I don’t know if it’s because we’ve simplified in our home, or because Talia is becoming more independent, but we finally feel like we’re in a place to spend some much needed one-on-one time with each of our children, particularly the older two. It’s something we’ve desired to do for a long time, but have had difficulty getting past the essentials of food prep, clean-up, baths and bedtime.
Previously we’ve only spent one-on-one time on their birthdays. This has put an awful lot of pressure on that one day, because it seems that with each day, another idea springs into their minds of what they want to do. Then, come birthday, it feels like, “This is it! We better have a good time! We better make a memory! Let’s pack it all in!” Micaela and Emeth both wanted to spend their birthdays in the city, so we did. But I found it distracting and difficult to connect on a more personal level. Walking through busy streets, so much to look at, weariness from walking, hunger and thirst, and televisions in the diner while munching pizza. Fun memories, to be sure, but the experience left me wanting more.
So, for whatever the reason, we feel ready to work toward making one-on-one time a habit. As we talked about it with Micaela and Emeth, they were astir with ideas of what to do. They started on a grand scale, but moved toward more realistic ideas as we talked. For example, after having spent a half-hour in our bedroom with mommy, folding laundry and talking, Micaela proclaimed, “Mommy, maybe for my birthday we can go up in your bedroom and organize and play dress up with your dresses!”
At first I laughed when Rachel relayed this. “Poor, deprived child,” I joked. But then quickly realized what a precious gift this could be, if we could do something so simple with each of them, while growing in our friendship, trust, and love.
After that evening, Micaela and Emeth began making ‘things to do with mommy and daddy’ lists. Thrift store, dress up, build, Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, Knight Park. Each item something that could be done in one evening.
Wednesday was Micaela’s turn with mommy. They went up in our bedroom and got out the blank stamp blocks and carving tools. Micaela was so enthralled to get focussed time, mommy helping her with a certain technique, or how to execute an idea. Answering her questions, and sharing in her joy. It was simple, but several times Micaela expressed her gratitude, saying how fun it was to spend time together, just the two of them.
Emeth, understandably was ready (and has been for a long time) for some focussed time with daddy. We agreed to Thursday night. “Can you stay home in the morning? I really want to build with you in the morning?” he asked me several times.
Rachel said from Thursday morning till the moment I arrived home Emeth was talking about working in the basement with me to build something. He was drawing plans for a toolbox, a house for his animals, and a truck. He was asking if daddy could come home after lunch, and if he’d be home soon? No? How about now? No? Now?
Finally, the moment came. I was home, and nothing was stopping that boy from directing my attention to basement, wood and tools. We got our water bottles, strapped on our shoes, put on our hats and went down.
“Which one do you want to build?” I asked, looking at his drawing plans, having some difficultly making out what each was.
“Um… a toolbox!” He pointed.
“How big?” I asked. He put his hands in front of him, spacing them out, further and further.
“Um… this big!” We settled on 10 and 7/8 inches.
Each step of the way I asked him about the details of his plans, not really sure what I was getting myself into, or whether I’d be able to execute it in the time we had, with the resources available. The wood was warped, which made things a little tricky. But he didn’t care.
Emeth would grab the next board, excited that he could carry it. (They were thin and light.) I’d measure, put the square on, and he’d draw the line I was to cut. He insisted that I use the hand saw, since the electric mitre saw was too loud for his liking. He’d then hold the end of the board while I sawed, taking his job very seriously to not let it fall to the ground.
He loved that there were parts of the process that he could do, and that he could experiment with the more difficult tasks of hammering and cutting. He was not thwarted or discouraged by their difficulty.
What was so encouraging about all this is that not only did Rachel and I feel a real connection with each of them, but these have been things we’ve wanted for a long time in terms of schooling. Some would call it ‘project based homeschooling’. To us, it’s simply learning through living. Our children coming along side of us, working together, and learning the practical skills of life: reading, measuring, fractions, hand-eye coordination, communicating, collaborating, creating, adapting.
Micaela is already getting excited for the Clay Fest next Saturday in Old City. She seems ripe for this focussed, hands on time. For the opportunity to engage her creative ideas and desires. How will these moments shape each of them in the years to come? What will they run with? What will fall to the wayside? I’m finding this to be one of the great joys of dad-hood. Watching our children grow and develop, to take interests and hone their skills. Seeing them try and not give up because they are not perfect. Seeing them pursue their interests, not for the praise they’ll receive, but for the sheer joy of it.
Undertake difficult tasks
by approaching what is easy in them;
Do great deeds by focusing on their minute aspects.
All difficulties under heaven arise from what is easy,
All great things under heaven arise from what is minute.
For this reason,
The sage never strives to do what is great.
He can achieve greatness. (Tao Te Ching, No. 26)
[He] acts but does not possess,
completes his work but does not dwell on it.
In this fashion,
he has no desire to display his worth. (No. 42)