I want to tell you about my kids. Everything they do and say teaches me something. Parenting is the stage of life where there’s barely time to stand still and fart, let alone contemplate the meaning of life, but somehow I manage to glean wisdom from daily experiences, and I wanted to tell you. Maybe you notice the same thing. In youth, we burst out fresh from our childhood ready to meet the future with no knowledge of impediments or responsibilities. Youth starts us off at the beginning of a long hall with a series of doors. Which door shall you open? All of them? The possibilities are endless.
Of course, when a girl starts opening doors, what she’s really looking for is a boy (she may or may not admit it), and she’s usually successful. Poor Kent. He was just standing in the doorway, minding his own business. And then bang! As fast as you can say Bob’s your babysitter, we’re married, it’s 15 years later, and our three kids have staged a coup d’etat over the long hallway with doors.
Not that I regret it. I’m happy with the doors I walked through. Perhaps it’s just that the Robert Frost poem (Two roads diverged in a yellow wood…) has only started to resonate with me now, after building up some equity in my life experience account. I analyzed that poem in front of my grade ten English class. Ha! What did I know about choices in grade 10 except, “should I use the blue pen or the green pen when I write my Social Studies test?” or “should I tell Denise she’s rude and ignorant, or shouldn’t I?” I suppose when I’m 80, I’ll laugh that I had the audacity to write this at age 38.
Anyway, back to my kids. This is a typical day in our house, perhaps you will recognize a similar:
“Robyn, come play Barbies with me now.” Sophie pleaded on her knees.
Robyn didn’t answer. She rolled off the couch with her book in hand, and walked towards the stairs.
“Robyn, answer me! You promised you would play Barbies with me in a little while.” Sophie persisted.
“So?” Robyn retorted.
“So, it’s been an hour. Please come and play with me, I’m bored.” Sophie clasped her hands together. “Plee-eese?”
“Sophie, stop bugging me! I’m not seven anymore. I’m twelve and I’m too old for Barbies.” Robyn yelled, and tromped up the stairs.
“You weren’t too old for it yesterday!” Sophie retorted. She heard Robyn slam her bedroom door, and started to cry. Sophie ran out to the kitchen, where her little brother (suddenly) smelled poopy and was screaming for juice. “Mo-om! Robyn won’t play Barbies with me, and I don’t have anything to do!” she cried, tears streaming down her face.
Mom looks up from the stove, where she was stirring the spaghetti sauce. “It’s almost dinner time. Why don’t you play with Caleb? Caleb will play with you!”
“I don’t want to play with Caleb, he doesn’t know how to play Barbies. He just hits me with the dolls and knocks all the furniture over. He’s only three! Please mom, would you play with me? Plee-eese?” She stopped for a moment to consider what her mother was doing. “Are we having spaghetti again?! Why do we have to have it every day?”
Mom sighed. Why bother arguing? This was only one of 15 thousand arguments that day, all of which have no solution. If I intervene, I am viewed by at least one defendant as an especially brutal and unfair judge, which is why I try to avoid that mantle unless something clearly criminal is occuring.
It seemed like they were at each other’s throats all day. But later, we watched an old (old–snort. It was Back to the Future part three) movie together, the five of us, in the living room. I’ve been sick for a couple of months and was concerned that it was serious. Perhaps that made me sentimental, but I didn’t watch the movie. I watched the kids on the floor, sitting comfortably together without argument, sharing the same event. I savoured the moment, grateful that we’re together and we love each other. Life is just a series of moments all strung together. I tend to look forward to the next hour or the next day, but I don’t stop to appreciate the present. Pictures tell the tale. That roll of film in the cupboard that you haven’t developed yet–it’s only a couple of months old, but already your kids look older. The stress of our daily activities makes us wish time away, but I try not to give into that temptation.
I learned a lesson from a former neighbour, Mary. She was healthy and fit and still living alone in the home she had shared with her husband for 40 years, and at 90 years old, she was lonely. Her family didn’t visit much, and many of her friends were gone. She had just buried her brother at age 92. I visited her with the kids one day and after staying awhile, complained that I needed to go home and do my dishes. She looked at me and said, “Don’t worry, dear. Someday there’ll be lots of time for dishes.” Now, each time I’m tempted to refuse my children’s requests to play or read because I’m busy with a chore, I’m reminded of Mary’s words. Children grow up and leave, the opportunities to grow with them spent. After that, you’ll have to chase them for a bit of attention. Let’s make the most of our moments. We don’t know how many of them we really have.