Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Time by Mary O'Connell

It’s funny how time is a constant and yet it hardly ever feels that way. Time flies when we are having fun, but drags on and on when we are bored or tired. When my own children were wee ones, the season of the sleepless nights and the days filled with meeting their ever-present but ever-changing needs seemed like it might go on forever. 

One day, when I was in the grocery store with my three children under the age of five, my boys decided to race off ahead of me collecting as many of those coupons that shoot out of the little dispensers as they could. (It didn’t matter that the dispensers were over their heads; they would gladly leap into the air to reach them.)  In their excitement, they bumped into people and caused a fair amount of chaos, while I called for them to return, patted a fussy baby on my shoulder and tried to maneuver our full cart of groceries with one hand. An older woman walked up to me looking intent on saying something. “Here it comes,” I braced myself. “She’s going to tell me that I should get a handle on these children.”  I took a deep breath and turned toward her, coaching myself to graciously accept her advice and let it slide. She looked like she was ninety years old, after all, and my parents had taught me to respect my elders. 

The woman smiled at me and the children and said, “How I remember those days! Just remember, dear, the days are long but the years are short.” Then she patted my baby on the back, winked at me and went on her way.

 As I sit here writing this, I have already said good-bye to one of those no-longer-so-rambunctious boys as he headed back to college after winter break. The other leaves to go back to school this weekend. The house will again become pretty quiet; just my husband and me and our teenage daughter who is more often at school or working, playing sports or hanging out with her friends than she is with us, the way it should be of course. It seems a blink of an eye since that day in the grocery store. The days were indeed long sometimes, but boy were those years short!

The sad thing is, even though I had the gift of that wise woman telling me this simple truth, I didn’t believe her. Not really. If I really would have understood and embraced her message, I would have done a few things differently. For one thing, I would have not worried so much about the future. I would have concentrated on embracing the present. But I guess that’s an age-old struggle for all of us, right? 

I also wouldn’t have spent so much time trying to keep up with all the societal expectations I felt pressing in on us. I wouldn’t have worried about “preparing them” for school, or signing them up for gymnastics, karate, dance class, soccer, or any of those other things. While we did, actually, resist most of that stuff, I worried that maybe my kids were missing out somehow and would fall behind their peers who had been playing sports/mastering the violin/reading novels/visiting art exhibits since they were knee-high to a grasshopper. Looking back, I see so clearly now that my children (and all the others I have watched grow up around us) had plenty of time to do all those things in their own proper time. If they were destined to go to college on an athletic scholarship or become a musical genius, they -and the universe- would find a way to make that happen. I didn’t need to put them in classes or in sports when they were three years old. I just needed to make sure they were loved and had a simple life with a strong rhythm, outdoor time, good healthy food, and plenty of good sleep. Those are the things a young child really needs.

Sometimes, I watch parents drag their exhausted children into LifeWays on a Monday morning and the little ones have visible dark circles under their eyes. They had such a busy weekend taking in all of the many, many activities that are available to today’s families, they can barely hold it together until naptime when they fall gratefully into their cots for some much-needed rest. And I fear that modern society's pressure to provide children with every possible experience RIGHT NOW has become even stronger than it was when I was raising little ones. I wish I could say to parents, “The years of early childhood are short! There will be plenty of time later to take in all those sights, play all those sports, go to all those museums and do all those things. Really. I promise. For right now, just embrace these children, give them a nice steady rhythm of healthy food, sleep and play, and they will have everything they need to fully enjoy all of that other stuff in its own time.” I guess I just did say that, didn't I? Well, it's nice to get that off my chest!

But perhaps I can't expect you to believe me any more than I believed the nice old lady in the grocery store, until enough time has passed and your own children are going off into the world. Time is funny that way.

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