I had no idea until I had small children how much time is spent just waiting for them. Have you ever tried to hurry a two year old along on a walk, through an area he’s never seen before? They stop to examine every single bug and leaf and blade of grass. They pick up every piece of trash on the sidewalk and show it to you. They speak in paragraphs instead of sentences, very repetitive paragraphs that they start all over again from the very beginning if they are interrupted halfway through. It’s enough to drive a grown-up in a hurry mad.
Or have you ever sat with a 3 year old while she finishes dinner. She talks, she fidgets, she keeps sliding out of her chair, she nibbles tiny crumbs off of the side of her bun, she smears things on the table top, sometimes she smears food on you. It takes an eternity before she finishes dinner. Of course you can’t just walk away and leave her to do it by her self or she will take even longer, or forget altogether and when you go to check on her she’ll be sitting in the middle of the carpet smearing peanut butter on everything she touches while singing nonsense songs to her baby sister.
And then there is getting ready to actually go somewhere. The excruciating process of talking short people through finding their shoes, their hats, their underwear, their socks, and getting every one ready before one wanders off and plays in a mud puddle and we have to start all over again. It has actually taken me more than a full hour to get out the door with all 3 children, several times.
But it’s the very things that are sometimes infuriating that are the essence of childlikeness; wonder, curiosity, and the ability to be completely present in every moment, something I have spent my entire life not doing. Escaping to somewhere besides where I am was a survival instinct, or a pathological bent, I still can’t decide.
Tonight we had a little picnic, and grilled cheeseburgers. The GH and his brother of course finished soonest and took off to the house leaving me to keep reminding the Boy and Girl to sit down, sit still, eat your salad, no sit down, no eat your salad, no you can’t have more popcorn you still have half a cheeseburger on your plate. The Boy eventually finished and went running off to join the boys and I was left with wiggly, silly, little girl who eats at the rate of one tiny bite every two minutes, and a wiggly baby, and a hard stone bench and a very long wait. At home I can at least clear the table and clean up a little while I wait for her, but here in the grilling area next to the playground I was stuck with nothing to do but watch her eat and remind her to keep her squirmy bottom on the bench until she did so.
I chafed, I fidgeted, I thought longingly of when this would be over and I could get on with it. She kept yelling at the big crows over in the grass. “Come here birds, come here!”
“Yelling won’t make them come, take another bite.”
“Why did that bird fly away?”
“I don’t know, is your mouth empty? Okay, take another bite.”
Eventually I slowed down, I heard her through the chatter, I noticed when she looked at me and smiled, “I was singing to the birds.” I noticed how she tucked herself in next to me, for once aware of how much she needs my affection, how tiny she still is, how precious. She is so strong, and exuberant; a whirlwind of laughter and energy. Sometimes I don’t notice that she is just a little girl and that this will pass so quickly. Today I did. Today I was present with her, today I was at last still and I heard her sing to the birds, I noticed who she is and paid attention to her beyond keeping her fed and clothed and clean. And I wondered why it is that I forget to do it so often. They are growing up and I am missing their childhood, busy in my own whirlwind of tasks and thoughts and worries. I don’t know them as well as I did when they were babies. They are changing. I need to remember to pay attention, to be still.