By Jane Rogers
When my friend Amanda asked her little four-year-old Anna what she wanted to do together, the answer she got was very different to what she was expecting.
Our little bundles of endless energy seem to need entertaining every second of the day, and we duly respond with play dates, clubs, and any other activity of the tearing-around-making-lots-of-noise variety, but what they really want is you. Your undivided time.
My sister had her first baby a few months ago. The moment those immortal “I’m pregnant” words were uttered, the floodgates opened and friends were falling over themselves with well meaning advice, with the enthusiasm of opening day at a flagship Primark store. Amongst the “you’ll be so sleep deprived you’ll wish it was back in” gems of wisdom, one morsel stuck with Anna: “take time to look at your baby. Actually consciously look at their face”. We spend so much time ferrying our children from one playgroup to another, juggling nursery, work, chores, and various “activities” when was the last time we actually just looked into their little eyes and held their gaze?
When I was handed a red screaming bundle wrapped in a towel four years ago in an instant, my selfish “live for myself at a million miles an hour” life was transformed into a “what do I do with it? Who am I?” life, rife with insecurity and sleep deprivation. Different people cope with stress in different ways. Me? I coped with it by cramming as much into my diary as I could.
When most mums batten down the hatches in a postnatal haze of tea, visitors and dressing gowns, I got myself and my bundle in the car. And drove for miles, anywhere. While most newborns are getting acquainted to their cots, mine was being taken to a conference in Brighton, closely followed by a trip to the Midlands, to London, then at 10 weeks I took off to a hen weekend in Paris. Mummy developed a frenetic baby schedule of baby groups, play dates, music classes and swimming lessons, as she tried to get her head round her new life.
Until one day the inevitable happened… chicken pox. Josh was pickled and we had seven days stretching out before us, and a great big fat line in the diary through everything we’d planned. That morning, a self-assembly footstool I’d ordered from eBay arrived in the post so Josh and I sat down on the floor together and put it together. Me with my screwdriver, Josh with his little chubby fingers, grasping the screws and wiggling them around in the holes, trying to copy mummy, just chatting to each other in simple toddler words and enjoying just “being” with each other. No time constraints, no need to rush out to the next thing. Just us.
And that was when I realised – all he wanted was time with mummy. That’s all our children want. Yes groups, classes, soft plays and play dates have their place, but some of their best memories will be made just sitting on the floor together, chatting and “being.”
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Photography: Sarah Smith and Olesea Ciumac
Illustration: Jen Howarth