One of my fondest memories of early childhood was the time I got to spend with my mother, just the two of us. I am the youngest of nine, and when my next oldest sibling began school, I had two years where every school day, I was the only child home with my mother.
Oh, how I loved that! I had the run of the entire house and yard. Mom would make us lunch, usually tomato soup and grilled cheese, and in the afternoon we would squeeze in together into a big chair in the study and read. Then we would play “forty winks.” When I woke up, I would hear her doing chores in the house, and soon my brother would be home from school, and I would resume my play.
At dinner time, on the contrary, when I wanted my mother’s attention, I had to take more extreme measures. I would get out of my chair, walk down to the end of the table where Mom sat, grab her chin and pull her face until she was looking at me.
I can still recall, quite vividly in my mind’s eye, my mother bringing me along with her as she ran errands, such as the paint store on Whalley Avenue that had 25-cent Coke bottles, or running around an empty indoor basketball court while she volunteered for Birthright.
My memories of spending time alone with my father were when I was older, and many of my siblings were no longer at home. Sunday afternoons watching football on the one station we had reception for, or sitting up downstairs after my mother had gone to bed, and talking – and later, when I was still older, sharing a nightcap.
We are created by God, for God, as Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has written, and thus at the core of our being is a desire, a relentless and restless search, for God. “If you search for me with all your heart, I will let you find me, says the Lord.” My brother Andrew chose that passage from Jeremiah to mark the occasion of his first Mass as an ordained priest, and it has stayed with me ever since.
So children crave the attention of their parents. God always uses human means to teach us what we ought to know, in the language of the heart. Pope Francis could have been expressing what a child yearns for in that craving, to know that he is indeed “uniquely made, uniquely loved and uniquely necessary.”
And no one can make a child feel uniquely made, loved and necessary in the way a parent can. And nothing seems quite as fulfilling as being a parent and experiencing that unique joy, blessing and responsibility.
I’ve been thinking about this lately for two reasons. First, as a parent, it’s a constant challenge! What can parents do to be better at finding time to give each of their children some of that one-on-one attention that is so precious?
But I’ve also had some wonderful successes recently, experiences that have motivated me to work harder at shredding distractions and lesser priorities for the sake of my family, and what I can offer as husband and father, simply with my time and attention.
Patrick and I have a shared passion for football (surprising, I know), particularly college football, and especially Rice football, because they are here in Houston. So, for the third year in a row, we made it to a handful of home games, which is just a blast. But this year, the Rice Owls were actually really good, and won their conference outright for the first time in over 50 years. As a result, they made it to a pretty decent bowl game, the Liberty Bowl in Memphis on New Year’s Eve. Patrick asked repeatedly if we could go, but it was no surprise to him to hear the usual negative responses: I don’t have time, it’s a lot of money, etc.
Well, he was completely shocked and ecstatic on Christmas morning to find tickets in his stocking. So, even when he came down with a fever the day before we were supposed to leave, the two of us never doubted that we would make it. A few hundred miles and a lot of Tylenol later, we woke up December 31 with no temperature, ready to go.
Sometimes, you have to be like Nike and just do it! Other opportunities are not so obvious, and even when you’re children are telling you loud and clear, you just don’t hear it.
Such is the case with my two middle children, Catherine and Mary Margaret. They take ballet in the afternoon at a school near my office. Now, to me, the idea of being a child and visiting my office seems painfully boring. But, toward the end of last year, I was behind on a project of annually interviewing each of my children once they turn eight, and recording that for posterity. It’s kind of like an audio version of the pencil marks on our closet wall that show how much they’re growing.
Since Catherine is eight now, I needed to get some one-on-one time to do the interview, and I figured the easiest way was to do it at my office while Mary Margaret was at ballet class.
Turns out the idea of going to Daddy’s office by oneself is a super-big deal, and not just for Catherine. Mary Margaret, all five and a half years and quite the competitive sanguine temperament, wanted her own date with Daddy at his office.
Well, I was a little slow on the uptake, but the message finally got through to me, and Mary Margaret got her date, including getting interviewed and recorded, even though she isn’t even six! The expression on her face told me all I needed to know.
Catherine usually gets her time for just the two of us when she hears me making breakfast. Since she is the best sleeper, she is the only morning person in the family. I love that time with her when the house is still and peaceful, just like her.
Whether you have a large family or small, if this comes easily to you (liar!) or is a challenge, all the moments for “just the two of us” are precious, and have a big, big impact on children. Sometimes, it’s a simple as getting the prime spot with Mom or Dad snuggling on their lap while the family is watching a movie. Or it could be a twenty-minute errand to the store, and getting to tag along.
How do you carve out that precious time with your loved ones?
Copyright 2016 Kiernan O’Connor