It’s funny, the things you remember from childhood. The scent of those vomit-smelling seedpods on my walk home from school. Scrunchy socks in year three. Screaming with my brother over who got to hold the television remote while my cousin stormed in and snatched it off us both.
My parents weren’t around much, growing up. They both worked full-time jobs to put food on the table, clothes on our backs and private school education through our minds. “You just want your kids to do better than you did,” I overheard my mum say to someone last year. “You just want them to have more, to go further.” I know this was the premise to their work ethic; they worked really hard to give their children a life they never had and in doing so, I know they thought they were doing a good thing. And they were. They were doing a good thing. I’m grateful. But the truth? The truth is that when Sarah’s mum picked her up from school in an air-conditioned car with sliced fresh fruit in a container for her – an iced donut on the special days – asking her about her day and making promises of after-school games and movies, while I slowly walked the long, hot, boring journey home to nothing and no one but two brothers who ignored me, well, all I felt was jealous. And not only jealous, I felt alone. Okay, neglected, if you want to be dramatic about it.
I was barely ten years old when I remember thinking to myself that if I ever had children, I wanted to be there for them after school. I’d have snacks for them and ask them about their day and know who their friend Emily was and what Mr Williams did to make Nathan stop mucking around in class. It was a strange, irrational obsession that cemented my views on what kind of parent I wanted be, and it’s stuck with me ever since.
You either repeat your parent’s parenting or do the exact opposite, right?
Time with my children, especially as they grow and more of the world takes their time and interest, is a huge, crazy priority to me. Can you hear those helicopter wings? They’re mine. Hi there. And so it is that when I pick Ella up from kindy, we enter sacred time: the after-school Holy Grail.
Well, that, and the fact that from 3pm, life with small children is a fast downward spiral unless you take the reigns, pull hard, and try like hell to steer a different course.
I plan for this time. I throw my all into it. Because even though all my children’s shoes are lost and it’s spag bol for dinner again and maybe I could shout a little less and the house is a war zone, sweet fancy Moses, if there’s one thing I got, it’s after-school time. I’m on it. I own the hell out of it. They will take that after-school activity list from my cold, dead hands.
It’s 2016. My children are four and two. Soon, the after school special will look like soccer practice and closed bedroom doors, hiding away friends and Facebook and secrets about who’s kissed who. I’ve devoured two seasons of Parenthood in the last week (who goes to bed before midnight anyway?) and if I thought time went quickly before, it’s on hyper lapse now. Adam Braverman says, “It was so nice when she was a little kid and I could just sit with her and have a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, pulling faces at her, making her laugh. Nice and simple.”
I know it’s going to get complicated. Harder. Scarier. Watching them grow up. Helping them navigate sex and peer pressure and drugs and self-confidence issues and body image and happiness and success and failure and love. All while they’re trying to push you away. Staying up all night worrying about who they’re with and what they’re doing.
I know. I know all this.
But right now, or maybe so right now, I’m falling heart-first into these nice and simple years. The ones where Puffin Rock and painting autumn leaves are all my children want. Where they climb into bed with us each morning, finding the nooks in our necks they love and snuggling in deep. Where they ask if chickens can cough and all they want is to be next to us.
Because those years are going to be over really soon.
I read recently that children spell trust T-I-M-E and I really love thinking of it like that. Playing the board games. Reading that book for the twenty-ninth time. Getting down to their level. Entering the world they are right now in. Meeting them there. Speaking their language. Time equals trust. And trust equals influence. So that when we reach those growing-up years, we reach them buffered by the time we’ve spent and the trust we’ve built. And then we spend even more time re-entering their new worlds. Meeting them there. Speaking their new language. Like Sarah Braverman said, “I made a mistake. I let her tell me when she was ready to grow up and I should have fought her more. You don’t give them space. Just when they tell you they don’t need you anymore is exactly when they need you the most. You have to fight it. You have to show up. It’s when they’re pushing you away, telling you they know better, that’s when you have to show up.”
Time to trust to influence.
So my after school time with them? It’s everything. It’s so much more than sliced watermelon and spoiling them.
It’s our relationship.
And it’s our future.