Not long ago my husband had to travel to Idaho for some family affairs. There were logistical issues so I stayed home with the big kid while hubby and the small kid drove 1,000 miles very quickly. The big kid, Cole, is nine. I worried that he’d be lonely for a week without Owen, his 5-year old sidekick, and that I might fall short as a playmate.
We had the most lovely time, my Cole and I. He had school of course and I still had to work, so it wasn’t like a vacation. But the dynamic was totally different with just the two of us; Cole wasn’t watching out for his little brother, bossing him, or trying to teach him stuff. He’s a boy who takes the big brother responsibility very seriously. It is great, but sometimes I wish he could relax a little more.
Cole and I lounged on couches and read. He told me funny parts of his book. We chatted at dinner about strange science facts and I just listened. I didn’t tell him to finish eating, I didn’t have to shush his brother from interrupting, didn’t have to threaten anyone to stay sitting down. It was Cole’s turn to have all my attention and he ate it up. Each night I went to bed smiling, calm, unworried about this boy growing up right in front of me. Out of our usual routine, I saw my son with new eyes.
Meanwhile, Dad and Owen called every day from the road. At first I was bothered that my baby was fine and dandy without me. I got over that fast. Owen talked to me like a tiny adult, reporting on events and letting me know all the ways he was helping his father (including reading an entire “Captain Underpants” book aloud while they were stuck in Las Vegas traffic). My husband was amazed to see his kid in a new light, not as the little one to be helped but as a fully formed human with his own multitude of opinions.
Both my husband and I come from large families; I’m the eldest of six, he’s number two of eight. His only alone time with dad was on Saturday drives to the dump. For me, one on one time with either of my folks was something to be avoided at all costs. If mom or dad invited you to go on an errand alone, you knew there would be “a talk.” This could mean probing questions, a recital of the litany of ways you should improve, or my favorite, an invitation to be nicer to one of my siblings.
If my sisters and I really lucked out, my mom would awkwardly talk to us about menstruation or boys or changing bodies without ever taking her eyes off the road. I’ve heard that the puberty talks were even worse for my brothers with dad.
I don’t ever want my kids to be uncomfortable alone with me.
I’m a talker and I know I’ll need to learn to handle more silence from them, especially in their teens.
I love doing things with them individually, no distractions. It is also a great way to let my boys share their interests with a captive parent audience.
Cole loves music of all kinds, even classical, so we go to orchestral concerts on a date a few nights a year. He’s a perfect gentleman, more sweet and affectionate than usual during our special outings. Owen’s in love with art, so we do projects together. Then he talks, seemingly endlessly, about his process. Getting a glimpse inside his head is fascinating and I can’t help wonder what sort of amazing things he’ll accomplish in his life with such boundless creativity.
Lest you think this is all one sided, let me reassure you. My husband makes a concerted effort to not just do activities with the boys together but separately as well. Even letting Cole stay up an extra half hour to watch “Cosmos” on television and contemplate how the universe works as special time.
Besides these hopes for future smooth sailing, time apart from the whole group makes it more fun when the four of us come back together. We have experiences and stories to share and that old adage about absence and fonder hearts? It seems to hold true.
So while I’ve only got two kids, I still crave time to be with them individually and give them full attention. I’m hoping it is good for them, but I definitely know it is good for me.