow, fast forward a few years and we are here, new state but same bubble— still surrounded by picture books and, to Paul’s distaste, gold glitter on the dining table.
Time with kids seems to be like that tricky relationship we also have with humility wherein the more we know, the more we realize we don’t know. And in my experience, the more time I’ve had with my kids, the more I treasure that time. Now, more than ever (and admittedly, maybe because I’m in an easier stage, more seasoned, or just worn out), I am crazy in love with spending time with my kids. I’ll blame Ellie in part, by way of driving a wedge between me and all my loves (peace, routine, seeing my kids in their element and not being driven upstairs by a dog eager to bite…) of which I have mostly reclaimed.
This isn’t to say I don’t ever need a deep breath in Target or to send them to face a screen so I can collect myself from the bottom of a coffee mug. But I genuinely cherish our time together. With a blink, it will be gone and ghosts of Lego messes and dance parties past will haunt me with such longing—uncaring that I spent every waking moment with them. It won’t ever be enough…
What if I hadn’t had this time with him? What of that? (Other than more digits in our retirement and likely a more polished look when I step out in public.)
I can speak of making smart use of snippets of time with loved ones too. Paul and I, after years of grinding work and swaths of absence from each other, are learning to reclaim one on one time together through small walks, porch chats, and laughing together at the end of the day. An argument for time well spent is not to be missed. And really, I’m not making an argument at all but only urging myself and maybe you too: let us return our attention to those absolutely closest to us.
People farther out of reach have thought better of me. They might set praise to my (presumed) success at (fill-in-the-blank) area of life. They amuse me by laughing at my jokes (much appreciated, guys). They are generous with social media likes and hearts. But my family knows better. They know as well that I forget to close drawers, am not calm nearly enough, say things like “shit” [a lot] and “so help me if I…”, and that I don’t always put things back where they belong. So sorry about that screwdriver, Paul.
Time with those closest to us is not … easy. What’s easy is grabbing validation and attention elsewhere, distracting ourselves well from the work of developing intimacy and forming habits rooted in kindness. But where we experience some of the greatest fruit is in the deepest pain—-of being known fully and still fully loved.
Today we will make Thomas’s day special. I will give him a letter that lets him know of all the particular and wonderful things that I see in him. I will hand him a few wrapped presents from us and grandparents, and while he holds up a box with whatever hundreds of pieces to put together and I look at those big brown eyes and wonder what else there is behind that smile, inside that brain, buried within this one soul that I’ve been placed in brief care of—- I’ll be praying, praying, praying that I know, that I will know, how to make best use of the rest of our time together.