I was standing outside my son's school the other day, waiting for his grade-one class to pour out the side exit. By my side was my daughter, alternating between chucking dirty leaves on my back and tugging on my coat sleeve. A mother waiting next to me for her child's school day to end asked:
"How old is she?"
"Four." I answered.
"Kindergarten next year?"
"You must be looking forward to that." she said.
You mean we're allowed to admit it??
The discussion which followed was filled with affirmations of things rarely admitted to in my usual circles. Sure, I love my kids. But I often imagine September 2012, when they both will attend a full school day at the same hour, and be picked up together...six hours and twenty minutes later. Presently, my daughter attends pre-school two mornings and three afternoons per week; a schedule which can sometimes prove counterproductive to what I'd like to get done in a day. My work schedule, as you may have guessed, is not Monday to Friday, 9 to 5. This means that once both kids are on the same schedule, and I'm home on a weekday morning, I'll be in a quiet house with only my own time to manage.
As mentioned during my conversation with that mom outside the school: of course I miss my children when I'm not with them. I find it difficult when long hours at work means I don't see them for a couple of days at a time, or when I have to sit in front of them and explain which grandparent or friend is going to be there for lunches or suppers since mom and I are going to be out of the house. But, when anyone is home with a 7 and 4 year-old for an extended period, you know you’re always on. “Dad, can you help me with this?", "Dad, come see my drawing", "Dad my tummy hurts", "Dad, my sister is touching my Lego", "Daddy, my brother won't play with me". I felt relief the other day when I heard that mom express, out loud, the same sense of fatigue which can accompany a parent's responsibility to always put a child's needs first. Or, at the very least, consider them before being selfish with your own time.
Conversely (isn't there always a flip-side?), I have friends who are parents of teenagers. I see how different their houses are from mine: the way their kids are asleep until late morning (or later), leave for work or school, and return only to eat supper and disappear to their rooms or out with friends. The communication from their children often consists of a teenage Morse code: grunts and nods. I remember being a teenager, the last thing I wanted to do with my spare time was to have a conversation with my parents, much less share my free time with them. I've been warned by those parents to cherish these years: the years when my kids want to be hugged and cuddled, when they need help with their puzzles, when they wander into your room with fuzzy heads and sleepy faces hoping to crawl into your bed on a weekend morning before you trundle downstairs to share an hour of cartoons and newspapers. I've been warned about how fleeting these years are, how they not only pass by quickly, but how their youth and dependence can disappear in the blink of an eye.
I believe it, I really do. It's hard to imagine, but I know it's true. And I know I'll miss their childhood once it has grown and moved out.
But for now, at this moment, it felt really good to hear from another adult that it's ok to look forward to a quiet house, because (blink) although their youth is (blink) fleeting, and I'll miss it (blink) when it's gone, right now I just want to (blink)...darn, I forget what I was gonna write: gotta go, the toilet paper roll just rolled away from my four-year-old...she's stuck on the toilet.