By Christina VanGinkel
With summer winding down, we are finally starting to put some of the hottest days of this year behind us. This also means that playing outside is becoming much more tolerable, whereas a few weeks ago, when my grandson came over to play, it more often than not meant heading indoors to the air conditioning. Now, we can enjoy the simple tasks of climbing and swinging on the play set that was once his mother's and uncles', and pursuing pretending to be Picasso as we color my walkway with chalk drawings in every conceivable design.
When friends stopped by this past weekend with their two young children, I could see the parents glancing at the chalk drawings with somewhat of a surprised look. An obvious dragon stood guard by a castle, while just down the walkway was a decent rendition of a T-Rex and a Brontosaurus. They could easily tell that more than just a busy three year old had been at work. If getting down and playing with young kids in activities such as these are not on your list of things to do, I can with all sincerity recommend that maybe they should be.
When these same friends suggested that maybe we were spending too much time playing with our grandson these days, I quickly suggested back that maybe they were not spending enough time playing with their own children. They are good friends, so no offense was taken on either side. It did lead to a discussion though on how much time we spent in leisurely pursuits with our own kids when they were small, and I think it surprised the couple who both work outside of their home and raise a family. They say that finding time to accomplish the necessary tasks of keeping up a home and kids is hard enough, that if they were to add in activities as leisurely as sidewalk chalk art, they would have to give up something of importance to do so.
When our two oldest children were small, I did work outside of the home. I also spent time writing, something I have pursued since my teenage years, and worked as a freelance craft designer. I still found time to head to the lake last minute, trek through the woods to collect sticks and leaves for crayon rubbings and sticky glue collages, and participate in one of our favorite pastimes, coloring! I also was known to bring work home, literally, as I was a supervisor at a company that sold handcrafted collectible wood figures. If an order was due and inventory was short, I would take unfinished wood pieces home to paint or assemble. I was not superwoman, far from it. I just had my priorities, and if I lost sight of what they were from time to time, there was nothing as gratifying as snuggling with my kids and reading a book aloud to remind me exactly what those priorities were.
As we chatted about all this, one difference that did become apparent was that our two oldest kids were not in as many organized sports back then. Our one teenager left at home is though, and currently, football practice alone takes up five evenings a week and Saturday mornings are games. When school begins next week, practice will cut back to three evenings a week, but we will also add in a full schedule of homework and school related activities. Still, we will sneak in some late mornings for extra sleep, followed by time to talk, via me running him to school instead of having him ride the bus. Sure, this will mean I probably will not get to vacuum the living room that day as I will have to spend those few minutes working, and we will most likely have take out for dinner the same day, just to make up for the hour spent sleeping and driving, but it will be well worth it. I will get a half an hour of talk time with a teenager who is not sleep deprived. If you think an extra half an hour of sleep is not that important to a kid, you obviously have yet to meet a teen!
When I pressed my youngest to share what some of his favorite times with us have been so far, he came back with moments from various parts of his life. Little League, Pop Warner, fishing, blackberry picking, hunting, watching cartoons, riding his motorized jeep down the hill in front of the house, trail riding his motorbike, to sleeping in on the weekends when we all just decide to play hooky! He also surprised me by saying that when he was in private school and I drove him to school each day. He elaborated by saying he loved the extra time in the morning when things were not so rushed. Sure, we had our busy moments back then, but it was more often than not more relaxed than it is now with him in public school. Time is important is what it came down to.
As our friends and we chatted more on the subject, we finally came about to the realization that no matter how busy a schedule parents have, making time for the kids you chose to build your family with, to spend time doing silly, nonsensical things with them, is very important. Bake some cookies, build a tent out of blankets, and sing at the top of your lungs even if you have a lousy voice! When it comes down to it, having kids is a good reason to still act like a kid ourselves occasionally, so do not waste a single, precious moment of it. Grab some chalk, and draw your own giant T-Rex today!