A little over 900 weeks is the amount of time your child is at home before you ship them off to college. It’s 250 weeks before the little munchkin goes to kindergarten…
If you work a 9–5, you know it’s even less time with them. Stats like this always sting for me. My little girl is about to be 18 months old and the time has flown by. It’s dizzying and a little nauseating if I think about it for too long. But on the other hand, it’s hard work entertaining and keeping up with a growing and always changing child. Right when you get used to one stage, they grow and become someone else. It can feel like survival. Many times I’ve made eye contact with another parent and exchanged the unspoken glance that means, “we’re both just trying to make it to bed time.”
My biggest fear is that I numb out, just trying to make it to bedtime for 250 weeks.. Or worse, all 900 of them. I’m scared I’ll wish away each unique stage of growth thinking,
it’ll be so much easier when she can actually tell me what she needs,
It’ll be so nice when she’s in school for most of the day and I know she’s taken care of.
This kind of thinking makes me feel like a bad parent. I’m glad I’ve realized it’s not worth thinking this way fairly early in this journey. I know some parents feel robbed of their children’s youth having wished it away so easily and for so long.
We have to optimize as many moments as we can while we’re with our kids. We must find ways to soak up and enjoy their tininess before it’s gone.
I want to have deep and vivid memories and moments that I can recall in fondness. I want a Library of Congress-sized archive of wonderful, hard, and beautiful memories to cherish for a lifetime. Even more than that, I want my child to have that, too. I want her to look back and have all these epic stories for all the escapades we went on. I want her to live a full life.
That’s why I’ve decided to make some changes to the way I go about the time we do have together. I’m putting my phone away, reviving my inner child, and letting the kids play.
Putting away the phone when I’m with her seems like a no-brainer. I felt extra convinced of this when I was scrolling on my phone one morning, watching some dumb reel on Instagram again, and my wife and daughter were singing and giggling a few feet away. Then my wife broke my glazed concentration away from the phone and gently remarked,
hey…she’s looking at you.
My shoulders drooped, my head hung low. She was having a great time, laughing and singing and playing with her mom and she wanted to share that moment with me, too. My little girl looked at me and hoped to exchange a giggle and for me to finish the lyric. I was too enamored with a pointless Instagram reel.
I deleted Instagram and have vowed to leave the phone elsewhere when it’s time to engage in play and have fun.
Reviving My Inner Child
Engaging in play isn’t easy either. It’s sort of been, what? 15, 20 years since I’ve played? Sometimes I fear that kid within me died a long time ago. I certainly forgot how… to be imaginative, to have a pretend conversation with two inanimate objects, to belly laugh at the most absurd and silly thing, to do a dumb dance because it just feels good to get the wiggles out.
I really had to remember what it was like to be a kid again.
Sometimes remembering your childhood is painful. Now, I was lucky and privileged to have had a wonderful childhood: loving parents, a safe home with my own room, good friends, and plenty of meals (if you can count my favorites, pop tarts and ramen noodles, as a meal). Establishing your place in the world, working to understand the people around you, and the power of consequences was still painful, though. There’s stuff there that needs to be worked through, I’m sure.
Remembering all of that is important work. It needs to be done. To remember what it was like to so desperately want my dad to play catch with me, or have my mom hold me when I was sad. If I can search my childhood and recall what it was like for me to desire their attention and to be cared for, I can better serve my daughter when she needs the same from me. That’s the power of empathy. Remembering it in myself pushes me to understand her and that drives action and even brings healing.
Reviving the child within me has meant remembering who I was as a kid and what it meant to play with whatever notion comes to be and without care of looking silly. It's not caring whether or not we make a mess - it's engagement and full focus on whatever the important task at hand is.
Letting The Kids Play
Whenever my daughter opens up that kitchen cabinet door (she always gravitates toward one in particular), I know things are about to get messy... and loud. Pots get pulled out, barbies become wooden spoons, and it's time for her to go to work.
I realize now, she's imitating me and my wife cooking. She so badly wants to be a part of the fun and have her own special role to play in our evening meals.
I'm always tempted to try to redirect and avoid the slew of pots and pans on the floor that I delicately balance around to avoid tripping. But, I haven't put a child-lock on that cabinet door, yet...
That time for her, making a mess and banging on pots and pans, is important. She's hard at work. Imagination running wild - she's testing and creating "recipes".
So, I get down on the ground and we get to work.
Instead of redirecting to something less messy and loud, I've been engaging with her in this play and she loves it. Remember - kids don't play with toys... they play with real life objects... so engaging in our "cooking" and "recipe developing" is so much fun for her - and I've grown to love that time on the kitchen floor with her.
When I find myself worried about the mess, I lean in a little harder and embrace it. It's become some of my favorite moments of playtime.
I think I'll keep the child-lock off for a little longer, too.
Putting away the phone, reviving my inner child, and embracing play with my child has been so freeing and rewarding. To laugh with her, and sing songs, and to see her pull herself up to sit in my lap for a snuggle is extremely fulfilling. I can't wait to get to create and test real recipes and not just the kind where a barbie is being used to mix lego blocks in the OXO mixing bowl.
The library is filling up and the archive is growing — and that makes me incredibly happy.