I stay home part-time with my 4-year old son. And nearly every one of our days together, we head out on an adventure. Some are small like a walk to a nearby park or the library; others – a trip to a museum, an apple orchard, or the trampoline park – are a bit more involved. But even though these outings are fun and we’re in no rush, I’m constantly calling out to him, “Let’s go!” “Come on, sweetie!” “Let’s pick it up!”
A few weeks ago as we were exploring the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, I caught myself on this never-ending carousel of instructions. It was nearing noon, we had finished our seventh run through the hedge maze and I had decided it was time to crack open our picnic lunch. My son, however, decided it was time to examine every single pebble on the gravel walkway. I cajoled. I prodded. I commanded. He moved three feet. I sighed heavily, rolled my eyes…and was immediately hit with the ridiculousness of my actions.
He wasn’t starving. We had nowhere else to be. I was only annoyed because he wasn’t traveling at the same speed or on the same schedule I assumed we needed.
I tried something different. I squatted down next to him, listened and looked. I made a conscious decision not to try to direct him…and lasted less than 60 seconds. (Yes, I timed it.) I’m so used to moving at a faster pace, with tasks to accomplish and items to check off. So when Jonah stops to examine an ant or walks slowly and dreamily down the grocery aisle, my instinct is to urge, “C’mon, honey!”
Then last week research into a different parenting topic led me to a Boston Globe article about slow parenting. I couldn’t stop reading.
“I encourage parents to take some time to just watch their children, whether they are playing, doing homework, or eating a snack,” [John Duffy, a clinical psychologist and author of “The Available Parent] says. “Take a moment to drink them in. Remember and remind yourself how remarkable your children are. That pause alone, even if momentary, can drive a shift in the pace.”
I loved the idea of simply watching. So that night when it was time for Jonah to take his bath, instead of scrubbing him down or cleaning up from dinner, I decided to just look at him. I took in the way heavy water droplets clung to his long lashes, making his blue eyes look even more vibrant. I watched as the water slicked back his blond hair, making him look a little like Macaulay Culkin in the Home Alone aftershave scene. I listened to him talk to his bath toys with a quiet sing songy voice. I saw his round belly and sweet, soft cheeks. And my heart nearly burst because I could have missed all this.
Maybe it’s not completely practical this holiday season with all the events and activities, but I’m inspired to try to slow down and let Jonah take the lead. We don’t need to squeeze in outings every moment or every day we have together. We don’t need to be doing all the time. Maybe we’ll bundle up and walk around the block as slowly as his pace allows. Maybe we’ll stop and talk to all the neighbors he’s been so curious about yet has never met. Maybe we’ll stomp on dried leaves or sit on a curb or watch the snow falling. Whatever we do, we most definitely will not hurry up.