I gave up on the idea of “having it all” long ago, and “me time” I get every time I open a book. My most pressing issue with time is not the question of where it goes but how to navigate it. I know where it goes. I’m the White Rabbit, on constant alert about what time it is and, usually, how late we are running.
No, my problem is with how time gets so complicatedly layered. I can never quite manage to be in the moment because I am always thinking about how this moment is going to play out, five minutes from now, five decades from now. If I say “Yes” to more playtime, will it be harder to get them to brush their teeth in five minutes, or should play time be the reward for prompt dental hygiene? Did I have such a hard time putting my shoes on when I was six? Will the kids remember that I was always in a rush to get from A to B? Will their childhood memories be of mum saying, “Quick, quick, quick. We’re late!” Do I need to stop being late, not just for the sake of being more relaxed now, but just so that my kids won’t have memories of rushing?! I’m thinking ahead, thinking back, thinking sideways, thinking myself into temporal knots, but no, never quite in the moment. I sympathise with the author of “Don’t Carpe Diem,” who expresses her frustration at being told by strangers who see her with her kids to “Enjoy the moment. It passes so quickly.” For me, it’s not just this moment: it’s what this moment will mean, for three boys and me, in endless points of time going forward.
What has been pressing on my maternal conscience a lot lately is the idea of how much influence I have in creating their memories. Navigating time–“quality time,” “crunch time,” “down time,” “play time”– has become like steering through fog. Who knows what each boy will store in the way of my parental ups and downs. Some of it I can control, but it also fascinates me to think about the things I gloss over now that may become the fabric of their memories of childhood. What tiny details of our lives and days will lodge in their memory banks? Will the sound of Cheerios hitting the bowl evoke school day mornings? Will they remember that I was particularly grouchy in the mornings before school? Will they remember a halo of fun and anticipation around family movie night? Will pyjama days full of Lego and pillow forts feature? Will they remember the slant of the light in their rooms as the sun rises on winter mornings? Will they remember the scent of my shampoo? Will they remember being read to, even from infancy?
Oh, this last one I think about a lot. I remember so fondly one holiday going to a different coffee shop each day with Griffin to read a chapter of The Graveyard Book, just the two of us in the bubble created by the unspooling story. Even while in that bubble, even while fully engrossed in the story, and fully attuned to Griffin’s enjoyment of it, I was wondering if and how, years hence, he would remember it. In a wonderful book I read recently, The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction, Alan Jacobs quotes Maryann Wolf, who notes that for many children the act of being read to—and therefore the book itself—is powerfully associated with being loved. (146)
In all of our reading moments, I do hope that powerful association will prevail. I hope they won’t know or remember that while we read my mind was sometimes flitting about in spite of itself. I hope that one of the memories we’re making is that reading time is all about gathering them up in warmth and love and taking them outside of time and off on adventures.
Beautiful post, Nathalie.
Thanks, Kelly. Have you made any picks from 1001 Kids’ Books?
Great post! I recently started reading to my two 10 year old boys again. We picked a book to share, and we read together almost every night. I agreed to do it because after a day full of “Get ready to go!” and “We have things to get done!” it is our small amount of time to just be together and enjoy something together. I don’t know if they will remember it fondly, but I know I will.
Thanks, Shawna. It’s my favourite time of day, too.
This! I don’t know how many times over my childrens’ lives has it occurred to me, while we’ve been engaged in some activity, “I need to remember this.*This* moment. This is what it’s all about.” Of course, I never do. I hope they do.