Saturday, January 3, 2009

Finding What Matters

When I first became a mother, my own mom, who lives a 12-hour car ride away, asked me to take a new picture of the baby for her each month. Each month? Are you kidding me? I thought she was nuts, both for thinking there would be any blatantly visible changes in the baby each month, and for imagining that I'd remember to do it when I was overwhelmed by new motherhood and completely sleep deprived. But I did my best, and so we have a handful of pictures from my firstborn's first year. As for the second child, well, let's just say we have enough pictures from his infancy for him to know that he wasn't adopted at age 3. Barely.

Of course in hindsight, we are all former fools. Looking back (was it really 10 years ago??), it is easy to see what was important and what wasn't, what we should have held onto (longer baby bath times, naps with a snoozing infant on your chest, babbly conversations) and what we could have let go (laundry piles, vacuuming, dust). Wouldn't it be grand if putting the past into perspective helped us to do the same with the present? Well, maybe it can.

Thinking about when my boys were very little, the best times were the ones I spent reading to them, making play-doh creations, singing, walking, talking and laughing with them. It didn't have anything to do with what developmental stage they were in, where we were or who else was there. The best times were the times I spent engaged, playing and being with them.

Life today is chaotic. There is school and homework. There are music lessons, sports and work, scouts and pets and play dates. Someone always 'needs' me for something, and I find myself shouting orders, instructions and reprimands down the stairs, down the hall and into other rooms at least once a day. "Clean your room!" "Get in the shower!" "Leave him alone!" "Time for dinner!"

But over our vacation this past week, my kids and I baked, laughed at movies, played games and sang together. Some stuff that had to get done got done, some didn't. But we had a great vacation: we enjoyed each other's company, we were involved in things together, and we had fun. Just like the old days.

The games may change, the stages of development will be new, but some things always remain the same. Kids don't just need our love, discipline and guidance. They need our time, interest and attention. Life's demands make it easier to tune out, to focus on getting tasks off our list. But tuning into our kids is not only fun, it shows them we respect and care about them. And that will almost guarantee that they'll tune into us and respect us when we need them to. Like in another 10 short years...

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