“Again, again, again!” Bee says. We are reading in the bedroom, and I have just finished telling her that she used to say “yellow” was “lellow” and “love” was “yove.” When announcing her favorite color, she’d proudly squeal, “I yove lellow!” and leave all of us grown-ups scratching our heads.
These days, these “again-again-again!” days are tiring, but in the good way. Bee will be four soon. Our days are filled with requests for brownies, requests for story time, requests for the zoo, requests for her own zoo, requests for me to switch jobs to become a zookeeper at her own zoo so she and the monkeys can have ice cream after hours.
“At my own zoo, there will be sea urchins,” she says. “I will measure them. They will weigh 400 minutes.”
We know of the many requirements of a parent’s job. There are sticky banana-coated plates to wash and dirty socks to soak and endless tangles to brush out at day’s end. There is the strawberry-cutting and the hide-and-seeking and the car-seat-buckling. The piggyback-riding and the sheet-tucking and the spill-wiping and the hand-holding. To say nothing of the hand-letting-go.
And then there’s the socializing, the manners, the cultural enrichment outside of Daniel Tiger’s jurisdiction.
In these again-again-again days, for many parents, the pressure is extraordinary. It’s a trap we all fall into, the temptation to measure our child’s progress.(It is, after all, the only way we can measure our own.)
The idea of letting down our kids, of providing them with an environment that is less than perfect, less than ideal, less than the standard—this is crippling for so many. Failing at parenthood means failing at life, doesn’t it?
So we schedule more activities, we buy the best gadgets for the most enriching learning experience. We teach them to play the violin at three and a half, we teach them to read at two, we teach them to speak Mandarin at one.
We pack it all in.
I will measure them.
Throw everything at them and let’s see what sticks, yeah?
They will weigh 400 minutes.
And here we sit, lamenting our lack of balance.
I have heard it said that we are precisely the parents our children need. Some of us will inspire world peace and equal rights for future generations. Some of us might be really good at making cherry cobbler and beds. Some of us may earn Nobel Peace Prizes, and some of us might consider it a win if we don’t sob and scream and threaten bedtime without dinner from 3:30 pm on.
But on the best of days, we can hope that we have everything our children need from us. We have dedication, commitment. We have patience. We have grace. We have forgiveness. We have persistence, forbearance, creativity.
We have everything our children don’t need from us too.
We have love.
We have love, we have love, we have love.
It is difficult to be patient when you are late for your 6-year-old’s piano lesson and the toddler wants to put on her shoes “all by my own self!”
It is difficult to offer grace when your preteen leaves his bike in the driveway (again, again, again) and you have a meeting in four minutes.
And it is difficult to accept all of it—the love and the grace and the everything else—when you have failed. When you have swatted a behind and it connected too hard and you had promised yourself you would never parent that way and now there are two sets of tears.
Busyness is a byproduct of our culture. It is the sacrifice we make for our religion of more, for our perfectionist tendencies, for our temptation to overschedule, overinform, overprovide.But the answer is not to lower the expectations we have created. The answer, I believe, is to live up to the expectations we have been created for.
Live up to the expectation that you are what your child needs. That your focus, your time, your attention, your failings—that these are enough. Live up to the expectation that your behaviors are being copied. Your reactions are being noted. Your forgiveness is being accepted. Your shortcomings are being acknowledged, understood, embraced. Your best is being called for.
Live up to the expectation that in these again-again-again times, you are enough.
Do you know the best things in life cannot be measured? Aptitude is not a perfect test score. Balance is not a perfect day planner. Creativity is not a perfect art sculpture.The best things in life cannot be measured, but they can be learned, practiced, honed. In these again-again-again days with children in our homes, there are burning bacon and muddy paws and unrolled toilet paper, and there are yelling and do-overs, there are apologies and redeeming bath bubbles.
And there is great forgiveness, if we’re lucky. Immeasurable forgiveness, if we’re even luckier.
Bee will be four soon. She is still talking of her zoo, of the monkeys and the after-hours ice cream, of the sea urchins and her grandest dreams, her wildest plans.
I know the feeling. These again-again-again days are my grandest dreams, my wildest plans. I do not want to waste them. I do not want to spend this weighty and precious time gritting my teeth in the name of productivity, in the name of pursuit, in the name of perfection.
And if Bee can bring imagination to the suffocating precision of math, of time, of counting and measuring and balancing this great untouchable life?
I will measure them.
Well, perhaps so can I.
They will weigh 400 minutes.
And they’ll be gone in a flash.
This is an excerpt from the book Chasing Slow by Erin Loechner.