Life with a smile: Taking time for one-on-one connections

Published 6:32 am Saturday, May 12, 2018

Every now and again, it crosses my mind how very different my life would be if I only had one child.

Note that I didn’t say “better.” Children, if you are reading this twenty years from now, I want the record to show that I did not say it would be better if I only had one child. I said different – and possibly easier.

Three kids is a demanding number. (Insert quick pause here to silently salute the even-larger families of the world…) Whether it’s trying to simultaneously make toast, pour cereal, pack lunches, braid hair, and locate shoes in the morning or the precision choreography required to shuttle between endless extracurricular activities, the logistics of life with multiple children can be daunting. Entire days can pass in a blur.

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Last weekend, I had a rare opportunity to spend a couple hours one-on-one with my five-year-old daughter while my big kids were visiting friends. My garden was begging for attention and so was my daughter so I invited her to help me. We planted cherry tomatoes, broccoli, and red bell pepper seedlings along with some green bean seeds and two blueberry bushes. Her primary contributions included stabbing the dirt with a tiny purple trowel and keeping a sharp lookout for worms.

At her request, we also planted three pink vincas in the vegetable garden because why not? She had selected them herself at the nursery earlier in the day, initially intending to pot them and put them in her room. But the call of the outdoor plot proved stronger and she ultimately decided the veggies needed some flower friends. The same desire motivated her to “plant” several dandelions – carefully digging a hole and dropping picked flowers into it before covering them over completely. She was so proud I couldn’t bring myself to warn her that, in the unlikely event of their sprouting, I would cheerfully rip them out without a moment’s remorse.

It can be hard to let three kids ‘help’ with a project at the same time and I confess that I sometimes decline when one offers just because I can’t face the thought of all of them joining the fray. We’ve had breakfast baking turn into a full-on brawl over who gets to level the flour and crack the eggs. Trying to divvy up responsibilities evenly can suck the joy right out of an undertaking. My kids don’t share particularly well. Call it strong wills or bad parenting – I’m thinking the former – but group projects tend to bring out some of their more primal instincts.

So having just one eager helper was such a relaxed and lovely experience. After we finished watering the vegetables, my daughter insisted that I water her as well, running and squealing through the spray of water while performing dramatic interpretive dances about flowers.

My takeaway from the day isn’t one of wistfulness or regret. Not in the slightest. I’m an only child and while I absolutely appreciate the benefits I reaped from that status – extensive international travel in my childhood being high on that list – there was never a doubt in my mind that I wanted multiple children.

No, my beautiful afternoon simply reminded me of how important it is to carve out that special one-on-one time with each of my kiddos. It can be really hard to achieve, but those moments allow me to reconnect with my kids, seeing them with fresh, undistracted eyes.

My big kids returned in the late afternoon and the energy level of the household expanded exponentially. Battles were waged, baths were taken, stories were read, tears were shed, toys were thrown, feelings were hurt, apologies were made. Basically, it was a totally normal evening. But the memory of the delight on my daughter’s face as she helped me in the garden kept a smile on my face (almost) all night.