My 4-year-old is in a “nature loving” phase. At pre-K, they recently finished up a unit about plants and seeds. And at home, he’s been helping me do some basic gardening. We even checked out a few books at the library to learn more (and because he’s aching to know the names of every plant we see, and I’m woefully ignorant about that stuff).
His interest has suddenly blossomed (pun intended!) into a full-on obsession, and plants and nature is pretty much all he talks about, especially when we are outside.
I have a sarcastic, eye-rolling 10-year-old son as well, so let’s just say that I’m trying to milk my 4-year-old’s bright-eyed innocence for all it’s worth. Let’s be real: In a just a few years, the idea of flowers as the most magical thing on earth will be laughable to him. Heck, he starts kindergarten in the fall and who knows how quickly he’ll adopt the schoolyard sass that his big brother has mastered.
But even though I am trying to embrace this phase of my son’s, it is making every excursion outside of the house take a freaking decade and testing my patience to the max. This kid literally can’t take one step without finding a bug or a twig to gloat over, and as patient as I want to be in theory, it’s driving me bonkers.
This is what our walk to school was like this morning: Two steps out of our door, he found a stick and proceeded to knock it against a tree until it broke. Then, about four steps later, he found a “shamrock” (he thinks all clovers are shamrocks) and stood there studying it. As we approached the corner, he saw a “burr tree” (which is definitely just an evergreen, but that’s what he calls it, and he won’t back down). I had to tell him that no, we couldn’t cross the street to go see it, and he stamped his feet in indignation.
At this point, his big brother was visibly pissed off. “I need to get to school,” he said, through gritted teeth.
So I pulled my 4-year-old forward, and tried my best to move the party along. We finally made it to my big kid’s school. And then we walked the rest of the way to his pre-K, which is just a block down the road.
That one-block excursion took 10 freaking minutes (I timed it). The church next to his school has a lush garden with big, fat white and pink flowers that truly are dazzling, and I get why he wanted to linger there. But boy, did I have to try really hard hold it together. As I saw the minutes tick off, I thought of all the things I needed to do for work once I got home (if I’d ever get there).
I was keenly aware of two things, pretty much simultaneously: my own rising irritability and my son’s own rising — exploding — happiness.
This kid was in heaven. He really was totally blissed out to be among all this natural beauty. He was literally frolicking and full-on burying his face in swarms of flowers. He was doing what kids his age are best at — living in the moment. And it’s the thing that grown-ups absolutely suck at.
I try as hard as I can to live in the moment, and having a kid has definitely helped with that to some extent. But being a busy parent with a full plate and a long list of responsibilities means that my mind is very often fixated on “the next thing” rather than the thing that is happening right before me.
Even as I’m washing the morning’s breakfast dishes, I am thinking of the next three meals I have to prepare. As I’m laying out my kids’ clothes for the next day, I’m already thinking of the coming season, and wondering how long before I have to go back to the store to buy some new clothes, new shoes — and oh my god, summer’s coming up, and do they have swim suits that fit? Also, where the heck did I put the sunblock? Why do I always lose that stuff?
It never ends, and my mind can never turn off. My mind can never just be. And I know it’s not me. So many of us parents these day are just hammered with responsibilities, with worries. We wear so many hats — housekeeper, bookkeeper, chef, nurse, teacher, worker.
And yet, when do we get a chance to just be someone’s mommy or daddy, the one who can push it all aside and be on kid time, right there, in the moment, with our kids?
I can’t say I will always succeed, but I’m trying — really trying — to take a few during these walks to school to let it go, and be present with my son as he runs among the flower bushes and pinches dandelions between his fingers. I’m trying not look at my phone or the clock. Does it really matter if he’s 10 minutes late to school for the few weeks that spring is peaking and everything is in bloom?
And what’s going to happen if I miss 10 minutes of work time? The truth is, at least in my case, probably nothing much. Or at least nothing that is more important than what those 10 minutes will mean to him for a lifetime.
See, as inconsequential as it sounds, I think these moments are actually hugely important for our kids. It’s more than just “let them be kids” here. It’s what we are teaching them about what to value in life, what truly matters.
What is my child going to remember most about his childhood? The material possessions he had, the orderliness of his life — or whether his mom would dilly-dally with him a bit in the morning sometimes, and let him stroke her face with a freshly picked daisy?
These are exactly the kinds of things I remember most fondly of my own childhood — those moments that my parents stopped what they were doing and were just there with me, truly present, experiencing life with me, on my level.
It is so easy to sink into adulthood and forget what really matters here, with our kids. But our kids don’t really need that much — a few minutes here and there of us being truly present with them is actually a lot.
So Moms and Dads, take some time. Start today. Drop what you are doing for just a few minutes. Stop rushing around from thing to thing. Take some time to just be with your kid. Take a minute to smell the dang roses.