Before naps and bedtime, Eliza asks me to cuddle her. Sometimes I outright say, “No” because she really just needs to go to sleep. But when I do agree, despite really enjoying these precious times, I find myself so often saying, “Okay, but just for a minute and then I have to go (fill in the blank).”
I’ve realized I use this phrase a lot. Eliza will ask to read books, and I’ll say, “Okay, Eliza, but just for a minute. I have to get the laundry.” Zach will walk up to me with a toy, and I’ll say, “Okay, Zach, but just for a minute. I have to cook dinner.” And on and on it goes, with playing, or dressing up, or going outside, or singing. (And of course, there’s “Just for a minute’s” evil cousin, “In a minute” if I’m already busy when asked to do something.)
I know I am at home to pour myself out to these kids. It’s the main reason I’m here and not in an office for this season. So why, if I want to give them all that I am, do I find myself short-changing these moments in exchange for dish-washing and floor-mopping?
Are these “just a minute” times enough? A minute hardly allows my kids to build memories they will reminisce about, saying, “Remember when mom used to get all the couch cushions and we’d build a fort together?”
I know I use “Just for a minute” as a tool to warn them that whatever we’re doing has a cut-off point. Because they don’t really understand how long a minute is yet, what I’m often doing is communicating that our activity will end even if they don’t want it to, and there’s something else we must do. But I don’t just use it for that. I use it as an excuse so I can get to unimportant things and my to-do list.
Trying to find the time to do everything that must get done as well as what I consider a priority is tough. I mean, the messes do have to get cleaned. But I sit here wondering if these children are capable of understanding why household chores sometimes come first. If I’m honest, I’m not sure they can make sense of it. I’m afraid that perhaps the message I’m sending to them is, “I’ll do this for you, but it’s conditional because what I really want to do is what’s important is me.”
Last weekend we ended up at a playground next to some basketball courts. There were a handful of seemingly unattended kids, ranging from ages 3-8, playing on the playground. We finally figured out that they belonged to some of the men who were shooting hoops. As I watched, there was one dad who was obviously inconvenienced by his 3-year-old boy who wanted a drink. He was begging his dad for some Gatorade, but the dad decided to berate him, saying in a sarcastic tone, “You didn’t share your toys so I’m not going to share my Gatorade with you. How do you like that?” He then put the boy in a time out for escalating the situation because he continued to cry, “But I’m thirsty.” And the boy asked, “but daddy, where’s my drink?” And the dad said, “I don’t know where your drink is, go find it yourself.” It was clear this guy wanted to play ball and everyone was waiting on him to recommence the game. When the game ended, the dad immediately left with his 3 kids. He didn’t stick around to play with them on the playground. It was such a sad display for us. But I can’t sit here and say that I’m not guilty of similar behavior sometimes. (Though I would never leave my 3-year-old to be supervised 100 feet away by other children while I played basketball in a public park.)
It’s tough to balance all of life’s demands within the confines of time. It seems there are three types of time in my days. There is wasted time, and then there is time that must be spent on certain tasks (like chores, getting the kids to activities, and cooking) and then there’s precious time. And I realize that I’d like to fit in more precious time. In fact, it’s taken me a long time to finish typing this post. Two days ago I had picked it up and started writing again, and Eliza approached me after waking up from her nap and asked, “Hey mommy, do you want to make cupcakes now?” And I said, “Yes, Eliza, I would love to do that right now.” It was a lot of fun, and the perfect moment, because Zach was still sleeping and we got to spend some quality mommy-daughter time.
I’m so glad I set down this laptop because now I’m finishing it at a time when my kids are otherwise occupied and not wishing for my attention. Often, the things I want to do can be fit in at a later time. I want to cut back on saying, “In a minute” and “Just for a minute.” Here’s to replacing them with “For you, dear, I have all the time in the world.”