Today my 2.5-year-old daughter and I went to the car dealership to get our car inspection done. We slumped in our chairs watching TV and eating free sugary snacks. I texted on my phone and stared off into space while my daughter watched whatever was on TV. We were a little bored. This was our main activity of the day.
For all of the attention paid to the act of parenting these days, we completely edit the fact that one of the primary things children do is accompany adults while adults do adult things. Go to the grocery store. Cook dinner. Run to the bank. Wait in a very long line at the drugstore for cold medicine.
No one photographs these trivial moments. No one researches how going with your parents to get an oil change will boost achievement status. No one writes parenting books on the philosophy of encouraging kids to participate in the mundane.
We isolate the hum-drum parts of our existence from our kids. We imagine our lives should be held separate and childhood is something we should not tarnish with the prosaic. We expend so much energy feeling pressure and planning special child-focused things for our children. As a result of all of those expectations, I feel guilty when I don’t measure up to crafting a perfect childhood every day because I needed to spend the day running errands.
An unfortunate result is that we offer our kids’ curated lives. Everything is overly curated. Overly precious. I’m so terrified of contaminating childhood that I bend over backward offering unsustainable and unrealistic levels of what I perceive as enriching, meaningful and advantageous to my kid’s development.
My daughter’s life includes many more banal parts to it than fantastic. But here’s the thing: the tedious things are anything but tedious to her. She follows her curiosity, learns how to express herself, explores, imagines, gains an understanding of her emotional experiences, learns how to connect to others, empathize, and show care in any setting she goes. Even in a long line of grumpy people at the drugstore.
And I refuse to feel guilty about this despite the efforts of the parenting industrial complex. I wish to teach her that we can live life just as meaningfully from the waiting room at the car dealership as doing the various activities that promise the production of kid geniuses.
Not every moment is extraordinary. Nor should it be. Being able to identify the extraordinary parts of an ordinary day is a gift that is rich and nourishing.
I do not wish to shield my daughter from things that are ordinary. Of course, I wish her the most meaningful and fulfilling life imaginable. But I also wish for her the ability to embrace the commonplace and perceive richness from the everyday.
Life doesn’t have to be adorned and perfect in order to be embraced. It doesn’t have to be curated and edited in order to be nourishing. Life may saunter in with its sweatpants on, go about its boring business, and still offer substance and meaning. I hope she can meet life just as it arrives for her and still finds it a worthy guest to invite in.